Ellington Park in Ramsgate - this Saturday Sep 3rd

Yet another story of music of high quality associated with the Kent/Sussex coast. I've stopped being surprised:  after Schumann in Folkestone, then Debussy in EastbourneKurt Weill in Margate - and now this:

As a culmination of a day's jazz starting at 2pm,  some of the top players will take the stage for a free admission gig in Ellington Park (sic) in Ramsgate at 7 30pm, as part of the Ramsgate Wantsum Festival, and play one set until 9pm.

Paul Booth writes: "It's a new project which Giorgio Serci and I have got going. It's really a collective.
The idea behind the group is to have an outlet for creativity in London for contemporary jazz and world music in a large ensemble. We don't want to really sound like any conventional big band, therefore, all the arrangements and compositions are done "in-house", trying to edge away from big band swing. I'm also asking people to bring any instruments they play on top of their primary instrument, so we should have a wide range of colours to work with.

The personnel for this Saturday is of high quality:

Trumpets: Kevin Robinson, Paul Jayasinha, Steve Fishwick, Duncan Mackay
Trombones: Mark Knightingale, Fayyaz Virji, Martin Gladdish, Richard Henry
Saxes: Steve Main, Jason Yarde, Paul Booth, Ian East, Richard Beesley
Rhythm Section: Giorgio Serci guitar, Alex Wilson piano, Michael Janisch bass, Andrew Bain drums, Adriano Adewale percussion

From the Visit Thanet website


Henry Lowther on Jazz Line-Up; and in our Prize Draw

Trumpeter Henry Lowther is featured in this Sunday's Jazz Line-Up (September 4th.) It's a session recorded last month at Maida Vale of two bands, Still Waters and the Great Wee Band, plus Julian Joseph interviewing Henry about his distinguished career. More details from the Jazz Line Up website.

I attended the recording, and am waiting to hear the Great Wee Band's slow "Nica's Dream." Was it really the perfect take I remember?

That track is on the Great Wee Band's first CD, The Sound of Music (Trio Records). Peter Vacher singled it out for special prise on the 2010 Jazz Library Albums of the Year show . And I'm hearing that supplies of the CD are starting to dwindle.

The band has recorded a second CD, entitled Light Blue, release forthcoming. This week's LondonJazz prize draw is for a fan with patience. Put your name in the hat to be among the first to get the new album when released.

Henry Lowther artist page at Trio Records


Review: Prom 59. John Wilson Orchestra: Hooray for Hollywood

John Wilson Orchestra - Hooray for Hollywood
(Prom 59, Royal Abert Hall. August 29th 2011. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The John Wilson Orchestra has been in existence for seventeen years. It has done its "annees de galere" and both its reputation and its brand these days are, deservedly, flying high.

It brings something different to Britain's musical life and to Radio 3's Proms. One official BBC website calls the orchestra's MGM musicals Prom from 2009 unequivocally "the highlight of the 2009 BBC Proms season."(*)

The orchestra's 2011 Prom had sold out within just four hours of going on sale. The orchestra will be on a ten-date national tour from 28th November, bringing a much-needed feelgood factor to several cities in Great Britain

This year's programme, assembled by the energetic Tyneside-born conductor who is - still, just - in his late thirties, was entitled "Hooray for Hollywood." It was billed as a sequel to the 2009 venture, and again focused mainly on film musicals from the golden years of the studio system. Wilson presents either new transcriptions - painstakingly, brilliantly realised by himself and a team of three collaborators - or original scores. There were clever linking threads through the programme around the stars featured in the films - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers and their films from the RKO Studio, passing via Ziegfeld and Busby Berkeley to, Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews... .

For the listener, the key to the John Wilson Orchestra experience is to revel in the sound of these lushly orchestrated film scores. Without images from the films, the experience is all about the music, and the claim that the orchestra delivers the sound experience "in technicolour" is not misplaced, indeed it sums up the contribution of this handpicked orchestra, which last night consisted of around a hundred players.

The commitment of the players is impressive. String principals such as violist Andriy Vitovych , the Belcea Quartet's Laura Samuel and leader Andrew Haveron bring a special energy to the string timbre. There are also some fine contributions from the jazz world, Matt Skelton bringing an unequalled crispness, life and precision to the drums, Jeremy Brown's generous-toned jazz bass is omnipresent.

After the success, parrticualrly of the 2009 Prom, last night had a mood of inspired risk-taking in the programme, willing the audience to be taken into less familiar repertoire. The first half closer was a case in point. Conrad Salinger's massive symphonic arrangement ofthe Harry Warren tune This Heart of Mine from Ziegfield Follies of 1946 was worth showcasing, but the claim in David Benedict's programme note that it is "a textbook case of how to keep building through 13 choruses" probably overstates the case for the piece.

I sensed that the audience only really started to lift the performers and for the whole evening to get going proplerly during the second half. For me, the turning point was Charles Castronovo taking to the High C's in the Serenade from The Student Prince. Others may - of course - have different reactions, it may feel very different in the TV transmission, but that sense one knows of an audience fully engaged seemed to take a long time to materialize.

Why? I'm not sure. Perhaps, compared to the likes of Kim Criswell and Curtis Stigers from the 2009 show, some of the vocalists this year had a one or two lumens of starriness, or joules of stage energy less than their predecessors. Perhaps the formula of singers doing one number and walking off creates discontinuity. Maybe it would have had a fresher feel if they'd stuck around. That would have prevented Annalene Beechey from making (I think) six changes of costume, but there would also have been gains. Or maybe an audience that books out this kind of show within hours of booking opening consists of careful rather than flamboyant types. Or maybe we're all just that little bit British and keep our feelings to ourselves.

These are minor quibbles. There were many moments to treasure in the first half: Clare Teal lingering over the long phrases of Harry Warren's "You'll never know," or the orchestra shimmying through the Astaire/Rodgers dance sequences.

And, at its best, such as the second half closing sequence, culminating in encores of "Hooray for Hollywood" and "There's no business like show business," the line from the latter song "The audience that lifts you when you're down" did ring completely true.  The energy from the stage was properly reciprocated from the hall, and this Prom did, eventually, turn into the memorable evening it could or should have been all along. It will be on BBC2 on the evening of Saturday September 3rd.

(*) LINK John Wilson Orchestra Nov-Dec Tour Dates


Theatre / Dance show: Miles Ahead at the Cochrane Theatre, Southampton Row

The first thing I notice about this production is the classy band, led by Paul Jenkins (MD/Tpt/Flugel), and consisting of Julian Siegel (Tenor Sax) , Nathaniel Facey (Alto Sax), Martin Shaw (Tpt), Graham Harvey (Piano), Oroh Angiama (Bass), Shane Forbes (Drums) and  Jo Caleb (Guitar).

On Friday 16th and Saturday 17th September there are four performances of Miles Ahead at 3pm and 8pm on each of the two days at the Cochrane Theatre in Southampton Row WC1.

Miles Ahead consists of two shows which also include dancers (what follows is repoduced blurb from HERE )

- FOOTPRINTS IN JAZZ a suite of contemporary jazz dance pieces captures the individual human spirit and collective creative expression that reflects the essence of jazz. Original jazz compositions by Paul Jenkins, creates the perfect musical partnership for captivating jazz dance staged and choreographed by Dollie Henry. Inspiring dance, music and theatrical flair effortlessly infuses the soul and passion of the jazz art form.

