CD Review: Centre-Line - A Virtual Joyride

Centre-Line - A Virtual Joyride
(Centre Line Music. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Drummer Darren Altman and saxophonist/EWI player Russell van den Berg have been playing together since they met at Leeds College of Music in 1993, and their musical bond is the foundation for Centre-Line's sound: joyous, full-on jazz-rock.

It is therefore no surprise to find endorsements from two of the form's most celebrated luminaries, Randy Brecker ('great, unique playing and writing') and Mike Stern ('really cool music') on the publicity flyer for the band's 2012 tour, and the US guitarist's tumultuous, inexhaustible energy and sheer appetite for soloing is immediately called to mind by the opening track of A Virtual Joyride, 'Saturday', which features van den Berg's throaty, passionate, (Michael) Breckeresque tenor roaring over the rhythm-section support of Altman and rock-solid bassist Jon Harvey.

The band is completed by the eloquent electric guitarist Jez Franks, and the album's atmospheric second track, 'Intro', ushers in Centre-Line's characteristic use of van den Berg's EWI, which blends naturally with Franks's playing to create the hypnotic spacey sounds so effective at creating contrast and tension in fusion music of this type.

Eight of the album's ten tracks are written by van den Berg, with a single composition from Franks (the title-track) and a swampy, almost grungy, slow-building jam-type closer from Altman, so there is a tightness and coherence to the set that calls to mind the band's satisfying live performances, in which jazz-rock is gleefully celebrated in a manner that is rarer since the demise of the Brecker brothers' band, but which can still be found in the music of Mike Stern, Dave Weckl, Steve Smith's Vital Information, Partisans et al.

Centre Line Music. Centre Line are on an extensive UK tour in Jan - March. Next London date:  January 20th – Olivers, Greenwich.


Jacqui Dankworth looks forward to performing at Blue Train on Saturday

Blue Train at 56 Stamford Street SE1 is opening this Friday 2nd with Natalie Williams. The next night features Jacqui Dankworth (above with husband Charlie Wood) who writes for LondonJazz:

"I'm really looking forward to performing with my trio at the Blue Train this Saturday and great that my husband Charlie Wood is going to be with us that night. It's encouraging to see a new jazz venue opening in London, and I wish it every success. Keep music LIVE!"

With a nod to a different Blue Train, here's hoping that Blue Train becomes "a window to the soul of South London." We will be reporting on the opening night.


100,000 Page Views in November

Thank you dear readers. LondonJazz has just exceeded 100,000 page views in a month for the first time since we started. OK OK. Not that kind of page.


NYJO January residency is this week's prize. Plus NYJO at Leeds Educators' Conference

Start the year with NYJO at Ronnie's. This week's PRIZE DRAW for newsletter readers is a pair of tickets for the second night of the three-day NYJO residency at Ronnie Scott's, Tuesday January 3rd.

For this residency NYJO have commissioned two brand new pieces from Julian Joseph which will be premiered. Two of the new pieces NYJO premiered last year : Nikki Iles' "Hush", and Tim Garland's "Dawn before Dark before Dawn" are also on the programme. NYJO tells me it is taking "another step towards broadening our artistic scope and forging bonds with leading musicians and composers on the UK and International scenes".

And here's more proof of NYJO's other push, to integrate more effectively into the jazz education community:  NYJO will  be doing a workshop and performing the closing concert of the Leeds International Jazz Educators Conference on Friday 30 March 2012.

Newsletter subscribers please email me to put your names in the hat.

For details of the Leeds conference including the call for papers follow this link

Our previous NYJO post was about the new AUDITION PROCESS Ronnie Scott's


Review: Fire Room (Ken Vandermark/ Paal Nilssen-Love/ Lasse Marhaug)

Paal Nilssen-Love. Vortex November 2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

Fire Room (Ken Vandermark/ Paal Nilssen-Love/ Lasse Marhaug)
(Vortex, 23 November 2011; night two of 2-day residency; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

In Fire Room there is a meshing of continents and blurring of genres. European jazz and punk tendencies, Chicago jazz, free jazz, Norwegian noise and death metal. With the amalgam of reeds (Ken Vandermark), drums (Paal Nilssen-Love) and electronics (Lasse Marhaug) it was interesting to see what Marhaug could bring to the more familiar team of Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, who have worked together and toured in various combinations since 2002 - from duets to the Chicago Tentet - always marked by their uncompromising energy and daunting technical proficiency. Nilssen-Love had first performed with fellow Norwegian Marhaug in 2003, and they have since recorded two albums as a duo.

The early percussive onslaught hardly eased off as Nilssen-Love grimaced with concentration to release a succession of pummeling fusillades which even Vandermark, with a slightly underpowered mix, had to work hard with at times to make himself fully audible. Marhaug was always present, either riding alongside the acoustic instruments, intervening with glitches, thrumming and interference or supplying more assertive echoes and gutteral noise. Sounds from the special effects portfolio evoked film animations and sci-fi landscapes, getting uncomfortably close to the literal and highlighting some limitations to the vocabulary.

Nilssen-Love defined the narrative, sticks held low, pedals pounding in a funky chowder of rolls which pushed Vandermark to soulful sax 'in extremis' and circular breathing to maintain the momentum. To a backdrop of electronic trembling and bubbling, he crashed metal as though dustbin lids, then scraped the drumstick on cymbals with the squeals of railway shunting. A rare, sampled repeat tone set the scene for Vandermark's starchy clarinet, skidding over the high register to a spacious background of desert thunder. As he set up honking sax rhythms, Nilssen-Love let rip on the hi-hat and Marhaug wheeled in dense washes to complete the barrage.
Ken Vandermark on clarinet. Vortex November 2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

There were quieter moments amongst the rambunctious attacks - Marhaug letting a dangling key hit an uncoiled spring, Nilssen-Love tapping a temple bell or scraping a hand-held cymbal on the larger cymbals, and Vandermark holding a single haunting note on clarinet.

The combined drone of clarinet and scratches set the scene for the final full-on assault of booming electronics, raucous sax and clattering, crashing percussion. This is a trio which, to the last, fends off all chances of slipping in to the comfort zone.

Vortex Jazz


CD Review: Mark Donlon - Kashasha

Mark Donlon Kashasha
(Fuzzy Moon FUZ007. CD review by Chris Parker)

Pianist Mark Donlon's previous album was a solo-piano CD, Ashia (F-IRE, 2007), described at the time as 'limpid, elegant, thoughtful and gently mellifluous … a rich, atmospheric album designed for slow savouring', but on this one he is joined by bassist Mick Hutton, drummer Gene Calderazzo and occasionally by saxophonist Julian Siegel.

The above adjectives all still apply to Donlon's playing, though as the opening (title) track incorporates a vigorous latin passage (Donlon is a latin music specialist, being the pianist in Roberto Pla's band), and Calderazzo in particular brings all his crackling energy to the proceedings, there is more variety, in both tone and tempo, on this album than was evident on its predecessor (the centrepiece of which was a three-piece epitaph for Michael Brecker).

On both the trio and quartet tracks, Donlon's rock-solid technique (he is one of the UK's most celebrated teachers and runs the CUK big band) is placed at the service of a pleasing variety of original compositions (plus Kenny Wheeler's 'The Jigsaw'), but a special highlight of Kashasha is his visit to one of the staples of his live performances, the Young/Washington classic 'My Foolish Heart', which (appropriately for a self-admonishing song along the lines of Cole Porter's 'Get Out of Town') receives a suitably affecting, tender treatment, laced with a hint of determination.

Such subtlety and intelligence are the hallmarks of this carefully judged and finely balanced album, and with Siegel addressing his solos with all his customary sophisticated swagger and Hutton also eloquent in his numerous solo contributions, this is a rich and absorbing set, and a fine addition to an increasingly impressive series of CDs from Fuzzy Moon.

Kashasha is available from Proper Music


Review/Preview: Natalie William's Soul Family

Natalie William's Soul Family. 06 November. Ronnie Scotts. Review by Fran Hardcastle.

