Loop Festival (March 15th -19th) – Alcyona Mick Interview

Loop Festival (March 15th -19th) – Interview with Alcyona Mick. Photo credit: Chuck Ferullo

Pianist/Composer Alcyona Mick is one of the founder members of the Loop Collective. She talked to me about her gig in forthcoming third Loop Collective Festival at the Forge Venue, on Friday March 18th at 8pm, when she will be performing her score for Sunrise, the FW Murnau silent film.

LondonJazz : How did the idea to present your soundtrack for FW Murnau’s Sunrise at the Loop Festival come about?

Alcyona Mick: At the Loop Collective all of us are keen to make the concerts in festival something out of the ordinary, not just regular gigs. Robin Fincker said to me “Why don’t you do one of your films?” This score was commissioned by Seven Inch Cinema and was premiered at the Flatpack Film Festival in March 2010, at St Martins Church in the centre of Birmingham, in partnership with Birmingham Jazz.

I’ve known the Seven Inch people for years, and have often played to accompany silent films. This was a bigger project, not just to play but to score, and it was made possible by an Arts Council grant. The idea of a London premiere at the Loop Festival just seemed like the right one.
LJ: What’s the film Sunrise about?

AM: Murnau was a celebrated German expressionist director who was given bottomless budgets by the studios in Hollywood. It’s a story of betrayal and forgiveness. A peasant couple is befriended by a lady from the city who pretends to fall in love with the husband but her real interest is to sell the couple's house. The husband attempts to kill his wife but can't go through with it. It’s about a seventy minute film and was made in 1927.

LJ: What about the music?

AM: It’s for three musicians, Geoff Hannan on violin, Jon Wygens on guitar, and myself. We perform live. Jon has an effects pedal, otherwise there are absolutely no electronics, and we perform it live in front of the movie. The London performance will have the same line-up as Birmingham last year. It got some good coverage. The difficult bit to score was to keep the pace going in the long section when the couple are reunited and relive their romance. The whole film, and particularly that part, is at a very different pace from films nowadays.

LJ: And you’ve been working quite a lot in film recently?

AM: Yes, I’ve just completed a two year masters at the National Film andTelevision School in Beaconsfield. In fact I graduated last Friday. There are 80-100 students, but only three composers. Gareth Lockrane did it a couple of years ago.

LJ: What other projects are you doing currently?

AM: Through the course I’ve been on tour quite a lot with Natacha Atlas, I’ve worked with Rachel Musson’s band Skein, and my trio Blink (with Robin Fincker and Paul Clarvis) has a new album coming out later in the year on Babel.

LJ: What else is going on at the Loop Festival?

AM: There's a great variety of things on, the French bands, the Irish bands... it will be quite a festival! I haven’t had a major role in putting it together but I did have an involvement in getting Jeanne Added invited . I saw her in Paris and asked her to do the solo project which she'll be performing at the festival. She’s got a fantastic voice and she’s an incredibly unique singer and musician.

LJ: Thank you, Alcyona.


Alcyona Mick's new website contains two sequences from "Sunrise"

----Jeanne Added will perform at 9.30pm on the opening night, Wednesday March 16th. ----The last night of the Festival on Saturday 19th will be recorded by BBC Radio Jazz on 3. ----The Loop Collective Festival is supported by the French Music Bureau Export, Culture Ireland, the PRS Foundation and Arts Council England----


Preview: Food - Iain Ballamy and Tomas Strønen, March 28th

Preview: Food – Iain Ballamy / Thomas Strønen
(The Forge Camden, Monday 28th March 2011, Preview by Jack Davies)

Nestled in a quiet side street in Camden Town, The Forge is emerging as one of London’s finest jazz venues. The 28th March sees the peak of their programme of saxophone and drum duos (previous gigs including Andy Scott / Dave Hassell and Joe Wright / James Maddren), with Food making a rare London appearance.

Food represents the finest collaboration between British and Norwegian musicians: Iain Ballamy’s lyrical playfulness is offset by drummer Tomas Strønen’s immediately identifiable spacious, textural sound. With their latest record Quiet Inlet being released on ECM, and having worked with some of Europe’s finest musicians (including Arve Henriksen and Nils Petter Molvaer), Food produce some of Europe’s greatest and most accessible improvised music.

The duo will be joined by current and former students of Iain’s from the Royal Academy of Music.

Jack Davies writes a great blog which also gives details of the regular Sunday night gig he promotes at the Moth London Tavern

Quiet Inlet by Food is on ECM


Review: Kristjan Randalu

Kristian Randalu
(kings Place Hall Two, February 26th 2011, part of Eesti Fest)

Pianist-composer Kristjan Randalu, born in 1978, is an Estonian. But like the internationally-minded, strategically-placed small country he comes from, his life and his musical career from its earliest days have been outward-looking rather than national..

Both his parents are classical pianists, who emigrated. He studied as a youngster in three cities in Germany, and then in London and New York He has the accolade of having been invited twice to study at the elite Mancini Institute in California. He has been a finalist in the Monk Competition - where he came to the attention of Herbie Hancock who described his piano playing as “dazzling” - and was a prize-winner in Montreux.

On Saturday he performed a solo piano concert on the final night of Eesti Fest, a celebration of Estonian culture at Kings Place curated by Fiona Talkington. He told the sizeable audience in Kings Place Hall Two that he had last played a solo concert in London nine years ago when he was studying briefly at the Royal Academy of Music.

The first piece, Confidants, written at that time, showed some hallmarks of his style when playing solo. He thinks intensely, in long paragraphs, draws the listener into his narratives. His playing has melodic arcs, but there are often rebellious inner voices which develop a life, a repeat loop of their own. Once established, the repetition and accumulation of these ideas is what gives forward motion, and provides the material he works with, and against.

He seems to think polytonally. I was left to wonder if Russian composers like Prokoviev and the composer/pedagogue Kabalevsky aren’t somewhere deep in his musical consciousness. Randalu’s childrens’ songs are not gentle, they have that similar polytonal bite.

When he took a sweetly nostalgic melody, The Homeland Song, by that towering father-figure to current Estonian composers Heino Eller (1887-1970), Arvo Part’s teacher, it was the asymmetries that he brought to the surface. He would leave a world which was uncannily reminiscent of Finzi or Ireland behind, and get into a wilder outdoors with Mussorgsky. His right hand would suddenly skitter off, in the manner of the butterflies in Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, but finding some nicely jarring colour-clashes.

Randalu often adopts the static head horizontal posture at the piano characteristic of Bill Evans. His eyes look down fixedly at his hands - perhaps he likes to keep a watchful eye on that cat's cradle of anarchic inner voices.

Randalu doesn’t either gift-wrap or deliberately state his endings. Having – very convincingly – drawn the listener in to his narrative, his way is often to leave the last idea hanging in the air, like a question, a trait particularly noticeable in “Regnana.”

The solo piano recital is an ultra-demanding format where there is no hiding-place. Randalu may not have either the showmanship or the flamboyant insouciance of the Finn Iiro Rantala, he may not have as many gears either pianistically and emotionally as Gwilym Simcock, but he constructed an interesting and varied programme which held the audience's attention throughout, and thoroughly deserved the sincere applause it received.

But what I found most fascinating was that Randalu’s personality and his heritage mean that his music and its inspiration do come from somewhere else. There is clearly a steadily growing and individual voice here. I’d be fascinated to hear him next in a context requiring interaction with other musicians, and see the sparks really fly.


CD Review: The Golden Age of Steam - Raspberry Tongue

The Golden Age of Steam - Raspberry Tongue
(Babel, CD review by Rob Grundel)

There is real drama on Raspberry Tongue. A tension is woven through most of The Golden Age of Steam’s new album, as if a story is being told, as if it is a soundtrack to a film. Both the name of the group and the collective sound suggest that this film could be set in the Industrial Revolution. Let us make the hero one Charles Babbage, a man of this age, who built a gargantuan mechanical precursor to the computer called The Difference Engine. Our protagonist is young and idealistic - in his invention he sees freedom for the human race. Meanwhile, forces are plotting to take it and put it to nefarious uses.