-TOUCHES OF MILES pays homage to the life and music of jazz Trumpeter & Composer - Miles Davis in celebration of his 85th Anniversary. This original jazz theatre creation brings to the stage riveting live jazz music with a selection of Miles' classic compositions including; All Blues, So What, Tutu, Milestones, Seven Steps, Aranjuez and lays the canvas for enthralling jazz dance that colourfully weaves through each variation of the music capturing the cool and enigmatic style reminiscent of a true jazz legend."

Body of People (aka BOP) website


Small venue licensing: "Frustration levels beginning to rise again."

Feargal Sharkey, Chief Executive of UK Music, who has taken a leading and very public role in the music licensing debate is sounding a note of caution in an interview published today. Interviewed by the Morning Advertiser he says:

Things have been in purgatory lately. There are promises and reassuring comments being made by Government, but I can’t see much evidence of anything being impacted yet. It’s not to say that it won’t happen, but I think there are frustration levels that I can feel beginning to rise again. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has repeated the ambition of the coalition to reduce the red tape and the bureaucracy that is associated with live music, and perhaps it’s now time to start delivering on those commitments.

We’ve made it perfectly clear from the beginning that we cannot see any reason to waylay music while we wait for the Licensing Act. We don’t think that live music, overall, should have anything to do with the Licensing Act whatsoever.

In terms of the smaller premises, we’re somewhat confused and bewildered that anybody thinks that regulating those kind of small-scale venues and pubs is either reasonable, necessary or, indeed, proportionate."

Background: The Live Music Bill is due to go to the report stage in September, and be voted on in the House of Commons in the spring. There is supposed to be a consultation exercise under way (I make that consultation number 12 or possibly 13, we'v e kinda been here before....), but Sharkey is clearly sensing that things are coming unstuck..... 

Most recent statements from the ministers Hunt and Penrose in the summer have been supportive of the bill. Penrose said  in an interview in May:

 'Live entertainment is a good thing. It improves our cultural life, provides enormous pleasure for millions and should be encouraged, not stifled by the clammy hand of bureaucracy. The current regime makes it harder for new talent to get a chance to perform in front of audiences, imposes a deadweight cost on small businesses and voluntary bodies who want to put on shows, and in a small but significant way, reduces our free speech. As long as we have proper controls on alcohol, and spectator safety and noise nuisance are controlled, the rest is mostly bonkers red tape, and it’s time we consigned it to the bin.'

Let's hope that this process isn't coming off the rails yet again, and that a DCMS minister will get up on his hind legs and confirm that it isn't.

Full text of the  Morning Advertiser interview


Gwilym Simcock explains - and plays Good Days at Schloss Elmau

From the Guardian website, here is Gwilym Simcock,talking about and then playing Good Days at Schloss Elmau. He makes it all sound desperately simple.....

-How optimism and joy is at the heart of what he does
-How he imitates a whole rhythm section
-How the tune is interjected into the groove
-How the key relationships work
-How other sounds from the piano get used
-And having explained the piece, he then plays it. As easy as that really...


Band Wagon - a short film from 1958

Look no seatbelts. A Ford publicity film from 1958 using the Cy Laurie band to publicize a van. Director: Peter Hopkinson (1920-2007) Writers/ editors Kevin Brownlow and John Krish. Any more?? Thanks to OW for spotting this one


Newsletter Prize Draw: Sounds and Silence DVD from ECM

Newsletter subscribers this week have a special prize draw. "Sounds and Silence." A new (UK release is on Monday August 29th) DVD with an accompanying CD of music from the film.

ECM's press release tells the story of what Austrian Radio called :  “The magic of ECM, in a rich, exciting, musical road movie.”

Over a period of five years, Swiss filmmakers Norbert Wiedmer and Peter Guyer followed producer Manfred Eicher and the artists of ECM around the world. In footage from Estonia, Tunisia, Germany, France, Denmark, Greece, Argentina and elsewhere, their documentary movie Sounds and Silence has captured aspects of the music-making process at ECM, and provided unique glimpses of players and composers at work.

Amongst the artists included are Arvo Pärt, Eleni Karaindrou, Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner, Anouar Brahem, Gianluigi Trovesi and Gianni Coscia, Marilyn Mazur, Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, Kim Kashkashian, Jan Garbarek and others.

The film received its premiere at Locarno’s Piazza Grande in front of an audience of 7,000 spectators in August 2009 and has since gone on to tour the world’s festivals. Sounds and Silence won joint first prize at the  Berner Film Prize 2009, was nominated for the Schweizer Film Prize, and has collected some ecstatic reviews.

Now the film is released to the public for home viewing in DVD and Blu-ray. ECM has been quietly building an outstanding catalogue of DVDs, but Sounds and Silence is the first to be released also in Blu-ray format, a decision already loudly approved on the internet fan forums. Bonus material includes scenes from Manu Katché’s recording of Playground in New York.

A copy is available to the winning newsletter subscriber. Email me to put your name in the hat for it.



Preview/ Interview. Ayanna Witter-Johnson at Kings Place Festival

Ayanna Witter-Johnson is back from New York. The 26 year-old singer-cellist-composer, from Hornsey in North London, has had two years studying for a Masters degree at Manhattan School of Music and came back in May. She will be performing a triple bill in the fourth, 100-concert Kings Place Festival, on September 8th.

Half way through her two-year stint in New York, she bagged a big prize, winning the Apollo Theater Harlem's televised talent show “Amateur Night” (above), and that win has opened quite a few new doors for her.

Amateur? The first thing that comes across when you see Ayanna in performance is that she is anything but. When it comes to communicating with an audience, she knows what she's doing. Her early Friday night set a couple of weeks ago at Ronnie Scott's really got through to the audience. Club director Simon Cooke, who takes most things coolly in his stride, remarked how taken aback he had been by the quiet magic of her performance, and by the mesmerized silence, followed by unanimous cheers and applause, from what is normally the club's trickiest audience of the week, the one which normally doesn't listen and doesn't settle.

She is indeed able to get through to and to please a crowd. But, when I Interviewed Ayanna in Camden Town earlier this month, what came across far more was the seriousness of purpose, the integrity, and the open-mindedness with which she identifies and pursues artistic goals.
She was about to record an EP of some of the key songs which have stayed with her as she has developed. First to be mentioned is perhaps the most powerful, Ain’t I a Woman, based on a speech from 1851 by emancipated slave Sojourner Truth. "That song has journeyed with me from an after school project to the Nat Portrait Gallery to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem."

The voice is one you don't forget, particularly in that now very personal song. It speaks of energy, of commitment, and, as it sweeps higher it seems to develop its own power and freedom. I was reminded of the timbre of Randy Crawford, but the sentiments which Ayanna which expresses are exactly the opposite of “Some Day I'll Fly Away.” Ayanna asserts the clear imperative, the duty, to stick around, to deal properly with words, narratives and important issues.

That determination runs deep. She is not in a musical bubble, she is not just to there entertain. Furthermore, she pursues honesty and integrity as a performer with similar seriousness to the wider issues she tackles. She describes her current EP project as: “A revelation of me, an introduction.” I ask her if this isn't dangerous, dealing with personal issues so openly, rather than leaving a mystery, letting people imagine what they want to?

