Review: Evan Christopher's Django a la Creole

Review: Evan Christopher (clarinet), David Blenkhorn (electric guitar),
Dave Kelbie (rhythm guitar), Sebastien Girardot (bass),
(Pizza on the Park, February 27th 2010)

Californian-born, New Orleans-based Evan Christopher, just turned 40, is a very fine jazz clarinettist indeed . He plays in the lineage of players he reveres, the early masters of the instrument in jazz, Sidney Bechet, and Ellington's clarinettist Barney Bigard, who were both Creoles born in New Orleans.

Christopher's "Django a la Creole" project takes as one of its main musical jumping-off points the recording session in April 1939 in Paris when three visiting members of the Ellington band - Bigard, Rex Stewart, and bassist Billy Taylor Sr. - recorded a few tracks with Django Reinhardt. This confluence of cultures, of rhythms, of races, of influences is a fascinating topic. Christopher talks about it entertainingly, knowledgeably and with passion, and yet with modesty.

But in the end its about the music, and the four piece band assembled here didn't disappoint. Christopher produces a great sound, mainly plays acoustically, but raises the temperature cleverly and judiciously, when necessary, by stepping under a suspended microphone. And his band were expert, sympathetic, and on-the-button, right from the opening Django Reinhardt composition Douce Ambiance .

The "engine room," as Christopher described him, is Briton Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar. Kelbie is one of the first-call rhythm guitarists for gypsy jazz in Europe. The bassist is the Melbourne-born Paris-based Sebastian Girardot. He switches effortlessly from gipsy style slap bass to more conventional jazz bass with ease. His gentle solo on Rex Stewart's "Solid Old Man" was compelling.

I also found myself captivated by Sydney-born David Blenkhorn 's electric guitar. He has absorbed the language of Django Reinhardt, but, with Kelbie alongside, can create very different moods: Haitian rumbas, or a subtle Brazilian bossa opening to "Songe d'Automne. " He also showed leanings towards Wes Montgomery in a joyous and scarily fast "Jubilee." It was a joy to catch his delicately voiced comping under Christopher playing gently in the throat register of the clarinet in "Nuages." Call it evanescence as Evan-essence, beautiful, on the boundaries of silence. The audience were enthralled.

Christopher chooses to play the Albert or "simple system" clarinet, rather than the Boehm system. For those who need to know, it's a 1940's Selmer, found for him by one of his mentors Kenny Davern. Playing this instrument is in part a gesture of reverence to Bechet and Bigard, the masters of the clarinet in jazz before Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw took the instrument in a very different direction. But it doesn't just look authentic, it produces absolutely right sound for this music.

This was an evening of very civilized chamber jazz expertly played, and much appreciated by a virtually full house at Pizza on the Park.

The same group will next be back in London for a concert in the rather larger Bloomsbury Theatre on Saturday June 5th. Tel 020 7388 8822.



Review: Satyagraha

Review: Satyagraha by Philip Glass
English National Opera, in a co-pruduction with Improbable, February 25th 2010, review and pencil drawing by Geoff Winston)

LondonJazz writer Geoff Winston enjoys a very different evening.

Satyagraha at English National Opera is a revival of the hugely successful 2007 first run of Philip Glass's three act, three hour opera is based on Gandhi's time in South Africa, where he campaigned for its oppressed Indian minority. The libretto, all in Sanskrit (a special departure from ENO's normal practice of staging in English) is based on the Bhagavad-Gita.

Never straying from the semi-circular arena with the appearance of worn corrugated metal sheets as the backdrop, a flowing repertoire of three-dimensional illusions and feats is performed by the cast supplemented by the stilt-walkers, puppeteers and acrobats of Improbable's Skills Ensemble.

Reminiscent of the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, who utilised boats, cranes and diggers, fireworks and flamethrowers in their outdoor performances in the 80s, Improbable's Phelim McDermott (director) and Julian Crouch (designer) have conjured visual gymnastics with the simplest of materials - newspapers (a link to Gandhi's 'Indian Opinion') - which combine to become momentarily hand-held screens for projected words, then disappear into oblivion - transparent packing tape, unwound across the length of the stage, by the cast, slowly traversing from one side to the other to build up a complex of web-like parallel strands, only to be crumpled in a few seconds.

Basketry and debris are brought together to form fantasy creatures at superhuman size, clashing, manipulated by scurrying puppeteers, then disassembled in seconds, returned to heaps of debris, as though they'd never appeared - you wonder whether you'd been imagining it all along; gigantic fairground heads in a busy, disturbing throng; all contributing to the dreamlike, if disturbing, atmosphere. Memorable images, such as the photograph of the ship projected on to the full height of the background wall, slowly moving, sepia-toned, from left to right and dissolving, as do the projected words, translations of the Sanskrit libretto, which punctuate the performance.

The back wall is punctuated by apertures which close up after revealing their contents - the mute figures of Tolstoy, Tagore and Martin Luther King, or strange lobster-like puppets.

The chorus was formidable - strength in unity; the soloists, singly moving and carefully balanced in combinations throughout; Alan Oke as the protagonist and Elena Xanthouadakis, his secretary were memorable in a cast of the highest calibre, supported by an orchestra which rose to the challenge of the elemental rhythms of Glass's composition.

If there is one production you should see this month it is the ENO's astoundingly imaginative and technically accomplished Satyagraha.


Review: Tim Garland/ Geoff Keezer/ Joe Locke

I sense that the Friday night Ronnie Scott's audience may have more people out celebrating than on the other nights of the week. Even if they are merely congratulating themselves having survived the whole week, they do want a good time. Some have genuine excuses to celebrate: Natalie Williams' survey of the audience during her warm-up set located no fewer than three groups out there in the dark, who were prepared to admit they had come out to celebrate a birthday. And she was having her own birthday celebrations, giving herself the poetic licence to have them last the whole week.

It's not difficult to learn how to celebrate at Ronnie's. You leave your cares and impedimenta back at the office, or pay a pound to leave them at the coat-rack. You thus walk care-free into the club, and sit back (quietly!) and enjoy music which is created as an expression of the pleasure of the moment in which it is created.

Williams, with her sunny platform manner, wanted to go further. She made a bold attempt to get the audience fully involved with an impromptu invitation to sing. There were very few takers.

But this good-humoured audience clearly did enjoy the main act of the evening, Storms/ Nocturnes: Tim Garland on saxophones and bass clarinet, flanked by masterly vibraphonist Joe Locke, and ever-inventive pianist Geoff Keezer. These fine musicians deserved, and duly got attentive, appreciative silence throughout.

Garland was on top form right from the off last night, the first of four shows over two nights at Ronnie's. He launched into the fast-moving Trinity on soprano sax, bringing out with relish every irregular rhythmic contour in the tune.

Joe Locke's energy and sheer speed on vibraphone are to be marvelled at. But it was the beauty of his long-phrased introduction to a new tune, Love is a Pendulum, hushed the house completely, which got some of the most fervent applause of the evening.

Hibiscus, a tune by pianist Geoff Keezer showed him at his best. There was Debussyan reverie from both him and Locke. Without a bass player Keezer brought astonishing clarity and definition to the bass lines. Paul McCartney's Blackbird was another highlight, Garland caressing and moulding the tune with great beauty in the upper range of the tenor saxophone.

Garland explained that there were things for the band onstage to celebrate too. This trio, currently touring, was having a happy reunion, having hardly played together in the past seven years. They were clearly enjoying the non-stop throwing-out rhythmic challenges to each other.

But all three were at their totally committed best in the last programmed number, Blues for Little Joe. "Big Joe," Garland explained, is Joe Locke. But "Little Joe" is Garland's son, who, in the period since the tune was composed, has battled - successfully - against serious illness. There was huge energy coming off the stage, the involvement of the Friday night audience was complete, Keezer's left hand rumbled the bass strings of the piano: When there is such a compelling, celebratory reason for playing a tune, you reach the perfect circle.

Photo Credit: Nadja von Massow/ 2007

Storms/ Nocturnes are on again tonight at / 020 7439 0747


Gary Smulyan - March 6th and 8th

Think low. Gary Smulyan (Woody Herman band, Mingus Big Band, five Grammys, four Downbeat poll wins), one of the most powerful players of the baritone saxophone anywhere is over in the smoke next week.

He'll be talking/demonstrating at Foyles in Charing Cross Road on Saturday 6th at 2pm, playing alongside baritone player Pete Lukas at the Bulls Head that night. They will be at Pizza Express Dean Street Monday night 8th. The trio is Andrea Pozza, Dominic Howles and Matt Home.

