Cape Town (7) The last night audience

This audience can respond. Or, now I've been here in Cape Town three days, I'll try that again. Oh geez, this audience can respond. Give the Capetonians a song they know, give them a performer with a place in their hearts, and there may be nothing quite like this anywhere on earth.

Here in the media room, festival old-stagers have been coming back transfixed by the warmth the opening few minutes of the Hugh Masekela show in the main 8,000 capacity venue. I saw young singer Zahara serenaded by - it seemed - every member of a huge outdoor crowd. And spectators who had been kept waiting nearly an hour to hear Dorothy Masuka (above) instantly forgave, forget and fell in love with her within just a few bars of Khawuleza, Matsuka's song from the 1950's immortalized by Miriam Makeba. I won't be forgetting any of this in a hurry.


Preview: screening of The Talented Mr Ripley at Kings Place, April 8th

Edana Minghella writes:

Preparing to host a rare screening of The Talented Mr Ripley at King’s Place, I’m listening to John Martyn singing You Don’t Know What Love Is from the Ripley soundtrack. That unique voice, a raw acapella over the first A. My brother, Anthony Minghella, adored John Martyn. It was such an honour that John had agreed to record the song for Anthony’s film. In comes the trumpet: Guy Barker, a soaring, poignant wave of sound. And, as always, I’m in tears.

Back to January 1999. I’m with Anthony in his living room, watching the first full rough-cut of Ripley. It’s Anthony’s latest movie. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) and Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) are at the San Remo Jazz Festival. There’s no music on this assembly yet but the atmosphere is thrilling. I want to be in magical San Remo, where our parents stopped on their honeymoon. I want to sing, to dance. I want red lips, one of those off-the-shoulder frocks and a cigarette holder. I want to learn the sax. The film ends after five and a half hours. I am stunned and excited and amazed. I turn to Anthony and say, “I don’t know how you are going to cut this film. Every scene is essential. Every scene is perfect.” He smiles. I laugh out loud with joy.

Later that year, I'm staying with Anthony in Berkeley, California, while he edits the film with acclaimed editor, Walter Murch, and they add in the music. A laborious, painstaking process; it is taking months. There are piles of CDs in the house, hundreds of them. The house has an amazing sound system and we play jazz all day and all night. With some Everything But the Girl thrown in for good measure.

Jazz is a character in Ripley. Yes, there is plenty of classical music: there’s a tense scene at the Opera (Eugene Onegin), Bach’s St Matthew Passion (for Anthony, there was always Bach), a spellbinding Stabat Mater in a Venice church. But it is jazz that links the two leads, that transcends the class difference between them and cements their relationship, jazz that echoes round St Mark’s Square (Pete King playing gorgeous sax), jazz that epitomises Dickie’s father’s disdain of his own son:

“Of course, Dickie's idea of music is jazz. He has a saxophone. To my ear jazz is just noise, just an insolent noise.”

Beautiful American rich boy Dickie Greenleaf is a man whose sensuality drives him and for whom jazz is an expression of that sensuality. But he has no depth, no real emotion for anything or anyone. He loves his sax like he loves his new fridge: he wants to fuck it. If jazz is a craze du jour for Dickie, Tom Ripley is a true, passionate, intense improviser, who takes his musical education seriously. At the start of the film, we see him listening intently to the jazz greats, research for the task ahead. He’s blindfolded, trying to identify a tune: is it Basie or Ellington (it’s Dizzy). He listens to Chet Baker singing My Funny Valentine, and doesn’t know if it’s a man or a woman. Then he hears Charlie Parker and he gets it. He gets it.

It was Anthony who introduced jazz into the movie; in Highsmith’s original novel Greenleaf was an amateur painter. But Anthony saw that jazz was more interesting, more cinematic, a way of anchoring the period and a device to articulate the similarities between Tom and Dickie. Truth be told, he loved jazz. Rewatching the first episode of Inspector Morse recently (written by Anthony), I was surprised to hear jazz beats running through it (as well as the now famous Pheloung theme music). There it is in The English Patient too: Arlen, Berlin, Goodman. And he knew and understood jazz musicians. Guy Barker tells a beautiful story of playing his trumpet solo for You Don’t Know What Love Is in the recording studio. Ant talked to him, actually held him, and Guy’s already wonderful playing transformed to the haunting solo we know and love, the solo I can’t listen to without weeping.

Anthony and Walter got the film down to 139 minutes. And somehow, every scene is still perfect.

©Edana Minghella March 2012


Edana Minghella will be hosting a screening of The Talented Mr Ripley at King’s Place, as part of the GMF Easter Jazz Workshop & Music Festival on Sunday 8th April, 4pm.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with musicians who worked on the soundtrack: Guy Barker, Pete King and Arnie Somogyi.

BOOKINGS. With thanks to Miramax.


Cape Town (6) : The Festival first night

The waiting is over. During two evenings, the festival's five stages are ready to present over forty acts to the 34 000 ticket holders. More than 2,000 people are employed. Streets are blocked off. For those of us who habitually seek nourishment for the soul by proximity to music, the presence of these huge milling crowds, the security barriers, the sheer logistics of orienting oneself round are daunting.

There's a complication, who knew? One of the stages - the one with the best sound - is separately ticketed, apparently for fire reasons, and the press desk has run out of tickets for all events in it. A guardian angel gave me a ticket to hear the band led by bassist Herbie Tsoaeli. It was a mesmerizing gig by a master musician with an authentic and powerful presence. The hour-long set with a young band playing felt like not nearly enough. It started, poignantly from silence, with a poem in homage to the greats of South African music who have passed away. Tsoaeli was playing with a young band whose sound he had beautifully shaped.

I need, want to know more about Tsoaeli. He sings in Xhosa with power and authority and musicality and affection, and I wish I could understand the words. Tsoaeli grew up in Nyanga East Township in Cape Town, and moved to Johannesburg in 1995. He has played with the greats of South African music. I could find just one interview. There's a first album, just out, and I'm not leaving this town without it.

I moved on to catch another South African musician, saxophonist, Steve Dyer, who was also playing with a young band. He described graphically the way he felt about being able to feed off their energy, but I couldn't help thinking about the life experience these older South African musicians have all packed into their lives. What has it meant to be a musician during a uniquely turbulent period in this country? What does proximity with images of violence throughout your life bring to these voices? Steve Dyer doesn't hide away that sense of having been a witness, whether he was talking to the audience, or playing. He introduced a composition dedicated to Steve Biko called "Elusive Homeland" by summoning up deep inner concentration, working himself, the band and the audience into the vibe of the piece. He has a saxophone sound of clarity and depth which is his completely his own. And Dyer's son, the pianist Bokani Dyer was also hugely impressive.

From then on, the spirit nourished, the mind taken by two powerful musicians with their stories to tell, I skittered around, taking in a few gigs briefly, catching, tasting the vibe of each one. I heard Moreira Project in the main 8,000 seater hall, a good n' loud full-on band in with a six-litre thumping drums-plus-percussion engine. I briefly caught Abdullah Ibrahim's New York-based daughter Jean Grae's juxtaposition of rap and blues. I loved Mike Stern and Dave Weckl feeding off each other masterfully. I heard VERY good reports of the Brubeck brothers gig, and of an entire crowd singing a Garth Brooks song in Dave Koz's gig . But there are also quieter places to hung out with the other blokes. I headed down in that classic introvert jazz festival sanctuary and refuge - the record store


CD review: Gregory Porter - Be Good

Gregory Porter - Be Good
(Motéma Music 233488. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Since rocketing to stardom with his debut album Water in 2010, LA-born singer Gregory Porter has been Grammy-nominated, reached number one on both iTunes and Amazon in the UK, and won Jazzwise's album of the year accolade for his 'outstanding original songs, erudite lyrics and social comment, top-drawer musicianship and improvisation, and a voice to die for'.