Her answer is telling: “Other people have said that to me, that I'm very honest, exposed. What I think is that if I'm going to spend time in a room with myself, it had better be the truth. Otherwise I'm lying to myself as I'm creating it. I like direct communication with the audience. They can still interpret it how they like but I' m giving the most honest account that that I can.” So honesty is important? “My key word is authenticity. I'm trying to explore what that is sonically, visually, spiritually, aesthetically. And as I'm singing playing, and overlaying for recording, I'm questioning what it is to be authentic. And I'm changing too, so what's authentic also changes.”

When I met Ayanna she had just been in Berlin, looking at exhibitions. “It's a luxury," she said. "You just feed your mind. You've got to do these things. I'm going to places I've never been before and seeing what that place has to offer as opposed to what I think I'd like to know. You're always surprised by new things and what you can get from them.”

She is going through a phase of looking for, and being open to new inspiration to work into her work as performer. There is talk of an album project for next year, which will involve both London and New York musicians.

Performing has been a part of Ayanna's life for several years. She was a member of the National Youth Theatre. And while at Trinity College of Music, was chosen for the South Bank's short-lived Emerging Artists scheme, mentored by Nitin Sawnhey.

She didn't take A-Level Music, her school couldn't offer it. “It upset me at the time. I was playing classically and winning competitions." She did English, Theatre Studies, and French. In retrospect it seems a happy accident. Ayanna has read widely – Sartre, Camus, Jane Austen, Shakespeare. That early exposure has perhaps made the need to grapple with stories more explicable, and urgent.

How did the cello make its way into the performances? When she was a student – of classical composition at Trinity College of Music, she came away with First Class Honours - she needed to get some money. "I blagged my way into playing a gig at a Caribbean restaurant. There was no piano so I played cello. It was background, nobody was listening.” That's when I started playing around with songs from Nina Simone and [the Police's] Roxanne. That's why Roxanne is important to me."

Is Esperanza Spalding – who plays the bass and sings - in any way a role model? The two know each other and have met and emailed. Ayanna gives a thoughtful answer: “Her [Esperanza's] way of forging ahead and being herself and natural and talented and working hard...yes that's definitely inspiring.”

She also told me about the triple bill of performances at Kings Place, curated by Serious, and beginnig at 7.30pm.

Boo Hewerdine. ”It's a new collaboration. I'm looking forward to an intimate gig. Revealing, spacious, driven by story. My story wil be there in some form.”

Gwynet Herbert – “We're writing new material and we'll be using both instruments piano for her, piano for me too, and cello. That one will be a theatrical gig.“

And pianist Robert Mitchell, with who she has worked very extensively: “That one will be more improvisatory more open,more seamless, a journey, a landscape.”

But now Ayanna is back, is she staying? Have we in London now got her back for good? The answer is thoughtful, never-say-never. “London will be my base for now, but I can definitely see pockets of time in America.”

She's going places. Catch her while you can.

Ayanna Witter-Johnson's Myspace/ Kings Place Festival website.


Do Jazz Critics Need to Know How to Play Jazz?

Boston-based blogger Roanna Forman asked the question to a number of critics whether critics need to know how to play jazz. Here in brief are the first five answers:

1) "The reactions of those who don’t know how to play have value."
2) "I don’t play an instrument."
3) "Musical ability should not be a prerequisite for jazz critics."
4) "I’m more interested in how well they can hear what is happening in a performance."
5) "It’s not absolutely essential for them to be able to play."
Here's the full piece.
Ronan Guilfoyle, one of the people asked, has taken the discussion further, and concludes: "it's a fascinating read for anyone interested in how the music is written about."

I'm wondering what's new to aspire to - apart from gender issues with the pronouns ...- since Bernard Shaw wrote (in 1894): "There are three main qualifications for a musical critic, besides the general qualification of good sense and knowledge of the world. He must have a cultivated taste for music; he must be a skilled writer; and he must be a practised critic. Any of these three may be found without the others; but the complete combination is indispensable to good work."


Review: Wynton Marsalis Quintet

Wynton Marsalis. Portrait by William Ellis. All Rights Reserved

Wynton Marsalis Quintet
Ronnie Scott's , 19th August 2011, fourth night of five. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

By the end of tonight (Saturday's) show, the Wynton Marsalis Quintet will have played two houses a night this week for five nights, a total of ten shows. The entire run sold out within a few days of opening for booking back in May. The quintet have not just been doing the advertised shows. They've been participating in the Late Late Show. And I hear there was one surprise guest with th band one night, a rare appearance by clarinettist Bob Wilber, who makes his home in Oxfordshire, but whom Marsalis works in New York: he brought Wilber in to be artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Benny Goodman centenary tribute.

What stays in these ears and this mind from the Marsalis' quintet performance is the level and pace of communication, within the band and with the audience. Every melodic goody, every rhythmic challenge thrown out gets responded to somewhere in the band. Bassists often have the most watchful eyes, and Carlos Henriquez, from the Bronx, an alumnus of Tito Puente's band, misses nothing. He locked into a couple of duets with Wynton, but was very often dovetailing ideas with 25-year old Treme-featured New Orleans pianist Jonathan Batiste.

Batiste has astonishing keyboard facility and improbably long fingers. He bagged the applause for a solo on Lady Be Good in the style of Art Tatum, and went straight on to do another, equally characterful and purely pianistic, in the style of Thelonious Monk.

With drummer Ali Jackson the communication comes with a lot of joy humour, semaphored by his pitch dark eyebrows. He keeps unbelievably crisp time, and the trickery - notably an entertaining look-no-drums two-stick chorus at the beginning of the set.

The quiet man, the exception in the band is Walter Blandings Jr. Eyes often closed or looking into the distance, he seemed to take time to come into his own, but he did so mainly as instigator for Marsalis to respond to. And he gave as good as he got on What a Little Moonlight Can Do, taken at a speed of which a policeman might say: " Yo're not so much driving fast as flying low."

And then there's Marsalis. The enjoyment, the fun come from professionalism, intent and organization. I'm told the band didn't just sound-check on arrival in London, but had full rehearsals. He was also playing almost purely acoustically, allowing the audience to hear his sound from different directions. He gave a lot of variety. A blues-soaked version of Comes Love had him on plunger mute and growling, the semiquavers were flowing at great speed on What a Little Moonlight.

The programme I heard  was - I'm told this was not typical at all - mostly older standards, the only new composition being Marsalis' own modal march Free To Be. The concentration on the old sets me thinking....

And what I think is thank God for Wynton Marsalis. He does have the presence, the visibility to bring jazz onto the radar of London's culture writers. The arts editor of one weekly magazine which last covered jazz with a review of one gig from the 2009 London Jazz Festival  mentioned on Twitter  on Thursday that he was in Ronnie's this week. Another arts feature writer who did this hatchet job on ALL contemporary jazz  a few years ago (perhaps his opinion has changed?) was also on a red bench tonight.

While in most countries of the world the centrality of jazz to the music of our time is a given, in Britain, culture editors for their own convenience package it as an quaint, marginal, irrelevant legacy activity. And perhaps this desperately myopic vision can be reinforced by venturing out to hear Wynton?

As I hope this site proves every day of the year, they are wrong, wrong, wrong.



Review: Seaming To

Seaming To
Seaming To
(Ronnie Scott's, August 13th 2011, Part of Britjazz Festival. Review by Sarah Ellen Hughes)

Seaming To, a British singer-songwriter of Chinese descent, who has worked in collaborations with musicians such as Matthew Bourne and Marc Ribot, presented her new album at Ronnie’s last week as part of the Brit Jazz Fest. To, who is a dab hand on the piano and celeste as well as vocals, was accompanied by synthesisers and the Villiers String Quartet in a highly orchestrated programme.