Here's an extended interview at Allaboutjazz


Review: Lisa Ekdahl

Review: Lisa Ekdahl,
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, February 24th, 2010, Review by Zena James)

Lisa Ekdahl is a pixie-like Swedish singer and composer, whom I knew of only as a jazz artist in the nineties with the superb Peter Nordahl trio. I was never a fan of the high-pitched, child-like voice for which she’s known, but I did find myself being drawn in by her arrangements and strong storytelling ability. It turns out that since 1994 she’s released 10 albums, only two of which were jazz and most of which were in Swedish.

Her latest offering, Give Me That Slow Knowing Smile, is a departure from her previous work and certainly is nothing like the jazz recordings. Light, delicate and folky in its theme and delivery, its main strengths are fine diction, simplicity and a few catchy pop riffs.

Like Madeleine Peyroux at the Festival Hall some months earlier, Ekdahl opted for an intimate setting, staying seated for several of the numbers. The World Keeps Turning was a convincing and graceful opener by her multi-talented trio, with a great Hammond solo by pianist Tomas Hallonsten.

The album’s title track was next up, featuring guitar alongside Hammond and piano, likeable backing vocals and a great deal of whistling, not my favourite sound but somehow strangely infectious and with an almost Peyroux-type Parisian feel.

During Daybreak, multi-tasking quickly became a feature for every musician. The Hammond-playing gave way to a trumpet solo by Tomas Hallonsten, who later combined both and soon made that his party piece.

And then came the jazz. A breathy Nature Boy settled into a sweet rhumba with a beautiful piano solo, though it didn’t quite capture the intimacy of the 1999 Back to Earth album version. Billie Holiday’s little-known Now or Never was the first up-tempo number and gave Hallonsten a chance to swap Hammond and trumpet for Melodica. This number, at last, got the polite South Bank audience going.

Ekdahl never projected much energy, preferring a calm, meditative style and delivery. Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet, complete with glockenspiel, gave us a fun contrast to the more reflective grown up numbers but lacked the crazy edginess that we can rely on with Bjork.

Beautiful Boy from the new album saw Ekdahl retreat part way through to hand over to the capable vocal talents of the musicians, attracting the first cheers of the night. It segued into an endearing and laid-back Laziest Girl In Town (again, from the jazzier Back to Earth).

The "last song”, was a charming, baion treatment of My Heart Belongs to Daddy. Not usually my cup of tea but actually quite infectious with an a capella and bodhran start; a welcome burst of energy that brought loud cheers from an excited Scandinavian contingent.

The first encore was the only song in Swedish, “Öppna Upp Ditt Fönster” (Open Your Window) (above), much to the delight and amusement of the Scandinavians, whose cries for the mother tongue caused the band to deliberate at length as they changed tack.

The final tune, One Life, is one of the strongest from the new album and was performed with far more passion and gusto than the more gentle recorded version. Religiously-inclined lyrics about making the most of life (“ All of us came in through the same door. We’ve got one life coming from that one place…”) were genuinely moving. “While I’m here I’m singing from my heart. “ And at last she really did. It was the only song of the night where I felt Ekdahl really let go, projected her voice and sang with real fervour. It wasn’t her usual style, but it really worked for me, even if I had to wait until the end for it.

Ekdahl’s soft, child-like sound has its admirers, but it is definitely an acquired taste. This one date in London was a pleasant gig that pleased the fans, but for me it wasn’t an exciting one. But her jazz albums from the they're another story.


Edition Records

Small is not just beautiful, but suddenly everywhere. Edition Records are had an album launch for Dave Stapleton 's quintet at the Vortex on Wednesday. Their forthcoming release from Tom Cawley gets the front cover of March Jazzwise. And there's a live recording of Jasper Hoiby 's trio Phronesis at the Forge venue in Camden next week (above).

The Cardiff-based record label has a clear purpose, to bring music "which deserves to be heard" to a wider audience. Edition was started by successful freelance photographer Tim Dickeson and composer- pianist Dave Stapleton at the end of 2007, and put out its first release in March 2008. Dickeson took a liking to Stapleton's music, and took the trouble to get to know him. Stapleton needed to move on from a previous collaboration which had run its course, and they partnered up.

Edition supports its artists well. The website has the 18 albums they have produced so far. Also for sale is the sheet music of some of the artists' tunes, plus other merchandise. There are also a lot of interviews on the site with the musicians talking about the music.

Edition unashamedly promote complex music which they know won't be for everyone, but they get the tone right. Nobody's talking down to anybody. I like that. They still have the full-on entrepreneurial energy and passionate commitment of a start-up, e.g. driving straight back to Swindon (Stapleton) and Cardiff (Dickeson) after the Vortex gig. But they're also realists. They had only just got going when they were caught up in the end-2008 distributor insolvencies. Edition came through with a mild bruise, and recovered quickly.

The partnership between Stapleton who does the A & R, and Dickeson, who does what he describes as "all the crappy bits" (logistics/ finance/ tax...) and all the photography, works well. They currently aim to put out 10-12 CDs a year. They are also looking at a new format "Limited Edition" with a very small production run, for later in the year.The two CDs so far vying to be their best seller so far are Geoff Eales ' Master of the Game, and the debut album from Troyka.

I enjoyed dropping in to Dave Stapleton 's gig. (The link is to a VERY classy clear website) He's an interesting composer, the moods shift radically but interestingly. I've a soft spot for his gentle and lyrical moments. In particular Images, the opening of Dry White - named after bassist Paula Gardiner's favourite tipple- and Between the Lines, the title track of the new CD, all did it for me.

The front line was Ben Waghorn, an extremely fine and resourceful saxophonist, Jonathan Bruce was lively, and at one point seemed determined to double for Arturo Sandoval and see if the Vortex's roof might respond. Bassist Paula Gardiner, who also runs the jazz faculty at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, plays clear purposeful lines with blooming tone and real character. Drummer Elliot Bennett, invisible under a cloth cap and behind manuscript paper, never over-balanced.

Now I'm looking forward to going to the live recording by Phronesis at the Forge (above) . See you there.


Preview: Trio VD

Preview: having listened to Trio VD's CD Fill It Up With Ghosts (Babel) Peter Horsfall is looking forward to their Friday 26th February gig at the Vortex.

Trio VD’s Fill It Up With Ghosts is one the past year’s most terrifyingly original releases. Throughout this, their debut album, Chris Bussey (drums), Chris Sharkey (guitars) and Christophe de Bezenac (alto sax/electronics) construct intricate grooves and deliver them with unrelenting aggression.

The other-worldly sounds which both de Bezenac and Sharkey manage to generate put them both at the forefront of innovation on their respective instruments. The track Kesh sees the saxophonist attacking the instrument with a powerful rasping tone as Sharkey’s manic multi-tasking reaches a frightening intensity.

Bussey manages to negotiate the complicated rhythmic passages of the opener Returns with an immense flare and is impeccably tight with Sharkey. The most exciting moments come when the trio plays with such energy that the compositions are pushed to the brink of self-destruction, the final track Cowdun coming closest.

Their show at the Vortex tomorrow (Friday 26th February) promises to be a golden opportunity to be blown away by one of Britain’s most promising bands.


Con Cellar Festival April 23rd-25th

Enterprising trumpeter/ bandleader/ promoter Richard Turner has put together a VERY exciting festival in the intimate setting of the Con Cellar Bar in Camden from April 23rd to 25th.

Friday April 23rd
An early set (upstairs rather than the cellar) from the Gourlay/Gavita Big Band (provisionally) featuring eg Noel Langley, Percy Pursglove, Paul Booth, Kit Downes and Dave Smith
(Doors open 7pm)

Followed by a late set from the
Julian Arguelles Quartet with Martin France and Steve Watts

Saturday April 24th
Richard Turner's Round Trip will play the early set, Troyka will play the late set.

Sunday April 25th

The early set is from Dave Smith's Outhouse , the late set is from Partisans (Julian Siegel and Phil Robson).
For details of advance tickets check out the Con Cellar Bar Myspace.



Review: John Altman Big Band

Review: John Altman Big Band
(Lord Rookwood, Cann Hall Road, E11, February 23rd 2010,review by David Nathan)

A capacity crowd had gathered last night at the Lord Rookwood, for the fifth annual appearance by the John Altman Big Band.

This was a really stellar aggregation. For two hours the band played a mixture of John’s own fine compositions, and his arrangements of such classic jazz numbers as “Scrapple from the Apple,” “Manteca,” “Joy Spring” and standards like “Our love is here to stay, “ “Easy living,” “Happy feet,” and “I wish I knew” ( a great seldom heard tune from the pen of Harry Warren).

