Steve Rubie speaks


Running a Successful Jam Session

YamahaJazzExperience | MySpace Music Videos


Courtesy of Yamaha, up close and personal with Steve Rubie of the 606 Club giving thoughts on how to run a successful jam session. Nice shirt....

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Half Moon under threat



The Half Moon is under threat. No, not THIS half moon, (photo by Rob Goldsmith),but the landmark music venue in Putney. I went to sit in with Dick Laurie's band, and to find out more.


The Half Moon has been presenting live music since 1963. People who have played there on their way up in the world include the Rolling Stones, Stevie Winwood, U2, Kate Bush and Ralph McTell. It is a seven-nights-a-week venue with a capacity of 200.

Youngs want to turf the existing tenant out on 31st Jan 2010. They seem to have other plans for the site which do not involve live music. The existing staff have been given their notice. People are talking about gastropubs, but most people I met there yesterday are assuming that it will have been knocked down for residential accommodation within about 18 months.

These small venues are far more important than that.

“The real shop floor for musical talent is pubs and clubs, that is where the original work is. But they are being closed down on a daily basis. It is impossible to put an act on in a pub. It has become too expensive through excessive regulations. The music industry has been hugely important to England, bringing in millions. If anyone thinks the X Factor is going to do that, they are wrong.”

Sting, intervewed by Geordie Greig, Evening Standard, 11.11.09

Young's used to be a family-owned brewing company with more of a sense of the wider role and responsibilities. These days they describe themselves as just a "retail company." And its board's priorities these days are clear, being serviced by only two committees, one for audit and one for remuneration.

There are some wider issues here-I guess that social responsibility is might be a bit too soft and girl-y for this board of directors. Young's need a wake-up call.

Like an email to feedback@youngs.co.uk


This Evening Standard story gets most of the facts. I will return to this subject - feeling under the weather today - but here's the Facebook Group

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George Melly....lives?


George Melly died on the 5th of July 2007. But in his large wake a minor
industry perpetuating both the fedora and the gravelly voice seems to be developing.

Digby Fairweather, who wrote a book about Melly's last years, tells me he's been invited to Brecon Cathedral tomorrow night (Saturday 28th November) for a 7pm 'Rembering George Melly' (sic- according to the website) concert by people who want to put up a statue to Melly in Brecon.

Their aim is to "reflect George Melly's role in the founding of the Jazz Festival and his position as President of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales. The aim is to honour the man and his sense of fun, his mistress jazz, his interest in Surrealist art and his passion for fishing."

Curious idea. So who will be commissioned to do the statue? The artist/ sculptor most prominently associated with George Melly is Maggi Hambling (above/photo: artinliverpool). I asked her. "It's the very first I've heard of it," she said.

She had got to know Melly when he was quizmaster of "Gallery", in the
early, heady,experimental, Jeremy Isaacs days of Channel 4.

Her "George Always" exhibition, twelve ink drawings from 2005, plus
eight mostly brightly coloured oils, is seeing busy trade at the
National Portrait Gallery. There's an attractive little black accompanying book too. The pictures are on display until 10th January 2010.

And what about the Hambling habit of going painting her subjects
posthumously- she continued painting both her parents and artists' model Henrietta Moraes after they had died. "Yes, George used to call me Maggi 'coffin' Hambling. These people stay alive inside you, they just keep popping up."

There is also a CD of Melly singing from 1950 to the 2000's (perhaps the noughties were meant for Melly) and sold in aid of www.fordementia.org.

And finally, there are the straight cashers-in. A picture of Melly as a schoolboy at Sefton will set you back £99 on Ebay.

Some of this is tawdry. But perhaps not as gruesome as those final months, when dementia had set in. I once shared the stage and played in the band with Melly, and what I remember is a relentless and undignified TV crew running around, crowding him with their camera.

How much better it is for the abiding memories to be of people as they were in their prime.

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The 2003 Licensing Act gets clearer



It's what we've all been waiting for since the 2003 Licensing Act came into force. A clear regime for incidental music and small gigs. So, here goes:

Exempt: a pub promoting a stand-up comedian accompanied by a pianist.
Licensable: a pub promoting a performance by a pianist/singer supported by a stand-up comedian.

Exempt: pub with pianist or other single instrument playing background music.
Licensable: pub promotes a sing-along event with pianist.

Exempt: carol singers outside a shop.
Licensable: shopping centre organises performances of carols in a shopping mall.

Simple, eh.

(Source: Advice for Licensing Authorities about Incidental Music.Document jointly produced by the Local Government Association, Local Authorities' Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services-LACORS, Musicians Union, British Beer and Pub Association, DCMS- November 2009)

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DVD Review: Jimmy Smith


DVD Review: Jimmy Smith -Live In '69
From Jazz Icons Series 4
Review by Pete Whittaker


This DVD offers two French TV programmes totalling 90 minutes compiled from a single concert recorded at the Salle Pleyel, Paris in 1969. Audio selections from this concert have already been available on CD.

One of the most astonishing things about James Oscar (Jimmy) Smith (1928-2005), was the way he constantly found new ways to propel the Hammond organ - not necessarily the most obvious of instruments for jazz - in new directions. This had as much to do with his restless ebullient character as much as anything else. Jimmy was not one to openly theorise or expound on his musical ethos or remarkable technique. He just let his sublime talent speak for itself.

By the time the concert on this DVD was recorded, around the time of his forty-first birthday in December 1969, Jimmy had long since established the organ as a bone fide voice in the hard-bop tradition. However, he had apparently tired of the very clean, mean focused sound that he'd single-handedly invented. That subtly oscillating but spatially static sound had been his signature, and was subsequently adopted by all the other organ players. Here, instead, we hear Jimmy using a purer but more expansive sound - huge wide spaced chords imposing their authority and revealing another side to familiar blues progressions, and roller coaster dynamic changes especially in the ballads.

In terms of material, Smith choses predominantly tunes from his 1960s Blue Note and Verve recordings - Sonnymoon For Two, Satin Doll, Organ Grinder's Swing and an absolutely phenomenal version of his blues The Sermon. However, a funkier soul-jazz element is represented in the form of Got My Mojo Working and (the curiously titled) A Funky Blues Called I Don't Know which looks forward to Jimmy's 1970s funk excursions as realised in such albums as 1972's Root Down and the All the Way Live! collaboration with Eddie Harris (1981).

Jimmy Smith is on dazzling form throughout. Personally speaking as an organist, this opportunity to actually see how he weaves his magic - jaw-dropping runs, furious grooves, pathos-dripping ballads..... is gold dust. I dare say that most fans will be similarly captivated. The trio is no democracy though! Drummer Charlie Crosby (a B.B. King and Roland Kirk sideman) and guitarist Eddie Mcfadden are very much in the shade of the bandleader, but nevertheless provide more than the requisite support.

There are no virtually no announcements, the only vocalisation is on Jimmy's husky trademark rendition of Got My Mojo Working. The black-and-white picture quality is mainly good and sharp, and the mono audio is clear and well balanced. The camera work and editing is creative and intelligent, and there are plenty of close-ups of the three musicians. A 24 page booklet is included with extensive biographical notes, reviews and photos. Recommended.

Pete Whittaker plays organ on the new CD
Nigel Price Organ Trio – Live! (Jazzizit). Release date December 7th.

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Review: Christine Tobin


Christine Tobin
(Pizza Express Dean Street, London Jazz Festival, November 21st 2009,

review by Georgia Mancio)

Christine Tobin mesmerises from the moment she steps on stage. Resplendent in a sparkling green top, warm and witty, she thanked a packed Pizza Express for venturing out on a rainy Saturday night to catch her London Jazz Festival set.

On Saturday, X Factor night, Christine showed how far removed she is from those ‘mannequined pop stars shaped for the shareholders’ rapture’ (to quote her own words from her song Black and Blue).

For me, there are three things that make Tobin special. Firstly, her glorious voice, sonorous and strong across all of its considerable range is not something that many singers can boast of and puts her in the esteemed company of the likes of Sarah Vaughan and Elis Regina. Then there's the deep groove that underpins every note she sings, whether she is carefully relating a song’s lyrics or improvising. And thirdly she brings an indelible sense of self to very diverse material.