Natalie William's Soul Family, the monthly residency that has been running for more than 5 years has developed a loyal following. Unsurprisingly. The atmosphere on stage infects the room with an exuberant energy and William’s conciliatory manner results in a buzzing, vocally appreciative audience. Last month I arrived at the venue in a bleak mood and within minutes of the show starting, felt rejuvenated.

The most exciting element of the show is Williams’ knack for introducing new artists that you’re grateful to discover and the prowess to pull big names to guest. Previous guests have included Alice Russell, Roachford, Jamie Cullum, Jarie Bernhoft and ESKA to name a few. November was no exception. Ethereal Danish discovery Marie Dalstrœm is a songwriter to look out for.

On the other end of the spectrum, Krystle Warren was hypnotic. Despite appearances on Jools Holland’s show, she is still criminally unknown in the UK. I first discovered her on French pianist, Eric Legnini’s album, The Vox. Live, her characterful delivery draws attention to a raw distinctive voice that offers an emotional hurricane of depth.

Williams’ also uses the show as a showcase for her own original brand of soul pop. From the hip swinging grooves of My Oh My, to the Jill Scott-esque Butterfly, in which Williams showed off her incredible range, floating up to whistle register. For jazz fans, her new material with Tom Cawley is something to keep an eye out for. New song, Little Girl, dedicated to Cawley’s daughter is classic songwriting bringing to mind Stevie & Paul Simon. An album is in the offing I hear.

The regular house band are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Guitarist Ben Jones is a hidden gem well worthy of discovery by wider audiences. Solos offer an edge-of-the-seat rollercoaster ride. Bassist Robin Mularkey’s precision timing & propelling melodic phrasing underpin the group and balance well with drummer Martyn Kaine’s often witty delivery. Backing vocalists are drawn from the cream of the session scene. The force of personality that is Vula is currently the voice of DHL and is an impressive powerhouse of a sound. Brendan Reilly, also one quarter of BLINQ with Williams has a falsetto of liquid chocolate. November’s guest BV, Annabel Williams'(no relation) commanding delivery of Jill Scott’s Golden was a treat.

In an X Factor age, it is refreshing to see such an organic, inviting platform to discover new songwriting talent.

Soul Family perform the Motown Christmas Revue at Ronnie Scotts, Monday 5th to Saturday 10th December.


RIP Joan Morrell (1938-2011)

Joan Morrell (1938-2011)

John Blandford writes:

Joan Morrell , who founded the Cambridge Modern Jazz Club in 1972 and ran it continuously since then, sadly died on November 20th.

Joan was a native of Huddersfield, Yorkshire, where she founded her first club while still a teenager, but it is the Cambridge club with which she will always be associated. The UK jazz scene is heavily dependent on volunteer promoters, and anyone who has carried out this role will know the tenacity and hard graft required to sustain a club over almost 40 years.

Ever a modernist, Joan played a major role in developing the early careers of numerous fledgling players who went on to become internationally renowned artists. One such, Iain Ballamy, remembers Joan’s enthusiasm to programme new, experimental, imaginative and sometimes obscure acts. Joan’s guiding principle was to champion, respect and support the music rather than to maximise ticket sales. Her policies have earned the club genuine respect and credibility from the hundreds of musicians who have played there.

Joan will be irreplaceable, but happily the club will continue in the spirit in which she nurtured and ran it. It is hoped that a memorial event will take place next year. RIP.

Joan Morrell. Born 14th March 1938 . Died 20th November 2011

Cambridge Modern Jazz / Mick Hutton wrote this tribute before the 606 benefit gig in August


Jacks been thinking...about Monday's Jazz Open Space

Our regular Friday columnist Jack Davies attended Monday's Jazz Open Space. Only constructive comments on this post will get published. 

There is a febrile energy in the UK Jazz community, a common recognition that things are not as they should be. Monday’s Open Space session at the Conway Hall, organised by Jazz Services and the Musicians’ Union was the latest effort to put some change in motion. The discussion was triggered by a remark to MPs and peers by Arts Council England’s chair, Dame Liz Forgan [cf. London Jazz article].

Rosie Hanley has summarized Monday's discussion. It raised a lot of issues. But the elephant in the room is that financial reality for jazz music can be very bleak: I was lucky enough to play four sold out or nearly sold out shows during last week’s London Jazz Festival, and my total earnings amounted to £41. When costs are factored in (rehearsal space, work turned down), I made a loss in the hundreds pounds.

The truth is the UK jazz industry is on the brink of being an amateur affair. I mean that in the original sense of the word – a reflection on the fact that artists love this music so much that they are willing to subsidise it themselves. I, like many of my friends, earn my money from teaching, and this income subsidises my music making. My classical musician peers receive subsidy, they have salaried jobs to aim for, and a multitude of organisations there to support them. For jazz graduates, there is no National Jazz Orchestra to guide them, no National Jazz Centre to put on concerts and give them performance opportunities. Once out of college, the only help to aim for is Jazz Services’ Touring Support Scheme, which in itself is under threat following a savage budget cut. It is for this reason the young jazz community has created and supported its own venues. There is a downcast acceptance amongst my generation that there is virtually no money or support for creative British jazz.

The great bassist Peter Ind spoke at the Open Space session about the need for passion in this debate. But that word encapsulates the very thing that is wrong. Those with a real love, a real dedication to this music are being made to suffer financially, and that should not, and does not have to be the case.

Open Space as a system of debate suffers from the lack of a chair-person, which would allow those less well known or confident to make their contributions heard. Discussion was largely steered by the esteemed and the eloquent. Equally, the jazz community as a whole suffers from a lack of musician-led professional oversight and guidance. It is often not our best musicians who receive critical acclaim and the associated performance platform – it is those who have been best at creating (that most offensive of terms) a “buzz” about themselves. Arts Council funding applications do not favour those with the strongest musical statement, they favour those who know how the system works.

There seemed to be a consensus on Monday that we need a strong organisation to galvanise us, to give us a voice, to lobby, to give us something to aspire to, to help those that need and deserve assistance.

In my opinion the jazz community is lacking two things: finance and leadership. The former will only follow when the latter is in place, and we cannot wait around in the hope that someone else will solve our own problems. We need leadership, we need action, and we need them now.

Jazz Open Space Website


Jamie Cullum and Michael Parkinson at the Big Audition

Heather Small, Sir Michael Parkinson, Jamie Cullum
Pizza Express Big Audition Final, 23rd November 2011
Jamie Cullum does get it right, nails it. Last night he had a three song-spot before stepping onto the judging panel for Pizza Express's Big Audition at their cavernous Olympia branch. First song was Rihanna's 2007 song "Please Don't Stop the Music", which had some new words reinforcing the important role Pizza Express continues to play in employing musicians - and exhorting/instructing the restaurant chain to continue. His own All at Sea  was a thank you for how far he has come since the early days. The inclusion of a standard Cole Porter's  I've Got You Under My Skin was a doff of the cap to Sir Michael Parkinson, whose role in kickstarting Cullum's career was very significant.

Steve Jobs had three principles for "top performers", and the first of these was "integrity, or honesty and consistency of character". Mingus called it "play[ing] the truth of what I am". With Jamie Cullum - as with many improvisers - such characteristics genuinely do appear to come from deep.

Out of tens of thousands of entrants, the Big Audition's first prize last night went to Offbeat South. Call me an old softie (or worse), but my ears were more taken by the Yesberger Band's More Than Once.

Big Audition website

The Big Audition is sponsored by Barclaycard


Arun Ghosh: Primal Odyssey

Australian pianist ROB GRUNDEL finds narratives in the CDs he listens to, and writes here about Arun Ghosh's Primal Odyssey (Camoci):

It's quite simple.

Arun Ghosh is about to tell you a story.

He's going to tell you using three clarinets, a bass and some drums.

The whole story will take around 40 minutes. So let us begin.

This is Primal Odyssey, Ghosh's second album of Indo-Jazz. He has teamed up with some wonderful musicians on this release: Idris Rahman and Shabaka Hutchings holding down clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone duties. Bassist Liran Dorin and drummer Pat Illingworth maintain the solid grooves.

