Postcards from Cologne (2). The WDR Jazz Prizewinners Concert

Pablo Held receiving the Improvisation Award at the WDR
Prizes concert from Dr. Bernd Hoffmann, Head of Jazz=Redaktion, WDR.
Photo Credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

The big night of WDR's four day autumn festival WDRjazz.cologne2011 is the Friday. The showpiece event is the WDR Jazzpreis concert. Three prizes - each of 10,000 Euros - are handed out, one for improvisation, one for composition, and one for the "Nachwuchs," which means the up-and-coming, the next generation. The concert was relayed as part of an ELEVEN-HOUR (!) marathon jazz broadcast at the weekend. WDR3 does one of these "long nights" each month....

A highly impressive contribution to this special evening - at one of the organizations most committed to jazz broadcasting anywhere in the world - was made by host Götz Bühler. Bühler is not just a talking head. He is completely passionate and knowledgeable about the music, and is also one of the programmers of the Elbjazz Festival in Hamburg.

He declares in an interesting video, in German about Elbjazz an ambition "to show what a lot of jazz there is out there, to show how different jazz can be - so there can't be ANYBODY out there who can ever say 'I don't like any jazz' ".

Amen to that, I say.

Pablo Held
Photo Credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

The winner of the Improvisation Prize was pianist Pablo Held. I had chatted to him earlier in the day. The softly spoken 24-year old is originally from the small town of Hagen. The buzz about him in Germany has already been around for quite a while. Held has been awarded several prizes, although, as he told me, competitions don't really feel like they have much to do with music. Held is less ambiguous about the benefits which his association with WDR has brought him. To be able to hear his trio professionally recorded, already at the age of 18, to be paid well, treated well, was of fantastic benefit. After an experience like that, he said, "I could improve".

Held is due to make a London appearance next spring in the Pizza Express Dean Street Two Steinway Festival with Kit Downes. Held and Downes are musicians with a similar sensibility and sound, and the inner confidence to follow their own musical instincts, and not much more than a year apart in age. Held explained to me that his trio with bassist Robert Landfermann and drummer Jonas Burgwinkel is the unit into which his energies, particularly for composition, are devoted- another similar charateristic with Kit Downes. Held had among his teachers the mercurial John Taylor, and spoke with deep gratitude of Taylor's influence.

All three of the musicians in Held's trio are bringing out the superlatives from German critics. A profile of Burgwinkel in Die Zeit entitled "Swingt wie die Hoelle" (swings like hell") and "the German jazz musician of the hour." I found the degree of rhythmic independence between hands was mesmerizing.Landfermann is a positive bassist with strong presence and a great ear, who also makes extensive use of flautando harmonics.

Held appeared before the Prizewinners Concert in a septet which consisted of his trio plus trumpet, saxophone, harmonium/celesta and guitar. The compositions were a festival commission. One of the highlights of the whole day was a spellbinding piano introduction to one of his septet pieces, but his comment afterwards was self-effacing. He said that the most pleasure had come to him from sitting back from the keyboard, and listening to and enjoying what the other players were doing.

His trio had a twenty-minute set in the main concert. The final piece, Klartraum, featured on Held's most recent album Music (Pirouet Records, 2010) stays in the mind for its clever, repeated use of caesuras ( // ) within the same phrase.

Nils Klein, winner of the WDR Jazz Composer Award,
playing as part of the Pablo Held Septet
Photo Credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

Winner of the composition prize, and also recipient of a festival commission was 30-something saxophonist Niels Klein. He had a series of new compositions played by the WDR Big Band, without doubt one of the top big bands in the world. The pieces were inspired by science fiction. Skylift, the last and most ambitous, told the story through music of a group of space travellers who leave orbit and drift into the void. The eerie sounds which characterized that moment definitely stay in the mind. I'd love to hear an edge-of-the seat British Big Band like Colin Towns' Mask Orchestra lift the roof of Ronnie Scott's with that one.

The WDR Big Band at the 2011 WDR Jazz Prizes Concert
Performing work by Niels Klein
Photo Credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

The Big Band of the Duesseldorf Fachhochschule,
Directed by Georg Niehusmann
Photo Credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

The "Nachwuchs" prize was neither last - it was first in the concert -nor least. It featured a big band from the Fachhochschule - technical high school, directed by Georg Niehusmann. For a band of non-specialist musicians the standard reached was exemplary. I found myself talking to the baritone player Karim Kahtan, an employee of the Ford Motor Company (far right in the photo above). Niehusmann himself had been billed as baritone player  in the programme, and Kahtan, who had only recently started playing baritone, was already giving Ronnie Cuber a run for his money in those powerful opening honks of Mingus' Moanin.

There were also prizes for educators at Folkwang University in Essen and Cologne Conservatoire.

WDR Prizewinners concert host Götz Bühler
Photo Credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

WDR3 online


Round-up: Kenny Wheeler in New York

Four trumpets. Left to right: Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen,
Dave Douglas, Nick Smart
Nick Smart, Trumpeter and Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, London writes about Kenny Wheeler's triumphant visit to New York earlier this month.

Last week I returned from the four night celebration of Kenny Wheeler by Dave Douglas’ Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT). This musician-led, artistically progressive organisation had chosen Kenny as the recipient of its "Award of Recognition" at FONT 2011 – the festival’s ninth year.

FONT has an office full of Wheeler fans, who, for some years, have wanted to honour Kenny. In Nov 2010 a plan to do so finally got set in motion over lunch, following a workshop at the Royal Academy Of Music with Dave Douglas. From that moment on, Mark Wheeler (Kenny’s son) and I worked closely with Dave to make sure it all came together without a hitch. This was how I eventually found myself in such esteemed company at the Jazz Standard in New York, watching ten rapturously received gigs over four nights.

I think I am safe to assume a high level of widely felt respect and admiration for Kenny Wheeler’s music, and quite possibly, a sense of pride in the UK that he has chosen to spend his musical life as a Londoner. And an East Londoner at that! But sometimes, when someone great is around and available with reasonable readiness, it can require a little more effort to remember just how great they are. It's not that Kenny has been taken for granted over here - he is hugely championed throughout the jazz scene - but nevertheless, to be in New York and witness the emotional warmth and sheer joy that was expressed by audience upon audience at his presence in the city…. was breathtaking.

People had literally flown in from all over America and Canada to witness this rare appearance, all ten shows were completely packed out with minutes of applause at his first appearance on the stage, and often standing ovations to end.

For the famously self-deprecating Kenny, this was an awful lot of attention to soak up! Not to mention, with the great and the good of the New York trumpet community either on the stage or in the audience, a lot of pressure to live up to for a man approaching 82. So if ever there was an occasion for him to pull out some of the most assured performances of the last 10 years, musically and technically, this was it. And that is exactly what he did. Night after night and in every single show, he demonstrated exactly why this enormous honour was being bestowed upon him. He played the most captivating ‘free’ introductions to tunes, showed some beautifully inventive changesplaying and his idiosyncratic soaring intervals were more fluent and secure than ever. It was truly enough to make a UK jazz musician very proud of the fact he is "ours"; something the jazz community over in NY were openly envious of.

Thursday. Dave Douglas had conceived a beautiful mix of ensembles and tributes for the festival. The phenomenal trumpeter and long-time Wheeler fan, Ingrid Jensen, had put together a brass quintet with rhythm-section for the first night. She was joined by trumpeters Tony Kadleck and Jonathan Finlayson as well as Norwich lad turned Lincoln Center superstar, trombonist Elliot Mason. Ingrid had both arranged Kenny’s music and composed music in tribute to him, and there was also a special guest appearance from her sister, saxophonist Christine Jensen who had written a fantastic piece for the occasion. The personal highlight for me was sitting in with Ingrid and Kenny, along with Dave Douglas, to play Kenny’s arrangement for four trumpets of "How Deep is the Ocean".

