JazzCDs Featured Artist: Shez Raja

Shez Raja Collective - Mystic Radikal (33 Records) -
Album launch Thursday 8th July at Pizza Express Dean Street with Andy Sheppard

"Dha ti Dha....! Ge ge...NA!" All of a sudden bassist Shez Raja is getting very excited indeed. He's tapping tabla rhythms with his large hands on our quiet waterside table at Kings Place."Yeah, I learnt Indian classical drumming with Sharda Sahai at Leeds College of Music. And I transcribed loads of those rhythms onto the bass guitar." Shez Raja likes springing surprises, it's just something he does.

Born Shehzad Raja, he is now in his mid-30s. His father is from Pakistan, his mother is English, and he grew up in Parkgate in the Wirral. He started a classical training on the violin at the age of 8, but he found before long that his big hands were making him feel cramped. He first picked up a bass guitar at 12, and knew straight away that this was the instrument he wanted to play. Using the money from his paper round, plus help from highly supportive parents, the first instrument and amp were bought, and Raja has felt completely, musically at home on the instrument ever since.

He is essentially self-taught. He spent countless hours in his early years playing along to records. He describes it as "jamming with the masters. You transcribe. You try to get into a conversation. It gets you deep into the music and the musicians' emotions."

Bebop, and especially Charlie Parker was the first music which really hit home. Then 70's fusion. And reggae. And Miles Davis Sketches of Spain. And African music. But he has always been very open to the sounds from the Indian sub-continent. Raja attributes a strong melodic sense to his father's habit of singing. In the house, in the car, any time and virtually anywhere.

At 15 he started playing in rock and funk bands, mostly in Liverpool. He moved to Leeds and studied at Leeds College of Music. In Leeds he played in a variety of bands, of which the most memorable was folk festival and Glastonbury favourite Elephant Talk, with its other-world instrumentation of Irish hammer dulcimer, drum kit, congas, tabla, 3 sellotaped-together digeridoos, Zimbabwean mbira, flute, tenor sax - plus Raja on bass.

He then relocated to London in the late 90's, played hundreds of sessions and in all kinds of bands, notably the rock-based Amphibic, and the backing band for New York hiphopper MC Lyte, both of which toured extensively in Europe

But recent years have found Raja dveloping a strong feeling "needed to satisfy diverse musical urges," that he had things to say that were not coming out in the work as a sideman. And the first thing which is noticeable on listening is that the CD is taking the listener on a journey. The base camp may be in jazz, but world music, dub, reggae, dance and jazz fusion are only ever a short hike.

Among the many surprises which I had when listening to the record, is that Raja tends to play melodies on a four string bass quite so high up on the instrument. It's as if his melodic voice consistently tends to be that of a higher instrument. Raja's bass idols include Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten, but Raja's palate of sounds, and the breadth of his influences, from Merseyside to tabla, are his own.

He is very careful with the use of the word fusion. "I don't use it to describe my music. But it's definitely a fusing together of different styles. "Jazz is at the core , but there's some thundering funk as well. And also some lyrical ballads, a variety of grooves, Eastern sounds, Latin rhythms, hip hop beats, it's a real kaleidoscope."

Raja surrounds himself with musicians who can set up strong grooves, notably the flawless Chris Nickolls on drums. "He's got it all down, it's perfect." But also with some strong melodic voices, notably players who play much higher, and the Polish-born singer Monika Lidke, whose wordless ethereal voice Raja likes to work into the texture. A regular collaborator, who appears on all three of Raja's CDs is the lively New Zealand/Swiss electric violin player Pascal Roggen. On track 11, Mandala Girl, they work convincingly togeher as one melodic voice in octaves. In live gigs they have a tendency to rack up the energy together. Says Raja: "Pascal and I have the same approach, we buzz off each other, we get banter going, we really fire each other up."

One guest on the record, who will also be playing at the launch, is Andy Sheppard. "I was really pleased that he wanted to get involved. We had some good laughs in the studio. He's been fabulous to work with." Sheppard plays a particularly fine, lyrical solo on "Angel's Tears." Another guest is Claude Deppa,whose joyous and searing trumpet sound is on three tracks. "We used to play in an Afro-Cuban project a few years back, he's great."

Raja describes the whole enterprise thus: "I like to listen to and to produce music which takes you on a journey . Where you're not sure what's going to happen next." One senses there will be many more surprises.


8 July - Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho
Album launch featuring Andy Sheppard

9 July - Marlborough Jazz Festival

18 July - Petro Jazz Festival, St Petersburg

31 July - Ealing Jazz Festival

26 Aug - Vortex Jazz Club

Oct tbc - Junction Bar, Berlin



Review: Grand Union Orchestra

Grand Union Orchestra, Rhythm of Tides
(Great Hall, St Bartholomew's Hospital, June 29th 2010, part of City of London Festival)

A full-length portait of Henry the Eighth stares down from the back wall of the Great Hall of St. Bart's. The King is just standing there, feet apart, one hand on hip, the other on groin. His expression is pure power-swagger. Perhaps something like: "Do you seriously expect a single brick of your crappy little monastery to be standing by this evening?" Or maybe: "What fart-arse excuse are you going to dream up this time for failing to produce me a male heir?" So, my thought went, can any performer from the Grand Union Orchestra tonight have a hope in matching that level of dominance? Who is going to take hold of this sweltering Tuesday night audience, and leave an impression on them which they won't forget?

Well, step forward Sadjo Djolo, singer and Kora player from Guinee-Bissau.And sensitive souls, please look away. Djolo starts with one unfair, not to say huge advantage in these stakes: there is no more assertive, priapic musical instrument than the Kora. It sits wedged against the pelvic bone, from which it rises at least two feet above the head. Djolo also has a strong voice full of character, and at several stages of the evening he received, and deservedly, by far the loudest applause. He had two moments to shine, the African overture, and Bambo Bodjan. He grabbed them both. It was definitely his night.

Tony Haynes' Rhythm of Tides is a highly complex piece. We wrote about it extensively in a preview HERE. Musically, it draws on a huge range of sounds and colours. The other plucked string instruments are an exotic collection: a twelve string Portuguese guitar - expertly played by Gerry Hunt, a sitar - the superb Baluji Shrivastav - a Chinese gu zheng harp - Zhu Ziao Meng. Plus a nimble horn section including some top improvisers - Chris Biscoe and Louise Elliott on reeds, and the well matched Claude Deppa and Paul Jayasinha on trumpets and flugelhorns. A major contributor to the overall effect was Paul Sparrow, the sound engineer, who faced a virtually imposssible task, in a very tricky hall to balance.

The drama of the piece came across well. At one point it has a full-on orchestrated shipwreck, hard to bring off in this acoustic. But these days we get used to projected images. The words and the texts are forced to play a far heavier role in conveying the drama and the polemic of the piece than similar works being written now. Matthew Herbert, say, or Jorjen Van Rijen in "I was Like Wow" don't think twice about using backprojection to create the experience. Here, the Brechtian Moritat-style singing of Richard Scott was given perhaps too much of the responsibility of conveying the harsh and hectoring anti-war message.

But these are minor quibbles. It was a happy, if a very hot night. There were other real highlights, such as the joyous township feel of "Music at Last", the final number, or Baluji Shrivastav's completely improvised sitar introduction to Rag Mumbai, accompanied by Tim Smart's everlasting circular-breathed drone on didjeridu.

Grand Union have been a major force in London's musical life for a quarter of a century. I'm staggered how few people have heard of them. The City of London Festival did well to resurrect this piece, and to give Grand Union a chance to show what they do better than anybody.


Take a look. The City of London Festival programme has all sorts of hidden gems in it. Pages 44 and 45 are particularly full of the most wonderful, mostly free gigs:

There are free evening programmes at Canada Square Park with the Julian Joseph Big Band on Thursday July 8th and the London Symphony Orchestra (yes, for free!) on Friday 9th. Both have 7pm starts.

Monica Vasconcelos brings Brazilian dance classics to the same arena on Saturday 10th at 5 30pm.

Guildhall Yard has lunchtime and evening gigs next week, noteworthy being Frank Griffith's nonet on Thursday 8th with their Mel Torme/ Marty Paich tribute.

www.colf.org. Festival sponsor is BNY Mellon


15 July- Django Drom

Didier Lockwood is unarguably among the handful of top jazz violinists in the world.

