Rick Simpson Interview

Rick Simpson. Photo credit: Richard Kaby

We interviewed Rick Simpson, whose debut CD as leader, Semi Wogan is about to be released. (Launch gig 12th September, Pizza Express Dean Street):

LondonJazz - Rick, can you tell us where  your musical story started?

Rick Simpson - I grew up in Guisborough, a small town in the North East, near Middlesbrough. There wasn't much jazz there but when I was 15 I met an ex-NYC jazz pianist called Race Newton who was a huge deal in getting me started. Every time he came to the house he would bring me cassette tapes of wonderful music that I'd never heard - Bud Powell, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Bob Berg, Django Bates (!!), Cedar Walton, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter....it was by far the most exciting period of my development - hearing all this incredible music for the first time and spending hours listening to these cassettes!

LJ - And how did your parents react to that?

RS - My dad used to catch me listening to music till the early hours of the morning and I used to get it in the neck as I'd have college the next day but after a while they begun to understand that it was exactly what I needed to be doing. What a period! I'm eternally grateful to Race and those tapes! Race Newton must have been in his 80's but he was still listening to the newest things - that he brought me Bud Powell one week but then also this weird, alien music by Django Bates still blows me away - that's so courageous of a teacher to give someone new to jazz that music.

LJ - And then you moved to London?

RS - I moved to london when I was 18 to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and I'm still as excited about this city as I was when I first arrived.

LJ - Is this your first album as leader? When and where was it recorded?

RS - Yes it is. It was recorded during two days in July 2011 at Derek Nash's great studio Clown's Pocket. I really like the Steinway Derek has but by far the main reason I wanted to go there was for the warm, friendly atmosphere that Derek creates. Nothing is a problem for him and he's an incredible engineer and person.

LJ - What excites you about playing music?

RS - What excites me about the music we play is that it covers a lot of different genres and territories but always comes from one central place, which I guess is whatever compositional language I've built up over the years that I've been writing. There are a lot of bands who really specialise in one area of jazz and play that music really well but I've never felt the urge to do that. I wanted my tunes to reflect my listening habits which have never focussed on one style of jazz, or indeed music, exclusively. I love all styles and periods of jazz and would hate to confine myself to just one.

LJ - And what inspired the tunes on the album?

RS -A whole range of different things. Chairman Meow,, for example, is a huge tip of the hat to Lennie Tristano and his school of musicians, who I obsessed over during my years at Guildhall. Other pieces like Day Of The Trippetts, Attack of The Tehranchulla! and Dog Eat Dogger are inspired by the modern NYC scene - musicians such as David Binney, Mark Turner and Kurt Rosenwinkel who I've been really inspired by. I try to capture the essence of other music that I like. That is often what brings me to write.

LJ - You work with a lot of singers

RS -Working with vocalists is something I've done frequently since I was about 16. It started thanks to Steve Berry, who asked me to work with the vocal students at his Burnley Jazz Summer School.

LJ - What do you enjoy about it?

RS -It makes you listen and think about what you can do to offer the most support whilst being creative. Also getting to play so many amazing songs over the years has really helped with my writing and knowledge of tunes. I am pleased that Brigitte Beraha sings on the closing track on the album 'Almost' - she's one of my favourite musicians and her voice was perfect for this piece.

LJ - Apart from Brigitte Beraha , then, who else is on the album?

RS -The quartet is made up of George Crowley on tenor saxophone, Dave Manington on double bass and Jon Scott on drums.

I really like playing with Jon Scott because he's so quick. He can play anything you put in front of him and it always sounds like knows exactly what you're looking for. Generally I tell Jon to thrash around as much as possible and he has a couple of great drum features on this record where he really shines.

Dave Manington sounds really great on all the rhythmic music we're playing - the outro to 'Tehranchulla' that he improvises with Jon just sounds so great to me.

George Crowley is great composer and player and he brings a great playful sound to the group. I knew that George is as enthusiastic about Lennie Tristano and Warne Marsh as I am, so I had to include Chairman Meow on the album just to give him space to blow. You can really hear how he's been influenced by Mark Turner on 'Dog Eat Dogger' too. George is a great player and his own album is well worth buying.

LJ - Are you by nature a soloist, a sideman/ accompanist. Or both?  

RS - I don't think I'd define myself as any one of those. You have to put different 'hats' on for different gigs. One of my favourite things to do is to play standards in a piano trio and in that setting my soloist side definitely comes to the fore. In other bands, such as Fini Bearman's Quartet I get really excited about accompanying her on her incredible songs but also being able to really improvise and see where the music can go.

I also play regular pop gigs which is a whole different skill set to have. You have to put the jazz side of your persona away and enjoy trying to get as good a groove as possible. Its a different challenge which I enjoy just as much.

LJ - And you enjoy composing and bandleading?

RS - Yes., absolutely. The thing I like to do the most though is to be writing my own music and playing it as much as possible. I prefer being in charge which I guess says a lot about me! I'm currently writing for a sextet/septet and trying to make it as compositionally orientated as possible which I find really challenging and exciting. I can't wait to have enough music together to finally play it live.

LJ - What music inspires you, away from jazz

RS - I'm really into electronic music, hip hop, indie and folk music. Whilst I was in college I mainly listened to Jazz but the last few years has brought jazz to about 50/50 against other genres. It's only a good thing I think. Some of my favourite artists are DOOM, Madlib, Radiohead, Deerhoof, Akron/Family and Grouper. I couldn't stand just listening to Jazz - I need everything I can get. I'm always amazed that some people are content only listening to Jazz. I'm not sure it's that healthy. Everything leads to the same path in the end - good music.

LJ  - What's the title about, 'Semi Wogan'??

RS - It vaguely refers to a photo of Terry Wogan I have wearing tight pants. I'm going to leave it at that.

LJ - It's a digital-only release, right??

RS - It was going to be, but I have physical copies and it's going to be released very soon on Amazon, iTunes etc. The album launch is at Pizza Express Dean Street on 12th September with George Crowley, Tom Farmer, Jon Scott and Brigitte Beraha. It should be fun!

LJ - Definitely looking forward to hearing the album.

Rick Simpson - If you don't want to wait, you can listen to a sampler, right now, on Soundcloud.

LondonJazz - Thanks for doing the interview Rick, and very good luck with the album!


Review: Necessary Praxis / Servant Jazz Quarters

Marjolaine Charbin. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Necessary Praxis
(Servant Jazz Quarters, 29 May 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

I went for the first time to one of Dalston's best kept secrets on the jazz improv circuit, Servant Jazz Quarters, to check out the latest in the Necessary Praxis series, where improvisers are invited to perform together - on this occasion David Toop (electronics / various), Adam Linson (double bass), Jennifer Allum (violin) and Marjolaine Charbin (piano) playing as an ensemble for the first time. As the organisers say, "Necessary Praxis draws on all of the London scene to produce concerts which provide a broad glimpse to the uninitiated, as well as plenty of food for thought to regulars ... courtesy of mainstay figures alongside unpredictable and more emerging London improvisors."

The venue, situated a stone's throw from the Vortex and Cafe Oto, and now open for a year and a half is home to a range of entertainment, and was well suited to the music. It is comfortably small-scale. The upstairs bar serves a flowery, flavoursome house beer and downstairs, with room for around 40, is the stage area which can be seen from above through the perspex ceiling, which also lets in the early evening light. There is a quirky 70s interior design feel to the decor, which has been described as 'bohemian'.

The acoustics are excellent. Fronting on to the tiny Bradbury Street there is little extraneous traffic noise. In fact, the air-con, before it was switched off, made more sound than the musicians as their engaging repertoire was so quiet. This collaboration worked through two sets with such a light touch that the sensitivity of the room's acoustics was essential. Sitting on a leather sofa, an abrupt move would have competed with that coming from the stage. Flipping the pages of a notebook was also a non-starter.

The concentrated dialogue bounced lightly. There was a sense of shared control in the fashioning of the incremental soundscape, a subtle mix of the incidental and the coincidental. Toop, behind a laptop, embroidered wispy, tumbling undercurrents, and scattered fragments by the mic. A few juddering, scorched earth moments were interjected and rapidly dissipated. Charbin drew invisible thread through the prepared, electronically connected piano and made tactile sonic connections. Vinson and Allum, in confirmed acoustic mode, nurtured tangible sound, subjecting their stringed instruments to an almost microscopic exploration in wresting perceptible sound from them. This was one for listening and then hearing.