This, his follow-up recording, will doubtless consolidate this already enviable reputation, for all the reasons cited in the quoted review: Porter does indeed have a 'voice to die for', a slightly jazzier version of the insinuatingly honeyed but (where necessary) attractively grainily soulful tones of Bill Withers delivered with the (deceptive) ease of a crooner such as Peter Cincotti. He also writes consistently intelligent lyrics, their subjects ranging from the nature/nurture debate ('Painted on Canvas', possibly the first jazz song ever to include the word 'gesso') and the African-American cultural heritage ('On My Way to Harlem', which namechecks Marvin Gaye and poet Langston Hughes as well as Duke Ellington) to intriguingly unclichéd love songs ('Be Good (Lion's Song)', 'When Did You Learn?', 'Our Love') and the odd hymn to family solidarity ('Mother's Song').

His jazz credentials are underlined not only by the slickness and improvisational pep of a smart backing band (at its core pianist Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James and drummer Emanuel Harrold), but also by the aplomb with which Porter handles the closing classics from the heart of the canon: 'Work Song' and (unaccompanied) 'God Bless the Child'. Emulating the success of smash-hit debuts is a tricky business, but Porter has certainly done it with Be Good.


Cape Town (5) At the Festival Press Conference with an instamatic

The Table Bay Hotel and Table Mountain, Cape Town

Seldom does the act of doodling about jazz land the writer in a setting quite as dramatic as this. The majestic Table Bay Hotel, which opened in May 1997, sits right by the harbour. While Dave Koz - I think - was talking about his youth and music enabling him to "deal with things I didn't have words for", his musings received a loud comment, low down in the bass - from the foghorn of a passing ship.

Patti Austin at the Cape Town Jazz Festival Press Conference

The star of the press conference, for me at least, was Patti Austin. She was scathing about audiences in the US: "With no music education, you're dealing with a musically illiterate audience." .. "When you're listening to junk, it becomes harder and harder to appreciate anything of quality."

She talked about her straight-down-the-line approach to giving masterclasses to singers: she pops them the question: "How many of you want to be stars?" And if a hand goes up, she lands the killer punch: "You're screwed."

Mike Vitti recorded that interview for JazzFM. I look forward to hearing it again.

If one goes to a press conference looking for spark and fire, there it is, right in the eyes and the demeanour of saxophonist David Sanchez (left), talking about the acceleration in experiece and in education which came to him from being exposed to so many kinds of music in New York, and enthusing about the playing of Lionel Loueke (right).

The smiles tell the story. A band who seemed genuinely pleased to be there, to have made it to Southern Africa for the first time in nearly forty years in music were the Jamaicans of Third World. They were happy to hang around and chat in the breaks, natural, friendly.

And what happens if you stay right to the very end of the final press conference? Simple. The diet wins.


Review/Preview: PB Underground

Fran Hardcastle writes about PB Underground ahead of their gig at Pizza Express Dean Street this weekend...

It's not often you go to a gig and come out thinking that the support band were 'almost better' than the headline act. Such was the opinion of a couple of overheard audience members at the bar at Tower of Power at KOKO last night. A sacrilegious comment for a die hard TOP fan perhaps. TOP are most certainly at the top of their game, but support band, PB Underground deserve such comparison.

Run by northern drummer, Pete Ray Biggin, who co-composes all of their original earworms, PB Underground is a collective of some of the absolute best session/pop/soul and jazz musicians in the country. Last night's line-up included bassist Ben Epstein (Duffy), the phenomenal percussionist and vocalist Daniel Pearce (Dizzy Rascal), Sean Freeman (Level 42) on tenor sax, Brendan Reilly (Basement Jaxx) alongside Patrick Alan (The Drifters) on lead vocals and Soul Family favourite Ben Jones on guitar, to name a few. The result is near perfect timing, precision, energy and soloing that blows you out of the water. The band seem to be a bit of an industry secret at the moment, but this should soon change. With festivals like Mostly Jazz, Funk and Soul and Craig Charles' Funk and Soul Show leading packed regular club nights in the North of England, a funk revival is happening and this band should be king.

PB Underground are at Pizza Express Dean Street, Saturday 31st March.


Jack's been thinking...about the second anniversary of Jazz at the NLT

Jack Davies writes:

This Sunday April 1st will mark two years since the start of Jazz @ the North London Tavern. The night was either the idea of Jon Ormston, or of Tom Taylor (I think they still argue about who is to blame), and the three of us have been putting on a band a week since then, only breaking for summer and the Christmas holiday.

Two years ago the Tom Millar Trio opened proceedings, followed by the Mark Crown Quintet. We have carried on in a similar vein, trying to give gigs to as many of the great players coming out of conservatoires as possible, as well as bands led by more seasoned British jazz musicians. Watching my peers play every week confirms beyond any shadow of a doubt that conservatoires are producing a generation of inspiring creative musicians.

The variety and scope of the young London scene is incredibly impressive, and we are lucky enough that these players seem to be happy to come down and play at the NLT. I should list a few examples which immediately spring to mind: Tom Challenger recently brought his new outfit Brass Mask to the NLT – a joyful, explosively engaging modern New Orleans-type brass and reed band. Bassist Chris Hyson really made a mark with his brand new project a few weeks ago. His compositions are incredibly beautiful, meaningful music. Joe Wright's Octet (in the video above) is always one of my favourite bands to see – his writing shows incredible inventiveness, craft and thoughtfulness.

We have also been lucky enough to get some of the big names in British jazz to come and play. Stan Sulzmann appeared with Reuben Fowler's Octet, Julian Siegel made an appearance last week with James Maddren's band, and we have also had regular gigs from Henry Lowther, Martin Speake, Paul Clarvis, Barry Green, Liam Noble, Nick Smart, amongst many others.

For our first birthday last year we asked James Allsopp to do his solo set, and we followed that with Richard Turner's 'Tuesday Workshop', a new band he had just started. I will always associate the NLT with Rich, as he was so supportive and played there a lot - as often as we could persuade him to. This year we welcome another two of our favourite bands to mark the occasion: Liam Noble and Paul Clarvis' duo and Barry Green's Babelfish.

With no budget to work with we really rely on word of mouth and the support of our regular audience members. You can join our Facebook group for updates on the upcoming gigs, and we do honestly have some of the best in British jazz every week. Despite all the debates, our entry price is still a recession-proof £5, and the downstairs bar serves lots of very nice beers.

I hope you can come down and celebrate two years of great gigs with us on Sunday.



Moving presenters round at Radio 3

There will be changes from 5th May to the jazz programming at BBC Radio 3.

- Alyn Shipton (above with Buck Clayton) will present Jazz Record Requests on Saturday afternoon. It will remain an in-house production.
- Geoffrey Smith will present a Saturday midnight programme in the current Jazz Library slot, Geoffrey's Jazz, about which he says:

 "This is a wonderful opportunity for me to continue to share my passion for jazz from a more personal perspective."

Stand by your beds for further announcements from Geoffrey Smith and Radio 3, because, from what I've heard, that's all there is to know, as yet. Whether the new programme will have any budget for, eg, interviews and guests is also far from clear.

Jazz Journal have covered the story HERE. Jazzwise broke it with THIS on 20th March. 


Cape Town (4) Masekela does Kafka

Cover illustration by Yosi Berger
Source: Caustic Cover Critic

Hugh Masekela's Kafka-based advice for punters arriving at the Cape Town Jazz Festival:

"If you haven't got tickets, turn yourself into a cockroach"

In a 15-minute radio interview for Cape Talk 567 Radio Masekela talks about:

- Music and business

- "If you take me seriously it's your problem"

- How cold Westminster Abbey was

- His Makeba tribute to be performed this Saturday at the Cape Town Jazz Festival. On Makeba's mother, a traditional healer with a seven-octave range. On how the project came together from tapes from a session in New York which will be re-issued as an album

- On the "Friends" album project with Larry Willis, first performances this Sunday - here in a small club in Cape Town

- On the difficulties facing young jazz musicians in SA - the problem of nowhere to play in Jo'Burg. "Under apartheid there were places to play"

The full interview is on SOUNDCLOUD HERE


Cape Town (3) A morning at the Vuyisile Mini Centre in Gugulethu

A jazz festival in Cape Town must be a good place to come looking for hope, and Good Hope at that. Which might be, perhaps, embodied in this nine year-old trumpeter (rudimentary shot, new camera, beginner, sorry) being coached by Berklee instructors in a performance of Mongezi's Feza's tune “You Don't Know Me Because You Think You Know Me”.