The set was crammed full of little ditties – she managed to pack 12 tunes into a mere 50 minutes. It was all very pleasant, but nothing really had a climax. The music washed over me a little, like the soundtrack to a black and white movie, perhaps, or incidental music from a Weill opera.

I’m afraid I didn’t quite get it. One of the songs was about the positions one lies in when one goes to sleep. Not that this content wasn’t neatly written or poetic, it’s just that it didn’t move or amuse, or even impress.

What did impress – vastly impress – was the brilliance of Seaming To’s voice. Effortless and limitless, it was packed full of emotion and expression, with a luscious depth and impossible flexibility up high. Highly accurate, mellow and beautifully articulate, there was no faulting the vocal delivery, which was the thing that kept me glued to my seat. As a vocalist she was delightful.

Her recitative style of delivery clearly has clearly a large world/classical music influence -but barely any detectable jazz influence - in the writing. Nevertheless, the artistry was highly professional; the singing sublime.

Seaming To is an artist who takes musical risks, experiments with music freely, and delivers an accomplished performance. She will be performing at the Forge Venue in Camden in the London Jazz Festival in November.



Georgia Mancio's Revoice Festival

Check out who's appearing at Georgia Mancio's Revoice Festival  starting October 6th at Pizza Express on a VERY lively Facebook page- and a more comprehensive festival website.  There are the knowns: Gregory Porter on two nights, Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone. But..... it's not difficult to develop a (purely artistic) crush on Barba Raimondi - the music begins at 3:49.


RIP Olaf Vas

Olaf Vas teaching at Nick Weldon's Jazz School UK 
in Northamptonshire 

Reports are reaching us that saxophonist/clarinettist/ educator Olaf Vas passed away at the weekend, after a long struggle against illness. At one time a ubiquitous player on the London scene, and for many years a member of the resident band at the Savoy Hotel, Vas in recent years focussed on teaching, notably at Jazz School UK. Appearances as a player became increasingly rare, although he did play - memorably -  in a three tenor band put together by Eddie Harvey at Way Out West in 2007.  RIP.

UPDATE Aug 25th. The funeral of Olaf Vas will be on Thursday September 1st at 3pm.More details on request.


Jazz Middelheim (Antwerp) Festival 2011

Peter Slavid reports from last weekend's Jazz Middelheim festival in Antwerp

Jazz Middelheim is now in its 30th year and getting record attendances – 19,000 people over four days this year. It’s one of the nicest festivals I know. Firstly because of the venue – in a beautiful park on the outskirts of Antwerp, a really attractive city which is a great one to walk round and has a brilliant public transport system. Incidentally, the fourth day of the festival – Monday 15th - is a public holiday in Belgium, but in Antwerp (and only Antwerp) its also Mother’s Day – and no, I have no idea why that’s the case. [Ed showing off: because it's the feast day of Mary, mother of Christ, who has been patron saint of Antwerp for over a thousand years, and of the city's vast gothic cathedral since the first church on the present cathedral site went up in 1124]

The programming of the festival has something to suit every taste – and I’m pleased to say that people are willing to listen to it all – from 30s swing to free form avant-garde, from Jamie Cullum to John Zorn. For me that’s the essence of a music festival: the opportunity to hear things you might not otherwise go to. Along with highlights, a festival should bring surprises.


The highlight for attracting an audience (and for the sponsors who were out in force)was Jamie Cullum. He brought in an audience about twice the size of any other day, and he got on to Flemish TV, and delivered a typical high energy show.

My personal highlight, however, was the Saturday Night sequence of performances by John Zorn. This was one of those gigs that will stay in the memory for years. I'm not sure I can imagine this scene in the UK - 4000 people on their feet calling for encores from John Zorn after two of the best sets I can remember.

Two major gigs that evening - first Zorn's Bar Kokhba sextet and then the Masada sextet. This is all very accessible and exciting music, and the formula for both is the same. Take a brilliant rhythm section of Joey Baron on drums, Greg Cohen on bass and Cyro Baptista on percussion. Then add a selection of John Zorn's simple and often beautiful middle-eastern tinged tunes. Now put all that with three front-line improvisers of the highest quality, and throw in Zorn's own style of improvising conducting to get the maximum impact - and you end up with music that leaves everyone with a smile on their face - audience and performers alike.

The quality of the improvisers is critical - in Bar Kokhba we had Mark Feldman (violin), Eric Friedlander (cello) and Mark Ribot (gtr). Ribot's power was really impressive, and it turned out to be very Rock 'n Roll. For Masada they were replaced by Zorn himself on alto, Uri Caine on piano and Dave Douglas on trumpet. A more conventional sounding line up, and a harder edge to the music, but the melodies and the rhythm section made sure that even when Zorn went off into the stratosphere he soon came back down to earth.

Zorn has always been difficult to categorise, and some of his music is free improvisation of the fiercest kind, and perhaps that unpredictability scares off a lot of promoters. The music on Saturday Night was Zorn the entertainer - jazz of the very highest quality – and the audience lapped it up and stomped for more, long after the encores had finished and the lights had come up.


Two good and unexpected surprises for me. First was the opening act of the festival - Trio Grande with Matthew Bourne. I’d never heard this band before but Trio Grande are a spectacular act with multi-instrumentalist French sax player Laurent Dehors playing every size of clarinet and saxophone, sometimes two at a time, plus recorder and bagpipes; Michel Massot plays various tubas plus trombone, and Michel Debrulle on drums. The total effect has a madcap brilliance mixing lyrical melodies with free improvisation and complex and intricate rhythmic writing. Matt Bourne's sparkling piano increases the temperature up another notch. Incidentally - Trio Grande are desperate to play in London - so promoters take note!

Second was the solo piano set by Omar Sosa, reminding me at times of a young Abdullah Ibrahim in the way he switched from gentle African melodies to fierce attack I was massively impressed by this.

One poor performance though which did surprise me was Randy Weston’s African Rhythms’ tribute to James Reese Europe (a first world war African-American soldier and prodigious composer). Very rarely for an American touring band I thought this was under-rehearsed and sloppy. I like Weston’s piano playing but the music here was basically the blues, and the band sounded as if they had only seen it that night for the first time – lots of short solos including tuba and banjo – all very strange.

But fortunately the disappointment didn’t last long as we were then treated to Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra – and this was the full 12 piece US band (not the European version that came to UK recently), and they sounded as if they had been playing together all their lives – absolutely together as they played music from the CD “not in our name” and some new Carla Bley music celebrating environmental causes. Plus of course top rank soloing, all of which provided a good rousing end to the festival.



Burghausen 2012 applications open

Beats n Pieces, winners of the 2011 Burghausen Prize
Photo Credit: © Frank Rasimowitz
Yes. That IS a cheque for EUR 15,000. We reported the victory by Beats n Pieces at the Burghausen European Young Jazz Artists Competition 2011 back in March

Anyone out there interested in participating in the 2012 Competition should know that applications close on November 1st. Here are the Terms and Conditions. Viel Erfolg! As they say in Burghausen. 