Friday/Saturday. John Hollenbeck ’s Large Ensemble featured some incredible guest soloists, from the FONT side were the trumpeters Shane Endsley and Nate Wooley, but also saxophonist Chris Cheek and guitarist Brad Shepik, in fact the whole group was full of wonderful musicians. The band played some of Kenny’s big band pieces before he joined them on stage; "Sea Lady", "Foxy Trot", "Kayak" and "Gentle Piece", plus a characteristically brilliant composition/arrangement John Hollenbeck had done which incorporated the different elements of "Heyoke" before segueing into Kenny’s own arrangement of the piece. I also played in the band on the KW charts as they are for five trumpets. When Kenny himself took to the stage they played a highlight from "Sweet Time Suite" and some of the new 80th Birthday pieces from the recent tour over here in the UK (also recorded for an album due in early 2012).

Saturday. In the afternoon Dave Douglas and I led a workshop on Kenny’s music at New York University. Again there was great attendance from a whole new generation of Wheeler devotees, not only from NYU, but from all the major music schools and jazz departments in the city. It was a pleasure for me to teach with Dave of course, and we had an enlightening session playing through the charts and discussing the music. Kenny joined us half way through and played his classic "Everybody’s Song" along with Dave and me, and he was very open about his working processes to all the students who asked questions.
Kenny Wheeler, Dave Douglas and Nick Smart at the NYU workshop

Sunday evening culminated in a quintet that saw Kenny reunited with his old friend Dave Holland, along with pianist Craig Taborn, saxophonist and quite regular partner to Kenny in the last two years, Jon Irabagon, and the drummer Rudy Royston. This group was astonishing, and again, Kenny more than led from the front. Dave Holland took the announcement duties and mentioned Kenny’s own quote about himself "I don’t say much, but when I do…. I don’t say much." After the final tune Kenny uncharacteristically reached for the microphone and thanked the band, "they’re almost as good as I thought they were" he said, before adding about himself, "I recently won a poll; old players deserving less recognition!"

Left to right: Craig Taborn, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland
I feel privileged to have played some part in helping this festival to happen, and to have been present at it. Dave Douglas himself was incredibly impressive in his organising of the event; he personally looked after Kenny throughout the preparations, right up to meeting us at the airport! The tireless work he put in- along with the team at FONT and the wonderful Ingrid Jensen and John Hollenbeck – to make this happen for Kenny Wheeler, resulted in an occasion that those present will always remember.

Which reminds me of another very un-Kenny like grabbing of the microphone after the last Hollenbeck set: "I’d like to thank the band for playing my music so well, I’ll never forget it…. not for a few days anyway!"

Reports of FONT 2011  from the press and internet:

- A New York Times review

- From Dave Douglas’ website – some nice pictures and an interview with Dave

- From the FONT website – the full line-up and an interview with Nick Smart

- A post on Peter Hum's Ottawa Citizen blog

- Helen Mayhew’s report on our own Jazz FM

Dave Douglas will be at the Royal Academy of Music as "International Artist in Residence" for one week in January 2012.

There is a public masterclass on Wednesday 25th Jan at 6.00pm and a Gala concert on Thursday 26th Jan at 7.30 – both in the Dukes Hall.


Review: Aurora Orchestra Thriller

Principal players of the Aurora Orchestra with
conductor Nicholas Collon (seated)

Thriller: Automatic Writing
(Aurora Orchestra, St George's, Bristol. Review by Eleanor Turney)

As a concert, Thriller was superb. As a concept, I found it less successful. The fabulously talented musicians of the Aurora Orchestra have collaborated with American horror writer Peter Straub and theatre-maker Tim Hopkins to produce more-than-a-concert, where the music is layered with projections, mime and speech. Given that the performance is primarily a concert, let's concentrate on the music first.

An eclectic – and sometimes fragmentary – programme of music showcased this talented orchestra to the full. From the ethereal Adeste Fideles by Ives, through the atmospheric and plaintive Berio Duet for Two Violins and ridiculously intricate pianola piece (Nancarrow played by Rex Lawson and his impressive beard), to the languid beauty of Mozart's Larghetto from Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, this was an evening of gorgeous playing.

The highlight for me was Kets-Chernin's Cadences, Deviations and Scarlatti, a piece where percussionist Henry Baldwin really shone. The big, bold opening died away to an almost minimalist section with a few notes being passed around the orchestra, a captivating drip-feed of sound. The gradual build-up was magical, with swooping strings and punchy brass giving the impression that Kets-Chernin was having immense fun playing with texture and sound. It was totally fascinating to watch and hear, but the music was enough. All the other things – musicians wandering around the stage waving mysterious numbers and enigmatic props – were extraneous.

In an intriguing piece of programming, the second half began with Nancarrow's Study for Player Piano No. 7, performed with startling dexterity on the pianola. The Study was then repeated as the penultimate piece in an arrangement for orchestra by Mikhashoff. The contrast was so great that it felt like being offered two disparate pieces of music. A treat for Nancarrow fans.

Unfortunately, despite the hype and the clever marketing (which promised to unsettle the audience provided you “leave your your rational mind at the door”), the music occasionally became overshadowed by the staging. The theatrical add-ons felt, well, tacked on, and had me bemused rather than disturbed. Props were handed out on the way in and then not really used; sealed envelopes were symbolically opened at the end – but to what point and purpose I could not say. All the theatrics felt gimmicky, and were a distraction from the superb music. Perhaps as the piece continues its tour the dramatic gestures and mime will become more significant, but, to my mind, their failure was not through lack of commitment but through a confused overall vision.

Straub's recorded voice was transmitted in between the pieces, but it was unfortunately rather muffled in St George's, making it impossible to glean any narrative or information. Hopefully, if the recordings are clearer in other spaces then the thrust of the narrative will become clearer.

Having marketed Thriller heavily as an unsettling and creepy experience, the evening does not really come off as a performance. As an avowed wimp, I was never even mildly apprehensive, and there were points where it felt as though some of the players were struggling to keep a straight face. Straub taking the stage with a box on his head, a woman holding a knife. These things are not significant (or even interesting) in and of themselves, and there was not enough narrative to imbue them with the significance they were clearly supposed to have.

However, when the music was left unadulterated, the concert was stunning. The Aurora Orchestra are to be applauded for their superlative playing and for trying something new, but they should probably have let the music do the talking.

Thriller is on tour until November 4th, including two London dates . Tour dates


Jazz, gimmicks and hairstyles

Zoe Rahman
Josh Jennings from Leeds, who writes the British Jazz blog has been musing -in hospital, poor man - about the gimmicks and hairstyles in British jazz...

Who needs insightful jazz articles, writes Josh, when you can have a homemade gimmick fresh from my mental oven!

Add your comments to Josh's piece HERE


Review: Marc Ribot Trio

Henry Grimes.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved
Marc Ribot Trio
(Bishopsgate Institute, 28th October 2011, Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Marc Ribot was at his most intense and uncompromising for his trio's sell-out concert in the pristine Great Hall at Bishopsgate Institute. His introductory remarks put down a marker for a set over which he presided seated, head down, scrunched over his Gibson, giving no quarter. "We play pieces by Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and Mingus and probably won't announce them ... sorry, but that's the way it is."
Marc Ribot
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved

Ribot forced through a raw, concentrated delivery of searing, metallic tones with more than a nod to Hendrix - even briefly quoting his Star Spangled Banner. His counterbalances were the quiet grace and dignity of the statuesque Henry Grimes, with an unending well of invention in supply, and Chad Taylor's combination of elegant restraint and effervescence. Grimes with trademark headband and Taylor, shaven headed, in a cool, white collarless shirt, would build up to a thunderous flux and flip over, in a coup d'oeil, to a low rumbling bass and the light tinkling of bells.