It took place at the Vuyisile Mini Centre in Gugulethu, named after an activist who, during his lifetime, inspired many community theatre and music groups, before being executed by the apartheid regime in 1964, and where I saw part of the festival's education programme in action this morning. The Festival's Training and Development Programme is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, under the inspiring guidance of Gwen Ansell.

Ma Afrika at Vuyisile Mini Centre, Gugulethu

There was a real buzz in the hall about this vocal trio from Gugulethu Ma Afrika, who write their own, strong and characterful material.

Adam Glasser at Vyusile Mini Centre, Gugulethu

And talking of inspiring, London's own Adam Glasser played a  set and has loads of harmonicas to give out and teach with for aspiring players. Adam also met legendary vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin, who was married to Abdullah Ibrahim for many years, and had earlier talked a group of journalists through the story of how Abdullah and she had taught A Nightingale San in Berkeley Square to Billy Strayhorn in Paris. I'm not making this up.

Sathima Bea Benjamin and Adam Glasser

This community project is at an early stage. Gugulethu is very close to the airport, but is not - yet - a proper suburb of Cape Town , and is not somewhere to which foreign visitors would normally be shown. It is very much within the plans of the centre - SEE WEBSITE to develop partnerships with foreign educational institutions, to bring young students from abroad to work together with the young population of Gugulethu. And with backing from figures such as Kgalema Mothalante who came to a project launch unveiling plans for a new build by Makeka Design (event reported here):

He talked of a "comprehensive developmental plan to deal with the destructive legacy of apartheid and to transform Gugulethu from a racially defined dormitory township into an integrated suburb of the city".

Yes indeed, there is definitely national-level clout behind the project. Councillor Majidie Abrahams talked me through it. The building was an important focal point of plotting the future in the bad old days of the apartheid regime, and Abrahams explained, from the heart, its potental to be a beacon for the "hope of the new nation".

Cape Town Jazz Festivl Training and Development website


Cape Town (2) A Long Way South

SANAE IV, Vesleskarvet, Antarctica
Photo: Kristen van Schie/ The Star.
In the past 24 hours, I've travelled a long way south. A smidge short of 6,000 miles. Into lovely sunshine and 30 degrees Celsius. But I did read a fascinating piece about what happens if you head further south. A long way further south...

The latest in a series of articles by Kristen Van Schie, a reporter from the Johannesburg Star about the last voyage south of the SA Agulhas, a reinforced research vessel which has been going back and forth to Antarctica since the 1970's and is about to be retireed from service.

The SANAE (South African National Antarctic Expedition), which has taken seventy South Africans to Antarctica every year for 51 years,  has had a base in Vesleskarvet since the 1960's. Or rather, as Van Schie's article makes clear, four progressively stronger bases to cope with unbelievably hostile weather, the first three having either been covered by the snow or collapsed. Well worth a read.

I'm looking forward to being taken by surprise by some new (to me) and different forces of nature, at the Cape Town Festival:  some storming...musicians.

I've come far enough South. There are some docile penguins to be seen right here on Boulders Beach in Simonstown. I admire the fortitude of the scientists, but the whole concept of tourism to Antarctica, as EUR56,000 per person leaves me......cold.

Cape Town and Antarctic Research

Kristen van Schie's Scribbler Down South blog


Review: Ambrose Akinmusire

Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet
(Ronnie Scott's, 26th March 2012. Review by Alex Roth)

Ambrose Akinmusire's ascent to the summit of the international jazz scene has been watched over by some of the guiding lights of creative jazz, including Steve Coleman, in whose band Five Elements he played while barely out of high school, and Jason Moran, who co-produced and guested on the trumpeter's Blue Note debut When the Heart Emerges Glistening, a title that aptly and poetically hints at the passion and purity of expression at the core of the trumpeter's sound.

Akinmusire's quintet has developed a depth of ensemble empathy that for once justifies the use of phrases like the “collective spirit” and “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”. That the US bandleader has achieved this level of maturity while still in his twenties is a remarkable feat, and so it was no wonder that Ronnie Scott's, presenting the only London date of his current European tour, was sold out.

It must surely help that the musicians in his band have been playing together since their school days, yet Akinmusire has said of his partnership with saxophonist Walter Smith III that “he and I never have any musical conversations. It feels like he’s part of my brain and I’m part of his. I know exactly what he’s thinking, what note he’s going to end on, when he’s going to play something, when he’s going to stop.”

On last night's evidence, he may well have been talking about any one of his bandmates: drummer Justin Brown, who with his nuanced touch and explosive punctuations was the perfect foil to both Akinmusire's hyper-agile phrasing and Smith's earthy, flowing lines. Or bassist Harish Raghavan, whose thundering pizzicato or delicate arco simultaneously rooted and propelled the group's explorations. Or pianist Sam Harris, who subtly mediated between the rhythm section's pulsing ebb and flow and the horn players' often blistering statements.

There were echoes of legendary jazz combos in the group's sound: the intensity of Coltrane's classic quartet playing their hearts out for each other, the loose phrasing of the Coleman-Cherry front line, and bands led by some of Akinmusire's more adventurous Blue Note predecessors like Andrew Hill, Wayne Shorter and Eric Dolphy (whose characteristic intervallic leaps and guttural phrasing may have been an influence on Akinmusire's own playing). At slower tempi, and in the space Akinmusire afforded his bandmates, one could also sense the kind of turn-on-a-dime focus characteristic of Miles' bands from the '60s and '70s, the leader sometimes standing aside to let the music develop and occasionally stoking up the action with provocative interjections.

But these references have clearly been creatively absorbed, so that tradition has become subservient to personality. Nevertheless, Akinmusire is keen to remind audiences of the lineage that his burnished tone and playfully articulated phrasing are helping to extend, including on the album a lone standard (the aptly named “What's New”) and rounding off an exhilarating evening with a solo rendition of the bebop anthem “All the Things You Are”.

Support came from a trio led by pianist Robert Mitchell, whose rhythmically sophisticated compositions were expertly dealt with by bassist Tom Mason and drummer Richard Spaven.


British reticence in St. Helen's Square, York

"Reticence is still an undeniable British quality." Debrett's. Guide to British Behaviour

Not necessarily in the old city centre of York. Thanks Nigel Slee of Jazz Yorkshire for sending this in.


Review: The Golden Age of Steam

James Allsopp at the Salisbury
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

The Golden Age of Steam
(The Salisbury, Harringay, Sunday 25 March 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The Golden Age of Steam, the vehicle for reedsman, James Allsopp's eclectic compositions and go-anywhere improvisatory aptitudes, is spiced with energy and imagination. The acclaimed core trio of Allsopp, Kit Downes and Tim Giles was augmented last year by Ruth Goller and Alex Bonney when they went in to Fish Factory studios to record their second album, and the quintet made a rare, low-key appearance at the Salisbury's buzzing jazz season.

Allsopp's venture is not without a shot of surreal humour. Downes has described the recording as 'circus music for the insane, including brass bands, waffle thrones and butterdomes', and Allsopp intermittently revealed their links through the Icelandic State Circus, where he had been a juggler, Giles was 'huge' and capable of consuming an entire VW Sirocco, Downes had diced with the Wall of Death in an effort to reduce his enormous weight and Goller had been proprietress of the Hunter S Thompson Theme Park!

Their strength lies in the way their individual voices fashion the personality of this compact unit, as they work around the texts. They kicked in on 'Animal Slices' with deep bass programming, wavering farfisa-like keyboard tones and hollow chimes, eventually drifting off in to a bleepy, science fiction zone. The spare atmospherics suggested, not only jazz and classical roots, but also a heritage of Startled Insects, King Crimson and the Canterbury bands. Their down-to-earth riffing and occasional crashing percussion lent a rock flavour, diverted keenly with raw tenor trills and the oblique intrusions of sampled crowd ruckus and yells. The loose, funky stride of 'Butterdome' had syncopated organ from Downes rolling along with a brief trumpet intervention from Bonney. Allsopp's clarinet defined mellow ground with Downes providing a warm, chordal background on 'Glow', before they segued in to 'Piano Dentist' with tough sax, swerving electronics and Goller happily travelling from gritty distortions to the higher registers. 'Bat Country' showed the band's full range at its best. Allsopp's bass clarinet was in edgy mode as Giles strained forward in search of a tricky, elusive beat. Welling, sustained notes from Downes held the tension with Bonney's atmospheric pulses and Goller's vibrating bass lines, before Allsopp re-entered the fray with crafted sax phrasing to put his stamp on the well-balanced, constantly shifting amalgam.