Tonight the songs ranged from Jobim (Modinha) to Leonard Cohen (Everybody Knows), Joni Mitchell (The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey), Rufus Wainwright (Poses) and her own hook-laden compositions (from albums Secret Life of a Girl, Romance and Revolution and House of Women) with their refreshingly sophisticated lyrical content. Everything is presented with utter conviction and honesty. You might catch a moment of Billie Holiday in a melancholic delivery, a Betty Carter tinged scat, a world music influence in her rhythmic displacements. But there is never any doubting you are listening to Christine Tobin.

Deceptively simple arrangements and quality accompanists stengthen her individuality: Dave Whitford on bass tirelessly anchored every feel and time change with his powerful, rich, woody tone and immaculate intonation. Cellist Kate Shortt shone with her gutsy, sometimes aggressive solos on Everybody Knows and The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey: double-stopping, slapping and glissando-ing with a wonderfully controlled intensity that never derailed the music and acted as an intriguing juxtaposition to her modest demeanour. Thebe Lipere on percussion, though slightly intrusive on the moving Modinha justly let loose on Black and Blue and lent colour and texture throughout.

Long-time collaborator Phil Robson on guitar completed the sound scape with exemplary comping and endlessly inventive solos within which you could hear everything from bebop to more contemporary styles. The tricky unison lines in his composition, Ooh! Salamander, were a highlight with his rocky sitar-like sound perfectly complementing Tobin’s impeccable Carnatic-influenced vocal.

A subsequent show meant that the audience didn’t get the encore it was demanding. But lyric to her new song, Catalogue, seemed to give the right message: “I’m all that’s gone before and yet I’ve only just begun”.

Exactly. Tobin's in her prime.

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Review: Empirical at the Forge



Empirical
(The Forge Venue Regents Park, London Jazz Festival, November 21st 2009, review by Geoffrey Winston)


You could really feel the spirit of Dolphy in the air. These guys had absorbed so much from his recordings and gave it back in their own way - uncannily true to the spirit of the landmark sessions of Out to Lunch, yet a fresh, and personal interpretation by each of Empirical's four members, of the playing and compositions of an exceptional musical pioneer and his co-musicians.

Nathaniel Facey 's confidence in taking on the challenge of Dolphy's leadership on stage was impressive, with both fluent and spikey phrasing and a similar tonal range on alto, carried with an optimism that made you think how the music might have moved forward had tragic circumstances not cut short Dolphy's creative contribution to the genre. This was borne out by his compositions, A Bitter End for a Tender Giant, poignant and thoughtful, and the complex interplay demanded by Dolphyus Morphyus. The invention in the group's own compositions created the perfect foil to their vibrant renditions of Dolphy originals, notably the landmark Hat and Beard.

Lewis Wright combined lightness and intensity in his multi-layered flurries of notes on vibes, beautifully acknowledging Bobby Hutcherson's unique contribution to the flavour of Out to Lunch - a spacious and ethereal atmosphere, complementing the the sharper, tougher tones of the other instruments.

Shaney Forbes and Tom Farmer anchored and structured the group's performance. Farmer took a more understated role on bass, imposing on solos, Forbes propelled the band with joyous authority and technical flourish. His dexterity was great to watch; in many ways his playing was both a visual and rhythmic focus which had the qualities of invention and discipline which Dolphy's rich musical legacy demands.

It was a remarkable evening's music, benefitting, too, from the intimacy and exceptional sound quality at this nice new venue.
The Forge is superb, purpose-built, and offers London's buzzing jazz and music scene a unique, sophisticated setting. Its contemporary architecture and flexible interior spaces are attractive and feel quite special, offering a good range of options for the visitor.

The auditorium itself, as it was configured on the night, is a cube-like space with seating at stage level and on a gallery around 2 sides of the stage, ensuring that the audience is never further than a few metres from the performers. The combination of a suberb sound mix and the hall's stunning acoustics made for true listening pleasure.

The ground-floor cafe-bar offers a relaxed setting, and upstairs is the Caponata restaurant for the serious diner. The menus share a fresh Sicilian culinary theme - the pasta dish of the day turned out to be a very good choice, as was the wine!

A rewarding evening in a great new place to hear music.

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Review: Gwilym Simcock Trio

Gwilym Simcock Trio
(Holywell Music Room, Oxford, November 23rd, 2009
)

Pianist Gwilym Simcock goes on developing, changing, growing, all the time. I find that on each hearing there will be something different, he will have set off in a new direction, particularly if I haven't heard him for a while. This time it's been about six months, and there was. Long may this continue.

The contrast between new and old was at its clearest last night in the Holywell Music Room when his trio played A Typical Affair, from the earlier CD Perception as their encore. Simcock, bassist Yuri Goloubev and drummer James Maddren had until that point played newer compostions, mostly material from from the new Double CD Blues Vignette (Basho) which is being launched at the Pizza Express this Friday 27th.

What's new? Compared to the brasher, bouncier A Typical Affair, I find that the compositional arcs and the concentration spans in the new material have become much longer. I'm guessing that the fact that Simcock has been spending more time composing, thinking hard about longer structures is probably in there for something.

I felt that there was also a progression in the clarity of voice-leading, which may also come from the composing. There was an astonishing moment towards the end of Tundra last night where he seemed to be moving some pulsing comping chords, up and down, never moving far, staying within narrow tram lines. Those shifting colours, every voice going somewhere, seemed like the fascinating resolution of a particularly elaborate compositional Sudoku.

But - I'm still guessing- the influence of Yuri Goloubev must also play its part. The Russian bassist has an astonishing capacity to sustain and project a long graceful melodic line - either bowed or plucked - so it must be quite hard for Simcock not to want to feature that powerful voice, up close in the foreground, to make it lead, to bring in the other voices as accompaniment.

Concentrating on what is new was one thing to think about. But hearing Simcock again also brings a recapping, a re-familiarizing of the ears to what it is that makes the jaw drop so often when he's playing. There's that panic-of-the-door-about-to-close at the top of an intensity-build, when he brings in the extra right hand scampering, the improbable rhythmic displacement, shifts up into the gears so many other pianists just don't have. Then after that, there's the space he finds after those moments of passion, which were caught particularly well in that special, immediate, and unforgiving acoustic of the Holywell Music Room.

This was an intense musical experience. All three musicians were playing the room, particularly James Maddren, who performed an astonishing miracle of balance.

At the Pizza Express in Dean Street for the week starting this Friday the vibe will be different. The trio will be there for the album launch on Friday, but for the nights thereafter they will be welcoming some fascinating guests. Anyone who has tried to play a saxophone, or even just thought about it, should check out any of Julian Arguelles or Stan Sulzmann or Klaus Gesing. All three of these are phenomenal. Then there's a rare appearance by wonderfully melodic Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, and there's South London's own Gerard Presencer flugelling back from Copenhagen.

So much to enjoy. Full details of the Nov 27 to Dec 3 Pizza Express residency are at http://www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk

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Marcus Miller plus Gary Husband's Drive


Marcus Miller - Tutu Revisited plus Gary Husband's Drive,

(Barbican, London Jazz Festival. 22 November 2009, Review by Rob Mallows)


As Marcus Miller explained to the Barbican audience, Miles Davis was never one to go back and repeat himself. In revisiting 1985's Tutu, Miller's idea was to approach it with a group of younger musicians and demonstrate its relevance almost a quarter of a century on. Job done, and well, too. Alex Han blew hard on the sax and prowled the lip of the stage, offering brutal power and a light touch when required; trumpeter Christian Scott - what shoes he had to fill! - was tight, providing a good facsimile of Davis' phrasing which was often just a single note dropped in and left to resonate; and Ronald Bruner Jr on drums didn't so much play his drums as beat them into submission;his snare drum hit sounded like a nail gun penetrating a piece of two-by-four!

A Stanley Clarke alumnus, Bruner clearly revels in battling beat for beat with the world's premier bassists. And Miller is definitely one of those. His trademark treble-rich bass tone and slap funk style is shot through Tutu like a stick of rock, and playing the album in its entirety, he showed that it still stands up to scrutiny. With his young compadres on stage, Miller acted as tutor, encouraging them to improvise at will, giving each the space to shine in between some bullet-fast solos. At one point, he, Han and Scott were huddled together in front of Bruner - like a group of schoolboys guilty smoking an illicit fag - swapping phrases and goading each other on. Breathlessly entertaining stuff.

