Happy Birthday to the Late Late Show at Ronnie's

Fran Hardcastle celebrates the first year of the Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott's

Tomorrow, Tuesday night is the first birthday of what has fast become an institution for us night owls, The Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott's. Apart from being a magnet for musicians finishing gigs, the Late Show has become a place where a lot of young jazzers can get their first break. The Show places musicians of all generations on one plateau. Stan Sulzmann or Jim Mullen can be seen alongside names like Jim Hart, Lewis Wright and Henry Armburg Jennings.

Host Michael Mwenso provides opportunities for young musicians from the jazz courses to be heard. I was recently wowed by two singers from the RAM, Emma Smith and Kwabena Adjepong. Students from the music colleges and from other London universities like UCL and Kings College also come to hang out and learn about the music. I've rarely heard Mwenso announce a tune without providing some interesting titbit about the composer.

If you're lucky (which happens quite frequently), the big names in town will drop by and sit in. In the past year alone, Wynton Marsalis,(above) Robert Glasper, Christian Scott, Ethan Iverson from the Bad Plus, Adam Nussbaum, Jason Rebello and Freddy Cole have all sat in. Joss Stone has also made an appearance. One night, the entire personnel of Michael Buble's Big Band dropped by. Quite regularly, you'll hear a treat from British favourites like Ian Shaw, Cleveland Watkiss or Gwilym Simcock.

Mike Mwenso told LondonJazz: Wynton Marsalis spoke of its rarity saying, "we haven't had anything like this in New York for over twenty years". Jason Rebello sat in recently and commented, "it's just like the old days, but better. People are listening to the music."

So thank you to all of the fantastic musicians who have appeared in the Late Late Show over the past year and kept the party going. Happy Birthday.

The Late Late Show, 11pm - 3am, Mondays to Thursdays, Ronnie Scotts.


Review: Zena James

Zena James, Album Launch, Captivated
(Pizza Express Dean Street, January 23rd 2011, Review by Brian Blain)

Zena James launched her new album, Captivated, at the Pizza Express in Dean St last Sunday, and the whistles and whoops from a good Sunday night crowd proved that she is steadily acqiring a fair number of fans for her brave leap into the soul-laden subtle groove end of the jazz spectrum. On stage she projects a warm,engaging personality,and an infectious sense of enjoyment in the work of her fellow musicians that is really captivating, showing no fear when she attacks an exposed high note in an arrangement in contrast to the mellow quality of her vocal sound in the lower range of her expressive voice. No histrionics, just heartfelt emotion. Her choice of material was almost impeccable ,with Joe Sherman's That Sunday, That Summer and Stevie Wonder's I Can Only Be Me two of the most touching things that I have heard in months. Her treatment of Human Nature, fast becoming a crossover favourite was just gorgeous,and only the backbeat treatment of Gypsy In My Soul, usually a natural swinger, didn't work for me, sounding a tad slow and 'down' but not in the good way that jazz is supposed to make it.

Her band was brilliant, never over playing or forgetting who the audience had come to see. A new face on piano and keys, Mike Guy, Mike Bradley on drums (both members of the Thriller band) and electric bass virtuoso Pat Bettison, not too long back from a few years in New York,really understand how the understated groove thing works while Simon Allen on all three of the main saxophones threw grenades into the room every time he stepped up to the solo mic. It was obvious that Zena was loving every minute of their work,and it was that shared sense of enjoyment that,as much as anything ,that came off the band stand to the listeners to put smiles on their faces all round the room.

Nice too to see the presence of fellow vocal artists like Trudy Kerr, Shireen Francis, Sarah Ellen Hughes, Josh Kyleand Emma Smith, members of the toughest part of the whole jazz scene. Zena has been getting a good radio response to the new album and on this showing, thoroughly deserves it.

Captivated is available from Zena James' website


Review: Evan Parker/ Django Bates

Django Bates Beloved Bird Trio and Evan Parker
(Vortex, January 27th,2011, review and drawing by Geoff Winston.)

“There’s been a misunderstanding" said Django Bates – we thought we were guests of Evan, and he thought he was a guest of us … and we’re still trying to work it out!” Bates explained the evening's conundrum to the audience as his ‘Beloved Bird’ TrioPetter Endh (bass) and Peter Bruun (drums) completed the first of the evening’s fizzingly empowered improvisations with Evan Parker.

The opening number had offered a series of false ‘natural endings’ followed by manically energetic resumptions, then moving through a few bars of gospel call and response, and rounding off delicately. Taken as a whole, the first set was a performance of swerving pace and sheer concentration, but also of shades and nuances. The four musicians would raise the stakes aggressively, and then let sounds fleetingly and gently float. It was mesmerizing.

The second set kicked off with ‘Plan B’, which Django imagined is what the punters (all very happy and demonstratively enthusiastic throughout) may have been expecting – the Trio performing their interpretations of Charlie Parker, a project which was a happy by-product of a teaching assignment at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen coinciding with a Parker celebration in the same city.

For ‘Scrapple from the Apple’, ‘Hothouse’ and – as Django put it, “the hard one” - ‘Moose the Mooch’, which ended on a crazy latin carnival tone – a sort of Monty Alexander on speed, Evan Parker sat to the side and took it all in, reflecting Django’s stated aim of ‘not putting a … saxophonist in the position of having either not sound like Charlie Parker, or to try to sound like him!"* They just flipped in to this quite different jazz vocabulary, offering pure and authentic bebop mainstream phrasing as part of their revealing deconstructions.

Evan then rejoined the Trio for a final extended extemporization - which included Django on tenor horn, splitting the quartet into brass - and rhythm sections, and a meditative encore. A wonderful range of body language reflected their individual approaches. Django’s arms traced Escher-like perpetual motorway flyover patterns as he reached back and forth, over and under across the keyboard. Bruun was ever fluid, in constant motion as he subverted the drummer’s role, lifting the cymbal off its stand and placing it on the tom, or holding the stick plumb-vertical on the tom, while maintaining a calm demeanour. Endh, by contrast, was inwardly focused, his face taut in his solo as he compulsively exorcised an obsessive rhythmic pattern, with deft accents from Bruun. Parker, for his considerably expressive light and shade, and fluent bluff and bluster, was very much a physically self-contained and undemonstrative figure, yet he reached out to and led the trio into a rich framework, in similar fashion to the way Django set markers for the Bad Plus in his collaboration with them last November.

This was an evening when mutual respect led to fine moments of intangible, unspoken, mystic communication.

(*) From Django Bates' interview with Ethan Iverson for BBC Jazzon3 reproduced HERE


Preview: Matt Skelton & Colin Skinner All Stars featuring Anthony Kerr

The Matt Skelton & Colin Skinner All Stars featuring Anthony Kerr.
(Ronnie Scotts, Sunday 31st January, 7.30pm. Preview by Fran Hardcastle. Photo of Matt Skelton by David Sinclair)

Sunday will see a rare London performance from a big band much lauded by fellow musicians. Drummer Matt Skelton of the John Wilson Orchestra, and Back to Basie Orchestra teams up with colleague and Syd Lawrence Orchestra lead alto, Colin Skinner, to create a big band modeled on vibe player Terry Gibbs’ Dream Band.

Skelton and Skinner have hand picked some of the most in demand big band players in the country. Mike Lovatt leads the trumpets, with Gordon Cambell and Andy Wood in the trombone section and Skinner leading the saxes alongside Mark Crooks. Amongst them, they’ve performed with every leading big band on the British Isles.

British Jazz Award winning, popular vibes player Anthony Kerr, known for notable appearances with the BBC Big Band, joins in Gibbs’ chair .

Expect slick, effortless ensemble work. Interpretations of much loved Gibbs charts that will invigorate your Sunday big band ears. Plus soloists more effervescent than alka seltzer.