Virtually everyone took great solos with John leading brilliantly on curved soprano sax. And how about this for a line-up:- Steve Waterman, Mike Henry, Simon Gardner ,Sid Gould (trumpets ) ; Mark Nightingale, Pete Beachill, Ashley Horton, Sarah Williams (trombones); Graham Read (tuba); Alan Barnes, Bob Sydor, Roy Willox, Martin Williams, Jay Craig (saxes); Ian Thomas (drums); Paul Morgan (bass); Barry Green (piano) and Mitch Dalton ( guitar).

John mentioned that his big band was formed 25 years ago and joked that this was his 25th gig!! This is not that far from the truth. His day job- a mightily impressive career in movies and TV work for which he has won both an Emmy (photo above) and a BAFTA award- has had first call on much of his time. More details and sound clups HERE

Details of the Lord Rookwood's terrific gigs every Tuesday night are at


Review: Toshimaru Nakamura

Review: Toshimaru Nakamura/Håvard Volden and John Butcher/Rhodri Davies
(Café Oto, 21 February 2010, day 1 of a 2 day residency, review and pencil drawing by Geoffrey Winston)

The abiding memory of these performances is of an audience just listening - held. That's what the musicians wanted. Exploring the creation of sounds, ways to bring the unexpected into being. But there was structure to hold the randomness together. John Cage would have approved.

Duets from Davies and Butcher, then Volden and Nakamura set the tone for their ensemble collaboration. Volden and Davies both playing table-top guitars, wired up, occasionally with objects added (similar to prepared piano), then subtracted, or incorporated alongside, vehicles for hand-prompted amplified pulses and resonances, whirrings of electrical whisks, toys.

Nakamura coaxed an astonishing quiet intensity, almost silent, but then grating, crunchy, from the equipment sprawled on a cramped desk space. There were no inputs from outside sources. Butcher's extraordinary saxophone soundscapes came from the edge, audible, just recognisable; marvellously acrobatic, creating the essential balance in the rich, crafted mesh. Intermittent flashes of early psychedelia. The power was there, even in the quiet. If you'd heard a pin drop, you'd have assumed it was part of the performance.

Cafe Oto will celebrate Steve Beresford's 60th Burthday on March 6th, and has a residency by the Sun Ra Arkestra from April 12th-14th


Jazz is in the air

What's happening? A high-flying LondonJazz reader tells me that British Airways has an audio channel this month devoted to the entire double CD of Gwilym Simcock , Blues Vignette, and to Jamie Cullum 's The Pursuit. They're on Channel 12 HERE.

She also told me that KLM has become the first airline to hang mistletoe over baggage counters so you can kiss your bags goodbye. Ouch.


Preview: Nik Bärtsch's Ronin- (ICA, March 12th)

Nik Bärtsch’s band Ronin is on a four-date UK tour next month: Manchester (March 9th), then Bristol (10th) Gateshead (11th)and the ICA in London (Friday March 12th, starting at 8pm.) The last CD, Holon, is on ECM.

But Ronin is not just a touring and recording band. In fact it stays remarkably put. On the Monday before it leaves for the UK, the 8th, the same band with its stable personnel - will be appearing at their regular venue, the Exil, Hardstrasse 245, Zurich. “Montags: Nr. 275“, it says on Bärtsch’s website. And then they’ll back there again on the Monday afterwards, the 15th: “Montags: Nr 276.” Same personnel. Same venue. And back there again on the 22nd. “Nr 277.”

Bärtsch, a Swiss composer-pianist who will be 40 next year, pursues his musical vocation thoughtfully and patiently. These Monday sessions are where the musical development really happens. His compositions for Ronin (they don’t have titles other than “Modul” followed by a number) develop gradually in live performance at these Monday sessions in the club setting of Exil. “Entrance next to the car-wash,” the 150-capacity Zurich club’s website says.

The name of the band Ronin refers to the lonely, masterless warriors in Japanese samurai who pursue their own ambitions, and accept the huge cost, which is to be despised by the majority of warriors who conform to the dictates of the master samurai. Bärtsch’s frequent visits to Japan, and his reading about Japanese culture and art forms - Noh theatre and butoh dancing, for example- have been key influences on his development.

The choice of the band’s name is symptomatic of how plugged-in Bärtsch is to a disparate range of influences. He reads widely - currently he’s absorbed by Richard Sennett’s Craftsmanship, which he describes as “close to our spirit,” and Oliver Sack’s Music and the Brain.

In the Germanic world, Bärtsch’s work gets discussed properly in the culture supplements, and notably the most prestigious of them all, the Hamburg-based weekly Die Zeit. A recent piece in Die Zeit developed a very elaborate philosophical theory about “Fluss” and Stasis in his music (Fluss in German has the double meaning of a river but also of flow or motion). Another writer for the same paper went into ecstasy about the experience of hearing Bärtsch’s band live, and mounted (why?!) a no-holds -barred personal attack on Manfred Eicher of ECM for making the sound too resonant.

I talked on the phone to Bärtsch about his compositional method, and in particular how he gets a new piece started. He quoted, with more than a hint of humour, Stravinsky’s remark about what a composer does. “I’m like a pig sniffing for truffles.” It sounds much more graphic in German “er schnüffelt.”

But having the initial idea is just the start of the process. In fact, when he described the gradual evolution of the pieces, Bärtsch frequently refers to creating a “dramaturgy“, a complete experience with sound and choreographed light. His unhurried craft reminded me of the old Swiss saying “s’het solang s’het,” literally “it takes as long as it takes.”

Bärtsch may glean his inspiration from a wide range of sources , but he stays close to his roots. He grew up in the Seefeld district of Zurich, by the lake, and still lives nearby. He keeps his most productive artistic relationships going: he has known the longest-standing of his band colleagues, drummer Kaspar Rast, since the age of nine.

Bärtsch's parents, always supportive of the development of his music, were visually aware people, both grounded in the visual arts. His father is a graphic designer, his mother has spent most of her working life in fashion.

Bärtsch studied classical music at the Conservatory in Zurich. He then re-started undergraduate studies in philosophy and linguistics. He got interested in aesthetic and philosophical enquiry- Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam and Foucault were particular areas of interest. But he soon abandoned these studies for another degree. The imperative to pursue music full-time had taken hold.

Bärtsch’s music goes under the name of zen-funk. You could also call it a fascinating variant of groove-based minimalism. It hypnotises in the same way Steve Reich does. But it grooves. Ronin was last in the UK in 2009. Having heard the CD a few times, I’m now fascinated to hear and see the band live at the ICA.


New venue! - Jazz at the Hamlet

No, not that Hamlet.

A new Wednesday night gig is starting up at Dulwich Hamlet Football Club, first night is March 17th. Sessions with the Brass Impact Big Band alternate with top UK players. The resident rhythm section is John Pearce on piano , Andre Messeder, bass and Bobby Worth on drums. Pete King's pianist will be Richard Madgwick.

Here's the full address:

Dulwich Hamlet Football Club
Champion Hill Stadium
Edgar Kail Way
Dog Kennel Hill
London SE22 8BD

Admission is £8, concessons £6.


17th Brass Impact Big Band
24th Peter King with trio
31st Brass Impact with special guest Mark Nightingale
8.30 - 11.00


7th Dave O'Higgins with trio
14th Brass Impact Big Band
21st Derek Nash with Sax appeal
28th Brass Impact Big Band


Review: Natalie Williams

Review: Natalie Williams Soul Family
(Ronnie Scott’s, February 21st 2010, review by Edward Randell)

Soul singer Natalie Williams’ weekend knees-up has been a monthly fixture at Ronnie’s for three years now. And, if Sunday night’s show was anything to go by, it’s here to stay. Williams and her band – three backing singers plus trumpet, tenor sax and rhythm – were firing on all cylinders from the first tune (forthcoming single ‘Keep Me Holding On’), with the vocalists' harmonised phrases packed full of attitude and tightly locked into the groove. Nor did the standard slip over the first set, which consisted mainly of Williams’s own songs. If these rarely strayed from tried-and-tested soul forms and lyrical tropes, it hardly mattered: the medium was the message here. As a singer, Natalie Williams has an authentic soul sound equally comfortable with badass belting or feathery scat. As bandleader and compere, she radiates generosity, with nothing whatsoever of the diva.

With a band this tight, any slips immediately become part of the act: “shit ha-a-a-appens”, Williams sang as she struggled to remember the lyrics of ‘One Minute’, which went on to feature mean guitar work from Ben Jones. This was followed up by ‘Company’, a slow Zero 7-ish groover that was lifted onto another plane by Quentin Collins' outstanding bop-inflected trumpet solo. Williams took us somewhere more introspective with an affecting version of Björk’s ‘Hyperballad’, accompanied only by piano and a subtle delay effect, before bringing back the full band for a finger-snapping set closer, Toto’s ‘Georgy Porgy’.