Grimes was the fulcrum, providing the antidote to Ribot's scorched earth tactic. His playing gently radiated inner confidence, with bowing deep into the strings, and delicately patterned fingerwork. Grimes was one of Albert Ayler's favourite bass players and has commented that between them they had "that kind of feeling of extrasensory perception" *. Taylor responded with the brightest of brushwork and taps to the snares and the drumkit's metalwork, turning to a swampy gumbo backbeat to pick up on Ribot's brief excursion to the fringes of country blues.

They modulated the sound by stealth, exemplified when Ribot turned the volume right down to an acoustic level, letting it back in for the trio to pile up the pressure, flooding the hall with a darkly defined whirlpool of cross-rhythms.

Ribot's approach was deconstructive - he'd pull up short at any hint of playing it straight. On the heavy blues which grew out of Coltrane's Alabama he'd play the in-between notes - he didn't lose the blues, he just left it behind, while Grimes and Taylor put down a rock solid rhythm which gradually gave way to a dynamic, accelerating momentum. They delighted in spikey contrasts and an aggressive playfulness. There were no real borders; Grimes gently put his bass to rest and attacked his violin with frenetic resolve; the nearest Taylor got to a rolling drum solo - solos are not strictly in the trio's vocabulary - followed a single dab of feedback and a defined silence from Ribot.

They encored first with a lightly swinging rag which gave Grimes his second skittering burst on violin, and then revisited the densely coloured powerhouse, with booming echoes of Ornette's Prime Time and the electric James Blood Ulmer, leaving no doubts that Ribot's early intent had come to fruition.
Marc Ribot Trio at Bishopsgate Institute
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights reserved
Margaret Davis Grimes thought that this was one of their best Trio gigs ever - and she's seen over 80 of them, commending also the quietly attentive listening audience.

Solo pianist Matthew Bourne opened proceedings with a virtuosic solo performance. His second piece was played entirely within the piano's body, tapping, plucking and strumming the piano wires, ending a short set by shifting from wide open spaces to rapid, cyclical cascades in the spirit of Ligeti.

Cello and vocal/laptop duo Mayming offered a range of ideas combining composition and improvisation, which in some areas seemed to be a touch naïve and lacking in resolution.

The new Bishopsgate venue is a beautiful, if formal, space and the hall's superb acoustics, thanks to an array of white, suspended baffles, optimised every nuance from the stage. It is an exciting alternative for the Vortex's programming team, giving them the option to occasionally attract a larger audience than the club allows.

* Quoted from an interview with Grimes in 2003, in the book 'Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost' (Revenant Records, 2008)

The Marc Ribot Trio was presented by Vortex City Sessions.


CD Review: The Kate Peters Septet

Kate Peters Septet - The Kate Peters Septet
(CD Review by Chris Parker)

Another graduate from that jazz hothouse, Leeds College of Music, singer Kate Peters leads a septet versatile enough to address an impressive variety of musical genres, ranging from hi-life and latin to hard bop and straightahead jazz, and her own vocal prowess enables her to inject soulfulness into standards and pop tunes alike, not to mention convincing scatting on the likes of the set-opening 'Moanin'' and its follow-up track 'Minor Blues'.

Like a number of contemporary vocalists whose models seem more likely to be from the pop/soul world, such as Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin or Randy Crawford, rather than Anita O'Day, Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, Peters is more at home with material from the likes of Björk (a powerful visit to 'Venus as a Boy') and even Paul McCartney (a considered, rather touching version of 'She's Leaving Home') than with standards, and there are moments when this handicaps her slightly, most obviously on 'Love for Sale', which, set to a light latin sway, fails to convey the pungency of Porter's subtly sardonic lyric.

This said, though, this is an enjoyable and varied set enthusiastically performed by Peters and a proficient band, made up of tenor player Matt Anderson, trumpeter Ian Chalk, guitarist Aubin Vanns, pianist Zezo Olimpio, bassist John Marley and drummer Sam Gardner.

This CD is available from


A postcard from Cologne

I'm in Cologne for the first two nights of the eighth "WDR3jazz.cologne2011" festival. It takes place partly in the Funkhaus right in the heart of the city, and part in the Stadtgarten, a 250-seater well suited to jazz. There were three bands on the first night. I interviewed Rudresh Mahanthappa who had the 10pm slot at the Stadtgarten, and will be doing  a fuller piece on him later.

In the main studio of the Funkhaus - hard to resist calling this jazz-crazy place the House of Funk - there was a double bill of the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, playing compositions by the New York-based Argentinian Pedro Giraudo, and directed by him.

Giraudo's writing for big band is propulsive, determined, dense, tense. The most successful piece was the long composition Duendo del Mate, played last, which charted the familiar progress from the peace of the countryside, into the frenetic pace of the city and back out again to simplicity and space.

Among the soloists, my ear was caught by young German/Icelandic tenor saxophonist Stefan Karl Schmid. He plays a clean line, and from the evidence of a CD I was given, he is also a characterful and interesting composer. The CD is "Olaf Lind" on the Cologne Jazzhausmusik label. Schmid's compositions use two intertwining saxophone voices well, to creating surprising calm and space in unusual meters. Other soloists who caught the ear were trumpeter Jan Schneider and pianist Juergen Friedrich, who steered the final piece carefully to a calm close.

I was only able to stay for the first few numbers of Markus Stockhausen 's new "About In a Silent Way" project. The first track was reminiscent of the Miles Jack Johnson music. A dominant figure in the mix of sound is producer/sound artist/DJ Martux_M. I found that both rhythmically and harmonically, we were being served a comfort blanket. Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset, quietly hidden behind his blond mane and his Apple iMac, could definitely have thrown rather more unpredictability into the mix, as he does in other contexts. Maybe that did happen later in the set, that's the hazard of trying to fit more than one gig and one venue into an evening. What I heard wasn't really for me.... but there are Youtube clips available

Tonight is the Jazz Preis evening, where the WDR's fine Big Band will be in evidence, plus a late show from Robert Glasper. The festival is also plugged into the UK scene, Sunday features a concert by the Sam Crockatt Quartet. More later.
WDR Jazz website


Jack's been thinking...about the London Jazz Festival

Our regular Friday columnist Jack Davies previews the London Jazz Festival...

I'm looking forward to the London Jazz Festival . Among the higher profile gigs I have my eye on in particular are accordionist Richard Galliano's centenary tribute to film composer Nino Rota (Royal Festival Hall, Thursday 17th November) featuring American trumpeter Dave Douglas and expat British saxophonist John Surman.

Another treat in sttore is French saxophonist Michel Portal's international band (Queen Elzabeth Hall, Monday 14th November), which includes no less than Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Bojan Z on piano and Nasheet Waits on drums.

But while big name acts such as these.... and McCoy Tyner and Bill Frisell... will carry away the headlines and 5-star reviews at this year’s festival, the backbone of the ten day programme will be the performances by homegrown bands in the capital’s smaller venues.

Saxophonist George Crowley is playing on Tuesday 15th November at The Oxford, a venue he tirelessly promotes all throughout the year. Everyone who knows George’s playing will agree that he is one of the finest saxophonists on the London scene – a real improviser, backed up with instrumental intensity and an absorbing sense of tradition. Crowley’s compositions are sometimes strikingly stark (Still Life) and sometimes full of a passionate, lyrical joy. His quartet is completed by three musicians who have made a name for themselves as the Kit Downes Trio – Downes himself on piano, and the fantastic Calum Gourlay on bass and James Maddren on drums.