CD Review: Led Bib "Bring Your Own"

CD Review: Led Bib -Bring Your Own
(Cuneiform 314
- Review by Chris Parker)

'A resounding crash of squealing saxophones, clanking Fender Rhodes and pounding drums followed by a funky riff .....sour horn theme statements ushering in driving riffs that suddenly give way to sprawling, clattering free-for-alls; rubato introductions slowly coalescing into bustling, hard-swinging pieces spearheaded by barbed-wire-abrasive saxophone solos,howling electric piano and tumbling drums...' This description of Led Bib's first album, Arboretum(Slam), needs little alteration, five years later, to sum up their approach on Bring Your Own: their vibrant, full-on, high-energy sound, incorporating everything from free jazz to prog rock and many bases between, has perhaps been tweaked a little to allow the music to 'breathe' more (leader/drummer Mark Holub confirms this himself: 'While the sound is at times very dense, the music always has enough space to flip into a new direction').

Overall, however, the formula that has attracted a growing fan base to their tumultuous live act and culminated in their appearance in the 2009 Mercury Prize shortlist remains largely unchanged. There is still an appealingly homespun, rough-and-tumble jamming quality to their music, whether it's written by Holub, keyboardist Toby McLaren or alto player Chris
, though there is perhaps a little more light and shade (Liran Donin switching between electric and acoustic bass, Williams and fellow altoist Pete Grogan alternately brawling and crooning, as required) and a touch more circumspection about their music these days (Holub: 'The tracks are concise without sacrificing the integrity of the improvising'). The conclusion of the aforementioned Arboretum review, however, still applies: 'their viscerally powerful music should appeal to a wide constituency: fans of hard-edged, punky rock, free-jazz listeners, funk aficionados'.

"Bring Your Own" will be launched on 28th February at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre


Peter Erskine Drum Masterclass 22 Feb. WHERE?!

Something surreal about this. Where in London would you expect to find a masterclass by Peter Erskine?

Of all places, it's at the Royal Opera House, upstairs in the Clore Gallery. 7 30pm on February 22nd. Admission is ten pounds, a fiver for students. Running time one hour 15 minutes, I read - Booking online HERE . The blurb says:

"Join him for this intimate evening where he demonstrates the challenges of drumming and jams live with other musicians."

Erskine is over here for the six performances of Mark-Anthony Turnage's new opera.


Preview: Eduardo (and Salvador) Niebla

Eduardo Niebla
(Queen Elizabeth Hall Saturday 29th January 7.30pm, Preview by Rod Fogg)

In March 2010 Eduardo Niebla cast a spell over the QEH audience in an engrossing concert with just two guitars and tabla. This Saturday he returns to the hall with an augmented band to launch his new CD “My Gypsy Waltz".

He’ll be joined by, among others, brother Salvador Niebla (above) on drums/percussion, Jyotsna Srikanth on Indian Violin, Dharmesh Parmar on Tabla plus guitars, double bass, ‘cello and, intriguingly, Queen Mary’s School and Lady Margaret School choirs.

Expect exploration of the ground between flamenco, jazz and world music of the Indian kind. Also expect to emerge deeply moved and enriched from the music of this soulful virtuoso.


CD Review: Trichotomy

CD Review: Trichotomy
(The Gentle War - naimcd156
- Review by Chris Parker)

Australian trio Trichotomy's live performances skilfully blend hushed minimalism with vigorous, muscular jazz and this, their second album for Naim, is appropriately named, the title neatly summing up their overall approach. Thunderous (yet carefully controlled) power is tellingly juxtaposed with tender, musing delicacy, not only in the multi-hued title-track, but also in pianist Sean Foran's 'Blues for the Space', written for a performance in a Leeds church when he was a music student in the city a couple of years ago.

Although Foran wrote six of the album's eight tracks (drummer John Parker supplies the other two), The Gentle War is very much a trio effort, Parker, Foran and bassist Pat Marchisella striking sparks off each other in both the overtly punchy selections ('Shut Up', a swipe at the banality of reality TV) and the more circumspect material ('Cute', an affecting reflection on parenthood).

Dynamic control and textural subtlety may be the trio's most obvious strengths, but the jazz-piano trio's other core values, lyricism, tunefulness and rhythmic vitality, are by no means neglected on this fine follow-up to 2009's excellent Variations.

Trichotomy will be at the Vortex on Wednesday 16th Feb, and touring


Fofoulah - Senegal in Dalston

I like the sound of drummer Dave Smith 's new project Fofoulah, appearing this Sunday afternoon 30th at the Vortex (from 3pm). Dave Smith has worked intensively with the Wolof drummers of Gambia, has completely absorbed their ways of working, and the role music plays in their society in a way few others have been bothered to. Incidentally it was Steve Reich's attempts to learn African drumming, I once heard him say, which made him aware of his rhythmic shortcomings as a drummer, whaich had been his first choice musical career.

In this project, Dave Smith has Biram Seck (video above- quite a voice! ) a charismatic vocalist from the country which completely surrounds Gambia, Senegal. I imagine this will be raw/intense rather than the easy listening Bristol gig on the video.

Co-conspirators are Tom Challenger (sax), Johnny Brierley (bass) and Kaw Secka (Sabar), and guitarist Phil Stevenson.


This week's Prize Draw: Sue Richardson's Fanfare

This week's prize draw CD - for weekly newsletter subscribers who put their names ito the hat - is the new album from vocalist/ trumpeter Sue Richardson. ,It's her third album, and the tenth release on enterprising West Sussex label Splashpoint Records. The title track must be some kind of record (pun intended.) Fanfare, just one track, consists of a medley of no fewer than twenty-three tunes.

Sue Richardson will be at the Royal Albert Hall's Elgar Room on Febrary 3rd, and at Pizza Expresss Dean Street with Robert Fowler and Alan Barnes on February 7th.



Review: Jim Snidero

Jim Snidero and the Barry Green Trio
(Spice of Life, January 20th 2011, review by Frank Griffith)

The Spice of Life, a below-stairs venue in the heart of Soho has recently celebrated over ten years of three-times-a-week jazz programming. Last Thursday, the subtle but scintillating alto sax of New Yorker Jim Snidero was in full flourish. Boasting stints with jazz legends including Toshiko Akiyoshi and Jack McDuff, Jim has been touring internationally as a solo act for a good while, but, strangely, had never played in London before this visit.

Snidero was backed by an ever-able UK trio, and the two sets consisted largely of the leader's originals. "One by One" (not to be confused with Wayne Shorter's tune of the same title recorded by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers) caught the ear in particular with its slowish sauntering, minorish walk that had a distinctively Jewish- folklike theme and mood. The measured waltz, "Tranquility" spun a similar effect on the listener with its melancholy, yet ultimately victorious and inspired message. To complete the first set, "Interface" prevailed with its upbeat straight quaver feel which thoroughly opened the playing field for improvisations by all hands.

Snidero's alto sound, while clear and lyrical is not overly bright or cutting. His lengthy phrases pour forth fluently. His deft technique coupled with his still composure, not moving a muscle, offer a refreshing tonic to the current myriad of saxophonists whose bowing and swaying run the risk of distracting the listener.