It will be interesting to see how other ensembles take advantage of the benefits of the micro-scale and comfort of this valuable addition to the scene, in the words of the SJQ, "as we start to look towards the next 50 years of this uncompromising and relentless musical activity."

David Toop - electronics / various
Adam Linson - double bass
Jennifer Allum - violin
Marjolaine Charbin - piano


CD Review: John Abercrombie - Within a Song

John Abercrombie - Within a Song
(ECM 278 9531. CD review by Chris Parker)

Encouraged by ECM’s Manfred Eicher to make an album paying tribute to a particular jazz artist or composer, guitarist John Abercrombie eventually decided on a wider remit: ‘to look at the era when my own musical tastes developed … mostly post-bebop jazz albums’.

His chief inspiration was ‘Without a Song’, played by Sonny Rollins and Jim Hall on the former’s legendary recording The Bridge (‘I thought: “That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard!” So for this new album I wrote songs based on it’), but Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were also crucial influences, their music, in Abercrombie’s words, giving the then aspiring musician ‘a place to live’.

Accordingly, he leads a dream band (tenor player Joe Lovano, bassist Drew Gress, drummer Joey Baron) through a selection of pieces associated with these 1960s figures – Davis’s ‘Flamenco Sketches’, Coleman’s ‘Blues Connotation’, Coltrane’s ‘Wise One’ among them – plus a few judiciously selected originals that nod to the stylistic innovations of the same era, producing what ECM’s publicity accurately calls ‘a modern jazz primer, but … also much more’.

The ‘much more’, of course, is the result of the instantly recognisable contributions of Abercrombie’s stellar bandmates: Lovano has one of the most texturally varied sounds in the music, his tenor producing everything from a pleasantly hoarse slither to a smoky warble as required; Gress is characteristically full-toned and surefooted throughout; Baron deploys his malleted toms, breathing cymbals and sudden rustles and crackles to great effect.

It is Abercrombie himself, though, whose quiet virtuosity, musicianly intensity and faultless dynamic and textural control set the tone for this impeccable and clearly deeply felt album.


Bulgaria. No travel expenses.

Are you in a band who can get yourselves to Bulgaria under your own steam  - or indeed pedal power? Jazz Services have just posted the invitation to a showcase at JULY JAZZ Smolyan.

The festival is not offering to pay a fee or travel expenses. But... "All invited artists will get free full access to all features of the JULY JAZZ event and PERELIK Pure Jazz, plus accommodation and catering."

Here's the posting from Jazz Services. Applications close on June 25th.


The Top 100 Music Venues in the UK (Source PRS)

We're all addicted to lists. PRS for Music researchers have compiled a league table of the UK's best 100 music venues. The Southbank, which is top, is proud to have put on 422 musical events. Grant-in-aid last time I looked was  £26m, and annual rent one peppercorn. The Vortex, Ronnie's and the 606 Club would not be far behind, on that measure. And to my friends around me here at Kings Place, wow -  did I miss the celebration?


PRS have sent a couple of indications about the methodology for compiling the list: PRS for Music licenses live performances at 7,000 venues in the UK and is able to track music and live trends. PRS for Musiccollect set-lists directly from the venues or attends concerts at these spaces to collect set lists, to ensure that members who created the music are paid their royalties.

The criteria are the number of different live music events (e.g. one artist/show counts as one musical event). Which is why somewhere like King Tut's in Glasgow ranks quite high as they have a different show on each night yes as opposed to a big stadium doing a tour of Take That (which counts only one time).

1 South Bank Concert Halls LONDON
2 The Sage Gateshead GATESHEAD
3 O2 Academy Birmingham BIRMINGHAM
5 Ronnie Scotts Club LONDON
6 O2 Academy Islington LONDON
7 Royal Northern College Of Music MANCHESTER
8 O2 Academy Newcastle NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE
9 King Tuts Wah Wah Hut GLASGOW
10 Kings Place LONDON
11 Royal Albert Hall LONDON
12 Wigmore Hall LONDON
13 Robin R'N'B Club 2 BILSTON
14 Glasgow ABC GLASGOW
15 Spa Complex SCARBOROUGH
16 Philharmonic Hall LIVERPOOL
17 Borderline LONDON
18 Bridgewater Hall MANCHESTER
19 St Martin-In-The Fields LONDON
20 O2 Academy Oxford OXFORD
21 Jazz Cafe LONDON
22 Underworld LONDON
23 Norwich Arts Centre NORWICH
24 Colston Hall BRISTOL
26 Garage LONDON
27 Royal Conservatoire of Scotland GLASGOW
28 Symphony Hall BIRMINGHAM
29 O2 Academy Shepherds Bush Empire LONDON
30 O2 Academy Bristol BRISTOL
31 Barbican Centre LONDON
32 O2 Academy Liverpool LIVERPOOL
33 Glasgow Royal Concert Hall GLASGOW
34 O2 Academy Sheffield SHEFFIELD
35 Cadogan Hall LONDON
37 The Square HARLOW
38 Band On The Wall MANCHESTER
39 The Met BURY
41 Ruby Lounge MANCHESTER
42 St Davids Hall CARDIFF
43 City Halls GLASGOW
44 Komedia Cabaret Bar BRIGHTON
45 Bush Hall LONDON
46 Birmingham Town Hall BIRMINGHAM
47 The Slade Rooms WOLVERHAMPTON
48 St George's Bristol BRISTOL
49 Colchester Arts Centre COLCHESTER
50 Sands Venue BLACKPOOL
51 Koko LONDON
52 The Venue LONDON
53 Concorde 2 BRIGHTON
54 O2 Arena LONDON
55 Queen's Hall EDINBURGH
56 Royal College Of Music LONDON
57 O2 Manchester Apollo MANCHESTER
58 St Johns (Main Hall) LONDON
59 Customs House SOUTH SHIELDS
60 Royal Academy Of Music LONDON
61 Barfly Club LONDON
62 St James's Church LONDON
63 Scala LONDON
64 Brighton Dome BRIGHTON
65 Pavilion Theatre BOURNEMOUTH
66 Seafront Bandstand EASTBOURNE
67 Usher Hall EDINBURGH
68 Gordon Craig Theatre Cinema STEVENAGE
69 Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (Live) GLASGOW
70 Dartington Hall - Great Hall TOTNES
71 HMV Hammersmith Apollo LONDON
72 Fairfield Halls CROYDON
73 Music Hall ABERDEEN
74 O2 Academy Brixton LONDON
75 Buxton Opera House BUXTON
76 Corporation SHEFFIELD
77 O2 Academy Leeds LEEDS
78 Eden Court Theatre and Cinema INVERNESS
80 Darlington Arts Centre DARLINGTON
81 Union Chapel LONDON
82 Wharf Arts Centre TAVISTOCK
83 Farnham Maltings FARNHAM
84 Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum GLASGOW
85 The Masque a.k.a. Barfly Club LIVERPOOL
86 Pavilion Theatre WORTHING
88 Hawth Theatre Complex CRAWLEY
89 Huntingdon Hall WORCESTER
90 Queens Theatre BARNSTAPLE
91 Forge LONDON
92 Market Place Theatre ARMAGH
93 The Junction CAMBRIDGE
94 The Roundhouse LONDON
95 O2 Academy Glasgow GLASGOW
96 Cambridge Corn Exchange CAMBRIDGE
97 Snape Maltings Concert Hall SAXMUNDHAM
98 De Montfort Hall LEICESTER
99 21 South Street READING
100 Rock City NOTTINGHAM


Review: Rocket Science + Mary Halvorson Quartet /Vortex

Mary Halvorson - Vortex, May 2012
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved

Rocket Science and the Mary Halvorson Quartet
(Vortex, 25 May 2012; night 2 of Mary Halvorson's residency; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

There are no two ways about it - this was an exceptional double header which exceeded expectations. For the second night of the Mary Halvorson residency her top flight London quartet generously shared the bill with Rocket Science, the stellar combination of Peter Evans (trumpets), Craig Taborn (piano), and Evan Parker (saxes) with the added ingenuity of Sam Pluta (electronics), making their world debut at the Vortex, before heading to Amsterdam's Bimhuis and hopping over the border to Germany's Moers Festival.

The quartets had much in common - neither had a drummer, both were Anglo-American collaborations, in three to one ratios respectively, and each achieved a riveting musical tension. Halvorson's was a lightly fluctuating tension, a twisting filgree, threading through acoustic pinch points and areas of tangential intensity. Rocket Science was a high voltage, high tension wire, the process of pulling the wire tighter and tighter without letting it snap courting disbelief at what could intuitively be created at the edges of the possible.