The first set’s precision gave way to a more relaxed vibe in the second set. After three of her own tunes, Williams invited up a succession of singers, including her three backing vocalists. Perhaps inevitably, some of these guest spots strayed close to high-class karaoke. But there were some truly arresting moments, from the vocalists who favoured simplicity over melismatic noodling. A special mention must go to the mesmeric Krystle Warren, who last performed alongside Williams at the London Jazz Festival’s ‘Jazz Voice’ spectacular - reviewed HERE. Armed only with an unamplified and broken-stringed acoustic guitar, Warren succeeded where several before her had failed, by coaxing the audience into a singalong. The song in question, ‘Forget Me Not’, was comfortably the most original of the originals sung last night.

The evening ended with Natalie Williams, who had been on backing vocal duties for several of her guests, returning to centre stage to duet with pop singer Raff on Womack & Womack’s 1988 hit ‘Teardrops’. With normal service resumed, the band took no more than the first few bars to remind us what a fantastically slick unit they could be. It was a pity that the stellar horn players found themselves at a loose end for much of the second set. But then again, the informal open-mic feel of the latter half was at the heart of the show’s charm, that warm welcoming vibe which Williams creates, and keeps the audiences coming back month afer month to the bosom of the (Soul) Family.


Gig preview: John Escreet's The Story (March 10th)

Gig Preview: The Story (featuring John Escreet)
(Pizza Express, Dean Street, W1 - 8.30pm, March 10th, 2010, preview by Tom Gray)

There must be something that John Escreet misses about home. Less than two months after his quintet’s storming performance at Ronnie Scott’s (reviewed by LondonJazz HERE) , the Doncaster-born pianist returns to Soho, this time as part of the New York-based collective ‘The Story’.

Escreet, based in New York, is one of the most interesting UK-bred young pianists. He has been less under the spell of Brad Mehldau and Esbjorn Svensson than many pianists of his generation, and has developed a sophisticated and distinctive voice which ranges from a searing, Cecil Taylor-like intensity to moments of tender lyricism.

With a frontline consisting of alto saxophone (Lars Dietrich) and tenor saxophone (Samir Zarif), The Story’s sound immediately evokes David Binney’s great albums of the last decade, while also reflecting the international roots of its members, who share writing duties. The collective is rounded off by the electric and acoustic bass of Zack Lober, Greg Ritchie on drums, and Escreet himself on piano and Rhodes. The group weaves deeply infectious grooves and melodic hooks (at times folk-influenced) into ambitiously structured compositions which mesh seamlessly with the individual members’ improvisations.

The band last played in London in March 2009 to a small but appreciative audience at Camden’s Con Cellar bar. (Ed: it was reviewed by Steve Plumb for LondonJazz here) That night, Escreet battled admirably with a rather dilapidated Rhodes; the Pizza Express, with its fine grand piano, should offer the perfect showcase to his virtuosity and The Story’s irresistible sound.


Review: Loop Collective Festival

Review: Loop Collective Festival)
(Vortex, February 21st 2010, credit for all photos: Stéphanie Knibbe)

I went on the Sunday, the last night of five-night Loop Collective Festival at the Vortex and heard Matthew Bourne, Outhouse and the Ivo Neame Quartet.

The Loop Collective Festival has presented eighteen bands,including guests, and hosted three album launches (see below) . It brought out the crew from Jazz on 3 to record the Saturday, and also brought out the superlatives from one commentator who was moved to dub Phronesis "the most exciting and imaginative piano trio since EST."

London has such a vibrant year-round band-life. Many of the entities in the Loop Colllective have interlocking personnel. Drummers Dave Smith, Ben Reynolds and Tim Giles are ubiquitous. Because they're good. They also listen to each other and support each other. The audience last night contained many members of the bands who had appeared on the other nights. Two-thirds of Phronesis were also up on the stand as one-half of the Ivo Neame Quartet. Commentators might like the comfort of rankings, pecking orders, and the rawness of every-band-for-itself. But at ground level, what happens feels a lot more more like collaboration. Plus a sense that in this extensive pool of hugely talented London musicians, something special and worthy of far wider attention is happening.

Matthew Bourne. "Do you have an imagination?" was the question in the sound clip which Bourne had extracted from The Innocents, Truman Capote's remake of the Turn of the Screw. He used it, and others, to good effect. Bourne certainly has an imagination, both as a beachcomber for literary and film quotes, but above all as a pianist. The night's opening set, it seemed could be, and was, appreciated on many different levels. It stood up as stand-up. It worked again and again as music- people were picking up influences of stride, Messiaen and John Cage, as well as a Keith Jarrett parody. There were also moments of unashamed emotion.

Bourne included a sequence where the rat-a-tat of machine gun fire, and repeated sound-clips about getting a dwindling number of troops "into the chopper" raised a short-lived, hollow laugh as the audience was reminded of the tragedy of war. The ending, with a quote from Great Expectations, "If she tears your heart to pieces, love her," brought a remarkable set to a soft and elegaic close.

Outhouse - Robin Fincker and Tom Challenger on reeds, Johnny Brierley on bass and Dave Smith on drums played the second set of the evening. The band has as its base Smith's completely alive and endlessly resourceful and imaginative drummng, with Brierley in perfect lock-step. It's no wonder that Smith is first call for so many bands. The band worked through complex material with hardly a page of manuscript in sight. Fincker and Challenger both have a beautiful focussed tone on two tenor saxes, and they are strong musicians who interweave and call-and-respond with great subtlety, and by turns with either the grace or the power required. But the strongest impression this band left me was of its Smith/Brierley rhythmic engine -room. It could propel an ocean liner.

Ivo Neame's Quartet with Jim Hart on vibes, Jasper Hoiby on bass and James Maddren on drums gave a generally upbeat and happy set to bring both the evening and the festival to a satisfying and suitable close. Neame's manner of presenting to an audience may be diffident in the extreme, but he is a big musician. His compositions have real character, his collaboration and sparring with Hart works a treat, and his soloing goes off in fascinating directions. I noticed he kept on getting looks of sheer delight from other band members. Maddren always has the focussed, attentive stare which never misses anything, and was as responsive and on-the-case as ever. Hart and Hoiby both have onstage charisma, are bandleaders in their own right, but Neame's quartet looks for all concerned like an ideal playing context.

Yes, something special is happening in London. In some of our older industries- steel and opera would both be good examples - Britain is on the outer fringes of the European action. In newer industries like improvised music London is at the very beating heart of it.

Note: the album launches were Ivo Neame's Caught in the Light of Day (Edition Records), Fringe Magnetic's Empty Spaces (Loop) and The Golden Age of Steam's Raspberry Tongue (Babel). The Loop Collective receives some support from Arts Council England and from the PRS Foundation. In addition to the recording by Jazz on 3, some of the recordings may also emerge on Alex Bonney's site


More on Live Music Licensing

The 2003 Licensing Act is just great. For people, like those above, who only ever make music from the backs of moving lorries. Which are specifically exempt under the Act. For other musicians it's a pain in the neck.

So three cheers for Liberal culture spokespeople Tim Clement-Jones in the Lords and Don Foster in the commons who are trying to steer a very sensible bill freeing up the rules for small venues through. The bill should, fingers crossed, get a second reading in the House of Commons on March 12th.

And half a boo for the inexplicable antics of Liberal councillor Chris White from St Albans who seems at odds with his own party's policy on this issue.

Want to read more? Here's the full piece written for my Telegraph blog

(Photo credit: www. travelblog. org)


Tom Cawley's Diary

A surreal extract from Tom Cawley's diary for next month

Thursday March 25th
Peter Gabriel
O2 World (capacity 17,000)
Mühlenstr. 12 - 30
10243 Berlin

Friday March 26th
Tom Cawley's Curios
Wakefield Sports Club (capacity 180)
Eastmoor Road
Wakefield, WF1 3RR

Saturday March 27th
Peter Gabriel,
O2 Arena (capacity 23,000)
The O2, London, SE10 0DX

E. & O.E.
The Other Place on Edition Records will be released on March 25th
Scratch my Back by Peter Gabriel , with Tom Cawley on piano,was released in the UK on Monday


Before the Ian Carr show

There are so many good reasons to want to arrive early for busy concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Well-organized people, for example, make a point of ordering their interval drinks in advance. The rest of us, of course, spend the whole interval in the scrum failing to get served at the understaffed bar.