Review: Matthew Herbert Big Band

Matthew Herbert Big Band at Brecon Jazz Festival 2011
Photo credit: Finn Beales

Matthew Herbert Big Band (Ronnie Scott's, Part of Britjazz Festival, 13th August 2011. Review by Sarah Ellen Hughes)

Q. How do you fit 100 musicians onto the stage at Ronnie’s?
A. Put a 17-strong big band in the hands of sampling wizard Matthew Herbert.

The Matthew Herbert Big Band has a unique sound. Quite apart from having a politically-charged theme throughout most of the program to challenge the audience intellectually, every sound the band makes is recorded and sampled there and then by composer/leader Herbert, a set-up to inspire and challenge the audience’s perception of big band music. For this band doesn’t conform to your typical idea of the big band swing, instrumental solos and the occasional song. No, this is a band that’s big, existing to play the music of Matthew Herbert’s mind.

The singer (on this occasion, a flamboyant Alice Grant) is a major part of the story-telling, so is featured in every tune. The music is an eccentric mix of retro-pop, electronica and funk-fusion, its messages cryptic yet hard-hitting. Here is a man with many things to say about the state of this world’s affairs, using the big band as instruments for his message. There were some awesome swinging moments, particularly in the appropriately entitled The Battle, as it appeared to be a battle between the live musicians and the ‘nutty professor’ bent over his desk working the samples.

Herbert didn’t restrict his orchestra to the sounds of the instrumentalists – he sampled water bottles being blown, slapped cheeks, the audience singing a high note, newspapers ripping – the musicians then showering newspaper confetti over their band-mates like school boys.

The juxtaposition of this carefree frolicking, the happy-go-lucky sounds of the big band, the robotic stature of singer and the band leader pumping out remixed words of political relevance was interesting, powerful and at times overwhelming. Herbert didn’t say much, leaving the audience to decide what the sacks over the head meant, or the significance of the trumpet section making rhythms by hitting batteries on the bells of their instruments. Luckily, I was seated next to a part-time-dep for the band, who divulged song titles and stories behind the performances (this one in particular was about a Brit who had had a phone charger in his hand luggage and was sent to Guantanamo Bay).

Matthew Herbert at Middelheim 2007
Photo credit: Eddy Westveer

I was grateful for the back-stories because otherwise a lot of it would have gone straight over my head. Herbert did, however, find it necessary to introduce a new piece – a poignant, moving and beautifully orchestrated piece about the Iraq war, using a beep (recorded from his new-born son’s intensive care unit alarm) to represent 100 people killed in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. He had initially wanted each beep to represent one person, but explained that the piece would have lasted almost 100 hours. The beep still outlasted the piece of music, even vastly sped up.

I feel inclined to raise the question of what was this band doing in a fortnight of programming intended to celebrate British Jazz at Ronnie’s, given that it was not playing jazz. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic evening of music, raucous at times, but highly engaging.


Brecon Festival. Round-up of Sunday

Brecon Jazz Festival 2011
Photo credit: Finn Beales
Jon Turney reviews Sunday August 14th, the last day of the 2011 Brecon Jazz Festival (Sebastian's write-up of the Saturday is on the JazzFM website ).

Brecon’s long-standing jazz jamboree now seems happily re-established in the third year after its rescue from oblivion by the Welsh Arts Council and the Hay Festival organisers. The atmosphere, one gathers, has changed. The extensive fringe festival goes on, but the town’s streets were not exactly thronged on Sunday. The “official” festival now mainly uses venues in and around Christ’s College, along with the Market Hall and the Cathedral. The two now seem pretty separate - there’s almost a town and gown feel. But the College is pleasant enough, and benefits from the beautiful setting in the Welsh Hills, though it really needs a couple more decent catering stands for people who are basically spending the day there.

And the music? Goodies in abundance - enough to bring on that authentic festival sensation that you are missing as much as you have time to hear. Even more so if you only make one day of the Friday-through-Sunday programme. Hard to choose a day, too. The number of folk who were raving about Phronesis’ Saturday triumph in the dark, and Matthew Herbert’s Big Band when we arrived on Sunday made me wistful, but the feeling soon abated as we got on with the day. A reminder, though, that you can’t really review Brecon, merely report on a small selection of what’s on offer...

Noon on Sunday always feels early for jazz, but plenty of folk turned out to hear up-and-coming South West vocalist Emily Wright. Her band, Moonlight Saving Time, are one of those recently-left-music-school ensembles who can be merely proficient, if eager to please. Not so here. Wright’s voice is a lovely jazz instrument, accurate and flexible. She has a fairly light sound - you won’t hear her belting it out in front of a big band, I don’t think, and some of her best moments were in duo with guitarist Jon Hyde or, especially, bassist Will Harris. But she also has a fondness for Chick Corea’s trickier melodies - we heard three of them - and delivers them in convincing unison with Nick Malcolm’s fluent trumpet. Interesting repertoire, some nice wordless vocal soloing: a satisfying hour to start things off.

Then the traditional Brecon short, sharp shower on the way up to the Cathedral to hear the UK debut of Meadow, drummer Thomas Stronen’s trio with fellow Norwegian Tore Brunberg on saxes and John Taylor on piano. They began as if indeed intent on Sunday worship, of a rather austere deity. This was music of small sounds and subtle movements, rather reinforcing the Nordic jazz stereotype, and not so much evoking a mood as insisting you share it. If you didn’t, and I wasn’t feeling that way inclined, it seemed as if they have taken less is more too much to heart. There were striking moments, and one could savour their control and finesse, but this seemed like musical nouvelle cuisine, arranged to look striking on the plate rather than to satisfy the appetite.

Things livened up after the first three quarters of an hour. There were some lively stretches where Brunberg varied his tone from Andy Sheppard at his most ethereal to something a little more resonant and the three together sounded somewhat like Keith Jarrett’s old European quartet, sans bass. Then the set was over. Unusually, I suspect this trio work better on CD, to sample when already in the mood, though my companion, more contemplative than I on the day, felt more positive.

In contrast, the set from Nostalgia 77 back at the College was all hooks and grooves. Leader Ben Lamdin’s compositions appeal and singer Josa Peit enlivened some numbers - Simmer Down was one of several songs with a nice, crockpot groove, but slight lyrics. Jazz interest lay mostly in the instrumentals, though, particularly a new piece called Taxidermist (I think), which provoked a fine sax solo from James Allsopp. Otherwise the players seemed more constrained than inspired by Lamdin’s concept, though the rhythm team of Tim Giles on drums and Riaan Vosloo on bass kept things moving with real energy.

Rhythm was a dominant feature of the Robert Glasper Experiment’s ill-attended (barely 100 people) set in the wide-open space of the Market Hall. Earlier shows by this band (the electric one) have been well-received here (LINK), but they didn’t work for me. This is a bunch of highly skilled musicians but the result of their efforts seems a bit all over the place. A Love Supreme voiced through a vocoder is a terrible idea, really. Add rhapsodic piano over hefty beats, a rambling bass solo on Yesterday, and we were not beguiled. I guess not all experiments work. Jazz is the teacher, and funk is the preacher, but I think these guys got a bit confused about the message. Pity.

So we ducked out of this after an hour to grab a bite and return to the cathedral for something not experimental in the least. Art Themen and John Etheridge’s quartet played, as Art said, a jazz club set. Listening to them chewing over some tasty standards, much enlivened by Alec Dankworth on bass, while the evening light faded in this fine building was a good way to end the day. A few hundred others thought so, too.