Each of the 10 songs is concise. Within the first few bars Ghosh (or, more often, the rhythm section) introduces the feel, groove and drive of the song. From there, the band explore it, stretch in it and then finish without fanfare. The simplicity of the structures allow the musicians to really dig in. Ghosh's spectrum of playing ranges from delicate to Ayleresque wailing.

The music on this Indo-Jazz record is both foreign and familiar - its (and Ghosh's) heritage are betrayed by uneven rhythms, exotic scales and use of drones. At the same time it is raw, funky and vital. Also the combined texture of three clarinets makes for different listening than a more traditional jazz combo.

And so, what is the story that he tells? It is one where the tension rarely lets up - it keeps us enthralled, in the uptempo tracks such as Damascus and in the quiet, hypnotic moments like Eros. It is one of a hero, that much is sure. But wait! Trouble approaches. The villian is introduced. There is a skirmish, a long journey through a cold night, who is this beguiling woman? The final battle is close to being won.
And then it all ends in a wonderful release. Nocturne (Chandra Dhun) is a spare piece: with only the 3 clarinets mostly on 2 major chords - a change from the dramatic exoticism through the rest of the album.

The end brings sighs of fulfilment. But it is also a beginning. I'm eager to hear the whole story again soon - there are the favourite bits I will want experience again, but also the promise of fresh discoveries.

Camoci website


CD Review: Mike Gibbs - Here's a Song for You

Mike Gibbs - Here's a Song for You
(Fuzzy Moon FUZ005. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Given suitably responsive musicians (here the NDR Big Band) and a versatile singer (Norma Winstone), there are few composer/arrangers as reliably inventive in the field of song-setting as Mike Gibbs.

He was first paired with Winstone by Colin Towns for the latter's Provocateur label, and on this album's sleeve Gibbs describes the UK vocalist as 'extraordinarily extraordinary – who else so effortlessly delights, as if magic were a common ingredient', so it is no surprise to find that this album – a judiciously selected mix of standards and material by contemporary singer/songwriters, plus a Gibbs original, 'Some Shadows', including a transcription of a Kenny Wheeler solo – simply exudes class and elegance.

It begins, appropriately enough (Gibbs having collaborated with the great Canadian songwriter on her double album Don Juan's Reckless Daughter), with one of the most affecting versions of a Joni Mitchell song ever recorded. Winstone brings all her easy grace and touching sincerity to 'Blue', one of Mitchell's most introspective songs, but it is the subtle delicacy of Gibbs's arrangement, gently embellished by pianist Vladislav Sendecki, that immediately arrests the ear. Gibbs then ups the tempo for one of Cole Porter's most heart-on-sleeve proclamations of undying devotion, 'So in Love', and subsequently moves easily between Ellington material (a rousing 'Caravan', an absorbing visit to 'Daydream'), standards and more contemporary songs (Tom Waits's thought-provoking 'Soldier's Things', Nick Drake's 'Riverman', Randy Newman's 'I Think It's Going to Rain Today'), all featuring his characteristic layered, delectable harmonies and impeccably performed by a whip-smart, robust but sensitive band, its powerful rhythm section British (bassist Dave Whitford, drummer Mark Mondesir), its stellar soloists including trumpeter Reiner Winterschladen and tenorman Christof Lauer.

Gibbs praises executive producer Issie Barratt for 'tackling the formidable task of translating my jumbled ideas into the reality of a CD', but don't be fooled by his customary modesty: this is a carefully thought out programme by a master craftsman.

Fuzzy Moon Records


Review: Jef Neve & Pascal Schumacher/Jef Neve Trio

Jef Neve & Pascal Schumacher/Jef Neve Trio
(Pizza Express, Dean Street, Saturday 19th November. LJF2011. Review by Tom Gray)

In two very contrasting Saturday night sets at the Pizza Express, Belgian pianist Jef Neve demonstrated why his stock has steadily been rising in Europe over the last decade.

Neve opened the evening in a duo with the vibraphonist from Luxembourg Pascal Schumacher. While their meticulously arranged compositions and sheer virtuosity may have outbalanced the sense of improvisational daring, this set nevertheless had a lot going for it.

On ‘Together at Last’ (based on the chord progression to ‘Alone Together’), Neve and Schumacher’s neatly intertwined contrapuntal lines had shades of Chick Corea and Gary Burton. Obvious reference points were harder to identify on the Asian-tinged ‘Almalyk’, which was cinematic in the breadth of atmospheres it evoked in its meandering through-composed form.

Rather than the considerable dexterity on display, what really impressed was this pair’s command of dynamics, ranging from hushed pianissimo sections in which they coaxed full attention from the audience, through to huge fortissimo swells of sound. The only misstep to my ears was a rather too pristine rendition of Bud Powell’s be-bop classic ‘Hallucinations’ which left me wanting for something a bit closer to the raw, driving spirit of the original.

Happily the second set from Jef Neve’s trio, powered by Ruben Samama on bass and Teun Verbruggen on drums, had this in abundance. The close connection to European romantic composers in Neve’s music and his keen ear for a lyrical phrase coupled with a blistering technique makes comparison with Brad Mehldau inevitable. On a more superficial level, so did his posture at the piano at times, hunched over like a question mark with his elbows pointedly raised.

However, much of the appeal of Neve’s trio was that it didn’t take itself too seriously, offering self-depreciating laughter at ideas that didn’t quite pay off and letting its hair down on the euphoric vamps that concluded several numbers such as ‘Endless DC’. The contributions of New Yorker Samama stood out in particular - on top of his fine bass playing, his looped backing vocals and electronic manipulations generally enhanced the music more than they distracted from it. In a world that some may consider to be overcrowded with piano trios, this group puts forward a compelling case that they deserved to be heard.


Jazz Open Space - Conference Report

ROSIE HANLEY attended the UK Jazz Open Space Conference on Monday 21st November at Conway Hall and reports on the day's proceedings:

Dozens of jazz aficionados, musicians, promoters, teachers, agents, press and more gathered at Conway Hall on Monday for an event presented by Jazz Services and the Musician’s Union to attempt to answer the question: What are we doing about jazz?

The question was raised after the Arts Council asked what the needs of the jazz community were. Subsequently a conference was planned and an open invitation was sent out to all those who were interested, passionate, angry about, or intrigued by jazz.

Each arrived with their own passions, woes, questions and/or agendas, participants somewhat tentatively gathered in a circle to learn how the day would unfold. The day was run using Open Space technology, which in essence allows for anyone’s voice to be heard at whatever place and time that person chooses.

Participants were given the opportunity to suggest a seminar topic and schedule the seminars into the day. The seminars put forward for discussion were:

-Does there need to be antipathy/tribalism in jazz?

-How do we get more recognition of UK jazz musicians on the European and World circuits?

-What are we worth?

-Are there enough black musicians on UK stages?

-More entry points for young people

-What is the future –and the value – of the voluntary jazz club?

-Should we address gender equality in jazz?

-How should local jazz clubs judge their success?

-Is jazz a four letter word?

-How do we increase the impact of Jazz Services?

-Should the BBC focus more on jazz?

-How can we increase audiences for jazz?

-Are UK promoters selling the music short?

-Is jazz music threatened by the fusion of RnB and Hip-hop becoming mainstream?

Participants were not obliged to attend any particular seminars and could go to all or none if they wished, as again, the principles of Open Space Technology are, whatever happens, happens for the right reason at that particular time or place. Therefore a diverse and somewhat disparate collection of ideas and questions surfaced. A short report of what was discussed in each scheduled seminar was written and can be accessed online:

The free laws of open space technology mean that the initial results are rather fragmented sketches of discussions which in the main, posed further thought provoking issues and questions; nonetheless they are a starting point, which successfully highlight some of the varying wants and needs of the jazz community. Of course, the results from the day only represent the views of those who attended. Further events such as this are needed on a much larger scale to be thorough.

A ‘closing circle’ was called at the end of the day and all participants were given a final chance to have their say if they wished. The recurring issue raised at this point was a concern for what happens next and how the conversations from the UK Jazz Open Space Day are to be taken forward. There will be a consultation exercise, details of which will emerge later.