The quartet recently recorded an album which will be a must-buy when it emerges, but until then do not miss the chance to see some of the lifeblood of London’s jazz scene in one of the venues that supports new bands and new music all throughout the year.

Loop Collective’s Rory Simmons presents his large ensemble Fringe Magnetic in the plush surroundings of Kings Place’s Hall One on Saturday 19th November at 3pm. Where better to see what is essentially a chamber jazz ensemble than in London’s newest chamber music hall?

Alongside the contrasting sounds of Elisabeth Nygaard’s Nordic purity and the darkly gruff tone of Andrew Plummer, Fringe Magnetic comprises an impressive lineup of Loop regulars: Robin Fincker (clarinet), Tori Freestone (flute), James Allsopp (bass clarinet), Kit Massey (violin), Natalie Rosario (cello), Jasper Hoiby (bass), Ivo Neame (piano) and Ben Reynolds (drums). This is a thoughtful ensemble, encompassing delicate and aggressive moments, but always with a sense of optimism.

Simmons mainly uses this band as a vehicle for composition, but there will also be moments where he, as one of the country’s finest trumpet players, is showcased too.

The London Jazz Festival in association with Radio 3 runs from November 11th to November 20th


CD Review: Ben Crosland Brass Group - An Open Place

Ben Crosland Brass Group - An Open Place
(Jazz Cat JCCD 114. CD Review by Chris Parker)

A glance at the titles of bassist/composer Ben Crosland's previous recordings demonstrate just how well suited he is to provide, as he has done on this sextet album, a 'soundtrack' for visitors to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park: The Northern Run (featuring Alan Skidmore), A Dales Day (for quintet), Echoes in the Valley (octet).

Thus experienced in capturing a 'spirit of place', Crosland has taken particular sculptures – by Henry Moore, Sophie Ryder, Barbara Hepworth, Elisabeth Frink, David Nash and Anthony Caro – as inspirations for an eight-piece suite for a supremely accomplished band, completed by trumpeters Martin Shaw and Steve Waterman, trombonists Mark Nightingale and Barnaby Dickinson, and pianist Steve Lodder. Lodder and Waterman, of course, form the elegant trio Threeway with Crosland, and their rapport lies at the heart of the cohesiveness and poise demonstrated throughout this satisfying set of Crosland compositions, Lodder particularly adept at ensuring the whole band sound gels in the absence of a drummer.

Solos on Crosland's richly varied but consistently approachable pieces are shared pretty democratically between the bandmembers, but if this feature of the suite showcases its roots in jazz, the softly crooned chorales and more forceful ensemble passages also nod towards a suitably northern tradition: brass band music.

Appropriately airy, spacious and bright, An Open Place is at once striking and memorable, even in the absence of the open-air sculpture park that inspired it.

Jazz Cat Records


CD Review: Phil Robson – The Immeasurable Code

Phil Robson – The Immeasurable Code
(Whirlwind Recordings. CD Review by Tom Gray)

The UK tour by guitarist Phil Robson’s IMS Quintet back in January earned glowing reviews and will undoubtedly feature among the live highlights of the year for many who made it. This album recorded during those live dates is packed with delights throughout its 70-plus minutes.

Much of the listening pleasure here stems from the sense of Robson, Mark Turner on saxes and Gareth Lockrane on flute really stretching out, using the extended space afforded to them to craft some elegant, engaging improvisations. Lockrane’s soaring opening statement on ‘Nassarius Beads’ sets a very high benchmark early on from which the group do not deviate.

The soloists’ stories all unfold over a dynamic backdrop, with Ernesto Simpson’s pin-sharp precision on drums paired with the robust, responsive bass playing of Michael Janisch.

Robson’s compositions are, however, much more than just blowing vehicles and there is plenty to admire in these succinct, punchy themes. The way Robson harnesses the textural possibilities of an unconventional combination of frontline instruments and subtly marries straight-ahead postbop with earthy, odd time signature grooves is reminiscent of the writing of Dave Holland (and the playing here is certainly worthy of one of Holland’s ensembles).

Highlights include the asymmetric funk of the title track, ingeniously constructed around a Morse code-like one note pattern from Lockrane’s piccolo, and the breezy swinger ‘The Instant Message’.Any listener who regrets not being there during the recording of this live album will get a second chance to see this fine group next month: they play the Purcell Room as part of the London Jazz Festival.

The CD will be issued on November 7th.

Purcell Room, 15th November, in the London Jazz Festival. Double Bill with Christine Tobin


Interview: Claude Bolling

Claude Bolling with Duke Ellington
The Wimbledon Music Festival includes something out of the ordinary this year: the 81-year French old composer and pianist Claude Bolling will be making a very rare visit indeed to the UK, playing a concert in the festival on November 14th.

Wimbledon, I discovered in a brief telephone interview earlier this week, is an appropriate destination for Bolling. He has a proud family connection with SW19: his father-in-law Jean Le Sueur was a contestant no fewer than five times in the tennis championships in the years 1930-1946.

Le Sueur, unfortunately, never made it beyond the last 32 at Wimbledon. Bolling himself, on the other hand, has had a massive career at the highest level in music for several decades. His IMDB entry lists around a hundred film credits, including nine film scores completed in just one year (1978). There are French classics like Borsalino with Alain Delon Jean-Pierre Belmondo in their prime as gangsters, for which Bolling wrote an unforgettable Joplin-ish theme. There have also been a multitude of jazz albums, and at for several years he also ran his own big band.

Bolling is still playing regularly. He has a monthly trio gig at the Petit Journal in St.-Michel on the last Tuesday of each month. Does he still compose? “Not as much as in past times.” But he still brings new compositions to these monthly gigs. He will be appearing in London with the other members of this trio from Paris: his drummer for the past quarter of a century, Vincent Cordelette and regular bassist Pierre Maingourd.

Bolling can be something of a musical chameleon. He is known for his ability to be able to adopt almost any jazz style in his piano playing, and as composer/arranger to give a jazz inflection to unlikely music. His big band recorded a swing version of the Marseillaise, there is a whole album of “swung” Mozart entitled 'Jazzgang Amadeus Mozart' and featuring works such as Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

But the figure he kept coming back to as a key inspiration was Duke Ellington. “I was a fervent admirer of Duke. I had the good fortune to be friends with him over many years - it was a 'grande amitié' . He also got to play on the same stage with Ellington. (See picture above).

He also talked about having led for many years one of the most significant French big bands. Bolling credits the promoter/journalist Frank Ténot with having had the original idea to establish a big band in Paris in the line of Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie . “Frank said he could get the musicians together. Professionals, with real knowledge of jazz. It was a very agreeable indeed to have them as interpreters “

The recordings by this band, says Bolling, were a major success, and that led to the creation of a regularly functioning big band with a weekly gig and appearances at big festivals. Bolling fondly remembers the modest beginnings in the rue de la Huchette, which led to larger concerts and successful jazz brunches at the hotel Meridien. “A lot of people came to those,” he reminisced.

Another unusual direction which Bolling's career has taken is the many collaborations with classical musicians. He has worked with guitarist Alexandre Lagoya, flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, cellist Yo Yo Ma. How did they come about, I saked? None of them, he confirmed, were really his instigation. "Classical musicians,” he told me, “ felt he need to escape from serious music "s'évader des musiques serieuses." And he created the context to bring them closer to jazz. One of the most popular works of this kind will feature in the programme in Wimbledon, the Suite for flute and jazz trio, originally written for Rampal, and now a fixture in the flute repertoire. Soloist in Wimbledon will be Wissam Boustany.