Enough for one day. Much was missed, as glimpsed in a meander across the green spaces of the College mid-afternoon - Maceo Parker could be heard cruising along in front of the BBC Big Band from the big tent, while a step away Led Bib drew their set to a close in uncharacteristically mellow style on one of the smaller stages. But we left pleased with our selections. Four interesting, varied sets and one dud isn’t a bad day’s listening. And if there was no single performance as compelling as, say, Steve Coleman at Newport last week courtesy of NPR, it was certainly a real jazz festival. We could have made a completely different selection and been equally satisfied. Think we might have to do two days next year...

Brecon Jazz Festival Website


Review: Gwilym Simcock Trio/Stephano D’Silva Quartet

Gwilym Simcock
Photo credit William Ellis All Rights Reserved
Gwilym Simcock Trio/Stephano D’Silva Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s, Thursday 11th August. Part of the Brit Jazz festival. Review by Tom Gray

Whatever the outcome of next month’s Mercury Music Prize, it is impossible to imagine the level–headed Gwilym Simcock not just taking it in his stride and simply moving on to the next musical challenge he sets himself. He is nominated in that competition for his solo album, ‘Good Days at Schloss Elmau’, but this gig saw him back with his excellent ‘Blues Vignette’ trio and, excitingly, a brand-new set of originals.

These latest compositions showcased the full breadth of Simcock’s musical passions. A piece of Samuel Barber piano music from his childhood days acted as a catalyst for the urgent, angular ‘Barber’s Blues’, which was driven by a funky and fiendishly tricky left-hand ostinato. ‘Kenny’s Way’, a subtly swinging dedication to Kenny Wheeler, captured perfectly the Canadian’s sublime sense of light and shade, while ‘Neutrinos’ moved into more rhythmically adventurous territory, at one point infusing a Radiohead-like riff with some Latin syncopation. There may have been a lot to take in on a first listen, but the rapturous reception of this audience was testament to the instant appeal of the new tunes.

Not only did Simcock’s trio get to grips with these demanding compositions; they allowed them to breathe, adding colour, humour and intensity as required. Yuri Goloubev made a big impact with his nimble, full-toned bass lines and some moving arco playing. Drummer James Maddren was a model of poised restraint through his supple, sensitive work on brushes and sticks but finally exploded into action towards the end with some exhilaratingly muscular playing on ‘A Typical Affair’. And while Simcock’s solos dazzled like electrically charged streams of ideas, they always had a strong sense of purpose and direction, never crowding out the overall group sound.

The wide grins throughout said it all: these are men who don’t merely enjoy sharing the stage, but positively thrive on it.

Stephano D’Silva Quartet

Earlier in the evening, guitarist Stephano D’Silva revived the compositions of his late father, Amancio, an early pioneer of indo-jazz fusions and a rather overlooked figure in British jazz. D’Silva’s quartet evoked the experimental, psychedelic sound of 1960s Soho with hypnotic vamps, rhythmically uninhibited playing and arresting free interludes from bassist John Edwards. While some of the improvisation tended to peter out in the face of a chatty audience, it was a pleasure to hear tunes such as ‘Jaipur’ and ‘A Street in Bombay’ brought to life and sounding fresher than ever.



Feature: Mark Lockheart tells the story of "Through Rose Coloured Glasses"

Saxophonist composer Mark Lockheart - most recent Album "Days Like These" with the NDR Big Band (above) - tells us the story behind the recording of a significant album in his development - 'Through Rose-Coloured Glasses' from 1998.
All of Mark's albums have just become available for download at the Amazon and iTunes stores (links below). He writes:

 'Through Rose-Coloured Glasses' was my first CD completely under my own name. So it's special, in the sense that it launched me as a writer as well as a player. Its also the only album that I did on my own Subtone record label.

 I'd done lots of writing on Perfect Houseplants albums and written a duo album with John Parricelli, but this album with its 12 piece line-up which I called The Scratch Band) was quite an ambitious project at the time and still contains some of my favourite studio moments.

 We recorded at Livingston studios in Wood Green on April 8th and 9th 1998. I was able to partly fund it with the Peter Whittingham Award which I had won in 1997.

 The first day was a bit of a disaster, as there were various technical problems in the studio so we hardly recorded anything. We were also recording on secondhand 2 inch tape , recording over another record (I won't tell you whose record! ) and there were various problems with bleed and distortion. Luckily I had Gerry O' Riordon engineering the session who is probably the most unflappable sound engineer in the world . I'd worked a lot with Gerry on various Houseplants recordings and trusted him completely with a large line-up . By the end of day one we had recorded just two of the nine tracks, 'Prologue' and 'A Place In The Sun'.
 Day Two of recording started brilliantly with everyone arriving in plenty of time and we soon got recording. Around midday, after we had two other tracks in the can Sid Gauld who was playing lead trumpet got a call from his wife saying she had gone into labour.

 The session was stopped for an early lunch while I thought what to do. Someone mentioned that Henry Lowther lived close by, so I phoned Henry who said he'd be down as soon as he'd finished his lunch. True to his word Henry showed up 40 minutes later, and played beautifully, sight-reading everything.

 Somehow we managed to record everything else that day, not just recording the songs but getting some wonderful energy and takes . Highlights for me are 'Way Of The Road' which is an amazingly controlled long slow piece that the rhythm section of Huw Warren, John Parricelli, Dudley Phillips and Martin France played so beautifully, its still one of the things I'm most proud of. And for sheer exuberant energy, 'For Kicks' makes me smile that we could play with such conviction at the end of the day, it was the very last track we did before we all went home!

A couple of years later I must of forgotten all the stress etc and recorded another album with the Scratch Band entitled 'Imaginary Dances'


'Through Rose-Coloured Glasses' and' Imaginary Dances' and are available now as downloads from Amazon and iTunes.  Mark Lockheart on Amazon / Mark Lockheart on iTunes

Thu, 15th Sept       MARK LOCKHEART'S 'IN DEEP' , VORTEX,



Phronesis perform in pitch darkness - the first photo :)

Jasper Hoiby had previewed the idea for us last week, but the actual experience of a gig performed, live, in pitch darkness, is something you have to experience rather than explain. At all concerts performers and audience share the same air, the same vibrations in it. But to be deprived of sight changes it. The unfamiliarity initially led the audience to reticence, but that changed. Musically Phronesis set the bar INCREDIBLY high. How many performers would DARE to do this?

Does the image of the concert above do it justice? (just a joke- I don't think so). My round-up of Saturday at Brecon Jazz will be on the JazzFM website.


Review: BLINQ

BLINQ - Natalie Williams Liane Carroll, Brendan Reilly (vocals) Ian Shaw (vocals and piano), Gwilym Simcock ( piano and melodica) (Ronnie Scott's, August 12th 2011, part of Britjazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

No ifs, no buts about this one. The debut of vocal supergroup BLINQ, on the glorious 12th goes straight up there as one of my gigs of the year.

There was lots of happy onstage banter between the pairs of friends. The first thought which the group shared with the audience was that this project putting, these four singers together, was not without risk: "we all drink too much." A thought later echoed in the poignant lyrics to Ian Shaw's "Let's Stay 42, sung as a duet with Liane Carroll.

We cover our secrets with a drink and a smile. [..] /A whisky in your cup, a vodka in mine. /We won't wake the house up, we'll talk until nine

But if there was banter, there was also a infectious atmosphere of fellowship, mutual encouragement and fun. Yes, the singers were showing off mercilessly, their exuberant scat contests witnessed salchows, lutzes, axels, pikes, twists and tucks, but they were also leading the appreciation and the cheering, for each other,  from onstage.