He's appearing with Bireli Lagrene in Django Drom at the Barbican on July 15th.

When I hear the name of Didier Lockwood, it presses the nostalgia button. I spent a year in the 1970's working in Paris. A film came out called Les Valseuses (sure, it means female waltzers but also has another meaning ) featuring Gerard Depardieu, an astonishing actor who died young, Patrick Dewaere and Miou-Miou.

It's a film about lawlessness, and gender-wise it's off-the-scale politically incorrect. But it does have a great theme tune, which Lockwood used as the first number in a Grappelli tribute album.



Where has Jazzviews.co.uk gone??

Thank you to reader Bob D who has solved the mystery of what has happened to Nick Lea's jazzviews.co.uk site.

It's moved HERE.


Glasgow Jazz Festival Round-up

Here's a round-up of the weekend's Glasgow Jazz Festival, courtesy of one of the UK's liveliest jazz bloggers, Jennifer of theEuphbass blog, who has been covering the festival in more detail and virtually in real time.

All photos by William Ellis.

It's been a good festival - I was at seven gigs this year over the week (there are many more). It's hard to pick favourites - I can't decide between Mina Agossi, Brass Jaw and Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, although, for sheer audience excitement, it would be hard to beat Mike Janisch's gig with unexpected guests Wynton Marsalis and Ryan Quigley, and the subsequent jam session at The Thistle!

There's been plenty for the big band enthusiast this year, with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra on the Tuesday night playing Tommy Smith's tour de force, Torah (with Smith himself as the soloist) followed by the contrasting Such Sweet Thunder by Ellington. Saturday night saw the Ryan Quigley Big Band in a tribute to Maynard Ferguson, with Quigley taking on the starring role of his trumpet hero to great effect. (See two photos below and above from this gig) Sunday saw the big name gig of the festival with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra. They covered a range of Ellington pieces, moving on to a selection of eras and styles from an interesting full band arrangement of Coltrane's treatment of My Favourite Things to an original composition by one of the band members based on Baa Baa Black Sheep which featured a brass chorus of baa-ing sheep!

In a completely different vein, vocalist Mina Agossi on Monday night was outstanding. She was working with acoustic bass and drums only, the keyboard / electric guitarist being unable to make this gig. A favourite from that gig was their cover of And I Love Her by the Beatles, with looped bass and vocals only (although the pitching on the looped track wasn't quite right, but what can you do once it's set up!).

Brass Jaw on Friday were on top form, one of the sell-out shows of the festival. This is a band that gets better with each gig, and they've already moved way beyond the recordings of the material on their CD Deal With It.Look out for clips from this gig on YouTube - it was being filmed and officially recorded.

Sunday night was quite an experience. Following the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra we headed upstairs to Michael Janisch's gig in The Green Room. Mike was playing a selection of tracks from his recent CD Purpose Built, with Andrew Bain on drums, Jay Phelps (photo below) on trumpet and Steve Hamilton on piano. They were on their third or fourth piece when Wynton Marsalis (who had come up from his gig downstairs) was invited on stage to much enthusiasm from the audience. For the last piece, Ryan Quigley also joined them on trumpet, resulting in a three-trumpet stand-off on Take The A-Train. So Mike's gig was hijacked slightly, but the audience were just loving it, and the band didn't seem to be complaining either!

This was the last official gig of the festival, after which we headed over to The Thistle for the late night session, hosted by Ryan Quigley. It was packed, in a reasonably large function room too. Most of the Lincoln Center Orchestra were there, as were a good selection of players on the Scottish scene, and quite a few from down south and Ireland as well. Many different people got up to play during the course of the night. There were also impromptu jazz dancers, which was fascinating to watch (from dance group JazzCotech, I believe).

A fantastic night, and a perfect end to this year's festival.


Alan Plater (1935-2010) - A Tribute

A tribute to Alan Plater from Ann Cotterrell, who published Alan Plater's autobiographical book Doggin' Around, a book he called the "memoirs of a jazz-crazed playwright," with many of his cartoons, including the one above, in 2006.

Alan Plater, who died on 25th June, was well-known as a superb writer for television, radio and the theatre. His wit, gift for dialogue and empathy with the lives and language of ordinary people gave him a distinctive voice, which also resounded with his love of jazz.

The only full-length biography of Plater is his own book about his life, and this centres around his love of jazz and the use he makes of jazz as a key component in his work. He first approached Northway Publications with a collection of his previously published articles about jazz and suggested a compendium of reprints. While I was delighted to meet someone whose work I admired so much, I thought that this book would work much better if it were rewritten as a continuous autobiographical work. We did not hear from him for a while and assumed that he might have done a lot of work and taken it to a bigger publisher for a much better return than we could offer.

I had misjudged him. He contacted us again saying that he had finished the book. It was a wonderful manuscript. I read it on a plane while going on holiday and probably looked like a dangerously demented woman grinning at Alan's recollections and beautifully turned sentences. There was barely any editing to do. Not only that: the book included his lyrics and cartoons. He prided himself as a playwright in leaving space for the actors to perform and his drawings too are clear and witty with no excess lines.

Doggin' Around had also been the title of one of his televison plays. Perhaps Alan and I were both unbelievably naive but neither of us recognised that the title had sexual connotations until we were well into the publishing process. He then considered changing it, but decided, unsurprisingly and with some humour, to keep the title regardless.

Alan loved Ronnie Scott's and he and Shirley Rubinstein held their wedding reception in the club. In Doggin' Around he tells a story about Ronnie in 1989:

"The BBC celebrated the club's thirtieth anniversary with a documentary and I was interviewed as part of the programme ... I said: 'There's only thing that could spoil it. A single shaft of sunlight.'

A couple of weeks later we were in the club and Ronnie displayed, by his standards, an enormous outpouring of emotion.

'Hey, that was really nice what you said.'

Later a bottle of champagne arrived at our table with the message: there'll be another one in thirty years time. Then, a few days later, I received a gold membership card in the post, entitling us to free admission for life. If that isn't a special relationship, I don't know what is; and there was much more as the years passed by."

His plays focusing on jazz include The Beiderbecke Trilogy and The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, the latter shown on television with an all-star cast including Judi Dench and Cleo Laine in 2000, followed in 2006 by a stage play about jazzwomen during World War Two, The Blonde Bombshells of 1943. But Plater also wrote lyrics and spoke on stage about jazz, as evidenced by two wonderful CDs of his work with Alan Barnes, Songs for Unsung Heroes and The Seven Ages of Jazz.

One of many major problems in the publishing world is that books have to appear on the shelves of one department in a bookshop. Doggin' Around is about jazz and drama and it is an autobiography. It defies the bookshop categorisation, just as he defied any pigeonholing: lyricist, dramatist, screenwriter, novelist, wit, socialist, architect and cartoonist. And yet, more than any of these, he was someone who showed great warmth and understanding of human emotions whether expressed through words or jazz. And most of all, he could communicate these emotions, like the best writers and musicians, to people from a whole range of backgrounds and levels of sophistication, with deceptive simplicity and great subtlety.


RIP Alan Plater

Very sad to learn today of the death from cancer of dramatist and huge jazz enthusiast Alan Plater. Plater's recollections about the music he lived through were published, with hilarious cartoons ... another of that special breed, a British writer/ cartoonist devoted to jazz...- in "Doggin' Around by Northway Books. See Ann Cotterrell's tribute to Alan Plater.


James Pearson

Music publisher Neal Richardson has sent in a review of a CD he's been listening to constantly for the past few months.

And below that is an interesting gig by James' group. First at St Martin in the Fields on July 2nd, with the same programme at Hever Castle in Kent on July 4th.

James Pearson Trio CD Swing the Club (Diving Duck Records)
James Pearson 's trio, with Chris Dagley on drums and bassist Sam Burgess have been the house band at Ronnie Scott's for 3 years. They display both the intimate musical chemistry which results from the experience of such regular collaboration, and enormous mutual trust, enabling them to push the improvising further and further.