Some discussions were difficult, tense, seemingly ‘going round in circles’, which at times led to a feeling of foreboding for the future of jazz. But I’m pleased to report triumph over adversity, as a more uplifting sense of community was felt by many, who realised that their own experiences were shared by others within the jazz community and viewed the day as incredibly productive, bolstering, and certainly a step in the right direction for the future of jazz.


Review: Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra

Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra
Barbican Hall, LJF2011.
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra
(Barbican Hall, 18th November 2011. Part of LJF 2011. Review by Roger Thomas)

No complaints about lack of diversity at the London Jazz Festival. There has been something for everybody from classic jazz to wild party. Jerry Dammers that fills the wild party category with his Spatial AKA Orchestra – a tribute to the great Sun Ra, who gave them the mantra 'Space Is The Place'.

Judging by all the gizmos dotted around the Barbican stage, something untypical of a jazz orchestra was about to kick off.

Indeed, the raucous entry through the auditorium of the Spatial AKA’s in their outlandish costumes made a lot of the audience look somewhat over-dressed.

But hey, what else would you expect from Dammers the creative mind behind such things as The Specials, 2-Tone and Free Nelson Mandela.

There is a definite party spirit from the outset and with further encouragement from rapper Anthony Joseph, singers Francine Luce and Johnny Clark, also Dammers making the occasional foray from his synthesizer command pod added to the drama.

Timeless songs like Ghost Town with politicised lyrics coupled with fiery sax solos (courtesy of Nathaniel Facey, Larry Stabbins) and Jerry’s wry banter generated moments of uproar.

However, after a lengthy set and with some party revelers beginning to look worn out the Orchestra left the same way they arrived leaving behind trombonist Harry Brown like a forlorn E.T. who finally rounds off the evening with a sobering rendition of Dvorak’s Going Home.

Did they go home? No! The band took the party to the Barbican foyer where the hard-core revelers continued raise the roof for some time.

Take your energy shots before going to see this Orchestra. And don't wear a suit, unless it's a space suit.
Jerry Dammers Spatial AKA Orchestra
Barbican Hall. LJF2011
Photo credit: Roger Thomas


Review: Peter Evans, Okkyung Lee, Evan Parker

Peter Evans, Vortex, November 2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved.

Peter Evans, Okkyung Lee, Evan Parker
(Vortex, Monday 21 November 201. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Evan Parker's opening remark that "the future of music is sitting either side of me" would also have been the perfect endnote to an utterly compelling performance by this extraordinary trio.

Parker, seated centrally onstage, was the perfect guide and foil to the two classically trained "youthful people" (as he put it) alongside him, who both gravitated to New York, cellist Okkyung Lee from Korea and trumpeter Peter Evans after graduation from Oberlin Conservatory, in 2000 and 2003, respectively. They had first played together as a trio in 2009 as one of the 20 performances of Parker's historic residency at John Zorn's The Stone in New York, which leaves no doubt as to the high regard in which Parker is held on the other side of the Atlantic.

Together, over two sets, they brewed up intense conversations, revealing a mesh of internal and external dialogues.

There was a telepathic closeness in the way they read one another. Within this format of commonality, each had the freedom to pursue their own trains of thought, pushing their instruments through a variety of sound barriers, dispensing with conventionally imposed constraints to offer highly individual readings of the harmonic and textural routes which evolved. There was an astonishing fecundity to the deviations from the mean, yet the intuitively held balance was maintained without fail. The rules were stretched and broken but nothing was gratuitous.

Evans was perhaps the most overtly deviant - rapidly switching between instruments, detaching the mouthpiece to blow air through the trumpet without mediation. He used the mute and the flat of his hand to dramatically change the sound and to escalate the volume to an ear-splitting screech. Lee skated over the notes, slithered along the fingerboard and found rasping, grated tones as she manipulated the bow with both hands, and paused to slide repetitively on a single note. Parker restated nervously emphatic trills on soprano to keep up the energetic chatter, echoed Evans' stark, breathed phrases and, with exultant momentum, filled the room with the tenor's resonance. Soft acoustic passages glowed with detail. The merest sounds were built up to form complex rhythms and allowed to decay.

The timbres would get blurred - Evans and Lee even took on woodwind sounds at different times. And with Evans spinning off at ultra-high energy on his left, and Lee going from matt to gloss tones on his right, Parker steered the ship, not into port, but through the only passage all evening that would count as a straight jazzy run before heading for a final Futurist aerodynamic whine and dive.

One moment of mild humour - when a mobile alarm bell went off, thankfully between numbers, and not exactly complementing the siren sounds and alarms mimicked during the performance, Parker quipped, "Electro-Acoustic ... missed your chance!", referring to his long-standing and fluid Ensemble which Evans joined in 2009.

Dramatic, captivating and fascinating to watch. Another Vortex highlight.

Current releases:

(1) Parker/Lee/Evans: ‘The Bleeding Edge’; CD on PSI (recorded in Whitstable)
(2) Peter Evans: ‘Beyond Civilized and Primitive’; limited edition vinyl LP on Dancing Wayang – 500 numbered copies – first 100 get bonus mini-CD.


Review: Jeff Williams Quartet

Jeff Williams
Photo credit: Andrew Cleyndert
Jeff Williams Quartet
(Green Note, LJF2011, November 18th 2011. Review by Jon Turney)

Away from the big halls on the second Friday of the festival, that paragon of drumming taste and style Jeff Williams chose the Green Note café in Camden Parkway to launch his excellent new CD, Another Time.

In a day that began with Julian Siegel and Liam Noble exploring the stately acoustic of St James’s Piccadilly at lunchtime, and took in Phil Bancroft’s At Home project in the early evening at the South Bank, this needed to be something special to grab the ear. It was.

After a beguiling opening set from violinist Olivia Moore, Williams offered a slightly oblique launch for his recording. That features his New York band, with Duane Eubanks on trumpet and John O’Gallagher on alto sax. The drummer, who spends most of his time in the UK these days, brought a different quartet into the Green Note’s small back room. Although they played the same tunes, the three Brits he chose gave the music a less freeboppish sound than the US line-up.

Tenor sax star-in-the-making Josh Arcoleo – graduated from the Royal Academy mere weeks ago but already keeping some impressive company – Phil Robson on guitar and bass man Sam Lasserson are equally impressive players. Their approach to the leader’s excellent compositions had a more head-and-solos feel, a little less loose in approach than the CD line-up. Doubtless they have spent less time with the music, and heads bent over manuscript paper indicated they needed the odd reminder. Still, they burned through the evening, responding to an audience crammed in shoulder to shoulder.

Robson unfolded a series of gripping guitar improvisations which gained intensity from being witnessed from about three feet away. Arcoleo was confidently inventive, dug into the tunes with enthusiasm and soloed with an engaging tenor-traditional swagger. Lasserson kept things cool, and had an impressive solo feature at the end.

And the leader was a marvel on the kit balanced precariously on the edge of the Green Note’s miniature bandstand (the cymbal stands in danger of toppling off when he let loose). Williams is a comprehensively skilled modern drummer, as happy implying the time as stating it, and constantly shifting timbres and textures. No solos to speak of, no grandstanding, just 40 years’ experience lightly worn, and a relaxed alertness which creates the feel that inspires everyone else. Altogether an out of the way gem of the festival: I doubt if there was anyone doing jazz better, anywhere this evening.

Green Note


CD Review: Emil Viklicky Trio - Kafka on the Shore

Emil Viklicky Trio - Kafka on the Shore
(Venus Records VHCD-1060. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Readers of contemporary fiction will immediately realise that Czech pianist Emil Viklicky's latest release is inspired by a novel by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, himself connected with Prague courtesy of his having received the Kafka Award there in 2006. The album contains seven Viklicky originals with suitably Murakami-connected titles ('The Boy Named Crow', 'Miss Saeki Theme' etc.) and six non-originals from the worlds of jazz (Herbie Hancock's 'Dolphin Dance', Duke Ellington's 'Solitude', Jimmy Rowles's 'Peacocks') and popular music (Paul McCartney's 'Eleanor Rigby', Michel Legrand's 'Windmills of Your Mind') so tellingly referenced in Murakami's works. It's not strictly necessary, however, to be familiar with the Japanese writer's oeuvre (though it helps) to appreciate the sheer intensity and virtuosity of Viklicky's playing throughout this powerful and affecting album.

