Booking for Wynton at Ronnie's

Booking for Wynton Marsalis' dates at Ronnie Scott's (Aug 16-20) is currently open to members and will open to the public on Monday morning June 6th.


Review: Jonny Phillips' Oriole, plus Django Bates' Beloved Bird

Jonny Phillips' Oriole plus Django Bates' Beloved Bird
(Kings Place, May 29th 2011, final day of F-IRE Rhythmic Frontiers Festival. Review and photos by Roger Thomas)

The Next Generation Big Band, made up of students from the Royal Academy of Music, had started the day's proceeings, but it was the evening pincer movement with Django Bates leading the Hall One flank and Jonny Phillips' Oriole heading the Hall Two flank that gave a 'mission accomplished' feel for F-IRE's 3-day Festival.

This was less of a battle though, more like a musical Peace Corps, with Django expressing his love of Charlie 'Bird' Parker through the Beloved Bird theme and Jonny Phillips his love of all nations through all-embracing compositions tinged with the influences of Spain, South America, North Africa.

Much may have been been written about Django and his latest album - it has. Parker's music may have been been done to death - discuss. Django's interpretations, however, with his trio consisting of Swedish bass player Petter Eldh and Danish drummer Peter Bruun did give fresh and insightful perspectives into the music of the Godfather of Be-Bop. Some of the sparse intoductions by the piano and occasional subtle palm-work by Bruun across the toms offered playful moments - you're trying to guess exactly which part of Bird is about to take flight. But it would only take a slight innuendo from Petter Eldh's bass or from the Steinway for a smile of recognition to come across the faces of the audience as the full workings of Django's arrangement were revealed.

In 'Star Eyes,' a particular favourite of mine, the rhythmic interplay nicely pulsated by Eldh's bass created an atmosphere almost like that of a school playground game of tag which at those moments of release where you could imagine yourself making a dash for it and the band fully swinging I found myself forced to gleefully to sing the melody. Successively, each song continued to draw out introspection, excitement and surprise.

At one point when Django came to the microphone to introduce the trio, with set list in hand (and tongue in cheek) he said that he would be leaving the set list on the stage at the end of the show for anyone who wish to know the names of the songs to come up and look. For the more avid Bird devotees in the audience I'm sure they wouldn't find it necessary as the treatment of each of each song by Django and the band was lovingly crafted so no matter how far out an arrangement would be taken the essense was always there and in some cases I could imagine the original 78rmp or vinyl record of the song playing in the background perhaps it was just me but what was clear was the fact that the audience was also loving the performance because at the end of the show they wasted no time in stomping up an encore.

Meanwhile across in Hall Two Jonny Phillips' Oriole was also giving up the love. The love of all things experienced from far flung places. You could almost class Jonny as a vulture of different cultures, a man who seems to feed off exoticism and see nothing idle about sitting on a beach in Cadiz to catch whatever influences might be blowing in the wind. Which is exactly what was the inspiration for the opening composition Levente which is described as a wind that blows from North Morocco across the Mediterranean to southern Spain.

Cellist Ben Davis started the wind with some evocative lines gathering pace from from the arpeggiated subtleties of Nick Ramm on piano joined by some light drum work of Bosco de Oliveria and percussive sounds of Barak Schmool. The wind had left the North African shores and was in full sail by the time the whole ensemble of Ruth Goller - bass, Idris Rahman - sax and Jonny on guitar were now blending all the elements of the regions travelled.

The evening was dedicated to performing the entire works of the new album currently being finished off. The compositions are light and refreshing taking you to places of serenity as well as joyous celebration.

Originally to be titled 'Mementos' Jonny stated that he has decided to change the name of the album saying although it is in part a celebration of moments and people that have past he didn't feel comfortable with a backward looking sentiment. "All those moments were spontaneous and people forward thinking. When i sat and listened to the finished recording it made me remember that each tune was born from the excitement of living 'Every New Day'"

Jonny went on to say "I'm very proud of the recording and my band and can't wait to share it with people", to which I'm sure there are lots of us out there for whom the wait until September - when 'Every New Day' is scheduled to be released - will feel like a long one.

In the meanwhile I hope that F-IRE keeps burning bright.


Review: Stewart Lee - works by John Cage

Stewart Lee, Steve Beresford, Tania Chen, Harry Hill and Alan Tomlinson perform John Cage
(Purcell Room on Saturday 29 May, 2011; review and drawings* by Geoff Winston

Stewart Lee, best known as a comedian, has championed radical guitarist Derek Bailey on Radio 4's ‘The Music Group’ ("that music ... it stops time"). Last year he won Celebrity Mastermind with Bailey as his subject. So when he invited Beresford, Chen and Tomlnson to perform Cage's Indeterminacy and other pieces at the Purcell Room, it seemed the perfect opportunity to make a Cage Day of it.

The day started with a trip to Bexhill-on-Sea's modernist De La Warr Pavilion to see the exhibition of Cage's sublime and understated art works, ‘Every Day is a Good Day’. The show includes a wonderful film of Cage’s performance of 'Water Walk' on American TV, which was the template for its re-enactment by Harry Hill in the evening's concert.

Humour was an integral part of the proceedings. Cage is known primarily for his re-evaluation of the concepts of musical composition and performance, but his questioning and his general outlook were accompanied by a grace and a gentle wit, which are easily overlooked.

In the opening exploratory duet Beresford's delicate, richly nuanced piano was the foil to Alan Tomlinson's mobile, expressive vitality; breaths were drawn through the trombone mouthpiece before exploding into a raucous elephantine bellow.

Tania Chen, a seasoned interpreter of Cage, opened her solo improvisation on prepared piano (Cage's invention, born of necessity in 1940), adding a mild, percussive rattle. In an expressive, tempered sequence, she leaned to pick out notes on the piano strings; mellow then turned jumpy, and she closed with a fevered burst.

Tomlinson's inspired interpretation of Cage's 'Solo for Sliding Trombone' (of which he asked, not unreasonably, "What is a sliding trombone?") drew on the traditions of vaudeville. Dressed in black tights, cream jacket, bow tie and a red cummerbund, Tomlinson re-enacted Chisholm's solo from the Goons' 'Ying Tong Song' and, in explaining Cage's open-ended instructions to the performer - tongue-in-cheek bordering on disbelief - he mentioned that Cage sought guidance from a trombonist who had played with Spike Jones. Tomlinson's virtuosic display included the dismantling of his instrument, as he followed his selected path through the score. As he nodded the beats, there were blurted single notes, and the application of various mutes and found objects, including a metal pie plate which vibrated unnervingly, and a plastic cup which bounced around inside the bell. He blew into the bell, and a laughing trombone ended up as amplified, liquid gargles played only on the main slide.

Difficult to follow, but what better than a respectful and accurate rendering of Cage’s ‘Water Walk’? Harry Hill navigated his way through the self-timed 3 minute obstacle course of mainly water-related equipment - a bath, a hissing pressure cooker, a squeaky rubber duck, a food processor filled with ice, a watering can, a vase of flowers, a glass and a bottle of Campari - to name just a few - along with a piano and a bank of mute radios, producing a sequence of events and sounds, which, through precision and serendipity, avoided a descent into slapstick.

The main event was the trio of Stewart Lee, reciting 40 of Cage's one-minute stories (there are 200 to choose from), to the dissociated accompaniment of Beresford and Chen on a variety of implements and instruments. The stories, drawn by Cage from his personal experience and his reading, are succinctly set out and each makes a point, often with a philosophical resonance. Lee read these with the awkward, gappy pacing that Cage instructed, speeding up or spreading out to fit their 60 second allocations. The musicians worked in tandem, independently of Lee, as Cage deemed, creating a soundtrack to the spoken text, with odd juxtapositions and unconventional instrumentation, slipping from drama to whimsy, and pianissimo to forte, which briefly drowned out a few words. Beresford created wind chimes from the piano wires; Chen used maracas, a rattle, wind-up toys, a small whistle and finally blew up and squeaked the membrane of a red balloon. Once the humour had evaporated a calm thoughtfulness remained, echoed in the subtext of one anecdote in which the Zen master, Dr Suzuki said that after studying Zen "... the feet are a little bit off the ground." The audience left with a mild hover in its collective step.