The whole album got an airing - I liked Splatch, a great funky tune, and the set closer Tutu, where Federico Gonzalez Pena 's expansive layered keyboards punctuated the insistent bass groove. Augmenting the album tracks were songs from Miller's own catalogue, Hannibal and Jean Pierre in particular being welcomed by the knowing fans. Miller's playing was crisp, exquisite at the top of the fretboard and sonorously heavy at the low end - during Tomaas, his three bass cabinets fairly shook the first ten rows. His slap-pop technique, while not to everyone's tastes, is tremendously exciting live and bought numerous ovations.

The Marcus Miller trademark sound is what made helped make Tutu a stand-out album. It got the Barbican audience in end-of-festival mood lapping it up, with hundreds of heads bobbing in satisfied unison.

In support was Gary Husband 's Drive. Drive shows that jazz is Husband's passion, which the day job behind the drumkit for pop-funksters Level 42 pays for. His drumming is top notch; his piano playing a real contrast; he's an adept band leader - a nod here and a handwave there to keep things moving along; his compositions use a broad tonal palette.

With bass go-to man Mike Janisch, Julian Siegel on sax and Richard Turner on trumpet, Drive offered up a medium-rare slice of contemporary jazz which was adventurous but, for this reviewer, sometimes over the edge - their Take Five was too tricksy and way out for me. One Prayer offered more variety. But I found that a 30 minute set was too short for a band of this calibre.

Rob Mallows runs the London Jazz Meetup group

Photo of Christian Scott by Mike Stemberg

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Review: Omar Puente


Omar Puente
(Jazz Café, London Jazz Festival, November 17th, review by Luke Pinkstone)


Violinist Omar Puente describes himself as “a classical musician whose heart beats with a Cuban rhythm, whose soul is African and whose home is Yorkshire”. Wherever it hails from, his humour, his deep love of music, broad smile and gentle pitter-patter to the tightly locked grooves are contagious. Having been in the public eye for other reasons, this was Puente doing what he does best. It took no time at all for the audience at the Jazz Cafe to start applauding him, to cheer him on, and to get up and dance.

Puente and his band of Robert Mitchell Piano, Jimmy Martinez Bass, Michel Castellano Drums and Oscar Martinez percussion make their way as a tight professional unit through both unison melodic lines and synchronised hits. Mitchell’s sensitive playing weaved between solid montunos, classical counterpoint and intermittent fills. His precision and thoughtful improvisation held the group together harmonically, while Michel Castellano pushed forward with impressive fills and solid rhythms.

Omar made full use of his control pedals by his feet (one that most metal guitarists would be jealous of). A quick tap in during a rendition of “Rumbiando” looped the violins repeating patterns, while another during “Just Like U” gave funky wha wha effects - possibly an unorthodox approach, but one that didn’t feel out of place.

One extended intro saw Omar Puente taking an indulgent cadenza awash with fleeting musical excerpts. As Omar skipped seamlessly through references to Bach’s Cello Suite, Brahms Hungarian Dance #5 and Gershwins’ Summertime (among others) the virtuoso paused a few times, either to stop himself giving too much of one piece away, to absorb the admiration and laughter of the audience or to simply to glance over to his amused band. However, don’t be misled by the jokery, Omar Puente is one serious musician and before the audience had a chance to catch up, he cued his band and delved into a fiery rendition of Mambo Influenciado. The quick-fingered skill is of Puente was something to be admired and he comfortably skimmed the violin's full compass with ease, his classical technique serving its purpose in aiding the furious improvisation.

The band closed the set in true party atmosphere with joyous Latin rhythms, singing and dancing. As the applause and whoops died away I was disappointed to find myself stepping outside to realise that I hadn’t been transported to Cuba. It was still Camden. It was still raining.

Luke Pinkstone

Puente's new debut solo album ‘From There To Here’ is out, on Courtney Pine's Destin-E label.

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Craig Taborn Trio


The first appearance by US keyboard player Craig Taborn 's own trio, with Thomas Morgan (bass) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) is at the Vortex on Monday December 7th. I reviewed Taborn as part of Chris Potter's band HERE . It will be recorded for Jazz on 3.

Recommended.

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Telegraph obituary for Jeff Clyne (1937 2009)

There's an affectionate obituary in today's Telegraph HERE

See a number of tributes and links on my original post HERE

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Stan Tracey on Jools Holland Later



An eagle-eyed reader has alerted me to this. Catch the Stan Tracey Quartet on Jools Holland Later. The whole show is on BBC iPlayer for another four days HERE .

It starts at 24:00 . Simon Allen (tenor sax) Stan Tracey CBE (piano)Andy Cleyndert (bass) Clark Tracey (drums) playing Triple Celebration .

The CD Senior Moment is on Resteamed.

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Photo: Jason Yarde and John Edwards

Photo from Kate Walters' Trouble Tune presentation in the RFH Clore Ballroom as part of the London Jazz Festival. Photo credit: mapsadaisical. There are several other photos too.

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London Jazz Festival - Round-up


Here is a London Jazz Festival round-up, just posted on my Telegraph blog

After ten days and more than 250 gigs across London, The London Jazz Festival is over for another year. It’s been popular. The Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican Hall were packed on the nights I went. As were the year-round clubs like the Bulls Head in Barnes, the Vortex and Ronnie Scott’s. And I get reports of scrums for daring promoters like the Green Man and Charlie Wright ’s. The audience was of all ages. Something for everyone, indeed.

Ivan Hewett tells me his reviewing highlight was Carla Bley. Others are in raptures over young piano hero and composer Gwilym Simcock ’s choral piece on Saturday. Or Sir John Dankworth, a commanding presence, even – temporarily, surely – in a wheelchair.

I was bowled over by the God-like presence of Sonny Rollins, by the protean piano skills and compositional palette of Chick Corea, by the (unexpected) knockabout humour of Stefano Bollani at Kings Place.

For the jazz community, events have been overshadowed by the sudden, tragic loss of a lynch-pin: bassist Jeff Clyne who died of a heart attack last Monday.

If you want a name for the future, then agents should not wait too long to beat a path to the door of Emma Smith from Hertforshire (above), who is patiently building her craft under the watchful eyes of the jazz faculty at the Royal Academy of Music. She sang Steve Swallow’s Ladies in Mercedes to words by her heroine Norma Winstone with grit, attack and top drawer musicality. Whisper it gently, she’s 18 , but this could, should, be a major career.

BBC Radio 3 have broadcast some, and will broadcast more on radio. A bit too much in the graveyard slots. Jazz in Britain is getting bigger at a pace which makes the absence of a TV partner to capture some of the action feel increasingly like a gap.

The BBC has been known to clear its TV schedules for the chicken-strangling sounds of Birtwistle, for mile after mile of featureless John Tavener. But still chooses to ignore jazz. Someone needs a wake-up call.

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Review: Madeleine Peyroux



Review: Madeleine Peyroux
(Royal Festival Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 20th 2009, review by Zena James)

It was more folk/blues/country than jazz, and it lacked high-energy ‘fifth gear’ moments, but Madeleine Peyroux’s laid-back set nevertheless captured the hearts of a packed Royal Festival Hall on Friday.

After all, fifth gear was not what this show was about. Clutching the bowler hat that was to become her faithful prop between and during almost every song, the melancholy American-French chanteuse and guitarist delivered a string of mid-tempo shuffles, drifting between shy hesitance and bursts of confidence all night. Even in a venue of this size, Peyroux created a distinctly casual, intimate atmosphere, and that’s her strength.

Announcing her set as ‘pared down to the essentials’ she was joined by a good-humoured quartet for an evening of “booze, blues and ballads” and that’s exactly what we got. A collection of easy-listening, wistful tunes from her last three albums with the occasional ¾ ballad thrown in.

Earnest and humble in her links, she was apologetic about singing only two ‘happy songs’. Given her penchant for storytelling, it was frustrating that unclear diction (Peyroux loves to slide her notes and vowels) or an unfortunate sound mix sometimes made it hard to really fall under her spell.

Highlights for me were the unusually (slightly) funky, Hammond-heavy You Can’t Do Me (one of two tunes presented from her fourth album Bare Bones, released in April this year), the hypnotic Dance Me To The End of Love (Leonard Cohen) and a moving, beautiful closing rendition of the 1938 Broadway hit I’ll Be Seeing You.

