Review: Charles Lloyd Quartet with special guest Maria Farantouri at Barbican

Socratis Sinopoulos, Maria Farantouri, Charles Lloyd, Reuben Rogers, Greg Hutchinson
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Charles Lloyd Quartet with special guest Maria Farantouri
(Barbican, 28 April 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Charles Lloyd and Maria Farantouri have built up a friendship over 20 years, based around the delight they share in each other's musical voyages, and in the mixture of spontaneity and perfection that defines their arts. Although 10 years separates them they both made their first impacts in the late 60s - Lloyd assembled a stellar quartet that brought jazz to the hippie subculture, and Farantouri became identified as the voice of Theodorakis's songs of protest against the Greek junta.

As part of Charles Lloyd's 75th birthday celebrations they consolidated their blossoming collaboration initiated at The Athens Concert of 2010 (recorded by ECM) with two concerts in the US, and three in Europe, culminating at the Barbican.

Playing an uninterrupted two-hour set, Lloyd and pianist Jason Moran opened with a sensitive homage to Ellington. 'The Star-Crossed Lover' from 'Such Sweet Thunder' was the vehicle for Lloyd's delicate, soft-toned tenor flow. Lloyd's interpretation fluttered and swooped with the grace of a swift in flight, acknowledging the majesty of Johnny Hodges' original recorded alto sax solo. Moran went on to skirmish with hearty ragtime in a 'Mood Indigo' peppered with Lloyd's translucent, vertiginous runs. The gently paternal eye cast over Moran during his brightly articulated solo underpinned Lloyd's young-at-heart elder statesman status.

'God Only Knows' emerged out of carefully obscured beginnings and the Beach Boys theme continued when Reuben Rogers and Greg Hutchinson made up the quartet. Their animated gusto was pulled along and shaped by Lloyd who threw in a blistering solo in his signature 'Dream Weaver' - in apposite contrast to Hutchinson's ultra-fine percussive interventions and Rogers' bowed accents. The fluctuating momentum of 'Caroline No' was maintained by the merest of beats and ended on a magically quiet note. All the while there was an acoustic seam to the rhythm section which invited close listening. It felt like a small room on a big stage.

Cue Maria Farantouri, whom Lloyd declared "has been my teacher for the last decade or so!" Having played a series of concerts together, they had established a natural blend and balance as her sculpted, tonally modulated voice became the fifth instrument in a unique rapport between Greek rebetiko and contemporary jazz idioms. The stringed lyra of Socratis Sinopoulos was the raw, ancient sixth voice which underscored the history, emotion and landscape evoked by Farantouri, and, unexpectedly, was invested with the spirit of Jerry Goodman's violin from the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

As a sextet they worked around much of the contemporary and traditional Greek material, and Lloyd mainstays to be found on the Athens album. Any compromises made to either genre were entirely sympatico and made in the best of civilised spirit - given Lloyd's brief address about the debt owed to Greek culture, philosophy and civilisation, that was more than apt.

On the lament, Miroloi, Lloyd switched to flute and tárogató, an instrument also favoured by Peter Brötzmann, which added a flavour of the mountain regions, filtered through a jazz sensibility. Sprightly solos and duets were woven in to the texture, supported by carefully placed single notes from Moran and Rogers, and the lightest of ticks, taps and brushings from Hutchinson.

Farantouri's voice welled in tandem with the ensemble, was perfectly pitched against the quartet's flair, and wound down with an immaculate sense of timing. Duetting with Lloyd, voice and saxophone became uncannily and thrillingly interchangeable and she showed, in encore, that she was very much at home with the jazz chanson, at which point we could have been in a small night club!

... and what we would give to see these musicians in a club setting!

Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, flute and tárogató
Maria Farantouri: vocals
Jason Moran: piano
Reuben Rogers: double bass
Greg Hutchinson: drums
Socratis Sinopoulos: lyra



Preview: Green Chimneys festival 2nd-3rd May - Jazz Nursery / Con Cellar Bar

Dan Nicholls writes...

I'm really excited about the first in a series of Festivals curated by Green Chimneys, the listings magazine which Tom Challenger and I started up at the beginning of this year. True to the grass-roots, artist-led ethos of the publication, we're hosting the two nights of the festival at The Jazz Nursery and Jazz at the Con – venues which have proved what can be achieved when artists club together and make something happen for themselves.

The first night – this Thursday at The Jazz Nursery in Southwark – features a new collaborative big band Noise Union, led by drummer Sam Jesson, which brings together musicians from the London and Birmingham scenes. The night will also feature the Con Afrobeat Orchestra and a late night jam session, led by the Nursery's very own Nick Costley-White.

Friday night is another triple-bill, this time at the Constitution in Camden, opened by Gareth Lockrane's Grooveyard Unplugged. Gareth is an old friend and one of the most fantastic flute players you're likely to hear and we're chuffed to be bringing his group to the intimate setting of the Con cellar. As if this wasn't enough, this set is followed by Money Jungle – performing the raucous, joyous music of Mingus and Monk with unexpected twists and turns – and another late jam session featuring many of the festival performers. Tickets are available on the door for both events so arrive early!