Supported by a fiercely interactive rhythm section (bassist Josef Fetcho, drummer Laco Tropp) and guest appearances by viola player Jitka Hosprova and mezzo soprano Jana Sykorova, Viklicky showcases all his considerable pianistic gifts on this rich and varied set: a technical proficiency that has led to his being compared with everyone from Oscar Peterson to Bud Powell, a familiarity with not only the entire post-bop jazz tradition but the sixties rock and pop music whose importance to contemporary Czech politics was chronicled by Tom Stoppard's 2006 play Rock'n'Roll, an emotional depth rooted in Moravian folk music which has led to his being called 'the Janacek of Jazz'.

Dynamic and textural subtlety lie at the heart of Viklicky's greatness, but his irresistible propulsiveness, improvisational fecundity and sheer energy are what immediately impress on this excellent album, which comes strongly recommended.


RIP Paul Motian (1931-2011)

Inspirational drummer and creative force Paul Motion has passed away at the age of 80.

Here's Ben Ratliff's New York Times obituary. Vivid memories of the 2009 London Jazz Festival with John Surman and Drew Gress. Above, a New York date in 2002: Paul Motian and the Electric Quintet playing Motian's composition Morpion with Chris Cheek, Tony Malaby (saxophone) Steve Cardenas, and Ben Monder(guitar) and Jerome Harris (bass). RIP.


Review: Tommy Smith's Karma / PELbO

Ine Hoem and Kristoffer Lo of PELbO at LJF2011
Photo credit: Sam Spokony/ JazzTimes

Tommy Smith's Karma / PELbO
(Kings Place Hall Two, 19th November 2011. Part of London Jazz Festival. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Tommy Smith's latest band Karma opened this concert, drummer Alyn Cosker blasting in for a full-on assault. Karma - also the name of Smith's latest album - sees the saxophonist in jazz-rock mode. Joining Smith and Cosker were pianist Steve Hamilton and bass guitarist Kevin Glasgow.

Cosker provided the motive force - a powerful drummer, he's equally adept at the slower, more subtle numbers which call for much more sensitivity. The set was equally balanced between rockier numbers and slower tunes infused with a celtic-folk sensibility. Smith played some exquisite soprano on the evocative "Land of Heroes", mimicking Scots piping.

The band could lay down a good groove, too, Glasgow plucking the bass with his thumb to great exact. Smith sounded great on tenor as well a soprano - and he even played recorder on one tune. The alternation of fast-loud and slow-gentle tunes felt a little Jekyll and Hyde-like, but this was an enjoyable set.

The gig really got strange after the break though. I felt distinctly in the wrong place. Pelbo are not jazz; in fact they are about as not-jazz as it is possible for an avant garde pop band to be. This was pop stripped of any blues sensibility; the only jazz-like characteristic they had is that one of the trio played a tuba. Interesting as it was, it was more suited to a rave club than a concert hall, and was especially jarring after the jazz of Karma.

So it feels more than a little odd to be reviewing Pelbo for LondonJazz in the middle of the London Jazz Festival - but I have eclectic tastes, so here goes...

For three people, they create one hell of a sound. The dominant feature was the drums of  Trond Bersu, but it was a heavy, rich drum sound and he had the verve and technique to pull it off. Ine Hoem sang, using electronic loops to create choirs of soaring vocals. Kristoffer Lo also used electronics and loops to change the sound of his tuba, producing deep organ-like roars and rumbles: his tuba became the bass.

It was dark if energetic dance music, reminiscent of Mezzanine-period Massive Attack or, when Bersu was thrashing his cymbals, Spiritualised. Lo did some amazing things with his tuba, dancing manically around producing wailing feedback: "heavy metal tuba" are three words I couldn't ever have imagined writing as a phrase - but that's what it was.


CD Review: Patrick Cornelius - Maybe Steps

Patrick Cornelius - Maybe Steps
(Posi-Tone PR8089. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Artists change, reach new phases in their lives. Alto saxophonist Patrick Cornelius used to be known for his fiercely self-disciplined practise regimes. But in his new album 'Maybe Steps' (Posi-Tone) he demonstrates that he has progressed well beyond the cauldron of Berklee and 4am jam sessions. He now has a wife and small daughter, and has gone with the flow of that gentler life revolving around a young family.

The CD reveals the softer contours of that world, particualrly when contrasted with the last album Fierce (Whirlwind, 2009) The new album is dedicated to his mother, wife and daughter. He is pictured cradling his alto saxophone as a parent would hold a crying baby. In most of its eleven tracks, the core vibe of the album is calm.

The mood of tranquillity gets set best in Bella's Dreaming, which starts in the world of a Satie Gymnopedie and through its short span grows effortlessly over a faultless bass pulse from Peter Slavov. There are also French colours in the closer, Le Rendez-Vous Final, an endearing tune with echoes of Michel Legrand. I liked A Day Like Any Other, which rollicks in lilting 5/4. Shiver Song is the busiest track on the album, and stands in nice contrast to the rest.

The album gives a important role to pianist Gerald Clayton who sets a poised and balanced vibe in the hushed introduction to my pick of the tracks, Into the Stars. Soft brushwork from Kendrick Scott on drums lead to a unison duet of alto and guitar (the sensitive musicianly Miles Okazaki) which grows inexorably. I particularly enjoyed the skyward rocket let off by Patrick Cornelius at 4:13.

The two standards are contrasted. Kurt Weill's My Ship is performed in duo with Bulgarian-born pianist Asen Doykin, as the gentlest of lullabies, with some tasty re-harmonisation to watch out for on the final statement of the theme. George Shearing's Conception gives interesting variety through exploring a couple of trio combinations derived from the quintet.

This is a thoughtfully put together album. Producer Marc Free has put out his ideas on CD production lucidly here, and this release is a demonstration of what happens - in life and in CD production - when things find a way of going right.

Posi-Tone Records


Review: Bad Ass Brass

Bad Ass Bras at LJF2011
Photo credit: Paul Pace

Bad Ass Brass
(The Spice of Life. 19th November 2011.Part of LJF2011. Review by Jeanie Barton)

Another sold-out gig saw some disappointed faces in the doorway of the Spice of Life for the feisty eccentric ensemble Bad Ass Brass. Jimmy Norden donned a bowler hat in Clockwork Orange fashion and pulsated the room with his drum intro, Mike Poyser, upstage left, sat coiled by his massive sousaphone, shining like a silver satellite dish as a row of horns led by front man and trombonist John Stokes filed in front to kick out Funky Mama.

Whoops and yells from both the band and the loyal audience between phrases punctuated with Pink Panther-esque trumpet squeals set this gig’s tone. The absence of a piano or guitar in the rhythm section called for fat chord arrangements by the seven brass instrumentalists. Their line up is very New Orleans and their sound is trad meets funk; I’m not aware that this has been done before but it seams to be catching on in a big way - they have sold out every gig they’ve done, in advance, since returning from the St Lucia Jazz Festival six months ago…

The band kept up the pace with Big Shake Up, but then took it down a notch with Branford Marsalis’ Mo Better Blues, his melancholy theme from the 1990 Spike Lee film of the same name. This shift towards a more reserved slow march pace featured a reflective flugelhorn solo by second trumpeter Paul Mundaywhich gave me shivers.

Their set list for this evening comprised mostly of numbers recorded on their self titled first album, which features three tracks written by trumpeter Gavin Broom. Human Traffic is about the “rules of the pavement” in rush hour; it weaves together overlapping lines and clashing harmonies like bustling bodies jostling for position. Mike Poyser took a solo wherein he used his sousaphone almost like a didgeridoo; singing down it to make a primal resonance which then evolved into a beatbox solo that accelerated to bring the full band back in - these guys sure are creative!