Festival Round-up: European Jazz Expo 2011 in Cagliari

EUROPEAN JAZZ EXPO, PARCO MONTE CLARO, CAGLIARI, SARDINIA, MAY 26-29, 2011 (Photo credit above: Agostino Mela)


- Rita Marcotulli's trio (photo below) with Gianluca Biondini and Javier Girotto, and the perfect sunset which greeted Marcotulli's Premio EJE
- Tigran Hamsayan with Jeff Ballard- Big names of Italian jazz Stefano Bollani, Stefano di Battista- Maria Pia de Vito for vocal versatility
- And an easily overlooked unsung hero: pianist Max Tempia
- And the Brits: ex-Glaswegian Nick the Nightfly, Filomena Campus Quartet, Ray Gelato - The see breeze in Cagliari, always there in the collective memory of Sardinians, and in reality
- A great gig to end: Enzo Pietropaoli Quartet- A large good-natured crowd in a city park
- At 25 Euros for 50 gigs, over four days, astonishingly good value
Rita Marcotulli. Photo credit: Agostino Mela.

One of the very first things which the visitor to Cagliari notices is the cooling breeze from the sea. The locals talk a lot about it. Cagliari is an historic seaport, the wind, which is an integral part of that history, made several appearances, during the festival, both welcome and unwelcome. The wind has its rights in Cagliari: afrer all, it was here first.

It made its first scheduled appearance in the title of the opening concert. "Il colore el Maestrale," was a festival commission given by guitarist/composer Mauro Palmas and an orchestra is a special re-working of material from Palmas' 2011 album. For Palmas this wind, the "Maestrale" or Mistral, originating in North Africa, is a "vehicle for memories." Palmas in his notes talks about not hiding behind the harbour wall, but allowing the wind to bring back strong recollections from a career in music. On this occasion, the music was accompanied by back-projected images. In the first movements the beauty and the colours of the landscape brought folky melodies. There were other themes invoked, such as the taming of the interior, using footage of quarrying, but the main direction of the music was to inspire emotions and a sense of place, and one Sardinian exile told me it had indeed struck a strong emotional resonance in her.

For me it was the appearance of veteran launeddas player Luigi Lai which stole the show. The launeddas is a traditional wind instrument sounding like bagpipes but reliant on human breath and on circular brathing technique. Lai is a powerfully rhythmic player, the band members were swaying and moving in rhythm, the audience cheered him to the echo. The presence of a musician like Lai typifies the fierce pride which Sardinians have for the island, its history and its folk tradition. To travel to a European jazz festival like EJE Cagliari is to witness a community showing itself at its most characterful and best.


A lovely moment occurred in the Piccola Arena. Sardinian singer Elena Ledda and italian pianist Rita Marcotulli were being presented with their joint award the Premio EJE, the festival's main prize. I turned round and my eyes caught the evening sky. While a speaker was paying tribute to one of the guiding spirits behind the original "Jazz in Sardegna" festivals of the 1980's, Alberto Rodriguez, the sky spoke too. Perhaps the ultimate sitter-in at a jazz gig is the deep red of a perfect Cagliari sunset.

There was another connection with nature and history to be made at that moment. Sardinian sculptor Pinuccio Sciola who works with Sardinian basalt rock, has been a friend of the festivl since the early days and has made the awards given to the artist of the year every year. He once welcomed Don Cherry and Sun Ra in the early days to be his houseguests, and to show them around his "stone garden." Cherry, apparently returned the compliment and played for the sculptures and the doves. Sciola was also honoured at this concert as the "Symbolic godfather" of the festival.

I caught the first half of Ledda and Marcotulli's performance. "I silenzio delle donne" was a fesitval commission in which the pianist and singer worked with three dancers - Monica Casadei, also responsible for the choreography, Gloria Dorliguzzo and Sara Muccioli. What stays in the mind is Ledda's warm and characterful voice, Marcotulli's wonderfully supportive and piano playing, and above all a beautiful sense of structure and line in each song, which gave shape to the dancers movements, entrances and exits.

Entry to the festival was completely free on Friday, and this was the day when a colourful arrangement of childrens' play equipment received the happy attentions of crowds of youngsters. As the evening proceeded, and the teenagers came in to the park in droves, a British visitor could not fail to be impressed at how good-humoured it all was. I could see no alcohol-fuelled anger whatsoever.
Gianluca Pellerito. Photo credit: Agostino Mela.

Another highlight of the Friday was the appearance of seventeen year-old drummer Gianluca Pellerito. Pellerito, I was told, had been brought to a Berklee jazz school audition panel in Perugia at the age of eight, and had already captured the panel's attention. He has since been remarked on by Peter Erskine, and studied with him, and goes regularly to the US. Though never outgunned musically, he looked physically slight in the company of far older players. The group led by American saxophonist Michael Rosen powered through funk-oriented versions of Chick Corea's Spain and "Take Five." Pellerito will surely in time get to discover and hang out with players of his own generation.

I also caught, briefly an energetic young Mallorcan band . The Balearic islands have historic ties to Sardinia, and to see such associations renewed through a significant Mallorcan presence at a jazz festival was a heartening sight.

As the evening progressed and darknss descended , the action moved over to the main stage, the Arena, for two shows with strong British connections:

Nick the Nightfly is an Italian phenomenon. Nick - it is his stage name - hails originally from Glasgow. Through his artistic stewardship of the Blue Note in Milan, and especially through a popular jazz show on Radio Mote Carlo, he is a highly popular figure in Italian jazz. He sang the lively self-penned songs from his 2010 album "Nice One," had a large crowd dancing and cheering enthusiastically.

Kai Hoffman and Ray Gelato. Photo credit: Marco Floris 
Another musician who knows how to energize a crowd is Ray Gelato. His band of top flight UK musicians such as Alex Garnett on tenor sax and Seb de Krom on drums and characterful singer Kai Hoffman took over from Nick the Nightfly with scarcely a pause, and got a great lively reaction from an enthusiastic young Italian audience.
This crowd, mainly of teenagers, grew massively after nightfall, but the whole atmosphere was relaxed, unthreatening good-natured.

On Saturday the wind made a brief unscheduled appearance at around 6pm. It made a serious attempt to disrupt a wonderful set from the trio of Rita Marcotulli, accordionist Gianluca Biondini and the Argentinian soprano and baritone saxophone player Javier Girotto, based around the CD "Variazioni su tema" (SARDCD 0016). To see the players also coping with high winds, yet keeping up both a feverish pace of work, and their happy conversational interplay, without ever flinching, spoke volumes about their professionalism.

I hadn't heard Biondini (photo below) before. He is a world-class player in the same league as Richard Galliano, and the miracles of stepping on tiptoe through Marcotulli's gorgeously shifting harmonies, while avoiding any clash of the two chordal instruments was joyous. Saxophonist Girotto brings expressive range to the group: there is often a rawness and a fervour on his soprano which can take the collective vibe to a different place. Or, for contrast, he has punch and assertiveness, but also warmth, on baritone. On the tune "La Vanita" he adapted his playing remarkably, to match to perfection the snatched articulation of the accordion.

Gianluca Biondino

Marcotulli as composer has won the prestigious David di Donatella prize this year for her work on a recent film score. This trio with its summery upbeat feel and its catchy melodiousness, is ideal festival fare, should have festival bookers seeking out slots. They had the worst of the wind. Sardinian sages, I was told, were predicting that the wind would subside after nightfall. And they were right.

Earlier in the day we were able to listen to the nicely contrasting style of Norwegian pianist Helge Lien's trio. Lien achieves stillness, concentration which often stands out in relief against the busy-ness of his bassist Frode Berg. The delicacies of Lien's Bill Evansish introspection in "Hyll" risked getting lost in the setting of a park, but the sound engineers were doing a great job capturing his elegant piano touch. It was interesting on a weekend surrounded by Italian musicians who tend to produce singable, melodic, emotional material to be exposed to Lien's more cerebral and detached music.

