Gateshead Festival Round-up

(Here is Patrick Hadfield's Gateshead Festival Round-up. Photo by Mark Savage)

Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA is an orchestra that crosses boundaries and fuses musical genres . Featuring a cohortof top British jazz musicians – Zoe Rahman (piano), Roger Beaujolais (vibes), Denys Baptiste (alto sax), Jason Yarde (soprano sax), Larry Stabbins (tenor sax) and Nathaniel Facey (alto) among others – Dammers has created a strange but powerful creature to celebrate the music he loves: a combination of free jazz from Sun Ra and Alice Coltrane, bass-heavy reggae and Dammers’ own tunes. These date back to his time with the Specials.

There was a somewhat apocalyptic quality to the visuals. The band wears Egyptian and African masks and regalia and arrives on stage to singer-rapper Anthony Joseph ’s rhythmic chant of "It’s after the end of the world!. The band were largely anonymous and unrecognisable behind dark glasses. They turned "Ghost Town" into a powerful rallying call against environmental catastrophe – "this world is turning to a ghost world…"

Someone shouted out, "Can we dance?", and Dammers replied, "If you can dance, you can dance… But it’s in 5/4, so you’ll need two and a half feet!" Unfortunately it was a fully seated auditorium – packed, so there wasn’t much space for dancing. There was a lot of humour – they played the theme from the Batman tv series (apparently a regular of Sun Ra’s set) – and compassion: there was a moving song written by Dammers about the death of one of his parents.

The band played exceptionally – they were tight when they needed to be (no mean feat with 18 or so musicians) – but they stretched on the free sections, roaming the outer reaches of the musical solar system.The band finished with Sun Ra’s "Space is the Place", a long work out ending with the band leaving the stage as they had come on, walking out through the audience into the atrium – where they continued playing for another fifteen minutes.

Apocalyptic, maverick, perhaps. But also a joyous, life-affirming celebration.

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Saturday afternoon saw a set by Dan Berglund’s new band, Tonbruket. Bassist Berglund has bravely – and wisely – moved in a very different direction for his first band after EST. But it has not settled on one cohesive vision yet. It will be interesting to see how they develop.( See also Philip Gowman's review for LondonJazz)

* * * * * *

I spent Saturday evening in the company of Jason Yarde and the Voice of the North Jazz Orchestra. Hearing him playing his own music was a real treat. The set started with a series of arrangements by Yarde, featuring his soprano and alto playing. Yarde coaxed great performances from the band, occasionally conducting the band using his soprano as a baton.

His music contains dynamic contrasts and doesn't spare the orchestra. His suite "Four Letter Words For Four Letters Heard" was given a premiere. Yarde didn’t play on this, but his direction had a superb improvisatory feel- he appeared to be changing the format, bringing in players in response to what he was hearing.Yarde brings fascinating textures to the writing, and also incorporates asymmetric hiphop rhythms, ably supplied by the rhythm section – notably by the imposing bass player.

* * * * * *

Sunday was Scottish day at the Sage. First up was a multi-media event featuring the Stu Brown Sextet playing the music of Raymond Scott. I was very glad I went. Scott (1908-1994) was a composer whose work spanned much of the 20th century. Not strictly jazz – he clearly believed that musicians should play what was written rather improvise – his music incorporated various jazz themes and techniques.

His music had a cinematic quality to it, and many of his tunes were picked up by Hollywood. For many years, his tunes were used as the incidental music behind Warner Brothers cartoons. His titles have a cartoon, surreal quality – "War Dance for Wooden Indians", "New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House", "Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals", "Square Dance for Eight Egyptian Mummies" – but whilst they have a narrative drive, they weren’t written for movies, only later being picked up by Warner Bros.

This concert featured excerpts from a new documentary about Scott (which will premier in full at the Sensoria Festival Sheffield in April) and new animation set to his music.

The sextet played these complicated tunes vigorously; there is humour in the music, and plenty of tempo changes and curious sound effects. The first part of the concert featured Scott’s tunes in their original, strict arrangements, the second a suite of new arrangements, including improvisation, by members of the band. I thought the first part worked better: Scott clearly knew how to communicate through music. The new material was getting its first airing, so perhaps the band will ease into it.

* * * * * *

The weekend’s finale was the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. SNJO was established by Tommy Smith fifteen years ago to play pieces taken from throughout the jazz reparatory; in the past they have tackled Ellington, Mingus, Miles Davis and Gil Evans, amongst others.

The first half of the gig featured Smith’s new orchestration of Rhapsody in Blue. Smith has extended the piece, keeping the main themes but emphasising the jazz – and blue – nature of Gershwin’s writing. The piece lasted over an hour, but after the surprise of hearing the new structure overlaid on a piece so familiar, the excitement of hearing the band took over. Featuring Brian Kellock on piano, Rhapsody in Blue took off and flew: Smith and Kellock’s reinvention for jazz orchestra of Gershwin’s concept was superb.

SNJO’s second set featured the music of Buddy Rich, and so the spotlight fell on Alyn Cosker, who showed himself to be a powerhouse drummer. The horns were great, the trumpets – notably Ryan Quigley and Tom McNiven – finding the high notes and the saxes roaring along with some great solos by Smith and Konrad Wizsniewski on tenor and Martin Kershaw and Paul Towndrow on altos. Cosker took several short solos, and it fell to him to have the last solo of the set with an extended workout during a suite from West Side Story.

The band came back on for an encore, a segment of Torah, a suite written by Smith for Joe Lovano, in which Smith took the lead. The full house at the start of the concert had dwindled, but those stayed were richly rewarded.

* * * * * *

The Gateshead International Jazz Festival at the Sage makes an excellent weekend and the Sage does a great job at accommodating the large numbers of people there. The imaginative programming spans lots of different interests There were many free performances by lesser known and youth performers in the large atrium space. With the Sage as the focal point, the festival has a sense of unity and community. They, and I, crammed a lot into three days.


Review: Jazz at 5 (Gulbenkian Cafe, University of Kent)

Jazz @ 5
(Gulbenkian Theatre Cafe, University of Kent, Canterbury, March 24th 2010, review by Adam Tait)

On the last Wednesday of the month the Gulbenkian Theatre Cafe at the Univerity of Kent hosts an informal Jazz show, performed by staff and students of the University.

The atmosphere is relaxed, chatty . Although there had not been much publicity about the event, enough people had managed to hear about it to fill the cafe/bar , with some people even being disappointed to find that there were no free flat surfaces to rest their cups of coffee on. A full venue then, but with a deep sense of relaxation permeating the room.

The performers, who changed their line-up from song to song, are not professional jazz musicians, but they were impressive and skilful. The instrumentals were suitably mellow and understated. Female vocalists treated the audience to beautifully delicate renditions, and the whole performance was surprisingly stylish.

The best things about this performance, though, was the way in which it was both the centre of the audience’s attention, while at the same time perfect background music for five o’clock on a Wednesday. In some way or other the performance seemed to be exactly what the patrons of the Gulbenkian Cafe were looking for, even if we didn’t all realise we were looking for anything at all.

For those people who turned up at 5 o’clock exactly and sat in front of the stage waiting to be impressed, the performers were the perfect focal point. Similarly, for those people who’d wondered in with a paper and sat staring out of the window, the music provided the perfect background soundtrack. And for those people who flitted between the two, “it’s really nice to just sit here and be sung at”, as one of my friends put it.

A brief conversation with pianist James Cross and saxophonist Will Rathbone revealed that the musicians get together to practise for a short time on Wednesday morning. You wouldn't know, ensemble was generally very tight.

The Jazz @ 5 performance perfectly fitted its time and place, and even the overcast darkening skies outside seemed to add to the appropriateness of finding yourself in quiet contemplation, seated in the Gulbenkian Cafe.


Review: Abdullah Ibrahim's Ekaya

Abdullah Ibrahim's Ekaya
( Abdullah Ibrahim piano; Belden Bullock bass; George Gray drums; Cleave Guyton alto sax/flute; Keith Loftis tenor sax; Andrae Murchison trombone; Jason Marshall baritone sax. Barbican, March 30th 2010. Photo from Gateshead by Mark Savage)

The Ibrahim discography is rich with previous flowerings of this septet project. A quick recce gives Ekaya (1983), African River (1989), both seemingly long-deleted, and Water from an Ancient Well (2003). The word Ekaya means "home."