James Allsopp leads his trio on various saxophones and clarinets. He has found lithe compatriots in frequent collaborator Kit Downes (Allsopp plays on Downes's latest Quiet Tiger) and the award winning drummer Tim Giles. Downes mostly plays the Hammond on this album. At times it sounds more machine-like than an instrument. He wrestles engine room bass, distorted grinding gears and steam driven whistles from the organ’s stops.

All the compositions are written by Allsopp. Time signatures shift fluidly, contrapuntal lines run through each other, the instruments fall apart and then rejoin without warning. The uptempo tunes race, drive and then collapse. The quieter tunes are contemplative but unsettling.

Let us take some highlights from the album as they would appear in the movie. In the opening scenes Babbage suffers heartbreak and focuses his energy on his work, imagining that salvation will come through automation (Mr. Apricot/Imaginary Handbag). There is an aggressive business negotiation as corporations vie for Babbage’s discovery - he refuses them all (Raspberry Tongue). There is the chase scene through a factory as the machine falls apart around them (Eyepatch). And then at the end (Oboe or Glockenspiel) our broken, melancholic hero wonders whether the human race is better off without technology while he watches the world giving birth to the modern age.

Rob Grundel is a Tasmanian writer and musician based in London. He writes the Diminished Augmented blog.

The Golden Age of Steam's Myspace


CD Review: Blood & Champagne

Tommaso Starace Quartet Blood & Champagne
(Music Center BA 270 CD, CD review by Chris Parker)

Milan-born saxophonist Tommaso Starace has been resident in the UK since studying at the Birmingham Conservatoire and the Guildhall in the 1990s, and his ebullient, tumbling alto and passionate soprano are backed on this, his fourth album as a leader, by a top-rank trio of UK-based players: pianist Frank Harrison, electric bassist Laurence Cottle and drummer Chris Nickolls.

Starace himself has an abiding interest in mid-20th-century history (the title of this album nods to Hungarian photographer/photojournalist Robert Capa via the biography of the Magnum co-founder by Alex Kershaw), and his sound and approach (the declamatory fierceness of his alto often calls Sonny Criss or Jackie McLean to mind) are well suited to dramatising particular events. Accordingly, the album's opener, 'Il Tunnel della Libertà', inspired by the rescue of dozens of East Berliners by means of a 165-metre tunnel dug in 1962 by two Italian students, 'immediately sets a mood takes the audience on a journey, creating vivid images in their minds' (Starace's words), and the set's non-originals, whether overtly jazz-based(Michel Petrucciani's 'Even Mice Dance', Billy Strayhorn's 'Johnny Come Lately') or actual movie themes (Henry Mancini's Oscar-winning 'Days of Wine and Roses'), are also vibrantlyevocative.

In Harrison, of course, Starace has a fluent and gracefulpianist well used to complementing passion and fire (he is a regular member of Gilad Atzmon's band), and the powerful but subtle rhythm team of Nickolls and Cottle (the latter tunefully propulsive as ever) perform flawlessly throughout; the title Blood & Champagne, conjuring up as it does life's intoxicating intensity, is well chosen: this is a heady, exuberant but affecting album.


Tommaso Starace's next London appearance will be on the Queen Elizabeth Hall Front Room Freestage on Friday March 18th from 5. 30 pm


The jazz musican and the audience

5pm to 9pm this Friday March 4th Guildhall School have a session discussing the relationship between jazz musicians and their audience. Main speaker is trombonist Gail Brand, who will be presenting her research. There will be a panel session with speakers including John Cumming of Serious and Helen Mayhew of JazzFM. There's also a performance with GSMD jazz students featuring Tim Garland.

It's the first event in a Guildhall series "Understanding Audiences," a new resarch initiative which got under way last year. It's free but attenders need to send an email - here are the instructions


CD Review: Eclectica! - Flight of Fancy

Eclectica! -Flight of Fancy
(MGPCD004- CD Review by Chris Parker)

The band's name says it all (or most of it). Their eclecticism is personified by guitarist Pete Oxley, who is celebrated as readily for his 'world-jazz' output (Curious Paradise) as for his more straightahead playing; fellow guitarist Nicolas Meier, whose work assimilates everything from heavy metal (Seven7) to flamenco, latin and Turkish music and jazz (Meier Group); violinist/singer Lizzie Ball, who has performed with the Covent Garden Soloists and the Philharmonia, but also tours with the likes of Simply Red and Meatloaf; and cellist Bernard Gregor-Smith, who was a founder member of the Lindsay String Quartet. Even the exclamation mark (cf. Oliver! or Impulse!) is significant, pointing up the energy, commitment and sheer brio of the quartet's music.

On this, their second album, Oxley's originals, from the brisk, latin-flavoured title track to the mellower 'Sands of St. Ives', are intelligently interspersed with Meier's tastefully restrained but powerfully emotive compositions, the odd nod to classical (Rimsky-Korsakov, Albinoni) or Brazilian composers (Jobim), and – an unalloyed treat – Ball's rendition of Joni Mitchell material (here, one of the Canadian genius's most touching confessional songs, 'A Case of You', nicely complementing Ball's earlier visit to 'The River').

All these bases are not only touched, however, but thoroughly investigated: the quartet specialises in a tasteful mix of filigree delicacy and carefully controlled, musicianly power, so that whether they're fizzing through the Hungarian folk classic 'Czardas' or gently propelling Ball's sweet and pure voice through Stevie Wonder's 'Isn't She Lovely', Eclectica! are compelling and original. This rich and varied album should attract (and satisfy) listeners from all parts of the musical spectrum.


Review: Dunajska Kapelye

Dunajska Kapelye
(Vortex, Dalston, February 23rd 2011, Review by Tim Woodall)

Here was proof that there is more to gypsy jazz than Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli. London-based five-piece Dunajska Kapelye played tunes from Turkey, Macedonia, Hungary, Russia and Transylvania – as well as a few Hot Club de France numbers – at a sold out, packed Vortex last night.

The inspiration behind this far-reaching passion for gypsy music clearly begins with Piotr Jordan, who put this group together with help from the Vortex. (Dunajska Kapelye are regulars at the club’s monthly Gypsy / East European Night.) A slight, bespectacled figure and seemingly diffident stage presence, the Polish violinist is a remarkable bandleader. He plays with sinewy virtuosity but, unlike so many gypsy jazz violinists, doesn’t dominate the texture with continuous speedy solos.

He is more often cajoling his colleagues – guitarist Jez Cook, Zac Gvirtzman on accordion, Raph Mizraki on double-bass and supporting violinist Flora Curzon – with high register effects and encouraging head nodding. Everyone gets the opportunity for a short solo, but the focus with Dunajska Kapelye is on ensemble playing, whipping easily between runaway, foot-stomping swing and the mournful hush of the ballads.

Cook’s guitar and Mizraki’s bass form the band’s core and combine to bring out the jazz manouche flavour. Cook’s presence is unobtrusive to the point of reticence, but the few licks he allowed himself channelled Reinhardt’s spirit, while Mizraki switched between slap-bass brilliance and solid accompaniment.

Gvirtzman’s fractured, creative accordion playing (and indeed Jordan’s style of fiddling) moves the band’s centre of gravity eastward and to the Balkans, from where the majority of the night’s melodies originate. From melancholic Russian songs (one of which was sung with soul by Gina Boreham) to Transylvanian folk themes, all gypsy life was here.

Dunajska Kapelye put out an album in 2009, and there's another on the way, apparently. Whether either of these CDs can match them live – with the audience dancing, whooping and clapping – I doubt somehow, but they will certainly be worth a listen.

Dunajska Kapelye's Myspace

Next London gig: Green Note, Camden, Sunday March 20th

Dunajska Kapelye's 2009 CD on Bandcamp


Fast-Moving Cheltenham

Cheltenham Jazz Festival bookings are going well, with 3,000 tickets sold to festival members in the first two days. The Festival's new box office system survived its debut well. Jamie Cullum's solo gig sold out in the first three hours. Festival Executive Director Ian George, according to the Press Release says that the following concerts have already started selling well:

- Friday Night is Music Night with Michael Parkinson and Guy Barker
- Andreya Triana
- Pharaoh Sanders
- James Hunter
- Dame Cleo Laine

Bookings at
cheltenhamfestivals.com. - Public booking opens on Monday 28th


Preview: Georgia Mancio

Georgia Mancio with Nigel Price (25th) and Ian Shaw (26th) at The Pheasantry, Friday 26th and Saturday 27th February. Preview by Fran Hardcastle.

