Review: Bobby Watson at Kings Place

Bobby Watson at GMF Saarwellingen 2012.
Photo Credit: Melody McLaren. All Rights Reserved

Bobby Watson (Kings Place Hall One, 30th March 2013. Part of second Global Music Foundation Easter Jazz Weekend. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Pope Benedict XVI has done it. So has Queen Beatrix. Both this year. Queen Elizabeth II hasn't....yet. They've decided that the time has come to pass leadership down to a younger generation. Sooner or later, Sonny Rollins will perhaps decide that the mantle of "greatest living improviser" needs to be handed on. And, if and when he does, the question will surely arise (some will argue - with reason - that it is not worth asking in the first place) as to who the potential inheritors of the title might be. On the strength of Bobby Watson's stupendous Kings Place Hall One debut last night, he will be in there, and with a very strong claim indeed.

This was an outpouring of genius. Right from the start of his first number, Coltrane's Cousin Mary, the strength of the ideas which bubbled forth, the mesmerising flow of sound, the length of paragraphs in which he thinks, the intricacy of the lines, all was the work of a true master of this craft. It was a short set, and he also chose to reduce his workload by sharing the front-row limelight with fellow Jazz Messengers alumnus Jean Toussaint. And yet the impressions he left, both of the uniqueness of his voice, and of his total command of the idiom were indelible.

Watson was in London as part of the faculty at the Global Music Foundation's second annual Easter Workshop at Kings Place. The holder of an endowed lifetime professorial chair in his native Kansas city, Watson works extensively as an educator. His approach to teaching is to be consistently generous; last night he was cueing in the applause after almost every solo by another band member. He also likes to use his lifelong experience of the bandstand to give the context to learn,(as explained here on video, from about 6: 45).  This approach also informs the way he takes the lead on the bandstand. Even with a relatively unfamiliar band as last night, he wants to be on an exploratory journey, to shape the flow of the music, to take each evolving number and move it forwards in unpredictable directions.

One particularly fascinating sequence was a freely improvised transition from Watson's own composition Time Will Tell, (which he recorded as a 23-year old rookie Jazz Messenger after three weeks in the band) to a ballad-tempo These Foolish Things. The transition encompassed whole group free improv, circular-breathed gurgling a la Evan Parker, a flamboyant solo cadenza, and then a knowingly tame and tantalizing approach to the poised tempo of the new tune.

Bruce Barth, Chris Hill, Jean Toussaint, Bobby Watson, Stephen Keogh
Kings Place, 2013. Photo Credit/ Copyright: Roger Thomas 

In pianist Bruce Barth, Watson had the ideal foil. Barth is one of those pianists who makes the whole compass of the piano resonant and expressive. Even a simple figure like a repeated four-note vamp to introduce Duke Pearson's Jeannine had an expectant thrill about it. Barth, in the manner of John Taylor, has often set up a new mood and texture before you're even aware he's left the last one. He's also intensely, positively rhythmic. The complete player.

Bassist Chris Hill is a forceful, creative, deeply musical jazz player whose other commitments make his appearances in the jazz context in London understandably rare - and all the more welcome when they happen. Stephen Keogh is not just a fine drummer, but also the driving force behind the Global Music Foundation. He was responsible for planning the whole weekend of education and the concerts, and therefore, notably, presenting the audience with the evening's new discoveries and pleasant surprises.

A good piece of programming was to give the first set to Pete Churchill as singer/pianist.  It showed this aspect of Churchill's astonishing musicianship to a new audience, larger than is to be found in the normal club setting. A highlight was 'I'm Through With Love', sung with communicative eloquence and poignancy by Churchill, providing a fine opportunity for Canadian trumpeter Kevin Dean - another figure who is very little known here - to display his beguilingly light, clear tone and his clean improvised lines. Precise yet endlessly creative Italian drummer Francesco Petreni was showcased on Duke Ellington's Do Nothing Till you Hear From Me. And this fully professional context saw young bassist Flo Moore assert through her playing that timeless truth about music college which RCM professor Basil Tschaikov once told the young Rick Wakeman: "Some people have already finished the course before they've even started."

The concert segued into a jam session in Hall Two, kicking off by bringing something of a Prague spring to chilly London. Vocalist Zeuritia kicked off with Jobim's Chega de saudade (No More Blues) in fabulously idiomatic Brazilian Portuguese – who'd have guessed she wasn't Brazilian? - with fine solos from Barry Green on piano, and from her fellow Czech, top-flight guitarist Libor Smoldas. 

In one evening, then, the Global Music Foundation weekend brought Pete Churchill's singing to a wider audience, shown a London audience some fine artists almost completely unknown to audiences here – Dean, Smoldas, Petreni – and sat a privileged audience down to witness one of the very greats, Bobby Watson.

ead John Fordham also reviewed it for the Guardian


Love Supreme Festival focus on UK singer-songwriters

Andreya Triana, Zara McFarlane, Gwyneth Herbert and Lucinda Belle
Four British rising star singer-songwriters, all from London (to be precise Wimbledon, Dagenham and Balham) or Brighton are set to make their mark at the Love Supreme Festival in Sussex July 5-7.

Here they are at a photo-shoot in London yesterday (links to their websites):

Andreya Triana, Zara McFarlane, Gwyneth Herbert and Lucinda Belle.


Review: Closing Night of 2013 Guildhall School Jazz Festival

Ian Shaw, Dermott McNeill, Miguel Gorodi, Simon Whiting (front),
Guildhall Jazz Singers (back row)

Ian Shaw with the Guildhall Jazz Singers and Ensemble
(Guildhall School of Music, 28th March 2013. Final Night of 2013 Guildhall School Jazz Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney.)

Speakers before this final concert of the 'Guildhall School Jazz Festival & Improvisation Fringe 2013' alluded to the range and breadth of styles of jazz which this sixth annual festival had encompassed during its six days, a theme also developed in Martin Hathaway's preview written for us. The buzz which I picked up during conversations about the festival prior to this closing night had concerned some very contrasting events: it was about Iain Ballamy's work with the students, and also about the nonet compositions of Tom Challenger, and the inspiration of Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts.

This final night focused on something of a Guildhall speciality, the vocal ensemble, where pianist/ arranger Malcolm Edmonstone has continued and developed the popular work of his own one-time teacher Pete Churchill, tonight with special guest Ian Shaw. Nobody even bothered to mention the word premiere, but it looked like possibly as much as half of the programme (I'm guessing?) consisted of newly-minted arrangements.

The most powerful sense I had throughout the evening was of the strength and infectiousness and verve of the pulse of the music, that beat in the room. It's something you have to feel rather than to  analyze. Directly and by inference, all your senses are telling you it's there. Ian Shaw was thriving on it, manifestly enjoying it. You could see it in the enthusiastic, fearless eyes of all twelve vocalists pinned on their music director, knowing to watch for cues, but also in rapt concentration.  That special connection between Edmonstone and the students is a real phenomenon.

But that beat - I know, I go on a bit..... In a breakneck tempo tune like Lane/Loesser's The Lady's in Love with You, you could almost touch it through the powerful second-beat rimshots of Simon Whiting, one of the two great drummers.  In Donald Fagen's Ruby Baby, the keenly flared nostrils of fine bassist Dermot McNeill who had just switched to electric bass were telling you could also breathe it in. It's what's connecting the players in their common endeavour. Watching the tapping feet and swaying torsos in the audience, it was clearly enlivening them too.  The whole room was just living that pulse.

There were also slower numbers in a thoroughly engaging single set. Joni Mitchell's A Case of You had a deliciously slow pulse, and moved naturally to all the singers paring the volume progressively down to an inspiring, pin-drop quiet ending. The long phrases My Foolish Heart from Shaw had wonderful shape and elegance.

And there was humour too. Ian Shaw's new, as yet title-less (?) Sondheim-inspired song about the abbreviations stored on a teenager's mobile phone is hilarious, and the Julian Clary-inspired She's Loaded has more double-entendres than any listener could possibly pick up in one hearing, and was constantly goaded and prodded by superbly conceived and delivered sassy, back-atcha choral responses in a brilliant arrangement.    