With these projects, one thing seems inevitable. The passage of time carries the implication that Ibrahim's six sidemen, like policemen, will tend to get younger relative to the master. So the very fine musicians who form the rest of the current band put Ibrahim increasingly into a role which he evidently relishes, and carries off with style -a perfectly cut suit - and grace. Call this role "madiba" in Xhosa, or "mwalimu" in Swahili, Ibrahim's public demeanour is increasingly that of a teacherly elder statesman. But his gentle piano playing with its long melodic arcs and occasional calls to attention still mesmerises and silences entire audiences, even in a 1900-seater venue.

Home implies nostalgia, and the core tempo of numbers like The Wedding have a tendency to be unhurried, many of the arrangements have sustained four-part brass chorale writing which can only be played 100% in tune. But let the players cut loose, and the level of energy and antics and musicianship and improvising coming from Ibrahim's band is extraordinary. All of them seem to do perfect takes of every number.

If the buzz afterwards was mainly about New York-based trombonist Andrae Murchison, then the rest of the band did not have a weak link. They were on stage for well over two hours without interval, and the capacity crowd at the Barbican cheered them to the rafters with a standing ovation.

The same band plays the Anvil Theatre in Basingstoke tonight. I kid you not.


Preview: Chris Garrick/ John Etheridge

Jane Stringfellow is looking forward to the launch of Chris Garrick and John Etheridge's new CD Men on Wire (Flying Blue Whale Records) at Pizza on the Park on Wednesday April 7th

Men on Wire, the title of Chris Garrick and John Etheridge ’s new album, was inspired by the high-wire walker Philippe Petit, who danced on a wire between New York's Twin Towers.

The daring of the title is evident in the music. Two men improvising on wire strings to create a sound that is both, spare and visceral, reflective and lyrical. This is a well-produced album - when I listened I felt as if they were in the room.

Chris Garrick is a leading jazz violinist. John Etheridge is a jazz guitarist who defies categorisation, having played with so many from Grappelli to Soft Machine. They have produced many excellent albums together and yet still manage to surprise.

The set on this album ranges from classic jazz standards: Blue Moon, Let’s Fall in Love to pop tunes, Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Street and Burt Bacherach’s Alfie. They bring something new to each tune. There are a couple of Garrick’s own compositions, including Undecided- an exciting combination of John’s urgent improvisation and Garrick’s warmest sounds. A joyful version of Adbulllah Ibrahims’s Msunduza is underpinned by Garrick’s pizzicato and Etheridge’s evident affinity for African rhythm. Garrick’s range is particularly well expressed on the poignant theme tune from Clint Eastwood’s 2008 film Gran Torino.

Men on Wire features two musicians who clearly enjoy both their collaborations and the opportunity to push boundaries. They play Pizza On the Park on April 7th .

Expect, above all, the unexpected.


RIP Herb Ellis

Herb Ellis's son has confirmed that the great guitarist, above in the classic trio with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown, died on Sunday. He had been suffering from Alzheimers.

Here's the story from the Washington Post


Michael Buble and a velociraptor

Something Surreal. An early April Fool perhaps. Check this link for a website which consists entirely of images of Michael Buble being stalked by a velociraptor.

Here, an admirer of the site from Denver attempts to explain what it's all about.


And the Oscar for Best Oscar goes to....

Ruth Abernethy has been commissioned to cast a statue of Oscar Peterson for the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

The statue will be unveiled on 30th June as part of the Canada Day celebrations, during which the Queen is due to be in Canada .

Here's the full story. And here's Abernethy's statue of reclusive classical pianist Glenn Gould, nearby at the same venue.

Which jazz musician should we be putting up a statue of?


Review: Tomasz Stanko

Review: Tomasz Stanko
(Barbican Hall, March 27th 2010
(Updated with review of 1997 gig by Tomasz Stanko at the Jazz Cafe by Chris Parker)

The "face of the new Poland," as described by Polish Ambassador Barbara Tuge-Erecinska in a pre-concert speech, was very much on show at the Barbican on Saturday. But this film screening, and two sets from bands led by Tomasz Stanko were also opportunities for time-travelling to other very different eras. Through film and through music these other times felt -in varying degrees as thay were juxtaposed in front of us- palpable and immediate. And certainly very different from the here-and now.

The automatons of the pseudo-medieval world of Stanislaw Lem, interpreted on film by the Quay brothers was by far the hardest era to grasp. The film Maska, had a brooding orchestral soundtrack from the 1960's by Krysztof Penderecki. I could be wrong, but I didn't get the sense that many in the audience found themselves identifying with the "sudden rush of gender" to the wooden head of the automaton who was the film's main protagonist.

The first music set was different, brought a far higher level of appreciaton and inolvement, and just got better and better. A very fine quintet was playing Stanko originals. The tunes were mostly melodically catchy neo-bossas. Stanko played often in unison with Polish vocalist Justyna Steczkowska. Steczkowska's eye catching skin-tight strappy shiny black minidress and vertiginously heeled shoes caught the eye. I also enjoyed her singing, often dovetailing musically with Stanko. The rest of the band, a fine Breckerish Adam Pieronczyk on tenor and soprano saxophones, mesmerising Dominik Wania on piano, solid and characterful Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and inventive Olavi Luohivuori on drums were all very fine indeed.

Stanko was described by John L Walters last year as being a trumpeter who fills the Miles-shaped void like no other. I also enjoyed, as the evening progressed, an increasing sense, spurred on by the other band members and by Wania in particular, that he could break out with an energy, chops and an inventiveness which made his advancing years cease to matter.

In the final set, the juxtaposition of eras was stuff to get one really thinking. Stanko's collaboration with film composer Krysztof Komeda (1931-1969) on films such as Knife in the Water, and Rosemary's Baby, dates from the 1960's. Clips from the Polanski films, projected inventively by video specialists Yeast, were cleverly superimposed on live footage of the band on stage.

But, there were also strong echoes of the late nineties.The ECM record Litania, of Tomasz Stanko playing the music of Krysztof Komeda, was recorded as long ago as 1997. Stanko's readings of these eerie tunes have become more comfortable, more accomplished, one even dare say smoother than on that record.

I was told by a promoter that a Jazz Cafe gig performing this music, mostly with the same musicians as on the ECM record, had been put on at the time, but had attracted a very slender audience. Times have definitely moved on since then. The music, the politics, economics of the UK and of Poland are now very different. And the relationship between the two countries has broadened and deepened immeasurably.

The concert, well attended by a very appreciative audience, was supported by both the Polish Cultural Institute and Wodka Wyborova, produced by Serious. The programme leaflet had no fewer than thirteen logos on it. The main language in the interval bar was youthful, successful, flashily dressed and fast-spoken Polish.

But in the concert it was the gentle but persuasive music which gradually took hold. Stanko performs miracles of timing, he knows how to present a narrative, to cast a spell. Komeda's tune "Sleep Safe and Warm" from Rosemary's Baby, was performed as a programmed encore to end the evening, to the backdrop of the film. The tune was beautifully yet eerily intoned by Stanko and Steczkowska. For this listener, it was a moment of magic.

UPDATE: This review stirred strong memories of the original, poorly attended 1997 Jazz Cafe gig in the ever-sharp mind of jazz journalist Chris Parker. He has sent me his original review of the Jazz Cafe gig, written for The Times. This review now appears in uncut form for the first time.

Venue: Jazz Cafe, Camden
Artists: Tomasz Stanko Sextet

When Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda died prematurely, at 37, after an accident in Los Angeles in 1969, his loss was widely seen as a blow, first and foremost, to the film world, for which he had provided a great many scores, most famously for Roman Polanski's movies Knife in the Water and Rosemary's Baby. If the loss is now felt just as keenly in the jazz world,
his compatriot and former musical collaborator, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, should take some of the credit. On what has been widely hailed as one of the finest European jazz albums of recent years, Litania, he has brought Komeda's music to the attention of a new generation of listeners, but – perhaps more importantly – he has also made it live again in its intended
milieu: on the stand, as material for the spontaneous re-creation and reinterpretation that is jazz's raison d'être.