The profound and sophisticated piano offerings of Barry Green were complimented by the no-nonsense basswork of Jez Brown and the solid but fiery drumming of Matt Home. His unaccompanied solos were a delight as well engaging the listener with his dynamism and drama. The second set featured jazz classics like Charlie Parker's "Au Privave" and Monk's immortal "Round Midnight" which brought a rich trove of repertoire to a well-rounded close.
Special plaudits to very imaginative programmer at the Spice, Paul Pace (the hardest workin man in show business) for his indispensable role in bringing Jim Snidero here, and for maintaining the quality and integrity of this characterful and unique venue.

www.spicejazz.co.uk Listings


Preview: Neil Ardley Concert

Preview: Neil Ardley Concert at
(Guildhall School, Tuesday January 25th by John L. Walters)

Neil Ardley (1937-2004) brought an idiosyncratic compositional sensibility to the jazz orchestra, leaving a glittering legacy. He came to prominence as part of the fertile British jazz scene of the 1960s and early 70s, directing the New Jazz Orchestra (NJO) from 1964-69 and striking up strong working friendships with many of its best performers: Ian Carr, Jon Hiseman, Barbara Thompson, Norma Winstone, Dave Gelly and more.

Inspired by the examples of Duke Ellington and Gil Evans, Ardley sought to make music that combined the spontaneity of jazz improvisation with robust composition. He studied orchestration privately, which gave him some essential techniques, but as a composer he was largely self-taught – through long hours of study in the evenings and at weekends (while holding down a demanding day job as an editor for World Book Encyclopedia and Hamlyn), and on the NJO bandstand.

Jazz composition is frequently misunderstood and undervalued, even by those who love it. There are those who regard the solos as token blasts of virtuosity that decorate the gaps in the arrangements. And those who think of written charts as sliced bread for a ‘jazz sandwich’, whose value lies solely in its meaty improvised contents. But Ardley’s jazz scores were the real thing.

His NJO work was infused with a British, almost rural sensibility, spacious, tuneful and with a light touch, yet his ensemble writing could move from delicately textured voicings to a screaming wall of sound within a few beats. He rarely wrote conventional big band music or stayed within jazz conventions, yet he knew from Ellington that you had to know how a musician played poker (metaphorically, anyway) before you could write music for them: he always composed with friends in mind. He loved the way that strong personalities – Don Rendell, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Tony Coe – plunged deep into his charts, and many musicians have relished the way that Ardley’s long melodies and elegant backing figures wrap themselves around their contributions.

There are many good recordings of Ardley’s music worth tracking down (including Kaleidoscope of Rainbows, the Greek Variations and ‘Shades of Blue’ on the Rendell-Carr album of that name), but this is music that demands to be heard live. The music deserves new friends (and Ardley had a talent for friendship).

On Tuesday (25 Jan) in the Concert Hall at the Guildhall, a young, 20-piece band under Scott Stroman ’s direction will play five NJO scores composed or arranged by Neil, including an interpretation of Miles Davis’s Nardis, his celebrated ‘Le Déjeuner Sur l’Herbe’ (included in Gilles Peterson’s Impressed 2 compilation) and ‘Shades of Blue’.

The programme also includes music by Pete Hurt, Rufus Reid, Tony Haynes and Stroman, plus Ardley’s arrangements of Django (John Lewis) and Mike Taylor’s Half Blue / Pendulum.

Ardley’s scores, along with those of the NJO, are now in the safe keeping of the Guildhall School; Stroman aims to perform more of the NJO’s repertoire in the future, and eventually raise money to preserve this valuable legacy by entering the music into computer notation software.

Photos: (1) Neil Ardley at UK Electronica 1991. (photo credit: Peter Walker). (2) Neil Ardley and Ian Carr in 1997. (photo credit: Derek Drescher). (3) Neil Ardley at a recording session circa 1976.


Details of the 25th January concert at Guildhall

Guardian obituary of Neil Ardley by Walters,

On The Edge column about
Ardley’s final (2002) tour.

Mike Chadwick on the
New Jazz Orchestra’s live Camden ’70 CD.


Happy 75th Bobby Wellins

Tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins is 75 today. He'll be up in London tomorrow Tuesday for Magdalena Reising's Burns Night at Pizza Express; and again on Wednesday as Kate Williams' guest at the Orange Tree in Richmond.

Bobby has that unforgettable, inimitable sound. A sound which can stop you in your tracks, and which has engraved itself for ever into so many minds. One man told me it had saved his life. A woman that it was hearing Bobby which lit the original spark and got her interested in jazz. One pianist told me that one of Bobby's solos had been so perfect as a narrative it had been a moment of transcendance, of magic.

Best wishes and enjoy the day Isobel and Bobby!


Review: Get the Blessing/ Beats 'n' Pieces Big Band

Review: Get the Blessing and Beats & Pieces.
(Ronnie Scotts, January 19th 2011, review by Fran Hardcastle)

An double bill of genre-smashing music brought in a young, energetic crowd to Ronnie's on Wednesday night.

The powerful rock-heavy band Get The Blessing got the evening off to a storming start. Former Portishead bass guitarist Jim Barr sets up prog rock bass lines underpinning some hard blowing from Jake McMurchie on saxophone and some sleek trumpet playing from Pete Judge.

The composition style is fresh and very distinctive. Several of the charts seem to fluctuate between aggressive, punky funk and languid St Germain rhythms underpinning seemless lyrical horn lines. A new tune gave us an interesting start from Clive Deamer on drums, swapping sticks for maracas. The two horn players use of the loop pedal to create siren like effects over the top created a wall of electronic sound. This is music for anyone and everyone. Barr, a man with an anti-establishment offbeat charm frequently introduced the music as being for anyone ‘allergic to jazz’. Following on from the Led Bib and Polar Bear school, it’s music that is hard to categorise and all the better for it.

Manchester big band, Beats and Pieces, making their Ronnie Scott's debut, continued an evening of originality with a riotous start, with a eyebrow raisingly good solo from keys player, Patrick Hurley. Ben Cottrell’s arrangements are infused with electronic effects. The sound is edgy and appealing. The inspiration of the Matthew Herbert Big Band and Orchestre National de Jazz was quite clear to see. The original composition from tenor player Ben Watts gave us a glimpse of a talented young sax section. A combative solo in the Trio VD ilk from soprano player Sam Healey was followed by smooth organic ripplings from Watts.

The vocal chart Broken featured the pre-recorded beautiful voice of Esther Swift to an ethereal ballad. The invisible voice added to the atmosphere of the music, but it was a disappointment to hear her disembodied voice rather than singing live. Presumably it was a cost factor, big bands being unfeasibly expensive to tour. Which is a shame, because bands like this deserve to get out there and be heard.

Another vocalist appearing virtually was Thom Yorke of Radiohead, his vocals delivered by laptop in luscious arrangements of that band's songs which used a rich harmonic palette.

‘I keep him in there for special occasions,’ joked Ben Cottrell. Special occasions like this should happen more often.

Get the Blessing are on tour extensively in France in February and in Germany/Austria in March. DETAILS HERE

Beats n Pieces website has Clive Davis' Times review of the gig..

Bests n Pieces are also finalists for the European Jazz Prize Burghausen 2011


CD review: Partikel

CD Review
(Partikel (F-ire). Review by Chris Parker)

Partikel is a London-based trio led by composer/saxophonist Duncan Eagles (who wrote all the material on this, the band's eponymous debut album) and completed by bassist Max Luthert and drummer Eric Ford. The trio have developed their approach by hosting Monday-night jam sessions at Streatham's Hideaway, and their overall sound is, consequently, characterised by a rumbustious, imaginative energy; underneath the surface, though, there is a considered creativity that both draws on jazz's legacy (Sonny Rollins is an immediately discernible influence, but Coleman Hawkins, Coltrane and Charlie Parker are also cited as souces of inspiration by Eagles) and enables the trio to mix a wide variety of contemporary styles, from hip-hop to latin and African music, into their arresting yet thoughtful playing.