The quartets also shared a state of equilibrium, not a static balance - far from it - but one which subverted ego in the dynamic flow of sonic language, and at the same time admitted personal expression in the weave of their unique statements.

Peter Evans, the driving force behind Rocket Science was keen that they unveil their dynamic partnership at the Vortex - maybe it was because within its walls, as the Vortex's Oliver Weindling put it, there is "at the drop of a hat - silence!" And this was the ground from which both quartets opened their sets.

Halvorson (guitar) and Ben Davis (cello) traded delicately placed single notes. Liam Noble (piano) added plucked accents from the piano wires while Rachel Musson (tenor sax) utilised the fluttering acoustic interplay as a backdrop for her raw, expressive tenor. Halvorson's spikey peregrinations took on a faux random air and, with tentative scratching on Davis's cello, blended in to a low humming electric echo, picked up by Noble with single keynotes. They found their way through the welling and dissipation of moods, which had a purity that avoided imagistic suggestion. Halvorson's caustic, ground-out interludes were matched by Musson's roaring fluency, which leaned confidently towards the vigour of Ayler's open technique. Davis worked out in the peripheral areas - bleak, creaking, gusting, while Noble was equally comfortable reinforcing a theme or taking up an assertive, fast moving solo assault. Halvorson's articulate brush with the unpredictable hung somewhere between the liminal and the balletic - a delight.

Rocket Science were launched on a layer of Sam Pluta's barely perceptible electronic interference. Peter Evans simulated clarinet tones on piccolo trumpet before using his hand as mute to extrude a metallic wash, while Parker briefly flushed out trumpet timbres on soprano sax. Taborn focused intently on the piano's bass registers to fill out the terrain. The colour changes were unrelenting, the shifts of pace were rapid, the quartet's ability to read each other was uncanny. Taborn matched Pluta's whirring electronic insinuations with exquisite, virtual non-sounds from the piano. Parker's minute squeaks and almost unheard breaths were born out of passages of heightened activity and he followed Evans closely just tapping on the keypads.

Ear-splitting waves of frenetic brass pizzicato from Parker and Evans were picked up by Taborn with unerring fluency and pin-sharp connectivity, his technique versatile to the point of elasticity. The intense barrage was close to overwelming. Yet, this was set against Pluta's undertow of low electronic vibrations, crackles and escapes of sound which formed an unfailingly inventive, ever-present backdrop. Evans blasted as much air as humanly possible through the tiny piccolo trumpet, and late on held both trumpets in hand, switching alarmingly between the two, chasing stray notes and squalls.

The four protagonists were masterly in conjuring tension from nowhere, like-minded in their conviction that they slam against the borders with a landslide of invention and virtuosity. There were no stars, all were equal, and the result was formidable - this was the essence of the Rocket Science proposition. A truly breathtaking experience.

Mary Halvorson Quartet

Mary Halvorson: guitar
Liam Noble: piano
Rachel Musson: saxophone
Ben Davis: cello

Rocket Science

Peter Evans: trumpet and piccolo trumpet
Evan Parker: soprano and tenor saxes
Craig Taborn: piano
Sam Pluta: computer, electronics


Music Programmer - job on offer at Vortex

The Vortex is looking to hire a  Music Programmer, replacing Todd Wills, who took over from Will Gresford. Here's the job ad:

Vortex and Gillett Square, £25-28K

The Vortex Jazz Club has a world wide reputation for programming jazz, and other improvised music as well as folk, electronic, world and contemporary classical 7 nights a week. The club is looking for a Programmer to look after the programming in the club as well as in Gillett Square.

The programmer will be required to work with Vortex and Gillett Square volunteers, members and friends, outside arts organisations, individual artists and musicians, local community representatives and groups (including schools and businesses), as well as local authority officers.

For a full job description please go to www.vortexjazz.co.uk

Please submit a full CV and covering letter in application. Closing date for applications is 8th June. Send to tim [at ]vortexfoundation.org.uk


Pete Whittaker's view of a Hammond

This has appeared on Pete Whittaker's Facebook:

Right..... stand by your beds.... After literally YEARS of procrastination and cyber-malingering, I've managed to throw a website together. Don't get too excited, folks as it's pretty dull. If you're a musician/band who I've worked with or shown any sign of appreciating at any stage, send me a link to your site and I'll add it to my links page.

Please don't be fooled by the self-deprecating manner. Pete is a phenomenal exponent of the instrument, and is always in demand, all over Europe. He also has a deep understanding of it: try his superb review of a Jimmy Smith DVD in the Jazz Icons Series, written as LondonJazz was getting going.

Head over to the new website, it's HERE.


Review: Dave Ohm's Unit of Resistance

Bandleader Dave Ohm
Photo credit: James Pearson
Dave Ohm's Unit of Resistance
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 22nd May 2012. Review by Brian Blain)

With new bands, mostly composed of post grad musicians, appearing almost every week, the prospect of seeing drummer Dave Ohm's Unit of Resistance (a clever name) with three genuine world class players, Nigel Hitchcock (tenor sax), Laurence Cottle (electric bass)and guitarist/producer Paul Stacey at Pizza Express Dean St. last week was a mouth-watering prospect : and so it proved. With Hitch on blinding form - he looks so benignly cheerful these days, smiling and applauding all the great stuff going on around him - Brecker's Nothing Personal was a triumph, with Stacey matching him for chops and the mind-boggling stop-starts pulled off to perfection.

On other less frenetic material Stacey produced a series of cogent solos, with the whole blues-inflected Scofield palette adding to the band's colour. Not all Sturm und Drang either; Watermelon Man had Hichcock stretching a slow, slow melody line almost to breaking point while the beautiful theme of Soul Eyes was so exquisitely stated that the audience burst into applause before a single solo was unveiled - remarkable. But the probable high spot was Binky's Beam, off the truly classic Surman-McLaughlin album Extrapolation, recorded over 40 years ago, yet sounding as fresh and contemporary, with Ohm skittering around the beat, and Cottle holding it all together on this free-ish jazz rock classic, as anything being played today.

But this wasn't all. Along came Gwilym Simcock to sit in, as did the great flute player Gareth Lockrane and Dave's life as well as music partner, Georgia Mancio, for the whole team to gambol on their cheeky time shifting arrangement of Just In Time.

The encore was a jam on the old war horse Billie's Bounce, in which the sight of Nigel and Gwilym cracking up on their musical jokes, far removed from the great pianist's classical crossover image set the seal on a truly memorable night. 2013 festivals beckon, surely?


ISM bring the issue of airlines/ instruments to Parliament

Hats off to the Incorporated Society of Musicians for getting an Early Day Motion going in parliament  (15 signatures in the first few days) encouraging the UK Government to follow the lead of US legislators and bring consistency to airlines' conditions for transporting musical instruments. And also for keeping the issue on the boil with pieces like THIS, alleging British Airways are marching in the wrong direction, from the Telegraph

The full text of the EDM is as follows.

That this House celebrates the cultural and economic contributions of musicians to society; is concerned that airlines' regulations regarding the carriage of musical instruments remain inconsistent and can even vary within airlines; recognises the intrinsic and crucial value of musical instruments for musicians; notes that damage to these instruments may be sustained if musicians are required to place them in the hold rather than carry them in the cabin; supports the Incorporated Society of Musicians in its campaign for all airlines to adopt a minimum standard agreement to allow musicians to carry a musical instrument as an additional item of hand baggage on flights, if the item is guitar-sized or smaller; welcomes the success of the Instruments on Planes campaign in negotiating with one airline, which announced on 12 January 2011 a new musician-friendly baggage policy; further notes that the US, which is the UK's closest competitor for music exports, has already legislated on the issue under the FAA Modernization and Reform Act 2012; and calls on the Government to publish non-binding guidance for airlines on the carriage of music instruments in the cabin of aircraft.

It is very unlikely that even with a lot of signatures a debate can be forced (see background to EDMs), but action like this certainly keeps the issue in the public eye, and makes it harder airlines to justify the kind of tightening up which British Airways are reported to be doing. And harder for ministers to ignore. The ISM has a considerably smaller membership and scale of operation than the Musicians Union, but would appear to have more appetite and more tenacity when it comes to lobbying.


Phronesis Album Launch

Phronesis: Ivo Neame, Jasper Hoiby, Anton Eger
Album Lunch. Kings Place Hall One, May 2012
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

A genuinely happy occasion. Phronesis played the music of the album Walking Dark to a virtually packed Hall One at Kings Place last night. "Wow!" was Jasper Hoiby's first greeting. He was celebrating the fact that so many people had eschued the evening of Balkan cross-border diplomacy of the Eurovision Song Contest, and a summer evening, to come out to Kings Place.