They continued to mix old with new in All God's Chillun Got Rhythm sung by Ivie Anderson in The Marx Brothers 1937 movie 'A Day at the Races', this more traditional sound created a Jeeves and Wooster jive, only crunchier. We got our sing along opportunity with You Rascal You, lead by John Stokes on an arrangement inspired by Nicholas Payton’s version in his tribute album to Armstrong entitled Dear Louis. High octane solos by the astounding ensemble including, Jean Paul Gervasoni on lead trumpet, Jon Shenoy on alto, tenor sax and flute and Tom Richards on baritone sax were taken on this, and indeed most numbers.

The climax of the evening came with a new groove which fit the band like a glove. A Calypso based on the St Lucian folk song “Ti Wé” again arranged by Gav and renamed “Dance of the Sugar Rum Fairy” got the crowd to their feet. I am biased to Caribbean music having been lucky enough to visit a few times and get married out there this summer; the carnival beat is infectious and I found myself dancing as well as playing my glass with my pen. Two encores were demanded, the second by the audience continuing to sing the melody at the band until they relented and played another chorus! / A second album is in preparation.


CD Review: Loka Passing Place

Loka - Passing Place
(NINJA TUNE, ZEN175. CD Review by Michiel Putting)

Last year the Ninja Tune label celebrated its 20th anniversary with a worldwide tour of sold-out shows featuring a host of successful artists that have been with the label since it began.
Never content with one musical direction or style the label has managed to avoid trends and fads, and remain bold, fresh and exciting.
It is promising to see that the second album from Loka – Passing Place maintains that original blueprint. Reminiscent of Kirk Degiorgio’s As One project, the opener Entrance features the haunting vocals of Sera Baines in a cosmic soul, funk and jazz-fusion. Uplifting broken beat jazz accompany Eleanor Mante ’s spoken word consciousness on As The Tower Falls, whilst The Tower pays homage to classic 1960’s film scores, with its reflective intro and psychedelic jazz workout. Angelsey’s very own Beaumaris Seindorf Band play a timeless cinematic ballad on The Art of Burning Bridges.

The vocals on Sam Star are somewhat idiosyncratic, and they make a decidedly strange pairing with the drum loops and shifting psychedelic pace of the track. However, it is the emotive female vocals that are an intrinsic part of the album. Lido Pimienta breathes warmth into the epic The Beauty In Darkness, complementing the electronics and brass section. This Colombian singer also adds her sweet, yet sultry downbeat touch to the exquisite Temporary External.

Beginning with looping BBC Radiophonic style electronics The Sounds Stars Make shifts into a whispering solo piano piece, complete with wind section. Lido Pimienta makes another appearance on Attrition Exposed, with a mournful recital about a broken relationship.

No Water sounds like Angelo Badalamenti with skittering electronics, whilst the Mirror Image Opposite returns to psychedelic big band jazz territory. The aptly named Exit closes with a wide-screen atmospheric crescendo from the brass.

One reviewer has referred to ‘strains of medieval folk and even radiophonic synth work.’ This indeed gives a pointer to the breadth and scope of the styles on display here.

There is both effortless variation and natural flow in Passing Place, a consistently interesting release.

Release Date : 28 Nov 2011
Live: 30 Nov 2011, Queen Of Hoxton, London


Review: Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman at LJF2011
Photo Credit: Edu Hawkins

Ornette Coleman
(Royal Festival Hall, Nov 20th. Closing night of LJF2011. Review by Jon Turney)

Listen hard enough, and you can still almost feel the vibe from Ornette Coleman’s triumphant performance to close the Meltdown festival he curated on the South Bank in 2009. So would his reappearance on the last day of the LJF live up to that night of standing ovations and cries of “we love you, Ornette?” Hell, yes.

This was a reversion to the great man’s usual show, if you like. No Charlie Haden duet. No Flea from the Chili Peppers adding bass to Turnaround (in fact, unusually, no Turnaround). No wailing interlude from Master Musicians of Jajouka. The absence of guests gave a clearer view of the remarkable understanding between Coleman and his two long-standing bass players – Tony Falanga, thunderously emphatic on acoustic bass, and Al MacDowell, whose fast-fingered electric bass sounds more like guitar. It is perhaps a little like having Ornette’s contrasting bassists of old, Charlie Haden and Scott LaFaro, at the same time. Falanga is Haden, typically keeping solid time and underpinning the leader’s shifting line, MacDowell is LaFaro, skipping around in lightning fast commentary-cum-anticipation alongside the man with the plastic alto sax.

The three together make a tight-knit trio, supported by Denardo Coleman behind the drums. Denardo, a drummer it is easy to hear too much of, exhibited an unusually light touch for much of the evening, using his cymbals and brushes to good effect. Some of the bluesy ballads still had backbeats, but they were fine too.

The quartet’s single set lasted over an hour and a half, with rarely a dull moment. Most numbers were short, but the Coleman song book is long. We had plenty from the very beginning of his recording career – sometimes pretty much as they were then, sometimes reworked a little. Round Trip, from a little later, was a welcome favourite, and Latin Genetics as jaunty as ever. Coleman stuck mainly to alto, the trumpet and violin excursions being a bit perfunctory these days. His intonation is occasionally more wayward, too– hardly a problem in this music – and he makes a few more squeaks, but the keening, swooping tone is largely intact. In mid-set, he eased off a little, allowing MacDowell to state themes and confining himself to a few flurries and trademark licks as the bass players explore the tune. But by the end he was back in the driving seat, signalling the switches of direction each number took. These are not as unexpected, or as inventive, as fifty years ago. But to me the effect was still as fresh, as invigorating as ever.

At 81, the man’s urge to play seems inexhaustible. And at set’s end, the clamour for an encore eventually brought him back for the customary reminder that he is one of jazz’s peerless melodists. Lonely Woman, played against softly plucked acoustic bass, became a farewell benediction.


Gin & Jazz night at InterContinental London Park Lane.

Angela Kearney writes:

Last Thursday evening I rushed excitedly in my glad rags and highest heels to cocktail heaven, for the VIP launch party of Gin & Jazz night hosted by InterContinental London Park Lane.

On the third Thursday evening of each month, in the stylish Arch Bar overlooking Wellington Arch, patrons are promised classic cocktails and Golden Age jazz. Which is exactly what we got.

Warmly welcomed by our impossibly beautiful hostess (above), wearing a costume that might have been selected from wardrobe at the Ziegfeld Follies, we were offered a choice of taster cocktails mixed with Hendricks Gin. We chose the Alexander: a silky, smooth concoction of gin, white chocolate liqueur and double cream. And the same again please. Bite-sized bar food created by Executive Chef, Paul Bates was delicious and perfectly presented, notably some tasty mini-hamburgers

The star of the music menu was Benoit Viellefon. The dashing Frenchman in his brand new bespoke suit performed material from his recently released CD: Swing À La Mode.

With only half of his orchestra on stage (guitar, bass, sax/clarinet and trumpet), Viellefon and his boys entertained a full house with tunes from the hit parade of the era: It’s Only A Papermoon, All of Me and Sweet Sue amongst others.

Although not a tune associated with jazz of the 1930-1940’s, the standout track on Viellefon’s CD is Luiz Bonfa’s Manha de Carnaval. Set to French lyrics and with the inclusion of accordion, Le Carnaval maintains the intention of the original with a very pleasant twist. Benoit does Bossa. And he does it very well.

It won’t be inexpensive, but Gin & Jazz night at InterContinental London Park Lane offers a glamorous night in elegant surroundings; exotic cocktails, a choice of 25 different gin options and great Golden Era Jazz. Entrance is free but bookings are essential.

The next Gin & Jazz night at Intercontinental Park Lane is scheduled for Thursday, December 15 and features Emilia Mårtensson.
Swing a la Mode is the latest CD by Benoit Viellefon


Review: Hermeto Pascoal

Hermeto Pascoal
(Barbican Hall, 20th November 2011. Closing night of London Jazz Festival 2011. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Irrational exuberance. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it was a jazz musician who first came up with the phrase. Alan Greenspan, the Julliard School alumnus and former band colleague of Stan Getz and Johhny Mandel first used it in December 1996...when he was Chairmen of the Federal Reserve Bank, to describe the collective folly of when people channeled unrealistic hopes into asset values,and which can have huge costs when the climate turns. Which gives all the more justification to the harmless, life-affirming, dare one say rational exuberance which 75-year old Brazilian legend Hermeto Pascoal is capable of channelling, and which fired up a phenomenal group of musicians and a full-ish Barbican Hall on the closing night of the London Jazz Festival last night.