Eagles's compositions, in his words, 'incorporate simple and lyrical melodies with more complex and sophisticated rhythmic form'; as a result, the album's nine tracks (bookended by short 'Intro' and 'Outro' snippets) are able to draw listeners in to adventurous, hard-driving improvisations with a minimum of fuss, so that Eagles's control and brio, Luthert's bristling propulsiveness and Ford's crackling energy are immediately appreciable throughout an absorbing and skilfully varied programme. A highly auspicious debut from a freewheeling, fiercely interactive band.


Partikel's next London gigs are at the Vortex on Tuesday February 1st and at Charlie Wrights on Thursday February 17th


Review: Peter Brötzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm

Peter Brötzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm
(Café Oto, Monday, 17 January 2011. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston.)

This duo's recital at Cafe Oto was a tour de force. Peter Brötzmann is nothing if not an impassioned musician, calling to mind Martin Luther King's words*, "... the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument."

Admirably complemented by Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electronics, they made an unequivocal case for the music in the raw, unpeeling its layers, creating unimpeded connections with each other and with the room. Brötzmann's armoury is carefully chosen and well tended - opening on his exquisite copper-red tenor, he switched to a long, tense spell on tarogato in the first set, before adopting the elegant bass clarinet in the second session.

There was a natural blend in the fast flowing torrent of ideas - an initial jolting burst of energy dropped down to allow a quiet introspective interlude. Lonberg-Holm would track back to his classical roots before veering off in a more disquieting direction, bringing in electronic lionesque growls to match Brötzmann's guttural strains. When they drew the first set to a close it was skilfully administered, as though they were letting the air out of the balloon - a deflation, and a soft landing.

Brötzmann bristled with Bechet-like intensity. His energy, power and vocabulary are compelling. He'd pull out cyclical rhythmic patterns which were stretched to the extreme. Lonberg-Holm would pick these up in a kind of musical chase and bat them back with rock and classical inflections - one moment a subtle foil, the next the untrammelled explorer; he took up a blunt knife blade to grate out deep, scraping sounds, and used the bow behind the strings to tap the body of the cello, juggling with what looked like a giant clothes peg inserted variously between the strings. Light echoes and sonar electronics were interspersed with sudden punched blasts and piercing high notes from Brötzmann, and by the final number they had filled in all the spaces in their dense mesh of sound. No coasting, this was a statement of presence. As King said in the same speech:

"Jazz speaks for life."*

*Martin Luther King’s opening speech at the Berlin Jazz Festival, 1964,'Humanity and the importance of jazz'.


The History of Jazz costs £5.99



Review: Anti-House (Laubrock/ Halvorson/ Hébert/ Rainey/ Noble)

Ingrid Laubrock's Anti-House
(Vortex, Tuesday 18th January, 2011, review by Geoff Winston,
photo credit: Lena Adesheva)

Ingrid Laubrock has regularly appeared at the Vortex for almost 20 years, so, as an adoptive New Yorker (since 2008), she announced that it is "especially good to bring my new life over." And she couldn't have brought more congenial company for the current tour of the UK, Austria and Holland than guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tom Rainey and bassist Jon Hébert.

Each of her pieces for this group encompassed tense yet fluid patterns - and avoided any complacent stasis. As a friend noted, it was "free-sounding, but not free." At the end of each piece, the band would re-order their long sheets of Laubrock's notation, while the composer herself would let her own lengthy score cascade from her music stand to the floor. Laubrock's compositions work their way through many themes, at times recalling Jean Françaix's finely structured, yet quirkily idosyncratic pieces for sax from the 1920s. These are demanding works with which this well-attuned group, with its light and sensitive touch, were completely comfortable, giving each a platform for their own voices within complex overall schemata.

An initial guitar and bass duet set a quiet tone which was left behind with a fierce interjection from Rainey. Jon Hébert worked behind the scenes to maintain the rhythm and Tom Rainey used hands, mallets, and the kit's metal so that his percussive range added to Laubrock's confidently fluid and occasionally fiery passages. Mary Halvorson's nimble, single-note fretwork, oblique and spikey, and her almost inaudible strums alongside Rainey's melodic solo, briefly turned into grungy riffs or followed a funky episode; with Hébert's drawn-out threads and tumbling runs they confirmed a confident maturity which created a bed for Laubrock's beautifully bright and expressive tenor. Rainey's glockenspiel made bright pinpoints of sound in 'Tom Can't Sleep' (about his jetlag, said Laubrock!).

There was an arrested momentum, a pulling back, as they led in to 'Anti-House', and the “sleep-inspired” 'Snooze' was structured on deliberate pauses throughout, as though waiting for the notes to arrive.

Liam Noble, long-time Laubrock collaborator, joined the group for the last two numbers, flipped between the keyboard and the piano strings, and gave the quartet a fascinating fifth dimension towards the end of the evening.

A great atmosphere at the Vortex, again; truly enjoyable listening.

This gig was recorded for future broadcast by BBC Radio 3's Jazzon3

The CD Anti-House is on the Swiss label Intakt Records


Interview: Gwilym Simcock

In advance of the London launch of "Good Days at Schloss Elmau" (ACT Music) at the Forge Venue, Camden on February 1st)," Thomas Gray interviewed Gwilym Simcock. (Photo credit: Bremen 2008 by William Ellis )

“It’s the ultimate hard thing for a piano player to do. You’re completely naked and there’s no hiding place,” says Gwilym Simcock of playing solo. “It’s really full-on from start to finish and you have to throw yourself into it whole-heartedly to get through it. Sometimes at the end of it you feel like you’ve been in a fight!”

This being the case, it is a fight he is unquestionably up for. While even some of the true greats of jazz piano have shied away from solo gigs or recordings, Simcock has already released two sets of solo material, the most recent being ‘Good Days At Schloss Elmau’, which he launches with a gig at the Forge in Camden next month.

Going it alone has been an important way of reconciling Simcock’s earlier classical training with jazz, which he discovered later on in his formative years as a musician. “When I first came to London to study jazz at college, the thing I loved about it was the interaction and playing with other musicians, so I threw myself into playing with bands. After about four or five years, you realise that if you’re just playing with bands all the time, you end up playing in a certain way and your left hand just becomes very familiar with comping. I was brought up to use the whole piano playing interesting classical music and felt I had let myself go a bit and needed to get back into shape.”

‘Good Days’ is Simcock’s debut for ACT, which boasts some formidable pianists in its catalogue, including the late Esbjörn Svensson and Vijay Iyer. For Simcock, however, there is little doubt about who has set the highest standards in solo jazz piano. “It’s hard to argue that Keith Jarrett isn’t the best player of the piano there’s ever been in jazz. To do what he does night after night and weave a whole concert out of nothing is pretty phenomenal.”

“The problem is, people always make the comparison between my music and Jarrett’s—which is incredibly flattering because I wouldn’t feel like I am even in the same stratosphere as he is. At the end of the day it’s still a piano; it’s not like a saxophone where you can have your own sound as a starting point. If you’re both playing a nice Steinway D then you’re starting with the same building blocks.”

So how does Simcock manage to step outside of the colossal shadow of Jarrett? A deep understanding of several different genres helps. On the buoyant opening track ‘These are the Good Days’, Simcock coaxes complex polyrhythms from his instrument akin to a Weather Report track and even achieves appropriately synth-like timbres through his voicings. It is an astonishing feat for a solo pianist. After this impressive start, he summons an array of textures and colours, from poignant romanticism (‘Can We Still Be Friends’) through to a meditative, Gershwin-esque take on the blues superimposed with meandering lines reminiscent of Messiaen (‘Gripper’). Intriguingly, there are also forays into twelve-tone composition and free improvisation (‘Wake-up Call’).

But far from sounding like an iPod set to shuffle, the album holds together remarkably well. The most obvious thread linking it together is Simcock’s distinctive and sophisticated harmonic language, which is becoming an unmistakable hallmark of his playing. And while some of the compositions are ferociously technical, a strong melodic line is never too far away. “I want to make the piano sing and prick people’s emotions and make music which moves you and takes you on a journey,” says Simcock.