It was also a welcome and endearing move in the middle of the set for the whole band to shuffle to the front of the stage and ‘recreate’ the Parisian busking scene in which Peyroux spent her teenage years. Complete with the addition of mandolin, harmonica and melodica to the line-up we were treated to a charming waltz sung in French and a warm and engaging Don’t Cry (Bessie Smith).

The surprise choice in an otherwise fairly melancholic evening was a uplifting, up-tempo, hugely popular I Hear Music (Lane/Loesser), the only real high energy section and the closest thing to jazz I heard all night…....

......except that as I passed the Archduke Wine Bar & Restaurant on the way back, the superb swinging sound of vocalist/pianist Anjali Perrin performing Chet Baker’s Do It The Hard Way with her trio drew me in and gave me the jazz fix that Peyroux didn’t quite manage.

Peyroux's band: Barak Mori - double bass, Darren Beckett - drums, Gary Versace - piano and Hammond organ, Pat Bergeson - mandolin, guitar, harmonica and melodica

Zena James' CD Tell Me More is on Jazzizit Records.

Photo credit:James Minchin

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Review: Gilberto Gil


Review: Gilberto Gil
(Royal Festival Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 19th 2009, review by Rod Fogg)


There is no equivalent to Gilberto Gil in the English speaking world. If you could find someone who mixed the politics of Nelson Mandela, the poetry of Bob Dylan, and was as popular as the Beatles, you still wouldn't be close. The Beatles only stuck around for 10 years or so; as Gil reminded us at one point, his first gig in London had been with Caetano Veloso on this very same stage 40 years ago.

In Brazil, the generation before Gil caught the world's attention with bossa nova in the late 1950s. Tom Jobim, Luis Bonfa, Astrid and Joao Gilberto and many others had hits, wrote for other artists and exported a brand of Brazillian music that was rhythmic, jazzy and cool above all things.

Gil's generation sought to push the boundaries still further, combining elements from American rock and funk and Caribbean reggae with traditional Brazilian rhythms and jazz harmonies to form a style known as Tropicalia. Politically, he was always outspoken, and at great personal risk criticised Brazil's ruling military junta that came to power in 1964, leading to imprisonment and exile. He inspired an entire generation of political opposition, but things came full circle in 2005 when he was appointed Brazil's Minister of Culture in President Da Silva's government.

Tonight, Gil sat on a slightly raised platform in the centre of the orchestral-sized Royal Festival Hall stage. His son Bem Gil sat to his left playing guitar, to his right sat cellist Jaques Morelenbaum. This is Gil's "String Concert" project, in which Gil himself plays guitar and sings, and unusually for Brazilian music there is no percussion, save that provided by the strumming and slapping of nylon string guitars. The atmosphere was intimate in spite of the large stage, and with each performer tastefully picked out by pencil beams of blue or gold light it was easy to feel drawn in.

Gil has an astounding voice; dark and creamy-textured in the lower register (and he goes very low), breathy and husky or rich and full, but also capable of astonishing falsetto leaps and wails. The sound was glorious - a sumptuous, warm acoustic - clearly the recent makeover of the Royal Festival Hall has worked wonders in sonic terms.

Much of tonight's repertoire was chosen from among the most popular songs in Gil's back catalogue of more than 50 albums. Most songs were introduced in English and Portuguese, and Gil's comments in his native tongue often provoked laughter among the fluent or bilingual. He played for a marathon one hour and 45 minutes before leaving the stage to a standing ovation and then returning for several encores.

Gil sang the entire concert in Portuguese, and it is not easy to convey the genuine warmth of the audience reception, even though probably no more than 30% of them were Portuguese speaking. The interplay of the two guitars mixed with the sonorous cello created an engrossing backdrop for Gil's vocal expression, and created something which transcended mere language; a truly memorable musical experience.


Rod Fogg is the author of the Totally Interactive Band Bible.
Photo Credit: Nicole Neuefeind, www.nicneu.com

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Review: Marcus Roberts Trio



Review: Marcus Roberts Trio: Marcus Roberts - piano;Rodney Jordan - double bass;Jason Marsalis - drums
(Wigmore Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 16th 2009, Review by Kate Williams)


The Marcus Roberts Trio played entirely acoustically last Monday at the Wigmore Hall to an audience who were captivated from the outset.

The influence of early 20th century jazz was evident both in choice of much of the material (Jelly Roll Morton's New Orleans Blues, Fats Waller's Honeysuckle Rose and Jitterbug Waltz), and in the style of playing, particularly Roberts' often simple triadic left-hand voicings and right hand melodies. Against this backdrop, the use of more contemporary harmonies became all the more poignant.

Roberts' managed to incorporate quotations in the most unexpected places - both canny and inventive, but always musical, never sounding self-conscious or out of place. A slowish version of Out Of Nowhere provided a canvas for splashes of both Joe Henderson's Isotope , and Victor Feldman's Seven Steps To Heaven.

Jitterbug Waltz was a high point (one of many). Opening with a hypnotic brushes drum riff by Marsalis, Roberts proceeded to play the melody with beautiful focus, his singing piano tone and rich sound pallet to the fore.

The communication between the band members was flawless, and the grooves were always strong regardless of the dynamic level, which was sometimes barely above a whisper. Roberts played incredibly softly and quickly without sacrificing clarity. (As a piano player, I was looking on with both awe and envy!)

With a solo piano version of Pete Johnson's KC on My Mind demonstrating Roberts' boogie woogie skills, a concise version of Coltrane's Naima, several Cole Porter tunes (with some interesting rhythmic displacement in What Is This Thing Called Love ), one original tune, and a sprinkling of Monk and Ellington, this was a concert of both engaging and moving music.

(Photo credit: Eric Smith, Knoxville TN)

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Review: Stan Sulzmann Quartet

Review: Stan Sulzmann QuartetThe Green Man, London Jazz Festival, November 20th 2009, review by Patrick Hadfield)

After four nights going to gigs in the Queen Elizabeth Hall – a concert venue if ever there was one – on Friday I headed down to the basement of the Green Man by Great Portland Street station. Just like the QEH gigs, this one was also packed to capacity – standing room only – to see the Stan Sulzmann Quartet.

Nigel Tully, MC'ing described Stan as "Britain's biggest Sonny Rollins fan"; I had missed Rollins sellout show at the Barbican, and to make up for it Stan was treating us to an evening of Rollins' tunes

This was straight ahead fun-jazz. All the tunes were familiar – Sonnymoon For Two, Alfie and Benny Golson's I Remember Clifford stick in my mind – and the feeling was very relaxed: this was an evening in the pub after a busy week. Sulzmann has a very clear, muscular tone. His affection, respect and warmth for Rollins was palpable: he described how Rollins sought him out to thank him after Sulzmann had been in the support band at Ronnie Scott's.

As well as Sulzmann, the quartet had British jazz stalwart Jim Mullen on guitar, who played some lovely clean solos. The rhythm section was completed by Steve Watts on bass and Tristan Maillot on drums.

There was a pleasant simplicity to this gig. It brought the authentic experience of listening to top-class British jazz in ideal surroundings. Standing at the bar, pint in hand, listening to the largely unamplified music. Pure pleasure.

Jazz at the The Green Man is promoted by the Worshipful Company of Musicians.
Their next promotion is the Frank Griffith nonet on January 27th.

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Downbeat Poll Winners

Here is a pdf of December Downbeat. Complete with this year's poll-winners. It's a big file (which came through to me via Twitter and Facebook) and takes time to load.

The poll winners start at page 40.

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Review: Stefano Bollani/Antonello Salis


It wasn't very Islington. You could sense a deep intake of breath as a smart Friday-night Kings Place full house caught its first sight of Antonello Salis (photo credit : Fabio Presutti). A bright yellow bandana, and in its shade the impish weather-beaten face of a Sardinian approaching 60 (the salt got into his surname too). A black singlet revealing an awful lot of toned- if not exactly youthful - shoulder and forearm. There was an accordion on standing on the floor, and then Stefano Bollani announced in slightly over-respectful tones :"It is very important that you should know...(Pinter pause..) that we are now going to play (....)music for two pianos."