This weekend sees the return of accomplished singer, Georgia Mancio to The Pheasantry. A figure on the vocal jazz scene for 10 years now, Mancio is recognised by her peers for her elegant vocal style. Her graceful voice nimbly displays a virtuosic predilection for harmony, underpinned by impeccable intonation. Technical strengths added to a gentle, charming persona make for a bewitching combination.

On Friday she performs a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass with former JTQ guitarist Nigel Price, often likened by critics to his guitar hero Wes Montgomery. Much lauded for his own work with the Nigel Price Organ Trio, for which he one a Parliamentary Jazz Award in 2010, Price can really thrill, drifting between languid blues and intricate hard-bop. He navigates the fretboard with exceptional dexterity. I recently saw the pair perform at Club 10 and have rarely heard a more perfectly matched instinctive duo, who exude class. Expect an intimate and highly musical evening.

The inimitable Ian Shaw joins Mancio on Saturday night for what will most certainly be a performance soaked in humour and style.

For bookings go to www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk


Liane writes about Ian..Ian writes about Liane

(Ian Shaw and Liane carroll. Photo credit: Corrie Scott, at the Holders Season, Barbados)

Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll will be performing in the Saturday night Base series at Kings Place on March 26th. They've written for us about the joys of performing as a duo together:

Ian on Liane . . .

Liane Carroll and I met on a train bound for some festival gigs. The year was 1492. We locked horns over many many things. Large gin and tonics in sunny French festival hotels were the ordre de jour. Our first musical collision was in a motel in Le Mans. There was a piano, we were keeping the bar open in a most unFrench way..and that was it. She wailed an Ellington and a Laura Nyro and my eyes filled with tears at the brittle beauty of her musical and emotional honesty.

Twenty odd years later we are often together, crashing each other's band sets, doing two Steinway, four handed shows, singing with big bands, guesting on each other's albums. These times with Liane are so brimmed with "moment" they keep me as sharp as a Sabbatier. To accompany her, in a pianist role, is fulfilling beyond measure. We hear the same stuff, the same harmonic nuances...and it is always, for me, a rare and beautiful thing. It never goes wrong, and in its often shabby-round-the gills form, it gives me energy and reminds me why I do my job.

Liane on Ian . . .

When I was a child, certain music would make me "fizz", Usually, it was sweeping orchestral scores, raging big bands and wonderful singers that you KNEW were singing from the bowels of their joy, pain, love, despair etc. I used to fantasize that when I was older, I would be lucky enough to sing and play with such orchestras, big bands and singers, and practiced every day, pissing my piano teacher off because I was more interested in jazz than classical, which she would equate with having to have me exorcised, or something equally as blinkered and patronising, but I never swayed.

Then 20 years ago I had a brief encounter on a train to Le Mans with a man whom, to this day, I believe is the very best of ALL that made me fizz. Ian Shaw is not only one of my dearest friends, but a revolutionary who breaks down all musical barriers, and just happens to make the most wonderful noise I've ever heard. I am honoured and privileged every single time we play together, and I don't ever want it to stop.

Boooking for the Base at Kings Place

Ian Shaw will also be performing songs from his new Abbey Road Sessions CD (Splashpoint) at the Pizza Express Dean Street on March 9th and 10th - pizzaexpresslive.co.uk


Review: Eliane Elias

Review: Eliane Elias
Ronnie Scott's, February 21st 2011, first night of three)

Eliane Elias occupies a unique position at the teeming, bubbling confluence of two of the great, fast-moving musical rivers of our time, the Brazilian bossa and bahiana traditions, and American jazz music. She is also one heck of a pianist, and has been for decades. She told last night's audience the story of being newly arrived in New York at the age of 20, walking into the Steinway showroom, trying out one of the pianos, being overheard by the president of Steinway, and instantly being offered a loan piano.

The last show which Elias and her quartet brought to the UK in 2009 was exclusively focussed on the bossa. This programme contained some imortal bossa numbers too- Chega Do Saudade/ No More Blues, A Ra/ The Frog, A Felicidade, Ipanema... - but it also ranged more widely. The bahiana numbers with their rhythmic swagger were fabulous. A version of "They Can't Take that Away from Me" seemed to contain the lovely line "The way you sink of quay" (joke). But the band's hushed, behind-closed-Doors rendition of "Baby Light My Fire" was less convincing.

Elias has a stunning new young guitarist in Ricardo Vogt, who took his two or three brief opportunities to shine in great style, but sometimes got lost in the balance. Marc Johnson on bass needed his amp and bass replaced, but his strong melodic arco voice in "Ipanema" stays firmly in the mind. One gets into the vibe of this band by watching Johnson constantly swaying, responding physically to the propulsive groove, whether playing or indeed just listening. Rafael Barata keeps fabulously lively time, and when he started to fire on all cylinders, in Jobim's Desafinado, one could sense, feel a response from large sections of the audience.

Having said that, some Brits will never get it, will never loosen up. They will tell you they dread drum solos, and then listen to them completely immobile, and with a pained expression. Let it happen, and the rhythmic physicality of this band which never misses a beat will elicit a response from the neck down. There were reasons to frown last night, the band had technical problems and irritations to contend with, but what carried the band through was - yes professionalism, yes, experience - but also irrepressible joy in musicality and rhythmic verve. The next two nights, with the technical niggles sorted, will see Ronnie's full and "en fete".

Support last night was Tom Cawley's Curios. Tom Cawley, Sam Burgess and Josh Blackmore's quieter dreamier numbers - the longing, romantic "Plea," the reflective (new) Calentura caught the audience's attention completely. As Calentura built to a mid-point climax, I scribbled down the word "Rachmaninov." I showed it to my short-sighted companion, who mis-read my jotting and nodded, "Yeah, Radiohead, you're right." This was a silly misunderstanding. And yet, somehow, it crystalizes what is so appealingly elusive in Cawley's music.

For an update on the Elias discography, see our INTERVIEW

Eliane Elias is at Ronnie Scott's tonight and tomorrow


This Week's Prize Draws: Jeremy Pelt in concert...or "Blue Note Legends" CD

A two-way choice in the prize draw for newsletter readers this week, courtesy of JazzFM.

A pair of tickets for the Jeremy Pelt Quintet at LSO St Lukes on March 11th. Here's a very lengthy interview. Details of the gig Support is from the Royal Academy of Music Jazz Department.


A hot off the press version of the Double CD "JazzFM Presents Blue Note Legends."
Twenty-seven tracks, mostly from the classic Blue Note era : Coltrane, Lee Morgan, but stretching out to St Germain, John Scofield and Robert Glasper. This project is the first collaboration between JazzFM and Blue Note, and I'm hearing there are others in the pipeline...Here's a TRACK LISTING


CD Review: Blissful Ignorance - Meadow

CD Review: Blissful Ignorance - Meadow
(Edition Records, Review by Tom Gray)

Don’t be fooled by the cover. The moody black and white photograph of the three gentlemen who comprise this group (saxophonist Tore Brunborg, pianist John Taylor and drummer Thomas Strønen) may suggest Nordic introspection, but this is an album filled with music that is also frequently joyous and infused with a palpable sense of groove.

The strength of the compositions here (which are mainly contributed by Brunborg) is immediately apparent. On pieces such as ‘Blissful Ignorance’ and ‘Will’, gently lilting ostinatos underpin themes constructed from relatively simple folky melodic fragments, but which then surprise with a series of unconventional harmonic sidesteps.

The material comes to life in the hands of these masterful yet utterly selfless musicians. Brunborg most obviously evokes Jan Garbarek with his beguiling tone and serpentine phrasing, though his playing occasionally hints at something more rugged - I heard nods towards John Surman at a few points. Taylor pares down his usually rich harmonic vocabulary here, wisely keeping his voicings light and allowing the compositions to breathe. He also adds a percussive bite with his left hand, while his improvised lines dazzle as ever. People familiar with Strønen’s work in the group Food will know that he can truly make a drum kit sing, an ability which is showcased perfectly on ‘Reven’. This piece should be essential listening for anyone looking for a masterclass in group empathy and how to use space (as, in fact, should the whole album).

Signing this fine trio was a shrewd move for Edition Records, which now has another instant classic in its catalogue to go alongside Mark Lockheart’s ‘In Deep’ and Phronesis’s ‘Alive’.