For afters, Allsopp had a raunchy blast on baritone sax in the trio, Snack Family, which partners Allsopp with Tom Greenhalgh on drums and guitarist Andrew Plummer, in a lively punk-thrash-jazz banter.

Nice to see Birmingham Jazz and the locally based musicians firing up the Harringay scene once more with a top notch offering at The Salisbury.


Congratulations Hamish Dunbar of Cafe Oto

Congratulations Hamish Dunbar of Cafe Oto. And LondonJazz readers please add your own, he deserves it/them!

Because Hamish (above with Keiko Yamamoto in 2008) has just won the inaugural £25,000 Genesis Foundation Prize. John Studzinski's Genesis Foundation gives more detail HERE.

The award "recognises outstanding mentors of young artistic talent covering all art forms, and was devised as part of the celebrations to mark the Genesis Foundation’s first ten years of nurturing emerging talent in the UK." In a very strong field, the other five finalists were:

Marc Boothe: Founder and Managing Director of B3 Media

Tom Morris: Artistic Director of the Bristol Old Vic theatre company

Nadine Mortimer-Smith: Operatic soprano and Founder Director, Opera in Colour

Joe Scotland: Director of Studio Voltaire

Polly Staple: Director of the Chisenhale Gallery


Cape Town (1) Getting Excited (with UPDATE)

Cable Car on Table Mountain, February 1964
I'm really quite excited. I'll be heading off on Tuesday night for "Africa's Grandest Gathering."  the 13th Cape Town International Jazz Festival. It's the third time in my life I've been to Cape Town. A picture of my very first visit is above (I'm second from the right, and definitely the shortest person in the picture). The Cape Town Jazz Festival merited a mention in last  year's State of the Nation speech by the South African President. I spoke recently to Rashid Lombard, Founder and CEO of the Festival. How did that feel, I asked him. Deleting the expletives he told me:  "I fell out of my... chair". More to follow.

UPDATE 1st April

South African Tourism took us up to see the view on a cloudless day for Table Mountain. I found the old cable car on display. Yup, I can reach the straps these days...

Old Table Mountain Cable Car. 1st April 2012


CD Review: Judith Owen - Some Kind of Comfort

Judith Owen - Some Kind of Comfort
(Courgette Records CGT00115. CD review by Chris Parker)

Sir Don Black is on record as considering Judith Owen 'such an emotional songwriter [who] digs deeper than most'; here, on this 13-song album, the Welsh singer digs even deeper than usual to produce one of the most personal recordings you're ever likely to hear. Many of the songs on Some Kind of Comfort featured in the recent West End show Losing It, a 'mental health comedy' which starred Owen and Ruby Wax and dealt with depression (an illness that has severely affected both women's lives), and there is a cathartic, healing quality in the rigorous examination to which Owen subjects herself throughout this mesmerising set.

Her overall sound, a pure-voiced confidingness over hypnotically rolling piano reminiscent of both Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush in her more intimate moments, is both beguiling and convincing, but it is the sureness of emotional tone that makes the album so successful.

Many of the songs' specific subjects (all are basically about depression in its many forms) have been visited before by singer/songwriters: Joni Mitchell's 'People's Parties', Tom Paxton's 'So Much for Winning', Janis Ian's 'At Seventeen' and Loudon Wainwright's 'Muse Blues' – to mention just four (almost) at random – deal with very similar subjects to many of the songs here, but it is the consistency, integrity and sheer thoroughness of Owen's study of depression, its roots and manifestations, that render this album so moving and valuable.

Impeccably backed by the subtle bass of Laurence Cottle and the cello of Gabriella Swallow, and with elegant, unfussy string arrangements by Robert Kirby and Jay Weigel, Owen has produced her most musically cohesive and moving album to date.


Preview: Sarah Weller and the Mad Men present Doris Day: 20 Years in Film

Sarah Weller writes about her upcoming show, 'Doris Day: 20 Years in Film'.

Doris Day: everyone’s ‘secret love’? There’s no secret to my admiration and respect to one of the funniest actresses with the pure voice who can out-sing many of jazz’s finest (she was a huge admirer of Ella Fitzgerald after-all and drew inspiration from her). Like most people of my generation I discovered Doris on reruns of old movies shown and watched on rainy Sunday afternoons while I should have been doing my homework.

In hindsight, the feminist in me admires the strong roles she took on and if you watch her films you can see 50s and 60s society and the many rapid changes that were going on in America: the rise of the unions in The Pyjama Game; the changing role of the housewife in The Thrill of It All, as women entered the workforce, freed of their childbearing years; car mechanic in By the Light of the Silvery Moon, pistol packing prairie girl in Calamity Jane; advertising exec in Lover Come Back; lobster business owner in It Happened to Jane; communism, spies and the space age in The Glass Bottomed Boat; and interior designer in Pillow Talk, but each part played in her usual feisty and completely natural way. Yes, she often played the singer or aspiring musical starlet, a clichéd female role in accordance with the taste and style of Hollywood in the late 40s, but above all, she was a modern woman who tried to do it all while balancing family, home and a successful career.

In her short (20 years) working history in films she made 39 films and during that time she also recorded 30 albums. She’ll be 88 on the 3rd April and she is still number three in the movie stars of all time so finally in January of this year she was awarded a lifetime achievement award for her career in film by the film critics association.

Sarah Weller and the Mad Men present Doris Day: 20 years in film
Ronnie Scott’s – Sunday (lunch) 1st April 1300 - 1500.


Ronnies Bids Adieu to Mike Mwenso as he leaves for New York

Photo by Jonny Cochrane
Fran Hardcastle writes...

Thursday night saw a heaving Ronnie Scotts bid a very fond farewell to an - as above - already airborne Late Late Show host, Michael Mwenso, who left for pastures new in New York this weekend. London's most prolific musicians, industry folk and jazz fans crammed into the club to hear Mwenso's catchphrase 'That's all folks!' close the party.

In his four years spent running the late sessions, first upstairs and then in establishing the Late Late Show in the main club, Mwenso has created a phenomenon that has helped to nurture and support the careers of many of the city's jazz musicians. LondonJazz celebrated the community spirit created by the Late Late Show at Ronnie Scotts on its first birthday last year.

Mwenso is popular for his vivacity and powerful stage presence, his encyclopaedic knowledge of jazz and his support for fellow musicians. Through the encouragement of Wynton Marsalis, we hear that Mike has hit the ground running in New York, working with Jazz at the Lincoln Centre and infiltrating the scene across the pond. LondonJazz wishes him the best of luck in his new endeavours.

The Late Late Show continues at Ronnie Scotts and will be hosted by Late Late Show regular performers Alex Garnett, Zhenya Strigalev and Brandon Allen.

Enjoy Sarah Ellen Hughes full review of Mwenso's last night here.

For more pictures, see Jonny Cochrane's excellently captured photo blog here.


Review: Neil Cowley Trio

Review: Neil Cowley Trio
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 15th. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The Neil Cowley Trio's new album The Face of Mount Molehill (Naim)  is Cowley with strings. While jazz and strings are often uncomfortable bedfellows, on this album they work well, with Julian Ferraretto's arrangements creating more space for the trio. Guitarist Leo Abraham, who works extensively with effects, adds textural variety.

Not every track works, however. 'Mini Ha Ha' – on the album – is overwhelmed by a sample of a child's laughter. But overall the string arrangements are sympathetic, low in the mix and suitably subtle.

The mix also worked well live. With an eight-strong string section, and with Abraham on guitar, the augmented trio worked through many of the tracks on the new album, as well as stripping back to a threesome for some pounding piano power-trio work-outs. In concert 'Mini Ha Ha' revealed itself as a rather beautiful slow, melancholic, meditative tune.