This is perhaps most apparent seeing him live. At a recent warm-up gig at the Bull’s Head in Barnes, he seemed to pour himself into his instrument, utterly absorbed in the moment as he embarked on some fascinating departures from the material on the album. It is a setting he clearly relishes. “Many different things make up your mind-set, and that translates into the musical decisions you make. For me, that element should be really exciting as opposed to when you go to see someone like Britney Spears and you know that every last second of it is choreographed and it’s exactly the same every single concert…and auto-tuned!”

On February 1st at the Forge, we can expect to see a pianist in great shape who is unquestionably up to the intense rigours of solo performance, but most importantly, who never forgets to tell a story with his music and engage the audience in it.

Bookings for Feb 1st at www.forgevenue.org / ACT Music website


Review: Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson
(Royal Festival Hall, January 18th 2011, Review by Rod Fogg, photo richardthompson-music.com )

This was the first of a two-nighter at London’s Royal Festival Hall, part of a UK tour extending on into February before heading off to Europe, the USA and eventually Japan. The tour is in support of the new album “Dream Attic”.

Thompson takes the stage as part of a five piece band; his sonic blue Strat is accompanied by Michael Jerome on drums and Teras Prodaniuk on bass; texture and contrast are supplied by Joel Zifkin on violin and mandolin and the multi-talented Pete Zorn on sax, guitar, mandolin and flute.

Full credit to the team at the RFH, the band sounded fantastic (believe me, that’s not always the case with electric music at this classical venue) and there was a cool light show running too.

At a time when most musicians’ careers have long since hit the buffers (he is in his early sixties) Thompson’s is, if anything, gathering pace. For many years the critical acclaim that he has enjoyed has not always resulted in public approval or large-scale record sales. Nowadays, however, given his self-deprecating humour and gentle wit he seems to be heading for the role of household name meets national treasure, a position confirmed by the recent bestowing of an O.B.E. - an award for “a significant non-military contribution to British Empire.”

Where he gets his energy from is anyone’s guess, but this is an inspiring group of musicians and given the packed house and the obvious fondness of the audience he doesn’t hold back. We are treated to two full sets - the first of tracks from the new album, the second a kind of “greatest hits” which included a brief acoustic interlude.

Thompson’s recording career dates back to the late 60s with folk rock band Fairport Convention. Since 1983 he has effectively been a solo artist recording a wide range of albums with various selected backing bands, while also participating in other projects with other musicians. Over the years he has soaked up many influences and journeyed far from his folk roots; much of his excellent and inspired guitar soloing - including some climactic extended solos - owes its flavour to American country guitar. “Tear Stained Letter” is cajun-inspired, while tracks on the current album such as “Bad again” mix country with Chicago boogie.

His influences range wide but somehow it all comes out as Richard Thompson’s music. However much Americana may be on the surface there’s something British about his song writing that sets him apart. One part of this is his traditional British folk influence - there’s a freedom in the cadence and rhythm of his lyric writing that is purely British. Another part of the equation is the quality of the songs - some have great hooks, some have singalong choruses; others are quiet, deeply felt and moving or inspiring. His ability to keep moving forward in his career is key to his success - aspiring singer/songwriters take note if you too want a long career.

I confess to being a Richard Thompson newbie. After last night, I understand what all the fuss is about.

Tour Details from richardthompson-music.com


Nominations now open for 2011 Parliamentary Awards

PPL and Jazz Services are jointly announcing that public nominations are now open for the 2011 Parliamentary Jazz Awards and will close on March 1st. These are the seventh awards and there are nine categories to vote for.

The online nomination form is here

(Photo of 2010 Winners: Hayley Madden/ PPL)


Review: Phil Robson's IMS Quintet

Phil Robson's IMS Quintet
(Stables, Wavendon, January 18th 2011)

How easily we take some things for granted. Improvising musicians of the quality of Phil Robson's IMS Quintet will invariably give the listener the chance to be present at the very moment of creation. But to attend the first performances of new compositions by this newly-formed band felt like a special privilege.

The event took place, in low-key fashion, in the small second hall of The Stables in Wavendon last night, but the ripples about this project are bound to spread. There are several more performances - including next Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th at the Vortex. BBC's Jazzon3 - good call - will be recording the second night for later broadcast.

I take it as very good news indeeed that there will be a recording. Because Phil Robson's music, on a first hearing, always gives me that feeling I haven't yet heard right the way through it to the other side. Yes, there are moments of beauty, external allure, yes there is variety. But there is also a depth which brings one back wanting to revisit, to hear more and more. Robson as a player always leaves space for the others, and his compositions as improvising vehicles also give room for stories to be unfurled by soloists, for nice surprises to happen through interaction in the moment.

The compositions stretch from a floaty, dreamy ballad called "A Serenade" featuring the intertwined and exquisitely matched voices of Gareth Lockrane on bass flute and Mark Turner on tenor saxophone, to the ferociously polyrhythmic "The Immeasurable Code," - Lockrane on piccolo this time, Turner on soprano - which contains a message in Morse which Phil is not disclosing. The pieces veer from the busy multi-layered waltz "Fire and the Drum" to a lively Billy Strayhorn tribute entitled "The Instant Message." Challenging, fascinating stuff.

Further contrast in each set came from compositions from Gareth Lockrane ("Dark Swinger") and Mark Turner (new/untitled). Lockrane's piece was an uptempo burner, in which one moment stays in my mind. The first soloist was Mark Turner, who started sotto voce and detached, but proceeded to fly, his fascinating lines untrammelled by any technical restrictions. Lockrane looked on, and smiled. The price of the ticket is worth it just to hear Turner play. There cannot be a more completely equipped yet utterly musical saxophone player anywhere in the world.

But Turner also catches the ethos of this band. Maybe there will be more extroversion as the tour develops. What caught last night the ear was the unselfishness of the playing. Drummer Ernesto Simpson has worked with the likes of Arturo Sandoval and Dizzy Gillespie, and clearly has the ability to unleash a tsunami of sound. But last night he was fitting under Mike Janisch 's solos in a way which left that fine, expressive, and yet immaculate bassist all the freedom and space he needed.

Another remarkable feature of the performance was the manner in which this band ends every piece. These five musicians bring astonishing mutual respect and responsibility. Can five members of a band really all simultaneously be first-take perfectionists and completer-finishers? They were last night.

The IMS Quintet is a catch-it-while you can situation. I can only describe this group as unmissable.

Remaining dates

19th Jan -Birmingham Conservatoire

20th Jan - Bristol - Future Inns

21st Jan-Fleece Jazz , Stoke by Nayland Club, Essex

22nd Jan -Millenium Hall Sheffield

23rd Jan -Derby Assembly Rooms

24 & 25th Jan -Vortex Jazz Club

26th Jan -The Hawth,Crawley, West Sussex


Britjazzweek in Germany

Impressive work promoting British jazz in Germany from Burkhard Hopper of Air Artist Agency.

*Britjazzweek is more like two weeks (March 14th to 26th) than a week.

*It has six bands touring: Get The Blessing, Kit Downes Trio, Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack, and bands led by Julian Siegel, Soweto Kinch and Arun Ghosh.

*It encompasses eleven venues in ten cities in Germany and Austria:

Berlin, A-Trane; Hamburg, Birdland;
Dortmund, Domicile; Köln Stadtgarten; München, Unterfahrt;
Karlsruhe, Tollhaus/ Kulturzentrum Tempel; Lüdinghausen, Burg Vischering; Frankfurt, Brotfabrik; Mannheim, Alte Feuerwache; Passau, Café Museum; Innsbruck, Treibhaus; Linz, Oxymoron ; Wien, Porgy & Bess

The full gig listing is HERE


2011 Dankworth Prize Winners

It is announced today that the two winners of the Dankworth Prize for Jazz Composition 2011 are:

Winner in the Big Band category:
Laura Jurd (Trinity College- above)for ‘La Danza A La Selva’.