The next scheduled UK appearances by Meadow are in August – they play the Glasgow and Brecon jazz festivals. A London date at the Forge Venue is confirmed for October 19th.

Blissful Ignorance was released in the UK on 31st January


Review: Matthew Shipp Trio

Matthew Shipp

Matthew Shipp Trio
(Vortex, Thursday 17 February 2011, review and drawing by Geoff Winston*)

Very, very ... jazz; that was the overriding impression. Shipp's trio walloped the packed Vortex with two richly rewarding, high energy sets which wove obliquely in and out of the standards repertoire. Given Shipp's recent well-publicised diatribe one is tempted to say, too, "almost very Jarrett", because it was as though he was intent on confounding expectations. Many were expecting a left-field and abstract proposition, and, frankly, we got a lovely reinterpretation of what mainstream could mean – close in proximity to the way Keith Jarrett can conceive his music and present it, but with a specifically Shipp cast to it.

Both sets were straight through, non-stop journeys in which Shipp built dense and demanding improvisations with a rhythm section with whom he shared a telepathic rapport. They've played on and off together for getting on for twenty years and this paid off - each was stretched - no coasting and no hesitation. From a quiet, yet angular piano passage, bassist Michael Bisio joined with restraint, then drummer Whit Dickey came in really tight and they took off in a well-meshed, almost mainstream flow - "almost" keeps cropping up, because, despite the homage to the repertoire, it was a consistently idiosyncratic take, which maintained a freshness, eschewing any hint of complacency.

Whit Dickey

Shipp's rocking, stroking arm action seems to lift complex, pattering runs from the keyboard, but also the convincingly military-style marching chords of "Johnny Comes Marching Home." Shipp would drop his head right down, spectacles off, Miles-style, in concentration, and Dickey, with torso virtually static, also adopted a head down posture as his arms did the work, whether quietly on cymbals or a powering tempo in synch with Bisio's physical, hands-on technique. Bisio hammered his bass so hard at one point that it raised the spectre of a forefinger flying across the room; his was such a varied way of working the bass - sometimes held at forty-five degrees as the bow both scraped and stroked the strings, at others he'd clasp it close, hunched over as he picked out the notes - reminiscent of David Izenzon's range with Ornette's trio.

Shipp drew the trio along, through textures and layers - dwelling for some time on 'Green Dolphin Street' and 'Tenderly' both just recognisable, yet unmistakeable, and - possibly - Coltrane's 'Spiritual', letting in reflections of Tyner, with whom Shipp shares affinities, then hints of Red Garland and Monk, even Dolo Coker.

This was a sophisticated set of reflections and explorations, with a serious dip into the jazz bag, and a sometimes playful selection - we had the marching song and a jig. It’s as though Shipp wanted to show how he could get to grips with the jazz legacy and reshape it in his own way. Different to Von Schlippenbach, for instance, whose spikey, nuanced approach exhibits more obvious light and shade, Shipp's concert was more outwardly ‘conventional’ if you took it at a superficial level, but very deeply worked and actually quite a major rethink of how to deal with the whole structure of the standards. It was quite an achievement. And very single-minded in a Trojan Horse kind of way!

By the end of the evening they were really moving assertively in a warmly flowing dialogue - more lava than river!

(* Images copyright Geoffrey Winston 2011, All Rights Reserved)



DVD Reviews: Matthew Shipp and Eric Frielander

DVD Review: Solos – The Jazz Sessions. Erik Friedlander and Matthew Shipp
(MVD 5075D [Shipp] MVD 5076D [Friedlander], Review by Tom Gray)

For an art form with such an obviously visual component, jazz can sometimes transfer awkwardly to the small screen. Whether it is because of sloppy production, stilted camera angles, or naff title screens, I rarely revisit a jazz DVD more than once. However, watching ‘Solos: The Jazz Sessions’ has proved to be a rather more engaging experience.

Originally filmed for Canadian TV in 39 parts (we can only dream of a British equivalent nowadays), this series of DVDs features solo performances from a superior roster of artists including Bill Frisell, Mark Turner and the late Andrew Hill. I watched two DVDs showcasing a couple of the most innovative American improvising musicians around today: cellist Erik Friedlander and pianist Matthew Shipp.

Both of these artists have a very physical approach towards their instruments, from Shipp’s wiry-armed, feline prodding in the bass register to Friedlander’s highly percussive slapping, strumming and scrapings. This aspect of their playing is captured well through a mix of panning shots and fixed camera angles, including some striking close-ups. As intrusive as this might sound, it doesn’t faze either artist, both of whom seem perfectly at ease in the elegantly lit surroundings of the Berkeley Church in Toronto.

With a great quality sound recording and some pithy artist interviews to boot, this series sets a high benchmark in how to make jazz DVDs. Recommended.

MVD Entertainment Group


Review: Rhythmica

(Front Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, February 18th 2011. Review and photo by Roger Thomas)

In this time of squeeze and cutbacks there are few opportunities for one to feel grateful, so thank heavens for the free Front Room sessions know as the Friday Tonic at the QEH.

At the height of Friday commuter time those who were wise enough to take the detour to the QEH were washed from the grime of a week of toil by a young and exhilarant Rhythmica. The neat and confident demeanour of Mark Crown –trumpet, Andy Chapman –drums, Peter Edwards –piano, Peter Randall –bass, with guest appearance from Denys Baptiste –saxophone. This was tonic to revive the weariest of commuters.

Their first set kicked off with Mark Crown having to delve deep into his creative and improvisational bag as they were minus their regular saxophonist– Zem Audu, who I believe was away in the Caribbean, or possibly New York –all right for some, eh. It was even more impressive that the first composition – Time Machine – was penned by the missing Zem. Anyway, Mark held his own and looking around at the packed Front Room the audience were displaying rhythmic nods of approval, not to mention hearty applause.

The set continued on the same creative high as it had begun with each member featuring at various moments adding some extra drama, and ending on a Peter Edwards composition, Triple Threat. During the second set guest saxophonist Denys Baptiste was brought on. With a shift of gear over Delfeayo's Dilemma , a tune by Wynton Marsalis, we were treated to some energised interaction between Andy Chapman and Peter Randall and some great sparring between the sax and trumpet.

The most poignant moment for me was as I was watching from the side, the evening is now drawing in, audience fully attentive and piano an sax are being featured on the John Coltrane composition Naima. Peter Edwards was feeding Denys Baptiste with some amazing chordal structures whilst remaining cucumber cool and clearly deep in introspection.

Now fully entranced by the beauty of this delivery, a thought came to me– wow this is great and comparable to anything from across the Atlantic. Out of my trance I was filled with a great sense of hope that this new generation of musicians are capable of keeping the music fresh and alive in the UK and do hope they continue to be nurtured and given all the support possible. Rhythmica have truly left fledgling Tomorrow's Warriors nest, and are showing a growing maturity.


Jeff Healey Park

Readers of LondonJazz have been writing in asking us to draw attention to a campaign to re-name Woodford Park in Etobicoke, Toronto after the guitarist/ jazz and bluesman Jeff Healey (1966-2008).

The original request reads:

The City of Toronto is proposing renaming a park in Etobicoke after our very good friend, the late Jeff Healey. Jeff grew up in Etobicoke in Toronto. They need emails/letters of support to help make this happen. Just a few words saying you agree would be a great help in making this proposal come to fruition. Your help is very much appreciated.

Letters of support or objection should be
mailed, faxed or emailed to:
Park Naming
Parks, Forestry and Recreation
Etobicoke Civic Centre
399 The West Mall
Toronto, Ontario
M9C 2Y2

Email: parksnaming@toronto.ca

Responses should be received by March 1, 2011.

Adam Sieff writes:

Jeff Healey was a blind white blues guitarist and singer who died just 41 years old on March 2nd 2008. He had a remarkable playing stye, sitting down with the guitar flat on his lap, chording and soloing almost like a pianist. Healey was a truly great instrumentalist of whom BB King once said “ Your execution is the best I have ever seen, stick with it and you will be bigger than Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stanley Jordan, and B. B. King”.