But once the two had let rip, it was clear what was going to happen. This was a gig with a cheeky, unbuttoned, anything-goes vibe. The music, the gags were continuous for just over 50 minutes. And those minutes passed very quickly indeed. This pair would be hard to beat for having fun and unwinding on a Friday night. The pace was varied, the quoting constant. A bit of Fats Waller here, a bit of splishsplash Don Pullen there. And according to an erudite friend, quite a few tasty dollops of Nino Rota too. The tunes they settled into were the Beatles' Here, There and Everywhere, Johnny Green's Body and Soul. But there was also a lot of vamping and joking around looped sequences. And singing. And laughter.

The toys came out too. A few in the first set, and a lot more in the second, when Salis switched mostly to accordion. Puppets with built-in electronic laughs, percussion instruments such as a wooden spoon, a saucepan lid, and (particularly effective on the strings of the Steinway) a supermarket plastic bag.

Bollani is a monster pianist. Salis is no slouch either. But perhaps the most surprising revelation (to me anyway) was Bollani as a pop singer. He gave Bruno Martino's 1968 romantic song "E la chiamano estate" (And they call it summer) the full Italian resonant baritone treatment. He's good.

To finish, the two gave a rocky and energetic treatment to Lady Madonna - with excursions into eg the revolutionary song Avanti Popolo and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. If it wasn't Islington, it wasn't ECM either. But it was what we buttoned-up Brits need more of: great, knockabout fun.

Stefano Bollani's band I Visionari is on at Kings Place tonight. www.kingsplace.co.uk

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Review: Giulia plus the Bright-Size Gypsies



Giulia y Los Tellarini plus the Bright-Size Gypsies
(Purcell Room, London Jazz Festival, November 19th 2009, review of the Bright-Size Gypsies by Rob Mallows)


Simon Harris and The Bright Size Gypsies (photo above in Symphony Hall, Birmingham- credit: Gary Corbett) are the sort of act which would normally go under my musical radar. I've never listened to gypsy jazz in anger, but Harris' modern twist on this old-school style, with ska and pop stylings mixed in with Django-inspired guitars, worked on the whole. This was a fun 50 minute set. When musicians on stage are clearly having a blast, that transmits itself to the listener.

The music was lively - the cover of Billie Jean by Michael Jackson was an odd idea, but none the less effective; their play on the Jaws theme with Shark Eyes was more infectious than swine flu. I was less sure about Chinese Cowboy, which I'd file under the rare heading of comedy jazz - but totting it up there were more hits than misses. My friend Mark felt the sound wasn't sufficiently 'gypsy'; for me that was more of a good thing.

Simon Harris's cheeky chappy stage persona - like a jazz Phil Daniels channelling Ian Dury via The Specials - created a good rapport with the audience, four of whom upped and left after one song - what gives there? - and he was ably supported by some great musicians.

Mentioned in despatches should be Frank Moon for his energetic acoustic guitar and banjo playing; the all female rhythm section of bassist Ruth Goller - taking time off from Acoustic Ladyland - and drummer Joelle Barker who marshalled the tempo changes well; and Dave Shulman's clarinet and sax sound was straight out of a wartime dance hall. Bev Lee Harling from Mediaeval Baebes and Esther Dee on vocals were compelling, too - their coquettish dancing, corsages and close harmony doo-wop singing suggesting a couple of would-be forces sweethearts. Easy on both the eye and the ear!

This is what festivals should be about: uncovering something new and giving it a go.

Rob Mallows

----------------------------------

Giulia y Los Tellarini. It was quite simple to see how this was supposed to work. All that Giulia Tellarini needed to do was to bounce onto the Purcell Room stage with her Sinead O'Connor crewcut and her black velvet mini-dress and high heels, to offer warm greetings from Barcelona to a full house straight in from the cold of a London night in November. Perhaps mention Woody Allen and the film. Instant sunshine, guaranteed.

So far, so good, perhaps. But, at least for this pair of ears, that was as good it got. Giulia- an air pilot's daughter from Treviso by way of Cottesmore, Leicestershire and Barcelona has that kind of voice which doesn't so much cut through textures as strip paint. And the band, from one of Europe's great maritime cities, were barely seaworthy. In fact, the approximate bassist didn't provide any sort of anchor; the tuning of the other three plucked instruments made me feel a little seasick; and the band seemed to find it hard to navigate its way through a modulation without losing a player or two overboard.

I recognize this type of band, delivering music with an energy which can be irresistibly raw and gritty. But Los Tellarini were having a distinctly off night.

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News: Led Bib publishing contract.

A Led Bib set list. Ink on toilet paper, 2009.*

Possibly - for whoever owns it- a collector's item already. Because, as Music Week reported yesterday

Mercury Prize nominees Led Bib are joining Faber Music Media’s roster for synch.

The band, whose album Sensible Shoes was nominated for the Barclaycard Mercury Prize this year, have agreed a deal with the company for film, TV and synch licensing.


They join the likes of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Oscar-winning film composer Stephen Warbeck at Faber.

The band’s Mark Holub says, “We are all really excited about the Faber signing, everything has accelerated for us since the announcement and it’s a brilliant time. This new prospect of working with film and TV is a great new development and we look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with Faber.”

Congratulations!

(*)Note: Facts checked , item authenticated with the band this morning.

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Review: London Jazz Collective


Review : London Jazz Collective
(London Jazz Festival, Spice of Life, November 15th 2009, Review by Luke Pinkstone)


If I'd been looking for a gig to pace myself gently into the London Jazz Festival, this wouldn't have been the right one; because the London Jazz Collective are hard-hitters. And also because the Spice of Life (above), a favourite haunt of mine, is a very small space for such a powerful outfit. The noise limiter was peaking red for the majority of the set, but- somehow- the sound remained remarkably clean throughout.

This joyous 16-piece band took over and dominated the Spice with a brass-heavy sound and let rip into their first number, the uplifting “Gigitus.” The first set showcased refreshing compositions from current band members and the ensemble's Australian alumni. Nick Blake ’s composition “ In My Blood ” saw the band turning its trade to James Taylor-style acid jazz where JC Caddy (drums) and Alex Hawkins (keyboards) pinned down the groove with beefy drum hits and dense, whirling organ harmonies.

LJC kept the audience guessing throughout the afternoon with their eclectic mix of funk, Latin, contemporary compositions and conventional big band arrangements. A few cracks emerged in the tightly scripted sectional lines and instrumental cadenza of the more challenging compositions, but that didn’t get in the way of confident and energetic performances of inspired, original pieces.

The end of the first set finished with an unusual theme, and Ballad For Mary Jane was followed up with a blaring rendition of Spider Man Theme. The band finished with up with Saskia’s Dance, a frisky up-tempo calypso with impressive combined tenor solos from Dan Faulkner and Nick Blake in which the traded fours before breaking into swing. The encore continued in similar fashion and groove based piano montunos, clave rhythms and another round of solos were rewarded with enthusiastic applause from the audience.

More showmanship, versatility and loud energy will be on display when the London Jazz Collective return to the Spice of Life on 3rd December.

Luke Pinkstone

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Review: Sheila Jordan


Review: Sheila Jordan 81st birthday gig
(Bull's Head, London Jazz Festival, November 18th 2009,
review by Georgia Mancio)

"It’s quite something to stand up and convey a song. It looks easy…," mused a member of the audience at the busy Bull’s Head on Wednesday night. "...but it’s difficult to convey overly emotive songs, and it’s difficult to convey jokey songs," he concluded, having taken part in Sheila Jordan ’s vocal workshop that preceded this gig in celebration of her 81st birthday. On a stage decorated with pink and purple balloons and large bouquets, Sheila continued the masterclass, conveying all of these emotions -and more- with ease, but never complacency.

Halfway through the first set, she followed the deeply moving Jimmy Webb composition, The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress, (particularly poignant in its dedication to long-term musical collaborator and friend, Jeff Clyne , who had sadly passed away on Monday) with the witty parent/child characterisation of Bobby Timmons’ and Oscar Brown Jr’s Dat Dere sung to her own daughter.

These two songs and these two moments represent everything that is typical about a Sheila Jordan performance: you will laugh, you will cry, you will understand that this is an artist in which life and music constantly intertwine and are celebrated whatever the occasion.