Grooveyard (Unplugged)
Gareth Lockrane - flute
Alex Garnett - sax
Mike Outram - guitar
Nick Smalley - drums
Sam Lasserson - bass

Money Jungle
Tom Challenger - sax
Freddie Gavita - trumpet
George Crowley - sax
Mike Chillingworth - sax
Tom Farmer - bass
Dan Nicholls - piano
Josh Morrison - drums

Con All Stars
Dan Nicholls - piano
Tom Challenger - sax
Rory Simmons - trumpet
Phil Stevenson - guitar
Ryan Trebilcock - bass
John Blease - drums

Noise Union Big Band

Freddie Gavita
Reuben Fowler
Percy Pursglove
Laura Jurd

Patrick Hayes
Kieran McLeod
Richard Foote
Tom Dunnet

Michael Chillingworth
Huw Morgan
George Crowley
Chris Morgan
Colin Mills

The Rhythm Section:
Dan Nicholls - Piano
Callum Gourlay - Double Bass
Sam Jesson - Drums


Kit Downes - Jazz In The Round

Kit Downes, Lucy Railton, Calum Gourlay, James Allsopp, James Maddren
Jazz in the Round. Photo credit: Roger Thomas
Kit Downes' Quintet was headlining the monthly triple bill at Jazz In The Round at the Cockpit Theatre last night. A spell-bindingly quiet set, in which one stand-out moment was Jan Johansson which starts and ends with James Maddren exploring at the borders of silence. The whole set was played acoustically, and part of it accompanied animations by Lesley Barnes - moot point, perhaps it's the animations which accompany the music (?)

Rob Edgar has interviewed Kit Downes about this project.

Chris Parker has reviewed the CD: "at once immediately accessible and richly rewarding, revealing hidden felicities each time it is listened to." (released on Basho Records)

Last night's gig is being broadcast on Jazz on 3 on Monday May 6th.


International Jazz Day

It's the second annual International Jazz Day today. And here is where to find the EVENTS.


Maria Schneider's Winter Morning Walks

A very different project from Maria Schneider, with the CD due for UK release this week,  involves a commission from chamber orchestras in both Schneider's home state of Minnesota and in Australia. Winter Morning Walks sets poems by Ted Kooser to be sung by dedicatee Dawn Upshaw. Very reminiscent of Samuel Barber, and of Upshaw's debut recording of his Knoxville, recorded in 1988. For Upshaw, it feels like full circle then; and for Maria Schneider, music - from what I've heard - with a softer centre than her writing for her own orchestra. Try it. This link has SOUND CLIPS


Music Video: Anthony Strong - Too Darn Hot

Here's a new video of singer-pianist Anthony Strong,currently touring in Europe. The single of Cole Porter's Too Darn Hot (from Kiss Me Kate) is from his début album Stepping Out, released earlier this month on Naïve Records. The video was directed by Jack Patterson of Clean Bandit.

Video Credits:

Anthony Strong - piano/vocals
Loz Garrett - bass
Jon Desbruslais - drums
Henry Spencer - trumpet
Nathaniel Cross - trombone
Max Jonson - alto saxophone
Jack Patterson - tenor saxophone
Kandaka Moore and Rhys Dennis - dancers

More information from Anthony Strong's WEBSITE


Preview: In League with Robots Presents Collisions (New Music Night). 28th May at The Albany

In League With Robots is a live music promotion organisation formed by Cath Roberts and Dan Paton. Both graduates of the Masters in Jazz Performance at Guildhall, they enjoy a range of sound worlds incorporating folk, songwriting, electronica, hip hop, groove music and much more.

Dan Paton writes...

Collisions, our first live music venture, aims to present adventurous and innovative music in friendly, welcoming surroundings. We also hope it might, in its own modest way, challenge some of the preconceptions and stereotypes surrounding how live music should be experienced. Whilst it is now much easier to hear new music (thanks at least in part to developments in technology), musical worlds have become increasingly fragmented, and it is sometimes hard to find common ground or connections between different forms of music.

Admirers of top quality and adventurous writing in the rock and songwriting worlds are sometimes actively discouraged from trying out what might be termed contemporary jazz, even when it is clear there is common ground between musical styles. The London jazz scene offers plenty of high quality inventive music that might appeal to admirers of Squarepusher, Björk, Dirty Projectors or Deerhoof - yet it remains extremely hard for improvising musicians to reach those audiences. Conversely, the jazz scene can sometimes be perceived as a closed world, developing its own language and rituals that might appear alienating to outsiders.