Maria Pia de Vito. Photo credit: Agostino Mela.

Maria Pia de Vito's set was a joy. She is fearlessly versatile, yet impeccable in everything she attempts, from a sensuous and thoroughly engaging duo ballad with piano, to fiendish bebop heads to beatboxing. Some commentators lament the limitations of the vocoder-synth, but Maria Pia de Vito used it creatively on a song with a happy poppy undercurrent similar to Jamie Cullum's --"Get Your Way." A Cullum-De Vito collaboration one day? Who knows?

The Italian audience (see top picture/ credit :Agostino Mela) on the festival's busiest day made sure that they were in their seats early for Stefano Bollani. There was standing room only, even for the soundcheck. I counted fifteen photographers capturing the action for posterity. Bollani's "Visionari" band plays extrovert confident music. The focus is on the leader. The powerful clarinet player was having to work his socks off just to get a delayed ripple of applause for solos in which he had given his all. Bollani, on the other hand, would garner immediate applause mid-solo, just for switching from Rhodes to piano. This was extrovert music, powerfully played to an enthusiastic and packed house.

I caught briefly the cheery Italian band Funk Off, who were leading a great party set. They are well-drilled, bob up and down to stand and play on cue. Sonically, those of us who think and listen low were getting a treat. Funk Off has a bass clef anchor and engine of a sousaphone and three baritone saxophones. That was the sound audible from the distance echoing through the trees as the blaring of trumpets, melted and dissipated like the ice cream sculptures feom Isola del Gelato in the Piazza Yenne.

Saturday night in the arena. Photo credit: Marco Floris

The busiest point in the festival was the appearance of Alpha Biondy on the main arena stage. A reporter from L'Unione Sarda has already reported that the reggae star from Cote d'Ivoire turned the park into a "dancefloor sotto le stelle" (as in picture above. Anyway, the party went on afterwards at the elegant modern T-Hotel. Nick the Nightfly did a late set and was living up to his name, welcoming sitters-in up on to the stand at a lively jam session which went on into the small hours.


Tigran Hamsayan, Photo credit : Agostino Mela.

The first gigs of the day were at 11am. The reputation of Tigran Hamsayan, Armenian-born, a former student of Alan Pasqua in California, and now a resident of New York, precedes him. He was the winner of the Monk piano competition and has garnered a second and a third prize on subsequent appearances in the Martial Solal competition. It was an intriguing prospect to hear him in a park completely open to the public. Beyond the hedges behind the stage were Sunday morning joggers, each in his or her own headphone-enclosed world, oblivious to what was going on. There was the occasional sound of children from the swings of a nearby playground. And yet Hamsayan's musicianship and dazzling pianism held the attention completely. He justifies easily his place among the elite of young piano players. His set consisted of originals, mostly infused by the Russian-Armenian heritage, with oriental scales, He was joined for two numbers at the end of his set by master drummer Jeff Ballard - no less - on fabulous form. The closer, "Leaving Paris," a Hasayan origina,l penned when the pianist-composer was in his teens, had echoes of French chanson and Chabrier, and completely caught the mood of a Sunday morning.

5pm presented an interesting choice of unfamiliar acts. The stages being so close together, it was possible to sample a couple and to stroll on. I tried Roberta Alloisio's charmingly melodic modern folk take on seventeenth century courtly love. And the childhood memories of "goats and oats" of the original female Jamaican dub poet Jean "Binta" Breeze. But the artists who made me want to linger and listen were a duo of trumpeter Andrea Tuffanelli, a proud native of Puccini's home town of Torre Del Lago, with that kind of characterful, reliable, supportive pianist who forms the backbone of any jazz scene, Max Tempia from Biella. While Tuffanelli pleased the crowd with his lead trumpet high notes, reaching up into Maynard Ferguson territory, Tempia provided imaginative and creative support throughout. They played a medley based on Puccini arias, reinforcing the strong dual roots which in Italian jazz has in vocal music and in the localities and regions which give pride and a sense of belonging.

Stefano di Battista and Gino Castaldo, Photo credit : Agostino Mela.

Stefano di Battista  brought an all-male group to pay tribute to the legendary women of our time. There wasn't a weak link in the band. Jeff Ballard introduced "Lara Croft" with an imitation on drum kit of an arcade shoot-em-up game which will stay in the mind. Jonathan Kreisberg brought synth sophistication and earthy bluesiness to his guitar contrbutions. However, the spoken introductions by journalist Gino Castaldo were over-wordy, and testing the boundaries of relevance, like an explanation that Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova might really have been Molly Bloom because she had been launched into orbit on Blooms Day, for example.... To me, the whole ended up as more than the sum of its parts. The crowd were getting into the energy of the performance, and di Battista is always an interesting composer.

Bill Saxton/ Charles Tolliver. Photo credit: Agostino Mela

New York tenor player Bill Saxton had as guest the legendary trumpeter Charles Tolliver, sprightly as he approaches his seventieth year . His composition "The Ringer," a mode-shifting son of Horace Silver's "Song to My Father," and a ferociously fast Saxton original "Blues for Obama" were the highlight of the quintet's lively set.

Filomena Campus brought some of the elite rhythm section players from the London scene - Steve Lodder on piano, Dudley Phillips on bass and Winston Clifford on drums. In a well-judged set, Campus shone in the peaceful Sardinian song "No potho reposare." She rounded off the set in a lively bossa tribute to Brazilian stage director Augusto Boal, with Campus reaching up well into head-voice, and the trio hiting the groove hard.

One of the strongest performances of the festival came right at the end. A quartet led by bassist Enzo Pietropaoli, and consistig of much younger players who clearly revere him and thrive in his company were playing originals from the album Yatra (Jando Music). Drummer Alessandro Paternesi's drumming was creative and explosive. The audience seemed to make a beeline for these popular musicians.


"One park, four days, 50 concerts, 8 stages." These key facts about European Jazz Expo Cagliari 2011 had been neatly displayed in the advance publicity. But, digging deeper, there is quite some history here. A jazz festival has taken place in Sardinia's capital since 1980, and the European Jazz Expo since 2004. This year the organizers have been able for the first time to move the festival and Expo from the Fiera or trade fair area on the city's outskirts, into the city centre, into Monte Claro park, and to hold the event in May. They are an experienced team, and it shows. There were a lot of people involved in the smooth running of the festival and the expo, from top caterers to paramedics in bright orange, from security staff to volunteers and litter-clearers, all going purposefully and effectively
about their business.

Photo Credit: Marco Floris

A couple more statistics are that the maximum price of a season ticket giving admission to everything on the two paying nights was amazing value: 25 Euros. The festival drew a crowd of several thousand.


I was the guest of EJE Cagliari. The festival interested me because of the line-up, the location, but also the fact that trying out a new venue for the festival, even for an experienced team, would present challenges. In the event, experience does count, and this first festival in a new home appears to have surpassed the expectations of its promoters and partners. Visitors will also find, as I have that Cagliari has fabulous food, great beaches, and is a city with a history stretching back into antiquity. and a cooling breeze.


Review: Craig Taborn solo

Craig Taborn
(Vortex, Wednesday 25th May 2011. Review and drawing* by Geoff Winston

Nothing, they say, can beat live performance at its best - even a superb studio recording. An assertion which could be no better borne out than by Craig Taborn's mesmerising solo sets at the Vortex, which kicked off a short European tour promoting his first solo ECM release, 'Avenging Angel'.

The album, produced by Manfred Eicher, was recorded on the Steinway in ECM's hallowed Lugano recital room and beautifully captures Taborn's haunting improvisations. The Vortex, with its treasured Steinway placed centre-stage (its welfare the subject of their 'Tip the Piano' campaign), the sympathetic acoustics and living-room intimacy, was the perfect platform for Taborn's intense, virtuosic improvisational process.

Taborn had just flown in from New York, but that did not temper his vibrant creativity and the technical and intellectual challenges he sets himself. Watching his physical style adds another dimension to those captured on disc. It is as though there are no rules for either hand, as his left freely takes over the melodic role from the right and both share the percussive initiatives and independent rhythmic metrics. Taborn embraced the Steinway and at times appeared to dwarf the instrument as he responded to its singularity - its timbres, clarity and resonance.