The CD Swing The Club was recorded live, in situ, exactly where it should have been: on the stand at Ronnie Scott's. The band is recorded close-miked, the sound qualitu is consistently excellent, producer Pete North has done a great job.
This CD has been played constantly in my car for the last 6 months. It's always inspirational to witness something done exceptionally well, ennobled with both the genius and full gamut of emotion that only an artist at the top of their game can portray... And listening to James Pearson's Trio on these live tracks is to get as close to being there and witnessing it as is possible. If you have enjoyed in the flesh James' dazzling playing - on fire one minute and on ice the next , driving hard, yet sensitive - then you'll know what I'm talking about...
If forced to pick a favourite track, it would probably be Ray Noble's The Very Thought of You... a very special song to me personally anyway (I was going to record it myself next year but will now have to re-consider!)... a re-harmonised rubato intro/verse to satisfy the brain, then a purely sublime gentle swing right "in the pocket" on the tune again, to satisfy the soul.
I love this man's playing - as exuberant, intense and colourful as he is in person - and I defy anyone to listen through these gorgeous tracks and not to find that life feels just a little better.

The St. Martin in-the- Fields gig on July 2nd is called American Encounters, with some big works: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris, Escualo by Piazzola, an Ellington fantasy, a Bernstein overture and standards by Porter, Mercer and Rogers and Hart.


Review: Monteverdi Revisited

Monteverdi Revisited
(The Sixteen, dir. Harry Christophers, Julian Joseph, Mark Hodgson
Christ Church Spitalfields, part of 2010 Spitalfields Festival, June 24th 2010,
Photo credit Jason Bye/ Sunday Times)

"Monteverdi Revisited," a new collaboration between jazz pianist Julian Joseph with bassist Mark Hodgson, and the baroque group The Sixteen produced outstanding and beautiful results on its first outing at the Spitalfields Festival last night.

If these performers had attempted this project, say, fifteen years ago, the risk levels would have been much higher, the need for rehearsal longer, the outcomes far less certain. This is, on one hand, because of the astonishing phenomenon of the explosion of jazz piano talent in Britain in the past few years. More and more of these astonishing musicians - Gwilym Simcock, probably the most prominent example- have worked extensively with classical musicians in the intervening years.

But probably even more significant are the leaps forward in the standards of baroque performance. The singers and instrumentalists of the Sixteen don't just bring unbelievable accuracy and control to the music. They now also bring a responsiveness, freshness and alertness to it - even while presenting the concert for radio, as last night - which simply did not exist then. In this case it is a function of the number of times the members of groups like The Sixteen have been out on the road, developed, and built experience in performance.

The Sixteen had demonstrated this completely in their early evening concert, a selection from Selva Morale, published in 1640 towards the end of his life, without the jazz musicians. Monteverdi's sharply-etched contrasts in texture and mood came forth with real exuberance. Just a couple of joyous examples from hundreds: the word "exaltabitur" in "Beatus Vir" was delivered with a rhythmic kick under Christophers' direction, suddenly propelling the music forwards. It was also wonderful to hear, in the rising Amen of Confitebor, the two sopranos' voices rising, enjoying to the full the glorious reverb of Hawksmoor's 1729 church.

The origins of the "Monteverdi Revisited" project were a chance meeting between Harry Christophers and Julian Joseph a couple of years ago in the BBC. After a few more meetings Christophers, in his role of Associate Artist of the Spitalfields Festival, had offered Abigail Pogson of the Spitalfields Festival this project. Spitalfields is a well-organized festival with a host of donors and volunteers, and has picked a winner.

Christophers explained in an illuminating post-concert interview with Martin Kettle that he had wondered about revisiting and stretching out the "ritornelli" in Monteverdi to incorporate improvised sections. For example, the two-voice motet Salve Regina is a four minute work in the collection Selva Morale. Christophers was interested in producing a fuller performing version. This piece, the last to be performed, received the most substantial of the re-workings, culminating in a brief episode in a very interesting place indeed... possibly never previously inhabited by a jazz musician: between the words "O dulcis virgo" and "Maria."

In Salve Regina and in the other works, Christophers' has built structures to work in performance. And they do. The first work played was an organ improvisation by Alastair Ross. There were episodes which used the building to good effect. There were episodes where the jazz musicians took a section, and also times when forces combined.

A key figure in setting up the collaboration was the chitarrone player David (Dai) Miller. He works off a figured bass rather than a written part, and there has clearly been a very constructive dialogue which between him and Joseph as the chord sequences for the improvised sections. The colour from the three continuo instruments - Chitarrone, harp, harpsichord, comes from the way in which the three players spread the chords. In jazz they come from the extra harmonic information in comping. So the trick, when successfully achieved - it was, consistently last night- is to know the moments when it can be pushed, but to give space, keep out of each others' way, to avoid the train wreck. Another issue is to align the particular, accented feel for 3/4 time which the baroque musicians have, with the jazz sensibility, while also letting the jazz episodes have their own identity as a commentary, as clearly coming from somewhere else.

The trickiest, the most high-wire of the performances was "Che vol che m'innamori." Time and again Julian Joseph on piano and Mark Hodgson on bass pared the volume down, in order to hand over to the the two quietest instruments on the stage: the chittarone of David Miller or/and the harp of Frances Kelly. For my ears, it was Kelly's faultless judgment of the precise length of the silence to leave before taking over the story from Julian Joseph, and her judgment of dynamic and of mood in this piece, which produced the most deeply affecting moment of the evening.

The performance, sponsored by Hammerson, will be broadcast on Performance on 3 on July 2nd. Some of the piano detail was lost in the echo-ey church, it will be great to catch on radio.

In their talk, both Christophers and Joseph saw this performance as a first step, and their collaboration as something which has a lot further to go. This is a project which is bound to develop, but, because of the forces involved, it's going to come up fresh every time.



Europe's largest ever jazz research project, "Jazz Cultures and European Identities" which will continue for three years, and with a budget of EUR 1m, is having its second meeting.

The team of researchers from five countries led by Tony Whyton of the University of Salford had their launch at Stavanger in May, and is currently having three days in Vienna.

The jazz resarch group has its own website , ( rhythmchanges.net )

The partner institutions are Universities of Amsterdam, Birmingham City, Copenhagen, Music and Performing Arts Graz, Lancaster, and Stavanger.

HERA is funding Europe-wide research projects in the areas of

Canon, History and Ideology

Identity, Hybridization and Communities in Flux

Nation, Identification and Inheritance

Cultural dynamics and social transformations.

A list of HERA-funded projects is HERE . These will be findings to watch with interest. I hope they spend some time talking to and listening to one man who completely encapsulates the ideals of borderlessness, both for my brain and for my ears (I am sure there are others) : the wonderful Tcha Limberger.


Reflections on leaving jazz teaching from Chuck Israels

Chuck Israels, above in the role he will always be remembered, as bassist of the Bill Evans trio, has just given an interview to the Bellingham Herald on the occasion of retiring from his teaching post.

Plenty of other jazz musicians who teach will, inevitably, one day face this moment. Chuck Israels expresses his acute frustration at not being able to bridge the generational gap with his students. He's had "24 years of being an alien..."

It's a fascinating interview. An acknowledgement for spotting it to the sharpest eyes in jazz blogging, those of Peter Hum of the Ottawa Citizen.


Wynton in Paradise Gardens

Photographer Richard Kaby captured the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at Paradise Gardens in Victoria Park Hackney this weekend, with Wynton Marsalis back in the trumpet section, and bassist Carlos Henriquez laying down time. Follow THIS LINK for the full set of Richard's pictures.


En Direct de Londres - Le Jazz Britannique

The French equivalent of BBC Radio 3, France Musique, found an ingenious way to celebrate the 70th anniversary of De Gaulle's "Appel du 18 juin," made on theBBC. The whole day was broadcast from London.

Open Jazz, broadcast every night at 7 15pm, came last Friday from the Institut Francais in South Kensington, and investigated the new jazz scene in London.

- Stephanie Knibbe, who knows both scenes, talks about the dynamism, the self-reliant culture and the lack of formal structures around the music in London.

-Jonathan Bratoeff talks of the reasons which prompted him to move to London from Montpellier, and of the influence of Seb Rochford.

-pianist Kit Downes is interviewed in English by Alex Dutilh

-Saxophonist Robin Fincker - who studied at the same Lycee in Montpellier as Jonathan Bratoeff - talks about the origins of the Outhouse Ruhabi project, working with Gambian Wolof drummers. Fincker talks about the origins of the Loop Collective. "L'Union fait la Force," as they say in Montpellier

-Alexander Hawkins - Dutilh: "You don't belong to a collective. Are you a fierce individualist?" Hawkins: (joking) "You've got me in one."