It often feels as if small scale live music in London is a choice between niche but loyal scenes and poorly programmed multi-band extravaganzas with little thought given to developing an audience. The best contemporary improvised music (which London has in abundance due to a creatively thriving and supportive scene) is thrilling and urgent regardless. The best songwriting develops new ways in which words and music can combine to strong emotional impact. The best folk music finds new ways of presenting timeless melodies and established forms and the best rock music displays the same values of adventure and invention as present in jazz composition. Nevertheless, it is hard to experience these things together, particularly in the media.

A Collisions night, therefore, hopes to offer an experience that is unpredictable and logical at the same time. We will attempt to pair together artists that will provoke thought and discussion, and hopefully leave the audience wanting to investigate new areas further. A Collisions gig might pair a folk songwriter alongside an improvising vocalist, or an electronic producer alongside a solo instrumentalist but, in doing so, we hope to show that great music is simply great music, beyond limitations and classifications. A Collisions night might be about unusual reactions and strange juxtapositions, or it might be about finding the shared space between different artists.

Collisions 1 - our launch night – is on 28th May at The Albany (doors – 8:00pm, show starts – 8:30pm) and features two creative and exciting singers operating in different musical worlds. Whilst Babelfish, featuring the outstanding talent of Brigitte Beraha, certainly draw liberally and intuitively from the jazz tradition, there are also strong hints of British folk music and the influence of classical composers in their sensitive and evocative music. The group’s central working partnership, between Beraha and pianist Barry Green, is now one of 12 years standing, and Babelfish offer a depth of exploration and experience to be savoured and enjoyed.

Babelfish will be paired with outstanding young folk singer-songwriter Raevennan Husbandes. Based in Lowestoft, Raevennan is the winner of the Future Radio Next Big Thing 2012, and her natural, relaxed performing style and warm, engaging stage presence make her an instant hit with audiences around the country. Raevennan is a singer-songwriter of great empathy and presence and has battled back from hard times (a serious illness left her temporarily deaf and blind) with infectious positivity and enthusiasm. She has recently supported Newton Faulkner and worked with Mercury nominated folk ensemble The Unthanks. Hers is undoubtedly a star on the rise, and we’re grateful that she is able to play at our very first night.

We have an exciting range of acts in the pipeline for future events. July’s gig - 30th, again at the Albany - will be a rather different combination of improvised music duos featuring Ti/Om (Tim Fairhall and Tom Ward), and Colin Webster and Mark Holub, so that will be a unique experience not to be missed!

Advance tickets for May’s very first Collisions event are available HERE / In League With Robots website.


News: Love Supreme Jazz Festival- Call for Volunteers

The Love Supreme Jazz Festival which takes place from the 5-7 of July at Glynde Place near Brighton is looking for volunteers to act as Car Park stewards and Wristband Gate stewards. In return, they will be given a ticket to the event, free food and water whilst on duty, and a place to camp.

Volunteers will be expected to work two eight-hour shifts and be on-site from 5:00pm on Thursday 4th July to 4:00pm on Sunday 7th July. Transport to and from the festival site must be planned by the volunteer; the timing of the shifts cannot be arranged in advance since the organisers cannot guarantee who will turn up. However, they will be arranged in such a way as to make sure that everyone has as much free time as possible. Gate and Car Park stewards will have most of their work done outside of the hours when the music is played.

More information and sign-up HERE


Review: Henry Grimes, Bobby Few, Mark Sanders, Elaine Mitchener at Café Oto

Elaine Mitchener and Henry Grimes at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Henry Grimes, Bobby Few, Mark Sanders, Elaine Mitchener
(Café Oto, 26 April 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Experience and age count for a great deal - yet for Henry Grimes and Bobby Few - born within two weeks of each other in 1935 - the years just fell away in the company of Mark Sanders and Elaine Mitchener. This crafty, crafted quartet skipped between the finest straight ahead jazz - delivered right from the core by Grimes and Few - and out in the no-fly zone extemporisations that bounced off the edges of the envelope with zest and panache.

Grimes and Few have not recorded together, but they have performed together - they played in Paris the night before, there's footage of them there in 2011 with Grimes on violin, and they crossed paths at Birmingham's Vision Festival in 2008. At different times both played alongside Ayler, who proclaimed Grimes one of his his favourite bass players. Few, based in Paris since 1969, was originally a sideman in his hometown, Cleveland and went on to make notable recordings with Steve Lacy. He first recorded in 1968, two years after Grimes had begun what was to be a 35 year sabbatical from music before being tracked down, reinstated and reinvigorated in an extraordinary series of events, as recounted in the biography on Henry Grimes' website.

The two have an extraordinary, natural telepathy which revealed, in the rarest of ways, the true essence and nature of jazz. Theirs was a mystical flow which had connections with the deepest roots of the music - it could have been one of the key gigs of the 60s, it was so compelling. Grimes, majestic, alert, picked out note-perfect, resonant, melodic bass lines with dextrous, nimble-fingered assurance and applied arco with consummate authority. There was an overpowering sense that he was liberating each note with a profound deliberation. Few, effervescing with energy, hardly looked down as he surfed the piano's keyboard with disarmingly fluent accuracy, drawing parallels with Tyner and Cecil Taylor, as he joyously flipped from a rolling groove to the transcendently ethereal.