Particularly effective were moments when the full band built the sound and the intensity. It's become something of a trademark; the title of their second album, after all, was Loud, Louder, Stop. At the top of such crescendos, Evan Jenkins on drums and Rex Horan on bass rock out while Cowley clearly relishes the sheer physicality of pounding the keys of the piano.

There is also room for subtlety, though. The lovely, contemplative 'Clumsy Couple' was the first encore, starting gently and ending by firing on all cylinders. And then they got the audience to its feet – not easy at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – for the final encore, 'She Eats Flies', a roaring end to a great evening.


Reader offer: poetry showcase

Bust of the poet Novalis at his memorial in  Weißenfels (Sachsen-Anhalt)

LONDONJAZZ READER OFFER. Free entry to the SLAMbassadors poetry showcase at the 100 club.

SLAMbassadors UK is the Poetry Society’s spoken word competition for 12-18-year-olds. The eight winners will perform a showcase of their work alongside judges and mentors Dizraeli, Joelle Taylor and Chris Preddie OBE at the 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, on 1st April. The Poetry Society is offering 20 free tickets to London Jazz readers who wish to attend:

To take up the offer, send an email to

Eleanor Turney writes:

The slam and spoken word poetry scene is flourishing, to judge by the 400 entries received for this year's SLAMbassadors UK competition. The eight 2011 competition winners’ entries can be viewed on the Poetry Society's Youtube channel.

These young people are politically engaged, highly articulate and passionate about what they do. Tamara Lawrence, an 18-year-old winner from London explains why she writes: “Poetry is a really great way of expressing your feelings without making yourself vulnerable… I get to put on a persona. The audience isn’t intruding too much – I am in control.” She goes on to describe how music influences her work: “I’ve been writing poems to music, and I’ve also written songs. I learned guitar through church so I wrote a lot of gospel stuff. I listen predominantly to gospel but I like reggae and dub step, indie, alternative – I have pretty eclectic taste.”

She believes that music influences people more than they realise, so she tries to listen to positive things: “I used to listen to grime. The way they manipulate slang is not an abuse of the language, it’s a language in itself. Now, my stuff sounds more like a rap, but I want it to be more lyrical…The kind of music I listen to influences the rhythm I have in my head when I write; I have a beat in my head that I want the words to go to, that has an impact on how I cut the lines etc. I listen to instrumental stuff for inspiration – I listen to the beats and the feelings in the melody.”

Dizraeli, one of the judges, has similar thoughts: “I listen to all kinds of music, all day long – I love hip hop, a bit of grime, some folk – anything that tells an honest story really. It most definitely affects my writing – there's music behind everything I do, even if there isn't a beat playing. There's music in any speech, it's just more obvious in some forms of spoken word than others. In the UK, dub poetry was a massive part of the birth of the spoken word culture – Linton Kwesi Johnson, Grace Nichols, Benjamin Zephaniah…”

Lawrence explains what makes her want to write: “I am inspired by the world around me – I pick up things. The microcosm of a school is really interesting, there’s political things in the essence of a school, how people treat each other….” For Lawrence, having female role models such as Joelle Taylor has been hugely important: “I thought that as a female, if I’m rapping or whatever, some guys wouldn’t take me seriously. Now I think that maybe they’re more prone to listen – people might say ‘you’re a girl’ or ‘you’re from this area and what would you know about stuff’, but SLAMbassadors isn’t about that.”

Dizraeli, who also works as a SLAMbassadors mentor, offers some advice to young spoken word artists: “READ, and absorb as much of other people's (good) work as possible. Most famous writers are famous for a reason – do your research. Listen to loads of good lyricists, not just people in the genre you like already. I've listened to a lot of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon for lyrics, also Joni Mitchell. And of course rappers and MCs of all shapes and sizes – Pharoah Monch, Chester P, Kyza, Mos Def…”

The winners will be brought to London for weekend master class with the Poetry Society’s Joelle Taylor who runs the SLAMbassadors programme before the performance at the 100 Club on Oxford Street on 1st April. Performing with Joelle Taylor at the gig will be spoken word artists Chris Preddie OBE and Dizraeli.


CD Review: Phronesis - Walking Dark

Phronesis - Walking Dark
(Edition Records EDN1031. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Having topped numerous 'album of the year' polls with their 2010 live album, Phronesis have returned to the studio for this, their fourth recording as a trio.

Named Walking Dark to refer to their practice of playing occasional concerts in total darkness ('a way of giving something positive back to my sister, who continues to walk in darkness' according to bassist/leader Jasper Høiby – cf. an earlier release, Green Delay), the album departs somewhat from customary Phronesis practice by sharing the composing duties around the band, rather than relying exclusively on Høiby himself to come up with their pleasingly nervy, groove-based pieces.

The result is a slightly more wide-ranging set than usual, pianist Ivo Neame and Swedish drummer Anton Eger providing six of the album's twelve tracks, but the band's trademark sound – an irresistibly propulsive, often downright joyous but consistently musicianly controlled vivacity – remains unchanged.

Their practice of stating many of their pieces' tricksy themes by having bass and piano play them in unison immediately arrests the ear, but it is the sheer quality of the trio's individual and collective contributions that rivets the attention throughout.

Høiby is one of the most arresting bassists on the contemporary scene, his sound at once lithe and sonorous, his solos compulsively listenable, and with the unshowy but fluent piano of Neame and the cracklingly energetic drumming of Eger driving the band, Walking Dark is Phronesis's most accomplished album to date.


Preview: Reynolds/ Gwizdala/Husband Palmer. 31st Mar at the Downbeat, SE19

Rob Mallows of the London jazz Meetup group previews BOB REYNOLDS at The Downbeat, Patrick’s Bar, Crystal Palace, 9pm, Saturday 31st March 2012

Bob Reynolds is a young saxophonist from Los Angeles. The only London show on his European tour is at Patrick's Bar in Crystal Palace. With him are a very strong trio indeed: Janek Gwizdala -bass, Gary Husband - keys and Louie Palmer - drums.

Reynolds styles himself a 'melody architect'. He weaves complex melodies from simple themes, layer by layer. He seems to seduce each tune, give it time to develop, to breathe - no rushing straight into complex chord changes and breakneck-speed arpeggios. His tunes are precise and accessible - there’s little to scare the listener. But his sax has many gears, and he uses them all. He radiates energy and coolness simultaneously, serving up rich slices of modern jazz.

The basement at Patrick’s has been refurbished and provides a great new space for jazz, with a capacity of 90. Nearest station is Crystal Palace Overground, so it’s also easily accessible by rail.

Direction's to Patricks Bar 76 Westow Hill, Crystal Palace, London SE19 1SE here


2012 Parliamentary Jazz Award Nominations Announced

The nominations have today been announced for the 2012 Parliamentary Jazz Awards, sponsored by PPL and Jazz Services. The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony, which will take place at the House of Commons, Terrace Pavilion on 16th May.

A record 1,864 members of the public sent online entries for the Awards via the Jazz Services website.

The full list of nominees is:

Jazz Musician of the Year
Bobby Wellins
Jim Mullen
Shabaka Hutchings

Jazz Album of the Year
Liane Carroll ‘Up and Down’
McCormack & Yarde Duo ‘Places Other Spaces’
Phil Robson ‘The Immeasurable Code’
The Impossible Gentlemen ‘The Impossible Gentlemen’

Jazz Ensemble of the Year
Beats & Pieces Big Band
Kate Williams Septet
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

Live Jazz Award of the Year
Jazzlines (formerly Birmingham Jazz)
Scarborough Jazz Festival
The Spin, Oxford

Jazz Journalist of the Year
Jon Newey
Rob Adams
Stephen Graham

Jazz Broadcaster of the Year
Jamie Cullum
Kevin LeGendre
Mike Chadwick

Jazz Publication of the Year
Jazz in London
Jazz UK
London Jazz

Jazz Education Award
Abram Wilson
Gary Crosby OBE
Paula Gardiner
Pete Churchill

Services to Jazz Award
Bill Kyle
John Cumming
Mike Westbrook

A big thanks to all of you who voted to nominate LondonJazz for Jazz Publication of the Year.