- Kit Downes and Alexander Hawkins are asked about playing both the organ and the piano

-Dutilh then introduces a track from the album Howeird of Sam Crockatt and Gwilym Simcock

-Dutilh: "I hear a diversity about the scene in London." Knibbe: "It's the musicians who make the scene...."


Copenhagen Jazz Festival - Django Bates' selections

An invitation arrived at LondonJazz to go and write about the 32nd Copenhagen Jazz Festival (July 2nd-11th). This is a hard job, but someone has to do it.

Copenhagen is a vast festival with over a thousand gigs, in different venues across the city. International stars are there: Herbie Hancock, Caetano Veloso, Joe Lovano, Mike Stern... But who better to be our guide to this year's programme than Copenhagen resident Django Bates. Here are his thoughts about the festival, and a few gig recommendations. Virtually all the gigs Django is recommending have free admission.

Django Bates writes:

There is a certain logic to the festival programme in that each venue pretty much sticks with a particular area of jazz. For instance, if experimental is your thing then venues like Stubnitz or Literaturhus are for you, if you want something more in the comfort zone check out clubs like the Copenhagen Jazz House. If you hear a band you enjoy, ask the musicians what gigs they recommend: they’re all part of the same big jazz community! Having worked here since 2005 I can promise you Copenhagen is probably the most beautiful city in the world so use the Jazz festival as an excuse to experience it.


2nd July, 21:00 - Café Blågårds Apotek

‘People Are Machines’. Four young virtuosi who are not bashful about celebrating their skills! Sophisticated acoustic jazz with masses of joyful energy.
Line-up: Marius Neset - sax, Petter Eldh - Bass, Anton Eger - drums, Magnus Hjorth – piano.

3rd July, 17:00 - Venue: Huset i Magstræde, Gårdscenen

‘Orpheus’. Groovy drums and warm analogue synths support intriguing and detailed intertwining saxophones. One of their pieces has the most surprising ending I’ve ever heard.

Line-up: Aske Drasbæk: sax, Frederick Menzies: Sax/synth-bas, William Larsson: rhodes/synthesizers/programming Magnus Friis: drums.

5th July, 16:30 - Frue Plads

Marc Ducret Quintet (DK/FRA). Superb French guitarist now resident in Copenhagen, presents a great new band. Marc is known for his ever-inventive work in hardcore N.Y jazz groups like Tim Berne’s Bloodcount. For me he is an oxymoron: an immensely subtle Rock guitarist.

Line-up: Marc Ducret (g), Fred Gastard (bas sax), Kasper Tranberg (c), Matthias Mahler (tb) , Peter Bruun (dr)

6th July, 16:30 Frue Plads

‘Reptiles’. A chance to stand in the sunny (hopefully) square of ‘Frue Plads’ and hear legendary Danish saxophonist Tchicai parleying with UK trumpeter Chris Batchelor. Tchicai played on Coltrane's ‘Ascension’. Here he is the main soloist in Danstrup’s new reptilian project that blends traditional jazz with plangent brass harmonies.

Line-up: John Tchicai (ts, bcl), Chris Batchelor (tp), Lise Munch (fr. horn), Claus Højensgård Andersen (alto horn), Peter Dahlgren (tb), Daniel Herskedal (tuba), Peter Danstrup (b), Kresten Osgood (dr)

7th July, 21:00 Borups Højskole

Mark Solborg “4+4+1”. Mark Solborg’s quartet plus a 4 piece horn-section, plus soloist Chris Speed. What an impressive line-up. They are all virtuosi; they are all individuals.

Line-up: Anders Banke (reeds), Mark Solborg (g), Jeppe Skovbakke (b), Bjørn Heebøll (dr) + Jakob Munch (tuba, tb), TBA (tb), Gunnar Halle (tp), Torben Snekkestad (reeds) + Chris Speed (sax/cl)

9th July, 21:00 - M/S Stubnitz - Jazz Club Loco

Fred Frith (UK) & Lotte Anker. This concert takes place on the old GDR ship that is currently docked in Copenhagen. Its former cargo holds are used as venues for live music, exhibitions, performances and media art. There will be many gigs here during the festival and I chose to recommend this one because I don’t think Lotte and Fred play together very often: I’d expect masterful, immediate and unique improvisation in a fascinating environment.


The Rhythmic Music Conservatory will present many bands during the festival. Here’s a couple that I know to be excellent:

5th July 2010, 16:30 - Det Kongelige Danske Haveselskab

‘Clara Bryld’: the singer and pianist, who conducts explorations into irony with her band of angels.

10th July 2010, 21.00 - Byggeriets Hus
‘Marc Méan Trio’


10th July, 22:00 - Charlottenborg / Something Else
‘Efterklang’. Well, by this time you might need to reacclimatize yourself with some Danish indie pop-rock at the venue which provides an alternative view of Jazz throughout the Festival.

Django Bates will be bringing his Beloved Bird project to Ronnie Scott's on Thursday July 5th as part of the BritJazz Festival.

And he will be appearing twice at Kings Place in the autumn.

He will be celebrating his 50th birthday with a performance with Human Chain on Saturday October 2nd, and with the Bad Plus at the London Jazz Festival on Saturday November 20th.


Big Band Britannia

Big Band Britannia
(Big and and soloists directed by Guy Barker, Barbican Hall, June 19th 2010,
all photos: Roger Thomas)

Jazz is the lived in the moment, and when that moment is gone, it's normally gone. It's something probably pointless even to mention, and it's definitely a lost cause ever to regret it. But when such an astonishing roll-call of great figures of British jazz gets booked for an event like "Big Band Britannia" at the Barbican, when you get to hear of the sheer amount of preparatory work which, among others, Guy Barker and John Cumming of Serious had put into it, it would have felt quite wrong for the whole thing just to die as soon as it had been born. Luckily, this show was recorded by Radio 3's Jazz Line Up , and will be transmitted at the end of the year.

Each of the fascinating and cunningly selected big band charts seemed to have its own story to tell, about how it had got to the Barbican stage. One had been tracked down in an attic in Harrow. Another had been found after an endless game of telephone tag. A third had been transcribed off Spotify. All were copied and edited and prepared for performance by Guy Barker, himself and by the likes of Alan Prosser and Colin Skinner. The whole thing was a massive and heroic endeavour, but the sheer quality of just about all the music on offer made that effort worthwhile.

The evening built to its culmination, a tribute to Sir John Dankworth. Like many others, Guy Barker is thankful to JD, and paid him a personal tribute, acknowledging that "he gave me my very first gig." Wynton Marsalis then guested on two movements from Dankworth's Zodiac Variations, relishing with sincerity the rising major sixth which started the tune, finding playfulness and happiness in the three falling note motif which runs right through the suite.

But the loudest, longest and most heartfelt applause of the evening was, understandably, for Cleo Laine, on her first major appearance since the day of JD's passing. She, and John Horler on piano, brought deep emotion and subtlety to Mark Nightingale's big band arrangement of Cy Coleman's self-deprecating "It Amazes Me," and then wonderful panache to shoo-ing the blues away in JD's virtuosic and triumphant "Hallelujah."

If the Dankworth tribute was the high point of an extraordinary evening, the ascent to get to that point had been a succession of happy encounters. The show started with a specially written overture by Guy Barker, combining arrangements of charts by Dankworth, Tubby Hayes and Stan Tracey, and then stepped back in time to an arrangement of the 1928 show tune Crazy Rhythm. The early numbers had period jazz specialists Martin Litton on Piano and Richard Pite on drums. Jack Hylton's Melancholy Baby had Alan Barnes on tenor sax stepping brilliantly into the burly shadow of Coleman Hawkins. Other first half highlights were a wonderful chart by Victor Feldman, elegy, written before he emigrated to the US, with a fluent solo from Denys Baptiste. Joe Temperley, with his magisterial baritone sax playing made a guest appearance on Tommy Sampson's Four o' clock Jump. Temperley had been the soloist as a teenager (on tenor?) on the original recording in 1948.

There was a brief tribute to the Ted Heath band, the parts of the original lead trumpet Kenny Baker and the drummer Jack Parnell being occupied energetically and precisely by Mike Lovett and Ralph Salmins respectively. Two veterans of the Heath band, Stan Reynolds and Eric Blair, were in the audience, and Guy Barker in his introduction duly saluted these two British trumpet icons.