Bolling may be a very rare visitor to the UK, but the associations he has with our country are positive: “it's a fascinating country, and when I had chance to play I was happy ” . He does have fond memories of recording film scores here such as Catch Me a Spy and Silver Bears. And there was a recording of the Suite for Chamber Orchestra. And he is full of high praise for our musicians : “les musicians anglais sont parfaits,” he says.

He did, however, choose to avoid one question in our interview. What, I asked Bolling, did he consider the peaks, the biggest achievements of this extraordinary career.

“Une apogée? No. It's impossible to choose. Every concert is important. Next question?”

His answer may not have helped our interview to get going, but it's hard to hold it against him. And it also speaks volumes for the undimmed sense of purpose as a musician with which he still approaches every concert. Which can only promise great things for the Wimbledon on November 14th.

Wimbledon Music Festival


Prize Draw - Emma Smith and Dinner at Sam's

Sam's Brasserie, Chiswick

Nice prize! This week's draw for newsletter readers (courtesy of Sound Generation and Sam's Brasserie) consists of a complete evening including dinner for two with wine and a chance to hear one of the rising vocal stars of British jazz Emma Smith.

The date is November 6th.

The venue is the newly refurbished Sam's Brasserie in Barley Mow Passage in Chiswick. We (with help from Jean-Jacques Rousseau)  reviewed a previous evening there

The wine will by Rick Stein. The vibe will be relaxed. Newsletter readers please email me to put your name in the hat.


Round-Up: Georgia Mancio's ReVoice! Festival

Georgia Mancio (photo by Brian O'Connor)

ReVoice! Festival
(Pizza Express, Dean Street. Thursday 6th to Friday 14th October. Round-up by Zena James.)

All credit once again to popular vocalist and innovator Georgia Mancio for achieving sell-outs and a genuine sense of international teamwork throughout her second annual (we hope) ReVoice! festival at Pizza Express Dean St earlier this month.

Norma Winstone and Klaus Gesing (photo by Dave Ohm)

Following the rousing opening night featuring a true first, a striking duet between Georgia and electric bassist and composer, Laurence Cottle and sealed with the ever-flawless, inventive and much-loved doyenne Norma Winstone, came one of the hippest highlights of this nine-day, 37-artist celebration. Gregory Porter, the hugely engaging baritone jazz singer fast making a name for his intense originals, chose against the odds to treat his audience to the full-on energetic soul of a pure Motown opener, Way to Harlem. You can’t find it on I-Tunes yet but the song is already on the list for his planned second release in 2012, featuring mix of swing, soul, R&B, gospel and “a lot about love, family and life”.

But pure jazz lovers didn’t have long to wait. Already well-served by Georgia’s nimble opening jazz set with pianist Nikki Iles, Porter’s audience relished a rich-toned compelling Skylark, one of the best versions I’ve heard. Wayne Shorter’s Black Nile from Porter’s current much-acclaimed album Water brought his raw energy to the fore as he almost physically propelled an already incredibly powerful rhythm section of Geoff Gascoyne, Grant Windsor and Dave Ohm. Outstanding full-pelt solos from saxophonist Ben Castle and trumpeter Graeme Flowers made this an exhilarating start to a set that never faltered.

Gregory Porter (photo by Brian O'Connor)

Irresistible tones of 70’s and 80’s pop-soul singers were present throughout and easily as prominent as the smooth Nat King Cole sound he is so frequently credited with.

The highlight was Be Good, a beautifully written and perfectly delivered ballad about “a woman who broke my heart”, the title track of his next album. It was upstaged only by his magical signature tune Illusion and the high-energy political soul anthem single, 1960 What? A great start to the weekend.

Sachal Vasandani (photo by Cat Munro)

And the treats kept coming. Following a scat-collaboration and whistle –off on Sunday between Georgia and guitarist Jim Mullen, the American vocalist Sachal Vasandani, a mentee of Jon Hendricks, played an almost continuous sophisticated and slick set for an entire hour without pause.

Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor and Diana Torto (photo by Dave Ohm)

Monday saw Italy's newest diva, Diana Torto, who fronted trumpet legend Kenny Wheeler's new and remarkable Something Else quartet for two popular nights. This was one of Georgia’s personal favourites, as well as a tearjerker, in her own duo set, of a piano solo on In My Life by James Pearson, which she admits would have rendered her soundless has she not been on stage with him…

Barbara Raimondi & Roberto Taufic (photo by Dave Ohm)

Wednesday’s magic was Contigo en la Distancia led by Italian vocalist, Barbara Raimondi, with Brazilian guitarist, Roberto Taufic, and UK-based Italian percussionist and drummer, Enzo Zirilli. Their musical painting of Latin America showcased Raimondi's wonderful sense of rhythm and passionate delivery.

Brian Hanlon (photo by Dave Ohm)

Georgia and monthly Dean St bassist Michael Janisch brought subtlety and gentleness to Thursday’s audience, which gave way to a dynamic groove-laden set again featuring Janisch alongside sax maestro Nigel Hitchcock, exciting young pianist Ross Stanley and led by Irish-American singer/guitarist Brian Hanlon.

The week closed with a double bill of sheer class as Georgia and Ian Shaw opened the show with easily their most impressive and entertaining collaboration to date. Highlights were a moving Alone Again Naturally (Gilbert O' Sullivan), an outstanding vocally dexterous multi-tempo/multi-feel Willow Weep For Me and a rousing bi-lingual treatment of a favourite of these longstanding friends and collaborators, Bowie’s Life on Mars.

David Linx (photo by Dave Ohm)

And so to the very eagerly anticipated Belgian singer and composer David Linx, with his award-winning Dutch pianist and collaborator of 20 years, Diederik Wissils. Steeped in classical influence and with incredible agility, this was a bold presentation of 8 originals, from dark, almost sinister ballads to high-speed percussive scat-fests reminiscent of Bobby McFerrin. Always commanding and very physically expressive, yet locked reflectively inside the melody and lyrics, he is at once both showman and introvert, quirkily original and somehow quite incomparable. The touching Proper Shelter, featuring Wissels extraordinary classical talents and the closing I’m Going Home were notable high points; yet judging by the reaction at Dean St, it won’t be long before he’s invited back to the UK…perhaps by Georgia….


Stan Sulzmann in focus

Stan Sulzmann
Stan Sulzmann is featured in BBC Radio 3 Jazz Line-Up, and has also explained to us the background behind what will be one of the key gigs of British jazz in the London Jazz Festival


On a computer near you for the next seven days is the marvellous all-star Jazz Line-Up session recorded in the BBC's Maida Vale studios FOLLOW THIS LINK (it starts with 3 mins 30 seconds of really annoying trails for other Radio 3 programmes).

The programme starts with NEON Quartet (Stan with pianist Kit Downes, vibraphonist  Jim Hart and drummer Tim Giles).

In the second set this quartet is joined by Kenny Wheeler, guitarist Mike Walker, James Allsopp (on bass clarinet) and bassist  Dave Whitford.

The level of playing, of listening in this group is something exceptional.

2) LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL - BIG BAND GIG (Sunday November 13th, Spice of Life, 7pm)
Stan Sulzmann has been arranging tunes written by fellow musicians and collaborators for big band. It's an open-ended project, but the process of broadenting, deepening, dignifying these compositions is something really worthwhile project. The big band is full of top-flight musicians (provisional personnel list below)

It started with two compositions and has grown. The first two, Stan writes to me, were

[Quote begins]

1) I arranged 'Alfredo' by John Parricelli (from his Quartet CD) some years ago - it's a great tune we used to play together at the old Vortex.