Striking a balance between the two extremes of jazz composition – providing a rudimentary head that is little more than a springboard for soloists, and through-composing so that no room is allowed for improvisation and self-expression – is something few writers in the medium, Ellington and Mingus aside, have consistently achieved. What was so impressive about this performance by Stanko and his Scandinavian collaborators – saxophonists Bernt Rosengren and Joakim Milder, pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen – was the way in which they intepreted Komeda's music so as to accentuate all its considerable compositional qualities without compromising their own freedom one whit.

Beginning, as on the album, with a haunting version of one of Komeda's most attractive themes, 'Svantetic', dedicated to the Swedish poet Svante Foerster, the sextet imbued it with all the
grace, lyricism and plangent melancholy most commonly identified as Komeda's compositional hallmarks. Their solos, however, both on this extended piece and on what followed in a 90-minute set of consistently affecting, utterly compelling music, were very much their own.

Rosengren brought a swirling, powerful warmth to the band sound; his fellow tenor player Milder, by contrast, was attractively sparse and dry. Stenson, his luminous, fluent style ironically very different from Komeda's own percussive pianistic attack, provided moments of
mellifluous elegance, while Stanko himself, his solos filled with a woozy sincerity leavened alternately by the odd virtuosic run or his trademark smeared vocalisations, brought a highly individual, but entirely appropriate, cracked dignity to all he played. Komeda would surely have approved.


Ian Carr Celebration - two updates

The benefit evening for Alzheimer's charities, celebrating the life of Ian Carr, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 23rd February, raised £7,000, significantly more than budgeted.

The performance of Northumbrian Sketches from the concert was recorded by Jazz on 3, and will be broadcast on April 19th.

Meanwhile, for all things Ian Carr, there's one place to go:

Roger Farbey's site.


RIP Kenny Baldock and Diz Disley

LondonJazz readers have been in touch to tell me about the deaths on the same day, March 22nd, of two stalwarts of the British jazz scene, both of whom were born in 1931.

RIP Guitarist Diz Disley and bassist Kenny Baldock (1931-2010). Sympathies to family, friends and former colleagues.


Review : Peter Brötzmann's Hairy Bones

Review: Hairy Bones - Peter Brötzmann, Toshinori Kondo, Massimo Pupillo and Paal Nilssen-Love (Vortex, 23 March, 1st and 2nd shows, and 24 March, 2nd show - review and pencil drawing(*) by Geoff Winston)

Night 1 – sets 1 and 2

“Tomorrow night, tomorrow night ... we play something completely different ...” Peter Brötzmann said at the end of the first night at the Vortex. He and his co-musicians had played themselves out over two breathtaking sets. This is a quartet which puts itself through extraordinary hoops, leaves itself no easy options, and produces raw and joyous music.

The first impression had been unforgettable. The four musicians wander onto the stage, exchange glances and then, without preamble, unleash music of pure physical power. You feel the bass tones in the ribcage. The horns – Toshinoro Kondo’s trumpet and Brötzmann’s saxes create a different stratum of intensity, brilliant in unison, and at times almost indistinguishable. Yet, there is always balance, clarity and precision.

The rhythm section is thunderous. Paal Nilssen-Love’s drumming has drive and the discipline. In tandem with with Massimo Pupillo’s resounding electric bass, it gives Kondo and Brötzmann the lead to play percussively at times. It is not an anarchic onslaught, it’s more of a catharsis.

This high-voltage performance did have its moments of respite, however. Sensitive duets throughout the two sets were an essential part of the fabric of the quartet’s telepathic interaction; and it was a disarming pleasure to witness them winding down to a deliberately ponderous close at the end of their supercharged opening number.
Brötzmann’s plaintive tarogato solo brought in a whiff of the near east. On alto and tenor his playing could be tender, then strained to the extreme, breaching the sound barriers. The inventive Kondo didn’t have his box of electronics on the first evening, it had been misrouted in transit. But he is inventive and plays with ingenuity and attack. His fingers were taut and stretched one moment, then would ripple over the valves with gentle ease. He played sitting, standing, or stooping, then would suddenly spring back, clutching his instrument, as if responding to invisible punches.

With their sheer power, Hairy Bones have echoes of Ornette’s live Prime Time group. The torrent of sounds – some muted, others almost vocal, spat, blown, hit – owed a debt both to punk, and to Kurt Schwitters’s sound poems from the 1920s, sharing their rhythmic core, their forceful declamation and their rejection of conventional content.

Brötzmann looked on, almost paternally at times, as the others took off, then, content, attended to his reeds with his fold-up penknife which he’d slip back in to his jacket pocket. The driving force of this whole remarkable venture is a craftsman.
Night 2 - set 2

Between sets, Brötzmann, in quilted outdoor jacket, was again busy preparing his armoury, carefully tending his reeds, gently warming up his tenor with his back to the busy house. Onstage, he dispensed with the formal black jacket of the previous evening, in favour of shirtsleeves. He seemed more relaxed, and the sound was subtly changed with the volume turned down a notch or so.

Brötzmann’s solo extemporisation on tenor, was supremely accomplished – something special. His flowing phrases acknowledged the heritage of other masters – Bechet, Hawkins, Webster, maybe.

Nilssen-Love, no sticks, was deftly striking the cymbals with his hands, then picking up padded mallets for a gentle interlude before returning to his polyrhythmic barrage. Pupillio’s face intent, breaking in to a smile in an interval between numbers, clearly just enjoying the playing, and Kondo, now fully equipped, extended his range – fighting invisible demons, then chasing shadows in a subtle passage of muffled, superimposed tones.

Vortex director Oliver Weindling described this as “music you might hear at an instant of creation.” It’s a supremely gifted, passionate and committed group. Will I hear a more completely fulfilling gig this year? I doubt it.

(*) Image Copyright Geoffrey Winston 2010. All Rights Reserved. Contact rights holder.


Do we really have to lose Pizza on the Park?

UPDATE 21/4/10. There is now a Facebook Group protesting against the closure

The story is out. Pizza on the Park is likely to close as a music venue on June 24th. The landlord at 11/13 Knightsbridge, SW1, has given the restaurant operators of the ground floor and basement their notice to quit. And with it will, probably, disappear that rare thing, a jazz and cabaret venue in an absolute prime London location.

It's a room with a history. Popular with performers. Barbara Cook anyone? Or John Dankworth's post-knighthood party with NYJO? I bet LondonJazz readers have their memories. Tell me.

So what's happening? Westminster had its planning meeting to approve the redevelopment and to permit change of use into a boutique hotel way back in April 2007, but the owners of the building have only recently stirred themselves to start the development.

A nice irony here is that the Landlord's company which sought the change of use application is registered as an offshore corporation called....... Rhimesong.

I've read the lengthy detailed resolution which went before the planning committee. And I would find one thing about it quite funny if wasn't so serious. In 28 pages the music venue doesn't get a single mention. Refuse collection, yes. Types of wood in window frames, yes. London Underground still having access to the Piccadilly Line tube platforms underneath - it's an absorbing read.

But all you get about the ground floor and basement is the mention that there is a restaurant. And that any value it might have as a local amenity - with the planned hotel there will be a substantial reduction in the number of covers in the restaurant - was not a sufficient reason to intervene.

As for the music room, nada.

The author of the report, the Acting Director of City Planning and Development for Westminster Council, and therefore the councillors who decided on the basis of his or her paper, quite simply never even knew that you audience and you musicians had been there.

For the studious among you, here's the Planning Resolution from 2007. It seems hard to believe this venue is going to disappear quite so silently when it's been such a special place for such a lot of people. What do you think?


The View from Paris

There are many different views of Paris. The one I'm getting is from a Franco-British jazz meeting and showcase, organised by Jazz Services and the French Music Office and assisted by UK Trade and Investment and several French funding bodies including SACEM and CNV.

It's taking place as part of the Banlieues Bleues Festival, at a purpose-built jazz venue called La Dynamo in the North-East of Paris. Great building, a converted 19th century sack factory transformed into a cosy venue by architects Peripherique.

The music from Britain last night was a joyous set from Zoe Rahman 's Quartet, plus Jason Yarde with Andrew McCormack.