The first-half closer, Tubby Hayes' "Suddenly Last Tuesday brought to the fore - from left to right in RogerThomas's photo- alto legend Peter King, trombonist Elliot Mason, Denys Baptiste on tenor sax and Guy Barker on trumpet for an uptempo roast on Tubby Hayes' Suddenly Last Tuesday.

The second half opened magically with the rhythm section of Stan Tracey, Alec Dankworth and Ralph Salmins balancing perfectly, and letting that uniquely haunting sound of Bobby Wellins waft mysteriously in "Starless and Bible Black." Wellins, who will be 75 next January, then zipped athletically through Rhythm changes in Tracey's Afro Charlie.

Then a rarity: Dejeuner sur l'Herbe by Neil Ardley, with a powerful and fluent Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax, and Andy Panayi gorgeous-toned and inventive on flute. Stan Sulzmann directed the band in his own feisty Jack Stix. The mood then shifted radically into Loose Tubes territory with Shelley by Steve Berry. Sulzmann was the fine soloist on soprano sax, questioning, leaving space, altogether on wonderful form. The asymmetrical rhythms of Kenny Wheeler's Gentle Piece brought beautiful balance from the band, fine piano playing from Jim Watson, and an all-too brief feature for Norma Winstone.

After the Dankworth tribute, the band plunged into one final number - the infctious township groove of Chris McGregor's Andromeda, with Claude Deppa on stratospheric trumpet,and Soweto Kinch and Jason Yarde sparring on altos.

The band mixed the generations well. The rhythm section of Jim Watson, Alec Dankworth and above all Ralph Salmins deserve a joint Man of the Match award: they are all world-class. Geoffrey Smith compered with flair. Guy Barker directed proceedings brilliantly. It seemed a far shorter evening than it was.

And the last word? The critic next to me, who only rarely writes about jazz had a sentiment which I definitely can't wait to hear again: "I don't know what I'll write about, I was enjoying it all too much." This had been a very special evening.


Review: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Review: Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
(Bebop and Beyond, part of "United in Swing 2010" London residency, Barbican Hall, Friday June 18th 2010, Review by Frank Griffith)

"Keep doin it until we keep on doin it" was the utterance by JALC Orchestra bandleader and featured trumpet soloist, Wynton Marsalis, which best sums up the mission of the orchestra and the durability of this great music. The programme "Bebop and Beyond" showcased repertoire from the 1940s-1960s period, including bop 52nd street themes, early Afro Cuban opuses as well as assorted Basie, Ellington and Oliver Nelson music. All of whom were either African-American or Cuban composers, with the lone exception of one Gerry Mulligan piece. Considering the wealth of other innovative bands and writers from this period (Stan Kenton, Sauter/Finegan,Woody Herman, Claude Thornhill, Gil Evans, etc) one wonders why they were not represented more but, that said, the programme was varied and exemplary indeed.

There was an arsenal of British guest soloists including the explosive alto saxophonist, Soweto Kinch, who was the first one out of the blocks on Gil Fuller's "Things to Come" with his searing and incisive solo. This was followed shortly by veteran altoist, Peter King who contributed melodically with his liquid sound on Mary Lou Williams' "In The Land of Oo--bla-dee" as well as on Gerry Mulligan's "Festive Minor" on which featured an impromptu duet with Scots baritone saxist and charter JALC Orchestra member, Joe Temperley(Photo Credit: Rosie Reed Gold)

The latin triumvirate of pianist Alex Wilson and percussionists, Satin Singh and Roberto Pla all guested on "Manteca and Havana Blues" with Wilson, making the biggest impression with his spirited and rhythmic imoprovisations bringing about some extreme intensity in his solo development. Not to be outdone, flautist, Andy Panayi, swung mightily, down and dirty on Eddie Durham's "Moten Swing" with just enough dog-eared tatter and swagger in his sound to depict the seedy 1930s environs of Kansas City.

Among other highlights were altoist Ted Nash's scintillating solo on "Havana Blues" working his way up to fevered pitch quickly (no doubt partially due to the paucity of solo length, associated with big bands) but providing a welcome drama and excitement to the mix. Guest bassist, Rodney Whitaker's deep dish swing and melodic solo also added much to "Moten Swing". Two Ellington pieces, "Paris Stairs" and 2 movements from "The Queens Suite" featured more muted and cloaked textures with the inimitable Dukian saxophone section quality.

Amongst this tonal mix was Victor Goines' labyrinthine and resonant clarinet wafting and threading through. This was especially welcome in a large hall that required no microphones for most in a band that has such a keen appreciation for dynamics. Ever present through all of this was the relentless yet eloquent and exciting solos and support of Dan Nimmer's piano.

Another heroic and successful visit to these shores by an orchestra that continues to make more inroads into the Barbican's offerings and outreach. With the 2012 Olympics just around the corner we look forward to reaping the benefits that creative live music has to offer as well. Hows about a medal for that?


See a FEATURE on the JALC and its Barbican residency

The JALC Orchestra is now on a UK tour. Dates as follows

Bridgewater Hall Tuesday 22 June 2010, 7:30pm
Brighton Dome Thursday 24 June 2010, 7:30pm
Birmingham Symphony Hall Friday 25 June 2010, 7:30pm
The Sage Gateshead Saturday 26 June 2010, 7:30pm
Royal Concert Hall Glasgow Sunday 27 June 2010, 7:30pm


JazzCDs Featured Artist: Mike Smith

Mike Smith: profile of this month's featured artist on jazzcds.co.uk
Twenty-six year old saxophonist Mike Smith clearly has performing in the blood. But when I interviewed him about his new CD "Ginger Tunes," the first in his own name, what kept coming through was the attitude: "being bold, scouse and cheeky." He tells me it's something he's known for.
Mike Smith grew up in Southport in Merseyside, and first signed up for lessons on the saxophone- in order to avoid maths classes- at the age of 12. He participated in the school's big band, the Sefton Youth Jazz Orchestra, which he remembers with great fondness. But his musical development was also progressing outside school. Smith's mother was the guitarist in gigging band called Switchback. The band played covers of Beatles and AC/DC songs, and so, before long, Smith the teenager was featuring on gigs, starting by taking a sax solo on Lady Madonna, and developing from there, gradually building the respect of the others onstage. For this youngster, music was not so much a rebellion as catching the family bug.

He went on to the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts (LIPA). LIPA was co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney, is based in the building where the Beatle went to school. It is known for attracting able and keen students from a wide range of backgrounds. "It opens arms to the local community, it widens participation, and has proved an excellent springboard into the creative professions," says Ben Turner, education correspondent at the Liverpool Echo. It was at the Institute that Smith formed many of his close working relationships. Smith wanted to reflect his day-to-day work with these collaborators- notably bassist and producer JJ Rio, and drummer Jay Irving on the CD. Smith graduated from LIPA with first-class honours in 2005. He still keeps an association with the college- he now goes back there to teach.

Another important development in Smith's journey was performing and touring extensively with the Muffin Men, a Liverpool-based band formed in 1990 which mainly performs the music of Frank Zappa. It was through the Muffin Men that Smith met and got to know Zappa's drummer Jimmy Carl Black, a regular guest with the band. Smith was 19. "I'd never met any one like him before, and I doubt I ever will. He was a rock star in the proper sense. He spent his whole life on the road, but had a real thing about Liverpool." Smith got to know him well, stayed at his home, appreciated his jokes and sayings, every one of them totally unprintable. Black died in 2008.

Smith has a full, strong saxophone sound on both soprano and tenor. Grover Washington an influence, I asked him? No, Smith's sax hero is definitely Joshua Redman , whom he heard live at the Village Vanguard in New York.

In addition to the Muffin Men, Smith has worked with Stevie Winwood, Craig David, and is currently a regular- on keyboards- with Kid Creole. Smith put together the CD "Ginger Tunes" to be "an honest account of where I am," and the album's inspirations have indeed come from many places. There are some clues in the CD booklet, which contains no fewer than fifty photos. There's one of Smith on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, another looking up at the canopy outside the Village Vanguard. But there's also a wooden toilet seat (I didn't ask) and a portrait of the artist in front of some waste containers.