As on the recording, Taborn makes a point of maintaining the sustains. Letting go of the vaguely Frere Jacques trickle in his second piece he allowed waves of ethereality to drift in and gradually scrunched himself up foetally, head by his hands at the keyboard, with the dying sound leaving a sense of purity which defied description. The ensuing dynamics saw the broad spans of his hands bouncing vigorously, as if off a trampoline, weaving dense rhythmic complexity in the spirit of Nancarrow, with a sprinkling of Tatum.

His hands were ever-active, grabbing clusters of notes or placing chords on to the keyboard with deliberation. Taborn's grace and phrasing can be reminiscent of Satie or John Lewis's solo works, so it was no surprise when he explained that he'd just done a week with Paul Motion revisiting the MJQ's songbook, and that he "had to get [his] head back"! There was power and brilliance to Taborn's execution - a rare instance which invites comparison with Solal. A performance from the core in an environment he loves - "the Vortex feels like home" - and, ultimately, the piano was Taborn's stage.

* Drawing copyright Geoff Winston 2011. All rights reserved.

Avenging Angel is on ECM Records


CD Review: Howard Riley - The Complete Short Stories 1998–2010

Howard Riley - The Complete Short Stories 1998–2010
(NoBusiness Records NBCD 21–26. CD Review by Chris Parker)

A six-CD set, The Complete Short Stories 1998–2010 documents what Howard Riley himself terms 'a project, a one-off conceptual idea that exists on disc only': 61 solo-piano pieces recorded between 1998 and 2006 and released as Short Stories (ESP) and Short Stories Vol. 2 (Slam); 13 pieces from a previously unreleased 2008 session (CD 5); and (CD 6) five longer, extended-form pieces taken from material recorded in the existing sessions.

Brian Morton, in his characteristically erudite, informative and perceptive sleevenotes, has almost rendered further commentary redundant, but it might be of interest to reproduce here, instead of a conventional review, Riley's own comments on his approach to solo playing, recorded at the BBC's Maida Vale studios in May, 1989. He is actually talking about an earlier project, Imprints, but everything he says applies, mutatis mutandis, to Short Stories:

I've been doing a series of solo-piano pieces since the early 1970s and the idea of them is that they're largely improvised, but each also has a written element that indicates very specific areas of playing. Having said that, usually, they're not structured: they have a rhythm, or perhaps an idea, a motif, even something that isn't written down.

For example, in 'Imprints 24', I just had the idea of starting out playing, with both hands, straight crotchets, 1-2-3-4 together, then gradually breaking that pattern up but retaining the walking-bass left hand and breaking it up in the right hand, then coming back to that idea at the top of the piano at the end, while letting it go where it wants to go in between. It's just material that sets up ideas for me to play – because one of the problems of solo playing is the obvious one: you're on your own.

When I play with groups, most of them (except the special case, the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, it being a large band) are very free groups, without written material, and we don't rehearse, we just go and play. That context obviously relies on people playing together and the feeling between them.

When you're solo, as I say, you're on your own, so these pieces give me a direction. Occasionally, I'll just sit down and play – I'm quite happy doing that, but I find that if I'm doing a broadcast or concert, these pieces are useful because they give me a definite direction, material to work from. So, '17' has sixteen bars of written stuff at the beginning, then I improvise on that, then I gradually come back and play it again at the end. '18' has a written theme which appears only at the end, because although I've written it out, I feel free to alter it on the spot, so it appears in many different ways at the end. I use the motifs in the improvising, but without stating it at the beginning. So that's the germ of an idea that's in my head all the time I'm playing the piece.

In the last ten or fifteen years, I've found myself in the solo work using my whole background in jazz, from the very early days in the 1950s – chord changes, bebop – then into free (what happens if you don't use chord changes) in the 1960s. My solo playing pulls together all those things and makes them work for me, developing a vocabulary out of all that knowledge I've accumulated. I feel that learning something and then just throwing it away is a bit stupid, really, and I find that whenever I concentrate on a specific area of playing, there are things in there that I can use in my own playing.

Obviously, you'll reject most of it, but 5 per cent you can use, and so it's a question of accumulating those things so that at any given point in your playing you're going to get a sum of all that knowledge. So now I can accommodate tonality, atonality, different textures at the piano – more traditional textures coexisting with more modern stuff – and it all fits together quite nicely, with no strain. That's come out in my playing. It's also an attitude that comes out in your playing: being open, letting things influence you.


CD Review: Wolfert Brederode Quartet - Post Scriptum

Wolfert Brederode Quartet - Post Scriptum
(ECM 276 4500. CD Review by Chris Parker

Dutch pianist Wolfert Brederode's first album with his international quartet, Currents, drew this comment from Jazz Journal's Michael Tucker: 'a patiently and intelligently shaped album […] the currents here are mostly deep and slow-moving, sometimes practically hypnotic in their ebb and flow', and this follow-up recording might be described in just the same way.

To assist him in achieving his often mesmeric effect, Brederode has Swiss clarinettist Claudio Puntin, Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen (something of an ECM regular, having recorded with Trygve Seim and Tord Gustavsen, among others) and another Swiss, Samuel Rohrer, on drums, and they flicker in and out of prominence around and behind his thoughtful piano musings, creating what Brederode calls 'a very natural way of working together … As we play the music one of us may be "featured" or come to the fore in a particular piece, but these things arise spontaneously, and change constantly.'

The material, mostly in-band originals, nine of the album's fourteen pieces by Brederode himself, is typical ECM fare: softly
pattering, lyrically fluent, occasionally rubato excursions hardening from time to time into quietly intense, subtle interaction between players more
interested in slow builds and unusual textures than in outright swing or straightforward propulsiveness.

Those listeners who came out of Tord Gustavsen's recent Cheltenham concert muttering about the difficulty they had staying awake during it will not be any more impressed with Brederode; more patient souls with a meditative streak, however, will find much to engage them in this painstakingly wrought and oddly compelling music.

ECM Records website


Preview: London Trumpet Ensemble with Mark Nightingale 9th June Pizza Express Dean Street.

Preview: London Trumpet Ensemble with Mark Nightingale 9th June Pizza Express Dean Street.

Steve Fishwick writes:

This gig will mark the debut of the London Trumpet Ensemble, a co-operative group that we’ve set up to promote jazz and new music played on the trumpet. The aim is to feature special guests from the UK and beyond along with the core group. It’s quite a rare occurrence (in my experience at least) for trumpet players to play together in a small group context. Sure, we often get together in the ranks of a big band, but it’s an altogether different thing to be able to stretch out and bounce off each other in a small combo with a great rhythm section.

Percy Pursglove, Robbie Robson and I will be doing exactly this at the Pizza Express on the 9th of June. Percy and Robbie are two of my favourite trumpet players around today. Percy has a fiery and adventurous approach to the horn whereas Robbie has a more mellow lyricism, but with a contemporary edge.

And then there's trombonist Mark Nightingale. Mark is renowned throughout the music fraternity and beyond as one of the best trombonists in the world today. I first became aware of him in my college days in 1995 when another trombonist, Mike Feltham, played me his album, ‘What I Wanted to Say’, which features no less than Ray Brown on bass. My initial reaction was “are you sure that’s a slide trombone he’s playing?!” I’ve been an admirer ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to play with him many times in big bands and he never fails to play something that makes my jaw hit the floor. Plus he makes it all look so easy. This will be one of the few times I’ve played with him in a small group so I’m really looking forward to this one.

We’ll be playing some of Mark’s compositions specially arranged for this line up along with some of our music and the occasional re-imagined standard. We have a pretty fiery rhythm section too: Michael Janisch on bass, Andrew Bain on drums and Malcolm Edmonstone on piano.

Expect sparks to fly when you let four brass players off the leash like this. But these guys are also musicians of such quality, it's going to be far more than a higher-faster-louder competition. I'm looking forward to it.

Boookings at


Tributes to Miles Davis at 85

Today would have been Miles Davis' 85th birthday. (Photo Credit: William Ellis, taken at the Apollo in Manchester in 1989) We have a few tributes so far. Please join in with a comment.