Review: Thurston Moore and Tom Raworth

Thurston Moore reciting poetry at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

'Poetry and Noise': Thurston Moore and Tom Raworth with special guests Alex Ward and Steve Noble at Café Oto, Tuesday 20 March 2012; review and drawings by Geoff Winston

Thurston Moore: guitars, poetry
Tom Raworth: poetry
Alex Ward: clarinet, alto sax
Steve Noble: drums, percussion

The ever-resourceful Café Oto is becoming venue of choice for left-field musicians who want to regain the intimacy of the small clubs they started out in. Billed as 'Poetry and Noise', and announced only a week in advance, this was a one-off event curated by Thurston Moore, best known as guitarist, songwriter and lynchpin of Sonic Youth, combining his passions for poetry and for pushing the envelope of intense, improvised sound in a live setting.

A bubbling anticipation greeted Moore as he ambled onstage to introduce Tom Raworth, the London-born 'perennial Englishman poet', whose writing he greatly admires and whom he met 6 years ago in Chicago at the poet's week-long gallery residency 'in cahoots' with Peter Brötzmann. Moore explained that his fascination with underground poetry was fuelled by the discovery of 'Outburst', the hand typeset magazine which Raworth produced from nearby Amhurst Road in the early sixties. In turn, Moore has founded the small press imprint, 'Flowers and Cream' and edits the 'Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal'.

Moore set the stage for Raworth with his own readings from a nervously shuffled sheaf of papers, where music-obsessional references were entwined with unsettling and visceral imagery. From his opening poem, 'The Book Thief', the line, 'rock and roll poetry and girls lost in it', delivered with a touch of self-mocking humour, elicited a ripple of conspiratorial chuckles, as did his statement that 'feedback is not war'. Musing on 'the dynamics of the living word', he made way for the sprightly Raworth, whose sharply focused, fast-flowing diction pulled the audience through both humorous and challenging plays on language, not without political twists and turns. 'Out of a Sudden', 'Crowded with Otiose Passengers' and 'Pyrophoric', each less than a minute long, shared the guise of descriptive narrative, but, as with the poems of J H Prynne, linked words and images in unfamiliar, discomfiting juxtaposition.

Thurston Moore, Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Raworth also opened the second set, with Moore gently strumming on his 12-string as background accompaniment. 'Listen Up!', 'written for 'Poets for The War', with its undisguised digs, starting 'Why should we listen to Hans Blix and all those other foreign pricks ...' undoubtedly won over new ears, as did his reaction to a particular (unnamed) poem by the Poet Laureate, which was to make an anagram of every line, dextrously infused with cunning wit.

The other side of this event, devoted to totally improvised noise deviance, goes back 16 years when Moore and Ward recorded ‘Legend of the Blood Yeti’ (Infinitechug Records) with Derek Bailey, and to Ward's duo of 20 years standing with Noble. In the first set duo, Alex Ward's extraordinary clarinet pyrotechnics combined with Moore's jarring searches for dense pools of raw respite. As Moore worried his battered, sticker-emblazoned guitar, on his lap at first ('I love chaos' proclaimed one decal, ominously), plucking out chimes and echoes to invoke a bleak, uncertain landscape, Ward trilled intensely and moved on to ear-bending wails. In close unison they built up a confluence of shrill, fractured discord. Moore's soaring and clanging chords accelerated to a devastating physical roar, and he finally mined the guitar for a fade to a distant metallic glimmer.

For the second set trio they were joined by Steve Noble, to unleash a cascade of cataclysmic turbulence, where even Moore's acoustic guitar suffered the extreme treatment. Noble perfectly countered Moore's shredded, industrially propelled inquisitions, sculpting a riven percussion collage with hand-held cymbals, bells and skins, and, briefly, maracas. Ward slipped with feverish application from clarinet to shimmering, agonised alto, extruding sheared, vocalised whistles from the clarinet mouthpiece alone. The undiminished assault, intuitively guided and acutely balanced, saw searing notes hauled over the rugged terrain, raw crashes and rolls, and piercing, ragged runs which ultimately left the performers drained and the audience delighted - no chance of an encore - they'd said it all.

For Tom Raworth poetry readings, visit the archive at the University of Pennsylvania


National Jazz Archive looking for Trustees

Who ARE they talking to? The skill-base required for the three voluntary trustee posts on offer at the National Jazz Archive came as a surprise to me. The criteria for the posts -  for which expenses can be reclaimed - are  :

Applicants should have a background in either heritage learning, archives or have had previous involvement in the governance of arts and heritage institutions.
If you fit the criteria, details of how where and when to apply are on the GROUP FOR EDUCATION IN MUSEUMS website.  Good luck!


Preview: Treehouse at Kings Place

Tom Hewson writes about TREEHOUSE, appearing in The Base series at Kings Place on March 31st

Treehouse is a drumless trio consisting of Lewis Wright - vibes - Calum Gourlay - bass, and myself - piano. It has been called 'chamber jazz' group, which can imply something a little insipid. But what I want to take from the 'chamber' part is a real focus on contrast, acoustic sound and a sense of playfulness - which is where the Treehouse name comes from.

The group came about early in 2010 at a time I was wondering how to do something a little different as my first act as bandleader. I like to think it was an act of protest at the mini-explosion of harmony-less bands that was happening at the time, although suspect the real reason was that I wanted to keep working with Lewis after our time on the Trinity Jazz course! Lewis brings a drummer's sense of time and purpose to the group, but with the possibility of all sorts of melodic and harmonic interactions which are incredibly fun to play with as a pianist.

I asked Calum to come and play because he's an amazing foil for some of the sparky/reactive energy that tuned percussion (including the piano) can generate. He makes sure that our roots are dug deep down into the ground, which allows the whole group to really stretch out and take the music wherever we feel like.

Things have changed over the 2 years we've been playing. Some of the compositional influences are still there, like the music of the Giuffre/Bley/Swallow that was in my head when the group started. More recently there have been definite shades of John Taylor (in his Messiaen-ic mood), some of the skittish melodic ideas of Frank Zappa and Aaron Goldberg, the textures of Steve Reich, bits of Dave reads like a strange list but they're all in there brewing away. We'll be recording our first album in 2012 soon after the gig at Kings Place.


CD Review: Splice - lab

Splice - lab
(Loop 1013. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Splice's website, (and make sure you type in the 'l'; '' turns out to be a horse of an entirely different colour, which you may wish to avoid having in your browsing history, for legal reasons) succinctly identifies the quartet's musical aims: 'to mesh together influences of contemporary jazz, free improv, loud and soft noise, punk grit, ambient music, and more … with seamless blends or blunt juxtapositions'.

The band's personnel – trumpeter/electronics operator Alex Bonney, reedsman Robin Fincker, bass guitarist/electronics operator Pierre Alexandre Tremblay, drummer Dave Smith – all have form in this field of endeavour, particularly Tremblay, who is also a member of noise/free jazz/punk/contemporary music outfit Ars Circa Musicæ and the two-guitar/laptop duo De Type Inconnu, so lab does indeed combine all these musical elements, and – most importantly – it does this with wit, panache and considerable resourcefulness.

Tremblay produces an extraordinary variety of rumblings, subterranean hums and space noises; Smith is equally adept at deep groove timekeeping and free embellishment; Bonney (as anyone who's experienced his vibrant live playing, particularly his Ayler tribute sets, will attest) is an arresting trumpeter as well as a man skilled in all manner of sound manipulation; Fincker moves easily here (as he does with Smith in Outhouse) between free and more structured playing, on both tenor saxophone and clarinet.

Overall, this is an hour of absorbing musical sound, neatly summed up by Tremblay's stated ambition: 'the hybridisation of … various musical influences into a single, coherent poetic language'.


RIP Pete Saberton (1950-2012)

Pete Saberton. Photo Credit: Garry Corbett

The death is reported, in the early hours of this morning, of one of the most quietly influential, and most respected musicians in British jazz, pianist/composer Pete Saberton, after a battle against myeloma. He grew up in Sheffield as the youngest of four brothers, and studied classical piano at the Royal Northern College of Music. He was a cornerstone of the music, working and writing for the London Jazz Orchestra, and in groups with Pete Hurt, Henry Lowther, Stan Sulzmann. As a selflessly generous and superb educator - at RAM, Trinity, Guildhall, and on Summer Schools - he leaves a huge legacy of influence among younger musicians.