For any more details contact: bjgardner (at) sympatico (dot) ca


CD Review: Kit Downes Trio- Quiet tiger

Kit Downes Trio - Quiet Tiger
(Basho SRCD 34-2
, Review by Chris Parker)

The Kit Downes Trio could be said to epitomise the new wave of UK-based jazz, its coherence based largely on musical relationships formed at various music colleges' jazz courses. The trio's repertoire consists of original compositions (unlike many of the older generation, who often draw on the standards or jazz classics for much of their material), and the power of their music relies on the hair-trigger mutual sensitivity ofdrummer James Maddren, bassist Calum Gourlay and their leader/composer, pianist Kit Downes.

Like the trio's debut album, Golden, Quiet Tiger skilfully exploits the full range of the piano-trio format's dynamic possibilities, from the slow, dark patter of the opener, 'Boreal', through the free-ish skirl of 'Frizzi Pazzi' or 'Wooden Birds' to the almost Jarrett-like rapturous lyricism of 'Tambourine', but this second album extends the band's sound palette considerably by adding the expressive tenor and bass clarinet of James Allsopp and the intelligently varied textures of Adrien Dennefeld's cello to all but three of its eleven pieces.

Downes himself (heard here exclusively on the acoustic instrument rather than the electronic keyboards he plays in other bands) is an unshowy but resourceful player, largely eschewing sparkling runs or pounding climaxes in favour of subtle rhythmic felicities or deft explorations of light, dancing rhythms ('In Brixen'), bluesy meditation ('Skip James') or swirling vigour ('The Wizards'), Maddren and Gourlay shadowing him every step of the way, and his compositions, as on Golden, are perfect vehicles for his sparkily robust, but patiently imaginative playing.

Quiet Tiger is altogether darker in tone, more sombre than its Mercury Prize-nominated predecessor, but its power and grace should guarantee it a similarly positive reception.

Quiet Tiger will be launched in The Base series at Kings Place on Saturday April 9th


Review : Josh Kyle

Josh Kyle
(Pizza Express, Dean Street, February 8th 2011, review by Sarah Ellen Hughes)

There's been a lot of hype surrounding Josh Kyle, and this gig tells me that it's quite justified.

Opening the gig with Stardust, Joshua grabbed the attention of this expectant Pizza Express audience with his very first breath, before taking us through the first half of the song totally unaccompanied and daringly slow in pace - his gloriously silky voice setting the scene for what would be a great evening of high-class jazz.

Kyle used every inch of his dynamic capability in just two bars. His command of timing, and grasp of the harmony were impeccable; his ability to weave a spell through his melody beguiling. His manor was charming and he showed utmost respect for the musicians sharind the stage with him: Tom Cawley on piano and nord, Ralph Salmins on drums and his "partner in musical crime" Geoff Gascoyne on acoustic and electric bass.

Words don't do his vocal ability justice: seductive one moment, unbelievably hip the next. The song seeps through his whole body - he is in total control of his instrument.

One of my favourites of the set was Herbie Hancock's Proof. Kyle's vocal dexterity was evident here, his voice working as the fourth instrument in the band. He oozed an authoritative yet highly respected presence in front of his musicians.

Grins all around the band stand showed how much the band were enjoying themselves and their vocalist, and the appreciation didn't end there: it's been a long time since I've been to a gig where I didn't want it to end. And neither, seemingly did the rest of the audience. I've never heard a crowd so loudly and persistently cry for more. Deservedly so!

Josh Kyle's Myspace and Facebook both have music examples


Cheltenham JazzFest opens for booking Monday

The full brochure for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, (April 27th to May 2nd) has just been published and booking opens for members on Monday HERE - I'm told it's a new booking system, reports welcome!

Likely to sell quickly are
-Michael Parkinson's Friday Night is Music Night with Guy Barker, the BBC Concert Orchestra, and a host of singers
-Jamie Cullum Solo
-Dave Holland Overtone Quartet with Chris Potter, Jason Moran and Eric Harland
-Kyle Eastwood

There is a feast of piano talent: Django Bates (Beloved Bird, Kit Downes (with his sextet), Ivo Neame (in Phronesis), Tom Cawley (with Curios)...

Plus Tord Gustavsen, Andy Sheppard's Trio Libero, Andreya Triana, Stian Westerhuis, Portico Quartet....

As ever it's a great programme - so start praying for good weather!

Sponsors are BBC Radio 2, The Norwegian Embassy, Budvar, The Times


CD Review: Stan Tracey - Sound Check

Stan Tracey Duo/Trio Sound Check
(Resteamed RSJ 110, Review by Chris Parker)

This double CD, as its title suggests, has its roots in the easy, informal interplay between pianist Stan Tracey and his drummer son Clark Tracey in the sound checks they routinely undertake before performances.

Stan's late wife Jackie, who must have heard a good few of these impromptu duets in her time, urged them to make a recording as a duo, and the wisdom of her advice is manifest in all nine of the first CD's tracks. As Clark says in his liner notes, these pieces draw on 'the many musical influences we've shared, sounds I grew up with and the flavours of places we've visited', and the closeness of the consequent musical rapport is apparent from the first few bars of 'Foregone Conclusion', the album's feisty opener, to its closer, 'Midnight Around', its Monk reference clear in its title.

The programme is presented as recorded, the tunes all springing from what Clark refers to as 'a vague mood or style', and the finished versions are unedited, so the overall impression is of an intimate, easygoing but supremely musicianly session, hard-swinging and thoughtful by turns, but always demonstrating the truth of the memorable remark once made by Stan in a radio interview to the effect that he'd been searching for a suitable drummer all his career, unaware that he already had one in his loins. This bond is enjoyably apparent throughout the duo CD, but is also vital in the second, on which regular bassist, the lush-toned but lithe Andrew Cleyndert, is heard; the fours-trading between father and son is almost telepathically smart and precise, Clark's selection of timbre and dynamics behind Stan's improvisations always absolutely spot-on. Overall, though, Sound Check is very much a showcase for the UK's most (justly) celebrated jazz pianist, which he clearly revels in, firing off a series of characteristically playful but pungent solos on both classics ('Chelsea Bridge', 'I Want to Be Happy', a couple of Monk tunes etc.) on the trio album and the unplanned improvised duets on the duo CD.

All the Tracey hallmarks are present: the delightfully unpredictable skipping runs, the sudden intervallic leaps down the piano concluding in an emphatic percussive clang that seems to launch the solo back up the keys, the telling use of space and subtle rhythmic displacement. 'Strong, virtuosic individuality' is Clark's phrase for this, and it has seldom been better documented than on this wholly enjoyable and valuable release.


Mumbai will fit into the Purcell Room

Purcell Room 18th April...Mumbai Jazz with guitar hero Larry Coryell and flautist Hubert Laws. Looks interesting.....


Review: Off the Page Literary Festival

Christian Marclay

‘Off The Page’
(Literary festival for music at The Playhouse Theatre, Whitstable: Friday-Sunday 11-13 February, 2011. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston*.)

‘Off The Page’, the joint brainchild of The Wire Magazine and Sound & Music, was a much-needed chance for the champions and practitioners of the significant, innovative and groundbreaking music, with links to jazz, to have a voice outside the confines of the performance space.

I attended the Saturday events. The atmosphere was congenial, the programming was well-balanced in its breadth of subject matter and speakers, and the presentations were marked by lucidity, commitment and enthusiasm. There was no jargon, no bull, I gather to Robert Wyatt’s pleasant relief, too – he and his wife, Alfie, were generous and gregarious presences throughout the weekend. The venue was well suited to the task – comfortable, good sightlines and a great sound system – essential for all the sound clips.

The day’s events kicked off with Rob Young making a persuasive case for re-evaluating the role of Pierre Shaeffer, architect of Musique Concrète, whose contribution to the avante-garde has been somewhat sidelined. Young mapped out Schaeffer’s musical life, with soundclips illustrating the flavour of his pieces. A producer for Radio France from the 40s, Schaeffer saw the radio studio as ‘a miracle machine’, where in 1943 he produced an 8-part sci-fi series with full electronic sound effects. Determined to break away from serialism and the 12-tone techniques of the Viennese School, he was energised by the potential of using electronic and recorded sound in a musical context, scavenging for sound-making detritus, such as discarded organ pipes and pioneering the use of magnetic tape. 1948 was an important year for Schaeffer – he accidentally discovered the locked groove, enabling continuous repetition of selected sounds. He coined the term ‘Musique Concrète’ – a music of “sound fragments which exist concretely”, as Young explained, and created his ‘Étude au Chemin de Fer’, based on his recordings of locomotives at his local station, including the Futurist-tinged title for one movement, ‘Cadence of Buffer Strikes’. A musical alliance with Pierre Henri gave rise to his only opera, ‘Orphée’, which caused riots at an avante-garde festival performance over references to conventional instrumentation. His continual pressure to be the advocate for the avante-garde at Radio France took its toll, yet he managed to maintain a pivotal role in important groups and movements. Later in life he planned a massive library of sounds based on his own recordings, sadly doomed. Young’s survey was sharp and fascinating.