The two Donald Fagen numbers were highlights:  Ruby Baby just stays in the mind (try the original on Youtube) , and I'm Not the Same Without You was a beautiful closer to a very fine evening indeed.

At some time between now and the start of Guildhall's seventh festival next March, the secret of how good it is needs to get out.


NEWS: Royal Acad. of Music Visiting Prof. of Jazz : John Hollenbeck

Following on from Django Bates, the Royal Academy's Visiting Professor of Jazz for 2013/14 is drummer/ composer John Hollenbeck (above with Claudia Quintet on board MS Stubnitz/ cuts off abruptly). Hollenbeck (b.1968) is professor and head of department at the Jazz Institut Berlin. Recent projects include working with Meredith Monk on the music theatre work On Behalf of Nature, premiered in Los Angeles

Quoting today's press release: "John Hollenbeck’s first project with the Academy will include a performance at the final weekend of this year's London Jazz Festival (23rd/24th November 2013)"

Nick Smart also confirmed to us that the new International Jazz Artist in Residence, to follow on from Dave Douglas is booked, and that the appointment will be announced soon.


More Artists Announced for July 5-7 Love Supreme Festival

Esperanza Spalding. Photo credit: Roger Thomas
More headliners are announced for the Love Supreme Festival at Glynde in East Sussex (July 5-7)

Melody Gardot

Esperanza Spalding

Brand New Heavies

The Soul Rebels

They join an already announced line-up of: Bryan Ferry And The Bryan Ferry Orchestra, Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, Chic featuring Nile Rodgers, Michael Kiwanuka, Courtney Pine, Gregory Porter, Marcus Miller, Branford Marsalis Quartet, Soweto Kinch, Neil Cowley Trio and Naturally 7. Plus DJ sets from White Mink, Peppermint Candy and Funky Sensation.

Love Supreme Festival website


Eddie Harvey Celebration at Drayton Court Hotel

Henry Lowther, Mike Hogh, Willie Garnett, Jimmy Hastings

The genial, generous, good-humoured spirit of the late Eddie Harvey hovered over a packed gig in  his honour at the Drayton Court Hotel in Ealing. The first set featured the London College of Music Big Band directed by Peter Cook, featured on Harvey's last chart, How Deep is the Ocean. Harvey worked at the college, part of the University of West London, from 1985 to 2010 (Their tribute) Pick of the soloists was fine Trinity-bound guitarist Giorgos Paphitis, featured on Harvey's Stelios. Later in the evening, a small group (above) featured refined drummer Marc Parnell and pianist Jack Honeybourne, who vividly remembered his first meeting with Harvey: in Karachi in 1947. After I left, the Sound of 17 Big Band were due to play Harvey's Ealing Suite, originally an Ealing Jazz Festival commission. An evening to reflect on memories of a man who embodied the virtues of British jazz. (Peter Vacher's Guardian obituary)   


NEWS: Made in the UK Line-Up Announcement/ John Nugent Interview

Christ Church, Rochester NY

The list of British artists appearing in the sixth Made in the UK showcase at the 2013 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (XRIJF) is announced today. We also spoke to Rochester Festival Director JOHN NUGENT ahead of the announcement. The artists are:

- Cleveland Watkiss

- YolanDa Brown

- Christine Tobin

- Michael Mwenso

- Julian Arguelles

- Soweto Kinch

- Zoe Rahman

- Scottish National Jazz Orchestra

- Phronesis

- Gwilym Simcock (solo piano concert)

There are eighteen shows across the nine nights of the XRIJF festival at the Christ Church venue. which has a 650- 700 capacity, plus two extra shows in other venues: SNJO and Courtney Pine

We interviewed the Rochester Festival's Producer and Artistic Director John Nugent ahead of today's announcement. A Canadian by birth who turns 50 this May, he describes himself as having been - and being - "a musician first." A saxophonist, he joined the Woody Herman band as a 25 year-old, where he also started securing bookings for the band, a step on the way to becoming a festival director. Prior to running Rochester, he ran the festival in Stockholm for nine years.

XRIJF attracts 200,000 visitors. It takes place across nineteen venues and presents more than 280 sets of music during its nine days. "It is among the most sponsored festivals in the US. It's in the top 4 or 5 festivals, not just jazz festivals, music festivals" says Nugent. Three of the festival's venues are in the Eastman School of Music, a significant musical presence in the city.

The concerts are ticketed but the festival also sells 4500 'passes' giving unlimited access, so that festival goers can put into practice an important principle of the festival. "Our policy is "not who you know but who you don't know," says Nugent. "We sell out the passes quickly. They've all gone."

Nugent is a big fan of UK jazz. He remembers visiting Ronnie Scott's as a member of the Herman band. He was therefore particularly proud to present Stan Tracey in a previous showcase. Other memorable gigs? "Too many," he answered, but appearances by Norma Winstone, Tim Garland, John Taylor and Liane Carroll certainly stand out, and this year both Tommy Smith (appearing with SNJO) and Soweto Kinch have been re-invited.

John Ellson of ESIP, who produces Made in the UK, and secures bookings around the Rochester Festival in the US, Canada and the Caribbean for the artists involved, says he has so far confirmed virtually fifty gigs in total, giving UK artists exposure across the North American continent. The list of these as it evolves will be posted shortly HERE.

- The Made in the UK 2013 Concerts are supported by the British Council and Creative Scotland, plus other partners still to be confirmed. 

Made in the UK concerts


Preview: Abram Wilson One Year On Memorial Gig in Oxford

Matthew Wright writes about a 'one year on' memorial gig for Abram Wilson in Oxford.

Ten months after trumpeter Abram Wilson’s tragically early death, his rhythm section - Reuben James, Alex Davis and Dave Hamblett - will perform again at a memorial gig on 5th April. The performance is one of the first times they have appeared together since then, and marks a year since Wilson’s quartet appeared at the 2012 Oxford Jazz Festival - the festival is taking a break this year. The gig will raise funds for the Abram Wilson Foundation, and is also the prelude to a November tour.

We spoke to Jennie Cashman Wilson who has set up the foundation in Abram's honour. "One of the aims of the foundation, she told us, is to focus on emerging talent, and an obvious place to start is with Abram's rhythm section who will be touring in November with Jean Toussaint and Keith Loftis. I was delighted to receive the invitation from Max Mason to present the foundation and to showcase the trio, and we're delighted to be in Oxford, a year after the quartet's Oxford Jazz Festival appearance."

The £10 entrance includes a £5 ticket for a prize draw. All funds collected from the raffle tickets will go directly to the Abram Wilson Foundation. The winner will receive a photograph of Wilson performing at last year’s Oxford Jazz Festival (above, taken by music photographer, Edu Hawkins - brother, incidentally, of risen star pianist Alexander).

The event takes place in Max Mason's The Big Bang Restaurant, 42 Oxford Castle Quarter, Oxford, OX1 1AY, on Friday 5 April, doors 7pm.


News: Routes South West – Calling all Artists and Producers

Routes South West is a consortium of more than 25 venues and promoters that reaches from Tewkesbury to Truro. Following the success of their 2012 pilot scheme with Arts Council England, they are now inviting artists, producers and promoters to apply for funding of up to £5000 to go towards touring high quality music in the South West of England.

For more information click HERE. The application deadline is Friday 26th April


Ray Gelato reports from Kai Hoffman's album launch at Ronnie Scott's

Kai Hoffman at the Do It While You Can CD Launch
Photo credit: Chris Huning

Bandleader RAY GELATO reports from the lauch of Kai Hoffman's CD 'Do It While You Can', held at Ronnie Scott's bar on March 20th. Ray writes: 

From beat one, the intimate upstairs bar at Ronnie’s had a terrific atmosphere. DJ ‘Kool Kitten’ , Petra Shallert was playing some really nice Rockin’ sounds from the late 40’s early 50’s. That really helped everybody get into the mood of what was about to come. It’s important at an event like this to set the mood right, as so many CD launch parties seem to fall flat and lack any kind of vibe. I know, I’ve done a few myself where the atmosphere was totally cold! This makes it hard for the listener and also, tough for the artist, as one can feel very exposed and maybe try too hard to impress.