And there was also musicality. Heaps of it. BLINQ might be billed a vocal quartet, but forget the traditional SATB. All four singers have astonishing ranges. All lead or blend at will. And for a first performnce, the polish, the ensemble, the dash and panache of the whole enterprise were stunning.

Highlights? Several. The Tom Cawley/Natalie Williams composition Good Old Days - asking the question what life can have been like before we all had mobile phones implanted - might well be the song to put this group definitively in front of a larger audience (Jools?), Gwilym Simcock's arrangement of Pastorius' Liberty City was a first take wonder of virtuosity.

But the quieter moments counted too. Brendan Reilly's song Little Black Raincloud is a gem. And then there is Gwilym Simcock. Or, in the words of the Sun "Gwil done, son." As accompanist, finding the right colours and textures, the right seas for the good ship BLINQ to travel over, he was remarkable throughout. The fourth of the segued ballad medley featured Ian Shaw in My Foolish Heart. The ending was a moment for pure goosebumps, reminiscent of Bill Evans accompanying Tony Bennett. Shaw was disappearing into the shadows towards 49 Frith Street, taking the falsetto into high, ethereal territory. But my ear was caught by the sotto voce piano chords and wanderings which accompanied that ascent. Placed to perfection.

Support were Ayanna Witter Johnson's Quartet. A magical set, producing the quietest Friday night first set audience ever, according to Ronnie's CEO Simon Cooke. But that's a separate review, for next week. As for BLINQ, when LondonJazz newsletter subscribers like the programmers of festivals in Cologne, Hamburg and Montreux read this, they should be booking this group.

And yeah, we're all in this together innit. If Boris and Dave are concerned (as they bloody well should be after a week like we've just had) that Britain should be projected at its most joyous, they need look no further than BLINQ. Something very special started tonight.



RIP Richard Turner

Richard Turner
Photo credit: Guy Hatton
We are hearing shocking, tragic news. The trumpeter Richard Turner died yesterday as a result of a sudden seizure.

Richard started the gig at the Con Cellar Bar in Camden and ran it for nearly four years, welcoming great musicians:  Fly (Mark Turner, Jeff Ballard, Larry Grenadier), Donny McCaslan, Ingrid Jensen, Will Vinson,  Joel Frahm, Julian Siegel, Phil Robson, Gwilym Simcock, Kit Downes, The Calum Gourlay- Freddy Gavita Big Band, Matt Penman....down those narrow stairs. He also led the band Round Trip, whose debut album Chris Parker reviewed for us.

This is a tragic loss to those close to Richard, and deepest sympathies go to them. For the rest of us, Richard's contribution to the London music scene has been immense, can only be responded to with huge gratitude, and will be irreplaceable.

UPDATE: See the tribute on Jack Davies' blog.  The obituary written by Nick Smart on the Royal Academy of Music website. The Remembering Richard Turner Facebook page, set up by Josh Morrison and George Crowley. Tribute by Andy Robson on the Jazzwise website

UPDATE 2: Richard's brother Andy posted this on Facebook.  As you all know, my bro died last week. Reading all these amazing stories, memories and tributes is truly overwhelming for me and my mum. Some make us cry with laughter which is great. We found out today that Rich died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm whilst swimming. We've been assured that he didn't suffer at all. This could have happened at any time and was not at all related to him swimming. There was nothing that anybody could have done to prevent this from happening, however we would like to thank all the people who tried everything to help him especially the lifeguards at the Lido who should be proud of their efforts. Rich was in the best physical shape of his life (did you see his pecs?). He was also in the best place mentally that I have seen him in a very long time. My bro died happy doing something he loved and this is a comfort to us all. Further info will follow about arrangements etc and you will all be welcome to join us in Leeds to celebrate Richard’s life.

UPDATE Fri 19th . A news story in the Evening Standard
. And the Streatham Guardian has a news story. And a tribute on the website of St. Albans band Friendly Fires
UDATE August 25th. Josh Morrison has posted funeral details on Facebook

Funeral Details: Tuesday 30th August at 12:30.
There will be a service at:
St Matthew's Church
Wood Lane
Chapel Allerton

This will be followed by a gathering at Chapel Allerton Tennis Club, a very short walk from the church.

Wensley Avenue
Chapel Allerton
Leeds, West Yorkshire


CD Review: Two Sides, One Story / Mason Brothers Quintet

Mason Brothers Quintet. Two Sides, One Story
(Archival Records 1583. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This is a fabulous album. If it's ever necessary to know what combination of duty, pleasure or imperative brings a reviewer to his or her keyboard to write about a CD, let me put some cards on the table for this one. It's been getting listened to in my car for at least two months, and I'm still listening to it with pleasure. I just enjoy it, and I won't be letting go of my copy in any foreseeable future.

Brad and Elliot Mason are two brothers, originally from Norwich, who now live in New York. Elliot plays trombone and bass trumpet. He is the better known: he is a trombonist in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. His elder brother Brad plays trumpet and flugelhorn. They are both phenomenal players, with a lovely sound.

The interlocking of the two horns is completely instinctive, the ensemble between the two often uncanny. Is it one intrument or two? It's like an amoeba which not only splits but then re-combines. The brothers know each other's playing inside out, and never fail to react. As dialogue, as co-operation, it's irresistible, and it gets better with every hearing. The brothers are in their mid-thirties. They have something consistently worthwhile to say, a combined story to tell in every tune. The CD is self-produced: Elliott writes: "We've done it the way we wanted to do it from start to finish."

The CD was recorded in September 2009, but is only now being properly released because of some legal issues around the use of the name. Google "Mason Brothers," and you'll see where the problem. The building materials firm in Pembrokeshire had no problem. The haulage firm in Lincolnshire were fine.  But another set of Mason Brothers, who had trademarked the name, were rather less accommodating.

Anyway, this set of Mason Brothers, the good guys, assembled a selection of first-call players from New York. Pianist Dave Kikoski always has a harmonic trick up his sleeve, and scene-sets and comments wonderfully. Bassist Scott Colley has a huge presence,a big warm sound. Drummer Antonio Sanchez is completely responsive. He can step forward and make a bold statement, and then go into hiding.

There are three stellar guests: Chris Potter blows a storm on two of the hard-bop stormers, Stage Pints (an anagram for the brothers' re-workingof Giant Steps), and In The Third Person. Guitarist Tim Miller enters after a couple of minutes into the dark and mysterious world of The Evil Eye, written to accompany a silent movie, and plays a wonderful solo. The vibraphone of Joe Locke features on one track, the soft-paced, sweetly nostalgic Gone Home, the title referring to the fact that the brothers' home was in the UK and is now in the US. Locke ushers the tune in, and tucks it away gently at the end.

A sensitive writer called Wynton Marsalis - who knows athing or two about having musical brothers - has written the liner notes with warmth and affection. The CD is nicely engineered and mixed by James Farber. Highly recommended.

Peter Vacher's Jazz UK profile of Elliot Mason is HERE A selection of videos of the Mason Brothers Quintet is on their website.


"Whisper it. Good Days deserves to win the Mercury Prize." (The Sun)

The Sun newspaper has declared : "Whisper it  [...] Good Days deserves to win [the Mercury Prize]."