And the Talleyrand prize for brilliant diplomacy goes to Jason Yarde who prefaced a consistently high-quality set with the following remark:

"I'm going to keep my French to a minimum. Because it's such a beautiful language." Nice. Pronounced nice.

Zoe Rahman was also fulfilling diplomatic duties with panache: she complimented the large proportion of the audience who confirmed that they had heard of Rabindranath Tagore with : "this is such a cultured country."

There are dynamic, fantastically energetic people here from places like Reims and Nantes and La Rochelle. Selwyn Harris and Tony Dudley-Evans explained the British scene thoroughly, and well. Antoine Bos talked us through the complexity of the French Festival scene.

There are, however, some cultural differences. Take the curious French phrase "travail dissimulé." In Britain it's the absolute lifeblood of jazz. And we call it volunteering.


Trinity College Big Band/ Dankworth Prize

The barlines in John Dankworth 's 1950's arrangement of Gershwin's S'Wonderful, are quick and nimble. They flash past, like fence-posts seen from a high speed train. This action-packed arrangement was not only written for a top professional band, it was also not intended to give them an easy ride. A superb performance of it ended a great set last night by the Trinity College Jazz Ensemble at a completely packed Ronnie Scott's.

If this chart showed off the speed and technical prowess of the Trinity band, coached and directed by Malcolm Earle Smith, the earlier part of their set had shown their ability to produce drama and contrast, consisting of characterful performances of Mingus tunes for big band, such as Fables of Faubus and Tijuana Gift Shop.

The choice of a Dankworth composition to end the set was right in every way. It also earned the loudest applause. Earle Smith prefaced the performance of this piece by paying homage to Dankworth, who had helped the band prepare for last year's version of this gig, which included a full performance of his Zodiac Suite, and been there to hear the students perform it.

(That gig was also, incidentally, the very first gig to be reviewed on this site.)

I was not able to stay for the award of the Dankworth Prize for Composition to Matt Roberts and Yuriy Galkin by Dankworth's widow Dame Cleo Laine and by Jacqui Dankworth. I hope that LondonJazz readers who attended the gig may be stirred to give some impressions of the compositions they heard.

The Dankworth Prize is donated by the Wavendon Foundation, the Worshipful Company of Musicians, and Jazzorg


LondonJazz in Paris

I'm off tomorrow to hear a British jazz showcase at the Banlieue Blues Festival in Paris. The link has a list of the bands playing. It's organized by Jazz Services, with help from UKTI. More later.


Sue Richardson

Jazz on Radio 4. Follow this link to hear singer/trumpeter Sue Richardson on Womans Hour from yesterday, Tuesday 23rd.

The ten minute clip including a song played live starts from 24:50.

Richardson tips the hat to inspiration Chet Baker, talks about her four years on cruise ships, about landing in New Orleans after Katrina, playing for the A-Listers at a charity party in Cannes, working with husband Neal....


Leeds International Jazz Conference starts this Thursday

I have seen the future. It's here already. It's a vending machine where you can literally buy memory.

But for those of you in jazz whose brains remain sharp, there can only one place to be this week, and it is the 2010 Leeds International Jazz Conference, at Leeds College of Music.

+The theme is: Improvisation - Jazz in The Creative Moment

+The keynote speakers are the evergreen Dave Liebman who will run a practical session and perform in concert, and Professor Paul Berliner of Duke University, author of Thinking in Jazz: the Infinite Art of Improvisation (1994)

+The organizer is vocalist and academic Louise Gibbs (Go on, click it, she's got Detroit piano legend Kirk Lightsey and a black boa)

+This is the sixteenth annual conference. It is the leading academic jazz conference in the UK and it runs from Thursday 25 to Friday 26 March.

+Here are more details of the conference.


Frankly, Aretha

I'm just getting over the idea that Harry Webb, better known as Cliff Richard, will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of his birth in Lucknow in October 1940 by putting out an album of jazz standards, when I read something even more surreal. Sitting comfortably?

According to the Innthebasement blog, brace yourselves for Aretha Franklin and Condoleeza Rice teaming up for operatic arias.

Find out what it means to me.

No doubt she'll find out sooner. Or possibly later....


Review: Concert dedicated to Jeff Clyne

Guildhall School Jazz Tutors Concert
(First night of the GSMD Annual Jazz Festival, Concert Hall, GSMD, Silk Street EC2, March 22nd 2010)

Bassist Jeff Clyne, who died unexpectedly four months ago, had played in last year's edition of the Guildhall jazz tutors' concert. So it was a fitting gesture to open this year's week-long jazz festival at the Guildhall School with a concert given by many of the same personnel, and dedicated to his memory.

The rest of the week's festival looks very promising too, building to a finale on Friday with music for big band by Mark Lockheart from the CD Days Like These, most of it being given its UK premiere performance.

The British jazz community has felt a deep sense of loss in the past few months since Clyne's death. Nobody could express this sentiment better than Clyne's close friend and colleague, drummer Trevor Tomkins, who spoke, after the interval of last night's concert. He singled out Clyne's ability to "play anything," from free jazz to fusion to straightahead, and his total commitment to whatever music he was playing. He also referred to Clyne's modesty, and that he was invariably his own sternest critic. This speech can't have been easy for Tomkins to do. He delivered it briefly, thoughtfully and with touching sincerity. It was very moving to hear.

The tutor band also paid tribute to Clyne through music. Carlos Lopez-Real had done two realisations of tunes by Clyne, written for the fusion band Turning Point. The first of these, Mirror, Mirror started with an extended electric bass feature, with Geoff Gascoyne bringing out every twist and turn, and producing a strong rich tone, a true homage. The tune had both of the singers - Brigitte Beraha and Lee Gibson - producing stabbed notes way up in D trumpet territory. Jean Toussaint played a solo with style and swagger, and Malcolm Edmonstone on keyboard received loud applause for a keyboard solo with vertiginous runs and scooped and bent high notes. The audience lapped the whole thing up and were in a mood for more. The second Clyne composition was Silent Promise, with strong solos from Carlos Lopez-Real and guitarist John Parricelli, and a perfect fade to nothing at the end from Trevor Tomkins.

By contrast Brigitte Beraha's quiet song Sometime gathered no more than a polite ripple of applause, as if the audience had been wrong-footed by it. I thought it deserved more, and would love to hear it again. Harmonically it travels interestingly, producing delicious passing clashes for the voice with a trumpet part, eloquently played by Nick Smart. There are echoes of both Joni Mitchell and North Africa in this touching and intriguing song.

I was impressed by Martin Hathaway's inventive alto saxophone playing, but disappointed with his compering, which could have done with more forethought. This didn't, however, spoil an evening with purpose which also brought some more pleasant surprises. For example, a guest who had been watching in the shadows was introduced onstage near to the end . Saxophonist Dave Liebman, on his first day over from the US, launched into Bronislaw Kaper's Invitation with huge and beguiling energy. This performance grew in intensity, and Liebman's traded fours with drummer Andrew Bain had unstinting ferocity.

The evening ended with the entire cast soloing over the blues form on Straight no Chaser. Trumpeter Steve Fishwick and trombonist Malcolm Earle Smith earned their warm applause. The singers tested out each other's vocal ranges, the keyboard players - Edmonstone and Pete Saberton - chased each other at huge speed, and Steve Watts on double bass played with a warmth and a clarity which summoned memories of the evening's admired, loved, and now much-missed dedicatee.

The remainder of the week's programme is HERE. All events are FREE.


Review: Haiti Benefit at Vortex

Haiti Benefit
(Vortex, March 18th 2010,

Review and photo of Christine Tobin and Dave Whitford by Patrick Hadfield)

Kevin Le Gendre
, the journalist and presenter who had organised the Vortex's benefit for Haiti in the aftermath of January's earthquake, got it right: the evening wasn't just about the music. It was about supporting the people of Haiti, and helping them rebuild their society.

Le Gendre pointed out how much Haiti had given to jazz - the musicians and the rhythms; and this was his way of giving something back.

And the four sets which I managed to see certainly gave a lot. First up was the Mantra Collective, a quintet blending eastern rhythms from their tabla player, jazz from the drums, guitar and bass of their rhythm section, and a cello. A strange mix, it blended perfectly. The guitar added more Eastern flavour producing sitar-like tones. The bass featured heavily - a seven string electric bass just adding to the unorthodox instrumentation - but it had a lovely, natural tone.