Happily, Kai Hoffman had given this a lot of thought, and on this evening, even before the band played a note, the place was buzzing! After a nice introduction by Walter Love from BBC Jazz Club, Kai and the band came onto the stage and immediately, her warm personality was apparent. Starting off with ‘Some Boys’, Kai had full attention and command of the room. The rhythm section of Gunther Kurmayr, piano, Sebastiaan De Krom, drums and Geoff Gascoyne, bass, provided the rock solid and swinging support that a high-energy performer like Kai thrives on!

What I found very encouraging was the fact that there were many young people in the audience digging jazz. I believe that’s what the music needs and also lacks at this time. What’s more, the crowd was pretty diverse, ranging from Swing dancers, tattooed , Burlesque type girls and just general music fans. Kai seems to realize this too and presents her show and her songs with this very much in mind.

Next up came the pretty tune ‘Pure Imagination’ where Kai was joined on the French horn by one of the West End’s finest horn players, Richard Bayliss. The testimony to how good Kai is was the fact that there were other singers there checking her out. I chatted with Nina Ferro, a very fine singer, and we both agreed that Miss Hoffman has much individuality in her approach. She did a lovely job on Pure Imagination using the richness of her voice to great effect, and also displaying fine pitch and great phrasing. I detected a touch of Sarah Vaughn in Kai’s timbre, but there are also many other vocal influences in her singing too, a little June Christy maybe? Nevertheless, she has her own sound and is far away from the copying stage. I like too the way she brings the R&B influence to her singing. By this I mean real R&B as I can also hear Kai has listened to artists such as Ruth Brown and Dinah Washington .

A lot of the material on the new CD I had not heard before, so it was nice also to then be treated to fresh workings of Sweet Georgia Brown and What a Little Moonlight Can Do. These classics featured the strong, melodic piano of Gunther Kurmayr who played impressive solos. Kai showed on these songs her versatility and ability to scat convincingly. This was all kept bubbling and swinging by the big sounding bass of Geoff Gascoyne and the marvelous Seb De Krom to whom driving a band is second nature.

People by this stage were up dancing and were having a great time! Which after all, is what music should be about. Kai has a great ability to sell whatever song she is singing, and put it across with bags of personality. Her time leading the Jump combo, Kai’s Kats has served her well. But this particular night, we were being treated to a different side of Kai Hoffman, a jazzy, smoky side!

One of the last numbers played was the title track of the CD, ‘Do it while You Can’ ( an original composition by Kai and Simon Whiteside) . ( Mr Whiteside also plays piano and writes arrangements for Kai’s Kat’s). For this song the band were joined by Sam Bullard, alto sax, and Simon Finch, trumpet , filling out the sound nicely. I also noticed that most of the songs performed that evening were not familiar territory, which was so refreshing! The material was well thought out and not at all clichéd. One example being the hip Blossom Dearie tune, ‘Long Daddy Green’ which Kai sang in an intimate style.

All in all the launch of ‘ Do it while you Can’ was a memorable evening and I hope that the CD will put Kai on the map as one of the finest vocalists and performers around on the scene today.


Read More... Media Network

This is a post aimed at other writers and bloggers. The Jazz Journalists Association has a new initiative JazzApril and has a media network, in support of jazz appreciation month (April) and International Jazz Day (April 30th).

What's it about? "JazzApril Media Network is an informal alliance of publications (online and off, including blogs) and broadcasters (and webcasters) who have agreed to help spread the word that "April is Jazz Appreciation Month" (and April 30 is International Jazz Day). Together, we can amplify the message that jazz is alive and thriving in our communities."

It is very easy to join. We've just have, because we think IT'S WORTH IT.


Review: Hidden Voices : Emergence of the American Sound at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

BBC Concert Orchestra and Nu Civilisation Orchestra, QEH, 24th Mar 2013
Photo Credit: Janine Irons
Hidden Voices : Emergence of the American Sound
BBC Concert Orchestra, conductor Keith Lockhart/ Nu Civilisation Orchestra
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 24th 2013. Part of America Weekend. Review by Quentin Bryar)

This concert in the year-long South Bank's The Rest Is Noise festival, based on Alex Ross's book of the same name got better and better, especially once the Nu Civilisation Orchestra and Duke Ellington got involved.

The Rest Is Noise aims to reveal the 20th century influences "on art in general and classical music in particular", so in the first half we had William Grant Still's first symphony -- a totally convincing and worthwhile piece from 1930, with a first movement based unashamedly on a 12-bar, and some lovely string writing in the other movements.This was very high quality music, and way better than the opening piece, The Dance In Place Congo, by the white composer Henry F. Gilbert, which, aside from a touch of syncopation and some dominant seventh harmonies, was about as far from Congo Square as you could get.

The second half was a different matter, with a buzz about the hall as Gary Crosby's Nu Civilisation Orchestra formed up. With the world-class rhythm section of Ben Burrell, Crosby and the superb Rod Youngs on drums, Musical Director Peter Edwards led the band through a medley of Ellington classics: The Mooche, Harlem Air Shaft, Mood Indigo, Black and Tan Fantasy and Juan Tizol's Caravan. These were subtly adapted from various versions of the originals and the result was pure jazz.

The band remained in situ for Duke Ellington/Luther Henderson's Harlem , and boosted the BBC Concert Orchestra in an excellent performance of what is now an established concert classic and a guaranteed crowd pleaser. It's a serious piece of music, of course -- easily the most substantial of the evening -- and the BBC Orchestra, particularly the clarinet and trombone soloists, were superb.

Much earlier, those who went to the pre-concert talk by Dr Catherine Tackley got a special treat. Her triple-A band comprised Nathanial Facey on alto, the singer Cherise Adams-Burnett, and Charlie Stacey on piano (previously featured on LondonJazz in THIS REVIEW) , who was particularly amazing on In A Mellow Tone.


UNESCO International Jazz Day. A special celebration in Brixton

Since we published a grumpy post about the second International Jazz Day from a few weeks ago, things have moved on...

Internationally, Istanbul is Global Host City. There is a lot going on with the Thelonious Monk Institute, and  Lois Gilbert's Jazzcorner site making the running. In the UK, the site currently lists FOUR events celebrating International Jazz Day. (A fifth, taking place in Hamilton Bermuda, has also crept into the listings. Whatever.) There are events at the Royal Concert Halls in Glasgow, at the Pizza Express and the Map Cafe in London...

But the key unmissable gig in London has to be the one at the SGI UK London National Centre in Brixton (1 Bernays Grove, SW9 8DF). Hats off, in the air, kudos, respect to trumpeter Sean Corby and Neville Murray. Sean is one of the team at Jazz in the Round and also one of the guiding forces behind the re-birth of NYJO;- he has put together a celebration! The first set will be small groups including Liane Carroll with Simon Purcell and Julian Siegel, building up to an explosive big band finale, with one HELL of a band (!) including special guest from the US, pianist Marc Cary. All artists are donating their services:

The Line Up is:

Lianne Carroll - Voice
Randolph Matthews - Voice
Fayyon Cottrell - Host

Noel Langley - Trumpet
Yazz Ahmed - Trumpet
Jon Eacott - Trumpet
Sean Corby - Trumpet

Dai Pritchard - Saxophones
Jemma Moore - Saxophones
Julian Siegel - Saxophones
Martin Speake - Saxophones
Renato D'Aiello - Saxophones
Christian Brewer - Saxophones
Tony Kofi - Saxophones
Jason Yarde - Saxophones

Richard Edwards* - Arr and Trombone
Eddie Rieband - Trombone
Harry Brown - Trombone
Nathaniel Cross - Trombone

Neil Charles - Bass
Simon Purcell - Piano
Marc Cary (guest from US)- Piano
Cosimo Keita - Drums
Rod Youngs tbc - Drums
Tim Cansfield* - Guitar
Carl Orr* - Guitar

Graham Evelyn - Percussion
Neville Murray - Percussion

Doors open 7pm. Concert 7.30pm- 9 15pm. All proceeds after costs will be donated to UNICEF. THERE ARE NOW VERY FEW TICKETS LEFT. Tickets £10 from Because of the very limited seating capacity, tickets will be made available to SGI members and their friends as a priority.