Tonight, she described her childhood and early musical influences by way of a humorous blues; admired the artistry of Don Cherry in her lyrics to his song Art Deco; reminded us of her jazz lineage by quoting Sonny Rollins (The Touch of Your Lips), honouring Ella Fitzgerald (Lady Be Good), making joyous sense of nonsense (Ooh Pa Pi Da) and evoking friend, Charlie Parker, in her ever nimble and textural scat, inate and boundless musicality and indefatigable devotion to her calling.

It had clearly been a long day and recent ill health meant that she sat down when she needed to but in a way that heightened her relaxed authority over her sensitive band, Brian Kellock (piano), Kenny Ellis (bass) and Stuart Ritchie (drums). Theirs was a co-operative venture- she clearly appreciative of their musicianship and they in turn never overshadowing hers even when storming through a trio version of Hi Fly or brilliantly, if at first tentatively, scatting to order.

Towards the end of the night her voice started to crack slightly but her smile, energy and commitment to her audience never faded and showing her mettle she dug deeper on the closing blues. She told us "No matter who disappoints you in this music or life, just do it." It seemed everyone in the audience from the inspired singers to the old friends to the novice jazz club goers was lifted by that.

At the end of a beautiful rendition of Michel Legrand’s You Must Believe in Spring she vamped: "Believe in Spring, believe in you, believe in me, believe in jazz".

We do, Sheila, we do.

* * * * *

Followthis link to Sheila Jordan's website

Singer Georgia Mancio is appearing with the Frank Griffith nonet this Sunday November 22nd at Live on the Park.

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Peter Slavid on rave reviews

An opinion piece from Peter Slavid, who asks critics to be more critical, and to stop giving out five stars to everything:

I'm getting a bit fed up with reading all the superlative reviews from London Jazz Festival. (and most other places for that matter).

Is everyone too polite to write anything other than "brilliant" (this blog review of Branford Marsalis' concert was a notable exception which at least made an effort at genuine criticism.)

Do critics and bloggers only go to gigs they know they are going to like? Or do they not bother to write about gigs they didn't enjoy? Doesn't anyone else go to see someone they haven't seen before and come away wondering what all the fuss was about? Or someone they have seen before only to find they were much better last time?

Surely if everyone gets rave ***** reviews then the critical currency is totally devalued. In any case the gig will never be repeated - its not like theatre criticism where the critic can ruin the finances of a play - all the jazz critic can do is express an opinion about a performance on the night.

Theatre critics have no problem commenting on good performances in a bad play, or vice versa - surely jazz critics can recognise quality musicians who don't gel on the night - or average musicians who have a storming gig - we can't always see brilliant musicians playing at their peak every night - life's not like that!

Interestingly critics seem more inclined to give lower ratings to CDs - where they actually can impact sales. (The cynic might think that's because lots of people will hear the same thing and can form their own opinion)

Anyway - I for one would welcome a bit more light and shade in criticism - I'd like to know which of the artists that I didn't see are genuinely worth a special effort to see next time, which ones were good, and which ones failed to live up to their reputations.

Is it just me?

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Review: John Surman


Review:John Surman
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 18th 2009, review by Patrick Hadfield)


The celebration of John Surman ’s 65 years was a gig of two halves. Surman played support to his own quartet, opening with a couple of solo numbers on soprano saxophone and bass clarinet, accompanied by a variety of electronics. His bass clarinet had a lovely, rich tone, and his gadgets allowed him to double and triple-track so that he was accompanying himself, creating instrumental choir effects. Other bits of electronica added less for me, providing rhythmic but apparently random patterns which distracted from Surman’s playing.

He was then joined by long-time collaborator Karin Krog on vocals. They played a charming suite of Norwegian folk songs before Surman moved to the piano for a version of “God Bless the Child”.

The second half featured the quartet featured on Surman’s latest record, Brewster’s Rooster, the ECM supergroup with Jack DeJohnette on drums, John Abercrombie on guitar, and Drew Gress on bass. They were on fire. Surman was playing with a vengeance on both baritone and soprano sax, and DeJohnette just made it look so easy: in a festival where the quality of drummers has been outstanding, his playing during the faster numbers was superlative.

DeJohnette was excellent through most of the set, but to my ears he played with the same intensity during the quieter numbers, too – a sumptuous version of Chelsea Bridge featuring Surman’s wonderfully emotive baritone could have benefited from a softer attack.

For the rest of the time, though, the quartet worked together really well. There was clearly a lot of empathy between all the musicians. They played a long, energetic set – and it must take a lot of breath to play the baritone saxophone with that power and energy for that long. Surman wasn’t slacking on the soprano, either, pouring out notes at a frenetic pace.

This was great music in celebration of one of Britain’s great jazz talents.

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Gwilym Simcock- choral work , CD launch....

Gwilym Simcock is busy....He will be giving the London premiere of his choral commission "I Prefer the Gorgeous Freedom" this Saturday 21st in the Queen Elizabeth Hall at 2pm. It had a very well-received first performance in the Norwich and Norfolk Festival in May.


His trio, with Yuri Goloubev on bass and James Maddren on drums has a Pizza Express Dean Street residency from November 27th (date of the new CD launch of "Blues Vignette") until December 3rd. There are (increasingly rare) London appearances in this residency by, eg, saxophonist Julian Arguelles and by trumpeter Gerard Presencer, and by Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel.

Album samples HERE . Into the recommended list.

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Review: Carla Bley plus Julian Siegel




Review: Carla Bley's Lost Chords plus Julian Siegel Trio

(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 17th 2009)

I definitely feel the need to spare the reader today, to distil the strongest impressions from four-and-a-half hours spent at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night into something crisp. If not quite Bridget Jones telegramese, then let every word from now on today fight for its place.

Joey Baron (above), the drummer in Julian Siegel 's trio needs to be seen. He is something else. He gives the impression that every single percussive hit on a drum or rim or cymbal is precisely, even superhumanly placed. He is intent and concentrated on his own performance, but those eyes, moving from left (to look at Cohen) and right (Siegel) are so alert and watchful. There's linkedup energy in the stick movement and in the smile. Unbelievable. As one musican remarked to me, it must be completely daunting, because it feels as if Baron is never, never wrong. Alternative profession: tennis umpire, perhaps.

This trio is world-class. There is nothing Siegel cannot do on a tenor saxophone, the CD they recorded Live at the Vortex (Basho) is stunning, but they're getting better. There was an accident. Baron suddenly found his stick disintegrating. Two, three bits flew off, and drumstick became a pencil stub. Without a single hit going astray.

Carla Bley has what the lonely hearts columns call GSOH. (A good/quirky/understated sense of humour like Bley's should be available on prescription during the next six months of grubby electioneering which Britain is about to undergo.) The Lost Chords are what we need: a band where they are all constantly looking around for where the next laugh might be coming from.

In the interview before the gig Bley was remembering being a cigarette girl in Birdland, selling Paul Bley a packet of Luckies - that was the lonely heart sorted out with her GSOH once- writing for Paul Bley's band , meeting Steve Swallow - that makes twice- and then musically building out a duo into the current quartet.

Highlights of ECM-ish beauty were the moody modal and Miles-y Lost Chords , and a sublime encore Útviklingssang. I loved the Weill-ish digging-in of Valse Sinistre. Drummond was ever-lively, Swallow impeccable and warm-toned, Sheppard fluent. But what I will remember- especially for when the politicians drone- is the anarchic chuckle of this band.

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Jeff Clyne (1937-2009)

There's a sense of sadness and of shock in the UK jazz community at the sudden passing, on Monday, of bassist Jeff Clyne. One of those omnipresent, irreplaceable figures in British jazz as performer and teacher. If you seek his monument, just go and have a careful look at your record collection. A huge loss, which is only just beginning to sink in.

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Review: Melody Gardot



Review: Melody Gardot
(Royal Festival Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 15th 2009, review by
Alison Hoblyn)


Melody Gardot's lateness antagonised the Royal Festival Hall audience.
But Melody Gardot - gradually - won over writer
Alison Hoblyn.
---------------------------------------------------

There was unrest in the Festival Hall on Sunday night. We’d been waiting over 25 minutes for Melody Gardot to set foot onstage and there’d already been three rounds of slow handclapping. I heard grumblings of ‘Call her Untrained Melody..’ from around me. The same MC who’d told us she would be 10 minutes late now re-appeared and began to waffle. ‘Is she ready!?’ someone called – and at last the lights went down.