Ivo Neame Had written on Twitter earlier: "I'm going to play a lot of notes tonite as well so you'll definitely be getting your money's worth." It stayed in the mind. Hoiby and Eger give Neame the ideal context when this group to have total freedom to keep you guessing when those volleys of notes will get launched, to anticipate, delay, wrong-foot. And he gives the others back all  the shades and colours, the imagination, the flights of fancy they could ask for. As I witnessed this moment of triumph, I couldn't avoid the though that Phronesis are what a European vision based in Europe's world city should all be about.


Jazz Nursery, SE1 - First Thursday of each month

The house band at Jazz Nursery
Guitarist Nick Costley- White writes:

One of London’s most eccentric music venues, Jazz Nursery opens its doors on the first Thursday of each month under the railway arches in Southwark. The night showcases cutting edge talent, creating a stage for the best up and coming bands in London. Jazz Nursery gives emerging artists an opportunity to play new material, try things out and bring their sound to a wider audience.

The debut gig on the 3rd May saw the Rick Simpson Quartet and Tom Challenger's Brass Mask wow a lively and attentive crowd. The buzzing vibe in this unusual space created an entirely unique atmosphere.

The next Jazz Nursery, starting at the later time of 10pm, will feature the award winning saxophonist Josh Arcoleo. Cool and lyrical yet experimental, his hooty, earthy tone subtly reminds us of tenor giant Mark Turner. Arcoleo's approach has a Shorter-esque considered freedom, his improvisations exploring melody, concept and musicianship within the band. He will be playing music from and signing copies of his well received debut album 'Beginning' (Ivo Neame, Calum Gourlay, James Maddren).

The house band will be joined by virtuoso trombonist Tom White. There is a high level of detail and delicacy in Tom's playing. His feel is bluesy, his generous phrases unpredictably evolving and flipping around as he shows off his mastering of the instrument.

Entrance is £5, the bar is cheap and there’s usually three bands on over the course of the evening. Jam session if there are lots of musicians in the house.

Arch 61, Ewer Street, SE1 0NR. Nearest tube Southwark Station (Jubilee Line), 5 mins walk down Union Street

Jazz Nursery on the web


Review: Lynne Arriale Trio, featuring Benny Golson

Lynne Arriale Trio, featuring Benny Golson.
(Ronnie Scott's, Wed 23rd May 2012. Review by Alison Bentley)

The fierce heat in Soho Square felt as if we'd just stepped off a plane, but Ronnie's was cool and inviting as ever. Pianist Lynne Arriale looked very cool and composed too, as she played The Nearness of You with delicate restraint, the notes like drops falling into a still pool. The audience was completely silent and focused on every note, and erupted into heartfelt applause at the end. Guido May's luscious drumming was especially sensitive and brilliant here, as it was throughout the gig.

Lynne's summery take on the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun had a Jarretty bright gospel feel, and her imaginative arrangements of A Night in Tunisia and Blondie's Call Me (!) , had hard-swinging groovy bass and melodic solos from Geoff Gascoyne.

Her mentor ECM pianist Beirach's influence could be heard in her own tunes, the Latin La Noche, and almost flamenco Dance of the Rain. Her pianistic technique recalled Fred Hersch- both have complete dynamic control of each finger separately, so everything is cantabile. Much of her improvising is around the middle of the piano, pared down into the vocal range. Lynne loves the Romantic composers, and this emerged in her lush fast runs, hinting at a virtuosity held in check by putting feeling and sincerity first.

How would this former classical player work together with legendary hard bop tenor player Benny Golson, writer of tunes like Killer Joe?

Benny joined the trio half way through each set and brought out Lynne's Wynton Kelly/Tommy Flanagan swinging side, showing what a versatile pianist she is. Stablemates indeed. Benny's playing sounded wonderful- a breathy Ben Webster/ Dexter Gordon tone, a little Lester Young, with some asymmetrical phrasing and atonal runs that sometimes even recalled Eric Dolphy.

He has great charm as a raconteur, and at 83 he's experienced - and formed - a lot of jazz history! He played some of the much-loved jazz standards he's written, and introduced each one with an anecdote as if it had happened last week- we felt the premature loss of Clifford Brown with him as he played I Remember Clifford. He was 'validated' as a composer when Miles Davis recorded his Stablemates, and suddenly everyone wanted his tunes. An image sticks in the mind- Paul Chambers lying down with his bass, falling asleep the worse for wear, in the middle of the first recording of Benny's Whisper Not.

With Benny Golson and Lynne Arriale the stories were not just told, but also played: a treat to hear one of the founders of modern jazz with one of its new narrators.


Flora the Red Menace at the Rose and Crown

Composer John Kander (1927-) and lyricist Fred Ebb (1928 - 2004) were the highly successful song-writing team which produced Cabaret (1966), Chicago (1975), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992) plus the theme song for Martin Scorsese's film New York, New York.

But their first collaboration, which set the scene for these later triumphs was Flora the Red Menace (1965). It's a story of the depression era, set in New York. The title role of Flora was premiered by a 19-year old Liza Minelli.

Unlike its more succesful successors, Flora has not had a glorious history on stage: its premiere run failed to make it to 100 performances. It hasn't been seen in a professional performance in the UK since a production at the Orange Tree in Richmond in the mid-1990s. Fortunately, it is currently enjoying a revival at the Rose and Crown in Hoe Street Walthamstow. The theatre is easily walkable from Walthamstow Central Station on the Victoria Line, and the front-of-house staff treat the audience without any sign of West End surliness.

Flora has some great songs. It is well-cast, the central role superbly taken by Katy Baker. The band is just a piano -  Aaron Clingham and a bass  -  Adam Storey, and yet there is not a single moment when the musical interest flags. The dance numbers are imaginatively, vividly choreographed (by Kate McPhee) and the whle thing is blocked and designed and thought through with great variety. The nine-actor cast move through song and dance numbers with professional energy and confidence - they even rise to a Busby Berkeley spectacular (with Blue Peter-ish carboard creations(!) as the first half closer from heaven.

Director Randy Smartnick permits himself to ask a necessary question in the programme : "What is wrong with Flora that it isn't staged very often?" He answers that the answer is that it has been taken too seriously, and needs to be "light-hearted and fluffy enough to make fun of itself." He has certainly achieved that. I wonder, though: I suspect that the subject matter - thirties depression, unemployment, the rise of the communist party, the reassuring platitudes we get from polticians (is this beginning to sound familiar/ topical? it should) - may be just too uncomfortable not to clash with the purpose of entertainment.

But once the house lights are down, the moment can be thoroughly enjoyed. This is a great show. It's unfair to single out cast members in such a seamlessly collective effort, but Canadian Ellen Verenieks as Flora's archly determined rival-in-love nails her role with total conviction, daemonic humour. She makes the hopeless dilemmas of the hapless, doubly pursued Harry (Sam Linscott) 100% plausible and understandable.

Don't be put off by the rather tentative, raw promotional video - above. This show has transformed itself during its run,and completely. It's now lively, it's professional. The ensemble has gelled and interacts and communicates to perfection. The audience's attention is completely held throughout. Critics tend to see shows before the wrinkles are ironed out.  The recommendation now has to be unequivocal: don't miss Flora before the run ends on June 1st.

Bookings via All Star Productions


Review: Krystle Warren

Krystle Warren
(All Saints Church, Hove - Brighton Festival - 24th May 2012. Review by Edana Minghella)

The first time I saw Krystle Warren was on TV a couple of years ago. A flurry of divas had pitched up at Air Studios for BBC 4’s The Great American Songbook, to deliver their interpretations of favourite standards: Claire Martin, Melody Gardot, Gwyneth Herbert, even Annie Lennox and Sharleen Spiteri. Suddenly, this woman in jeans, checked shirt and peaked cap, appeared. With a shyness, almost diffidence, she breathed the deepest tones into Love for Sale and turned A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square into a sex song. She was mesmerising. Later I caught her live at Meltdown, just Krystle, her guitar and a couple of guests, including folk hero Teddy Thompson. It was an informal, playful performance to a smallish audience that loved her.