This eclectic approach colours the album. One track has the glorious fresh sound of the voices of African children. They were recorded on a trip to Malawi with the educational organization Beat Life. Another, Faith in Him, is a feature for gutsy Wakefield-born soul singer Hannah Rei. Liquid is a dialogue for Smith with himself on overdubbed tenor and soprano saxes. And on the final track, Ascendency (sic), TV presenter and Liverpool football pundit Keith Wilson, is featured declaiming a poem. It's straight out of the sixties Liverpool beat poet tradition of Adrian Henri and Brian Patten. This is a cheerful album, full of variety.


Wynton Marsalis Keynote Address

Wynton Marsalis looked on, slightly bemused. The man with thirty-one honorary degrees from American universities including Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Howard and Yale, nine Grammy awards, a Pulitzer prize, an honorary membership of the Royal Academy of Music, the National Medal of Arts, a statue in bronze in Marciac, the title of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour....knew what to expect as he walked onstage this lunchtime with Guildhall School Principal Professor Barry Ife.

Professor Ife made a short speech, and duly handed Wynton Marsalis an honorary fellowship of the school.

But Marsalis, in his keynote speech of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's Barbican residency, was keen to acknowledge a higher power. "Drummers," he said, have the "final authority" on time in a jazz ensemble. The drummer is the "referee" Americans use the word referee to signal respect (Now wouldn't that be a nice idea to import?)

Marsalis talks about responsibilities rather than rights, about selfless behaviour, about leaving space, about not playing too loud, about making sacrifices. In a word, about civility. The ultimate hero in jazz, then, is that powerful understated presence, guitarist Freddy Green.

Marsalis made his point by describing what happens when the assertion of rights crowds out all sense of responsibility. He entertained a friendly Barbican audience with a vision: the jam session straight out of all of our nightmares: where all of the rhythm section players arrive early to set up monitors and amps which they can crank up to drown the others; where every horn player insists on playing more mind-numbing choruses than the previous player; where each tune lasts a minimum of 53 minutes....

Marsalis then brought the talk to a close by drawing the parallel. The right etiquette of the bandstand is the right way to live life.

From where I was sitting, with a group of Guildhall School jazz students in the row behind me, it was heartening to hear that model of collective leadership and collective responsibility being instilled. The models of cultural leadership which thought-leaders in the UK such as John Holden and Robert Hewison are currently proposing based on their work with the Royal Shakespeare Company do not have anything of the simplicity, directness or communicability of these down-home and basic truths emerging from jazz.

I found it fitting that softly spoken drummer Ali Jackson should have the last word.

"Once you get to the age of 20 you know whether you can play or whether you can't: our music is about listening, it's about how well you listen."

Hear, hear.


Review: Michael Garrick Big Band

Michael Garrick Big Band
(Maida Vale Studio 3, June 14th 2010, review by Frank Griffith)

Recent recipient of the MBE, jazz pianist and composer, Michael Garrick was directing a big band for a Jazz Line Up recording at the BBC's Maida Vale Studios. The two hour recording session, in front of an appreciative audience followed a four hour rehearsal earlier that afternoon, apparently. The band's precision and endurance were certainly put to the test with that kind of gruelling schedule. But Mike, like his late colleague, Sir John Dankworth, is no stranger to rehearsal and at age 76, why should he change now?

Garrick's music, not unlike Sir JD's has a distinct British quality about it celebrating the culturally great and the good that the UK has to offer. From pieces based on Thomas Hardy quotes ("Hardy Country") to his innovative work combing Jazz and Poetry in the 1960s with such important jazz figures of the day like Joe Harriott (see picture above) and Shake Keane.

The concert had a real sense of continuity, a feeling of several pieces being joined up as one. But "Lady of the Aurian Wood" stood out in particular, if only for its majestic poignancy. Some hints of 1940s Ellingtonia saxophone textures were evident with its understated but lyrical melody combined with more modern harmonies. This was was accentuated by the saxophone section's almost sotto voce delivery of the theme, bringing out the fairy-tale qualities of this magical lady. A welcome change of pace too - the tempi of several of the other pieces were frenetic.

Many plaudits to the outstanding trumpet section and their versatilty in negotiating the composer's labyrinthine and angular melodic lines, while all contributing individual improvisational forays of ther own. A melliflous Martin Shaw was offset by the sparky boisterousness of Steve Waterman who in turn was calmed down sufficiently by the relentless fluidity of Steve Fishwick. His several inspired choruses on "Bobby Shaftoe" scored top honours in ther solo stakes on this night. Also deserving of special mention was the double duty of lead trumpeter, Gabriel Garrick, contributing equally in both capacities, as section leader as well as soloist.

Not to be outdone, the band's various saxophone and trombone soloists (too numerous to mention) all shone excellently on their frequent but all-too brief solo excursions. The sterling drumming of longtime Garrick sideman Alan Jackson also deserves special mention.

The leader's ever so entertaining comments, often quite funny (his posh accented imitation of a goverment minister's desire to bring "culture" to the great unwashed was a delight), were equally laced with not too subtle asides and barbs pointed at the powers that be. These, coupled with promotion of his new autobiography written by Trevor Bannister "Dusk Fire- Jazz in English Hands" occupied a fair measure of the two hour recording. Jazz Lineup is a 90 minute show, so much of this will no doubt be edited out, leaving the broadcast to feature above all the fine music.

All in all, an enriching listen and showcase of one of the UK's finest proponents of this music and after 50 years of broadcasting, there are no signs of Mike Garrick slowing down. Long may he prosper!

The concert will be broadcast on Jazz Line Up on August 1st


Review: Hot Dog Jazz

Hot Dog Jazz at Peter Parker's
(4 Denmark Street W1, June 15th 2009, review by Frances Hardcastle)

A swathe of smoking artistic types floats outside on the pavement. For a moment you might think you're in hip Hoxton. But once you make your way down into the basement of Peter Parker's, it's clear what's drawing an attractive, eclectic, young crowd to Denmark Street.

The atmosphere is loud and buzzing, more akin to an underground art student party than a jazz gig. Whilst Peter Parker's refrains from practising the hushed reverence of Ronnies or the 606, I noticed many lively conversations stop mid-flow to appreciate accomplished solos from any one of the young Nathaniel Cross Small Band.

The musicians focused on cool jazz repertoire, perfectly matched to the ethos of the night. Even the hard bop tinged sets of the excellent tenor saxophonist Binker Goldin didn't appear to be a challenge to any of the jazz virgins. I was particularly impressed by jazz tuba player Theon Cross, who was a great addition to their swinging rhythm section.

Hot Dog Jazz is keen to support young talent, programming them alongside slightly older more established musicians and encouraging jazz jams at the end of the night to forge collaboration. The promoters, Christine Cowin and Mark Rapley, clearly haven't shied away from presenting good real jazz to their mixed newcomer crowd. Their programming matches the boast of being lively and hip, without patronising their audience with overtly commercial music. .

The promoters have put a lot of thought into creating a vibrant and quirkily retro night. The VJ projection behind the musicians is a distinctly contemporary touch, but footage of dancing flappers and speakeasy kings - dressed identically to the pork pie hat toting band on stage - is a good reminder of the origins of jazz as a dance form, meant just for venues like this.

This monthly night is now up and running. Here's hoping it will continue to draw a new audience to jazz and provide a platform for future talent. I won't be surprised at all- or disappointed - if some of the venues from the other side of Charing Cross Road are soon checking the format out, and even copying it.


Father's Day

I was genuinely moved to read what Saxophonist Daisy Coole (above) sent in to LondonJazz today about the lunchtime gig on Father's Day this Sunday at the MAP Cafe in Grafton Road Kentish Town. This is music with a real purpose. Daisy, thank you.

"Mr. Ears Presents... @ MAP is a great chance to hear and jam with amazing musicians every Sunday.

More important to me, however, is bandleader Bandleader Cai Marle-Garcia 's Donations jar. Each week which has so far been filled up by the appreciative and generous audience. All proceeds go straight to charity, including the North London Hospice, a charity close to my heart.
My father, whose love of Glen Miller and Ted Heath encouraged me to play the saxophone, sadly died in March this year after spending two weeks with the amazing care and attention of the Hospice nurses.

This Sunday's band features Shabaka Hutchings, Ivo Neame, Darren Altman and, of course, Cai Marle-Garcia, whose wonderful idea it was to make it a regular charity event.