An interview which Alex Hutton - also from Sheffield - did with him going through the main steps in his career, with a fascinating discussion of metric modulation is AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD HERE.

His many friends in the jazz community are mourning the very sad loss of an irreplaceable, central figure. Pete Saberton Born 9th July 1950. Died 21st March 2012. RIP.

UPDATE 25th April:

 John Fordham's very fine obituary

UPDATE 3rd April

- At today's Memorial Ceremony in Mitcham, there were moving tributes from family members and friends, including Henry Lowther, Pete Hurt and Eddie Parker.

- The Vortex will be having a plaque dedicated to Pete Saberton on its piano stool and has asked for suggestions for the wording SEE NEW BLOG POST

- Any donations in honour of Pete should be sent to Myeloma UK. The options of ways to donate are on the MYELOMA UK WEBSITE


Mondrian and Jazz

Broadway Boogie Woogie. Piet Mondrian (1872-1944)

Geoff Winston attended a conference: "Mondrian, Nicholson and 20th Century Abstraction" at the Courtauld Institute, 3 March 2012, and writes:

The Courtauld's excellent one-day conference, based around the exhibition Mondrian and Nicholson In Parallel , opened with a fascinating paper by Hans Janssen, from the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague, on 'Rhythm in Nature and Art', focussing on Mondrian's art, and his interest in jazz and experimental music.

Mondrian, it emerged, was an keen attendee at cultural events and exhibition openings, in Amsterdam, Paris (in the 20s and 30s), London (1938-40) and New York (1940-44) and was much more sociable and gregarious than his somewhat severe paintings and buttoned-up outward appearance would suggest.

In Amsterdam, the artist had championed the minimalist music of a composer friend, Jacob van Domselaer, and became apoplectic in his remonstrations with the city's highly conservative audience, whose reaction had been lukewarm and negative at a premiere of his piano music in 1915. Mondrian was a keen dancer - it is reported that he had his own style - and in a country where public dancing was banned until 1924 because it was considered too modern, he attended the notorious dancing parties arranged by artists in the face of this prohibition. He became particularly taken with the role of rhythm in music and painting, and Bach's fugues figured prominently in his discussions with Van Donselaer.

Mondrian was present in June 1921 at the first Paris performance of Luigi Russolo's 'Intonarumori' at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées - probably in the last row, Janssen suggested. This was also attended by Stravinsky, Ravel, Milhaud and the bêtes noires of the Paris scene, Les Six. It became a riotous affair, introduced by the Futurist's founder, Marinetti and heckled by Dadaists led by Tristan Tzara. It prompted Mondrian to write a short treatise on 'The Italian Futurist Bruitiers’ where he wrote, 'Musical art today is seeking the amalgamation of the most dissonant, strange and strident sounds. We are moving towards sound-noise.' How prescient! Mondrian noted, too, that the cabinets that held the music-making machines were painted red, yellow and blue, an interesting link to his own palette.

In Paris, Mondrian was introduced to jazz which the black American soldiers who had remained there after WW1 had brought with them, starting a cultural tsunami with the introduction of American bars and with them the Shimmy, the Foxtrot and the One-step. This music epitomised for Mondrian the primacy of rhythm and beat, as opposed to what Janssen called 'decorative emptiness', a term which could apply equally to music and art, and gave rise to Mondrian's article, 'Jazz and Neo-Plastic' in 1927. ‘Jazz, above all, creates the bar's open rhythm,' wrote Mondrian, 'It annihilates. ... This frees rhythm from form and from so much that is form without ever being recognised as such. Thus a haven is created for those who would be free of form.' Strong stuff!

Mondrian was convinced of the importance of improvisation in the liberation of form, Janssen explained, and when he moved to New York he became a devotee of its jazz scene. In 1940-41 he danced the nights away with the painter Lee Krasner, who was to become Jackson Pollock's wife in 1945. He was a habitué of Minton's Playhouse, in Upper Manhattan, where Thelonious Monk would show up around 3am with other musicians after they'd finished playing elsewhere, where he'd experience Monk developing his own style, with its 'dissonant harmonies, sluggish tempos, broken chords and disorientation of the listener' as Janssen put it.

Janssen noted that Mondrian's painting and Monk's music had a great deal in common, and speculates that they could even have talked together about structure and rhythm. Pianist Nelly van Doesburg became friendly with Monk when she stayed in New York in 1947. According to Janssen, when Monk explained his approach to timbre and dynamics to her, the musician made direct comparisons with the precision with which Mondrian placed a plane, a line or applied a colour.

Jazz coursed in Mondrian's veins. His major late paintings 'Victory Boogie-Woogie' and 'Broadway Boogie-Woogie' encapsulated the rhythm, energy and structural grid of the New York metropolis, and their titles were a statement of his feelings for the music. Or, as Janssen has written elsewhere, "Victory Boogie Woogie and the music of Monk have more in common than is generally assumed."

The exhibition at the Courtauld is a gem, with eight superb abstract Mondrians and ten beautiful Nicholsons attesting to the artists' mutual respect which blossomed during Mondrian's stay in Belsize Park - the exhibition cannot be recommended highly enough.

The Joshua Jaswon Quartet play at the Courtauld on Thurs 29th March in a late opening of the exhibition - DETAILS HERE


On The Jazz Couch: The Art of the Open Mic - by Jonathan Whines

On The Jazz Couch: The Art of the Open Mic

Jonathan Whines, Saxophonist, Psychotherapist and Open Mic Host, writes:

With recession biting and the country gripped by a collective depression, one area of our cultural life appears to be booming: The Jazz Open Mic. What's behind it? What weird, synchronous aggregation of X Factor wannabes, Have You Got Talent rejects and the plain old Warhol lust for “my 15 minutes” is driving this success? Best to leave that thought behind...probably far too cynical.

There's another, more positive side: a lot of people across a wide generational range just love jazz and want to both perform and learn how to hone their art, and to get a feel of a community.

Our Open Mic at The Orange Tree, Richmond - like many others - attracts performers from 18 - 85 who meet in an atmosphere of supportive encouragement. As a relative newbie Open Mic host I feel admiration for those who have kept these nighs going through the years. But I am inclined to ask what the big attraction of this activity is? One answer I come to is that so much about our contemporary world is dislocated or “virtual”. And that by contrast there is something very human about the Open Mic, where people gather to actively make themselves quite vulnerable in pursuit of improving or developing their music – including the host!.

The Open Mic needs to be both safe enough to encourage people and yet of good enough standard to entertain those listening. This can be a tricky balance! What follows are some of the things I‘ve learnt in the last six months.

Creating a Safe Enough Space

Creating safety requires that everyone is welcomed, from the top notch pro sax player who will test the mettle of the house band through to the quivering vocalist performing his or her first ever Summertime! Judgements about the musicality of performers need to be bracketed. Open Mic only really works if it is inclusive. People seem to grow best when they are encouraged and supported not criticized. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a response, even a gentle critique… “Maybe next time you could…” etc.

Safety also requires endeavouring to be scrupulous about favouritism. This is best dealt with via “The List “and adhering to who has the next turn. Not unlike any other family, Open Mic’ers are very attuned to favouritism and quickly smell a rat. Sally is a divine jazz singer but the rumour will spread instantly that she's caught the eye of the organizer if she inexplicably gets given an extra turn! With lots of people coming up to sing or play it is easy to forget to thank all the performers, whatever level thay are at. It’s their big moment and they deserve acknowledgement and encouragement for trying.

The Vocal Mafia

As a saxophonist who has recently been trying, with not a little difficulty, to learn to sing I feel I now look at life from both sides. As a sax player the vocalists were always a bit of an irritant who got in the way of playing “real jazz”. As a vocalist, the horn player trying to do Coltrane fills behind my “sensitive” vocal rendition of Body and Soul is a total pain. That said, vocalists do tend to dominate and easily “take over” Open Mics which results in instrumentalists disappearing into the night, never to be seen again. Yet singers also provide a much more reliable “audience” as more singers tend to turn up for Open Mics than instrumentalists. As ever its probably about finding a balance or possibly offering two predominantly different Open Mics: Vocal and Instrumental, which is our plan at The Orange Tree.