Next Tuesday's Ian Carr gig is going to be busy. It's virtually sold out. But there's a better reason to be early, in the form of a free platform performance. Not the marching madness of Zach Condon's Beirut (he's Eddie Condon's grandson-above), but the thoughtful pianism of Ian Carr pupil, the Berklee-trained, Carol Grimes-associated Dorian Ford

Try the gentle Snow (for Nancy) from the CD "Piano." And a hat-tip to Ian Mann of the Jazzmann blog for thoughtful reviews


Review: Charles McPherson

A nearly full house at the Pizza Express Dean Street very much enjoyed the first night of alto saxophonist Charles McPherson 's residency last night. And so did I. Some of the band had met each other that day, but drummer Stephen Keogh is a shrewd judge of musicians, these are classy players, and they have already gelled well. Indeed there is more just than a hint in the air that these ingredients will have cooked into something very special and interesting by the time the residency ends on Saturday.

McPherson grew up in Detroit. In a recent inteview he says he remembers standing on the pavement as a youngster outside the legendary Bluebird club, listening out for the music played by the house band - Elvin jones on drums, brother Thad on trumpet, Paul Chambers on bass, Barry Harris on piano, Pepper Adams on baritone saxophone. He knew he was hooked, and just wanted to play. He went off to try his luck in the cauldron of New York, still as a teenager, in 1959. He says he spent three or four months trying to "get in the mix," to get a gig with a name band. His opportunity came from Charles Mingus, and he didn't look back.

Since 1978 McPherson has lived, more sedately and reflectively, in Southern California. Parker is an evident influence - McPherson was played on Clint Eastwood's 1988 film "Bird" - but there are also many others. McPherson has a predilection for taking gentler standards like "Sweet and Lovely" or "Dancing in the Dark" and giving them a new undercarriage, often in the form of a funk shuffle bass riff. Someone is bound to have made the same joke already: I would call this process giving the tunes a McPherson Strut.

Charles McPherson has presence and warmth on stage. Chatting to the audience, microphone in hand, the opulent moustache gives him more than a passing resemblance to Sammy Davis Jr. He closed the first set with an invitation to Stephen Keogh to take the "I got Rhythm" changes "as fast as you can." Keogh obliged. McPherson and Barry Green 's bright and persuasive right hand launched into a breakneck "Anthropology." Pausing after the hostilities had ended, McPherson remarked that he had been watching Keogh, and that to play at that speed the drummer must somehow have moved on, to an "altered state of consciousness." How very Californian, I thought.

But the remark seemed to linger, and the second set opener, Spring is Here seemed to transport McPherson himself into a different place. Happy for once with his mouthpiece position and reed alignment, he reached a golden, sunshine state where the cascades of altered and diminished chords really started to flow.

McPherson talks a lot in the interview about "melodic logic," of "learning how to put together a line." But he doesn't just do theory. He clearly practises, and the long coherent lines really work. Stephen Keogh has played several times with McPherson, and there is a clear rapport between the two. The other two band members were new. Jeremy Brown was at his warm-toned best in Lover Man in the second set, showing the full compass of the bass, sonorous deep down on the E string, light and melodic way up in treble clef. Barry Green was inventive throughout, but his interweaving of falling thirds and chromatics in What is this thing called love stays particularly in the mind's ear.

The vibe towards the end of the evening became gradually more imbued with the blues. McPherson finished one blues by holding on to an interminable, circular-breathed "out" note, before finally resolving it. This was something of a party trick: "I stopped smoking" was his pay-off line afterwards.

If there are still seats to be had, I would catch this band before it heads out of town.

The Charles McPherson interview, in four parts on Youtube, is HERE. Try part four, where he talks about marketing music, "the trappings", Shakespeare and sex.


Kings Place Summer Programme

Come on Down.

There is an increasing boldness, confidence in the breadth and variety of the programming at Kings Place. I went looking for jazz musicians in the new Summer Season Brochure, and landed seven bookmarks in it.

There is a four-day series called PARTAGER- Paris London New York jazz, programed by Patsy Craig of T Wo Music, which has the Andy Emler Megaoctet with Marc Ducret on its opening night. And Fly (Mark Turner/ Jeff Ballard/ Larry Grenadier) as part of a triple bill on Friday 7th. Here's a piece about it from the Jazzwise blog.

There is a voice and piano series from May 20th - 22nd with Norma Winstone/ Glauco Venier on the first night, folloed by Lea DeLaria with Janette Mason on the Friday, and Claire Martin and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett on the Saturday.

Plus there's Max De Wardener on April 26th, or Byron Wallen and Cleveland Watkiss in an evening presented by John L Walters on May 24th, and Zoe Rahman accompanying an Ernst Lubitsch silent film from 1918 on May 29th.

And, away from jazz, I've booked already to hear Martha Argerich celebrating Argentina.

And then every Friday from 6pm to 9pm the vast atrium echoes to joyous sounds of trios from the Spitz Jazz Collective.

(photo credit: Keith Paisley)


Review: Andy Panayi Quartet

Andi Panayi Quartet
(Bishopsgate Hall, February 16th 2010, lunchtime)

It is useful to be reminded, every so often, how much pleasure this music gives to people. That was something Starbucks worked out at a very early stage: the sound of jazz lures people to linger in coffee bars. And when I looked around a nearly full Bishopsgate Hall for the City Music Society's lunchtime concert today, just at a moment when the audience was about to break into applause, I registered a fact: there were more benign smiles on more faces at this gig than I have seen anywhere else so far this year.

"Do you really want another one then?" was Andi Panayi 's slightly surprised question to the audience at the end of the published programme. Faced with a categorical and very vociferous "YES!!!" , he took a look at the promoter, who had presumably told him to respect the clock and be finished by 2pm. And the quartet of Panayi (baritone saxophone), Mark Nightingale (trombone) Simon Woolf (bass ) and Steve Brown (drums) happily, dutifully, imperatively launched into Gerry Mulligan's "Walking Shoes" - tempo slightly up from THIS

This quartet is a band without a guitar or piano, and yet it plays harmonically complex music with absolute surety of purpose, because all four players contribute so clearly to underlining and supporting and promoting the presence of the harmony. "Out" playing, the colourful, descriptive, anarchic have their place, so long as somone chordal is taking care of business. Remove that prop, and you need harmonically hyper-aware musicians. And with the three here who take on that responsibility, you're in very safe hands indeed. If there's a rebel in there, it has to be Brown. He can, and does, challenge, he leads the others astray, adrift, up unexpected dark alleys. But it is inevitably with the broadest, most infectious smile in the band.

If I had to be grumpy about anything in this gig, it is that there was the occasional hint of cruising on autopilot. And Panayi's double recorder trick in "Pluto" can have all the legendary antecedents you like, I found the novelty wore off quite quickly.

But when it plays its core repertoire - Mulligan, Art Farmer, and compositions by Nightingale and Panayi - this is a matchless group.

All this joy, all this pleasure reminded me that nine days previously, Panayi had played a very special role at the 40th anniversary concert at the Stables. All of the band that night had known about the death of John Dankworth before they went on stage, but Panayi had the responsibility of playing the alto saxophone lead which would have been taken by Dankworth himself in Ellington's "Tonight I shall sleep," immediately after the announcement to the audience from the stage that Dankworth had died.

Moments in music don't come much bigger than that. It takes a special musician to rise to such occasions. Panayi is one of those special musicians.



Preview: Tom Norris

Preview: Launch of Tom Norris Edge of the World CD
(The Forge, Camden, Tuesday 23rd February, 7.30pm.

Preview by Jane Stringfellow).

First things first, Tom Norris is a talented songwriter. All twelve tracks on his first CD as leader, which is being launched next Tuesday, are originals. His lyrics are poetic and his tunes are catchy. I found myself drawn into the songs and humming them after I’d heard the album.

He also sings on all tracks, with a warm voice, reminiscent of Al Stewart, and well- honed to bring out the emotional intensity of some of his songs.

Norris plays guitar, piano, jazz violin and viola on this album. He is a band leader who keeps things tight, not surprising given his other role as Co-Principal of the London Symphony Orchestra's second violin section. Perhaps his experience in the orchestra contributes to his ability to blend such a wide range of musical colour into his work.

What really makes this album exciting is the way he juxtaposes instruments and styles in his arrangements. Tom says he is influenced by many musicians - jazz, country, pop - and it shows up here. And there's more on his Myspace

In the first track, Alibi, a riff on dramatic strings is followed by finger picking guitar and a saxophone solo, on Southern Sky, country pop is underpinned by a humorous base line on a tuba. Tom's voice underpinned by menacing strings leads into flamenco guitar on Falling.