Pete Cook

I suppose my introduction was the same as many other people's – Kind of Blue. I know he did so much else, and I really like his bebop playing on those sides he made with Charlie Parker. He was one of those guys who always seemed to be searching for something new right to the end of his career. One aspect of his playing I really admire on Kind of Blue and the things with Gil Evans is his ability to play a tune so simply yet with so much detail. A true pioneer.

Tony Dudley-Evans:

I first listened to Miles on the Charlie Parker 1940s recordings, but it was the Milestones album from 1958 that really made me realise what a key figure Miles is. I moved on to Kind of Blue and really loved that period. But I also got to like his later stuff from Bitches Brew through to Tutu. We were lucky to have one of Miles' final ever concerts at Birmingham NEC; Miles was brilliant and even smiled and waved at the audience. Happy Birthday, Miles.

William Ellis:

Photographing Miles was something I thought could never happen but when I heard he was coming to Manchester I felt this was my only chance. Somehow I tracked down the promoter and basically begged for permission to shoot. I had bought 2 sets of tickets for the 2 nights already -maybe that was what clinched it - he agreed.

I always have a great feeling of exhilaration as a concert starts but this was like nothing else I'd done until that night.

To be there with a truly iconic figure was surreal.He embodied so much, I sensed the presence of the great musicians he had played with through all those years and what he represents to so many people as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

Photographs are my response to the music and what's happening in front of me - whilst simultaneously detached from everything, composing the images appearing in the viewfinder as the first 15 minutes of the concert unfolded.

Photographing Miles Davis was a turning point for me in jazz and opened up many avenues, gaining me access to venues, festivals and commissions.But it was really so much much more than that.

Frank Griffith :

Miles’s sound and style and general musical aura did not change that greatly over his forty five year playing career. However, his approach and settings did greatly. That was his destiny and he could do little about it.

Pianist Keith Jarrett tells a story in a 1986 CBS (USA) documentary which illustrates this. Keith was on a gig in the early 1970s with Miles’ band which was a largely rock/soul outfit with the lone exception of Keith playing the Fender Rhodes keyboard. At one point in the middle of the concert Miles suddenly started playing Stella by Starlight from out of nowhere. Unsurprisingly, Keith was the only band member who knew the tune well enough to accompany him. They got through it somehow and later after the concert Miles said to Keith “do you know the reason why I don’t play ballads anymore, Keith?” Regardless of whether he knew the answer or not, Keith responded “no, Miles, why is that?” “Because I love them too much”

Miles was the ultimate artist, reckoned Keith, as he prevented himself from doing that he loved in favour of continually pursuing uncharted grounds of creativity even if they were not as successful as his ballad years.

Robbie Robson:

For me the most intriguing and exciting period in Miles' career are the years from 69-70 where he played with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland - the Lost Quintet.It feels like a real turning point musically. The material had been becomming more and more free, but this was the moment when everything opened up and after which anything could happen.

The combination of Jack's fieriness and soulful groove, with Chick's angular textured Rhodes playing gets to me every time. The combination of players seemed to allow Wayne to play just freely and explore sounds . Miles seemed so completely unafraid of the massive potential for chaos- he sounds direct and succinct as always, but in a very free context which hadn't happened in his music up to that point. Whilst those who take a real interest in Miles are aware of this period and this group, there are no studio albums, so it seems to remain largely under the radar.

It inspired me to start my band Dog Soup, in which we try to capture this spirit of freedom.

Adam Sieff :

Happy Birthday Miles! I've been a major fan ever since seeing you play at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, and was lucky enough to work with your catalogue during my ten year stint running Sony Jazz.

What care we put into that work - we wanted everything to be as right as it possibly could be whether it was the SACD, 24-bit MasterSound, DualDisc, MiniDisc, 5 speaker surround sound DVD, cardboard gatefold mini sleeve, lavish box set series and, most importantly, the best possible mastering - nothing was too good for the prince of darkness, but there again, he was responsible for well over half of our jazz catalogue sales.

It's heartbreaking to see all the public domain resissues coming out with cloned CDs or just plain substandard audio quality. Miles' legacy deserves better, so please try and remember his music at its very best, as it was some of the very best jazz music ever. I'm sure he would have had a few choice words to say on the matter. He usually did.


News: Wynton Marsalis at Ronnie's August 16th - 20th

Ronnie Scott's will be celebrating the fifth anniversary of its re-launch under new ownership in some style. Wynton Marsalis (portrait above taken in Glasgow, photo credit: William Ellis) is booked to perform at the club for the five nights from August 16th-20th, immediately following the end ofortnight-long Britjazz Festival. Tickets will go on sale shortly.


Review: Okkyung Lee (Cafe Oto and Vortex)

Okkyung Lee, Steve Beresford, John Butcher and Christian Marclay
(Cafe Oto, Saturday 21 May 2011)
Okkyung Lee, Phil Minton and Mark Sanders with Steve Noble and Alex Ward (Vortex, Sunday 22 May 2011). Reviews and drawings* by Geoff Winston

This was Okkyung Lee's Dalston weekend. The New York-based Korean cellist showcased her formidable talent with a mature confidence in two different contexts, alongside musicians drawn from the cream of the free-improv scene.

First she was heard in a quartet that has performed together once a year at Cafe Oto for the past three years - Christian Marclay, a frequent collaborator, Steve Beresford and John Butcher; and at the Vortex, coinciding with the launch of her studio album with Phil Minton - 'Anicca' (Dancing Wayang, vinyl only) - playing with him in public for the first time, joined also by Mark Sanders.

Lee is an improviser of acute sensibility, and in the range of her execution and interplay she gave the lie to her frequent casting as a dark, brooding, noise-oriented player. To each of the ensembles she brought a refreshing energy and clarity of musical vision, rooted in her classical background which she sensuously exploits in combinations of contrasting abstract and conventional techniques. She was, in this formidable company, both catalyst and complement.

At Cafe Oto each musician was pushed to the limit in duets and with the full quartet. Marclay was at his most intensely oblique, treating his turntables and array of LPs as one instrument to extrude peripheral glitches and dense washes of sound. Crackles and echoes coalesced in dramatic style, with glimpsed recordings of orchestral strings and florid piano providing uncanny juxtapositions with Lee's drawn, stretched and anguished cello.

Beresford, at one with his armoury of multifarious tabletop gizmos contributed elastic chameleon changes to the panorama - a fairground organ's chimes, springy bloops out of the 60s, a chunky hip-hop beat, interference, a distant radio signal. Butcher parped, lightly gargled through his soprano sax, tapped the mouthpiece and the keypads of his tenor and took his part in a melee of high-pitched cicada-like activity.

Marclay, in response to the heat generated, picked up two LPs and waved them, fan-like by Butcher to create a breeze and a rare moment of laughter, before all four joined in clattering rhythmic dialogue and a tense passage of delicate creaks, odd signals, scrapes, chimes and washes, ending with a final hovering breath.

At the Vortex, a stirring, focussed set from Alex Ward and Steve Noble set the tone for Lee's trio. Ward wrenched out the notes and flew all over the registers, forcing squealing echoes from a separated mouthpiece; Noble, in his element, slick, then bumping and grinding, changing mallets to utilise unconventional interfaces of materials, a constant dynamo.

Playing seated, the Lee/Minton/Sanders trio eschewed stillness, their two-number set a statement encompassing the underplayed, the distant, the underheard, with the visceral and the hauntingly immediate. Minton is about exertion, and the forging of languages - animal, human, the almost human - a vocal shaman, a sounding board for the emotions and the troubled landscape of the times. Lee caressed the body of the cello with fingers and hands, applied her bow in sweeps and light vibrating bounces, darted up and down the fingerboard, responding in kind to Minton's whistlings, gulps, intakes of breath, whooshes, muted cries and whispers. Sanders was inspired, intensely alert and engaged. He tinged tiny bells, pattered brushes, and found needle thin sticks to drag over the skins, ceaselessly filling out the rhythms with obscure percussive accessories, the perfect foil to Lee and Minton.