Winner in the Small Band category:
Alex Roth (Royal Academy of Music) for 'November’s Song'.

The Dankworth Prize is organised by the Worshipful Company of Musicians, and Jazzorg (founder Art Mead) and is partly funded by the Wavendon Foundation. The judges were Tim Garland, Frank Griffith, and Nikki Iles.

The winning pieces will be played at Ronnie's as part of the Trinity Big Band night on 15th February, Dame Cleo Laine presiding.

Alex Roth is studying jazz guitar as a postgrad at the Royal Academy of Music with Phil Robson and John Parricelli. He co-directs Sefiroth, a group which re-interprets Sephardic music, and in Outrenoir, a flexible trio with (regular) Dave Morecroft of World Service Project, and - so far - 'cellist Ben Davis and trumpeter Alex Bonney.

Laura Jurd studies trumpet at Trinity Laban. She is from Hampshire, is a member of the trumpet section of NYJO, and recently took part in Peter Edwards' "Queens Suite" film project with Tomorrow's Warriors.

Photo credit: film still from The Queen's Suite, directed by Corine Dhondee


A Bristol "jazz and blues venue" ? ...

A mention today of changes afoot in the jazz scene in Bristol brought back fond memories of this pub sign for the Old Duke in King Street (photo Keith Ramsey). The story which has appeared is that Jools Holland and entrepreneur Stephen Thomas are looking for premises in which to launch a "Jam House" venue, following similar ventures in Birmingham and Edinburgh. The press material says it's going to be a "jazz and blues venue." Really? Here's the story


All Hail Oto Ale

You read it hear first. Next time you're in E8, try OTO ALE, as one of our writers did last night.
The beer - they tell me - is brewed specially for Cafe Oto by Evin at the Kernel Brewery, Druid Street, London Bridge. Dontcha love the design!

(UPDATE: I may regret posting this. I am told that users of over-zealous NetNanny software will now find the site blocked: "Content of the following type: alcohol")

Among big events coming up at Oto is the Dominic Lash "Leaving London" concert on Sunday Feb 27th, fundraising for Palestinian medical charities, and with a Who's Who of London's free improv scene.

Cafe OTO 18-22 Ashwin Street. London. E8 3DL.


First convince Gilles, Jamie and Jez....

BBC Introducing, a format developed in rock and pop to bring new bands to the airwaves - here's Melvin Benn of Festival Republic explaining how it works - is being tried in jazz in a collaboration between BBC Introducing and Jazzon3.

The BBC is inviting bands to upload demos, home-made recordings or CD tracks to the BBC Introducing website. I am told sternly-"You need to make sure you select Jazz on 3 as your national show choice in order to be considered for this opportunity."

The producers of Jazzon3 (Somethin' Else) will then construct a longlist which will be submitted to a panel of Gilles Peterson (Radio 1) Jamie Cullum (Radio 2) and Jez Nelson (Jazzon3)

FOUR bands will be chosen from this process to appear on a freestage at the Cheltenham Festival and be recorded, and the resulting recordings will be made available to all sorts of shows across other BBC networks.

Here's the Press Release, which also has contact details.


Zena James : Captivated- CD Launch and Prize Draw

Zena James will be launching her second CD Captivated at the Pizza Express Dean Street this Sunday. For LondonJazz newsletter readers, it's also this week's prize draw.

There have been four years between her first album "Tell Me More" and this one. Sound clips from both are HERE. There are clear differences. The voice was lighter in the earlier album, the whole approach more elusive and slightly kittenish. Zena now interprets the words far more directly and emotionally.

Simon Allen and Mike Bradley are on both albums. But the switch in piano player from Geoff Castle to Rob Taggart also means more emphasis, the digging and the grooving are decidedly deeper. I'm still listening to the CD and shall continue to do so- it's (highly enjoyable) work in progress.

Please sign up for the email list if you haven't already, so you can put your name in the hat for the CD, and come on down to see Zena at the Pizza on Sunday.



Nikki Iles and Frank Griffith at Peter de Wit's - a gig in eight photos

Nikki Iles and Frank Griffith
(Peter De Wit's Cafe, Greenwich, January 15th 2011.
Essay in eight photographs by
James Whitaker)





Congratulations to flautist/ bandleader/ composer Gareth Lockrane (above: photo credit Fatlipmac) on being appointed Head of Junior Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music.


Review: The Paris 1940s

The Paris 1940’s
(The Elgin, Ladbroke Grove. review by Dr Liz Scotney)

The Paris 1940s look just like another alternative-indie band, but looks are there to deceive. This Midlands-based five-piece unit completely reinvents well-known pop music fusing it with soul, jazz, swing, samba and even drum and bass. All five members of this very new band – they’ve been in existence for all of nine months – have been through music college jazz training.

This background means that they are a band of skillful musicians and talented arrangers. Their swingtime arrangement of Michael Jackson’s, The way you make me Feel, for example, blended ambitiously but seamlessly into the jazz standard Let there be Love. It was impressive, it worked well, and the audience loved it.

There were surprises right from the first number. Their jazz cover of Oasis’s Wonderwall was an eternity away from the original; it also gave the guitarist Joe Archer a chance to shine. Make luv (by Room 5 feat. Oliver Cheetham) was a soul/nu-jazz interpretation with high energy levels, with live looping of both saxophone and vocals, resulting in rich layering. Harry Lightfoot was brilliant at multitasking, swapping effortlessly back and forth from stonking saxophone solo to piano during the track.

The track American Boy (by American artist Kelis), enabled drummer Jim Bashford to have a moment of appreciation as did their cover of Calvin Harris' I’m not Alone, in which Bashford and bassist Martyn Spencer were right on the money with the drum and bass undertones.

Perhaps the highlight was the very clever megamix of Lady Gaga hits, rewarded with a lengthy ovation. Again making very clever use of live vocal looping, they layered two of her hits on top of each other at one point, which had quite a few heads shaking in disbelief.

The encore, No Diggity by Blackstreet, originally an rnb hip hop track. It was a brilliant end to the evening. They successfully got the audience acting as backing singers which enabled the very enthusiastic, engaging vocalist Thom Kirkpatrick to showcase and win the crowd over completely with his lyrical, soulful, scatting improvisational skills. The number then climaxed with at least five key changes.

The Paris 1940’s are at an early stage, but have the energy to bring a bigger venue - maybe a club like 93 feet East - to life. They only played one of their own compositions, Primrose Hill, a pop/jazz/rock influenced song with a driving catchy bass line. The track starts quite minimally, but then in the second half builds up (again making clever use of looping of vocals) to an emotive, polyphonic climax.

This gig was the perfect antidote to glum January. It will be very interesting to see what the band comes up with on an EP (two originals and two covers), scheduled for release in April.

myspace.com/theparis1940s or facebook.com/theparis1940s


Preview : Jim Snidero

Preview: Jim Snidero at Spice of Life, Thursday January 20th, by Fran Hardcastle.

Thursday night sees livewire US alto sax player, composer and respected jazz educator Jim Snidero at the Spice of Life for a rare UK solo appearance. Born in the San Francisco bay area in 1958, he now makes his home in New York.

Snidero's history as a sideman has seen him work with... the Mingus Big Band, Frank Sinatra and Eddie Palmieri.