And then there's a piece by Tim Woodall in the Independent's arts blog this week which gave one reason why it might be a good thing if – just for once - the jazz album could win:

“ A Mercury nomination [...] is extremely valuable for a jazz artist.“We immediately attracted bigger audiences,” says bandleader and cellist Ben Davis. “We produced another album off the back of it and played a lot of gigs. That led to the creation of more music, which is what it’s all about.”

Think about it. If that's what a nomination can do, think what a difference a win might make. Rather than rubber-stamping an existing success, a bold decision could make a sustainable career. Which got me thinking....maybe there are other reasons too:


Caspar Llewellyn Smith of the Observer/ Guardian says:
"[Gwilym]'s problem is that he is the token jazz person this year, there is always the token jazz person, and you feel that the token jazz person will never win."

When I read that I wrote to the Mercury people. The answer came back that the idea that the token jazz person can never win is just plain wrong.

They wrote to me: "The Barclaycard Mercury Prize solely exists to promote and champion music in the UK […] All albums are viewed and treated equally as part of the judging process – there are no categories or ‘token’ artists.”


It would definitely be a breath of fresh air


Llewellyn Smith again

Before mentioning the token jazz idea, he said: “Gwilym is a fantastic talent. Been around for some time although I think he's only about 30. This is a solo album, and you can see why the comparisons that have been made with the likes of Keith Jarrett are valid. Technically he is incredibly gifted and it is a completely involving record at the same time. “

So where's the problem?


The odds on PJ Harvey are getting shorter all the time. So, more same-old?


Where did rock music come from? As Muddy Waters sang: “The blues had a baby and they named the baby Rock & Roll.”

Or As an American rapper said :

“Without rock and roll you wouldn’t have hip hop, and without the blues you wouldn’t have rock and roll, without jazz you wouldn’t have the blues."

Guardian source quoted / Independent source quoted


Review: Matt Halsall '/ Orphy Robinson's Codefive

Matt Hallsall Group. (Left to right:Gordon Wedderburn, Alfonso Ambles, Rachael Gladwin, Gavin Barras, Matthew Halsall, Taz Modi, Nat Birchall, Luke Flowers)
Photo credit: Roger Thomas 

Matt Halsall Group/ Orphy Robinson's Codefive
(Ronnie Scott's, August 8th 2011. Review by Roger Thomas)

A major power cut left most of Soho without electricity the entire Monday evening. The sold-out BRITJAZZ event hosting a resilient Orphy Robinson - Codefive and Matt Halsall's Tribute To John & Alice Coltrane, rose to the challenge and performed acoustically by candlelight, which must be a first for Ronnie Scott's.

With judicious placing of candles Matt Halsall and his band just went for it from the start, as if it were any other gig. Starting with Alice Coltrane's ‘Journey In Satchidananda,’ thecalmness drew you in. ‘A Love Supreme’ featured Nat Birchall, the arrangement plumbing the depths and the passions of Coltrane. Arco bass with glissando harp paved a way for Birchall’s Eastern soprano tones on ‘Blue Nile’. The mystical theme advances when Matt takes the head of ‘Samatha’ an original composition. Throughout, the piano carves definitive lines with a creative complement of percussive sounds from Luke Flowers. It was business as usual, but, before the last number, ‘The Journey Home’ Matt did admit to the audience that the whole evening had been a very unusual experience for them all.

Still without power Orphy Robinson’s Codefive kicked off the next set. The original composition ‘Yeh’ opened with Jean Toussaint's tenor and Dudley Phillips' bass. Played as if the two were taking a cool stroll, Orphy’s vibraphone solo entered the fray, injected a whole new energy, ratcheted up the temperature in the house by degrees.

With the audience seemingly acclimatised to the environment the dissonant piano lines of ‘Big Foot’ sounding like a calypso steel pan with the bass subtly throbbing a steady—almost Jamaican dance hall—pulse you could see gentle body movements from the audience. With some bebop references from vibes and saxophone the ingenuity of the composition brought a smile to my face.

The ingenuity continued when 'Step In 2' segued into 'Sweet One For Two' with it's palette of staccato piano phrases and sweeping arpeggios from the vibraphone to a dark arco bass and piano duet, influences of a Bach prelude appear as saxophone, piano and vibraphone create a contrapuntal playground of phrases marshalled by Dudley's bass and a defining swing from the drums.

Also impressive was, although positioned in the darkest corner of the stage Orphy could play with four mallets and with such precision. This performance was definite testament to seasoned musicianship.

Rounding off the evening guest singer Chantelle Nandi sang 'Mellow Dilemma' and 'Soledo Tassi'. Nandi was all the more impressive for having no microphone or artificial reverb to assist her.

The evening was true testament to the ability of acoustic jazz not to disappoint. Had a rock band been booked the night of a power cut, and the show would most definitely not have gone on!



How to respond to destruction

Natalie Williams
Photo credit: Richard Kaby

How does the London jazz community respond to the wave of rapid, wanton destruction our city has witnessed? By answering the wanton flames of destruction with a quiet, largely unreported, act of creation and renewal.

Yes, by the end of this month a new club, Blue Train at 56 Stamford Street SE1 will have opened. Its aim: to give more young musicians opportunities to play. To the flames of shops being torched, we respond with the bright red mane and sheer charisma and presence of Natalie Williams, who has the first gig. The jazz community is not on holiday in Calgary, Tuscany or Klosters. It is not launching official enquiries or pointing the finger of blame. It is working at the heart of communities to inspire, to make London a place worth living in, a place to enjoy and be proud of, for all of us.

The club had originally been expected to open this week, but has been delayed by two weeks.


Jasper Hoiby writes about the Phronesis Dark Gig at Brecon

Jasper Hoiby
Photo credit: Tim Dickeson/ Edition Records
Jasper Hoiby writes about the first ‘Pitch Black’ concert, which Phronesis will perform at the Brecon Jazz Festival on Saturday, in complete darkness.

‘The ‘pitch black’ concerts are inspired by my disabled sister who, due to severe cataracts, lost her sight about five years ago. Her situation made me think seriously about how important and precious our senses are and how drastically different everything would be with any one of these senses missing. It is also a way of paying tribute to her and everyone who has been through a situation similar to hers and managed to carry on and stay positive. Whereas drawing used to be her favourite activity, I know that one of the few things that helps her stay positive nowadays is music. She listens to music constantly, and sings and drums along with enjoyment if she's in the mood. She realises that I've put her picture on the ‘Green Delay’ album cover, which is dedicated to her, and she's very proud of it. For a long time she showed it to everyone when she got the chance.
Green Delay album cover. Edition Records 2009

To me, Phronesis is unique because of the people in it. There's been a very special chemistry between Ivo, Anton and I from the start, which for me is close to magic.

We are three very different people from three different places but when we come together to play, it all makes perfect sense. I hope the experience of playing in the dark will create a closer communication between the audience and the band and that it will be meaningful to anyone who is used to relying on their sight in everyday life. I’m also intrigued by the way that everyone will have to focus entirely on listening, and am positive that it will reveal new things in the music that both the band and audience alike haven't noticed before.

For me personally, it gives me yet another chance to pay respect to my sister and my mother, who are, and continue to be, such a huge inspiration to me.’

Brecon Jazz runs from August 12th-14th.  Phronesis will perform on the Pembertons Stage at Christ's  College at 8.30pm on Saturday.