Krystle is impossible to define. She hails from Kansas, lives in Paris, recorded her latest album (a double ‘live’ recording of mainly self-penned love songs) in Brooklyn. She cites Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder & Paul Simon as influences, and her manager told me she loves Betty Carter and Kurt Elling. But she has recorded with Alison Krauss, Robert Plant and T Bone Burnett. In the UK, she’s known for her participation in the series of Nick Drake tribute gigs: Way to Blue. Her sound is definitely more folk, country, bluegrass than jazz or R&B. And yet, and yet... That voice is a perfect jazz voice. The deep notes are rich as mahogany, the higher notes softer and soulful. She seems to have perfect pitch, and knows her material so well she can deviate and improvise at will and with an exhilarating freedom – when she chooses (which she does on the album).

At last night’s sold-out gig, she had a cold and stayed well within a comfortable low range, though her tone was as exquisite as ever. Instead of her usual band (The Faculty), Krystle was backed by London’s own talented, bluegrass-inspired Wagon Tales, with the excellent Ben Somers (double bass, vocals), Joe Auckland (trumpet, banjo), Kate Robinson (fiddle, vocals), Lewis Cohen (guitar, vocals) and Joe Hymas (mandolin).

The set derived mainly from the new album. Stand out tunes includedI Worry Less, a country-style ballad in 3/4 that perfectly reflected Krystle’s warm narrative style, her voice almost purring in the knowledge that she doesn’t just love, she is loved back. The Clod and the Pebble was a simple guitar-led setting of William Blake’s poem from Songs of Experience, with delicate, balletic vocals and featuring Kate Robinson’s strong, soaring fiddle. A Barbershop-style close harmony number, accompanied by the audience “stomping” (Krystle’s word), was not quite as successful. But the encore – the Title Track from her earlier album Circles – was fabulous and rousing.

Krystle is an intimate singer, her songs are personal stories. She smiles and chats. All Saints, a huge, cavernous church with dark stained windows, felt like the wrong space for us to sit down with a guitar and a glass of red and share in the magic and sadness (or as Krystle put it, the joy and the “ouch”) of love.

Flattering comparisons have already been made to Nina Simone, Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading. I heard sexy, slurring echoes of John Martyn last night too. So why isn’t Krystle better known? She doesn’t have Nina’s burning rage or Tracy’s social commentary, and to be honest, her own tunes are not as catchy as Joan Armatrading’s. But I suspect her reach is smaller than it should be partly because she doesn’t conform to stereotypical images of female singers, about which she neither apologises nor even comments. She is who she is. Whatever the comparisons, Krystle’s stunning voice is all her own: as deep and resonant as a cello, and – when she lets rip – as powerful as the ocean. She deserves a wider audience. And what I would give to hear her perform a whole gig of jazz standards!

Love Songs: A Time You May Embrace by Krystle Warren & the Faculty, is out now on Parlour Door Music


Profile : Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding. Photo credit: Roger Thomas
ESPERANZA SPALDING : Grammy-winner, Berklee professor who blurs the borders between R&B and jazz. STEFAN HENTZ interviewd the bassist/singer for this extensive profile. Spalding appears at KOKO next Monday 28th - sold out - and is confirmed for the London Jazz Festival - Royal Festival Hall, 15th November (*).

She’s sitting in a smart hotel room: young, gifted and black, her rebellious Afro, which usually brings to mind Angela Davis and the days of civil-rights protest, is meticulously tamed. She’s talking about Radio Music Society, her new album, a collection of songs that are extrovert, accessible and a little bombastic, and which was conceived as a device that aligns her music to the realities of formatted mainstream radio.

For Esperanza Spalding, 27 year-old jazz bassist and singer, this is no more than a minor balancing act. Commercialisation? So what? She knows she loses control of how her music is received as soon as it is published, and cites the Scottish writer George Macdonald: “What he liked about fairy tales is that people find their own metaphors and allegories way beyond what he originally intended. He might have just conceived of a story with no deeper connotation and people found more profound things in it than he could have intentionally written. I relate to that sentiment.”

Spalding loves to spice what she says with adventurous leaps -- from Macdonald, claimed to be an inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien, to Joe Lovano and Wayne Shorter, two of her mentors, and further on to the Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous. She ranges from her own song writing to the unexplored music of the black churches and the significance of dance for the descendants of African slaves as a memory medium for the ancient rhythms which in the course of jazz history were translated back into sound by drummers such as Papa Jo Jones.

In jazz, Esperanza Spalding is herself something of a present-day fairy tale. She has played for Barack Obama at the White House and at the celebration of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, and with Chamber Music Society, her last album, an introverted twin to the new release which was much closer to the sound of classical chamber music, she bridged the gap to the mainstream audience. No jazz album sold better, Billboard declared her Jazz Artist of the Year and she stirred up a good deal of fuss by winning the 2011 Grammy as Best New Artist, leaving behind competitors such as Justin Bieber.

Born one of two children to a single mother in Portland, Oregon, Spalding took up violin when she was four. “I was definitely one of those kids that have this natural inclination to make things up,” she says of her approach to playing back then. “Sometimes in the process you hear a sound and you just make it up.” At five she joins the Chamber Music Society of Oregon, an ambitious community orchestra that provides her initial musical training: quartets, duets, solo and orchestral pieces – everything that’s in the classical violin repertoire. After 10 years she’s advanced to the position of a bandmaster but is already searching for new frontiers. “My relationship to classical music,” she says, “was always in the context of education.”

She discovered the double bass when she was 15 and was hooked immediately. “In the first lesson my teacher at High School briefly explained how a bass line is created for a blues: here are the chords, this is how many bars it is, and this the kind of scale you use. The only thing you have to do is to make different permutations of those scales, keep good time and make sure that you’re leading to the next sound,” she recalls. “The first time I heard that I made, ‘huh?’, but as soon as I realised how to do it, it was satisfying to combine the two things that have always seemed the most comfortable and inviting to me -- playing by ear and making things up. That was freedom. It was so exciting and so fun.”

She had found a way to discover all the other territories of the music she had grown up with: R&B, blues, jazz and all the different layers of black music. The young violinist turned bass player practised, studied and dived into the music communities of her native Portland. “From that moment on that was all I wanted to do: play that music, play that instrument.” When she was 20 she had left her formal education so far behind that she was assigned as a teacher at Berklee, the most prestigious of jazz schools.

With her rocket-like ascent into the Champions’ League of jazz, Esperanza Spalding has the musical leeway to give her total serenity. Against all the rules of marketing she can turn an album that is as encrypted as chamber music into a huge success, before turning around and playing some hard-swinging mainstream jazz like in the old days. And when she announces another album designed to end up on commercial radio, it might turn out that the music still has teeth in ways that would never normally fit into the mainstream. She chuckles: “Yeah, I know. Sometimes mid-thesis you realise that the research has shown you something different than you originally intended to find.”

That’s the value of her artistic independence -- she doesn’t need to temper her judgment with selling considerations and is free to let things happen which are beyond the reach of rational consideration: “In my writing I’m sort of a puppet of something that comes through me and then I get to move around with an arsenal of the material I’ve studied and try to piece together what I’m really guided to do, and I want to respect that even within this premise of the concept. Some decisions I made in the process were between ‘I know, if I leave it in here it will never end up on the radio’, but it needs to be there, because that’s what the song means, how it sounds and if I cut that out, it’s not the song anymore. When that was the decision I always went with respect for the music.”

The same is true for the lyrics of the songs, which she just lets happen instead of writing them with a purpose in mind. “I’m not that deep,” she says. “I just like to sing. I like the feeling of singing. I guess I should probably think about it, but I don’t. If it seems too significant I freeze up.” With the song cycle on Radio Music Society, however, she takes a stand and sums up political topics that the current wunderkind of jazz has every reason to be concerned about: deliberate injustice within the legal system, Afro-American self-esteem and the care of the cultural legacy, the arbitrary violence of war that destroys even the survivors, the conservation of biodiversity.

It turns out that, however involuntarily and unexpectedly, Esperanza has become a topical singer, with a realistic agenda: “I don’t know if music can or cannot change something and I’m not trying to tell you anything, but if nothing else, when you listen to the record there’s about 11 minutes where you just think about those things.”

It sounds like the start of something important, and Spalding wants to part of it: “Awareness, it's already a step on the way.”

(*) A version of Stefan Hentz's profile of Esperanza Spalding appeared in German in DIE ZEIT. With thanks to Quentin Bryar.


Review: Like A Jazz Machine

Francesco Tristano of Aufgang

Like A Jazz Machine Festival,
Festival in Opderschmelz, Dudelange, Luxembourg 17 - 20 May. Review by Fran Hardcastle)

They really know how to put on a show across the channel. The opening night of Like A Jazz Machine, set the tone for an adventurous weekend of jazz in all its forms, in the wonderful auditorium of the Opderschmelz.