Sanders' intuitive ability to respond to the demands of the moment and his respect for the two luminaries created the perfect textured backdrop for their explorations, so much so that he might have gone unnoticed had Few not insisted that he lead off with a couple of solo spots which brimmed with inventive flourish.

Mitchener's presence had the touch of Abbey Lincoln's vocalisations with Max Roach and this concert indicated a musical coming of age for her, having briefly guested with Grimes on Café Oto's stage in 2011. Working both with texts and with improvised freedom in the spirit of Phil Minton's exotic vocal flights, she kept Grimes and Few on their toes with tremulous, animalesque jitterings and a charged, expressive undercurrent - there was no chance of this being a heritage act!

There was an effortless drift between the disciplines of classic, loping jazz as Grimes and Few delved in to their shared repertoire - including a sublime spontaneous blues duet to cry for - and an anamorphic abstraction which smouldered, juddered and changed perspective at every turn, bowing out with a touching rendition of 'Afro Blue'.

This inspired ensemble setting gave space for two of jazz's gentle giants to take giant steps in a cross-current of invention that allowed them the room to express their extraordinary talents with generous intimacy and modesty.

It really was a privilege to be present at this outstanding concert in Café Oto's exceptional programme.

Henry Grimes: double bass, violin and poetry
Bobby Few: piano
Elaine Mitchener: vocals
Mark Sanders: drums


Review: Headhunters at Under the Bridge

Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

(Under the Bridge, Chelsea, London Thurs. Apr. 25th 2013. Review by Alison Bentley)

Masters of suspense: the dry ice billowed; the iconic yellow mask image from the 1973 Head Hunters album glowed on the screen behind the stage; percussionist Bill Summers promised us at least three tunes from that album- the squelchy synth sounds and powerful grooves began.

It was amazing to think that Summers and drummer Harvey Mason had played on that first album, much copied and sampled. Although the Headhunters band (with various lineups) has been recording without Herbie Hancock since 1976, on this gig they played tunes from their early days, mostly written by Hancock, rather than their more recent hiphop-influenced music.

Cantaloupe Island had a groove that felt like coming home. Mason's tight funk meshed hypnotically with Summers' congas; showers of sparks flew from Mason's cymbals while Summers kept simple time on the cowbell. Summers told us that funk comes out of the polyrhythms of West Africa, and Sly was a perfect example. Dedicated by Hancock to Sly Stone, the drums sounded deep and tribal against Summers' brittle cabasa sounds. On the surface the groove was wall to wall, but the arrangements were there to keep you on the edge of your seat, sections that built excitement and expectation. Solos floated on the beat like corks on a wave, and after each solo there was total silence before the band burst back in. Butterfly, from the second album, was slower and more harmonically adventurous- a big influence on Robert Glasper and Gretchen Parlato, who've both recorded it. Rob Dixon's soprano played long cries, Shorter-style, before inspiring, impossibly fast patterns across the bar. Where do you go when you're already playing your fastest? Back to long notes with doubled intensity.

The Head Hunters version of Watermelon Man starts with flutey sounds, and the secret of those sounds was revealed. Summers had just lost a very important instrument onstage, he told us- given to him by Pygmies to bring him closer to God. But he found it- he brandished it and blew into it- a beer bottle. Dixon had a tough tenor tone on this tune, a little like Kenny Garrett or Maceo Parker in his perfectly-timed bluesy phrases. There was a thrilling tension between Mason's strong backbeats (he looked so relaxed) and Summers' triplets on the congas- then into 6/8, then swing, then funk, all as natural as breathing.

Summers dedicated an improvised piece to James Brown, irresistibly like Brown's Sex Machine. 'Yo Reggie', we chanted, as Reggie Washington's bass solo fluttered percussively high up the fretboard, with Pastorius energy. They called the piece Under the Bridge, after the club- its subterranean industrial chic had a cool 70s vibe.

Footprints had a heavy Afro-Latin feel, and Rob Bargad's superb Fender Rhodes solo seemed to be part of the groove rather than using it as a backdrop, rippling smoothly with just that hint of distortion in the sound. The audience was completely silent for Summers' virtuoso cabasa feature (the uncontrollable giant-gourd-and-shell kind of cabasa)- then a surge of energy into the iconic Chameleon, a beat that seemed to affect both brain and feet, like a large glass of wine. The mostly young audience, who looked more used to clubbing than jazz clubs, were dancing with abandonment- and I've never seen anyone dance to Maiden Voyage before.

'It's a blessing to be able to get up here and make people happy,' said Summers, and it felt like going back to the source, a sort of Platonic ideal of jazz funk.


News: Wigmore Hall Lates @ 36 Programme Announced

Wigmore Hall has released the programme for their free late night “musical soirees” to be held in the Wigmore bar from 11:15PM after the main concerts at 10:00PM.