As a bandleader he's employed.. Tom Harrell, Billy Hart, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Kirkland, Benny Green, Louis Hayes, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Peter Washington, Eric Alexander, Kevin Hayes, Tim Hagans, Dennis Irwin, Kenny Washington and Marvin “Smitty” Smith.

He has recorded over 15 albums as a leader and will be playing material from his upcoming release, Interface (Savant).

The really enjoyable early album, ‘Time Out’ is out there on Spotify. It's more-ish. That richly sonorous tone produces galvanizing solos, with generously joyful swinging melodies.

As an educator he's penned three “Jazz Conception” books (Advance Music). UK sax players can take advantage of his knowledge for free at a Rico Reeds sax clinic before the gig.

The intimate, relaxed atmosphere of the Spice of Life plus the support of Barry Green's Trio....come on down.


Easyjet makes flying with musical instruments..easier

Easyjet have just announced a musician-friendlier policy to make flying for musicians music less like an extreme sport.

Musical instruments up to 30 x 117 x 38cm in size, allowing them to comfortably fit within the overhead lockers, will be accepted for carriage in the cabin. Larger instruments such as cellos can also be accepted in the cabin by special arrangement.

The campaign to bring this about has been led by the Deborah Annetts of the Incorporated Society of Musicians.


Preview: John Irabagon with Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor

Saxophonist Jon Irabagon, winner of the Thelonious Monk Institute competition in 2008, writes for us about his forthcoming gigs at the Pizza Express in Dean Street.

The two nights at Pizza Express in London featuring Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor along with myself, Michael Janisch and Andrew Bain are set to be a true highlight of my career thus far. The music and improvising of both Kenny and John transcends any sort of nationalistic boundaries and have provided limitless inspiration to an entire generation of musicians here in the United States, myself included.

One part of this inspiration comes from the sheer range of music Kenny and John have been involved in. Kenny, for example, has traded solos with Joe Henderson on Inner Urge (one of his difficult post-bop tunes), improvised freely with Steve Lacy, musically sparred with Steve Coleman, has had a long and lasting musical relationship with Dave Holland, and led and wrote extraordinary music for big band, amongst many other things. In an age where, at least in the States, people are trying to specialize in just one way of playing, Kenny can and should be looked up to for embracing all facets of jazz and improvised music and finding his own unique voice within all styles, in both compositional and improvisatory ways.

The same can be said of John Taylor. His compositions are challenging and beautiful at the same time, as is his playing. His composition "Ambleside" is one of the most difficult songs I have ever gotten a chance to solo on, but the intrinsic logic and beauty found within both the melody and chord movements make figuring out what is going on in it such a rewarding process. Both JT and Kenny's compositions have affected how I write; the intricacies and small details, without relying on flashiness, are part of a higher level of thinking about melding melodies and harmonies in a jazz setting.

I have been looking forward to getting a chance to perform with these two masters of the music for several months now, and am excited to be presenting their music at the Pizza Express for two nights. This is the first time that Kenny and John have performed together in a small group (and in such an intimate venue) in the London area for nearly ten years, and I am humbled and honored to be a part of it. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th February, www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk

Jon Irabagon's fourth CD as Leader, Foxy, is on Hot Cup Records


Review: Vinicius Cantuaria, Bill Frisell and Marivaldo dos Santos

Vinicius Cantuaria, Bill Frisell and Marivaldo dos Santos
(Ronnie Scott's, January 12th 2011, second night of two)

This must go on record as one of the quietest gigs ever at Ronnie Scott's. To make the delicate interaction of Vinicius Cantuaria, Bill Frisell and Marivaldo dos Santos audible for the punters, the staff serving at tables had to produce impossible pianississimos with the plates and the forks.

New York-based Brazilian Cantuaria plays guitar, and sings in Portuguese and Spanish. His singing voice is light, ethereal, seductive, but he kicks the speech-rhythms of both languages deliciously into life. And his guitar playing is noteworthy for its sheer economy of expression and allusiveness. Cantuaria's way is to sketch the merest suggestion of a vestige or shadow of an accompanying figure, and then leave it hanging in the air. A strummed chord perhaps, or two or three notes in sequence giving the vaguest a hint of melody. And all of the rest is left to Bill Frisell.

With Cantuaria's understated, quiet gestures as base, Frisell has a whole range of choices. He keeps his gaze locked in on Cantuaria, sometimes responding in kind, alluding, hinting, leaving gaps. Or he starts to fill the space around Cantuaria, launching into anthemic bass lines, complex inner voicings, rising to complete orchestral Frisellishness, and giving it the full Rambler prog folk works, to surround his colleague's simple utterances with richness and colour.

Percussionist Marivaldo dos Santos also has a strong voice, always responding, always adding something interesting. He doesn't appear on the record "Lágrimas Mexicanas" (Naive) and the record is weaker for that. A highlight of the evening was Lágrimas de Amor, which allowed Dos Santos to let rip joyfully on congas, but also fitted in a wonderful exploration of the boundaries of silence. The recorded version - which I have admittedly only had a brief listen to - seems to pump out that tune at a disappointingly consistent level.

This was a remarkable show, it had the variety and humanity never to outstay its welcome.

Supporting were pianist Tim Lapthorn with the same trio which recorded the CD Seventh Sense (Basho) in 2007 - Arnie Somogyi and Stephen Keogh. This was a gentle unforced set. Lapthorn's quiet postlude to "Someone to Watch Over Me" was eloquent and delicate. And in the final number "I should Care," my ears were caught up in the sheer unselfishness and delicacy of Keogh's drumming, and the balanced and eloquent tone of Somogyi's bass playing.

LondonJazz was celebrating its first two years of existence last night. Quietly.



No You Girls - Paris 1940s

And why not? Ihe first time a song of Franz Ferdinand has featured on these pages. It's No You Girls by Paris 1940s, all of whom are alumni - I believe - of the jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire.

Thom Kirkpatrick - Vocals
Harry Lightfoot - Saxophone / Keyboards
Joe Archer - Guitar
Martyn Spencer - Double Bass
Jim Bashford - Drums

They are on at the Elgin Food Pub and Music House , 96 Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill this Saturday 15th. More clips on the band's Myspace.


Obeying Mozart is over, jazz is back

There was probably only one occasion in Mozart's life when he requested the level of subservience which BBC Radio 3 have shown him, by clearing their schedules for him in the past 12 days. It was in the vocal canon Leck mich im Arsch K.231. (Translation shouldn't be necessary, but is available on request)

Whatever. After two weeks' absence, Radio 3's Jazz Programmes will reappear in their regular slots this weekend

*Jazz Library on Saturday at 4 has a Listener Feedback Edition.

*Jazz Record Requests is on Saturday at 5

*On Sunday at 11 30pm Jazz Line-Up Kevin LeGendre presenting a concert set from Tom Cawley's Curios.

*On Monday at 11 15pm Jazz on 3 Jez Nelson presents The Bad Plus in collaboration with Django Bates from the London Jazz Festival reviewed HERE


Review: Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole, Mica Paris

Dionne Warwick, Natalie Cole (above), Mica Paris
(Concert in aid of World Hunger Day, Apollo Victoria SW1, January 9th 2011,review by Fran hardcastle. Photo credit: Ian Gavan at Getty Images)

Dionne Warwick had enlisted an impressive list of singers for the gala concert in aid of The Hunger Project at the Apollo Victoria.

Warwick opened the evening with a medley of her best known songs. With a warm and comforting persona and presence, and an energy belying her 70 years, she held the audience both relaxed and spellbound. Her voice has now grown from the notoriously silky smooth tones that made hits of Walk On By and I’ll Never Fall In Love Again. Her slightly smokier, salty sound enhances her ability to deliver a lyric with the experience of an artist who has lived through her songs.