They were followed by Vortex regular, vocalist Christine Tobin, in a trio with Phil Robson on guitar and Dave Whitford on bass. They played a gutsy, folk-infused set. Tobin has a great voice, and to her credit she doesn't use it to try and sound American: her singing comes from the heart, and from her own tradition.

Robson stayed onstage for the next band, Partisans; so for the second time in a week, I saw Julian Siegel , whose playing had a completely different feel to his outing with Jason Palmer. His tenor playing had more heat to it, and as well tenor, Siegel played bass clarinet, producing a mournful, melancholic blues feel. Robson’s guitar playing stepped up a gear, too.

After the interval, pianist Robert Mitchell played a great solo set. His music seemed jazzier, bluesier than his last solo outing. His playing is intense and hypnotic, creating powerful music; there is clearly a classical influence in there as well.

I had to leave before Abram Wilson played. I'm hoping, dreaming that he will have included a version of Mingus’ "Haitian Fight Song", from which the evening took its title. Because Wilson hails from New Orleans, which has suffered from its own natural disaster. Wilson also has deep grounding in jazz tradition.
Mingus said about "Haitian Fight Song" It has a folk spirit, the kind of folk music I've always heard anyway… I can't play it right unless I'm thinking about prejudice and persecution, and how unfair is it. There's sadness and cries in it, but also determination. And it usually ends with my feeling 'I told them! I hope somebody heard me!’"

The bands at the Vortex communicated their sadness and their determination. A completely full house showed its involvement, empathy and appreciation.

It has been announced that the Vortex gig raised around £2,000 for the Red Cross Haiti appeal. You can still contribute to the appeal.


A live broadcasting feat

Something different for a Saturday night. No blood, no screaming ambulances. Tuba player and producer Oren Marshall (above) teams up with conga player Maurizio Ravalico for a live radio broadcast on Joe Kassman-Tod 's innovative weekly show Disorder on the Border on Resonance FM this Saturday between 8pm and 9pm. Yes, tuba, live electronics and congas.

Resonance FM is on the radio at 104.4 FM in London, and on the internet at


Eric Delaney

This music must keep people young and optimistic. Or there is something special in the water in Wandsworth. The drummer in Digby Fairweather's quartet with whom I guested for a couple of numbers on baritone sax yesterday at Ronnie Scott's very well-attended jazz brunch was Eric Delaney. Follow the link to his fascinating and distinguished career. Bright as a button, he is now 86.


Oxford Jazz Festival- Easter Weekend

Spot the location. This is Ian Shaw performing at the Oxford Union , (photo credit: Barker Evans) where so many of our politicians learnt, with Janette Mason at last year's (inaugural) Oxford Jazz Festival.

Apparently the word inaugural could lead to me getting my head bitten off for inaccuracy. There was another, one-off Oxford Jazz Festival a few years ago. Whatever. The current team are doing well, and Oxford is already starting to look like an early-festival-season fixture.

This year the Festival organizers have found some other amazing locations. On Sunday 4th April you can hear Adam Waldmann's Kairos Quartet playing in the Convocation Room of the Bodleian Library in Catte Street, the same room where the English Parliament met in the Civil War. Pre-concert drinks in the Divinity Room, and a tour of the Duke Humphrey Rooms, no less.

The newly refurbished Ashmolean Museum dining room is proving a VERY popular location: One of the two gigs there has sold out already, and there are only a few left for the other.

Stand-out gigs are Dave O'Higgins on the Friday 2nd at 8pm, and Liane Carroll (try some sound clips) on Saturday 3rd, both at the North Wall Arts Centre in Summertown. Liane is state-of-the-art, and one of the wonders of the world, so I expect a few pushy North Oxford mums to allow their three year-olds time off from their nuclear physics and Thucydides projects and bring them to this gig.

I would also be curious to hear the always-on-fire Clark Tracey occupying the impeccable Matt Home's drum chair in the Nigel Price Hammond Organ Trio at Joe's Bar and Grill on Sunday 4th at 6pm (that's a free gig).

Looking for a refuge from the smoke over Easter weekend? Simple. Just go to Marble Arch and hail yourself one of THESE


Charlie Gillett (1942-2010). A tribute from Barb Jungr

Charlie Gillett died last week, and both the man and his career were celebrated in a number of the broadsheets and indeed, by the BBC, for whom he had worked consistently over the years. He was a man who loved music and musicians from deep inside his very well informed bones. He celebrated the music of Britain and then over the years, increasingly, the musics of all corners of the world. He wrote a seminal text on the music I love and grew up with, The Sounds of the City - The Rise of Rock and Roll. All of this you can read about in depth now on the internet.

I met Charlie in the early '80's when- along with Michael Parker and Jerry- I was busking in The Three Courgettes on the Kings and Portobello Roads. We were singing new wave versions of '50's gospel. Charlie loved us, and had us on his programme several times. We'd come in, stand around the mike, and crack into it. He was totally supportive and promoted us into Island Records, along with Gaz of Gaz's Rockin Blues club, another of our gigs.

Then I didn't see him for decades, until one day in conversation with my great friend the publisher Ernest Hecht, I discovered that it was Ernest who was Charlie's publisher! Charlie, it transpired, frequently went to Arsenal with Ernest. So at Ernest's birthday last year, I saw
him again, with his wife, Buffy. I had sung that night, and Charlie said some very nice things indeed about my work and my repertoire.

Coming from a man who had made his territory on the music of the UK pretty clear in recent times, it was heartening to me and somehow made a full circle from that earlier time, to this one.

I was incredibly saddened to hear of his passing. Both for his wife and family, for the musicians and music he loved and promoted, and for a very good man. A man who could take a stand and walk his talk, and was big enough to be able to change his mind.

Barb Jungr

Barb Jungr has just returned from a stint at the Cafe Carlyle in New York, and will appear at the Pizza Express Dean Street on Daturday March 27th with pianist/ arranger Simon Wallace. Her early set is sold out, but there are still some tables for the 10 30pm set.


Keith Jarrett loses it in San Francisco

There are two sides to a story like this.

But read this graphic account from the San Jose Mercury of Keith Jarrett taking on the coughers -and getting heckled back - in a 3000-seater venue in San Francisco on Friday night. There's a branding opportunity for cough sweets here.


Just me and my radio

This weekend seems to have nothing but good things.

-Alyn Shipton is presenting his choice of the finest of Ornette Coleman in celebration of Coleman's 80th this afternoon on Jazz Library

-I'm hearing good things about Helen Mayhew's interview with Brad Mehldau, on JazzFM tomorrow Sunday afternoon - the proramme starts at 1pm.

-a number of readers are telling me not to miss the Dankworth tribute edition of Jazz Line-Up tomorrow Sunday evening at 11 30pm

-on Monday night I'm picking up a buzz about a set by Tom Challenger's MA from the Loop Collective Festival on Jazz on 3


Review: Louis Sclavis

Louis Sclavis Quintet
(Kings Place, March 19th 2010)

The quintet with which Louis Sclavis has recorded his fifth album for ECM, and which he brought to Kings Place last night as part of Jazz Scene Europe week last night has an interesting agenda. According to ECM's website it aspires to imitate Ulysses, to travel somewhere unknown, "to invent new musics in which to lose oneself, to uncover fragments of memory by chance, while chiseling at new ideas."

Ulysses is a familiar role-model in French culture, and this reference pops straight into the letter-box of shared cultural experience for the French. The poet and diplomat Joachim du Bellay, in one of the most learn-by-heart poems in French, wrote in the 1550's of the broadening of the mind which comes from following Ulysses' example.

Sclavis sets out on each of these journeys with a melodic statement. The melodies meander and twist, but they invariably have an underlying agility and a muscular sinew. Sometimes folk-inspired, sometimes designed to plunge straight into a powerful rock groove. A nearly full house at Kings Place, we were enthralled by the journy on which Sclavis took us.

Sclavis' lively, youngish quintet of Matthias Metzger on saxophones Maxime Delpierre on guitar, Olivier Lété bass and François Merville on drums have the twists and turns of music firmly and impressively under their fingers. The band built some groove-based rock intensity, but managed not to overpower, as I have heard other bands do, in the Kings Place acoustic.