In a momentous passage they conjured up the ominous approach of an indefinable storm - from the disquiet of barely audible sound, Minton introduced a light breeze from the back of his mouth with Lee lightly rumbling in the deeper registers. Sanders struck a tambourine placed on the large cymbal. The threatening air brooked no relaxion; a natural and terrible vox emerged - sounds which found a coherence in those close to incoherence.

The rapt audience at the Vortex was treated to music deserving of 'sold out' signs, rounding off this short season of precariously balanced chemistry.

Images copyright Geoff Winston 2011. All Rights Reserved.


Preview: Dan Messore Indigo Kid Album Launch at 606

Guitarist Dan Messore writes:

Iain Ballamy and I first met when I was completing my MA at the Royal Welsh College Of Music and Drama in Cardiff. After getting on and playing and discussing music, Iain came and sat in with a band of mine on a couple of occasions at Dempseys. He showed interest in my playing approach and compositions and so we decided to record.

It was, and still is, a huge honour and learning experience for me. We recorded my original compositions with Iain producing and arranging the record which came to be "Indigo Kid".

Having the respect and backing of a player and visionary such as Iain has helped me focus and be confident in my own musical vision. I've since gone on to record my quintet "Lacuna" with the brilliant Steve Waterman on trumpet and Lee Goodall on flute and sax. I also run my trio "Trust Trio" with Aidan Thorne and Mark O'Connor on bass and drums. We were joined on the album by Tim Harries and Gethin Jones on bass and drums, both of whom add beautifully to the ideology of the album.

Indigo Kid is released on Babel, with a launch at the 606 on Thurs 2nd June.


CD Review: The Quentin Collins/Brandon Allen Quartet - What's It Gonna Be?

The Quentin Collins/Brandon Allen Quartet - What's It Gonna Be?
(Sunlightsquare Records SUNCD010, CD Review by Chris Parker)

From its hard-driving opener (tenor player Brandon Allen's What's It Gonna Be? to its infectiously lively closer (drummer Enzo Zirilli's mix of 'Tea for Two' with an almost 'Sidewinder'-ish shuffle rhythm, 'Teeth for Tooth'), this album harks back to the heyday of hard bop, recalling not only the Lee Morgan or Freddie Hubbard albums so beloved of co-leader, trumpeter Quentin Collins, but also (courtesy of Ross Stanley's evocative organ sound) the classic albums of Jimmy Smith and his ilk.

All its tracks except a radio-friendly visit to Stevie Wonder's 'Smile Please', sung by Natalie Williams, are in-band originals intelligently programmed to move between bustling swagger and moody slower pieces, but whether they're rattling through the former or brooding through the latter, the quartet has a breezy vigour and an unfussy interactive ease that can't fail to impress.

Collins is a refreshingly straightforward player, blazing and flaring on open trumpet, subtly noodling through a mute, or crooning through his flugelhorn as appropriate; Allen is a perfect frontline partner, his rich, powerful sound enabling him to steam through up-tempo numbers and channel tenderness through quieter ones; the rhythm section (buoyed by Stanley's deft bass pedals and sparked by Zirilli's crisply assertive drumming) bristles with disciplined authority – overall, this is an unequivocally enjoyable, immediately accessible but consistently musicianly album.


Review: Robert Glasper Experiment

Robert Glasper Experiment
(Ronnie Scott's, May 23rd 2011, first night of four)

This was a powerful evening, and long and full. The sets were generous: the band took their final applause at the end of their second set at around 11.30pm. Glasper has definitely attracted a younger and different crowd from Ronnie's regulars -  all four shows this week are completely sold out.

And yet, give credit where it's due, this was a proper, knowledgeable listening audience. People had brought their ears to the club for this show, and Glasper's hushed solo off-piste wanders engendered silence and a real ambiance in the room.

The core experience of the Robert Glasper Experiment, however is loud. Drummer Chris Dave asserts, dominates, explodes into action, basically drives the bus. While this can sometimes leave Glasper in the role of colourist, the pianist feeds off everything Dave does. Glasper does have astonishing resources of colour, rhythm, pure piano chops:  he is a genuine improviser who can literally go anywhere.  And Derrick Hodge is a subtle bassist, but his first sounds were at a volume to shake to the core  every one of us and every bit of furniture in the club.

The full house cheered the arrival of well-known songs from the last album Double Booked such as Herbie Hancock's Butterfly. Nirvana's Teen Spirit too. (Any more anyone?) Both were sung by Casey Benjamin using synth/vocoder. He's also a strong free player on soprano and alto saxophones, the latter also using synth effects.

It was also great to see an underlying strand of humour and camaraderie in this quartet. Fears that "LOL" might have killed off laughter are misplaced.

The support came from house pianist James Pearson with Phil Robson on guitar, Sam Burgess bass and the Cuban Ernesto Simpson on drums. It was stormy outside in London last night, and I guess Cubans know about storms. I just heard their closer, Caravan. Simpson was blowing a gale: his switches of feel from latin to swing to double to triple, following the form of the song to the nanosecond, were infectious and joyous.

There have been quite a few reviews of this residency, but I recommend Sanjiv Ahluwalia's for the Secret List


Bruce Barth and Perico Sambeat - Pizza Express Thurs 26th-Sat 28th

Those hands, those piano chops belong to Bruce Barth.

Check them out on the Pizza Express Dean Street's Steinway, with Catalan alto saxophonist Perico Sambeat, Jeremy Brown bass and Stephen Keogh drums this Thursday through to Saturday.


Review: The Charlie Haden London Concerts

The Charlie Haden London Concerts
(Barbican Hall, May 21st and 22nd 2011, Photo credits: Roger Thomas)
21st: Quartet West with Liane Carroll, Ruth Cameron and Melody Gardot)
22nd: The (Anglo-American) Liberation Music Orchestra, dir. Carla Bley

The Barbican's 2011 Charlie Haden concerts, venerating the 73-year old bassist, were conceived to be viewed as a diptych. Seen on consecutive nights, they memorably brought out the two contrasting sides of his unique contribution to the music of the past half-century.

The first concert featured Quartet West, a group which for 25 years has investigated and basked in precisely the same 40s film noir film/jazz inheritance which this weekend has been celebrated in the launch of the new Rockstar game "LA Noire" - see our feature.

The second brought to the stage the Anglo- American Liberation Music Orchestra, which trawls the repertoire of four protest albums brought out during the presidencies of four conservative American presidents. Again, there was a coincidence in timing: it was on the same day as an American president justified in person on BBC TV, the US's continued incursions in other territories.

Quartet West (Haden, Ernie Watts on tenor saxophone, Alan Broadbent on piano and Rodney Green on drums, above) produced an evening of great contrasts in mood, timbre, volume. From a particularly fiery opener "Today I am a Man" to a poised and hushed "First Song (for Ruth)" to the angular spooky classic "Lonely Woman," to the bouncy cha-cha of Childs Play. The three guest singers - Liane Carroll with stunning control of phrasing and narrative, Ruth Cameron with sincerity, and Melody Gardot with superhuman sostenuto took their moments well.

All four quartet players found the right mode of expression for a 1900-seater concert hall, and the crowd loved it. Ernie Watts and drummer Rodney Green captured every shifting mood. But I found myself above all being drawn in again and again by the subtle perfection of Alan Broadbent's piano playing. Accompanying Ruth Cameron in "Let's Call it a Day," every single fill and comment provided a gorgeous, cogent, through-composed countermelody. At other times he would variously set the scene for a song perfectly, or re-invent the Bach Two-Part Invention, or with fleetness of technique leave the likes of Rachmnaninov and Liszt gasping for breath several paces behind. And yet his playing is never intrusive, never selfish, somehow attention-grabbing without ever being attention-seeking.

The Liberation Orchestra is a great vehicle for Carla Bley's compositions, those sardonic waltzes, those reggae beats seen through a prism of Kurt Weill. The voice in the band I tend to listen out for is one of those protesting jazz voices which gets you to sit up and listen, the tailgate trombone. In Haden's orchestra I associate it with Roswell Rudd (b.1935) who went on to work with Arche Shepp. Last night that role was taken by Alastair White, particularly persuasive in "This is not America." But overall this was a band without a single weak link. John Parricelli, as ever, is there giving exactly what is needed to the texture and rising over it when required. Oren Marshall on tuba and Jim Rattigan on french horn seemed to make every one of their contributions count.