RIP Derek Watkins (1945-2013)

Sad to report that the universally respected and liked trumpet player Derek Watkins died last night, Friday March 22nd. He played lead trumpet on every Bond movie, and was omnipresent in the UK's top big bands. His death comes after a battle against the rare disease sarcoma; in the last year he had tried to draw attention to the condition. Donations to Sarcoma UK - See our PREVIUOUS STORY. In sadness.


News: Gearbox Records to Release All Star Poetry Jam for Record Store Day (20th April)

On Saturday 20th April, Gearbox Records (a jazz and blues label specialising in vinyl) are releasing a three album series of LPs for Record Store Day on the 20th April 2013.

Blues For The Hitchhiking Dead (GB1518) is a recording that captures a unique concert on 12th March 1962 at the SCR Students' building on the Southampton University Campus and features The Live New Departures Jazz Poetry Septet consisting of poets Pete Brown and Michael Horovitz and musicians Stan Tracey, Jeff Clyne, Laurie Morgan, John Mumford and Bobby Wellins.

The concert featured jazz, poetry, collaborations and Brown and Horovitz's Blues for the Hitchhiking Dead, their largest work for the septet.

1962 was the height of the CND ban the bomb movements and, of the recording, Pete Brown says, “Listening to the Blues again, the first thing that hits me is the fear. This was the most dangerous known period in history for a potential nuclear war, and we really felt it. The next thing is a strange mixture of innocence and wisdom. Being very young, we had the innocence, but where we got the wisdom from beats me...

A lot of the writing techniques are driven by jazz and our love of it, and certainly during the shorter "chase" choruses there is improvisation even between Mike and myself ...we really were listening to each other...The musical atmospheres created surround the words and complement the emotions."

Fast-forward half a century to Ballade Of The Nocturnal Commune/Extra Time Meltdown (GB1519), and Bankbusted Nuclear Detergent Blues (GB1520) and Horovitz has shown no signs of slowing down, on both of these recordings he is accompanied by Damon Albarn, Graham Coxon, and Paul Weller in albums that were recorded and mixed in Albarn's Studio 13.

“It was my absolute pleasure to work in these recordings with Michael. Damon and Graham. I am a big fan of all three of these artists and just to be so free with all the music and ideas was a real buzz.” Says Paul Weller, “A lot of fun and no egos in the way. Fabulous. The end results are amongst some of the best things I've ever worked on".  


Preview: Busnoys at the Forge, 21st April

Left to Rigtht: Jeff Spencer, Martin Pyne, Trevor Davies
Photo Credit: Sheryl Tait

Martin Pyne writes about an upcoming gig with his band Busnoys on the 21st April at the Forge Camden with collaborations from visual artist Maria Hayes, composer Paul Robinson and violinist Adam Robinson.

On April 21st I’m presenting a concert at The Forge in Camden featuring my trio Busnoys in collaboration with visual artist Maria Hayes, alongside new compositions for live performers and video by composer and long time colleague Paul Robinson.

Busnoys consists of myself playing vibraphone and electronics, alongside two of Bristol’s finest musicians bass guitarist Jeff Spencer and drummer Trevor Davies. Despite living just outside London, the work that has mattered most to me has for a number of years involved collaborations with players from the Bristol scene, so this gig feels like an important visit to the capital for us. We’ll be playing music from our two albums, released on my own TallGuyRecords label, as well as some brand new material. You can expect some evocative sounds, more often than not telling some kind of story, and plenty of free wheeling improvisation. Maria Hayes will be creating digital images in real time in response to the music as it unfolds.

Composer Paul Robinson is one of the most talented and open minded musicians I know. His music has been performed by The Hilliard Ensemble, Northern Sinfonia, Scottish Ballet, and Juice among others. I’ve been fortunate enough to play in his group Harmonie Band for many years playing his scores to silent films. For this concert he’s presenting two new works for solo performer and video. “Ornithologies” features ex Loose Tubes man Dai Pritchard on bass clarinet, and viola player Adam Robinson, director of the acclaimed Threads Orchestra will perform “Magnetic North”.

So is it jazz? Well Busnoys are certainly a jazz trio, though the music draws heavily on electronic, Americana, and the avant-garde. Paul is a classical composer, but again draws all sorts of influences into his work. We don’t mind what you call it really – we just hope it’ll be an audio visual delight for all who come!


CD Review: Chris Biscoe Profiles Quartet - Live at Campus West

Chris Biscoe Profiles Quartet - Live at Campus West
(Trio Records TR591. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Some of the most exciting contemporary live jazz – Alex Bonney’s Albert Ayler-inspired gigs, Dog Soup’s viscerally exciting take on electric-period Miles Davis, Liam Noble's Brubeck interpretations spring immediately to mind – involves musicians revisiting the music of figures who have inspired them, and this Chris Biscoe Profiles Quartet performance, which centres on music composed by or associated with Eric Dolphy, is right up there with the best.

There is something uniquely exhilarating in Dolphy’s overall sound and approach, his music seeming to stream out of his bands in a joyful, intoxicating rush, and Biscoe’s quartet – completed by alto player Tony Kofi, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Stu Butterfield – perfectly emulates the great master in this respect, the front-line horns meshing in a wild, exuberant wail that immediately brings the great man’s music to mind.

Biscoe must be one of the most underrated figures in UK jazz, his unassuming, learned demeanour belying a soloist of passionate (and unfailingly inventive) intensity, whether he’s playing alto or alto clarinet; Kofi, as he proved so memorably in his Monk-inspired album, All is Know (and there is an impressive performance of Monk’s ‘Epistrophy’ here), is a past master at applying his pleasingly astringent tone and urgent improvisational fecundity to classic bop and post-bop jazz, so their combined force is considerable, and in Bartley (one of the steadiest yet most subtly propulsive bassists currently operating in this country) and Butterfield (all buoyancy and spring) they have the perfect rhythmic foils.

There is some duplication of material (‘Les’, ‘Out to Lunch’, ‘Potsa Lotsa’) from the quartet’s 2008 studio album, Gone in the Air (Trio TR578), but the eight-minute visit to the Mingus classic ‘Fables of Faubus’ is worth the price of admission alone, and this hour-long Herts Jazz concert, recorded in 2011 at Welwyn Garden City, documents a first-rate performance from a polished but wonderfully vibrant band.


Review: Andrew McCormack Trio at Pizza Express Dean St

Photo Credit: Dylan Bate

Review: Andrew McCormack Trio
(Pizza Express, Monday 18 March. Review by Matthew Wright)

Without much fanfare, Andrew McCormack has built a diverse and versatile career which now deserves to be taken very seriously. Though only in his mid thirties, he already had three albums (and the BBC Jazz ‘Rising Star’ Award in 2006) to his name when his fourth, Live in London, was launched in December, to excellent reviews.

With Live in London - recorded, as the name suggests, live at the 606 last August - McCormack now has two different piano trios on record, as well as two duo discs with saxophonist Jason Yarde - as well as some very distinguished collaborations, composition (he studied with Mark-Anthony Turnage), and film scoring. He must now have some musically enviable career choices.

This gig reprised much of the new album, with one significant change of personnel. McCormack’s trio on the album comprised Chris Hill on bass and Troy Miller on drums. On Monday, Miller was absent, and in his place American virtuoso Colin Stranahan, who - not yet thirty - already has more than fifteen years’ performing experience, since his first gigs as an eleven year-old in his home city of Denver.

Miller put in a great shift on the album, playing with wit and sensitivity throughout, though - compared to the same tracks performed with Stranahan - he seemed to give the piano greater space to lead.

Stranahan gave a wonderful show, illuminating the themes and character of each track brilliantly, whether with a monstering energy (‘Two Cities’) or by exploring delicate sound-worlds (‘Antibes’). He experimented restlessly, placing strings of what McCormack described as his ‘ethnic bells’ on the hi-hat to create a delicate shimmering sound, or using his musical score as a kind of baffle on the drum skin.

There’s a delicious contrast between his appearance of almost shamanic absorption in the performance, and the impish humour of his drumming. Now based in New York, and not seemingly in London very often, he’s well worth a detour to watch.