2) John Taylor asked me to arrange 'Between Moons' for him. - it's beautiful tune from his 'Insight' CD

(It then occurred to me , writes Stan Sulzmann, that it would be nice to carry on the idea of arranging British Jazz musicians tunes that I love. it could be an infinite project - - - and a good excuse to play them all! )

3) I heard Kate Williams play 'Disparity' last year at Ealing Jazz Fest with her trio and thought that would make a good Big Band Piece.

4) Im an enormous fan of Iain Ballamy's tunes and arranged 'ReCedar' from his Anoraks CD.

5 ) 'Westerley' is such a great tune and so typical of Nikki Iles that I just had to do it.

6) I arranged my own piece 'Chu Chu' from the first Neon CD Here To There.... cos' I like it !

7) Ive just finished 'Clockmaker' by Mike Walker which I played with him at the old Vortex and with Printmakers when I depped for Mark Lockheart a while back. So this will be played first time at the Spice Of Life.

The other pieces apart from Clockmaker were played at the Guildhall earlier this year with the college band. We will also be playing a few older pieces of mine to complete the program including :

8) 'Taking A Chance On Love' my arrangement in 5/4 from my 60th Birthday gig at the Royal Academy of Music that Nick Smart kindly organized for me.

9) 'Jack Stix' from my Jigsaw CD on Basho

10)'The Thrill Is Gone' from the Big Band cd 'Birthdays Birthdays' on Paul Clarvis Village Life label .

[Quote ends]

There will be other, more visible gigs in the festival, but I don't believe there will be a gig which gets closer to the heart of UK jazz. It is to be hoped that this project eventually gets a hearing on a bigger stage .

Provisional list of the Stan Sulzmann Big Band for Spice of Life, November 13th-

Trumpets: Derek Watkins, Henry lowther, George Hogg, Freddie Gavita

Trombones: Andy Wood, Mark Bassey, Robbie Harvey, Sarah Williams.

Saxes: Martin Hathaway, Mike Chillingworth, Josh Arcoleo, Pete Hurt, James Allsop

Vibes: Jim Hart

Guitar: Alex Munk

Piano: Nikki Iles

Drums: Tim Giles

Bass: Dave Whitford

Conductor: Nick Smart

Book at


A new site answers some questions - JazzDIY

A website to bookmark about jazz and DIY.  An interesting new venture courtesy of Scott Menhinick, Boston based publicist/ communications specialist who runs Improvised Communications.

"JazzDIY is the first online trade journal created specifically for the 21st century jazz musician. Our editorial focus is the grey area where the artistic and spontaneous nature of jazz meets the nuts-and-bolts practicality and financial realities of commerce. "

The site is also partnered up with Jason Crane of which has done 317 in-depth interviews of jazz musicians, and counting.

The first piece of research is up, an extensive jazz media survey, asking jazz writers questions  like :What proportion of promotional messages do you do anything about? The most popular answer  is one in ten.

Or how about: How many hours do you spend listening to a recording  during the process of preparing and writing a review? Most popular answer: three

And as for the claim that "Jazz is DIYing".   Per-lease....But I was pleased to learn while doing the image research that IKEA do flat-pack particle accelerators...



Preview/ Interview: Janet Seidel Trio (Pheasantry Oct 30, Kings Place Nov 26)

Angela Kearney interviewed “Australia’s First Lady of Jazz” Penguin Guide (2006) , vocalist and pianist Janet Seidel ahead of her two forthcoming London appearances (Pheasantry October 3th/ Kings Place November 26th)

- Janet Seidel has released 17 CDs, many internationally
- She has shows dedicated to Blossom Dearie, Doris Day, Cole Porter, Henry Mancini and most recently, Johnny Mercer. Her London shows will include some of this repertoire
- In this interview she talks about her musical background
- And about her work with her regular trio partners, brother David Seidel on bass and Chuck Morgan (guitar/ ukulele)
- She talks about how she only chooses songs that appeal to her musically and lyrically
- Janet Seidel and Angela Kearney found they had a mutual admiration for Doris Day
- And, we're told,  also shared a steamed treacle pudding

Can you take LondonJazz readers through the Janet Seidel story?

I suppose it must seem a bit of an anachronism but I grew up in the bush on a dairy farm in South Australia where I’d ride my horse to round the cows up.

From playing country dances with my brothers and then onto piano bars during the ‘70s followed by 5-star hotels, touring and other stuff, here I am in London for the next eight months, excited to be performing what I consider to be some of the most sophisticated, subtle and witty music ever written.

So far, it’s been an interesting and consistent career - I’ve never really been out of work.

But for anyone going into the jazz business thinking they’re going to be rich, unless you make it like Diana Krall for example, it’s a hard slog. But…we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it. That would be ridiculous.

Australia has such a small population and what we do with our shows is quite specific… so, that’s really why we’re here. And we’re really delighted to have been invited to play at these lovely venues.

You get great reviews…

It’s fantastic to get a good reception when you perform but I just play and basically, all I do is open my mouth and sing and to make something of it… well, it feels easy for me.

I feel and have always felt that the song is more important than the singer and by saying that, I don’t mean that I sing it note for note. It’s a really hard thing to describe but I think that maybe it’s about authenticity.

Someone gave me a CD of jazz standards sung by an opera singer. She sings very well. But, it isn’t jazz. Instead, it’s all about the singer. That’s not what I’m about. I’d really like what we do to be considerably less about me and just completely about the music.

What came first for you - piano or voice?

I think singing was always in tandem with piano and as a kid, I liked singing to myself. I was in the last year of primary school, I think, when Mum bought me a Seekers songbook and taught me what to do when you see a chord symbol and how to vamp which I’d never done in classical music. Having figured that out, I started changing the key slightly and then started singing along.

Much later, I also did some classical pieces when I was at the Conservatorium of Music in Adelaide - Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and those lighter things. They realized I was never going to be an opera singer.

But recently, I met Judith Durham (The Seekers) at a concert in Melbourne and she bought one of my CDs. That was really nice.

You’re based in London for a while?

We’ve already done some shows in Scotland and other parts of England which have been really well received.

But, as for London, we’re all in a lovely house with a keyboard and PA and we’re rehearsing. It’s the first time we’ve had the luxury of doing that in many years.

Back home, the three of us are always going in different directions, managing different projects and time poor.

In the UK, we’re actually feeling a bit more like musicians. For me, it’s a breath of fresh air and we’re just working at refining the things we do.

Of course, jazz is spontaneous but certainly, we have to be organised and to have this time together away from other distractions has been great.

Mind you, we’re still enjoying being tourists.

Your material seems to feature almost exclusively The Great American Songbook.

Yes, that’s true. Sometimes when I’m interviewed about the material, the journalist will say, ”Oh, you just do covers.” I always say no, we don’t do covers and then I explain what it means to do covers… like an ABBA revival band or whatever. Actually, what we do is quite specific, fairly specialist.

But, I’m certainly never challenged by an audience asking why I’m doing all those old songs? It must mean that what we’re doing sounds right.
Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with doing the old songs. We’re so lucky to make a career performing them, aren’t we? They’re so well written.

Certainly, in Australia, not many people do the same material and we’ve become known for our repertoire of both old and newer material. When I say newer, I mean perhaps more interesting song choices that audiences are not so familiar with but have responded well to.

We certainly spend a lot of time doing that simply because there’s so much material out there.

We particularly like to pepper an evening’s entertainment with quirky, satirical tunes such as… Ballad of the Shape of Things as performed by Blossom Dearie and written by Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof). It was actually recommended to us by Dominic Alldis who was a friend of Blossom Dearie. It’s not a jazz song and because it’s called a ballad, it has simple, repetitious harmonies. It’s quite fun.