The nights featuring jazz are(all shows start at 11:15PM):

Friday 7th June - Kairos Quartet

Friday 14th June - Trish Clowes and Tangent Quartet

Friday 5th July - Kit Downes Trio

Friday 12th July - Dorian Ford Trio

Friday 31st May sees clarinettist Julian Bliss and his septet playing music from his début release, A Tribute to Benny Goodman

Full details HERE


Three images of the Jazzahead conference

Paul Zauner and Mike Chadwick

The world's largest jazz conference here in Bremen is an occasion for unexpected meetings. The number of people involved in jazz from all over the world gets more impressive each year. You might say everybody is here....I had the pleasure to introduce Mike Chadwick of Band on the Wall in Manchester and JazzFM to Paul Zauner, director of the unique Austrian festival Inntoene, who was the first European promoter to present Gregory Porter, and whose Great Voices of Harlem CD will be released in October.

Ann Katrin Hülsmann, Julia Hülsmann

No they're not sisters, they are not even related. Two prominent people on the German scene are pianist/ composer / bandleader (new ECM album with Tom Arthurs) who is also founder of the Union Deutscher Jazzmusiker which accts to provide a unified voice for Germany's jazz musicansJulia Hülsmann..... and publicist Ann Katrin Hülsmann who's been telling me about the stunning line-up for Jazzdor Berlin.

The EJN (European Jazz Newtwork) Award is awarded to a festival or promoter who presents 'adventurous programming'. The 2013 Award was collected on behalf of the Bimhuis in Amsterdam by Huub Van Riel. It's an award (above) to be shared it with colleagues and guests in the splendid club overlooking the Ij and the harbour.


Preview: Duke Ellington Society UK's 'Black, Brown and Beige'. 18th May, Pizza Express Dean St.

Quentin Bryar writes...

DESUK -- the Duke Ellington Society (UK) -- AGM and annual Jazz Party on May 18 at the Pizza Express in Dean Street offers an unmissable chance to hear Duke Ellington’s challenging masterpiece 'Black, Brown and Beige' played live in Soho on a Saturday afternoon.

The students in the outstanding Guildhall Jazz Band, directed by saxophonist Martin Hathaway, have been busily rehearsing BB&B, the three-movement extended composition which Ellington described at its Carnegie Hall premiere in 1943 as “a tone parallel to the history of the Negro in America.” That Carnegie Hall concert – Ellington’s first – was a major and keenly awaited cultural event, but New York critics notoriously and scandalously lambasted the work. As a measure of how the established view has caught up, Alex Ross has said the work is about as sublime and deep as American music gets.

The afternoon also features an appearance by trombonist and pianist Vince Prudente, who joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra on trombone in 1972 and played in the Third Sacred Concert at Westminster Abbey in 1973. Vince, who lives in Paris these days, is scheduled to take part in a Q&A with DESUK Chairman Peter Caswell before the Guildhall Jazz Band concert, and is also expected to play.

Admission is free to DESUK members and £10 to others. Entry is also free to anyone who join s DESUK on the day (annual subscription £20). Doors open at 12.30pm for the AGM, with the Guildhall Jazz Band concert scheduled for 2.15pm.


Book Review: Laurie Verchomin - The Big Love: Life and Death with Bill Evans

Laurie Verchomin - The Big Love: Life and Death with Bill Evans
(see; Book Review by Chris Parker)

Although the ostensible subject of this book – and the reason it is being reviewed on this site – is contained in its subtitle (‘Life and Death with Bill Evans’), ‘The Big Love’ (described in Laurie Verchomin’s Foreword as ‘this mind-blowing, transforming experience’) in all its manifestations, sexual, companionable, spiritual, is its actual subject.

Verchomin was in her early twenties, and ‘very inspired by the diaries of Anaïs Nin’ when she first encountered Bill Evans in her Canadian hometown, Edmonton, but the first few scenes of this artfully episodic book take us back to her troubled adolescence in Alberta’s capital, describing in spare but skilful prose her ‘inability to negotiate the sexual revolution of the 1970’s’, which ‘combined with the reaction of my freeze-dried parents from the 1950’s, culminated in the cover up of multiple pregnancies and the subsequent abortions in high school’.

The Big Love consequently has more in common with the confessional, often painfully self-exploratory writings of Elizabeth Smart or Sylvia Plath (or – courtesy of its unblinking examination of the male ego – earlier writers such as Nin or even Elizabeth von Arnim) than with the work of, say, Laurie Pepper, whose sole concern (in her contribution to Art Pepper’s Straight Life) was the personal and professional rehabilitation of her husband.