McCormack mostly played tracks from the new album, beginning with two Monk standards, followed by three tracks from the new album. Reviewers have already noted his erudite range of influences; it’s worth emphasising what an enjoyable evening’s listening it makes altogether.

As an experimental virtuoso, McCormack was Stranahan’s equal, occasionally reaching into the piano’s innards to pluck its strings or hold down its dampers. His technical ability was demonstrated prodigiously, billows of harmony gusting across the stage during some intensely skilful playing. If anything, in this reviewer’s worthless opinion, a couple of the tracks would have benefited from moments of simpler lyricism. Occasionally I yearned for a touch of Horace Silver.

Set between two such dominant performers, Hill’s bass was necessarily, at times, overshadowed as he (sensitively and dextrously) filled in the harmonies, but he also had his moments to shine. During ‘Smoke Gets in your Eyes’, he soloed with muscular, resonant lyricism. When he has the stage, he fills it. The ensemble was superb throughout. These musicians know each other’s playing so well, they dance in and out of one another’s musical lines with the power and accuracy of ballerinas.

As band leader and MC, McCormack operated with a rather English reserve, not unlike, it seemed to me, a Colin Firth character: Mr Darcy, or King George VI. (There’s a slight physical resemblance too.) Until he started playing, only McCormack’s blood-red shoes let on that behind the self-effacing persona was a wellspring of passion, skill and originality. He has developed a fascinating, subtle and multi-faceted jazz voice, and - what’s more - gave a performance to savour.


CD Review: In The Country - Sunset Sunrise

CD Review: In the Country: ‘Sunset Sunrise’
(ACT 9548-2. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

'If the wolf is at your door, it's you who has to decide whether to shoot it or not!' So pianist Morten Qvenild explains the self-reliant temperament of Norwegian musicians- pioneering, yet part of a tradition. The photos on their new CD show the piano trio in sharp suits, surrounded by deer and mountains rather than wolves, as if they've been beamed in from another time. Their music can be pastoral, but it's an electronically-enhanced countryside, a virtual landscape of great beauty.

The title track Sunset Sunrise reflects this natural/digital duality. It refers to LA's Sunset Sound studio where it was recorded, but it also enacts the day's end and reawakening. It begins slowly (think Grieg's Death of Åse reharmonised by Berg- two of Qvenild's cited influences) There's a syncopated piano phrase, a tidal wave of cymbals, (Pål Hausken), a piano solo with hints of Esbjörn Svensson in its spaciousness, interacting with the lush drum textures. Qvenild has a stylistic quirk of playing two adjacent notes at almost the same time, like grace notes, as if stroking the keys, which unleashes emotive power every time. There's a dawn chorus of electronica as the sun rises, and a free section with crackles like solar flares. Euphoric rising rock chords emerge, Bad Plus-like. (Qvenild also plays in a Metal band.)

The Fluke, a Whale's Tail has mimetic qualities too. Qvenild writes all the music and the melodies are strong; this recalls a soulful e.s.t. ballad. The percussion (Pål Hausken) builds urgently in layers, with hoarse whispers, bird (whale?) cries, clinks, ending in hymn cadences. In Silverspring the overtones of the Classical opening chords blend uncannily with the cymbals, and digital drum beats lurk like distant thunder. Bells fall like raindrops into synthesised bowed bass (Roger Arntzen). Birch Song begins delicately and spaciously with a slow backbeat, a Tord Gustavsen vibe. It's almost a minuet as the bass harmonises with the piano. Qvenild has also noted the use of birches for punishment, and a more menacing side develops- what sounds like fingers scraping strings with extreme reverb, brushes like distant chattering. December Song is reminiscent of John Taylor's compositions, a modal dissonance concentrating the folk simplicity.

Derrick has a strong groove, a triphop tribute to the Legrand-esque theme of a German TV cop show. The crunchy backbeat and insistent chords echo Steve Reich's reworkings of Radiohead. Steelpants has punk-jazz-rock beats with Minimoog and laughing theremin sounds playing the tune, over exquisite high insistent piano chords. The symphonic sounds are a reminder that Qvenild is the 'orchestra' in the duo Susanna and the Magic Orchestra. Stanley Park is perhaps the most beautiful piece. There’s a strong Jarrett influence (shades of his tune 'Country'), with an atmospheric electronic wash, gorgeous minor 9 chords and a captivating bass solo. You're transported to another world by the trio’s musical vision, refined over their 10 years together.

In Qvenild's words: 'We just did our own thing- some of it was Nordic, some wasn't. It's just about making good music out of what you are. And that's what we try to do with In The Country.’


Congratulations: John Crawford

Good luck and congratulations John Crawford who has recently been nominated for Best Jazz Album (for his Ulía River of Time release) in the Independent Music awards (who boast distinguished artists like Mcoy Tyner on the Judges Panel). This is the 12th Independent Music Awards and they are produced by the Music Resource Group from Clifton New Jersey.

In a review of Ulía River of Time for LondonJazzNews, Kai Hoffman said, “Ulía River of Time is the next best thing to flying off on a round-the-world tour, a journey I look forward to making many more times”, And Alison Bentley recently enjoyed his playing with Irene Serra at Pizza Express Dean St.

Best of luck to John Crawford


News: Hidden Voices at the Southbank Centre - 24th March 2013

On 24th March at 7:30pm at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Nu Civilization Orchestra and the BBC Concert Orchestra are playing a programme which focuses on the black emancipation movement of the early 20th Century in the USA.

The BBC Concert Orchestra (conducted by Keith Lockhart) will play William Grant Still's Symphony No.1 - “Afro-American (which was the first symphony by a black American to be played by a major American Orchestra) and Henry Gilbert's The Dance Place in Congo.

The Nu Civilization Orchestra (conducted by Peter Edwards) will play a medley of Duke Ellington pieces Harlem Air shaft, and Caravan and the night will culminate in a collaboration between both orchestras (under Lockhart's baton) to perform Harlem (A Tone Parallel To Harlem) by Ellington.

Book Tickets HERE. The concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Afternoon On 3 at 2:30pm on 17th April


Preview: Guildhall Jazz Festival

Guildhall Jazz Band
Photo Credit: Nina Large

Martin Hathaway (Head of Jazz Studies at Guildhall School of Music and Drama) writes about the The Guildhall Jazz Festival & Improvisation Fringe which runs from 23-28th March 2013

Some of my most formative experiences as a jazz musician came while I was a Guildhall School student some 20 years ago. I made many lasting contacts which subsequently led to the majority of my work as a performer, composer and educator. As well as freelance work with Guildhall Jazz Professors, including performances with the late Lionel Grigson, I met the pianist and composer Michael Garrick, and began a long and fruitful musical relationship.

Fast forward to 2013, and this will be my sixth Guildhall Jazz Festival as Head of Jazz Studies. The festival runs over six days of lunchtime, afternoon and evening concerts where Guildhall musicians and guest artists collaborate. It’s important to me that the festival reflects the collaborative ethos of the Jazz Department – that every student has the opportunity to be involved, whether that’s by performing with visiting musicians or self-directing their own ensembles, and that the events represent the diversity of what we do at the School. No stone is left unturned.

This year we’re delighted to welcome a number of leading musicians who have never performed at the School before. The wonderful pianist and composer Zoe Rahman, someone who has been an important part of the British jazz scene for a while now, leads the Guildhall Jazz Ensemble on the opening night in a programme of new music and arrangements that takes in an eclectic range of influences including groove and Afrobeat. I’m personally thrilled to welcome Iain Ballamy – rightly named by the BBC recently as one of its 100 Jazz Legends. He’s someone we’ve wanted to come to the school for ages, and we’ve finally got him! For the finale, the Guildhall Jazz Singers and Ensemble are joined by the brilliant Ian Shaw on piano and vocals to perform jazz and popular numbers exclusively arranged by Guildhall professor Malcolm Edmonstone.

It’s important that our students experience performing alongside musicians at the forefront of their genre. Our Improvised Music Day will see students work with pianist and composer Keith Tippett and his wife Julie Tippetts on vocals in workshops before taking to the stage for an evening of spontaneous composition.