Sclavis and his band all seem fascinating travelling companions. Drummer Merville has worked at the Ensemble Intercontemporain under the sharp ears of Pierre Boulez, and brings unnerving precision, but also passion. Lété on bass towers physically over the others and plays fascinating lines. Delpierre, on guitar, the most boyish looking, seemed a subtle player. He adds a great variety of colour to the textures. but I'd be curious to hear him in a context with more demanding harmonic twists and turns.

Sclavis and Metzger were well contrasted. Sclavis' has developed one of the most compelling, individual and varied voices on bass clarinet anywhere. Metzger on soprano and alto is technically formidable.,

I wondered if, like Ulysses, Sclavis and Metzger had suffered from baggage restrictions: they were passing around the same soprano saxophone and just swapping the mouthpiece. To hear two players blowing the same instrument one after another gives a different twist. Metzger is a strong soprano player, but Sclavis' formidable variety of expression on this instrument really is something else. Kings Place hosted an imaginative tribute to the adoptive Parisian soprano saxophone genius Steve Lacy last June. Sclavis, on what is his second (or should it be equal-first) horn, is among Lacy's finest successors.

Check out photos of the gig by Chris Tribble HERE


The Necks

Booking for Australian band The Necks' June 26th gig at the Barbican opened yesterday. The gig is selling well.

As a preview of the gig, Geoffrey Winston has reviewed their CD Silverwater (ReR), released last autumn.

Recorded and mixed in The Necks' native NSW, mastered in Brooklyn, and packaged in elegant matt monchrome, Silverwater is a mélange rather than a pot pourri, rich in the sum of its parts.

Silverwater hints at a humid, far-eastern landscape – temple bells and gongs and a bamboo-like clattering. Lagoons of sound are combined with acoustic episodes referencing jazz, rock and minimalism.

A sustained organ hum opens Silverwater’s uninterrupted 67 minutes, underpinning chimes, bells and the metallic and glass tones which ensue. A first throaty piano note strikes a dramatic tone, and one of Silverwater’s strongest themes is introduced – the insistent rattle of light wooden timpani, endlessly processed and reprocessed. Repetition is an essential part of Silverwater’s vocabulary.

Flowing drum rolls and a hammered piano note establish a percussive flavour. The chimes and tones coalesce with the string bass, and the drum’s patterns are echoed with a heavier, thudding response to intensify the atmosphere. The background drops out, leaving the drums in conversation, before a plucked bass lays down a simple figure; a mildly creaking electronic buzzing can be detected for an instant.

Although one seamless continuity, the different phases of Silverwater are defined by changes in intensity and instrumentation. A hefty bass is joined by strummed guitar, drifting in an out, and a decidedly snare-y rock drum and electric bass complete the mood. The album’s only guitar solo is heard, hinting at jazz roots, and maybe even more, at Gilmour.

This phase is abandoned in favour of brushstrokes of mild electronic distortion, giving way to a spell of frenetic cymbal bashing. Incidental electronic squeaks or shakes serve as accents, and the rattling timpani reappear, slightly changed in tone, to sound more like masses of tiny drums.

At one point a pulsing tone dominates, but buried deep in the background is a dextrous keyboard extemporisation, tinkling away in true jazz mode. You could easily miss it. That’s part of the way the Necks’ music works. They have the knack of intuitively mixing and counterbalancing a range of musical statements and styles, creating a collage of sound which is never allowed to become fussy or florid.

Without ceremony the dense percussion is lost, the piano’s simple theme is reinstated, and a hi-hat adds definition. A sawed bass note gives way to the piano and cymbal in a quiet space, and the final phrase, a Satie micro-fragment, is played out on a teetering, lonely piano. The perfect way to end.

The Necks’ spellbinding sets at the Vortex in 2008 demonstrated how skilfully Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums) and Lloyd Swanton (bass) can pull a live audience in to their compelling sound. Silverwater is a truly demanding recording venture, which succeeds in fleshing out that ground between the trio’s musical virtuosity and their sonic imagination. They are masters of modulation, in control of all the elements, all the layers and the ways they are combined. Silverwater is testimony to this ability and to their musical ambition. An awesome album.

Produced by The Necks; recorded by Tim Whitten at Electric Avenue, Camperdown, NSW; mixed by Tim Whitten at Studios 301, Alexandra NSW; mastered by Douglas Henderson at micro-moose, Brooklyn, NY. Drawings and graphic design by Asi Föcker.
2009 . ReR Necks9/LC-02677


An interview with Youn Sun Nah

Over at his London Korean Links website, Philip Gowman, who reviewed Dan Berglund's Tonbruket for us, has been interviewing Korean vocalist Youn Sun Nah. Her short supporting set at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday was very well received, notably by Mike Hobart of the Financial Times.

I learnt that:

-She has lived in Paris since 1995 and has recently been awarded the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government

-She is about to record the second album of a three album contract with ACT Records, with Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius.

-As a teenager in Seoul in the 1980's she was out in the streets as a student, demonstrating

The full interview is HERE. We reviewed her May 2009 Vortex gig HERE


Review:Jason Palmer/ Julian Siegel/ Michael Janisch/ Jeff Ballard

Review: Jason Palmer/ Julian Siegel/ Michael Janisch/ Jeff Ballard
(Pizza Express Dean Street, March 15th 2010, review and photo: Patrick Hadfield)

"Which is the real jazz instrument?" someone in the audience shouted out part way through the second set from Jason Palmer, Julian Siegel, Jeff Ballard and Michael Janisch at the Pizza Express on Monday. Bostonian trumpeter Palmer pondered for a few seconds, and then quietly replied, "The heart, man, the heart."

Palmer's playing can indeed be full of emotion. His trumpet growled through the opening to Preservation of the Lower 9th Ward, expressing anger at the desolation of post-Katrina New Orleans. But at other times he can also play in a calm, measured way, his warm trumpet tone a pleasure to hear as he sustains long notes and holds interest through long melodic lines. But musicians need more than big emotions in the demanding context of the piano-less quartet- it needs the head, the cerebral, not to say also great musicianship from everyone on stage.

Impressive bassist Michael Janisch really knows how to hold the tunes together. This is the third time I’ve seen him play in the last few months, and he seems to get better and better. He has programmed this monthly series of gigs at Pizza Express, and it is fascinating to see him in different settings and a variety of musicians. Jeff Ballard on drums was excellent, completely on top of all the complex rhythms.
As regards the compositions, Janisch’s tunes were more jagged and angular than Palmer’s. Some of Palmer’s tunes seemed based on exercises – It Only Takes One is a melody based on a single note engendering tension, with the rhythm and harmony creating motion; Black Beauty used only the black notes of the keyboard. But the tunes really let Palmer and Siegel play, sometimes in an alternating sequence as trumpet trio then saxophone trio, sometimes as full quartet , with Janisch and Ballard propelling them along. Between them, they made a great unit.


News: Eddie Harvey honoured at London College of Music

UPDATE: RIP Eddie Harvey (1925-2012), posted on 10th Oct 2012

Eddie Harvey, the founding father of British jazz education, was presented with a lifetime award by London College of Music , for his work there, at a gala dinner last night. (For a fuller write-up of the evening, including some fine student bands and a guest appearance by Gwilym Simcock - and some great food ( hic) - check back on LondonJazz later.)

Harvey was the winner of the first ever Parliamentary Award for jazz education in 2005, but his work at LCM goes back decades. As he reminisced when he collected the award (photo above- anyone got a better one?!) , his association with the college goes back to the "old place" in Great Marlborough Street, before the college decanted to Ealing in 1991. It is now part of Thames Valley University,

Eddie Harvey's extraordinary biography is HERE.

But, for the unfailingly generous and modest 84-year old Harvey, the energy is undimmed. Teaching continues to be the work of every day of his life. At the end of the evening last night, I saw him greet young LCM piano student Jack Fisher in the corridor with a friendly "See you tomorrow then?" An inspiration.


Take the A Train to Old Street

Things are looking up at the global-galactic HQ of LondonJazz. Or, to be more accurate, I am now looking up. Because the space next to me in the Musicbase at Kings Place, previously empty, is now occupied by a man who is 6' 5".