Matthew Herbert then joined Rob Young, and explained that about 20 years ago he, too, started his own Museum of Sound, which he is struggling to progress on his own (he’s looking for assistance). He took us through the political aspects of his compositional stance – from recording falling Vietnamese coffee beans for ‘Plat du Jour’ to the extraordinary amplified sounds of the tools used during plastic surgery. ‘One Pig’ followed the life of a single pig from birth to grave, but Herbert was prohibited from recording the pig’s final moments – giving rise to his campaign, ‘See Your Food’. When he asked Palestinians to send him their favourite sounds, the clip from the final mix sounded uncannily like Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.

The organisers must have felt that their efforts had been justified when Herbert said that what was ‘good about this event [was] the chance to talk about it [this very important time in music].’ And this is a theme that bound together the proceedings throughout the day. Nice, too, was that there was no double programming; unavoidable was the absence due to illness of Teal Triggs, and there was bit of rescheduling due to a late arrival of one speaker.

Ken Hollings used Varèse’s overworked, programmed ‘Poème Électronique’ as a foil to John Cage’s revolutionary approach to composition which hinged on duration, indeterminacy and human activity. Varèse’s piece, asserted Hollings was a ‘museum piece before it was played to the public’ at the 1958 Brussels World Fair and, to emphasise the point, dry ice accompanied the soundclip. Hollings told how Cage’s lecture at Brussels, “Indeterminacy”, comprising 30 stories stretched or compressed to a minute’s duration each was, “something so simple, so elegant ...” that it elicited a frosty telegram from Varèse, concerning the nature of “organised sound”. He explained how Cage’s looped tapes synchronised with the presence of audience members changed the dynamics of the concert premise. It was curious that Hollings used an extract from ‘Atlas Eclipticalis’ as background music while quoting Cage who maintained that “Beethoven was in error” in using harmony as the basis of composition, in contrast to Satie’s time-based approach. Hollings also focused on Cage’s personality – “vibrant, alive, hairy, naked” – countering the populist conception of the composer as the oddball introvert. Another highly illuminating presentation.

Steve Beresford and John Kieffer

Steve Beresford and John Kieffer were a very comfortable in conversation, as they primarily tracked drummer John Stevens’ significant contribution to British jazz, both improvised and orchestral. Covering the influences of Ornette Coleman and Phil Seamen, they gave a real insight in to his multi-faceted career, Steve interpreting Stevens’ larger ensembles as an extension of the drum kit and describing Stevens whispering to the players onstage to bring out the best from them in interesting and “strange” performances. The thread included AMM and Company and also paid special attention to one of the Trevor Watts/John Steven ‘Open Flower’ duets. “I love that piece. Amazing feeling. Completely gripping ... feels like a game,” Steve observed. And there were nice vignettes – Stevens loved clothes, sometimes starting recording sessions with a discussion on the subject and hated playing solos.

Robert Wyatt

From the floor, Robert Wyatt recalled Stevens as a welcoming and liberating presence, and David Toop described his pioneering attitude – he didn’t have to worry about filling in the spaces (a Cagean theme?).

David Tompkins – a one-off obsessive - gave an extraordinary history of the Vocoder, with – given his interests – a slant to its use in hip-hop and funk. “The vacuum cleaner is on the tarmac” was how he introduced himself (it’s a track title, btw )- whether it was about to take off or had just landed, we’ll never know. It was entertaining, as well as niche-informative, as Dave has his own curious argot, mixing native North Carolina, Brooklyn and stage Hip-hop, which occasionally baffled even the youngest in our party – “bizarre” was his verdict. But, man, he knew his stuff, he’d met all the super-dudes and he had the samples. No way do you get the freaking Talk Box confused with the Vocoder (the Sonovox was its precursor in the 30s) – and by the way, just, just look at the saliva traps on talk boxes (he showed the diagram). Vocoder technology derives from espionage applications (where it’s all about dismantling speech to send over special frequencies and reconstituting it).

He showed a shot of the bombed Selfridges, but “fortunately” the wartime Vocoder was situated 30 feet from the bomb target! He’d tracked down and interviewed Ralph Miller, now 103, inventor of crucial Vocoder technology; he took us on a whirlwind tour of the utilisation of the Vocoder by Remmellzee, recounting how he was there with Remmellzee firing missiles from the shoulder pads of his outer space costume (we saw the costume, and Tompkins lived to tell the tale!), Grandmaster Flash, Roger Troutman, all sorts of pop and novelty music applications, noted its film debut in Clockwork Orange, detoured to Meyer Eppler’s significant work on the Electrolarynx to assist the speech impaired, and then to ... Sparky’s Magic Piano; readers to this site may be more familiar with users like Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell, but the sound knows no boundaries! Tompkins is such an unashamed fan – “I could play songs all night” – he’ll be back!

Then followed two films of John Cage made for Manhattan Cable in 1978 – a whispered interview by Richard Kostenaletz as Cage was in the process of de- and reconstructing ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ using his system of mesostics; the other showed Cage calmly reading from his ‘36 Acrostics re and not re Duchamp’ – a random quote: “creme fraiche followed by 3 kinds of potatoes”.

Christian Marclay was lightly prompted by Anne Hilde Neset, Deputy Editor of ‘The Wire’ to discuss his fine art/music oeuvre and the techniques which are essential to his artworks and performances. I think Marclay was bit battle-weary after his massive autumn Whitney Museum show and his highly publicised 24 hour video, ‘The Clock’, with the inevitable media focus, but he became more animated and outward-facing part-way in to the interview. He kicked off with a challenge – his piece ‘Mixed Reviews’ (premiered at the Whitney) is assembled from phrases culled from music and concert reviews and these are strung together as a wall text, can be read aloud, and have been translated into Japanese, and sign-language, amongst others. He contextualised this: “For me, words are different. I’m always curious about what writers were thinking about when writing reviews. How do you describe .... ?” Well, without going in to it too much – does Marclay want reviews and dialogue about music or not? Is trying to being articulate about music to be discouraged? It seemed to be a bit of an easy target. Surely, that is part of why ‘Off The Page’ was convened. He then steered in to a consideration of Conduction, as practiced by Bush Morris who had performed ‘Mixed Reviews’ as part of the Whitney’s Marclay Festival, and was shown in a clip on-screen. Morris often works with poets and other performers to create a composition in performance, and Marclay was able to “play with that energy that he gives me ... very fast and crazy!” When asked about his musical works, Marclay doesn’t think of himself as a DJ. On his business card, he told us, it read ‘Record Player’! Asked about his vinyl records used as raw material, he realised that for the forthcoming concert at Café Oto with Phil Minton he was going to have to find some more vocal records, rather than dip in to his collection.

Working with DJs and hip-hop artists in the 90s he was surprised at how difficult they found it to get away from their egos and perform collaboratively. I was pleased to hear him say that he didn’t wear i-pod earpieces (he hardly listens to music) and preferred to hear what was going on around him – I share that sentiment. He did briefly discuss his student days at Cooper Union where he was chucked out of Sculpture and accommodated in the Studio for Interrelated Media, which figures, and he named some artists he admired, including Arturo Lindsay (“a genius”), Josef Beuys, Laurie Anderson, Fluxus, Nam June Paik (seen by Marclay in performance at CBGBs) and Dan Graham. And when asked about the internet and instant access to information, he responded by saying “easy is not a bad thing; you can read about John Cage ...”. A nicely circular route!