There were two bands onstage, Pascoal's remarkable six-piece Brazilian band, and an elite UK big band, including musicians such as Stuart Hall and Chris Batchelor with deep knowledge of and affinity for Pascoal's music. The two bands performed in non-stop relay throughout each of the two sets, a formula which worked well in establishing and building energy and involvement.

Pascoal himself as multi-instrumentalist, presiding genius, inspirer, gift-giver held centre stage and radiated energy throughout. There were bouts of comedy such as the moment which found him blowing tuneful bubbles into an aliminium kettle, only to empty the watery contents onto his own head. But also moments of musicianship to take the breath away: he duetted with himself on voiced bass flute; he dug into a DX7 keyboard for grungy sounds; he played a special Round Midnight-y Happy Birthday for Hamilton de Holanda's manager; he played with astonishing agility on accordion, challenging the others to match his tempo.. and then speeding up.

Pascoal's way of integrating vocal sounds, rasps gasps, screams, which are the antipathy of what we think of as musical sounds into the line could have- and probably has had - several Ph D's writtten about it.

Jovino Santos Neto directed the big band, constantly adjusting the order of numbers and the traffic signals within them. He also translated Pascoal's spoken words into English. Singer Aline Nilson has an astonishing vocal range (particly in alt) and agility. Among the British players, altoist Phil Todd played wonderfully loose and idiomatic solos at the start of each half, the rhythm engine of the Mondesir brothers Michael and Mark on bass and drums matched their Brazilian counterparts for fizzing energy, and the fluency of Ivo Neame on piano also caught the ear.

By the end of the evening there were enough coconut shells onstage for the Barbican hall to be resemble a Brazilian beach. Quite a high on which to close the London Jazz Festival.

Hermeto Pascoal website


Review: Bill Frisell 858 Quartet/NeWt

Bill Frisell 858 Quartet/NeWt
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 20th November, closing night of LJF 2011. Review by Chris Parker)

'A refreshingly irreverent sound … lurching between unravelling riffs and molten improv' was the festival programme's description of NeWt's music, and in their 40-minute set guitarist Graeme Stephen, trombonist Chris Grieve and drummer Chris Wallace did their best (in spite of an unhelpful sound balance which muffled Stephen's guitar and transformed Grieve's electronically modified lower notes into a foggy boom) to provide just that. Stephen favours lengthy, spiralling lines, played for the most part at quickish, often accelerating tempos over Wallace's probing drums; Grieve brings welcome textural variety to the band sound by utilising electronic gizmos to make his instrument mellower, less brassy than is customary in soloing passages and almost electric bass-like in accompanying roles, so NeWt's overall approach is both original and imaginative, and their shortish set provided an intriguing appetiser for what must be an absorbing live act, given more accommodating circumstances.

Bill Frisell formed his 858 Quartet a decade or so ago to play compositions responding to an exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art of the work of German artist Gerhard Richter, a process the guitarist describes as 'just trying to absorb emotionally, in my own way, what was happening in the paintings', and the band produced a Songlines album, Richter 858, in 2005 that contains not only an autoplay slideshow of the relevant paintings but also scrupulously detailed liner notes including the thoughts of producer David Breskin and Frisell himself. Ten years on, Frisell has re-formed this quartet, which features the violin of Jenny Scheinman, the viola of Eyvind Kang and the cello of Hank Roberts alongside the leader/composer's electric guitar, to play music composed in Vermont in autumn 2010 and documented on Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz, 2011).

The later set of music, although still conforming in the main to Breskin's original brief ('No banjos for Richter! Anything that would have had a vernacular feeling would have been anachronistic'), is none the less quintessential Frisell: deceptively simple in its approach (many pieces explore a short, repeated sequence of chords, the various members of the quartet emerging in turn to perform brief solos before returning to the ensemble), but containing all the subtle, swooning melancholy, its roots in everything from country music, blues and folk to Ives and Copland (often referred to as 'Americana'), for which Frisell is famous. Given the mutual familiarity of the various quartet members (Frisell has been playing with Roberts since 1975, Kang since the viola player was a student in Edmonton, Sheinman since 2000), it was no surprise to find the music privileging delicate interaction, felicities of tone and timbre, over ebullience or showiness; quiet, slow-burning power was the order of the day, neatly illustrating John Cage's nostrum, quoted in the notes for Sign of Life: 'We should be hushed and silent, and we should have the opportunity to learn what other people think.' Such a concentration on internal respectful attentiveness did have an inevitable drawback: over a 90-minute set, the music did occasionally stray into self-absorption, but this was triumphantly dispelled by a crowd-pleasing encore, one of John Lennon's finest songs 'Strawberry Fields Forever', performed with brio yet great sensitivity to its nostalgic emotive power.
Frisell is on record (literally – his latest recording is All We are Saying …, a 16-track exploration of the Lennon songbook) as a great Lennon admirer – 'the songs are part of us. In our blood' – so this encore brought both the concert and the London Jazz Festival to a singularly appropriate conclusion.

NeWt website /


Review: Magnus Öström

Magnus Öström ,Thobias Gabrielson and Andreas Hourdakis
LJF2011. Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield

Magnus Ostrom
(Camp EC1. Part of LJF2011. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Welcoming us to his gig in the dark basement of a City office block, Magnus Öström said it felt just like home – his rehearsal space is in a basement! His band’s time beneath ground had been well-spent: they produced a fully honed sound, mixing jazz improvisation with rock rhythms and guitars, folk and dance themes to create a singular vision.

Most of the material came from Öström’s debut album, “Thread of Life”, with one new, untitled number and an improvised piece which Öström described as “house-jazz” – much of the gig had a slightly psychedelic feel about it. Although Öström’s energetic drumming grounds the band, Thobias Gabrielson on bass and keyboards, and Andreas Hourdakis on guitar and effects provide much of the texture. Gustav Karlöf played some beautiful piano, and stood out on the quieter, more jazz-influenced pieces. Öström seemed really grateful to be playing, and the audience responded, moving and dancing to the rhythms.

Much of the music, though, had a dark, brooding quality to it: they produce a haunting sound. Öström’s drumming has a penetrating intensity. Karlöf dropped back, leaving the band a trio for the delicate “Ballad for E”, dedicated movingly to the late Esbjorn Svensson, with whom Öström played for many years. Svensson’s absence permeated the gig: though Öström’s music is very different from EST, hearing his drumming in a new context served to emphasise how integral he was to the EST sound.


Review: Henry Threadgill Zooid

Henry Threadgill at the LJF2011 soundcheck
Photo credit: Edu Hawkins

Henry Threadgill Zooid (Queen Elizabeth Hall, Nov 19th, part of LJF2011. Review by Jon Turney. Photo by Edu Hawkins and drawings by Geoff Winston to follow)

A week after Steve Coleman, another Chicago-raised composer and performer who is an all too rare London visitor graced the stage of the QEH.

Henry Threadgill brought the latest in his succession of, er, distinctively named bands, Zooid. And what a band! Together, they operate in his habitual workspace: lots of warm, low to mid-register sounds (cello, tuba or trombone, mellow amplified acoustic guitar), interlocking rhythms, and uncliched motifs, but this crew, all new to me, were all striking players to hear for the first time, and brought his arresting music alive in the best possible way.