The string quartet and string section provide some of the most emotional moments on the album. But these are anything but clichéd lush arrangements: a very tight and accomplished section produces a surprisingly broad range of sounds.

Tom Norris is currently touring in Europe with the same band who will be with him at the Forge next week: Mano Delago (drums/hang) , Vincent Stergin(guitar) and Pete Clarke (bass).

The CD is available HERE

(Photo Credit: Nobby Clark)


"Real men do it unplugged." Discuss

"Real men do it unplugged." The concluding sentence of classical music critic Michael Church's grumpy review of Pat Metheny's Barbican gig last week from today's Independent (newspaper)should probably not be allowed to go unchallenged.

Here for the record is Rod Fogg's review of Metheny

I find the unreconstructed machismo of the remark is curious, to say the least.

But, get real. Electronic amplification has now been around for nearly a century. So surely the day has passed when musicians producing acoustic music were deemed to be intrinsically oh-so superior to those producing music using any kind of electronics?

Hasn't it?


Dame Cleo talks

Dame Cleo talks movingly about the events of last weekend on BBC Radio 4's The Last Word.

Audio clip starts at 07:53

Meanwhile Professor Lisa Jardine has a tribute to Dankworth on the BBC News website. It argues for the virtues of making music education available. Jardine chooses to illustrate her point with memories of Proust, and with a story about Sir Constantijn Huygens haggling over the price of a chest of viols for his sons in 1638.

JD would have had a chuckle at that.


Ian Carr, Feb 23rd, and the tape under the bed

Tickets for the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the tribute to Ian Carr (1933-2009) on Tuesday February 23rd are selling fast. The front stalls have sold out. The concert is being produced by George Foster, a lifelong friend of Ian Carr, and by John Cumming of Serious.

The concert will start with a short set by Carr pupil Nikki Yeoh, followed by a set from Michael Garrick 's band, featuring Norma Winstone, Henry Lowther, Art Themen, Dave Green and Trevor Tompkins, and (hopefully) Don Rendell.

The second half features Carr's Northumbrian Sketches, with Guy Barker, and a string ensemble, conducted by Michael Gibbs, who is travelling specially from Spain.

There will be a set from Nucleus Revisited featuring guests John Marshall and Ray
both making very rare appearances.



There is a good story behind a previously unreleased recording which is being issued to coincide with the concert.

George Foster was running the UCL (University College London) Jazz Society in December 1966, and put on a Monday night gig by the Don Rendell/ Ian Carr band at the UCL Students Union. Which he recorded.

He moved house several times, and assumed, understandably, that he'd lost the tape.
Carr and Foster's friendship endured, and in 2007 it was Foster who, among others, was responsible for helping Carr to move into a care home.

Foster writes:

" I had power of attorney together with a few others, signed before his Alzheimer's had incapacitated him.

As we cleared out his flat in Brixton I discovered a box of tapes under his bed. In it was the tape I had thought lost forever. I reclaimed it and let a few peopel have copies. I rang round the musicians involved and sent them a CD copy, but we all thought it unreleasable.

With help from Duncan Heining and Mike King of ReelRecordings, the recording has been re-mastered."

Foster also describes his memories of the gig:

"On 12th December, they were relaxed, enjoying themselves, taking risks and pushing their own and each others’ capacities hard. “Hot Rod” is available in several recorded versions, but none are like this. The band achieves an up-tempo wildness threatening to disintegrate into chaos, pushing the music to the edge of incoherence and deftly pulling it back again. Michael’s piano solo is a tour-de-force, dazzling and at the same time hilarious. The under-rated Tony Reeves was an occasional replacement for Dave Green, and fitted perfectly, but was to go down another road with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum.

Great as the studio recordings are, this is the Rendell-Carr Quintet as I remember it: Trevor and Dave grinning as they pushed the music harder while always seeming to have more power in reserve; a mild-looking neatly-suited Don producing amazing walls of sound (listen to his breaks at the end of “Carolling”); Ian swaying with the music and using a plunger mute on “Trane’s Mood” like Bubber Miley; on the same tune Michael beginning what sounds like a dainty dance and develops into a race for life.
If you never heard this band in the flesh, you are in for a treat or maybe even a shock, for this was a very hot band and that Monday Night they burst into flames.

It does have a great, live, really-going-for-it feel, and all the announcements between the tracks.

With the agreement of the musicians, royalties on the CD will go to The Alzheimer's Research Trust in Cambridge to fund medical research into Alzheimer's.

Stamford Audio are also issuing a double vinyl for the collectors market,
The CD will be available from March 8th from


Cheltenham Programme published

Cheltenham Festival (April 28th - May 3rd) - booking opens for members on Monday 15th and for the general public on Monday 22nd.

You can download a full FESTIVAL BROCHURE HERE.The listings are pages 12 to 19.

It's a strong line-up: Carla Bley with Paolo Fresu, Jamie Cullum, Dave Holland with Spanish flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela, John Scofield, Christine Tobin and Liam Noble's Carole King project, Fly with Mark Turner and Jeff Ballard, Empirical, Kit Downes..... and Elaine Paige and some interesting events introduced by comedian Stewart Lee, and some Norwegians (real ones, not as in rhyming slang for chords.)

The new headline sponsor is Barclays. Sky Arts TV will be filming. There's a new Arena in a marquee. The Festival, sadly, is not using two of my favourite venues, the Everyman Theatre and St Andrews Church this year.


Radio 3 Composer of the week (noon) is Bebop

Every day next week at midday on Radio 3

Composer of the Week presenter Donald Macleod, aided by Geoffrey Smith will present five hour-long programes next week on Bebop.

In Monday 's programme they start by exploring the roots of Bebop in the work of a varied cast of pioneers: pianist Art Tatum, guitarist Charlie Christian, tenor sax players Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins and trumpeter Roy Eldridge. Then it's off to Minton's Playhouse, the after-hours Harlem club and all-purpose Bebop laboratory, where some of the most innovative jazz musicians of the day let their hair down and jammed together into the small hours, gradually forging the new style through their collective experimentation. Finally, the two central figures of the Bebop revolution emerge from the crowd - alto sax player Charlie 'Yardbird' Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie - first separately, in earlier, pre-Bop incarnations, then playing together, explosively, in two early Bebop classics, 'Groovin' High' and 'Salt Peanuts'.


In Tuesday 's programme, they focus on the 'yin and yang' of Bebop, Charlie Parker and the man he once referred to as 'the other half of my heartbeat', Dizzy Gillespie.

In Wednesday's programme, they visit the engine-room of jazz - the rhythm section - and in particular, Bebop's two key drummers, Kenny 'Klook-Mop' Clarke and Max Roach.

Thursday's programme homes in on the 88 keys of the piano, under the phenomenal fingers of Bebop's two most influential pianists: Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk.

On Friday , to conclude the week, they take a look beyond Bebop and explore the various shoots that have sprouted from the original stem, in the hands of such musicians as John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Wynton Marsalis and finally Sonny Rollins.

The producer is Chris Barstow in Cardiff. The words above are a copy/paste of info supplied by Radio 3.


Review: Eric Legnini

Review: Eric Legnini Trio
(Pizza Express, February 10th 2010, review by Peter Horsfall)

Ever heard of Belgian pianist Eric Legnini?

Well, neither had I, before I spent a night at the Pizza Express this Wednesday watching him tear it up with his trio. Clearly drawing much of his inspiration from the major players in the history of jazz piano, Legnini is unlike many of his contemporaries as he speaks at once with both an authentic and creative voice.

The fantastic craftsmanship of Legnini’s piano work was evident from his beautiful solo introduction to the opening tune, Dizzy Gillespie’s classic Con Alma. He had also come armed with a flying right-hand, which seemingly grew in speed and dexterity as the night progressed, the influence of Powell and Peterson always present. Both the standard I Hear a Rhapsody and the Phineas Newborn Jnr composition Back Home swung like the clappers. A delight.

The Legnini-penned compositions in the set were largely a funkier affair and included the title track from his latest album Trippin’. Drummer Franck Agulhon didn’t need asking twice to get his groove-on and his Elvin Jones style polyrhythmic-shred worked well with the pianist’s own Tyner-esque modal explorations.

An up-tempo ‘Rhythm Changes’ tune saw the leader in his element as he launched into a tirade of searing bebop, underpinned by bassist Thomas Bramerie’s solid and unfussy walking . Thank you to the French Music Bureau for bringing Mr.Legnini over from his Paris base . I hope he'll be back. And soon.