The Bebop Mafia

“OK, Giant Steps at 280 bpm – put that music away… 1,2,…1,2,3.4….!!!” I’m sure we’ve all been to those Open Mics where each tune is a test of your bebop credentials and machismo and the last man standing gets the Charlie Parker award for having the biggest pair of testicles! The rhythm section glare at you and there is no compere as that would be un-cool. Yes, jazz can be the school of hard knocks and maybe there is a place for that if you are really trying to hone your chops but for most ordinary mortals a more forgiving environment probably works best!

Divas, Moaners and Faffers

“I’m sorry, your PA is rubbish!” “That mic makes me sound like Tom Waits on acid!”. Most Open Mic bands play for little or for free. You hump your gear down 16 flights of stairs, the room is freezing and the bar staff have gone on strike. Then the guy who never sings in tune tells you the band are awful and quietly advises you to buy a new PA system. Practising non-judgemental acceptance becomes more difficult than playing Donna Lee at tempo and you wish you’d stayed in banking, because you wouldn’t end up feeling so hated! You get your equipment set-up, the band arrives, the Open Mic commences and up steps Perdita Faff. “Well, I usually sing it in Eb but tonight I’m going to try it in C, or was that D, I don’t know, and I’ve forgotten my charts, what do you think?” Duh! Twenty minutes later, your audience have left and the band look as though they all want to commit mass suicide!

The Band

Speaking of the band, well they can often be excellent musicians who engage in this strange ritual for no money, or very little, because they just love to get out and play the wonderful tunes which make the repertoire of Open Mic. The pianist often needs the patience of Job to interpret what the vocalist requires yet somehow from the sketchiest of ideas or non-existent charts some great music emerges. Treating the band to good charts ( including transpositions for horn players!!) and a modicum of respect certainly helps the session to go with a swing!

"It all becomes worthwhile"

Whatever the trials and tribulations of running an Open Mic you get some great moments where a song really works or the band are playing their socks off and it all becomes worthwhile. In a way Open Mic is the ultimate jazz test. To throw together an un-tried and un-tested singer or instrumentalist with a new rhythm section and to see if you can, in that moment, create some good music.

With an economy on the skids and misery in the air Open Mic is a place for musicians to meet, network, have fun and maybe create some music and some meaning in a world bereft of enough gigs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but that is the beauty of the improvising life.

Jonathan runs The Orange Tree Open Mic Every Thursday 8pm in The Cellar Bar, The Orange Tree, Richmond ( Opp Richmond station) . Instrumental Open Mic to start Sunday 25th March 1pm


Preview/Interview: Roller Trio (Whittingham Award Winners). London debut at @vortexjazz . Wednesday 28th March

Roller Trio. L to R: James Mainwaring – Tenor Sax/Electronics,
Luke Wynter – Guitar/Electronics, Luke Reddin-Williams – Drums

 Guitarist Alex Roth, whose trio will be appearing in a double bill at the  Vortex with Roller Trio, interviews James Mainwaring, saxophonit/ leader of the Leeds-based group about the band, about the vibrancy of the Leeds scene, and looks forward to their first London performance at the Vortex next week.
Roll up! Meet Roller Trio, winners of the 2011 Peter Whittingham award for an audacious multimedia project and recent signing to the prestigious F-IRE Records label. Having formed only a year ago, things are happening fast for the Leeds-based unit.

Alex Roth: Perhaps you could get the ball rolling (excuse the pun!) by telling me a bit about your band - how long you've been playing together, everyone's musical backgrounds, the progression of the group's sound etc.

James Mainwaring: We've been playing together for about a year now; Luke Wynter and Luke Reddin-Williams were jamming for a couple of months before I joined in, and I lived with Luke RW for my first couple of years at college. Luke RW grew up in France, coming from a very talented family of actors (his Grandad is actually the legendary Bill Maynard - Claud Greengrass from Heart Beat). He came here to do the BTEC at Leeds College of Music. Luke W grew up in Beeston, Leeds, and is now in his final year at LCM His brother is a professional double bass player.

I grew up in Warrington in between Manchester and Liverpool. My mum is a piano and flute teacher. I did my degree at LCM and have just finished an MA at the University of York. We started playing as a trio about a year ago, but it became an official band when we did a last minute gig supporting Phronesis at the Brudenell in Leeds. Since then we've written about 3 hours of music by recording improvisations and developing bits we like, and we've been experimenting with a bigger sound by introducing effects pedals and splitting the guitar signal into a bass amp and guitar amp. We've been playing pretty much anywhere that will have us and have recently recorded our debut album.

AR: Coming out on the F-IRE label, right? How did that come about?

JM: We just sent them a recording of our first gig about a year ago and within a few hours we got a reply. We were pretty chuffed but knew we had to be careful not to rush because we realised we had a lot of work to do to build the sound we knew we were capable of. When we felt ready we recorded it in two days, and most of the tracks are first takes.

AR: I think that issue of timing - knowing when to record - has become increasingly pertinent now that albums can be made and released so easily and inexpensively.

Presumably the extensive rehearsing and performing as a unit over the last year has accelerated the process of arriving at that "band sound" you're talking about, and as well as recording the debut album you also won the 2011 Peter Whittingham Award. Can you tell me about the project you're working on for that?

JM: We're collaborating with film maker Ray Kane and electronic musician Radek Rudnicki who also has worked with live visuals and making visuals interactive. I'm in Radek's project Space Fight who have done gigs with surround sound and visuals. Ray is a screen writer; as well as being busy with freelance work he's an honorary member of LIMA and does videos for bands like trioVD and Bourne/Davis/Kane. He's doing stuff for Golden Age of Steam and Andrew Plummer.

What we're doing is making a film inspired by our music, then turning this into a live performance with actors/dancers from the film, projected visuals and us playing. The film is interactive with the live music, so for example the sections of improvisation can be any length.

AR: Sounds great! Have you heard of Amon Tobin's latest project ISAM (Link to Youtube)? It's a live audio/visual show involving an interactive set that 'performs' his electronic music.
I think Radek worked with my brother Simon when they were both at York. There seems to be some interesting stuff going on up North! How do you find being based up there?

JM: Yeah it's great up here! There's loads going on - lots of DIY gigs.

AR: Do you think there's such a thing as a "northern sound" as distinct from a "London sound" and if so what would you say characterises it?

JM: That's a really hard question, but I definitely feel Leeds has its own sound. I think because the scene is more compact than London it merges with other scenes, especially DIY alt rock, and that has an influence on the more experimental music up here. There's also some cool stuff going on in Newcastle (ACV), and York (Radek Rudnicki, Space Fight). There's loads of stuff going on up here that's not talked about enough; check out Shatner's Bassoon, Craig Scott's Lobotomy, Mabinogi, Vomit Dog... I really want to start a label to get all these bands heard, but haven't the money to do so!

AR: Some new names to me there, though I know Craig Scott quite well - he played in my guitar ensemble a while back. There does seem to be more cross-pollination going on now between scenes - a few venues in London have started regular nights showcasing bands from other cities - and I think this is really healthy on a national level, but it can be hard to develop an audience out of your home town. Perhaps social networking sites are improving the situation in that respect by facilitating a more immediate connection between musicians and audiences.

I think this is one reason why World Service Project's 'Match and Fuse' scheme is proving so successful: it's bringing together musicians from different scenes and exposing them to new audiences. In fact, it was Dave [Morecroft, from WSP] who introduced us to each other and organised our upcoming double bill at the Vortex, so perhaps he'd be a good person to have on board your record label (there's an open call to any potential investors out there!).

Thanks for taking time out to chat James. I'm looking forward to hearing Roller Trio live.

JM. And we're looking forward to hearing your trio too, Alex!

Roller Trio and Alex Roth Trio play a double bill at the Vortex, Dalston on Wednesday March 28th.