Most eye-catching was Stomu Takeishi on acoustic bass guitar, who boomed and bounced while dancing barefoot, at least until his strap broke and he was forced to cradle his giant instrument while seated for the rest of the set. He and fine drummer Elliot Kavee opened the proceedings with the simplest of figures, but an immediately gripping timbre (the sound was notably good all evening). They, with Jose Davilla ’s tuba, filled out the lower reaches of the several layers Threadgill loves to build in his music, while cellist Christopher Hoffman and guitarist Christopher Ellman furnished the next level up.
Zooid: Stomu Takeishi (bass) and Christopher Hoffman ('cello)
Queen Elizabeth Hall LJF2011
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved
Threadgill has a wonderful facility for creating music in which highly arranged passages sound improvised. Listen a while and it is apparent that the parts where everyone plays - which can create a sound maelstrom when the band is full on - actually work because the whole piece is as carefully engineered as a swiss watch. The tuba riff complements what the guitar is playing perfectly. The cello meshes with the bass and drums. No-one gets in anyone else’s way. There is irresistible flow.

Threadgill, presiding a little professorially, seemed as happy listening intently to the results as playing himself. There was plenty of solo space for all, with fine moments from all the band members, and an especially fine duo from cello and bass. When Threadgill did play, he laid some lovely lines over the top on his brace of flutes. One of the neat properties of his band’s sound mix is that it sets off the instruments the composer plays beautifully. The flute tops off the sound. The alto sax, when he finally clips it on, blazes through the mix as only an alto can. There were no titles, no intros, no encore. Just an outstanding performance of intriguing, involving music, delivered with total concentration.

At the end, a visibly gratified Threadgill returned to front stage alone to acknowledge the crowd’s roar. Performers will take a bow even when they know the evening did not quite deliver. Not this time. I reckon the smile on Henry’s face was there because he, like us, recognised this evening as a small artistic triumph.

This concert was recorded for BBC Radio 3, and will be transmitted by Jazzon3 on November 28th


Review: Archie Shepp/ Joachim Kuhn plus Empirical

Arche Shepp at LJF11
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved

Archie Shepp at LJF11.
Photo credit: Edu Hawkins

Archie Shepp and Joachim Kühn with Empirical at Queen Elizabeth Hall, (Thursday 17 November 2011. Review by Geoffrey Winston)

Archie Shepp and Joachim Kühn have been crossing paths for over 40 years, and their duet at the London Jazz Festival was the fruit of a collaboration that they have been building on for two years.

Shepp is an imposing figure onstage - there is something of the elder statesman about him, not only in his elegant suit and fedora, but also in his playing and choice of material. He's lost none of the vitality that has always marked out his raw, robust delivery. There's a sharp, piercing edge to his flowing tenor - an imperative to seek out half-tones and discords. Ever since his associations with Coltrane, whom he's described as "perhaps the greatest radical of the avant-garde"* and Cecil Taylor - "I was right on the frontier, on the cutting edge of music with him" - both with the music and in the political arena, it's never been in his nature to throw in the towel and to coast.

In Joachim Kühn he has a kindred spirit. Kühn is no stranger to the piano-sax duet, having notably recorded with Ornette in 1997 in his native Leipzig. His long-standing admiration for Shepp, whom he saw at the Village Vanguard in 1967, was realised first in live duets in 2009 which led to their recent album, 'Wo!man', on Shepp's Archie Ball label for Harmonia Mundi.

Kühn's Transmitting opened the set, mixing classical structures with Shepp's irrepressible, vigorous tonal play and they held a tension through the perpetual statement and restatement of the melodic core. Shepp drove this disturbed, glitchy flow to segue into Ornette's Lonely Woman which he filled out with a deeply harrowing beauty.

The standards, Sophisticated Lady and Harlem Nocturne, which saw Shepp's only flirtation with the soprano sax, and their own offerings from Wo!man - were explored with a rigorous, improvised approach, and dipped in to unexpected areas which drew on on Kühn's classical background to create a strange sense of dislocation, as though they were holding on to jazz in a non-jazz context. The tempos and pace would change on a sixpence; the intensity would be ferocious, perspiration flowing off Kühn, stabbing at the keyboard, then florid with the deftest of accents from Shepp. When quirky discord collided with delicate, haunting arpeggios, it created a happily disconcerting feeling that Liszt had met Monk or Coleman Hawkins.

The blues figured strongly in an extended piano solo which Kühn built up uncompromisingly, to the delight of Shepp and the audience. They shared the chunkiest of blues that was the natural successor to an earthy, but also lightly langorous 'Nina' dedicated to Nina Simone.

They kept up this glorious momentum for over ninety minutes, and there was the sense of having been present at an intense musical masterclass.

Worthy of the highest plaudits, too, were the tremendously tight, yet expansive quartet, Empirical, supplemented by pianist Robert Mitchell. Their music was as sharp as their threads - alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey continuing, with impressive confidence, his pursuit of Dolphy and Sanders, Lewis Wright bringing in glass-like chimes in Hutcherson's footsteps,  bassist Tom Farmer offering compositions with flair and freshness, and Mitchell's elastic fingered runs in duet with artful drummer Shane Forbes, conjured up a crisp and provocative statement of which Shepp, one is sure, would have approved.

*Scott Cashman: 'A dialogue with Archie Shepp' (Spit: A Journal of the Arts, December, 1990)


Review : Vocal Summit - Anjali Perin/ Nia Lynn/ Trudy Kerr

Barry Green, Gareth Lockrane, Anjali Perin, Jim Hart, Dave Whitford
Vocal Summit at Spice of Life
Photo credit: Benjamin Amure

Anjali Perin/ Nia Lynn/ Trudy Kerr
(The Spice of Life Vocal Summit. Part of LJF11. 16th November 2011. Review by Jeanie Barton.)

This year’s ensemble was introduced by the ever popular and humble, pianist and accompanist Barry Green; Dave Whitford on double bass, Jim Hart on drums and Gareth Lockrane on flutes. Their opening instrumental number, I Want To Be Happy, set off at breakneck speed, Gareth’s solo licked around the corner of every change with blinding accuracy, the rhythm section relishing the syncopation and driving the number forward through every chorus, whipped the room into a frenzy.

Once we were all well and truly happy and making noises to such effect, Anjali Perrin swung into action. Her ever relaxed and charming demeanour enhanced the club feel that is always the essence of the Spice “Nice to see you to see you nice!” She started with Weaver of Dreams, pulling the phrases too and fro with gutsy groove and scatting sky scraper shapes with her epic range. Gareth replied with a solo in which he sang parallel to his flute, a melody so complex and fast that I was astounded. Anjali continued with a vocalise she penned to bassist Eddie Gomez’s solo on a Bill Evan’s recording of You Must Believe in Spring. Her sensitive, evocative words and delivery made us melancholy and Barry’s skeletal harmonies in the upper register added further to the fragile emotion.

Nia Lynn took to the stage next, a vision in aqua and with a vocal quality that put me in mind of water gently ebbing and flowing. A re-harmonisation of Who Can I Turn To enabled her to sing delicate lines over spacious modal shapes; after her solo she even held her nose and made a diver’s drowning signal to Gareth as he took over! For all the gentle reserved ness of her voice this young Welsh lady proved subsequently that she has some Bassey belt in her, during a funky interpretation of Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombone. Jim Hart’s creative melodious accompaniment sounded more like notes than rhythm, highlighting how being a multi-instrumentalist (vibes and piano) adds shapes to a drummer’s lines that a percussionist with a lesser knowledge of harmony and arrangement could not hope to match. He would make an able successor to my own mentor and pioneer of bebop in the UK, drummer and vibraphonist Laurie Morgan.

Trudy Kerr was last to perform; she opened with a swinging version of Born to be Blue, followed by a personal tribute to the recently departed, sadly missed pianist and innovator Michael Garrick with whom she recorded the album Like Minds in 2009. The first track was a reworking of Don't Get Around Much Any More as a largely colla voce piano voice duo, Barry again stepped up to give his interpretation of Garrick’s angular accompaniment – the room was united in grief. For the second chorus the ensemble joined in to create a warm bossa, shifting the mood to one of thanks, Trudy kept her vocal simple and performed the story of the song with intense feeling. She left us on a high with The Rhythm of Life, the ever modulating chart carried forward with sound conviction by Dave Whitford on bass.

The show had over-run and so the packed club was asked to quickly disperse – grateful thanks were given to our host Paul Pace. I look forward to returning on Saturday! /