And I’m grateful to Chris Maloney and Calum Storrie for a few observations on the Friday and Sunday sessions. On Friday evening, Robert Wyatt played four and performed one of his favourite tracks, taking in Cecil Taylor, The Platters, Brahms, some New Orleans jazz and a version of ‘Naima’ by Mimi Perrin of Les Double Six which Wyatt sang instead, to everybody’s delight! And Johnny Trunk distributed liquorice pipes (more like ‘chillums’ as the confectioner had run out of Magritte pipe look-alikes) in honour of Tristam Cary, featured in an early COI film about electronic music. On the Sunday there was a round-table discussion between Wire staff, reviewers and bloggers which could have gone on for hours, and David Toop and co discussed and demanded careful listening and concentration, which was deemed highly rewarding.

All in all, it was hugely worthwhile and gave us much to think about. Here’s to ‘Off The Page 2012’ – maybe we could have some complementary musical Olympics, too?

Sound and Music

The Wire Magazine

(*)Images copyright Geoffrey Winston 2011, All Rights Reserved)


Review: Kenny Wheeler Quintet

Kenny Wheeler, Jon Irabagon, John Taylor, Michael Janisch, Andrew Bain
(Pizza Express Dean Street, February 16th 2011, first night of two)

This gig was always going to bring out the best in every player right from the start. Jon Irabagon had written a preview for us saying how much he was looking forward to playing with both Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor. It was the kind of gig which musicians had depped out their other work for, just for a chance to be in the audience. Or in two cases scampered down the whole length of the M1 to get to. It was the kind of gig where a drummer (in this case the ultra-responsive and creative Andrew Bain) will sit down at his kit, roll his shoulders and survey the scene…. and find he doesn't have to look beyond the second row of the audience for inspiration - because he's looking straight out at Peter Erskine.

With two exceptions, the tunes were by Kenny Wheeler. Each one of these tunes, with their quirky asymmetries, their irresistible lines, their uplifting sadness has the sheen and durability of a unique diamond. This is music which will still be played in a hundred years' time. The musicians know what a privilege it is to share this music with its creator. You can absolutely feel that sense of occasion, right from the very first note.

Just one example: "The Jigsaw" last night was pure joy. Wheeler and Irabagon followed each other in canon in the tune, then in his solo Kenny Wheeler first toyed with the sinuous melodic figures in the tune, then started to stretch the intervals like elastic, reaching up, extending. Then John Taylor's solo was the poetry of absolute rhythmic freedom. This was musical completeness.

This was the first time I had heard Jon Irabagon live. It is in the nature of the modern player to have absorbed a wide range of influences, but Irabagon knows how to portray voices which are so contrasting, they almost seem compete with each other for attention. The crowd seemed to take him best to its heart when he was at his most Breckerish, constructing and firing off a profusion of shapes and patterns. But wait, that's just part of the story: there is an Albert Ayler in him who demands to have his say. And maybe even a gutsy Bennie Wallace too. I felt like an autograph-hunter wrong-footed by finding I'd been given more than one signature. He’s Othello, but here he is as Iago too. This is definitely my problem rather than Irabagon’s. At a first hearing I know that I've heard a lot of different parts, and not yet identified the sum of them, the whole. Which is to say that Irabagon is a fascinating saxophonist who absolutely deserves to be heard.

Bassist Michael Janisch had assembled this fabulous project. Mike deserved every whoop of applause which greeted the end of his bass solos. Contributions like his - both as bassist and as producer - to the musical life of our great city are beyond price. The same quintet is at the Pizza Express tonight. Don’t miss it.



Threat of shutdown at Hillingdon Music Service

Jack Fallow expresses his concern about the withdrawal of council funding from Hillingdon Music Service

On Thursday evening, Hillingdon councillors will meet to consider closing their music education. And what they intend to discuss is a cut. Not just trimming the budget, but completely withdrawing funding, which will lead to a shutdown of the service.

If you are not from Hillingdon, you are probably imagining that this is a Labour wheeze to embarrass Cameron. But wait, Hillingdon is a Tory council, so that is not the answer. John Randall, their MP, is Deputy Chief Whip for Cameron. He wont be pushing music as a cost saver given that Mr Gove is so enthusiastic.

Over 400 children attend Hillingdon bands, orchestras and choirs each week. The photo is of the Concert Band on tour. Nearly 2000 young musicians receive lessons in schools.

Unless the councillors change their mind, the beat is about to stop in Hillingdon.

Write to Council Leader Raymond Puddifooot: leader@hillingdon.gov.uk

An Early Day Motion was proposed in the House of Commons yesterday


A National Jazz Orchestra here down South?

Things are different North of the border. This is Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop listening to Tommy Smith, with board member Michael Connarty MP looking on, and Martin Kershaw and Paul Towndrow either play or pose for the camera (?) The picture demonstrates the support which the Scottish Government puts behind SNJO.

Meanwhile here down South, hats off to blogger Jack Davies who has been keeping the debate about a National Jazz Orchestra alive HERE


Review: Dankworth 2011 Prizewinners' Concert

Dankworth 2011 Prizewinners Concert
(Trinity College Jazz Ensembles, Ronnie Scott's, February 15th 2011, photos by David Sinclair )

On the strength of what I hear last night, I sincerely hope that Laura Jurd's Danza de la Selva (Dance of the Forest) gets a professional performance, and not just so that I can hear it again. The piece deserves to be heard. Perhaps Scott Stroman can somehow get into the London Jazz Orchestra's pad, or someone in Cologne or Frankfurt could give Laura Jurd a call.

The 2011 Dankworth Prizewinners Concert has brought to the fore a very lively chart indeed. In the performance directed by Mark Lockheart, it showed itself on first hearing to be a convincing narrative, building in the full band sections by adding layers and voicings, but leaving space for the soloists to stretch out.

The other winning chart, Alex Roth 's "November Song" for nine-piece was darker, slipsliding harmonically in a way which was hard to get to the bottom of first time. Max Johnson shone on full-toned alto sax.

Leslie East from the Worshipful Company, Tim Garland (one of the judges with Frank Griffith and Nikki Iles), Dame Cleo Laine and Jacqui Dankworth made speeches which, in their different ways, suitably marked a special occasion.

Alex Roth receiving his award from Dame Cleo Laine and Jacqui Dankworth

The Dankworth Prize Award, supported by the Wavendon Foundation and the Worshipful Company of Musicians has been a triumph of far-sightedness for its instigator Art Mead. It's literally a case of Ready-Steady.... GO. In just its third year, Mead has found two other organizations to fund and to run the prize, and can step back. Arts funders of organizations which have had Arts Council funding continuously since 1946 please take note.

The Dankworth Prize was the third set of a four-set evening. This was, in effect, a public "Klassenabend", with proud parents of first years in attendance, for London's largest, and possibly liveliest conservatoire jazz department, Trinity College of Music in Greenwich.

The evening started with the trio of highly impressive fourth-year undergrad pianist Laurie Erskine. I enjoyed the way he led the trio through both Jarrettish freeze-frames and precise, Bad Plussish games of catch.

The second set was Ellington charts from a big band directed by Malcolm Earle Smith. An infectiously lively, inventive and propulsive presence in that band was drummer Emmanuel Adelabo. "This needs Lindyhoppers," said my companion. Ronnie's with a drop-down dance floor? One can only fantasize, but with a band swinging that hard, it felt wrong to be sitting still.

The last set consisted of Mark Lockheart's explorations of Ellington. Satin Doll was deconstructed and re-worked into a sort of Rhapsody in Black. Come Sunday had a glory moment for the ensemble's fine bass clarinettist landing emphatically on an everything-down low C. And there was fun to be had in a bouncing sun-soaked calypso version of Strayhorn's Raincheck. Laurence (Loz) Garrett, on upright bass in the prize pieces, and electric in the last set, was just one highly impressive player among many. The standard of these students seems to rise inexorably, every year. .....


Help Save Manchester Jazz Festival

Make a difference. It's time to write. Now. Wherever you are.

And to let Manchester City Council people know how significant the Manchester Jazz Festival is. The Beats n Pieces/ EFPI Records site has the story ....and the address to write to.


This week's Prize Draw: Jonathan Kreisberg Quartet

This week's prize draw for newsletter readers is a pair of tickets for the top New York quartet of Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar), Will Vinson (alto saxophone and piano), Hans Glawischnig(bass) and Mark Ferber (drums) at Pizza Express on Wednesday March 2nd.