Last year’s Vintage Jazz Night was a real highlight – so much so that we’re doing another one this year. I’ll be joining the students on saxophone alongside Colin Good on piano and Malcolm Earle Smith on trombone to explore music from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I’m also looking forward to teaming up with my colleagues for the Guildhall Jazz Faculty Concert.

A number of small band performances directed by our students take place during the day and are free to attend. We’ve also got our Jazz Alumni Ensemble, this time with Tom Challenger, a talented saxophone player and ex-student of ours who has made a big splash in Europe. And our Junior Guildhall Jazz Ensembles showcase their skills in the festival’s opening concert.

One student told me something recently that really summed up the festival. During a break in rehearsals with Zoe Rahman, after finishing a heady drum and bass influenced tune, he put down his instrument and heard the dulcet tones of the vintage jazz group rehearsing down the corridor. I had to agree with him when he said it seemed a fitting illustration of the diversity of styles harnessed at the festival. There’s going to be something for everybody, participants and audiences.

The Guildhall Jazz Festival & Improvisation Fringe runs from Saturday 23 to Thursday 28 March. For full details, and booking go HERE


CD Review: Aaron Diehl - The Bespoke Man’s Narrative

Aaron Diehl - The Bespoke Man’s Narrative
(Mack Avenue MAC 1066. CD Review by Chris Parker)

As well as referring (via ‘bespoke’) to the fact that each piece on this, pianist/composer Aaron Diehl’s debut Mack Avenue recording, is specifically tailored to the band employed upon it (vibraphonist Warren Wolf, bassist David Wong, drummer Rodney Green), the album’s title also contains the idea that, in Diehl’s words, ‘There’s a sequence, an arc ... each piece has something to do with my musical development.’

Accordingly, the music of his two chief inspirations, Duke Ellington (via his stint in the Ellington-specialising band, the Columbus Youth Jazz Orchestra) and John Lewis (he helped organise the late MJQ leader’s musical archive in his sophomore year at Juilliard) has left readily discernible traces in Diehl’s approach and repertoire: Ellington’s ‘Single Petal of a Rose’ is given a reverent solo interpretation executed ‘like a piece of classical music’; Milt Jackson’s ‘The Cylinder’ gets an elegant, tastefully bluesy quartet airing, notable for its MJQ-like mix of poise and carefully controlled robustness.

A visit to ‘Moonlight in Vermont’ brings another great jazz pianist, Ahmad Jamal (particularly his Pershing recordings), to mind, courtesy of its buoyancy and telling use of space; Ravel’s ‘Le Tombeau de Couperin’ appealed to the classically trained pianist in Diehl (who ‘started young with Bach’), courtesy of ‘the richness of the harmony and the harmonic movement’.

His own compositions, too, have a light, fleet airiness that bring both Jamal and the MJQ to mind, flawlessly played as they are by a brisk, responsive band, and overall, this is an impressive showcase – polished and carefully arranged into a recital, rather than a jazz ‘set’ – for a bright, cultured pianist leading a quartet which, he hopes, ‘will develop and refine a band sound’ rendering this recording ‘just a starting point, something on which to build and invest’.


Preview: Ed Jones Quartet at Vortex, 8th April

Left to right: Ross Stanley, Riaan Vosloo, Ed Jones, Tim Gilles

Ed Jones writes about about his upcoming gig at Vortex on 8th April with his band: the Ed Jones Quartet. Besides Ed (saxophones) The group features Ross Stanley (piano), Riaan Vosloo (bass), Tim Gilles (drums) and will be recording a live album there for release in the Autumn.

One of the few regrets that I have is that none of my gigs with any of my groups in the old Vortex club in Stoke Newington were ever properly documented. It was an important place for me as it was one of the first venues in London to take a chance on an unknown, and fairly inexperienced saxophonist. Those gigs there and at the old Jazz café on Newington Green, and the 606 Club really helped support and shaped my first fledgling attempts at performing and developing my own music. Some 25 years on Vortex and 606 clubs are still here supporting the music every night 365 days a year and still giving new young talent a chance, a place to start.

Sometimes our lives are shaped by unusual co-incidents, and constellations. I remember clear as daylight playing my last gig at the old vortex in spring 2004, with my band at the time, which as it turned out was the last gig that line up ever played.

In early 2005 Trumpeter Damon Brown and myself formed Killer Shrimp and that kept me fairly occupied artistically and creatively amongst other projects. I hadn't really considered forming a new group under my own name, and at the time i didn't have anyone in mind to write for except for Killer Shrimp.

A few years ago one day, in conversation with the bassist Riaan Vosloo, he floated the idea that it might be an idea for me to put a band together and do a few gigs. He suggested Ross Stanley on piano, and Tim Gilles on drums. I had already played with Ross before and thought he was amazing. Tim I had never played with, but had heard him a few times over the years, a great gig at the old vortex with Iain Ballamy when Tim must have been 15 or something ridiculous like that, definitely stuck in my memory.

I first met Riaan on a gig in Bristol some years before on a pick up gig when he still lived there, his sound and vibe and approach to music in general really impressed me. There was no time to rehearse for the first gig so I brought along some of my old tunes, some Wayne Shorter tunes, and a few standards and we were off (!), opening the first night at the Hideaway Club in Streatham.

Right away there was a sound, a connection, some sparks flew, it really felt exciting and already it sounded like a group. That really took me by surprise, I hadn't expected that coming, and I knew immediately I wanted to write again for this line up. There we go again, constellations!

I’m really excited by the prospect of playing and recording some new music at the Vortex in Dalston on April 8th with my latest project. All of the band have musically very strong personalities and are prepared to take risks, and instinctively let the music go where it wants to. For me its a real pleasure and challenge to play with them.

The decision to make a live recording hasn’t been an easy one, the risks of a live gig recording are high and fairly apparent; there’s no second takes, no second chances, it's warts and all if you like, but I think its the only way to capture the sound of this current batch of compositions. In some ways its probably my most detailed composing for this kind of ensemble so far, but still with a lot of room for improvising, and it brings together lots of ideas I've had in my head for quite while. I'm really excited by documenting it in an environment that allows the music to go where it really wants to go. The new Vortex has that vibe, its a great room to play in and the audience really listens.

What does it sound like? Come down to Dalston on April 8th and find out!


A Good Cause: Derek's Charity

British trumpeter Derek Watkins and his family are collaborating with the T-shirt designers InkDogz who have designed a 'Super-C T-Shirt' in a support of his battle against sarcoma.

T-shirts are £14.50 (which includes postage and packaging to the UK) and for every T-shirt sold, InkDogz will donate £2 to Sarcoma UK.

More information HERE

Our best wishes to Derek, his family and friends.


Review: Marc Ribot at Café Oto

Marc Ribot at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Marc Ribot at Café Oto
(15 March 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Guitarist Marc Ribot fits in alongside Bill Frisell and Ry Cooder in sharing a fascination with American rural and urban blues and country music, and with musics from way further afield. His exploratory projects include a voyage of discovery around Django Reinhardt, and the 'archaeology' of the music that moves him, whether Mexican, Haitian or Cuban, via his early exposure to the Latin sounds in New York, 'to find out exactly who played those licks', and a tough, improvising guitar duo with Mary Halvorson in his Sun Ship quartet. He had the imagination to enlist a resurgent Henry Grimes to help re-imagine Albert Ayler's music, and has been a lynchpin in the bands of Tom Waits.

Ribot's ever-curious, driven sensibility is more at home with the musically rough than the smooth, so to find him in the London equivalent of New York's downtown, in the unassuming surroundings of Dalston's Café Oto, was a rare treat.

A magical tension pervaded Ribot's glowing, improvised acoustic set. Hunched intently over a well-worn, well-loved six-string guitar, he threw hardly a glance at the fretboard - rather he was feeling his way over it, as though it was encrypted in Braille, very much at one with the instrument. And the magic just flowed.

His captivating performance drew in perfectly imperfect ragtimes, visits to Ayler's canon, including the plaintive, impassioned 'Love Cry', and a complete blowing apart of the standard, 'All The Things You Are'. He scraped, skittered, scrabbled and picked, set up bass beats with his thumb, licked and spit on his fingers to squeak the strings, and built up and dismantled rich chord sequences with a fiendishly busy left hand.