The festival showcased artists from Luxembourg alongside international names. I arrived just in time to catch probably one of Luxembourg's most successful sons of jazz, vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher. Schumacher is a magnetic front man with a range that pulls the audience between tender intimacy and high drama. Strong individual voices from pianist Franz von Chossy, bassist Christophe Devisscher and Jens Düppe on drums were interwoven with Schumacher to form a perfectly balanced whole.

Nils Petter Molvaer

Headliner Nils Petter Molvaer revelled in contrast, taking us from the mosh pit to moments of clarity verging on the divine. Molvaer fuses rock, electronics, metal and a hot pot of other forms. The often dark material of his soundscapes is augmented by powerful guitarist Stian Westerhus & alt-rock drummer Erland Dahlen with a touch of distorted tribal vocals adding potency. Just as fascinating are the moments of ambient calm that allow the mastery of Molvaer's instrument to shine through.

The absolute highlight of the festival came with Friday night headliners Aufgang, led by experimental classical pianist Francesco Tristano (he plays BachCage 2.0 at Kings Place on Monday). This was house music with jazz structures and many surprises along the way, produced by two grand pianos and a drummer. Drummer Ymeric Westrich was a powerhouse driving the trio, which also includes pianist Rami Khalifé. Together they created a fiery energy ball of jazz dance that knows no limitations. Aufgang's success lies in a new music that can be appreciated at all levels, from club culture to jazz house.

Kyle Eastwood

Other bands on Friday included the always wonderful Kyle Eastwood Band, who consistently exceed expectations, of whom I am a huge fan. They were a roaring success with an audience insistent on encores. The earlier Luxembourg showcase featured saxophonist Maxime Bender and his quartet. Pianist Sebastian Sternal'sStockhausen tinged, minimalist solos rather stole the show in this set.

Maxime Bender Quartet

Lyrical RDW Trio were an enjoyable opener to Saturday night's festival. Providing a stark contrast was trombonist Samuel Blaser, who connected the space between free jazz and hard bop with some innovative improvisation and intuitive team work from his quartet. I caught a moment of Roby Glod Trio to hear a saxophonist using his exquisite tone to explore the open spaces of free jazz with a touching sensitivity.

A world class trio that can truly swing followed from celebrated Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. The joie de vivre of bassist Luca Bulgarelli brought standards such as Cole Porter's Everything I Love to life. Pieranunzi is transcendent, consistently bringing out the narrative in the music. I was utterly romanced by his original waltz, Blue Walls.

Sunday morning's Jazz a l'Apero summed up the concept of this Luxembourg showcase, with free concerts from the young circuit of Luxembourg's jazzers. 4S were the pick of this crop with a relaxed groove based offering from a talented bass led quartet.

A brief mention of Luxembourg itself. Luxembourg City is well worth a trip for the architecture and geology alone, even apart from the delicious Cremant de Luxembourg (the all too drinkable local fizz). I booked a bike tour whilst there and was fortunate to get a fantastic tour guide in Simone of Feel Bike Tours, whom I can highly recommend. 


Review: Tom Taylor Quintet and The Button Band

Jon Ormston, drummer of both the Button Band and The Tom Taylor Quintet
Jazz at the Salisbury - Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved
Tom Taylor Quintet and The Button Band
(Jazz at The Salisbury, 20 May 2012; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The penultimate session before the summer break at 'Jazz at The Salisbury' offered an evening of tightly-honed contrasts and complementary compositional styles from two small groups brimming with ideas and quality musicianship.

Both groups took their direction from their leader's compositional skills, which formed the solid ground that gave the soloists room to stretch out and impose an individual stamp on proceedings.

The first set from The Button Band witnessed Andy Woolf's warm-toned, mellifluous tenor filling out Andy Button's carefully crafted structures. Button, in his turn introduced space into the mix with his spare, lean solos. The bright confidence of 'Again' was pushed on by Jon Ormston's jaunty military snare. Dave Manington's lightly flexed bass shared the lead with Button as Woolf built up an increasingly strong statement around the simply-stated figure of 'Control'. 'Various Events' had Button sitting back in rhythm guitar role while Woolf took the initiative with elegant phrasing and a range that hit the lower register of the tenor. They flirted with jazz-country in ballad mode, reminiscent of Bill Frisell's cross-genre explorations, and tied up the set with an upbeat township swing straight out of the Loose Tubes mould, good-humoured and infectious.

The Tom Taylor Quintet hit the ground with intent - the strong, complex interplay of the front-line brass of Kieran McLeod (slide trombone) and Joe Wright (tenor) was heftily supported by Taylor (electric piano), Tom West (double bass) and Jon Ormston, back again on drums.

Taylor's writing plays on harmonic tensions and thrives on his ability to scoop up a variety of moods to which the quintet responded without fear of risk-taking in their mix of improvisation and straight interpretation of the scores. McLeod fairly roared down the runway when asked and applied a sheet of paper as a mute to flatten the tones. Wright's hoary tone flipped over to the soft deliberation of the Charles Lloyd phrasebook with assertive composure. They pushed up from a restrained base on 'Ooti' - inspired by Taylor's visit to the Indian town of that name - with Ormston adding the layered percussive drive. Taylor's lightly intricate solo on 'Insect Bites' seemed to deconstruct phrasing close to Monk's, against which McLeod and Wright maintained a muted backdrop, while West added emphatic buoyancy and poise throughout.

These two engaging and engrossing sets yet again reinforced the credentials of 'Jazz at The Salisbury' as a showcase for some of the brightest home-grown talent around, and can only auger well for the British jazz scene in general. It's fast becoming a great, fortnightly Sunday evening institution for the bustling Harringay Green Lanes crowd.


Andy Button - guitar/composition
Andy Woolf - tenor sax
Dave Manington – bass
Jon Ormston - drums


Tom Taylor - piano
Joe Wright - tenor sax
Keiran McCleod - trombone
Tom West - bass
Jon Ormston - drums


CD Review: Zhenya Strigalev - Smiling Organizm

Zhenya Strigalev - Smiling Organizm
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4624. CD review by Chris Parker)

Having spent the five years since his graduation from London’s Royal Academy of Music commuting between the London and New York jazz scenes, altoist Zhenya Strigalev might have been expected to people his fifth album as leader with musically compatible souls, and his choices are indeed irreproachable. 

Strigalev has a penchant for both blazing post-bop acoustic jazz, and for imaginative funk, so lining up both upright bassist Larry Grenadier and electric bassist Tim Lefebvre was eminently sensible; pianist Liam Noble is an inexhaustibly inventive soloist in both modes, and drummer Eric Harland is as at home with the contemplative, relatively straightahead jazz of Charles Lloyd as he is with the multi-hued sound of Joshua Redman. 

With vibrant trumpeter Vitaly Golovnev proving to be a telling front-line foil for the dry-toned, sinuous flair of the leader, the band is perfectly equipped to deal with a varied, consistently lively (sometimes downright perky) set of Strigalev originals, plus a thorough deconstruction of the old Kenny Ball staple, (composed in 1955 as the song ‘Leningrad Nights’), ‘Midnight in Moscow’

Whirlwind Recordings seem to specialise in intense, passionate music that calls upon all the virtuosity and commitment of its participants, and Smiling Organizm fits right into the ‘house style’: the solo strengths of Strigalev, Golovnev and Noble (the last particularly impressive in the funky jam that is ‘Permandent’, but also adept at firing off characteristically succinct, pithy solos in more overtly jazz-based material) are what immediately impress in this fiery collection, but the propulsive strength of the bassists and the resourcefulness of Harland are the glue that binds the whole together.

An irresistibly lively but musicianly album from a stellar band.


Valamar Jazz Festival (20-24 June)

The Valamar Jazz Festival (June 20th- 24th) does, it has to be said, look very nice indeed. It's the third annual festival in the coastal town/ holiday resort of Poreč on the Istrian peninsula. The main location is the islet in the harbour of Sveti Nikola, looking back at the harbour-front. The organizers also use the atrium of the Euphrasian Basilica, parts of which are from the fifth century. Richard Galliano played there last year, and this year it will be Ralph Towner.

Artists confirmed for the main venue are: Enrico Rava, Joey Calderazzo, Cæcilie Norby, Hugh Masekela and Fred Wesley. Artistic director of the festival is the singer Tamara Obrovac who hails from down the coast in Pula, a town with a fabulous Roman amphitheatre. Lie back and think of Istria. Yes. It suddenly feels like summer's here!