I vividly remember being bowled over by the subtlety and occasional gentleness of Kreisberg's playing as part of Ari Hoenig's group at Road Trip in Shoreditch, and on that groups CD, Berts Playground. Here are some other plaudits off Kreisberg's website. Glawischnig, originally from Graz, has quite some pedigree too...

Road Trip. ...Shoreditch. March 2009. ...It was my tenth review for this site.... How time flies!



CD Review: World Service Project - Relentless

CD Review: World Service Project : Relentless
(Brooke Records 001, Review by Chris Parker; Image credit: Camberwell Crypt)

The opener on this, World Service Project's debut album, sets out the quintet's stall perfectly: they have described their music as 'edgy and experimental … with a smile on its face', utilising 'unruly progressions' and concentrating on 'improvisation and groove', and 'There's Always One' touches all these bases. Over an emphatically funky beat, anchored by the electric bass of Conor Chaplin and the rock-solid drumming of Neil Blandford, the front line, saxophonist Tim Ower and trombonist Raphael Clarkson, provide the more overtly jazzy component of the band's rich, multi-textured sound.

At the heart of proceedings, though, whether contributing a wide range of judiciously selected squirts, howls and squeals on electronic keyboard or playing more conventional, fluent jazz-based solos on acoustic piano, is leader/composer Dave Morecroft. His compositions range from the attractively celebratory ('Hero of the Bus') to the poignantly affecting ('Bye Bye', which dramatically documents the sensation of being suddenly cut loose from a relationship), and find their apotheosis in the album's vibrant, climactic closer, 'Back So Soon', which utilises humorously placed pauses to build up tension, but they are all skilfully tailored to accentuate the positives of WSP's sound: infectious exuberance, driving energy, spark-striking interactiveness.

With the programme's one non-Morecroft original, Clarkson's 'Business Transaction', cleverly laced with dub-type spaciness, and the whole set drawing on everything from funk and straightahead jazz to electronic noise (the latter sparingly but tellingly used), Relentless is a lively, imaginative and consistently absorbing album that should only add to the impressive fan base the band has built up over the past couple of years with their wholly enjoyable live performances.

-World Service Project were the winners of the Musicians Benevolent Fund's Peter Whittingham Award 2010
-Next London gigs: Rich Mix Bethnal Green, April 10th, Forge Venue Camden April 14th.


RIP Sir George Shearing (1919-2011)

The death earlier today of Sir George Shearing from heart failure has been announced. Battersea-born, blind from birth, he leaves a huge legacy of recordings and compositions. Here is Johnny Mandel's The Shadow of your Smile. RIP.

Wikipedia entry


Converse Sponsorship Deal for 100 Club Announced

The 100 Club in Oxford Street has announced its tie-up with its new sponsor on Valentine's Day. According to the story, given in an interview to XFM by Jeff Horton , the club will remain independent. "The perfect partner. They're not interested in ownership or a shareholding. They want to stand alongside us. The club still can remain independent. Both Converse and myself are looking at this as a long-term partnership. This is not a cheque-writing exercise, this is a partnership" says Horton, who is sensitive to the scale of the campaign, which brought 18,000 people into the Facebook group, and a wide range of donations, (which are not being cashed.) No details of the length of the deal, or of its value have been released.


How many times should a reviewer listen to a CD?

I don't know the answer. But there has been an interesting piece - and comments - on the US National Arts Journalism Program's website, discussing the issue.

Try this:

Hearing a record once, especially at a "listening session," or even three-four times over a few hours at home, and writing even 300 words about it is totally foreign to the way people use recorded music--at least people who aren't just trolling MP3 sites the way people used to listen to the radio....



Jazz Grammy Award Winners

And the winners are.............

The surprise winner was Esperanza Spalding who beat Justin Bieiber, Mumford & Sons, Drake, Florence and the Machine to the awards for BEST NEW ARTIST.

In the Jazz categories there were awards for The Stanley Clarke Band, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Herbie Hancock (receiving his award above- picture from blogger ElementsofJazz), the Mingus Big Band, James Moody, and Chucho Valdes.

The Traditional Blues Award went to Pinetop Perkins, and Contemporary Blues to Buddy Guy. Mavis Staples won an award for Best Americana Album


And here's our London Jazz Festival review of Esperanza Spalding, whose April Barbican gig was close to selling out even before this news.


Dylan Howe Quartet Tour

Preview: Dylan Howe Quartet: Pizza Express Dean Street, Tuesday March 15th

The Dylan Howe Quartet is in the early stages of a twenty-five date UK tour. Yes. Five times five. Twenty-five gigs.

While others sit around lamenting the decline of civilization... I absolutely take my hat off to Dylan Howe. The sheer drive and entrepreneurial flair he shows in having put this together, in being so utterly devoted to the process of allow four musicians to grow into music and to grow with it by taking it out on the road are like gold dust in these times.

I was able to catch the fourth date, Herts Jazz in the Civic Centre in Welwyn last Sunday. Londoners, the date you will - I hope... I recommend! - be putting in your diaries is Tuesday March 15th. It's the nineteenth date of the tour.

Howe has taken the repertoire which really speaks to him, assembled a group to play it. Looking at the promo video (above), there has already been onward progress from it, more confidence, more freedom to explore, in the gig I heard last week. The collective "band sound" is starting to gel properly. Brandon Allen can use his rounded, focussed tone on tenor saxophone to state melody, to be urbane, but he is also adept at turning up the heat and the aggression. Ross Stanley on piano and synth has a wide tonal palette, and brings out the contrasts. It is somehow hard to believe, seeing how assured he is, that bassist Tim Thornton was still a conservatoire student until last summer.

Dylan Howe himself has huge creativity and energy to bring to all of these situations. His irrepressible energy and positivity doesn't just fix the gigs. More importantly, it inspires the others in performance, spurs them on, brings life and vivacity to everything he (or his sticks or his brushes) touches.

But a project like this stands or falls by the quality of the music. Howe has sought out huge variety in the tunes which the quartet takes on, from the good-humoured waltz-time sway of the first set opener, Harry Warren's Summer Night, through numbers by Charlie Parker (Segment) , Joe Henderson (Shade of Jade), through to what is the darkest, most challenging music on offer, David Bowie tunes such as Warszawa, Weeping Wall and Subterraneans.

The Bowie numbers from the "Berlin" period in the late 1970's are an interesting project in their own right. Warszawa, is an intricate narrative, probably taking more than one hearing to grasp fully. It was last in the programme at the gig I went to, and made a suitable culmination to it. I'm fascinated to hear what it will sound like in London next month, after it has been played live many times. It is bound to start to really cohere and tell its story - it will be memorable. The band are due to record the material after all of the tour dates have been completed, and that too will be worth waiting for.

The Dylan Howe Quartet Tour (follow the link for dates) is supported by Jazz Services and the PRS Foundation


Preview: Tomatito at Flamenco Festival London

Tomatito & George Benson – “La Vacilona” from Paseo de Castaños (2001)

Preview: Tomatito – Luz de Guía, Wednesday 16th February, Part of Flamenco Festival London at Sadler’s Wells. Preview by Roderick McKinley)

In its eighth year, the Sadlers Wells Flamenco Festival is now a calendar fixture. I saw the name of Tomatito in this year’s line-up, noticed that tickets for his concert were disappearing fast: I thought I’d better snap one up.

A student of Paco de Lucia – another flamenco legend – José Fernández Torres , known as Tomatito is a virtuoso in a technically demanding style of music characterised by tight, intense rhythmic strums and passionate flourishes.

Tomatito has partly remained true to the flamenco tradition, but his compositions are enriched with harmonic and melodic elements borrowed from jazz. He has also collaborated with George Benson (above), Michael Camilo, and Chick Corea.

At its best, this willingness to look outwards beyond flamenco feels natural, and the extended vocabulary allows greater scope, subtlety, and surprise in the music, thereby freeing him up to explore amazingly intricate and relentless rhythmic textures.

As with any exploratory, risk-taking artist, there is the occasional misfire: I have found the production on some pieces a little too rich, sentimental, or “smooth.”

The setup for this Wednesday’s performance (two singers, a percussionist, a second guitar and a dancer) is traditional. I'm looking forward to plenty of authentic passion.

The London Flamenco Festival runs until Saturday February 19th

Flamenco Festival London

Tomatito's website