He's the young manager of a dynamic orchestra of classical players in their twenties called the Aurora Orchestra. I've heard them, they do interesting programmes. One critic wrote about them: "adventurous, elite groups such as Aurora [...] are the future of music."

My neighbour tells me that the orchestra has two things to celebrate: its fifth birthday, and the start of a new residency at LSO St Luke’s in Old Street. They've got a vcelebration concertthis Friday 19th. And when it comes to topping out the celebration, it will be with a new arrangement by Iain Farrington of Duke Ellington's Take the A Train.

The orchestra's conductor, Nicholas Collon has written to me about one of the main pieces: the Berio piece Laborintus II.

It’s always fascinated me how Berio’s music, despite being so rooted in its time, continues to attract such a huge following, from all fields. One reason for this must be that he defied genres, looking at music as an essentially dramatic artform unfettered by rigid stylistic classifications – an approach which meant that he could feel at home not only with Monteverdi and Purcell, but also with Ligeti, Stockhausen and – famously – the Grateful Dead (Phil Lesch studied with him in California).

Laborintus II is a classic example of this eclecticism: a footnote to the score states that ‘this may be performed as a theatrical event, a narrative, an allegory, a documentary, a pantomime etc. It may be performed in the theatre, in concert, on television, on the radio, in the open air etc.’ On Friday, we’ll be exploring the piece with members of Mahogany Opera, directed by Frederic Wake-Walker, with a startling light design that’ll make you think you’ve walked straight into the year 2035.

This sense of creating a piece of music as a dramatic ‘event’ is very much part of our contemporary zeitgeist, and something which Aurora seeks actively to promote. And yet, so much of Berio’s soundworld is so unmistakably… well, 1960s. He was, of course, fascinated and greatly influenced by key jazz figures in the 1950s and 60s, and let this feed into his writing in a fascinating way. In Laborintus II there is a 10-minute recorded tape track, which features distorted elements of improvisation (performed on the original recording by soprano Christiane Legrand, jazz hero Michel Portal on clarinet, Jean-Pierre Drouet on drums and legendary bass player Jean-François Jenny-Clarke). Over the top of this recording, the live performers indulge in a 2-minute long jam; indeed, in our staging this Friday, even the chorus will be dancing along.

This overlaying of live and recorded elements also appears in another piece of Berio’s (Différences) which I recently conducted with the London Sinfonietta. It’s an amazing effect, because you feel the connection between the live musicians and their recorded forbears, and we’re immediately drawn into a soundscape from 40 years ago (he writes in the score ‘“Free jazz” style of the sixties is recommended’). Imagine how amazing that will feel when it’s performed in 200 years: jamming along with players from 250 years ago….

If you’ve never heard or seen Laborintus II, it’s well worth it, and you may never get another chance to hear it programmed alongside works by Gabrieli, Britten, and John Adams.


Review: Tonbruket plus Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius

Dan Berglund's Tonbruket plus Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 15th 2010, review by Philip Gowman)

Dan Berglund played bass in the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, and after Svensson’s untimely death in 2008, he regrouped with some of his musical friends from pre-e.s.t. days. Berglund’s is serious music, and deserves attention. The quality of musicianship in the band is beyond doubt. The double bass is literally centre stage, with a battery of keyboards on one side: Martin Hederos, the keyboardist, moves as if he’s in a 1970s rock band, and also plays fiddle with a suitably dark, grainy tone.

Percussionist Andreas Werliin, and Johan Lindstroem on guitar, also doubling on keyboard, complete the quartet. But with only four instrumentalists they manage to create a sustained and varied sound – with the help of electronic wizardry – which is much bigger in conception than you would expect from what you see on the stage. Maybe more could have been made of the visual projections, which did not quite match the scale of the music: the camcorder and MacBook on the engineers’ desk did not always seem up to the task.

40 years ago, fellow Swede Bo Hansson released his album of music inspired by Lord of the Rings, and it was that style of composition that was brought to mind by the performance at the QEH on Monday, though Berglund's music has broader horizons and a more sombre colour palette.

His sound is darkly atmospheric, conjuring up open Nordic landscapes, occupying a middle ground between the surging emotion evoked by Sibelius and the bleak skies inhabited by Wallander. It is symphonic in scale and ambition, and if there was a slightly disappointing element in the set it was that in general the compositions were individually only 4 or 5 minutes long. When listening to Mahler you don’t want to stop to applaud every 250 bars: you’d rather wallow for the full 90 minutes and react after the final bars have faded into the distance.

While there was plenty to wallow at in Tonbruket’s sound, there are also plenty of fast-paced sections to prevent a cloud of depression falling over the proceedings. This was music of beauty as well as ambition. I had gone to the Queen Elizabeth Hall to support Youn Soun Nah, and had been only moderately enthusiastic about staying for the full 90 minutes of Tonbruket. But I found myself glued to my seat, until forced to rise to join the standing ovation at the end.

I had wondered how Tonbruket supporters would react to the opening act, Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius? And also how this duo, who so commanded the intimate space of the Vortex in May last year, would fare in a much larger venue. If there were any doubts, they were immediately dispelled by Wakenius’s intimate solo tribute to E (presumably Esbjörn Svensson).

Youn Sun Nah was then welcomed on stage, and the duo performed numbers from their album Voyage: a smaller selection than their Vortex gig, in a set lasting half an hour. The same chemistry between the performers was there, and after so long touring the album they were taking greater risks with the performance: Nah’s title track seemed almost too slow, only kept from losing momentum completely by her supreme breath control; at the other end of every musical spectrum the up-tempo Please Don’t Be Sad contained a scat cadenza of amazing virtuosity. The closing version of My Favourite Things, accompanied only by the simple chimes of a thumb piano, capped a set which seemed to win the duo a new crowd of admirers.

Philip Gowman is the editor of London Korean Links. Tonbruket andYoun Sun Nah record for ACT Records.


The odd conservatoire out

The Royal College of Music in Kensington is the one conservatoire in Britain with no jazz programme, although it does put together a Big Band directed by trumpeter Mark Armstrong, and has one professor of jazz piano, Mike Moran.

But, I learnt today, it does now have a laptop orchestra in its Centre for Music and Multmedia which develops students in electro-acoustic music and screen composition. Odd.


All Means All/ Charity Fundraiser/ Rose Theatre Kingston

Hands up. Admit it. You've not yet been to the Rose Theatre in Kingston yet. I hope you've got a good excuse.

It's a 900-seater, modelled on an Elizabethan theatre, which manages to feel like a small intimate space. A gift to the rest of us from the Council Tax payers of Kingston.

I'm told that a few weeks ago Dame Judi Dench got so carried away with the Elizabethan spirit of the place that she launched herself into the streets of Kingston town centre in full Elizabeth I regalia, her costume for Midsummer Night's Dream, to get to a cake shop for a birthday cake for one of here retinue of fairies. Nice. The sold-out run of 'Dream' ends this Saturday.

Next Friday 26th there's a very good excuse to get down there. it's a jamboree fundraiser for educational charity Parents for Inclusion.

Here's the line up

Performance poet John Hegley, comedian Liz Carr, poet and former children's laureate Michael Rosen.

Music is from endlessly original saxophonist Tim Whitehead with Julian Joseph on piano and Mark Bassey on trombone. And the London Community Gospel Choir.

All under the title ALL MEANS ALL

It starts at 7 30. Tickets from the Rose Theatre


Remembering Jeff Clyne at the Guildhall

Every live concert is it's own special occasion. But the first night of next week's week-long Guildhall Annual Jazz Festival stands out. It's a tribute by the members of the Guildhall's jazz faculty and former Guildhall students to their much-revered and now much-missed colleague, bassist Jeff Clyne.

Playing at the tribute concert are: Martin Hathaway, Carlos Lopez-Real, Jean Toussaint (saxes) Steve Fishwick, Nick Smart (trumpets), Malcolm Earle Smith (trombone), John Parricelli (guitar), Lee Gibson and Brigitte Beraha (vocals), Malcolm Edmonstone and Pete Saberton (piano) Steve Watts and Geoff Gascoyne (bass) Trevor Tomkins and Andrew Bain (drums).