Given the circumstances, it was an unfortunate beginning. Melody and her band, picked out by a follow spot, walked in through the audience – her voice singing into the blackness -accompanied by more handclapping. Was this part of the performance, or just a continuation of the audience disapproval? One doesn't always get answers,up in the distant darkness of the balcony.

Her slender figure, dressed in black, gained the stage. She knelt down, centre front. There she began to pick up handfuls of sand, sifting it through her fingers- for what seemed like aeons - and then writing in sand on the floor in front of her. Maybe this would have been a theatrical and reflective start - if we hadn’t been waiting so long. At last, she rose to her feet and in that familiar clear voice began to sing a capella – a gospel type song, stamping her left foot as a percussive accompaniment. Certainly, given her medical history, she appeared not in the least frail. And, from the moment she began, she had you trusting – if not quite forgiving. Yet.

Her second number was lit to throw dramatic silhouettes of the band onto the back wall. She somehow seemed to be giving a message: ‘I, Melody Gardot, am not a packaged easy listening artist.’ She began at the piano, hopping up to kneel on the stool in order to pluck the strings of the Steinway, her attenuated form writhing on the back wall. She and the band were swaying, improvising. Jazz. Suddenly, agreeably, I found myself in New York, I was listening to the traffic moving and hooting through the city.

By the time she began ‘The Rain’ she was redeemed. At last her voice had come to the fore. And it is a very particular voice – I think there is no point in trying to compare her to other artists. There is a dimension of depth; the depth not vocal - for her voice is light and air-filled – but with a sense of knowing love and loss. She has this endearing way of pausing before she finishes the last consonant of a word - making a plosive fullstop. You can hear her breath, and it makes her real.

In between songs Melody talked to us of melancholy and thankfulness – maybe a bit too touchy-feely for the average male in the audience – but it felt genuine to me and scarily mature for a 24 year old. The young men in front of me were riveted however; looking down on the thatch of bright blonde hair and slim figure; no doubt about it, Melody is also good to look at. That is, as well as talented. She moved between piano, voice and two guitars – dubbed her ‘American husband and her Spanish husband’ – with ease.

Sadly, the late start meant many of her audience evacuated the auditorium before she was through. She tried to get us to sing along with ‘Who Will Comfort Me?’ – but perhaps put a few off by saying ‘If you can sing, join in and if you can’t sing………..don’t’. The encore began at 11pm. I was watching her doing a sinuous twist as the sax player (Irwin Hall) wreathed out the notes of ‘Caravan’. It was late, very late, So I understand why quite a lot of people had to leave. But they missed a real treat.

In short, I’m ready to see – and forgive her – all over again.

Alison Hoblyn is a novelist, garden writer and artist

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Review: Branford Marsalis Quartet

Branford Marsalis Quartet
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 15th 2009)

Branford Marsalis ' Quartet has been out on the road for a couple of months now. Last night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Marsalis was telling stories about some of the things which can go wrong on tour. Like the anecdotes which he had attempted to tell on-stage, only to find them falling flat without any English-speakers in the audience. Like the tragic tale of Eric Revis ' treasured high-strung double bass, of how it had teetered off a Turkish luggage carousel, pirouetted, fallen, and smashed.

But, when improvising musicians tour, other things inevitably happen as well. The sound of a band emerges, they find those particular areas in which they can push the collective, collaborative experience of making music to the absolute limits. And try new ones. The more often a band tells a story, the more convincing and exciting it can become. Or so it should.

The audience last night were responding to the collective vibe of this band with increasing enthusiasm, clapping and cheering as the rhythmic intensity gathered. All of the talk, all the excitement seemed to be about teenager Justin Faulkner from Philadelphia. As one commentator put it afterwards on Twitter: "Branford Marsalis has got himself another monster drummer! " Faulkner is clearly an extraordinary natural talent. Forceful, dominant, but also capable of reining right back, as he proved in the two ballads by pianist Joey Calderazzo.

But- possibly alone in a very enthusiastic hall?- I found the quartet's performance of the faster numbers a bit one-geared. They have found what excites, what gets the response,so they were cutting straight to the chase every time. The rhythmic tension is a given, it's standard equipment, there's no build-up to it. If there was a direction of travel of the set, it seemed inexorably, predictably to be moving towards the mother of all drum solos by Faulkner. Joey Calderazzo wasn't so much applying full arm-weight to the piano as bench-pressing it. Eric Revis was always busy, but bass players are by necessity a stoical breed who need to be resigned to the fact of life that their weapon of choice can't always be heard in the heat of battle. Marsalis himself seemed to be reducing his role to the constant throwing out of rhythmic challenges.

There were - with musicians of this calibre there always are - things to enjoy. The two ballads which Marsalis played on soprano were long-lined and fluent, and his soprano sound is sheer pleasure. W.C. Handy's St Louis Blues, with Julian Joseph sitting in on piano had the Marsalis soprano sax sound joyously transported back to pure Bechet and to the streets of either New Orleans, or possibly Antibes.

I know what these musicians are capable of. Branford Marsalis' 1999 album Requiem is for my desert island. I can't help it: I just found myself wanting more.

Check out a New York Times article about Justin Faulkner

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Honouring the Pine

Congratulations to Courtney Pine, who collects his CBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace later today.

Which has absolutely nothing to do with this late work by German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938)

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Review: Robert Glasper Trio

Review: Robert Glasper Trio, feat. Bilal Oliver
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Jazz Festival, November 15th 2009, Review by Peter Horsfall)


A packed Queen Elizabeth Hall last night played host to one of the Blue Note label’s most exciting young signings. Pianist Robert Glasper ’s trio, featuring bassist Derek Hodge and heavyweight drummer Chris Dave, served up a heady mix inspired equally by the significant history of the piano trio format and hip-hop production stylists Pete Rock and J Dilla. It was in fact a re-working of a composition by the latter which received the evening’s most animated audience response, highlighting the extent to which Glasper has forged for himself an audience which is as diverse as his own musical influences.

Playing on both the house Steinway and a Rhodes-piano in equal measure, we were treated to tracks from 2007’s In My Element record as well as some from this year’s release Double Booked (above). The trio were extremely relaxed on stage and at times playful, but constantly displayed their considerable virtuosity. Drummer Chris Dave in particular, while at times a little over-excitable, was certainly not shy of demonstrating his technical prowess.

The extended repetition of short anthemic grooves is something which Glasper’s trio both revels in and excels at. The debt to J Dilla and countless other hip-hop producers is clearest during these moments and is in turn a challenge to one of the dominant features of much contemporary jazz, that of constant and open development. For Glasper the joy of improvising often seems to lie in subtle and nuanced elaboration upon simple structures, a passion shared, it seems, by much of the audience for this gig.

Vocalist Bilal Oliver (famous as part of the neo-soul movement a few years back) also made a guest appearance with the trio for three numbers. While looking a little the worse-for-wear, no doubt having demolished the contents of the backstage mini-bar, Bilal went on to deliver an astonishing performance. His rendition of Duke Ellington’s In A Sentimental Mood contained moments of immense beauty, but also of incoherence. There is no doubting his formidable range and rich tone, which might well have stolen the show on a different night.

The trio also made use of pre-recorded samples, in true hip-hop fashion, with accompanying recordings of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama. Glasper was combining a message of political hope with his own musical optimism.

This positive mood conveyed itself to us in the audience. So when the trio left the stage, we stayed planted in our seats, eager for an encore.

But our hopes were to be thwarted- by the South Bank Centre’s 11pm curfew.

Review by Pete Horsfall

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Review: Staff Benda Bilili


Review:Staff Benda Bilili
(Barbican Hall, November 9th 2009, review by Adam Tait)



There’s a lot that can be said about Staff Benda Bilili. For one thing, it is impressive that a group of disabled musicians have made their way from the streets of Kinshasa to the luxurious concert hall of the Barbican. But what is more remarkable is that their physical and social/economic disadvantages leave the least impression. It is the performance itself that grips you. 
 
This is a truly exceptional group; whether just holding on to a strange 20 or 30 seconds of silence as they emerge on stage, smashing that silence with stomping rumba beats and chest-rumbling group vocals, or injecting the audience with their infectious joy.
 