Review : Pat Metheny Orchestrion

Review: Pat Metheny Orchestrion
(Barbican Hall, February 10th 2010, Review by Rod Fogg)

Stage left, there's a vibraphone, behind that a baby grand, and further over a tall cabinet containing glass jars half filled with water. A glass harmonica? Stage right, a full-size marimba, more glass jars, and some finger cymbals. The backdrop is a red curtain, which you can tell by the bulges is hiding something. All the instruments have gadgets attached, little solenoid-driven beaters hover over every note of the marimba and vibes. There is a set of four vertical metal plates, each with a slot in the middle, one set on each side of the stage.

Pat began with three acoustic tracks: Make Peace, and Sound of Water from his recent Brad Mehldau collaboration and Unity Village which dates back to his debut album Bright Size Life. Unity Village introduces the triggered finger cymbals and he uses a looper to duet with himself. Gradually the red curtain is drawn back revealing row after row of DIY-store shelving crammed with all manner of percussion instruments (drums, cymbals, hi-hats, glockenspiel) bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric piano and so on, all operated by the same electro-mechanical means.

Pat plays an intro, the piano joins in - it's programmed - then the percussion and the bass and all sorts of other sounds. The sliders in the metal plates zip about like crazy. Lights flash on and off behind the glass jars. It's hard to say what they are actually doing, but they look cool. It's like playing with backing tapes, except that every sound you hear is actually being performed acoustically in front of you; you can see everything moving, and every solenoid has a flashing l.e.d. light pulsing in time.

Pat can trigger sounds himself - he demonstrates this by programming up a backing track on-the-fly. The instruments will also follow the guitar note for note - Broadway Blues (also from Bright Size Life) was accompanied by random, but rhythmic, tinkling, clattering, thumping and wheezing. Strange, but fun.

Soaring above ("conventionally" it says in the programme notes) is Metheny's guitar -effortless, pure-toned, inventive, melodic and yet often (surprisingly) scattering impressionistic dissonance like broken glass on a smooth road. The main part of the concert was the five tracks from the Orchestrion album, played as a continuous suite. Many seem inspired by Reichian minimalism and worked well in a live context. It all went swimmingly until, revving up for a grand finale, Pat began to play the opening montuno of Phase Dance. And the toys refused to join in. He played it solo instead, which seemed like a bargain to me. It was no good though, he'd broken it, and the Orchestrion stood silently by as the concert ended as quietly as it had begun, with a couple of acoustic solos.

Aurally and visually, it's astonishing, weird - and maybe hilarious. Musically, it's like nothing you've ever heard before.


Who is George Garzone?

Yay, going for maximum points here. Four answers:

1) According to Michael Brecker: "I am not the master of the saxophone, George Garzone is."

2) Garzone is a saxophonist, a native of Boston Massachusets, a Grammy Award winner as a member of the Joe Lovano Nonet. Among the musicians he's played with are Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, Kenny Barron, Chick Corea, Kenny Werner, Ben Monder, Mick Goodrick, Brian Blade, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, Buddy Rich, Ron Carter, Dave Holland, Christian McBride, Miroslav Vitous, Ray Drummond, Dennis Irwin, Gil Evens, Carla Bley, and George Russell. .

3) Garzone is a massively influential teacher from Boston, Massachusets. Among his pupils who've kinda made it happen are Joshua Redman, Branford Marsalis, Mark Turner and Danillo Perez.

4) Garzone is Mike Janisch's Guest at his monthly residency next Monday 15th and Tuesday 16th at the Pizza Express in Dean Street, in a trio with a drummer who rarely visits the UK, Pete Zimmer. Zimmer is a Yamaha clinician, and will also be giving drum clinics at Trinity College and at the Royal Academy of Music, but I understand that these are in both cases private events just for the students.

Photo Credit: R Cifarelli


Review: Julien Lourau

Julien Lourau Quartet
(Vortex, 8th February 2010)

I caught the first of a two-night stint at the Vortex by Julien Lourau's quartet at the Vortex, launching the new CD Saigon (Naive). The "Saigon Quartet," the Vietnamese city having been the location of their first gig in late 2006. This is a joint endeavour by Julien Lourau (tenor and soprano saxophones) and Laurent Coq (piano) with top French bassist Thomas Bramerie and drummer Donald Kontomanou, replacing Otis Brown III on this tour. Another example of the Vortex's varied and innovative programming.

Lourau and Coq were born in the same year, 1970, and have known each other for a long time. Working together is a more recent development for them. Lourau is known for taking on wide-ranging projects, often in more dance-based music. Coq has written film scores, and worked with experimental dance groups. Individually and collectively they take the band through a wide range of moods and feels.

Coq and Lourau share the composition duties equally in this band. Lourau's compositions have appealing melodic hooks . There are appealing waltzes with stop-starts. Lourau's compositions draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources. A journey to perform in Haiti was particularly productive, and gave rise to the first half closer Baron Samedi, which got the best applause of the evening. Lourau on tenor was doing flutter tonguing, multiphonics at the eginning. Coq and Lourau brought the number to an end with swirling ascending rapidfire counterpoint, deftly supported by Bramerie with clear tone and big sound, and Kontomanou giving chase. A high point.

I found the gig fascinating, but in the final analysis I also had had reservations. The quartet showed its ability to turn on a sixpence, to switch mood and feel again and again, but last night my ears found the line, narrative, the connections between these moods hard to grasp. I also found that Coq's improvisational method sometimes has a way of locking the listener straight into stasis rather than guiding one's ear and producing forward motion. I'm also guessing that the drummer may not have settled with the others yet. But the best of this gig was VERY good indeed.


Cleo Laine will perform this Saturday

A confirmation from

Saturday 13th's Jazz Concert featuring the John Dankworth Quintet will go ahead despite the sad death of the Jazz Legend. [...] Dame Cleo Lane had wished that the concert should go ahead.

HERE'S THE LINK. This one could well sell out quickly.


Preview: NajPonk

YENTOCS. I've often wondered what would happen if I was to wake up one day and decide to spell my surname backwards. Would I suddenly be confused for Alan Yentob? What might be the consequences if I was?

But I have just discovered a Czech pianist who's really done it. Born by the name of Jan Knop, his preferred trading style, his nom de guerre is the reverse spelling of his given name.

NajPonk launches a new solo piano CD, "Just for my Friends" (Cube-Metier) this Sunday at the Vortex.

Steady now. Nobody's going to do themselves any damage on any cutting edges here. This is a record mostly of softly-spoken standards, plus a blues dedicated to George Mraz, the legendary Czech bassist with whom NajPonk has worked.

For me the highlight was an unforced account of Victor Young's Love Letters. The CD was recorded live in front of a well-behaved yet appreciative audience in May 2009 in that shrine of the sedate, Cheltenham.

There is streaming audio at Czecheverything. The piano is an Ibach, nicely recorded.


Sir John Dankworth by Frank Griffith

Here are the thoughts of one composer-orchestrator-arranger about another. Frank Griffith wored extensivel with Sir John Dankworth, who would often say that Griffith "knows more about my life than I do."

Sir John Dankworth- COA

The acronym refers to Composer, Orchestrator, Arranger, and not another award to add to the numerous ones he has already received (a CBE in 1974 and knighthood in 2006). John was and will likely remain my favourite COA. What made him so special? Its hard to say as distinguishing and defining this sort of thing is a bit of an apples and oranges exercise as with comparing any artists in any field.

For a start, Dankworth turned his hand to every conceivable genre and discipline in the writing field. He opened with small group (7 piece) post bop charts in the early 1950s then moving on to full scale big band orchestrations with an emphasis on dance and jive swing later that decade. His classic films scores of the 1960s embraced full orchestral settings along with the odd importation of specialist musicians from faraway lands for films like Sands of the Kalahari and The Last Safari.

His chamber music works were numerous. In 1981 he composed Fair Oaks Fusion for the The Myrah Sax Quartet (boasting John Harle in its ranks) coupled along with his jazz quintet. His score for Joseph Losey’s 1963 film The Servant utilised the Michael Krein Sax Quartet which he told me was his favourite and most successful film score in our interview published in 2006 in the Journal of British Cinema and Television (accessible on ). I attended the premiere of the various Shakespeare sonnets that he’d adapted for the Swingle Singers on July 2005 at The Stables. He had originally recorded these with Cleo in 1963 for the Shakespeare and all that Jazz album. He also wrote two pieces for clarinet and piano recorded by Emma Johnson in 2008.