The audience maintained a reverential silence, following Ribot as he bared his musical mind to replenish the landscape with changes of pace and dexterous fingerwork. Spikey, jumpy gritches gave way to loosely loping, soft-edged cowboy rhythms. Folk, blues, jazzy ragtime, bass register flamenco morphed back and forth under the peerless control of a master.

After declaring that Café Oto 'feels like home, nice messy dressing room, cool people, good acoustics, good beer ... you can't ask for more' he obliterated another standard, 'There Will Never Be Another You', in encore, with fittingly flighty panache.

Undoubtedly one of the best sets witnessed at Café Oto.

As an apt prequel, sweat and blood were the order of the day in Guillaume Viltard's physical dialogue with his double bass that saw him apply two bows simultaneously, paralleling Roland Kirk's multi-instrumental digressions, clawing strings and tapping its body in a tense, acoustic interrogation.


Interview: Kit Downes

Kit Downes Quintet
Left to right: Lucy Railton, James Maddren, Kit Downes, Calum Gourlay, James Allsopp

Rob Edgar spoke to Kit Downes about his new album Light From Old Stars out on 22nd April 2013. It features Lucy Railton (cello), James Allsopp (bass clarinet), James Maddren (drums), Calum Gourlay (bass) and is released on Basho records. 

(UPDATE Apr 12th: See also Chris Parker's REVIEW of the album.)

Rob Edgar: You've called the album 'Light From Old Stars', Why is that?

Kit Downes: I got interested in this title (Light From Old Stars) from watching some documentaries about space, stars, constellations and things and I remember learning from that, that there are lots of stars that you can see in the night sky that no longer exist and all you see is the light travelling from the star which is the only thing left over from it.

RE: And how did that work through to the music?

KD: I kind of liked the idea that the space between objects in the universe is so vast that your concept of time is completely dwarfed, and the idea was to translate that into some kind of vague musical representation. It was just an interesting starting point, that idea of scale and tackling the way we feel time especially in music I guess.

RE: And you've had sleeve notes written by Daniella Scalice of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, I think that must be a first isn't it?

KD: Well, I'm sure it's happened before, but it was a first for me and a first for her. I met Daniella at the Cheltenham science festival, we'd previously been asked to write a piece by the Cheltenham Jazz Festival with Lesley Barnes (an animator and illustrator who I work a lot with), and Adam Rutherford and the Welcome trust, to make a piece about DNA migration. It was pretty "out there" compared to what we'd been doing before at that point but we got a brief and a science lesson from Adam and we started working on this piece.

RE: How was it received?

KD: It went down fairly well at the jazz festival so they asked us to do it again at the science festival. We did a performance there and then, afterwards, they have this thing which is kind of like the jam at the end of a jazz festival, where all the scientists get together in the bar and chat. We were there hanging out and I ended up chatting to these guys from NASA, one of whom was Daniella who was very nice. She started explaining a load of really cool stuff to me about astronomy, her job and what she does. She was very good at explaining it, despite me not having any of that kind of language, and I liked that vibe of explaining complicated things to people in a to-the-point and succinct way. That felt poignant to the kind of music that I'm involved which is also maybe about getting complicated subject material over to other people. That felt like it could tie in with the whole thing, I'd had this title Light From Old Stars floating around in my head, so I asked her and she said yes.

RE: There's been a progression from your album 'Quiet Tiger' in 2011 until now, how would you say you've progressed as a musician/composer?

KD: I guess it's all quite different; with Quiet Tiger there wasn't a lot of written stuff in there and it was all quite open. The saxophone, bass clarinet and cello in that album were very much colour instruments or there for much smaller arrangement purposes and all the improvisation was with the trio really.

RE: 'Light From Old Stars' has a different approach?

KD: This album is integrated completely so everybody is improvising and it's a bit more of a real band in that sense I guess. There are more written things; it's both harder and easier to get into in many ways, there's more stuff to latch onto because there's more written stuff but the written stuff is maybe a little bit stranger, and references different things than Quiet Tiger did. I'm happy with this album in that it feels like the reference points to this are quite strong and united whereas Quiet Tiger was quite disparate in terms of its influences.

RE: Textures are important, especially with Lucy Railton being given such a prominent role?

KD: I'm a failed cellist myself, I love the cello and I love hearing it in a kind of more bluesy/country way than in the super classical thing but I love that as well, there's a very beautiful sound that Lucy can get but she's got another dimension to her playing in that she can be quite raw and reference other folksy elements in her playing without being too derivative. She's got a very good ear for sound as has James Allsopp and they sound really great together as well. James Maddren and Calum Gourlay and me have been playing together since college and the really interesting thing came from gigging this quartet before we recorded it.

RE: The cello is presumably difficult to balance in the live situation, and another challenge again for the recording?

It soon became apparent that mic-ing up the cello in clubs just sounded horrible because we'd never have good enough equipment so we had to do them all acoustically which meant that we had to find a way to make the music still feel exciting and dynamic, especially because there's lot more groove stuff, or time stuff on this album compared to Quiet Tiger (a lot of which was rubato). With this, there's a lot more of particular drum grooves and to make them the right volume where you can still hear the cello acoustically is difficult and it's a great testament to James Maddren; he can play all the cool stuff super quietly as he can very loudly which is difficult. That was something that came from gigging that we tried to get across in the recording. It's still quite quiet but within that there's a lot of peaks and troughs.

RE: You're able to be more precise in your arrangements here?

Another nice thing about the cello and bass clarinet is their register. They both have quite big registers compared to other instruments in the same families and it means that the whole concept of swapping roles and things becomes quite fun in that a cello can can take a bass line or it can take a melody line and same with the bass clarinet; it can be really low or squawking up high. The piano obviously has an enormous range meaning I can have an orchestrator role, binding all those things together and I can mess with the arrangements putting them on top of each other and vice-versa so that was a thing that I really wanted to play with in the written things of this new album.

RE: I'd like to talk about a few tracks, the first, "Wander and Colossus" really stands out, can you tell me about that?

KD: I guess in my head it doesn't really stand out but I suppose it kind of serves the purpose of an opening track! That track in particular was something I'd adapted from playing solo piano and orchestrated into a quintet thing. It's all based around that first piano figure, every part of the piece is off that in some way. It's small cell kind of fractal reference where you can have a cell that has unpredictability built into it which can have an infinite number of variations. That's the reference, how successful it is I don't know! We also experimented with some textural stuff and some overdubbing, it's maybe quite different to the rest of the album, but why do you think it stands out?

RE: For me, at the beginning of the track I couldn't work out how you got that texture with the instruments at your disposal

KD: I wanted to start the album with that very alien sound-world, or perhaps celestial sound-world just to get people into that space to start off with because there's some other stuff that's a bit heavier that follows and once your already in that space it makes a bit more sense I guess. That first bit actually went on about four times as long originally but we had to cut it down. I guess it's just to put people in a certain head-space.

RE: Why is it called 'Wander and Colossus'? Is it a constellation or names of certain stars?

KD: There's another tune that's a bit more like that but the title was actually inspired by a video game called Shadow of the Colossus

RE: There was another track 'Two Ones', it seemed to me to reflect the beginning and the end of a star, the birth and destruction.

KD: Could be! I think Daniella heard it like that too. As with any of these, they're not about specific things. Two Ones though I felt it like, my own constellation has two prominent twin stars called Castor and Pollux. Also, I sort of named it a bit after my girlfriend Ruth [Goller] and my cat Buster and the idea of family being two and three and then become one, but I like that as well, birth and death of a star.

Rob Edgar: And there are some live dates?

Kit Downes: It starts in March 8th in Brighton and then there's various things until July I think we've got maybe 15 dates I think. It's all on my website (


News: Masterclass with Marius Neset, 23rd April at The Forge

Marius Neset
Photo Credit: Tim Dickeson

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) is putting on a masterclass with Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset (see our previous coverage of Neset HERE, HERE and HERE) at the Forge, Camden on Tuesday 23rd April 2013 from 12-4pm.

The masterclass will feature advice for audiences on keeping audiences engaged, insights into his musical thinking and he will also be playing with high standard performers to help illustrate his points.