Map Cafe are also selling my homemade cupcakes from this weekend, including Father's Day themed treats, which is something I began to do after Dad passed away and I hope he'd be proud of! The house band are on from 1.30pm till 3pm, with the jam running from 3.30pm till 5pm. Entry is free until July and upcoming musicians include Gabriel Garrick, Tom Challenger, Sam Leak and Russell van den Berg."


Review: Does it Swing?

Does it Swing?
(Concert for primary school children, Barbican Theatre, June 15th 2010)

This was by no means your typical English summer audience. It wasn't Henley. People weren't standing drinking and chatting with their backs to the river, completely ignoring world-class rowing. And it wasn't Glyndebourne either, where people snooze their way through opera with thoughts of cold soup.

This was an audience full of life. Six hundred completely attentive London primary schoolchildren were at the Barbican Theatre for a show entitled "Does It Swing?" Trying to describe this audience in a phrase, attempting to answer the rhetorical question of the title, I keep coming back to the same words.

They are what Galileo allegedly muttered in 1633 to the papal inquisition, which had been on his case for twenty years, telling him to repent, to admit to them that the earth stands still.

"It moves."

Yes, this is an audience which sways, claps, smiles. It's uninhibited, it joins in, it clicks its fingers in time on the backbeat, it heckles, it laughs. Nobody's told it to do otherwise. It understands jazz. The teachers will have undoubtedly prepared the children. But the way the kids were responding to the music, to the atmosphere of good humour, the sense that getting into this music can be fun, surely some part of all that must be instinctive, no?

Trumpeter Abram Wilson played well. He was also playing the crowd well, doing the hard yards, MCing the show, but keeping it nice n simple for each and every one of six hundred children. He explained to them how a rhythm section works. "It's like a car. The engine (Yuriy Galkin) is the bass, the wheels are the drums (Graham Godfrey) . And the piano (Peter Edwards): "That's my paint job." Discuss.

The interplay of recorded video material and live performance was very professionally and well done, and created a seamless storyline. Perry Louis got all of us - yes every single one - on our feet trying dance steps.

But above all it was trombonist Wycliffe Gordon (above) who caught the children's attention. He was zipping through his repertoire of multiphonic effects on the trombone as if they could be learnt by anyone. Yeah right. He was getting every member of the audience - and the band too- laughing at the range of rude sounds he can get with a plunger mute. And, finally, he sent everyone home happy with a heartfelt rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust. An astonishing performer.

I don't think I will see a more heartening sight all year than this young audience and its sincere response to the performance.

And yes, the answer. It did swing.


Check the diary- Wynton's talk on Friday 18th 1pm

This just came in from the Barbican:

FREE TICKETS for LondonJazz readers to the Wynton Marsalis keynote address this Friday.

Wynton Marsalis, trumpeter, composer and artistic director of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra gives a keynote address at the Barbican Theatre at 1pm on Friday 18 June as part of the Barbican’s Jazz Leadership Day.

This talk - illustrated with musical contributions from Wynton Marsalis and his Quintet - is free to LondonJazz readers. Just come to the Barbican by 12.45pm on Friday and ask for a ticket at the Barbican’s advance box office desk – or ask a Barbican host. More information here:

The keynote address will last approximately one hour. Gowns strictly optional.


Review: Shifting Sands

Shifting Sands
(Clore Ballroom, Southbank, June 11th 2010, review by Jane Stringfellow)

Shifting Sands, an evolving collaboration of accomplished musicians specialising in traditional music of the UK and the Middle East opened Richard Thompson’s Meltdown Festival at the Southbank on Friday night.

Thirteen musicians from six countries had worked together for three days under the direction of Andy Mellon of Bellowhead -Southbank’s resident folk group -at the invitation of the British Council. Musicians from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and UEA played traditional instruments including the oud, the quanoon and the simsimiyya (above), and brought Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms to the fore. Musicians from the UK played instruments including the harp, fiddle and bass clarinet and bought folk and jazz themes to the mix. Impressive vocalists and lively percussionists completed the sound.

Their fine set was themed "Songs of the Sea ". Of course both the Arabian Peninsula and the British Isles have long standing traditions of music made by seafarers. Shifting Sands brought this to life. It was easy to imagine being a sailor singing a rousing sea song while anticipating sounds of new shores.

In the first song, Mudather, composed by Abdullah Bahashwan (Saudia Arabia), the bass clarinet provided a distinctive structure as the tune was passed around many instruments. It sounded quite magical.

Simsema, a Bahraini song often sung at female wedding parties, got the audience clapping as the band sang.

In Mekhoulfi, a song composed by Ahmed al Ghanem (Bahrain) in an 8/4 rhythm usually associated with pearl diving songs and traditionally played by percussion, the melody was traded by many instruments including the flute and violin bringing out different musical colours.
Shifting Sands is a collaboration that has only just begun, there was tremendous excitement amongst the musicians and amongst the audience last Friday night. This is a highly original project. Richard Thompson had only heard a few preliminary tapes before inviting them to open the Meltdown Festival. Catch them when they next play in London.


The curse of low joints

Three British jazz insiders with knee and ankle problems. Best wishes for getting speedily back into your Walkin' Shoes (above) to Christine Allen, Sue Edwards and Jeremy Farnell


Ronnie Scott's BritJazz Festival - August

An eagle-eyed LondonJazz reader has pointed out that almost all the gigs in the Ronnie Scott's BritJazz Festival in August are announced and on sale. Prices are generally kept lower than during the restof the year.

It's a varied and adventurous programme. Shedloads of integrity. Not a penny of public subsidy. Congratulations to Ronnie's!

Saturday July 31st - Brian Auger/ Yazz Ahmed

Sun Aug 1st -The Ronnie Scott’s Big Band directed by Pete Long - music of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, The Rat Pack and Benny Goodman.

Mon 2nd - Jazz on 3 Special: John Taylor Duo plus support

Tues 3rd - Led Bib and Phronesis

Wed4th - Empirical & The Jim Mullen Organ Quartet with Emma Smith:

Thurs 5th - Django Bates Beloved Bird & Brass Jaw

Fri 6th -Laurence Cottle Big Band + special guest & The Jessica Lauren Four

Sat 7th - Jason Rebello Quartet feat Pino Palladino & The Georgia Mancio Qrt:

Sun 8th -Natalie Williams Soul Family

Mon 9th - John Dankworth Night - full info to follow shortly ...

Tue 10th -London Improvisers Orchestra feat Jason Yarde+ Matt Bourne & Pete Wareham

Weds 11th -Mike Westbrook Village Band & Carol Grimes (photo above with Janette Mason and Steve Lodder from 1986)

Thu 12th -Trio VD & Partisans:

Fri 13th -Colin Towns Mask Orchestra & the Denys Baptiste Quartet

Sat 14th -Talvin Singh & The Cleveland Watkiss Quartet


Surprises for Big Band Britannia- Barbican, Saturday 19th

Jazz is supposed to be the sound of surprise, but people keep telling me stories and sending me press releases about "Big Band Britannia: Inspirations and Collaborations". It doesn't feel like spoiling: Saturday's extravaganza organized by Guy Barker in the Barbican Hall - part of the week of residency at the Barbican of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra - is bound nevertheless to have all sorts of unexpected revelations.

The basic idea is to showcase eight decades of British big band music, with a host of guests. Those announced previously were Norma Winstone, Stan Tracey, Peter King, Bobby Wellins, Denys Baptiste, Henry Lowther and Jason Yarde. Music to be played is by Ted Heath, Kenny Baker, Vic Feldman, Tubby Hayes, Stan Tracey and Kenny Wheeler, Brotherhood of Breath.....Benny Carter ’s charts for the BBC Dance Orchestra, and Jack Hylton ’s for Coleman Hawkins....

But the additions seem to keep coming in - maybe they're not all surprises, but all four were new to me:

1) Mark Nightingale has arranged a tribute to the late Sir John Dankworth, in which the band will be joined by Dame Cleo Laine. This is her first major appearance since the 40th anniversary concert at the Stables when she announced that John had died from the stage.