See the many tributes which appeared on the LondonJazz site HERE. An obituary on the Guidhall School's website is HERE.

It's in the Concert Hall the Guildhall School on Monday 22nd at 7 30pm and admission is free. There are further concerts from Tuesday to Friday.

Charismatic American saxophonist and educator Dave Liebman appears on Tuesday. The Guildhall's singers are out on Wednesday. American bassist David Friesen, over from Portland OR, makes his only UK appearance with Barry Green and Martin Hathaway on Thursday. And the Guildhall Big Band directed by Malcolm Edmonstone with soloist Mark Lockheart round things off on the Friday.

Lockheart and Edmonstone on Friday will be playing the music from Lockheart's recent, well-received CD with the NDR Big Band, Days Like These

All concerts are free, all are at 7 30pm, and all are in the Concert Hall of the Guildhall School, in Silk Street EC2.

The GUILDHALL'S WEBSITE has some more details of these concerts and of student daytime performances.


The small matter of some practice

My baritone sax and I have been invited by Digby Fairweather to sit in at his new Sunday Brunch at Ronnie Scott's this Sunday. These things attract a full house. I'd definitely better get practising.


Jacqui Dankworth review, and a note on fashion

Nobody writes about jazz and fashion any more. There was a jazz age, when jazz was THE fashion (above). But why do some people now strain so hard to be unfashionable?

I reckon I've read just about the right amount now about jazz and the locrian sharp two (don't worry, I didn't get it either). I keep meeting people who like to expound their views on jazz and cricket, or jazz and real ale (once they get going, in fact, it's very hard to stop them.) And, egad, I'm now way beyond saturation on the subject of jazz and global hegemony. But jazz and fashion - never. So here goes.

On Saturday night, vocalist Jacqui Dankworth was was wearing a dark Diane von Furstenberg one shoulder shift dress with a colour block hem in black.

She was out doing a duo gig on the stage of Blackheath Hall with Chris Allard on guitars, in front of a good Saturday night crowd.

As she talked about the momentous events of the past six months, as she sang songs, the dress was just one of many things which seemed just right. Blackheath Hall had provided an attractive on-stage lay-out. They had lit and amplified the performers sympathetically. Chris Allard was impeccable, whether playing acoustic guitar, or finding variety in a whole range of subtle pedal effects. And impeccably dressed. The duo setting is tough. You have to work hard, and be harmonically responsible and supportive. On Saturday, it was job done by both performers. Everything seemed to click.

A succession of good and great songs, and Dankworth's experience and compelling stage presence held the audience throughout. The songs from the most recent album, Back to You, have now settled properly into Dankworth's repertoire, and there are some new ones. Sweet Devotion, written while her father was going through his final illness, sounded like a gem on first hearing - I'd love to hear it again.

But how many jazz musicians do think properly about the value of good presentation?

Jacqui Dankworth's next London appearance is on Thursday 22nd April as part of the jazz festival at the Millfield Arts Centre in Silver Street, Edmonton


George Webb

John Petters has placed this obituary of George Webb on the BBC message boards, which may be of interest to LondonJazz readers.

91 year old George Webb - known affectionately as the Father of British Traditional Jazz - died on Thursday.A tribute on Paul Barnes' BBC Radio Suffolk show is available on iPlayer HERE

George - a self taught pianist, fell in love with the classic jazz of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver and put together the first traditional jazz revival band in the UK during the War.

The George Webb Dixielanders studied then 20 year old rare 78 rpm recordings and soon had a large following at the Red Barn at Barnehurst.

Humphrey Lyttelton and Wally Fawkes joined the band and eventually Lyttelton took over the leadership.

Defying the law - which prevented American Musicians appearing in Britain, the band recorded with New Orleans saxophonist, Sidney Bechet, which resulted in a court case. George was a key player in the proceedings.

The Lyttelton band recorded countless sides for Parlophone with Webb at the piano.

George left in 1951 to become an agent and promoted most of the top Trad bands during the boom. He moved into pop music and blues in the '60s, came close to bringing Elvis Presley to the UK and just missed bagging the first London concert by the Beatles, due to the cheque from the agency for who George worked, written to Brian Epstein bouncing.

He organised a massive jazz festival in the Isle of Man, losing all his money when the venue burnt down.
He took a pub in Stansted, Essex, promoting jazz on a smaller scale.

More info plus mp3 tracks of George at


Review: Nik Bärtsch's Ronin

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
(ICA, March 12th, 2010, photo credit: Mike Stemberg)

"Ronin. That won't be your kind of thing at all, Seb" said a friend. Well, I survived a first hurdle. Interviewing Nik Bärtsch last month proved a really enjoyable experience. He's a fascinating man. But now it gets further from the comfort zone. Should I really still be venturing into pitch-dark venues with a light show where they hand-stamp you? At an age when the expression "hip joint" refers to something which might hurt at any minute? Surely all such attempts to fly in the face of nature must be doomed?

I very much enjoyed this gig. It's music which can be enjoyed on many levels. The rhythmic life and punch is exciting, invigorating. It's physical music which needs to be moved to. But I also found my head was also fully engaged.

One of Bärtsch's ideas from our conversation, which never made it into the write-up of the interview kept coming back to me as I listened. In Bärtsch's compositions, and in the collective act of performance by the band, he had told me, there is a journey, travel. The band must collectively end up in a different place from the start.

Given Bärtsch's parents' background in the visual arts, it's a key idea. The creation of a work in performance is like the filling of a canvas. It starts blank, every brushstroke makes a difference. There is always a lot going on, but the texture doesn't get crowded. There is forward momentum, of games of follow-the leader, of exuberance and sheer energy. The lighting which is part of the choreography, or what Bärtsch calls the dramaturgy of each piece. Ivan Hewett says there isn't much "by way of harmonic movement." Ivan's right - when isn't he?- but to me there is never any kind of stasis either. That constant principle of onward movement, that assertion of changing colours, of rhythms, of urgency, of exuberance developing out of calm is something worth venturing into dark places for.

And Ronin also has one of my favourite creatures in all the bestiary of music: in Björn Meyer on six stringed electric bass.. Ronin has a smiling, genuinely happy bassist (above).


Review: Eduardo Niebla

Eduardo Niebla
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 12th, 2010. Review by Rod Fogg)

Flamenco has, over the years, been fertile ground for fusionistas. Paco de Lucia kicked off Flamenco-jazz in 1979 with "The Guitar Trio" - a collaboration with Larry Coryell and John McLaughlin which occupied the artistic high ground. Popular, but less exalted, was Ottmar Liebert's cruise and groove Flamenco-meets-smooth chaff of the 1990s. Is this a good place to mention the Gypsy Kings? Probably not. Over the years there have been many "Nuevo Flamenco" developments in Spain, mostly mixing street beats with percussive guitar playing; by and large, they failed to reach export grade.

As played by a virtuoso guitarist, Flamenco is an attractive proposition. You have the beguiling sound of plucked strings, the sudden bursts of percussion using the top and sides of the guitar, the dramatic rachayo off the backs of the fingernails - this is one of few styles in which the player truly plays the whole guitar. Add to that the ebullient rhythms, the complex metre and the sombre Phrygian tonality of Spanish music and you can see why this music has traveled all around the world and back again - and why not every fusion brings something new to the table.

So Eduardo Niebla needs to bring something special if he is to stand out from the crowd. In this concert the thud and rattle of the Flamenco cahon was replaced by Dharmesh Parmar 's Indian tabla - a truly virtuoso percussion instrument, capable of varied, and almost voice-like expressive sounds. This created the backdrop to Ricardo Garcia 's guitar accompaniment. Ricardo is an excellent guitar player in his own right, executing breathtaking unison passages and spot-on percussive outbursts in crisp synchronisation with his leader.

And Eduardo - virtuoso? Inventive improviser? Yes and yes. And creative composer too. Writer of beautiful melodies, great grooves, charming and self-effacing. He cast a deep, engrossing spell over the audience which transported them to other places, to the distant past, to India, Arabia, North Africa, Spain - tracing the link between modern Flamenco and the ancient music of India. And then on to the New World, to South and Central America for the rumba. At the end of the concert he thanked the audience for having been present while the band "searched for these deep places in the music".

Believe me, they found them.