The freestage events were also successful. Musicians turned out in force to hear the Gretchen Parlato freestage - those three words are unlikely ever to make a phrase again, and rightly, on the Saturday. And there was a strong and appreciative audience for Robert Mitchell's lively, loud and likeable trio. The second night was overall not as well attended as the first, which was a shame.

At the end of each evening Haden had the last word, extolling the audience for their "great ears" and having listened intently, and producing a paean to beaty and compassion. But perhaps he had spoken most eloquently just before, in a duo with Carla Bley in the last number. That was one of those moments in the Barbican hall when you forget how many other people and purple seats there are around you, when you sense that every person in the hall has succumbed to the power of musicians who know how to communicate.

Produced by the Barbican Centre and Serious
A further selection of Roger Thomas's photos from the concerts are HERE


Photos: Charlie Haden and Ernie Watts ; Gretchen Parlato

Words later. Here are three images (photo credit: Roger Thomas) from last night at the Barbican.

(Above) You've got him Roger. That's a happy Charlie Haden, man.

(Middle) Haden watching on as Ernie Watts soars, roars in altissimo.

(Below)The Gretchen Parlato freestage, with Kendrick Scott on drums. A palpable but quiet buzz among the musicians, who turned out in unprecedented force. But the sense, perhaps, that the buzz is soon going to get a lot louder.


The Reviews Archive is updated

Fran Hardcastle (thanks!) and I have just updated the REVIEWS ARCHIVE. LondonJazz has produced over 500 reviews since inception. They are all listed on one page which is now up to date - FOLLOW THIS LINK. Your congratulations and comments welcome.

We've come to the conclusion (are we right?) that there is probably no point in indexing the archive when one can freely Google search for:



-Whoever you want to read about


Rhythm n Pinks in Brecon

And here's what's INSIDE


Review: Loudon Wainwright III

Loudon Wainwright III
(Royal Festival Hall, Friday 20 May, Reviw by Chris Parker)

Although the genre might be generally regarded as being defined by the willingness of its practitioners to mine their own lives for material for their songs, singer-songwriting contains few figures as consistently self-revealing and frank as Loudon Wainwright III.

His first recorded line, from 'School Days'on his eponymous debut Atlantic album in 1971, was, after all: 'In Delaware when I was younger …', and on over two dozen subsequent albums he has charted his emotional life through fatherhood, divorce and fraught relations with his children by the late Kate McGarrigle (Rufus and Martha); equally fraught and complex relations with his own father; the death of his mother (memorialised in one of his finest albums, 2001's Last Man on Earth); and general reflections on Life, the Universe and Everything with special reference to Loudon Wainwright III.

His concerts, however, are usually humorous (often wry, but frequently downright hilarious) affairs, during which, exercising a barbed wit and a facility with words that frequently call Tom Lehrer to mind, he combines such soul-baring with an ironic detachment (manifest in his celebrated squirming stance and tongue-poking facial contortions) that enables him to put just enough distance between himself and songs such as 'Mr Guilty' (about the emotional wreckage he left behind him after his marriage broke up), 'Five Years Old' or 'Your Mother and I' (addressed to his children after same) to render them bearable in a concert setting. On this occasion, however, there were hints that this ironic detachment, which has been showing distinct signs of wear since the aforementioned Last Man on Earth album, is less robust these days.

Wainwright was preceded on stage by his daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche, and by her mother Suzzy Roche, who set the tone of the evening with their clear-voiced sincerity and self-deprecating humour, so when his set started with 'Grown Man', about the problems attendant upon entering a relationship with a fortysomething male, and continued with a song pointing out that he was now older (64) than his father when the latter died, it became clear that the arch flipness of yore had been toned down somewhat, especially when, after a brief humorous interlude ('Heaven', detailing all the delights paradise has in store, among them beer for breakfast and unlimited and guilt-fste sex), he sang two deeply personal songs about his grandfather and father respectively.

The rest of his ninety-minute set was in much the same vein: an amusingly sympathetic song about Prince Charles ('POW') was followed by a list of (prescription) drugs he was currently taking ('My Meds',
ruefully followed by the comment: 'Never let it be said I don't know my own demographic'), a number of self-critical songs about past excesses, the odd reflection on the state of the planet ('The World is a Terrible Place') and – admittedly in response to one of the many audience requests that marked each pause in his performance – 'Suicide Song' ('When you get the blues and you want to shoot yourself in the head, that's all right … go ahead').

Even the odd non-original song was firmly in this emotional mode (the Bryants' classic 'Love Hurts', Marty Robbins's 'At the End of a Long Lonely Day'), so by the time Wainwright reached his third encore, it was no surprise to find that he chose a somewhat downbeat song, 'When I'm at Your House', rather than, say, 'The Swimming Song', 'Dead Skunk' or even a touching feelgood article such as 'Say that You Love Me'.

In many ways, this concert was thus as notable for what it omitted as for what it actually contained: Wainwright is (like the aforementioned Tom Lehrer) a master of the telling snapshot song, epitomised by much of the material on his turn-of-the millennium album Social Studies, acerbic comments on current events ('Tonya's Twirls' about skulduggery in the ice-skating world, 'New Street People', comparing expelled smokers with vagrants, 'Y2K' about the millennium 'bug' etc.) and tour d'horizon songs about the state of the world ('Carmine Street').

Such songs generally pepper his live performances, adding spice to his selection of more reflective personal songs; their absence perhaps signalled a new Loudon Wainwright, one characterised more by the sincere inward probing of the likes of 'You Can't Fail Me Now' or the reflections on mortality of 'Doin' the Math' (both from 2007's Strange Weirdos) than by charming flippancy.


L A Noire and all that jazz

Where is jazz probably being most listened to more than anywhere else in the world at the moment? On the soundtrack of the new video game LA Noire.

The game is set in 1947, and has a period soundtrack with "32 classic jazz tracks" including remixes of Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, Louis Jordan. And the song above - the singer is Claudia Brucken. (Not sure about Guil-TEE!)

The co-founders of Rockstar productions (also responsible for the massively successful Grand Theft Auto) come from a jazz-loving household.

Here are more details of the soundtrack. There was a feature about the soundtrack in the Evening Standard last night

Meanwhile the technology behind the visuals moves forward.


CD Review: Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian - Live at Birdland

Lee Konitz, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, Paul Motian - Live at Birdland
(ECM 273 6987. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Recorded at New York's Birdland in December 2009, this album was compiled from two nights' playing by a band perfectly described by the New York Times as 'three eminences … all of whom, one way or another, were in on the early stages of loosening up rhythm and structure in jazz', plus 'a great younger player'.

The preview went on to predict 'soft anarchy, a gig without preparation or rehearsal', and that's exactly what's delivered on this six-track album. Anyone who was present at Lee Konitz's 2006 Cheltenham Jazz Festival appearance (at which he was memorably supported by Gwilym Simcock) will already know that the octogenarian altoist has an oblique, intensely personal, sometimes downright enigmatic approach to standards, hinting at their themes and then allowing them to reappear in wisps and shards thereafter in his sinuous, absorbingly meandering solos, and this is his method here, whether he's emoting softly through 'Lover Man' or providing a less structured introduction to Miles Davis's 'Solar'.

Pianist Brad Mehldau, taking his cue from the great man, is more discursive than is customary for him (his pleasantly convoluted contribution to George Shearing's 'Lullaby of Birdland', a particular highlight), and bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, their rapport firmly established in Keith Jarrett's US
band forty-odd years ago, drive proceedings with masterful subtlety, grace and controlled power.

New York-based jazz these days often seems to be mostly about eclecticism, crackling energy and unfussy virtuosity; for these musicians, their experience and maturity evident in everything they play, it's all about personal (often idiosyncratic, even esoteric) expression, inventive delicacy, mutually respectful attentiveness.