2) And then something really last-minute: George Foster wrote to me a midnight last night: "The score for Neil Ardley's masterpiece "Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe", the title track of the superb but out of print album by the New Jazz Orchestra was tracked down as recently as last weekend. The piece has not been performed for many years but many consider the recorded version to be the finest piece ever of British big-band jazz

The original 1968 recording for Verve had Ian Carr, Derek Watkins, Harry Beckett and Henry Lowther on trumpets, Mike Gibbs, Detrek Wadsworth & John Mumford in the trombone section George Smith on tuba. Reeds and woodwinds were Barbara Thompson, Dave Gelly, Jim Philip and Dick Heckstall-Smith. Jack Bruce and Jon Hiseman were the rhythm section, as regular bass player Tony Reeves was in the control booth. Other members of the orchestra not on this recording included Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler.

Solos on the original recording were by Barbara Thompson, Ian Carr (one of his best ever), Dick Heckstall-Smith (playing 3 saxes at once) and Derek Wadsworth.

3) There will be an after-the-show set on the Barbican's Clubstage by Jazz Jamaica

4) There will also apparently be a bus taking revellers who want to catch the late night jam at the Vortex. Like everyone else I'm dead curious if any forty-eight year old trumpeters with the middle name of Learson will be turning up for the jam....


Evan Parker's JJA Award

Congratulations to Evan Parker, soprano saxophonist of the year at the JJA (Jazz Journalists Association) Awards in New York.

Other winners included Dave Holland, Joe Lovano, Vijay Iyer, Maria Schneider, Kenny Barron

The full list of awardees is on the AllAboutJazz site


Carol Kidd

“Moving [to Majorca] saved my life. It gave me a sanctuary, away from everything. It’s such a healing place. I started to get my life back together, and my wits back.”

An affectionate portrait of "Scotland’s first lady of jazz" Carol Kidd from Alison Kerr in the Glasgow Herald, seen above on a bare-footed pilgrimage back to Glasgow in 2006.

More on her MYSPACE


Bela Fleck interview


We interviewed banjo genius Bela Fleck by email in advance of his Barbican gig with two other astonishing musicians, bassist Edgar Meyer and tabla-player Zakir Hussein.

Fleck tells the story of how this group got together, and also gets to talk about - among other things- ice cream, amplification and Michael Jordan...

LondonJazz: How did you originally meet Edgar Meyer and start playing together?

Bela Fleck:I first met Edgar in Aspen, Colorado in 1983. He was there studying at the summer chamber music festival, and I was playing there with New Grass Revival.

I heard about him, and that he might be playing in front of the Häagen-Dazs store on the mall in the evening. I went and heard him and ended up playing, we have been pretty much fast friends ever since.

He opened my mind to a lot of great music, and his talent and knowledge has continued to be a huge inspiration. Steal from the best, they say - and Edgar is the best.

LJ: How did the collaboration with Zakir Hussein arise?

Zakir is someone Edgar and I have had on our wish list to collaborate with someday...
When we were offered the chance to write a triple concerto for the Nashville Symphony, we asked him to join us. And it has been a very wonderful experience.

There is so much that we can learn from him, with all of his indian classical music experience.
Edgar and I have been stealing from him now too - he is also the best.

LJ: He must be great to work with.

Bela Fleck: Yes, we have been developing a wonderful rapport. I try to respond to him rythmically as much as possible. There are a lot of thigs about banjo and tabla that fit together like magic.

LJ: As far as I am aware you always play amplified?

Bela Fleck: When we play with the orchestras we lightly amplify with good mikes.
When we play as a trio, we add in a little more, especially when we are playing larger venues outdoors. As much as we prefer the acoustic qualities, we do want to be heard. Even so, we try to keep a very acoustic sensibility.

LJ: And what about the sound when you work with a symphony orchestra?

Bela Fleck: You just need to have a sensitive sound man. If you could hear the soloists without amplifiction, we wouldn't use it. We just keep it light. The orchestra parts are as important as our parts, and we don't want to be way louder. Just want to be audible.
LJ: Where does your material come from? Do all three of you compose for the trio?

Bela Fleck: The music we are playing is written fairly equally be all three of us.
Several tunes are three way cowrites, we each have a couple of pieces we wrote on our own, etc. There is no outside material at this point.

LJ: I was intrigued by your Twitter comment from Philadelphia "The music is coming back and growing into a new place simultaneously."

Bela Fleck: I think that each time we start again after an absence we pick up where we left off, and try to take it to the next level.
At this point there are things that we had wished we could do better that the break has helped us to realize, and then there is the freshness of starting again.
Since we are improvising, there is always the hope that we will dialog in a cool new way, and that the proper spaces will be left for that to really develop.

LJ: You have often talked about your affection for a sustained melodic voice This project might be seen as side-stepping that issue?

Bela Fleck: Edgar Meyer handily covers that aspect of things. His work with the bow is pretty much unparalleled. Think cello and piano rather than bass and banjo, and you get an idea. The other side is that I am forced to be the melodic voice more often, when he goes to bass function - and that is actually a nice thing on the banjo.

LJ: How important has it been to you to appeal to wider audience? Are you getting used to the bigger notoriety? What helps you to keep the feet on the ground?

Bela Fleck: The Flecktones have certainly had some big success, and even before that I was in bands that had great audiences - like New Grass Revival. I don't court success in particular these days, having found that that usually blows up in one's face - usually mine.

I do want communication in the music - I want it to speak to the audience.
These days I play with people that I can grow and learn from. I think I am probably becoming more esoteric.

LJ: What are your interests in other arts - what heroes from other disciplines?

Bela Fleck: Mostly it is music, although I always love to see great dancers such as Barishnikov, and the occasional stand out sports dude, like Michael Jordan - who transcends and transforms the idiom.

LJ: The future of the instrument: are you phased by the thought of scary/ younger/ fitter/ faster players whom you might have taught or inspired coming up?

Bela Fleck: I think I have overcome my fear of the next generation!
There are some amazing cats coming up, and I can't wait to hear what they come up with. I am friends with most of them. My teacher Tony Trischka set such a great example, by sharing his ideas with me when he was the top cat on the modern banjo scene.

We are looking forward to getting to London.

LJ: I'm looking forward to July 16th at the Barbican. Thanks for the interview.


CD Review: Jez Franks Cash Cows

Jez Franks' Compassionate Dictatorship. Cash Cows (FMR Records)
(CD Review by Thomas Gray)

The second album from Compassionate Dictatorship will resonate with fans of Partisans and Jonathan Bratoëff’s quartet with its effective marriage of an energetic rock feel, earthy grooves and moments of reflective tenderness. Guitarist Jez Franks, a lecturer at Leeds College and the Royal Academy, and one of the main movers behind E17 Jazz, co-leads this group with sax player Tori Freestone and writes most of the material on this album. Franks engages right away with the clever rythmic displacement in the three-note opening statement of the first track ‘Mushroom Effect’. While some of the other themes don’t quite stand out in the same way, there is enough detail beneath the surface to warrant repeated listens. The aptly-titled ‘Mr Mish Mash’ is typical of Franks's compositional approach, splicing together a thrashy opening, a breezily swinging waltz and a free-time metal interlude.

Opting for a clean tone on most tracks, Franks patiently constructs some beguilingly flowing solos in a Pat Metheny vein, while Freestone’s brawny and slightly freer tenor playing adds contrast. Freestone's affecting arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ succeeds in capturing the wistful sentiment of the original song. Bassist Jasper Høiby and drummer Ben Reynolds (picture above has James Maddren) provide excellent support, navigating the gear-shifts of tempo and metre on pieces such as ‘Six Degrees’ with considerable flair.

Occasionally, it would be good to hear the frontline pair stretching out and taking a few more risks. This could help differentiate Compassionate Dictatorship from the sizeable crop of Brit Jazz acts which plays this type of music very well. Nevertheless, they are a group who I am sure would be worth catching live.

Sadly, a national tour has just finished but you can catch Tori Freestone this Saturday (June 19th), when she will be appearing with Rory Simmons' Fringe Magnetic at the Vortex in a double bill with Henry Lowther's Still Waters. This is part of British Jazz Generations, segue-ing into the jam with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra members and Tomorrow's Warriors players.

Tori Freestone is appearing with her trio - Tim Giles on drums and Dave Mannington on bass at the Plough in Wood Street, Walthamstow (an E17jazz gig) on Thursday 24th June. Jez Franks will be at the same venue with Nick Smalley on drums and Julie Walkington, bass on Thurs 8th July.