Verchomin’s purpose, by contrast, is more autobiographical: she uses a series of judiciously selected scenes (summarised as the discovery of ‘rock and roll, the Rolling Stones, acid tripping, the 60’s, Tom and Sally [influential friends], Taj Mahal, Dennis Hopper, Lou Adler, Jazz and free love’) to describe her emotional state in 1979 when she first met Evans, then, via another series of often lyrical, even poetic but unflinchingly frank scenes, she anatomises her reactions to the turbulent, frequently painful world in which Evans immerses her (‘Bill’s battlefield of ancient syringes, rotting flesh and romantic notions of sex and love’): ‘I guess that I am the melody, but he has all the voicings covered, and I am the refrain he plays over and over again – exploring me.’

This quotation sums up the often fascinating power of the book: Evans’s art is perceptively described by Verchomin not simply as something he practises, something he does, but rather as something that defines him, something he is. As John McLaughlin states in a touching Introduction: ‘Bill possessed a number of “keys” ... embodied in his gigantic talent and in his soul. These keys were able to unlock the depths of his listeners’ hearts, and in doing so, allowed the listener to enter a world of transcendental beauty, of overpowering poignancy, and enable them to discover their own soul.’

Jazz-oriented readers will, of course, find themselves irresistibly drawn to the details of Evans’s last eighteen months of life – the clear-eyed descriptions of his drug use and its ravaging effects on his body; the pen portraits of such celebrated characters as the Village Vanguard’s Max Gordon and Evans’s agent Helen Keane, not to mention his bandmates Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera; his listening and composing habits etc. – but the overall impression left by this intense, deeply felt literary work is succinctly summarised by author/motivational speaker David Roche: ‘The Big Love is an exotic erotic memoir, but is so charged with the full range of human experience that it is universal.’


Review: Matt Ridley Trio, featuring Jason Yarde at The Vortex

Lefto to right: John Turville, Matt Ridley, George Hart
Photo Credit: Jay Photography

Gig Review: Matt Ridley Trio, featuring Jason Yarde
(The Vortex, London, Mon. 22 April 2013. Review by Alison Bentley)

A sneak preview at the Vortex of music from UK bassist Matt Ridley's forthcoming CD, with fine band and compositions. Ridley’s a well-known sideman: he's kept busy by Darius Brubeck and the MJQ Celebration, among many. Ridley's own writing draws on modal jazz, minimalist composers, Middle Eastern melodies and free jazz. He's an imaginative soloist who also roots the band with strength and simplicity.

Kenny Wheeler is Ridley's favourite composer, and he wrote Homage to Kenny Wheeler using the chord sequence to Wheeler's Onmo. It was an uplifting piece with a tinge of melancholy. Jason Yarde's soprano drew repeated subtle shapes before exploding into abstraction. Like Wheeler, Ridley is fascinated by modal harmonies, using triads over bass lines to tease out unusual scales and tunes. Thymos (title track of the new album and Greek for 'spiritedness') had some dark disturbing modes, but Yarde's sweet, pure tone drew them together; above was the compelling melody, below was a storm of unpredictability. Several of Ridley's pieces gave the sense of being in several time signatures at once; here the complex piano lines drifted across the 5/4 bars- it felt like walking through a hall of mirrors.

Ridley is particularly influenced by minimalist Classical composers, naming Steve Reich and John Adams. The shifting rhythms of Siamese Twins were like waves, coming back to almost the same place each time- but not quite. Theme and Variations began with a Bach-like bass line, as befits the title, but as the asymmetrical 9/4 pulse evolved, George Hart's creative drumming filled the spaces between the deep bass and high piano. Hart focused on toms and snare, using cymbals as flashes of brilliance to illuminate the elliptical beats.

There was a streak of Romanticism in the music (not just Ridley's flowing locks and velvet poet's coat). It mostly came from John Turville's piano, which managed to be simultaneously cerebral and emotional. In Ebb and Flow, he negotiated the complex harmony effusively; after an exquisitely Bill Evans-like intro, he played repeated rich rhythmic chords, like John Taylor in Azimuth. (That other JT, whom Turville is perhaps most like). Hart trailed sticks across cymbals like numinous wind chimes. In The River, Ridley played the yearning melody with a singing vibrato, redolent of Charlie Haden's sound in his duets with Metheny.

Ridley has worked with oud player Attab Haddad, who introduced Ridley to Middle Eastern styles, such as the gentle Strange Meeting: a little like Wayne Shorter playing Rowles' Peacocks but with a haunting Eastern harmonised line for sax and piano. Siddharta had hints of Moorish Flamenco, or the Middle Eastern flavour of Avishai Cohen's writing- another of Ridley's heroes. Hart's drumming was constantly fascinating, hinting at Latin grooves, then gentle funk with subliminal cymbals, while sax and piano conversed in a rare-sounding language that you really wanted to learn. The swashbuckling encore Hijaz, with its driving quasi-Turkish motifs, propelled us into some thrilling free improv, Yarde's alto in particular experimenting at the edge of jazz.

The gig certainly whetted the appetite for the CD and tour to come. The audience's total concentration reminded me that the Vortex' founder David Mossman used to call it 'London's listening jazz club'. And it was.