Tell us about the London performances.

Before we left Australia, we launched a new show: That Old Black Magic - The Songs of Johnny Mercer at the Melbourne Recital Centre, a knock-out venue. We’ve performed the show on this tour in Scotland and we’re doing the same show in some theatres, which is unusual for jazz musicians but we do a crossover thing and that’s what has enabled us to work in the cabaret world as well.

That’s what really led us to create these themed shows that have been so popular in Australia. It gives you the impetus to work on a really focused, tight show. It’s still jazz but more emphasis on the story, either the songwriter or the artist. Certainly, it’s not a tribute show.

The London dates will definitely feature bits and pieces from various shows, the Mercer set, of course. Blossom Dearie also and although I never specifically target a Doris Day song when I sing a compilation of my favourites, I should. It’s a good idea!

And the other members of the trio?

My brother David Seidel is on double bass, and a very good bass player. He taught himself how to play guitar as a kid, then electric guitar, electric bass and finally to double bass. From the moment he played it, it felt right. That’s his thing.

Chuck Morgan plays guitar (and ukulele). He’s a brilliant guitarist and very creative with arrangement ideas and making things better which isn’t always easy with two chordal instruments. But, the ego sometimes needs to be subjugated. It’s a bit like trying to write a book without an editor. There’s a very good reason why you have them.

In terms of the musical performance, I suppose that really, Chuck waits for me to play something and just fits in because he’s never really sure exactly what I’m going to do. He’s a very, very talented improviser, very musical - 10 out of 10. And, to sing with the guitar is very nice for me.

Selfishly, it also gives me some relief, especially during the Doris Day show, which is exhausting. When he takes a solo, I think Thank God! The attention is off me!

Of the themed shows, what are your favourites to perform?

The Johnny Mercer show has really given me a kick up the backside. When we performed it for the first time in Melbourne recently was like: Oh! New stuff!

The Doris Day show (Doris and Me) has been a winner since 2000. It’s the show that people really want to see.  I have my 1950’s cocktail frock, my white gloves… It’s a tight little show and it’s fun. She was a very, very good singer.

Who do you think have been your greatest musical influences?

I’ve long been a champion of Blossom Dearie – the whole package of her, the humour of her, the really lovely way she played… and I do love her voice, the timbre is so caressing.

Do you write any of your own material?

I only ever write a song if someone forces me. My brother David said “Janet, you have to write a song” and he came up with the title, which I thought was very good - the title of the show and the song: Dear Blossom.

The lyrics were easy to write but I also felt that I had to incorporate the fact that when Blossom wrote music, it was always very well written, structured and very musical with really interesting chords. I wanted a little bouncy, catchy tune and I think it works. Yes, I think we’ll do that one in London.

If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?

Bill Charlap (pianist). I just love the way he plays and I’ve heard him accompany other singers. I’d love the luxury of not having to worry about playing piano and just have a really good rhythm section led by Charlap.

What tunes do you never tire of performing?

I’ve got thousands of songs that I love doing but I still especially love the excitement I feel when I’ve got new material to play. You’ve got to have a good repertoire not only because when you’re a jazz musician, people love to make requests but also for your own sanity.

I still feel really good about Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home (Mercer). I’ve heard Judy Garland do it, Barbra Streisand and so on. There’s something about it that just gets under my skin and being a bit of a traveller, I particularly love that song.

And another that I have absolutely never tired of – and I’ve done it so many times – is Begin the Beguine. When we do the Cole Porter show, we do a little arrangement of it and it always gets to me.
I get a kind of tingle. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how sometimes the familiarity of something can make it less interesting? But it’s such a quirky song, it’s written in an unusual form with so many different parts to it. It’s ideal really for doing just once because it’s so long but… but I love that it tells a story of when they begin the beguine and then the setting… and the orchestra playing and something goes wrong and they’ll never play it again. Then… play it again! I want it hear it.
It’s just a perfect journey.  I’ve actually never said that before - that’s an exclusive!

The Janet Seidel Trio performs at:
The Pheasantry, October 30
Kings Place, November 26


Review: Josh Kyle Possibilities album launch

Josh Kyle - ‘Possibilities’ Album Launch
(Pizza Express Dean Street. Thursday 20th October. Review by Fran Hardcastle)

It's  audacious to open a set with an a cappella solo, as 24 year-old Australian vocalist did on Thursday. He delivered Stardust with such impeccable tuning, beautiful phrasing and clarion tone that he not only pulled it off with aplomb, he had the audience captivated right from the outset, for the launch of his debut album ‘Possibilities’.

The album has been two years in the making and is a creative collaboration between Kyle and bassist Geoff Gascoyne, combining originals and some great contemporary arrangements. They showcased a wealth of variety in style. Originals like Roll-On have a nu-jazz vibe. There was a lot of head-bopping at my table.

His choices of covers included a delicious laid back version of Larry Willis’ The Prize with original lyrics by Kyle. Robin Aspland on piano gave a joyously energetic solo. The Thrill is Gone was given the slow funk treatment, which fed a meaty solo from Geoff Gascoyne on bass.

Kyle’s voice is something rather special. He plays with the tone in a mature manner that shows a real awareness of his instrument. Vibrato is used sparingly and to great effect. He delicately brings in touches of a sumptuous breathy sound. Most captivating is his honeyed but strong falsetto.

The political songs, such as the original Save the World and Djavan’s Amazon are lyrically a touch unsubtle for my taste but musically very enjoyable. An effectively used sampler and driving beat from Ralph Salmins on Amazon really brought the track up to date.

I was downloading tracks onto my iphone before I’d even left the building. This will be an album I will come to know well. The only thing which can be a bit distracting is Kyle's occasional gurning facial expression. But the sheer coolness of the music, combined with the potency of his voice should reach audiences far beyond the jazz world.

Possibilities is available from Jazzizit Records


CD Review: Mark Hanslip + Javier Carmona - DosadoS

Mark Hanslip + Javier Carmona - DosadoS
(Babel BDV 1192. CD review by Chris Parker)

Tenor player Mark Hanslip and percussionist Javier Carmona have been playing freely improvised music as a duo for a couple of years now, and this album, 'completely improvised … setting only a vague outline
for duration' (Hanslip's description of the pair's approach) accordingly showcases the considerable rapport between the two of them.

Those brought up on the often brawling, high-octane free-for-alls provided by the likes of Paul Dunmall, Albert Ayler or Peter Brötzmann will perhaps be somewhat surprised to find DosadoS concentrating more on textural subtleties than on power and volume and on overall persuasiveness rather than the bluster and hectoring that can characterise some free music.

Tenor scurries and flurries, complemented by pattering drums and skilfully chosen cymbal tones; harmonics and overtones riding on sustained gong sounds – Hanslip and Carmona are resourceful and imaginative, sensitive and interactive enough throughout this absorbing album (all freely improvised except 'Deadline', a brief nod to Steve Lacy) to convert even the most free-jazz-resistant listener to their cause.

Babel Label


Review: Julian Joseph All-Star Big Band

Julian Joseph All-Star Big Band
(Ronnie Scott's, Thursday 20th October, first night of three. Review by Frank Griffith)

I love Julian Joseph's music. It is essentially geared for small group improvisation with lyrical melodies, rich and provocative harmonies and compelling rhythmic grooves. These fully challenge the soloists and audiences alike yet avoid being over-complicated or clever. His big band assembled at Ronnie Scotts for three nights, starting 20th October, was packed full of top flight soloists to deliver the goods.

Joseph's opening assertion, before a note was played. "I'm in awe of myself" was met with a few nervous laughs. He qualified that remark with how honoured he was to have such an exemplary cast of players clearing their diaries to play his music. This was evident in their commitment and diligence interpreting his charts at such a high and professional level. We, the audience, knew we were in for something very special that night, and he - and the band - did not disappoint.