John’s classic 1960s big band theme albums are for me, the most distinctive and emblematic of his signature sound. What The Dickens (1964), The Zodiac Variations
(1965) and The Million Dollar Collection all stem from a basic theme and explore it to an LP’s length. They all contain tuneful melodies, piquant harmonies and engaging rhythmic figures that are timeless in origin and idiom. I was present last year for a performance of The Zodiac Variations by The Trinity College of Music Big Band conducted by Malcolm Earle Smith at Ronnie Scotts sitting next to the composer. It sounded as though it had been written that week.

Sir John’s melodies have always had a distinctly English quality about them. A gleeful, Puckishness gait laced with a scintilla of dry wit with an ever present entry for irony to sneak in, if necessary. This, coupled with the harmonic colours of Ellington and Strayhorn as well as Ravel and Delius among other 20th Century classicists brought about a wide ranging worldly scope to his sound. No rhythmic slouch either, John liked to find a way to create rhythmic tension between the rhythm section and horns (musically speaking). This is often the first thing that attracts a listener’s ear compared to sophisticated harmonies or quirky melodies and is the most important distinguishing factor between classical and jazz music. The wide accessibility of John’s music was no doubt down to these attributes of his sound and style.

Gil Evans, often liked to tell of his growing up listening to Louis Armstrong on the radio and even if not all of the songs he played were brilliant they all contained at least one “magic moment”. A note, phrase or section that left an indelibly impact on him. The very same applies to Sir John’s compositions and arrangements. There was always a moment lurking nearby that would elate and arrest the listener in such a way to satisfy as well as insure they were in good hands.

COA indeed- Sixty years of moments that will be magical eternally. Long may it last.


Review : Vincent Herring

Review: Vincent Herring's Earth Jazz Agents + The Polly Gibbons Quartet,
(Ronnie Scott's, February 6th 2010 - second show, Review by Rob Mallows) 

Alto saxophonist Vincent Herring is steeped in straight-ahead jazz, and has played with everybody, but with the Earth Jazz Agents he has been combining his improvisational chops with funk-jazz and fusion. It's a fascinating combination. Herring's Coltrane and Cannonball-influenced sound soars and swoops over a rhythm section which draws to mind seventies Hancock, Bootsy Collins and Weather Report. Their new album Morning Star (Challenge Records) shows off the band’s strengths well.

Herring's an engaging stage character. He builds audience rapport by telling hilarious anecdotes before each tune. He quickly got the audience laughing, and his interplay with his band was a blast. But he typically remains on stage for only half of the set, content to stand to one side having established a song and watch his compadres draw out the funk and fusion elements before re-establishing a hard-bop focus. When the whole ensemble blows, it's a great sound; but Herring has created a group where everyone's solos are not simply a chance to step briefly out of the shadow of the front man but an opportunity for each player to take a song somewhere else.

Giving Earth Jazz Agent's its funky heart was Swiss drummer Joris Dudli who, like Herring, has a straight ahead background but deftly funked it up on tracks like 74th & Columbus and Soul Hero, a picture of Swiss precision with his towel around his neck, boxer-style.

Keyboardist Anthony Wonsey cooked up a real storm on both acoustic and electric piano with a freewheeling style and melodic references to a whole heap of jazz styles. He also introduced a number of tunes he composed from the new album: of these, Do You Remember Me? Was a definite highlight.

Honours on the night went to bassist/band producer Richie Goods. He took not just one but two fantastic solos on Soul Leo, walking to the front of stage and blasting the audience with high-energy funk-jazz bass with crazy sounds from his array of pedal.

Earlier on, vocalist Polly Gibbons had provided a contrasting start to the evening bringing her soulful yet throaty voice to the stage, with an eclectic mixture of tracks including Come Rain and Shine and Cole Porter's Love for Sale - and two rounds of Happy Birthday for audience members, sung high-pitched, Minnie Mouse-style. Ably backed by the exuberant Tom Cawley on piano, Sam Burgess on bass and the ever-entertaining Chris Dagley on drums, Gibbons did enough to capture the attendance of a far-less-than-ideally-attentive audience. But her dedication of For All We Know to Sir John Dankworth did, rightly, focus the audience’s attention properly, and reminded us all of the music world’s great loss.


Review: John Turville Trio

Review: John Turville Trio
(606 Club, February 3rd 2010, review by Luke Pinkstone)

The launch gig for John Turville Trio ’s new album Midas (F-Ire label) juxtaposed his original compositions with well-chosen standards. The trio traversed diverse and distinct musical influences, and brought them all energetically to life. The set included a Radiohead cover, a tribute to Bill Evans and two Nick Drake compositions. That's quite a range, but they all worked well.

First Flight, the opening track on the album, proved a strong opener. John Turville ’s well thought-out introductory improvisation unfolded with a melodious charm and built gradually into a furious blur. He had strong support from Chris Hill (bass) and Ben Reynolds (drums) who watched him closely, intuitively following the changes in both texture and in mood. With angular rhythmic figures and funky unison bursts, this first number gave the audience an insight of what to expect from this versatile trio. and set the proverbial ‘bar’ for the rest of the night high. But results continued to match expectations

The audience was relatively sparse to begin with, but the gradual flow of latecomers further lifted an already vibrant atmosphere and gave the room an extra energy for the band to feed from.

Their second track Waltz For Bill Evans resembled Evans’ own Waltz for Debby and began with undisturbed serene solo piano before settling into a light swing. Chris Hill’s quick-fingered bass solo scaled the full range of the instrument, matching Turville’s technical precision and melodic thoughtfulness. For me a highlight was a rendition of Nick Drake’s composition and the album’s title track, Midas.

Vocalist Brigitte Beraha joined the trio for the wordless ballad. Her silky voice immediately created a sense of tranquility and solitude that hung in the air, and left the audience in awe.
The trio finished with Hand Maid, which started with slow, steady dissonance and cross rhythms, and built into a cocktail of quirky lyrical melodies, rhythmic agility and intuitive interplay.


RIP Sir John Dankworth 1927-2010

Deepest condolences to the Dankworth family on the death earlier today of one of the greatest figures in British jazz, Sir John Dankworth, at the King Edward VII hospital in London.

Tonight a 40th anniversary concert for the Stables will go ahead. The occasion will inevitably be overshadowed by today's very sad news.


Review: Jan Garbarek

Review: Jan Garbarek Group
(Barbican, January 31st 2010, review by Frank Griffith, photo by Mike Stemberg)

The Jan Garbarek Group featuring Trilok Gurtu cast an uninterrupted two-and-a-half hour spell over a full house at the Barbican last Sunday. When told upon entry that there would be no interval, I assumed that we'd be treated to the intensity and the drama of a ninety minute Sunday night show, permitting suburbanites to make a relatively early path home. Not the case though, as the show just kept on giving more. More varying beats, more rhythms, tonal colours, and multiple excursions across styles and genres.

It would seem superfluous to recount the individual pieces one by one, the emphasis being more on developing a lengthy but fluid and engaging oceanic collage of Nordica fused with many other worldly sounds, notably the barrage - both visual and aural - of Trilok Gurtu 's arsenal of percussion. From lightly tapping melodic tablas behind the leader's pensive soprano sax, to unleashing a full-on 1970s Headhunters-like funk beat on the drum kit, Gurtu's versatility and command of idioms was staggering. Pianist Rainer Brüninghaus had plenty on his plate as well with the keyboard getting most of his attention, not only as a soloist but providing psuedo-orchestral backdrops and ambient surroundings, which made the quartet sound a much larger ensemble. The five string electric bass of newcomer, Yuri Daniel , added a percussive and incisive touch, clearly influenced by the post-Jaco Pastorius school. This, coupled with his Brazillian heritage (his solo feature included the well known Milton Nascimento standard "Vera Cruz") added another dimension to the group's already wide palette.

But the Garbarek sound, presence and passionate lyrical calling were always paramount. While he played throughout, he did not actually improvise much (at least not lengthily) and he also refrained from a solo feature number which all the others had. His deep, rich tenor saxophone sound has a haunting cry making it instantly recognisable yet never slipping into maudlin or sugary sentimentality. His soprano sax though did dominate however. Soprano is his chosen voice for the music, and no less an effective vehicle for his message. This writer just prefers his tenor- simple as that.

No words were uttered, no programme notes listing the titles were distributed. If this risked leaving the listener a bit at sea with the repertoire, perhaps this was the intention. It proved a welcome antidote to the usual over-provision of information in today's internet age.

This concert had so many delights, it is no wonder that Garbarek has such a large and loyal following. He plays tuneful and in some cases folk-like melodies over jazz influenced harmonies. His forays into improvisation are never excessive, and neither get self-indulgent or resort to the virtuostic displays of musical hedonism often associated with jazz. A memorable night of richly varied, worldly music.