Tickets start at £10. To book either call 020 7629 4413 or go to the ISM WEBSITE


Review: Iain Ballamy’s Anorak at St. James Studio

Photo Credit: Rupert Parker

Review: Iain Ballamy’s Anorak
(St. James Studio, Friday 15th March 2013. Review and Photograph by Rupert Parker)

St. James Studio is a new 100 capacity venue, in the basement of the St. James Theatre, also recently opened last September. It’s running a series called Jazz and Roots Fridays and was the perfect venue for Iain Ballamy’s Anorak on a cold and windy March evening in Victoria. With Gareth Williams on piano, Steve Watts on bass and Martin France on drums, this is a quartet that deals in lyricism and understatement and their ensemble work is peerless.

Iain Ballamy's playing is full of invention and he seems to have inherited the Ronnie Scott mantel of dry one-liner introductions. When I first came across him, at Wavendon Summer School, almost too long ago to remember, he was playing alto and his tenor playing seems to have inherited some of the characteristics of that instrument. There’s no place for honks and squawks, and he reserves a considered space for melody, so much so that the written lines spin seamlessly into his improvisations.

They started off with Jobim’s Once I Loved but after that it was self-penned originals, including Lavender Eyes and Floater. Even on the witty stand-out “Tribute to Alan Skidmore’s Tribute to John Coltrane” there was no evidence of Ballamy mistreating his instrument, the band firmly behind him in the groove, providing exactly the right level of subtlety that this venue demands. True to the ensemble spirit, individual members did not outstay their solo spots and there was a very pleasant I Fall in Love Too Easily sung by Gareth Williams at the end.

I was very impressed by the space and the acoustics here are so good, and the crowd so quiet, that there’s no real need for amplification. Tables are arranged tastefully round the room and even the bar is far enough from the stage that it doesn’t distract. Special mention must also be made of the Carrara at St. James restaurant upstairs which does an excellent two course meal. Dorian Ford is programming Jazz and Roots Fridays so get along and support this new venue – you won’t be disappointed.


Review: Mats Gustafsson's Fire! Trio with Christian Marclay at Café Oto

Mats Gustafsson and Christian Marclay
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Mats Gustafsson's Fire! Trio with Christian Marclay
(Café Oto, 13 March 2013; night 1 of a 2-night residency by Fire!; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Mats Gustafsson is the consummate left-field collaborator. He seeks out the like-minded with a missionary spirit and secures sonic conversations that have no truck with genre boundaries. His duo with Christian Marclay at Café Oto, discreetly balanced and inspired, was a case in point, and complemented the rich territory he'd mapped out in power-drenched style with Thurston Moore at the same venue last September.

Gustafsson ducked and jived between fluorescent cricks, clicks, bloops and heaving blasts, as he coaxed his unique language from his fluteophone (a flute with a reed mouthpiece), then his signature hefty baritone sax, describing lightly balletic curves in the air as he played, grinning and grimacing to articulate the intensity in pauses between passages.

Marclay, in response, hovered studiously over two vintage record decks, commandeering his LPs as both sound sources and physical objects to engineer an impressionistic backdrop of windy gusts, crackles and stray muted orchestral samples. The duo's blend of echoes and coincidences was distilled to a melodic clicking of saxophone keys before stoking up to a rampant roar with ear-splitting screeches and a final intuitive fade.

The subtlety of the duo's dialogue was extended in the next set with a gutsy aplomb when they were joined by the indomitable rhythm section of electric bassist, Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werlin, who completed Gustafsson's trio, Fire!

Gustafsson's passionate passages on tenor summoned up the spirits of Ayler and Coltrane with strident immediacy. His eerie interventions on electronics introduced a mood of lo-fi inflection, picked up by Werlin's restrained, chattering brushwork, the remotest of recorded piano and violin fragments from Marclay, and a hypnotic, single note locked groove carved out by Berthling.

Fire!, in the final set, came uncannily close to the feel of an early Pink Floyd live performance - circa Interstellar Overdrive - with their raw, acoustic beats and wavering electronics. The weighty, wailing baritone took on a Brötzmann dimension, the rhythm section paid unspoken homage to Can's repetitive mantra, and in a final manic spree, Marclay returned to the side of the stage and masked singer, Thomas Öberg from Swedish indie cult band, Bob Hund, crashed a chair to the floor, jumped on to a table to theatrically harangue the audience, and added softly distorted vocal asides to the mix, much to Gustafsson's, if not the entire audience's, amusement!


Review: Gabriel Garrick's Originals Quintet & Standards Septet

Left to Right: Sam Walker, Gabriel Garrick, Matt Ridley

Review: Gabriel Garrick’s Originals Quintet & Standards Septet
(CD Launch, Spice of Life, London Thurs. 14th March 2013)

'I'm a standard in my own right,' joked trumpeter Gabriel Garrick at this launch gig for his two new CDs: Originals Quintet (Sunlight, JOVI 2) and Standards Septet (Song For My Father, JOVI 1). Garrick is steeped in jazz history, and now runs the Jazz Academy courses set up by his late father Michael Garrick.

The Originals Quintet played the first set, the compositions arranged with absorbing big band-like textures and attention to detail- Garrick also runs his own big band. The Answer is Here began with melancholy rippling piano from the excellent Will Bartlett before becoming a fast samba, bright trumpet themes interweaving with huskier tenor sax lines from Sam Walker. The solos sounded truly improvised, played for the sheer joy of playing. Garrick’s single note phrases turned into emotive rhythmic runs. Walker's gruffer tone rooted his fast chromatic lines in simpler major phrases. Grateful began with slow sliding and rocky sus chords, before unfolding into a jazz waltz, redolent of Up Jumped Spring. There were moments in the compositions where you could hear just the ghost of a standard. There was enough familiarity to draw you in and enough newness to keep you on the edge of your seat. Everything was paced to keep you engaged. The volume dropped as Walker played incredibly fast, as if tickling the chords, yet with perfect rhythm.

Can of Ice had a fast hard-bop theme, underpinned by Matt Ridley's rich fruity swinging bass and Bartlett's effervescent piano solo. The mellow Latin All Because of You alluded melodically to Star Eyes and was dedicated to loved ones- even Garrick's CD label is endearingly named after his Labrador puppy! Garrick playing smooth fluegel whole-tone phrases while Walker drew on Getz' tone, in his expressive vibrato. Sunlight was a highlight, subtly Afro-Latin-funky; drummer Chris Nickolls played interesting mallet grooves behind compelling composed bass lines. The slow back beats of Easter Gospel concluded the set, the horns sliding up to the notes like singers- cue enormous cheer from the audience.

All change for the Standards Septet in the second half, the choice of tunes and arrangements revealing more of Garrick’s influences. His bluesy growls and trills got to the heart of Song For My Father while Martin Hathaway invoked Henderson on alto, adding expressive free squeals.

Two originals blended seamlessly with the standards: Come and See evoked Clifford Brown's Joy Spring with its its happy, restless II V chords and crisscross horn lines. Jon Stokes' trombone solo combined a warm chocolatey tone with fast acrobatics. Wasted Time, an 'autobiographical piece' written at college, conjured Silver's Filthy McNasty. It mixed blues and swing, with Martin Kolarides' Charlie Christian-like hard swinging guitar phrases. Garrick's plunger mute combined cries and raunchy trills.

The heart of the set went right back to New Orleans : Down By the Riverside and Bourbon Street Parade, with a superb drum solo from Patrick Davey in the middle. His authentic grooves gave an anarchic freshness to the tunes. Peter James' fine Dr John-like piano tremolo and Hathaway's clarinet interwove with trombone and trumpet in a kind of chaotic joy.

Bye Bye Blues and Mood Indigo (Garrick: 'There's no words that can describe how beautiful this tune is in its simplicity and its divinity.') paid dues to Ellington. As the latter tune concluded the set, there was real emotion from the bluesy soloing over the uncluttered beat, with Spencer Brown's perfectly-placed two-to-the-bar bass. The music was created with the idea of 'playing tunes that I like with some guys whom I love playing with,' said Garrick. The big smiles in the audience showed we were with them all the way.