ECM Records


Preview: THÔT (F-IRE Rhythmic Frontiers Festival at Kings Place, May 26-28)

Part of F-IRE Rhythmic Frontiers Festival at Kings Place, May 26-28

Next week's Rhythmic Frontiers festival London’s F-IRE Collective extending its reputation for putting on interesting and unusual collaborations.

Peter Slavid picks as his stand-out gig the opening concert next Thursday by Thôt with saxophonist Julian Siegel:

Thôt is often described as France's answer to M-BASE. Led by Parisian alto sax-whizz Stéphane Payen, their long career of international rhythmic collaborations has included engagement with artists from South India, Africa, Brazil, Cuba and now Iran.

This concert features two brilliant collaborators.

First is Iranian superstar Keyvan Chemirani. The eldest son of the renowned Chemirani family, Keyvan has also become the spokesman for these Iranian percussionists exiled in the south of France. His instrument the Zarb is the most fascinating of Classical Middle Eastern percussion instruments, A goblet drum of subtle complexity it is played with fingers of both hands; the right hand is used for deep sounds in the centre, while the left hand concentrates on high sounds near the rim and snaps.

The complex rhythms of the Zarb are ideally suited to collaboration with the metric madness of Thôt.In a four-star review from the Guardian's John Fordham, he described thee most recent disc as: "surprisingly catchy for such edgy music"

And there will be Julian Siegel to join them, as on previous visits, and to add to the mix his freewheeling roller-coaster improvisations.

Full programme for the F-IRE Rhythmic Frontiers festival at King’s Place:

Thursday 26th May:

6.30pm Free pre-concert talk about the Zarb by Fariborz Kiani
7.30pm; THÔT ( Hall One)

Friday 27th:

6.30pm Pre-concert talk from Simon Broghton, editor of Songlines
7.30pm Tcha Limberger’s Budapest Gypsy Orchestra

Saturday 28th:

F-IRE Next Generation Big Band with students from the Royal Academy of Music (free, but tickets required)
7.30pm Django Bates, Beloved Bird (Hall One)
8pm Jonny Phillips’ Oriole (Hall Two)


CD Review: Kaz Simmons - Dandelions

Kaz Simmons - Dandelions
(Fast Awake Records FA-UKCD02. CD REview by Chris Parker

Like her previous recordings (Take Me Home on 33 Records, Different Smile on Fast Awake), singer/songwriter Kaz Simmons's Dandelions is an intensely personal, not to say downright intimately confessional album, detailing her state of mind regarding personal insecurities, reaction to romantic rejection, even travelling problems etc., but the insinuating charm of her melodies and her easy-on-the-ear vocals ensure that her admirers will find as much to enjoy here as from her back catalogue.

She also has great taste in backing musicians: pianist Ivo Neame, bassist/arranger Riaan Vosloo, reeds player James Allsopp, drummers Dave Smith and Tim Giles, among others, are all involved in a classy, understated production.

Her slightly fey lyrics might not display the brazenness of much contemporary Facebook-generation personal discourse, but sympathetic souls will appreciate her gentle candour and sincere ingenuousness, and the album as a whole certainly provides a welcome antidote to the macho posturing of much contemporary pop, male and female.

Launch gig: 1 June, the Forge, Camden


Review: Julien Lage Quintet

Julien Lage Quintet
(Vortex, May 18th 2011, Second night of two)

This has been the second night in a week when a London audience has proved its musicality. Cleveland Watkiss turned our ramshackle crew on Saturday night into a very respectable chorus indeed, and last night the charismatic 33 year old percussionist from Bogota in Columbia, Tupac Mantilla (above) was getting crisp and accurate responses to the rhythmic challenges he chucked out to a clearly musical Vortex audience.

Mantilla then did a showpiece with Jorge Roeder on bass and Lage on guitar- a version of Neal Hefti's Lil' Darlin'. The only thing I didn't see him hitting last night was that mellifluous structural pillar at the Vortex (Mantilla is probably the ideal person to come back and do a concerto on it!). But he did hit all of the following:

-every possible surface of Roeder's bass, including squeaking the varnish

-his own bum-cheeks (through his jeans, steady on)

-his hollowed normal facial cheeks and an open mouth

-heads, shoulders knees and toes

-hand clapping, producing an extraordinary timbre range

-all parts of a drumkit

Mantilla is an extrovert, yes a crowd pleaser, but a fine percussionist. I just rejoice in the fact that "world music," which used to be a grubby dollars-and-cents business, with as its main purpose to make the executives of large record companies lick their lips, is now developing a tangible musical legacy. I'm excited to see the skills transfer of percussion techniques and sounds from all over the world to new generations of these classically trained players who bring such overwhelming energy to music.

Guitarist and bandleader Julian Lage appears older, but is in fact just 23 years old. He'd already been the subject of a TV documentary at the age of 8. He has awesome guitar technique. There clearly has been a strong and benign modern folk bluegrass influence from Bela Fleck, and from mentor Gary Burton.

But where's he going? What about these compositions depicting something sounding like Farmville? I'm not sure. The "Gladwell" pieces played last night didn't really leave any sort of mark on me. And the closer, a tussle with Dan Blake on tenor left me mainly with the thought - a room like the Vortex already has memories that come off its walls - of how well Phil Robson and Julian Siegel of Partisans do the same kind of sparring, and that Julian, the completely equipped tenor saxophonist - or Mark Turner - would have landed a few more punches on Lage than Blake did last night.

These doubts I think put me in a minority. I sensed everyone else there was loving it.

UPDATE : not everybody - here's Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph


On the 100th anniversary of Mahler's death

Mahler died a hundred years ago today. An opportunity to thank Tony Dudley Evans of Birmingham Jazz for having the inspiration to get Uri Caine over for a memorable concert in Birmingham Town Hall last year. My review


Ronnie's Radio Fridays at 10pm

There's a new radio show on Fridays on JazzFM at 10pm on Fridays, starting June 3rd.

The Ronnie Scott’s Radio presented by Jumoké Fashola, is an hour long show. Jumoke promises "tracks, interviews and behind the scenes trivia from the world's most famous jazz club."

In the first show there's an interview with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Madeleine Bell.

The press release says: "Future guests include Kyle Eastwood, the son of the famed Hollywood actor Clint, Ron Carter, Joe Lovano, Eddie Palmieri, Marlena Shaw, Pharoah Sanders ....."

For those of us with an OCD knowledge-fetish, this news is not a complete bolt from the blue, since Richard Wheatly of JazzFM and Simon Cooke of Ronnie Scott's are old colleagues from JazzFM in its previous incarnation.


News from Portico Quartet

It turns out that the article in The Times on April 28th entitled "Quartet of three thinkers," presenting them as the Portico Trio, describing them as "a slimmed down Portico Quartet" was misleading and factually incorrect.

Portico Quartet this morning announce that "we will not be turning into a trio, rather we welcome keyboard and hang player Keir Vine (above) to the band."

The band's website confirms that Nick Mulvey has left the band on amicable terms - "He leaves with our love and support" - to pursue ambitions as a singer-songwriter.

Portico Quartet has a very busy tour schedule, and announces that the band is currently expecting to make a new recording in August.


2011 Parliamentary Jazz Awards - Winners

Peter Bacon's Jazzbreakfast blog was first with the complete list of all the nominees and winners.

Here are the winners:

Jazz Musician of the Year : Brian Kellock (above)

Jazz Album of the Year: John Turville Midas

Jazz Ensemble of the Year: Brass Jaw

Jazz Promoter/Venue of the Year: Hideaway (London)

Jazz Journalist of the Year: John Fordham

Jazz Broadcaster of the Year: Paul Barnes

Jazz Publication of the Year: Goin’ Home: The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer by Mike Pointon, Ray Smith, Martin Colyer

Jazz Education Award: Dr Ian Darrington MBE

Services to Jazz Award: Coleridge Goode

Special Appjag Award: Dame Cleo Laine (above with Norma Winstone, Juliet Kelly and Christine Tobin- Photo : Juliet Kelly).

Paul Gambaccini said that John Fordham had set the bar high for the standard of acceptance speeches. Spot on.