Matt Ridley's album Thymos out on Whirlwind, Mon. 14 October and touring.


Montreux at Covent Garden in July - on or off?

The Royal Opera House website has a page (HERE) saying that "Montreux Jazz Festival will be coming to the Royal Opera House in July 2013." During the past week the programme for the Montreux Festival itself has been announced and the tickets for that are now on sale. However, so far there is no information about London dates. The London plan was a pet project of Montreux's visionary founder director Claude Nobs, and in the aftermath of his tragic death after a ski-ing accident, it is not surprising that plans have changed, but at  the moment there are more questions here than answers.


606 Club Lots Road 25th Anniversary Celebration May 22nd to June 2nd

Steve Rubie

The 606 Club has been 25 years at its current location in Lots Road. It moved from 606 Kings Road in 1988. The club will celebrate its 25th anniversary at its current location with a twelve-day festival presenting (drum-roll...) over FORTY bands on the twelve nights from May 22nd to to June 2nd.

Congratulations to Steve Rubie and the team on passing an important milestone and on your unique contribution to jazz in London.

Tickets Here


Wednesday 22nd May:


Thursday 23rd May:


Friday 24th May:

IAN SHAW QUARTET with special guest JACQUI DANKWORTH 10:00

Saturday 25th May:


Sunday 26th May:

606 CLUB BIG BAND 1:00-4:00pm

Monday 27th May:


Tuesday 28th May:


Wednesday 29th May:


Thursday 30th May:


Friday 31st May:

IMAANI 10:00

Saturday 1st June:


Sunday 2nd June:



Preview: Jamie Cullum - Jazz at the Movies BBC Radio 2 Documentary, 29th April 2013

Jamie Cullum with The Fabulous Baker Boys' piano at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles

On Monday 29th April 2013 at 10:00pm, BBC Radio 2 will broadcast the first of two episodes exploring the relationship between jazz and film. Producer Ian Parkinson writes:

“This was a bit of a dream project for a radio producer - great stories and characters, a ready made soundtrack featuring some of the world's best music and a presenter who is knowledgeable and passionate about the subject. We realised very early on that there was no point trying to cover the whole history of jazz and film, that's a ten-part series at least, so we decided to focus on those areas that Jamie really loves - Ellington, the French New Wave, Woody Allen and Spike Lee among others. And also, of course, the Fabulous Baker Boys, which Jamie says was the film which inspired him to become a jazz pianist.

When Jamie talks with musicians like Terence Blanchard or even Clint Eastwood, there's a mutual understanding and respect there which makes for really interesting and different interviews. We're very pleased with the way the shows have turned out, but especially proud of the introduction, which we recorded with Jamie at the Biltmore Hotel in LA, where some of the Fabulous Baker Boys was shot. There's a lot of love and time went into that sequence and we hope it comes across.”

The programmes were produced by Ian Parkinson and Karen Pearson of Folded Wing. Broadcast date for the second episode is Monday 6th May at 10:00pm.


Preview: Kate Williams at St James Theatre Studio, 1st May

Kate Williams writes...

I Am very much looking forward to performing at St James Studio Theatre on 1st May with Gareth Lockrane (flutes), Oli Hayhurst (double bass), and Tristan Maillot (drums). We'll be playing an eclectic mix of material - from Bud Powell, to Cole Porter, as well as several of my originals  written specially for this line-up. A new CD is in the planning for later this year! It's always great to play in a (relatively) new venue, which is  keen to promote live music. St James Theatre provides a warm and atmospheric performance space - ideal for a jazz quartet!

More information and TICKETS


Scott Chapman wins 2013 Humph Trust Award

Scott Chapman

At the annual Humph Trust concert at the Royal Academy of Music on Sunday, this year's award, the fourth since the award was instigated, was presented to Pinner-raised drummer and now NYJO veteran (!)  Scott Chapman. Congratulations ! FULL STORY HERE.


Harmonica player Philip Achille

I met and heard harmonica player Philip Achille from Olton near Solihull for the first time yesterday, in Willesden. He's recently emerged from a London conservatoire without a jazz course.


Roundup Report: 2013 Rethinking Jazz Cultures Conference in Salford

Val Wilmer and Dave Laing at the 2013 Rethinking Jazz Cultures Conference

Tom Sykes writes...

Around a hundred jazz people, ranging from professional musicians such as pianist Matthew Bourne to broadcasters such a Alyn Shipton, as well as eminent authors – Val Wilmer, no less – and academics from around the world attended the Rethinking Jazz Cultures Conference in Salford.

The conference started not with speeches or papers but a reception and exhibition at the Cube gallery in Manchester, featuring jazz related photos from William Ellis’s One LP project and Paul Floyd Blake, who was commissioned by Rhythm Changes to capture scenes from the North Sea, Copenhagen and London jazz festivals. Ellis’s black and white portraits showed well-known musicians each holding a favourite recording, whereas Blake’s pictures captured the relationships between festival audience and city, venue and surroundings, and jazz and commerce.