Valamar Jazz Festival


Dave Okumu - a serious accident onstage in Lagos

Nigerian Entertainment Today is reporting that Dave Okumu suffered electrocution onstage at the M-U-S-O-N Centre in Lagos last Thursday 17th, at a concert organized by the British Council:

A subsequent statement from the British Council states: "‘David Okumu of British band, The Invisible is doing well, after he suffered an electric shock at our concert in Lagos yesterday. David suffered a sprain from the fall in the aftermath of the accident and was rushed to the hospital immediately’" The original story as reported sounds a lot more terrifying than that, and will rightly cause concern.

UPDATES 31st MAY. 1) The British Council has issued, and sent in a revised statement as follows:

On 17 May at an event in Lagos, Nigeria, Dave Okumu from the band The Invisible received an electric shock, suffering serious injury. After receiving medical attention in Nigeria, David returned to the UK where he remains in hospital undergoing treatment. The Invisible have had to cancel all forthcoming engagements.

Our primary concern is for David Okumu, and the band's well-being, and we wish him the best for a speedy recovery.

2)"I really thought I was going to die." GIGWISE have published an interview


Chrystina Tomlin's German debut

Rock/soul singer CHRYSTINA TOMLIN writes for LondonJazz about her debut performance in Germany, at the Gasteig "Lange Nacht der Musik”…and the welcome she received:

This was not just my first ever visit to Germany, but a very big gig. I had been approached to perform at the ‘Long Night of Music’ by a representative of Gasteig whilst performing locally in North London. This event has been run annually for the last 10 years, and attracts 12-15,000 people.

Gasteig is the cultural epicentre of Munich. It has just celebrated 25 years of being a unique platform for music, and art, it’s also the base for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. There's a music conservatoire, a higher education college, cinemas which host most of the events for the Munich Film Festival. It hosts 1,700 events per year; the facility covers a square mile.

The scale of the event is massive. That night there were 29 performances over 8 stages in Gasteig alone. And across Munich as a whole there were 400 concerts in 120 different locations, there were several live broadcasts, which gives you an idea why they made such a big deal about it.

Walking round the city in the daytime, with my friend who had come along for the trip, we could see the place already buzzing about the big annual event, which was hardly surprising given the amount of back breaking promotion that had been put in. There were many posters in the heart of the city and clusters of stalls selling tickets and flogging programmes. What a positive attitude Germany seemed to have towards upcoming artists. It was also surprising to see so many people in Lederhosen and Dirndl (traditional dress for men and women); they were very proud of it too. After a traditional Bavarian lunch and a couple of tankards of German beer - it’s got to be done - it was time for a vocal warm up, which always seems to be produce giggles from anyone in the same room as me!

My musical style is funky and soulful with a rocky edge, with influences that include Alanis Morissette and KT Tunstall. It was both daunting and exciting not knowing how this would be received, but it seemed there was no need to worry at all. I sat on the edge of the stage to write the set list and happened to look up and notice the foyer area was already filling quite nicely with a buzz of expectant faces sat down at the front; cross legged looking up at the stage as if it were a school assembly. Once my guitar and vocal levels had been checked I started to sing. Very soon the room was at full capacity with people flooding up the stairs to become part of what was to be a wonderful audience. 250 people clapped, cheered and even demanded an encore it was an absolute thrill and honour

Once the performance had ended I stumbled across Sharyhan Osman; a fabulous artist with a beautiful voice and a gripping presence on stage. She was accompanied by her very talented band, please check her out on Youtube.

Munich would be thoroughly recommendable to anyone looking to relax on a city break; it is a captivating city with a noticeably slower pace and quieter buzz where bicycles glide along the sandy stone paved alley ways amidst the beautiful architecture of the city – baroque churches, idyllic gardens....

As a musician I could not have been better looked after. So thank you Germany and thank you Gasteig for having me and for being such a charming audience for what I think was a very pivotal moment in my life, until the next time.


Chrystina's Youtube channel


Review: Judith Owen

Judith Owen
(The Pheasantry, 21st May. Review by Chris Parker

Judith Owen’s latest album, Some Kind of Comfort, is (accurately – see review on this site) described by her as ‘my most intimate and confessional recording to date’, chronicling, as it does so skilfully and affectingly, the sources and symptoms of depression.

A live performance by her, then, might reasonably be expected to have a slightly solemn, even sombre tone, but her feisty banter with a healthy-sized audience began as soon as she took the stage, and continued throughout her performance, so a range of emotions – sparked by the various songs from a pretty representative sample of her albums over the years – was explored during her absorbing 90-minute set.

She settled herself in with a rousing visit to the Police classic ‘Walking on the Moon’, her confident piano subtly buoyed by the matchless five-string electric bass of Laurence Cottle, and followed it up with a touching song dedicated to her husband Harry Shearer, for which she and Cottle were joined by the sonorous cello of Gabriella Swallow.

Only then did Owen launch herself into a couple of songs from the new album, ‘Trip and Tumble’ and ‘Hide Away’, interspersing subsequent selections with more quickfire responses to audience comments, plus occasional ruminations on her artistic vocation, perhaps best summed up by her wry admission that, asked casually how she’s doing, she cannot bring herself to lie, and consequently often startles her polite interlocutor by describing her mental state, a process she describes as ‘killing people slowly with the truth’.

The subjects of many of her songs conform neatly to this formula: of a score or so pieces in her set, a fair number dealt with (near-)death by drowning, Hurricane Katrina, and what might be termed the vicissitudes of love and affairs of the heart, all delivered in her clear, pure-toned voice over rolling piano and the most sympathetic of accompaniment from Cottle and Swallow, but she also lightened the mood somewhat with a rollicking visit to the Beatles’ ‘Lady Madonna’, and by inviting the silken-voiced Georgia Mancio to join her on stage towards the end of her set.

There is, none the less, a discernible edginess to Owen’s stage demeanour, reminding us of her lifelong struggle with depression, and of her admirably defiant assertion: ‘It’s because of music I’m still alive … it reaches parts other drugs/therapies cannot always reach.’

Her performances, though, are not simply introspective therapy; they reach out, as this one did, because, as she says: ‘I think we all think we’re the only ones not invited to the party of life. I’m just here to say, “There’s no party, we’re all scared and lost … some of us just fake it better.”’


New monthly gig at Retro Bistrot Teddington

Janet McCunn, who does a great deal to help publicize jazz gigs in South -West London, has started a monthly gig at the Retro Bistro in Teddington. Janet writes:

The monthly jazz events at Retro Bistrot in Teddington take place on the last Tuesday of every month, organised by pianist Terry Collie and myself. Last month was our first month there, and featured the Mood Indigo Jazz Quintet which we set up for the occasion with Terry on keyboard and myself on vocals along with Shura Greenberg on double bass, Karl Charity on trumpet and Jamie Trowell on drums. The evening was very well attended. We're planning a second night there with this band in August.

We invite a special guest each month. Tuesday 29th May will feature Amy Winehouse's guitarist Robin Banerjee with the Terry Collie Trio : Terry Collie on keyboard, Julian Bury on bass and Sam Nadel on drums. Retro Restaurant has won several awards. It's a perfect setting for dinner jazz.

Details of the Tuesday event at meetup.com   /    www.retrobistrot.co.uk


Book Review: Hannah Rothschild - The Baroness

Hannah Rothschild - The Baroness: The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild
(Virago, 319pp.; £20. Book Review by Chris Parker)

Those who have seen Hannah Rothschild’s documentary (The Jazz Baroness, recently shown on BBC Four, and available with extra material on DVD) on her great-aunt, Pannonica (Nica) de Koenigswarter (née Rothschild), will note the absence of ‘Jazz’ from the title of her book on the same subject.

The absence denotes a wider canvas: whereas Nica’s immersion in New York’s jazz scene from the 1950s onwards (and her relationship with Thelonious Monk in particular) was the focus of the film, this book, as its subtitle suggests, is a more wide-ranging study, and a touchingly personal one at that.