The drum kit looks like nothing I’ve seen before. Unfaltering, driving rhythms penetrate the performance, both in the upbeat stamp-along songs, or the lamenting slower pieces. The drums are the perfect backbone for the polyrhythmic nature of Staff Benda Bilili. It is the use of this polyrhythmic talent that make the band such an interesting and exciting group.
 
The layering of voices is derived from traditional central and southern African music, but you are constantly aware that they are a modern band, using every influence that has come their way to its full effect.
 
They are innovators who, you feel, will truly change lives by making their music: their song ‘Lets All Go and Vote’ reputedly resulted in a 70% increase in polling figures in Congo. But regardless of the political significance of the band, it is the music which has the most effect.
 
Roger Landu , who’s instrument is listed as a satonge, provides the group with soul-melting solos. But these solos are above and beyond what anyone is used to. I’m not entirely sure what his instrument is made from. It is a sort of lute he has built himself with a tin can as a base and one string. He produces the most incredible sounds on this; part guitar solo, part pan-pipe melody. To have discovered a person with this degree of talent busking on the streets of Kinshasa is truly remarkable.

What seemed odd about the performance was not the array of wheelchairs and crutches, but that it was staged in the Barbican’s concert hall, with its mandatory seating. This is music to dance to, and whilst the group showed that you do not need to be able to stand up to dance, contingents of the audience gathered in the spaces at the corners of the stage or by the doors in order to find room to move their feet. The band should be playing at somewhere like the Notting Hill Carnival, somewhere in the sun, with people dancing and enjoying the shared pleasure of the music.

Staff Benda Bilili are continuing a UK tour. Remaining dates are :

Wednesday 18 November- Fiddlers Club, Bristol
Friday 20 November- )2 Academy, Oxford

(Photo: Le Monde)

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Sheila Jordan by Tessa Souter


New York singer Tessa Souter has sent LondonJazz this piece about her friend and mentor Sheila Jordan's performance at the Royal Opera House yesterday.

When Sheila Jordan fills in for Kevin Mahogany in the Four Brothers vocal group with Kurt Elling, Mark Murphy and Jon Hendricks, the band is renamed Three Brothers and a Mother. Perfect. Because Sheila Jordan is a mother, not only to her beloved actual daughter, Traci Jordan, but to every musician, and (quite possibly) audience member who has ever been lucky enough to come under her influence.

This was much in evidence yesterday afternoon at her concert in front of a full house (which included vocalist Norma Winstone) at the Royal Opera House -- from the motherly way she introduced her band (making each of them take a "proper bow", encouraging them to actually scat a chorus, leaning over every now and then to hug, or receive a kiss from pianist Brian Kellock), to the way she spoke to the crowd.

"Never give up on your dream!" she said. "I was 58 when I was able to give up my day job!" Actually, she was fired, she told me recently. And as she was going down in the elevator in tears, she heard a voice within her saying, "This is what you asked for! Why are you crying!" She hasn't looked back since.

Where other singers have soul, Sheila Jordan has heart. At 81, she is not a pyrotecnician, like, say, fellow octegenarian Cleo Laine. Her singing is not so much an exhuberant celebration of technique as an extremely musicial, direct communication from her heart to yours. Visibly exhausted between songs -- more tired than I have ever seen her (she's just coming to the end of a long international tour) -- she miraculously rallied for the duration of each, making you hear everything as if for the first time, really noticing, no, understanding the lyrics.

It's a way of being that makes you feel as if every word she speaks and sings is a message for you and you alone. When she sings 'Dat Dere', which she sings at every concert, and dedicates to her daughter Traci, we are her children. Her rendition of 'You Must Believe in Spring' is a heartfelt exhortation to all of us to (like her) keep going, even when the going is tough. At the end of the concert she came out into the audience away from the mic to thank everyone. I would guess most of the crowd couldn't hear a word she said. But everyone was touched.

After the concert, a long line of people (some in tears) waited patiently to take it in turns to tell her that her message got through. "I'm going to take up painting again!" said one 50-something man, who confessed to being a procrastinator. "When?" asked Sheila, as sternly as a mum to her teenage son. "Oh, I've got lots of things to do. Probably in three weeks," he said. "Well, make sure you do!" she said.

In life, as in her music, she is there for you, like a good mother. Tired. Exhausted. She nevertheless rallied for us, singing better than ever, so that, unless you knew her well, you might not even have known how exhausted she was in comparison to her usual self. If she were English, where we do such things, she would have been annointed a National Treasure, or made into a Dame by now. As it is, for jazz aficianados the world over, she is an International Treasure.

Sheila Jordan doesn't just sing, she blesses you with her singing and with everything she is. Yesterday's concert was as beautiful a demonstration of that as I've ever seen. Not merely a concert, but a blessing.


Tessa Souter 's third CD Obsession (Motéma Music) , recorded in New York, was released in August.

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Review: Chick Corea plus Bela Fleck





The Power of Three plus Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
(
London Jazz Festival, Barbican Centre, November 15th 2009- afternoon show-
review by Rob Mallows) 
 
Bela Fleck and his brand of bluegrass-inspired fusion jazz was anything but just a warm-up act for Chick Corea's "Power of Three" trio. The packed Barbican auditorium was treated to a host of tunes combining breakneck dexterity, rhythmic complexity and the signature Fleck banjo twang.
 
With Howard Levy, from the early nineties incarnation of the Flecktones joining the show, the band played mostly tunes from that period of the band. Levy’s haunting harmonica playing - often while playing heavy piano chops with his right hand - was perfectly set off against the plucking sound of the electric banjo. Damn clever, too!
 
‘Futureman’ (Roy Wooten- above) - more Jack Sparrow than Jack DeJohnette, dressed in his
pirate tricorn hat - was handling drums and percussion on his Drumitar: think an Allan Holdsworth-era synth axe wired up to an iMac. If you closed your eyes, you’d think he was behind a full twenty piece drum set, so effective was his use of the instrument in driving the
set along. He also provided a strong, tuneful vocal on the encore "I stand alone," with Corea guesting on piano.
 
With Bela Fleck leading the band it was down to Victor Wooten on bass to provide the mega-watts of energy, demonstrating in one cracking five-minute solo every single possible style of bass playing - including his patent double-thumb strumming - and getting sounds out
of his instrument which you just would not think possible. At one point he swung his bass round his neck, Pete Towshend style. Rock on, Victor!
 
Overall, this was a really satisfying gig from a group of artists sharing a wonderful group-think in the way they approached their flights of fancy with each melody.
* * * * *

Long-time friends and bandmates Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Larry White were also having fun together. At one point, when a mobile phone rang, they stopped playing in bemusement, and Clarke bent down to his phone and asked: "Al?" Sadly, Mr di Meola was not calling to ask to sit in!
 
This was a set of straight-ahead acoustic jazz. But from no ordinary trio - their effortless navigation through the different jazz landscapes was awesome.
 

There is certainly real power in this particular three. Chick Corea was on the road last year in his fusion incarnation alongside White and Clarke and Al di Meola as part of the Return to Forever reunion. But to see him live in more straight-forward piano mode is something very special: hands crossing, switching from heavy power chords to dextrous filligree touches on the right hand, Corea showed the London audience what fifty years at the top in jazz stands for. They lapped it up and called for more. Lots more.
 
Lenny White, in trademark bandana, was on the beat, precise, not over-drumming, giving a platform for Corea and Clarke to play melodic one-upmanship. Dependability personified.

 
What had originally drawn me to the gig was Stanley Clarke. Eschewing his new electric Spellbinder bass, Clarke was still totally at home on his upright, continuing the fore-fronting of his acoustic playing seen earlier in the year in his album Jazz in the Garden. I love what this
man can do with an acoustic bass - strumming, slapping, popping, semiquaver runs, percussive two-hand swipes up and down the fingerboard. It was astonishing, and the crowd roared each time.
 
The songs played showed good contrast: Corea's La Fiesta, Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby, numbers from Return to Forever, and Softly As in a Morning Sunrise with guest Tim Garland. The set was rounded off with the both bands getting together for Spain, a finale which brought the house down. Great call-and-response playing between Clarke and Wooten, and from Fleck and Corea. When they’d finished, audience members were reaching up to the stage to shake hands with their idols and to give thanks. I am just glad I was there.

Rob Mallows is organizer of the London Jazz Meetup Group

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