The band's front row boasted five saxes alongside three higher woodwinds (including the 606 Club's Steve Rubie, on flute) adding further colours. These included internationally recognised faces, Jean Toussaint and Steve Williamson on tenors and Peter King on alto. Not bad for starters. Trombonist and section leader, Pete Beachill, (no mean soloist himself) was joined by the creative and angular trumpet stylings of Byron Wallen- also a formidable composer/bandleader in his own right. Hats off to top session man, Noel Langley, for his deft handling of the lead trumpet chores as well. The iconic rhythm section included bassist Mark Hodgson, drummer extradordinaire Mark Mondesir, and the powerhouse force (both as soloist and accompanist) of pianist Joseph himself.

His compositions which possess a somewhat dark and brooding quality about them included "Doctone" (dedicated to the late pianist, Kenny Kirkland), "Guardian Angel" and "The Firehorse", the melodies of which hearken echoes of 1960s spy movie, film-noirish themes that develop into four and eight bar repeating harmonic sequences (vamps) that serve as excellent improvisaional vehicles. Similarly, his unique medium tempo treatment of Thelonious Monk's ballad "Ruby My Dear" featured ex-Art Blakey tenorist, Toussaint, in a spirited and ebulliently victorious light.

While Joseph's tunes are most suitable for the big band orchestration with their rich trove of harmonies and rhythmic grooves, his approach is more to arrange them for the big band rather than to create organic compositions specifcally built for the large ensemble. This is to say that the band provides a backdrop and supportive force for the magnificent array of solois, but a few more opportunities for the full band to explore the wider gamut of compositional exposition would have been welcome.

That aside, the overall effect of the band is one of a driving, powerful force (the interplay between pianist and the drummer compelling and riveting in itself) and really delivers the message in full colour. Joseph's musical message is regularly accentuated and highlighted by the irrepressible large ensemble. A great night of modern jazz at a world-leading venue and let us all hope for an imminent return engagement.  /The Frank Griffith Big Band's CD "Holland Park Non-Stop" is out on Hepjazz.


Preview of London Jazz Festival: Brigitte Beraha

Brigitte Beraha
Sara Mitra previews four appearances by vocalist Brigitte Beraha during the 2011 London Jazz Festival

Reading through the programme booklet for this year's London Jazz Festival, I was overwhelmed by the richness of music on offer. So, rather than picking a few gigs to recommend, I decided to focus on one musician across a number of gigs: vocalist Brigitte Beraha. Brigitte is a dear friend so I cannot pretend to be objective, but I can write about what I admire in her music, and why I think she is a great voice to follow at this festival.

I find that it helps me to understand more about a player by seeing them in contrasting musical situations, rather than always in the comfort zone of leading their own group. Many of the instrumentalists I respect pop up in a number of different ensembles, and it is a great pleasure to hear them improvise in different ways according to the different parameters of each group. Good instrumentalists use different bits of their musical muscle and brain for their different gigs.

By contrast, singers are - according to the well-worn stereotype - crap at being less than the centre of attention, unable to adapt to what an ensemble throws at them. Maybe that is why instrumentalists often feel antipathy towards singers, because singers just stand there and let the (musical) world revolve around them (as the old lightbulb joke goes). Whether this stereotype is still relevant nowadays or not, there are only a few singers I know who have the ability to morph between bands and still remain within their own voice, and Brigitte is without doubt one of the best out there.

She is always a connected part of the ensemble and her gift at interpreting other people's compositions lies in her "ego-less" approach. Separate from leading their own groups, when guesting in someone else's project a lot of singers can get in the way of the song, their own style of performing is the focus rather than being a pure conduit for the composer's material. Whilst that 'performance artist' approach can make for impressive fireworks on stage, with Brigitte I always feel it is the other way around: that she rises above the need to impress with tricks and just delivers what the music needs (which is a thousand times more difficult than she makes it look!).

Purity is not colourless, it requires a great deal of restraint and simultaneous outpouring. A serene and benevolent presence on stage, a singer at home in French and other languages, and - something she absolutely excels in - wordless singing, Brigitte is the go-to woman for a number of groups performing at the Festival, and I sincerely recommend checking out her approach across these contrasting ensembles.

Brigitte Beraha London Jazz Festival dates:
Sunday 13th November 2011: Upstairs at Ronnie Scott's as part of Jumoke Fashola's Jazz Verse Juke Box (on around 9.45pm)

Monday 14th November 2011: Dave Manington's Riff Raff at Olivers, Greenwich, 8pm.

Wednesday 16th November 2011: Solstice at e17jazz, Walthamstow Cricket Club, 8.30pm.Solstice are: Tori Freestone-tenor sax & flute John Turville-piano Jez Franks-guitar Brigitte Beraha-voice Dave Manington-double bass Tim Giles-drums

Sunday 20th November 2011: e17jazz Large Ensemble at e17jazz, Walthamstow, 2pm.

Sara Mitra will be appearing in the London Jazz Festival as support for Kaz Simmons at Oliver's Bar in Greenwich on Sunday November 13th at 8pm.


Jack's been thinking....about young UK big bands

Our Friday columnist, trumpeter/ bandleader/ composer/ promoter Jack Davies writes about the vibrant young big band scene in the UK.

The young jazz scene in the UK is strong, and growing. And, although there appear to be no viable statistics anywhere, the number of big bands - and young big bands in particular - is increasing too.

Given that the conservatoires are turning out large numbers of incredible and (despite what some critics may assert) individual players, and with a myriad of British role models, such as Kenny Wheeler, the London Jazz Orchestra, Django Bates and Colin Towns..... perhaps this contemporary big band boom should not be a surprise.

Speaking personally, I am grateful that my big band has given me the chance to work with large numbers of players I really admire. If I use the saxophone section as an example, the band has allowed me to write for and work with players such as Martin Speake, Mike Chillingworth, Josh Arcoleo, Joe Wright and Rob Cope. Each of these guys has such a strong musical personality, it makes writing for them a pleasure. I’m able to leave gaps for them to fill with their musical wizardry – an example of which is a new piece which will feature Joe Wright and his saxophone / electronics setup, something he has also honed in a duo with drummer James Maddren.

When there is such an incredible depth of enthusiasm to draw on, and very little expectation of money, who could resist?

Some audience members are still surprised by the contemporary big band sound (one gentleman once said to me post-gig “I thought big bands were supposed to sound like Glen Miller?”), but the same aesthetic that permeates modern small-group jazz can be found in the music of John Hollenbeck, Mike Gibbs, Hans Koller, the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra amongst others.

The Manchester-based band Beats N Pieces, who released a new EP yesterday, have received glowing press reviews recently, including this from John L Walters:

“Movers and shakers such as [Colin] Towns, Matthew Herbert, Darcy James Argue and [Ben] Cottrell demonstrate that large ensembles remain a vital force in contemporary jazz.”

But there are many other young, adventurous bands out there. To name a but a few of the band leaders: Matt Roberts, Calum Gourlay, Freddie Gavita, Jay Phelps, Callum Au, Tom Hewson, Pete Ibbetson, Reuben Fowler, Ben Cottrell.......

My own band (along with 3 other big bands - Stan Sulzmann’s, Ed Puddick’s and Gareth Lockrane’s) is in the Spice of Life’s London Jazz Festival programme. The London Jazz Festival also features the Matt Roberts Big Band, and a set from Hermeto Pascoal with a British big band including Julian Siegel, Chris Batchelor and Henry Lowther.

Jack Davies Big Band at the London Jazz Festival