‘Rebellious’ Nica certainly was: born to a fabulously wealthy family (who desperately wanted a boy for dynastic reasons) and brought up by governesses in a closeted world of privilege and luxury, she married a Baron, had children by him and lived in a chateau in France before WW2 intervened and saw her serve with the Free French Army; in the late 1940s, however, she was exposed (by her brother Victor’s piano mentor, Teddy Wilson) to ‘ ’Round Midnight’ and never looked back, dedicating the rest of her life to jazz and the men and women (she was a close friend of Mary Lou Williams) who played it. ‘Search’ is also an important word in this subtitle: the ‘real’ Nica inevitably eludes the biographer, even a family-based one, remaining an enigma about whom Amiri Baraka can say: ‘She was a wealthy dilettante and a groupie. That is the kindest thing I could say …’ while Archie Shepp says: ‘She was a woman who was ahead of her time. She took a stand when it wasn’t popular to do so … she impressed my whole community with a sense of democracy’ and Curtis Fuller remembers: ‘She was our pride and she was our light; she gave us a light because she had status.’

The basic facts are known to all jazz aficionados: Nica befriended and helped large numbers of New York’s jazz community, from Art Blakey to Bud Powell, Horace Silver to Charles Mingus; she became a close friend of Monk, in particular, even taking a drug rap for him and providing him with somewhere to live in his later years; Charlie Parker died in her apartment. What is less clear is her psychological motivation for so thoroughly confounding social and familial expectations, but the book is perhaps most interesting when speculating on this very matter. Nica’s father’s depression and suicide, her horror at what she saw as the straitjacket of upper-class life, her family’s experience of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust: all are carefully examined by this fascinating and deeply personal study, and – like all successful biographies – The Baroness, with its wealth of intriguing detail about such disparate social milieux, merely whets the reader’s appetite for more, not only about Monk (fortunately, there is an exhaustive biography of him by Robin D. G. Kelley available: Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, JR Books) but also about the Rothschilds, the Free French Army, the post-bop jazz world etc.

A lucid, clear-eyed account of a charismatic, self-willed but ultimately elusive figure, this absorbing book should be enjoyed by anyone with even a passing interest in any of these subjects.

The Jazz Baroness Website


Take Five : Europe participants announced

The ten 2012 participants for Take Five: Europe have been announced.

Take Five: Europe is "an exclusive programme for innovative composers, instrumentalists, conductors and vocalists embarking on significant international careers. Participants will have the chance to take ‘time out’ from their work to expand their professional networks and gain greater awareness of musical opportunities across Europe." It is funded by the Culture Programme of the  European Union, and involves partners from the five participating European countries. The ten selected artists are:

Airelle Besson (France) trumpet/ flugelhorn /violin /composer/arranger/orchestrator

Arun Ghosh (UK) clarinettist/ composer /music educator

Chris Sharkey (UK) /educator /founding member of Leeds Improvised Music Association (LIMA).

Daniel Herskedal (Norway) tuba/composer

David Kweksilber(Netherlands)clarinet/ saxophone

Guillaume Perret (France) saxophone

Marcin Masecki (Poland) Piano/ composer

Marcos Baggiani (Netherlands, originally from Argentina) drums/ composer / producer

Per Zanussi (Norway) bass

Piotr Damasiewicz (Poland) composer/ trumpet/ and activist

Full biographies and details of the other nominees are on the Take Five Europe website


Stacey Kent and Tammy Weis at Sculpture by the Lakes July 6-8

This really is quite some setting. Sculpture by the Lakes in Dorset is hosting a jazz weekend from July 6th to July 8th:

Kate Hall of Sculpture by the Lakes writes

Sculpture by the Lakes in Dorset is the only single artist Sculpture Park in the UK and home to the international artist Simon Gudgeon and his wife Monique. His reputation as an artist is matched only by the shared passions of this couple for combining art forms to achieve an exclusive experience for visitors.

Between July 6th and 8th, Sculpture by the Lakes will serve up three glorious days of Summer Jazz. Visitors can enjoy the music and picnic in the Park with friends, promenade along the banks of the River Frome by candlelight and feast on the blend of monumental sculpture and a delicately manicured natural landscape.

FRIDAY 6th July STACEY KENT IN CONCERT 5pm -10.30pm.


SUNDAY 8thJuly    - JAZZ BRUNCH  Tony O'Malley, Jonny Hepbir and Jazz Cafe , Kaleidoscope Traditional Jazz Band  11am - 5pm

People can bring their own picnics or picnics provided by a local firm can be booked and ordered in advance.There are wonderful places to stay nearby  and the Olympic Sailing has the County buzzing this summer. Sculpture by the Lakes offers peace, tranquility and contemplation. And some really cool jazz. Let you eyes and ears tempt you. Let your curiosity draw you in.
Book tickets online at sculpturebythelakes.co.uk


Gabrielle Ducomble Interview - (previewing Pheasantry 29th May)

We interviewed Belgian-born singer and adoptive Londoner GABRIELLE DUCOMBLE ahead of her appearance at Pheasantry Kings Road on Tuesday May 29th:

LondonJazz: A LondonJazz reader told us you were the absolute star of the Porthcawl Festival last month. You're on at the Pheasantry on 29th May. Tell us about what's on the programme.

Gabrielle Ducomble: We will be playing a selection of songs from the album J'ai deux amours plus some recent arrangements of French favourite tunes, very much looking forward to that date as this is the only London Spring Tour date with the full band including accordion (Dan Teper), violin (Nathan Mansfield*) and guitar (Nic Meier).

LJ:You have lived in Belgium, Paris, London, so where is home?

GD :  Today London is home, I enjoy going back to Belgium to visit my family but after 4 or 5 days, I usually have itchy feet and am happy to get back to London. Incidentally, the Pheasantry is in a part of London with strong resonances for me...my first job in London when I arrived in 2006 was in a shop on King's Road. Chelsea always reminds me the beginning of a wonderful and unexpected adventure.

LJ : Going further back, when did you first get encouraged to sing?

GD: It was when I was quite little, when my mum was playing lullabies on the piano and hurt my ears with her out of tune singing, someone else in the family had to sing...don't get me wrong, she's a lovely pianist.

LJ : And you were in French Pop Idol, right?

GD : I was, but, looking back now, it didn't feel it to have been very much about music. On a normal day on the programme, we would spend one hour with the make up artist, one hour with the hairdresser, one hour with the clothes designer, then one hour with a journalist - who would write what the production would tell them anyway - so there would only be 20 minutes left to spend on the songs with the musicians. Also, having bodyguards around may sound exciting, it isn't so much when you are stuck in a hotel for 3 months and are not allowed to go alone in the streets of Paris without one of them.

LJ : But there must have been some good things from it too?

GD :  Yes. The tv, video clip recording and the M6 Music tour were very exciting experiences and I am lucky to have done it. And one of the songs stays with me: La Javanaise - a sweet tune by Gainsbourg – was on the Pop Idol album, and it is alos on the "J'ai deux amours" album. So it feels like "un clin d'oeil" back into my past and into the fun and excitement of the whole Pop Idol experience - and to the fact that it was what later directed me towards jazz music.

LJ: And the experience of studying jazz has helped you to broaden out, to have freedom to find your own style?

GD : After my year at the Guildhall, yes I started to do most of my own arrangements . For the french songs, some of the classics by Edith Piaf, I really wanted to rediscover them and place them in a new context, going to a totally different style - like ECM - but at some point in the tune going back to the traditional version. The lyrics of Padam Padam, for example, or the ones from Les Vieux Amants by Brel are so special, they are proper stories and melodies which have always been around, so to play them in such a different way is very enjoyable.

LJ:Which are the songs on the album which you have lived with longest?

GD: I suppose the Jacques Brel song- La chanson des vieux amants, I've always loved that song! I first got to know it sung by Maurane, a wonderful Belgian singer.

LJ : And the musicians you work with?

GD : For some tunes I work with Nicolas Meier, Alex Hutton or John Bailey who are amazing musicians, very inspiring working with them and also very good friends.

LJ: And when did you add an accordion into the band?

GD : Quite recently actually, the first time I performed with an accordionist, it was Dan Teper, I then realised he was the missing musician in the band, so really happy he's playing on the 29th may at the Pheasantry and hopefully he will join us on the next album.

LJ : You are drawn to Argentina / tango - what has caused that?

GD : I've always loved Piazzolla music and last year I started tango dance classes, and since then I'm listening to more of that beautiful and passionate music. I'm also a big fan of Richard Galliano, who is amazing on tango music but also on french songs - his album with Jan Lundgren and Paolo Fresu "Mare Nostrum" is for sure a favorite of mine.

LJ : Which directions are you taking now?

GD : More french, more tango and less swing ...

LJ: : Thanks for giving us the interview, and here's looking forward to the Pheasantry on the 29th of May

[*]The video above and the recording feature Christian Garrick on violin