A duet of I Say A Little Prayer introduced her son, singer-songwriter David Elliot (below). Elliot’s display of vocal dexterity was captivating.

For a charity that has a strong track record with empowering women in developing countries, the programming was very well pitched. Soul singer and ambassador for the Prince of Wales Trust, Mica Paris, arrived on stage looking dazzling in a glittering black number. She flexed her pop credentials with a rendition of her hit My One Temptation following with the suitably uplifting title track from latest album Born Again. Speaking to Mica after the show, she revealed to LondonJazz that she is soon to present a regular lifestyle show on Jazz FM. You heard it hear first.

After a programme of albeit some exceptionally good soul and pop, I welcomed the glimpses of jazz prior to what was for me the main event, Natalie Cole. Dancer Steven McRae’s tap to Sing! Sing! Sing! brought a chance to pay attention to Ms Warwick’s excellent musicians. Drummer Jeffrey Lewis was given the opportunity to pound the beat with a fat powerful sound. One of our own, Jumoke Fashola, delivered a warm version of God Bless the Child with some lovely bluesy solo moments from pianist Anthony Strong. The London Community Gospel Choir had Dionne Warwick and the entire bass section of the Southbank Sinfonia dancing away behind them with their performance of Love Train. Prompting Warwick, who started her career as a gospel singer, to thank them with ‘If you can’t feel gospel music, then you can’t feel’. Quite.

But the absolute highlight of the evening came with an all too brief appearance from Natalie Cole. She arrived to an ecstatic, welcoming audience, looking statuesquely stunning in her killer heels and slinky dress. Returning to the stage for a duet with Warwick of Isaac Hayes’ Déjà vu, we saw glimpses of her lovely subtle pop sound. Keyboard player Todd Hunter (thanks reader!) brought some delicate mellow moments to the chart.

And as for Natalie Cole's impeccable phrasing, charm and wit - all reminiscent of her father - in Better Than Anything, only one response will do: yes, it was.

Mica Paris will be at the Jazz Café Camden on 25 and 26 February.

The Hunger Project


Review: Mel Torme/ Marty Paich by the Frank Griffith Nonet

Iain Mackenzie and the Frank Griffith Nonet
(Pizza Express Dean Street, January 7th 2011, review by Jeanie Barton)

My New Year started with a strong urge for Mel Torme, which could only be satisfied in part by the gift of his “sings Fred Astaire” CD from my mother for Christmas, and an ensuing YouTube binge. How convenient then, that Fran Hardcastle's cocktail/preview bought to my attention that Frank Griffith and his nonet had chosen this very artist as the subject of their new show, collaborating with the very gifted and suave singer/improviser Iain Mackenzie! Lucky, lucky me. I squeezed into the back of a packed out Pizza Express Dean Street making sure I had just enough room to swoon to the crooning.

The band settled onto the stage and opened with Irving Berlin’s The Best Thing for You Is Me arranged by Robbie Robson who also played trumpet and flugel horn. An archetypal 1950s complex brass intro relaxed into medium swing; solos first by the trumpet and then Frank’s tenor sax cut through the thick of the tightly layered horns while the sound desk tinkered with the levels.

Their subsequent repertoire was predominantly compiled from tracks on the 1960 album Mel Torme Swings Shubert Alley, arranged by Marty Paich. A prolific pianist and arranger to pretty much all the greats, from Sarah Vaughan to Michael Jackson, Paich also found time to chart and play the score for Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.

Frank introduced Iain and gratefully passed over the microphone for him to do the talking, he set the audience at ease with a couple of one-liners. Too Close for Comfort was the first vocal vehicle to be given a spin; Alex Garnett exercised his alto into athletic phrases and Mark Hodgson on double bass laid down solid lines with all the gravity of a Mancini favourite. This was indeed cool stuff. Just in Time got the audience very excited and a couple of girls started to sing along, the ending also required Iain to conduct. I enjoyed Sitting and a Rocking, a lesser known Duke Ellington number again pitched at an easy swing; it inspired Frank to play a beautifully syncopated break into his solo featuring the Latin turnaround of Brazil – at this point I also got very excited! The men had their turn too as I counted five YEAH’s after the last beat of a punchy rendition of Old Devil Moon.

The nonet ensemble had transcribed this fine body of work between them - the smooth yet crunchy harmonies were apparently modelled on Miles Davis’ Nonet sound which was recorded in 1949/50 and released famously in 1957 as Birth of the Cool. Contributions by trombonist Adrian Fry included East of the Sun which they performed with a Latin hue, the ensemble also featured Jimmy Hastings on baritone saxophone and trumpeter Henry Lowther as well as Tim Lapthorn on piano and drummer Paul Clarvis who ably read all of the numbers.

It would be difficult to do a Mel Torme evening without incorporating perhaps his most famous composition and although the trimmings have only just come down, Iain found it fulfilling to be probably the first person in 2011 to perform The Christmas Song.

In his final number of the evening, Iain did show us a glimpse of his scat singing talents over the closing bars of On the Street Where You Live (the highly structured charts were deliberate recreations of a recording session that left little room for vocal improvisation) however, his bang on intonation, pitch and groove blended satisfyingly yet reservedly within the horns.

Although Mel was a multi instrumentalist (drums, ukulele, and piano) and perhaps the only scat singer to rival Ella Fitzgerald, sadly his recordings rarely capture the versatility he displayed in live performance. For this reason I will continue to revisit the online treasure trove of performance footage but I might well also add this stunning album to my collection – thank you Frank and Co. for introducing it to me.


Meeting about Norwegian jazz in Münster

(photo credit: Dick Makin)

The Norwegians are highly successful and pro-active in supporting and profile-building for Norwegian jazz. A plethora of publicly funded organizations get solidly behind the music. Maybe the weight of evidence will eventually overturn the late, great Mike Zwerin's assertion in his book "Close Enough for Jazz" that "governments don't swing." One day...

A seminar in advance of the Münster Jazz Festival, which I attended as a member of the German Radio Jazz Research Group, gave enlightenment as to how the phenomenon works.

It was slightly surreal to be discussing "Mountain Jazz" and "fjord jazz" in a landscape as flat as Münsterland, but they were topics which wouldn't go awayThat's because promotion doesn't happen without branding, and branding doesn't happen without some simplification and trivialization taking over. So if just about every review of Jan Garbarek's records describes his sound as being like "tundra-at-dawn," that's showbiz.....

If the clichés are an easy refuge, the Norwegians who spoke at the meeting, especially serious and thoughtful musicians in their early thirties such as bassist Per Zanussi and saxophonist Håkon Kornstad, were keen to stress the breadth and of their influences. Zanussi is of Italian origin. Kornstad, very much his own man, had found that the Trondheim Conservatoire, often held up as a model, was a place he needed to get away from. Wibutee a band in which Zanussi and Kornstad used to work together, certainly does draw on a wide palette of other music.

One Norwegian promoter at the meeting rebelled against the idea of Nordic jazz unavoidablyreflecting the slower pace of life, the darkness and the snow of the North, which Stuart Nicholson had contrasted with New York jazz, reflecting impatience. He had a point, but such images stay indelibly, and business being business, Kornstad's latest album doesn't exactly hide away a strong feeling for snow:

The new generation of Nordic musicians has moved a long way from notions such as what the Swedish composer Stenhammar called "Nordic chastity and formal simplicity" - and will certainly not be constrained by them. The interactions between British musicans and Norwegian musicians have never been healthier and stronger: John Surman, John Taylor, Iain Ballamy, Dave Morecroft are but a few of those who currently have projects running.

We expect to publish a write-up of the Münster Jazz Festival itself in the next few days. The Festival is held every two years. This year's had sixteen bands (no Brits), was recorded by WDR3, and had completely sold out within days of opening for booking.