Additionally, Bill Birch was on hand to discuss his book Keeper of the Flame: Modern Jazz in Manchester 1946-1972, and live improvised music was provided by Matthew Bourne and Christophe de Bezenac (member of the Rhythm Changes team and saxophonist with Trio VD). The main part of the conference took place in the University of Salford’s MediaCityUK campus at Salford Quays, a good venue and next to the BBC – quite apt as jazz on the BBC entered more than one debate.

The first keynote was given by jazz historian and academic David Ake, whose topic was the ‘post neo-traditional era’ in America, and who suggested that the divisive influence of Wynton Marsalis and others was over and that jazz in a variety of forms is vibrant in American cities. As usual with jazz academics the mention of Marsalis provoked some discussion, and got the conference off to a lively start! As for the paper presentations, there were too many to review here, but the wide range of topics covered included jazz fusions, cultural politics of jazz, jazz and film, jazz around the world (with several papers on South African jazz), and symphonic jazz.

There was a ‘Jazz and the Media’ panel with two representatives from the BBC (Alyn Shipton, and Alexander Kan of the World Service), Ian Patterson of the All About Jazz website and Seb Scotney, all chaired by Tim Wall (who has conducted research on behalf of the BBC). Shipton revealed some interesting snippets about Radio 3’s jazz coverage, and that despite the BBC Trust firmly making the station ‘the home of classical music on BBC radio’ after the recent licence review, he hoped Radio 3 would continue doing what it currently does, even though there are fewer than ten hours per week of jazz on BBC national radio. However, the general view of the panellists was that listening habits and the consumption of jazz – due to various forms of digital media – is changing, as you will be aware by the fact that you are reading this blog article online!

The A-Ha Project
The conference also hosted a number of live jazz performances, ranging from relaxed standards played by the Haftor Medbøe and Alan Williams guitar duo to a free improv set from Bourne – Davis – Kane, where Matthew Bourne, always an entertaining performer, played cello as well as keyboards. There was also a performance by a band including two members of the Rhythm Changes project, drummer Nick Katuszonek and saxophonist Petter Frost Fadnes, the A-ha Project – a jazz interpretation of the music of the Norwegian pop group, reminding us that jazz can and should draw on any musical material.

The second keynote talk was given by American author and academic E Taylor Atkins, who has a genuine interest in jazz outside the US and who suggested that, in thinking about jazz in ‘diverse contexts’, time, place and culture are at the same time relevant and irrelevant. In her response to Atkins, Catherine Tackley made the point that there is a difference between ‘jazz in Britain’ and ‘British jazz’, and that the latter should be valued more highly (for example, young musicians are sometimes criticised for both using and not using national characteristics – ‘Britishness’ – in their music). This led to a discussion about the impact of the work of jazz researchers outside academia, which was a theme running through the conference.

Inviting Val Wilmer to discuss her work with Dave Laing demonstrated how a photographer (and a British, young, white, female one at that) could not only gain the trust of African American musicians, but tell their stories in a way that is valued by jazz fans and academics alike. The anecdotes she told about her wonderful photos were fascinating, and for me it was the perfect way to end a successful conference.

I hope this short report will help raise awareness of what is happening in the world of jazz research, and its relevance to the music.

Tom Sykes was involved in the organisation of the conference, which was hosted by the Rhythm Changes research project, led by Professor Tony Whyton and funded by HERA, investigating jazz cultures and European identities.


Preview: Narcissus at Platform 33, Thursday 25th April

Pete Lee
Photo Credit: Jannica Honey‏

Pete Lee writes...

On April 25th, my band Narcissus will be featured at Platform33’s event at The Slaughtered Lamb, Farringdon.

I put this band together during my time studying at the Royal Academy of Music, aiming to combine the things I love the most about pop and jazz: relentless groove and memorable melodies, dark harmonies, odd time signatures and interactive improvisations. We’ve recorded an EP, and shot several videos (take a look at the first video we shot back in August 2012). Since then we’ve played at The Vortex, Sela Bar in Leeds and Under The Bridge in Chelsea.

I’m really excited to have Josh Arcoleo on board too, who did some recording with Narcissus a while back at RAM. Our music is high in intensity, and requires a sax player with a big sound and a strong voice. In rehearsal, Josh’s playing and musical attitude has added so much to the group. We can’t wait to get on stage!

Platform33 always brings in a reliable and dedicated audience, a cross-section of musical tastes and a common sense of curiosity and respect for the artists. The venue is a great room with a good sound system and stage, and it’s look and vibe will be a perfect setting for another live video. For a taster of the gig, have a listen and watch videos at OUR WEBSITE.

Pete Lee (piano and keys)
Tom Varrall (guitar)
Huw Foster (bass)
Alastair Thynne (drums)
With a special guest appearance from Edition Records’ Josh Arcoleo (sax).


Review: Torus at the Great Northern Railway Tavern

Torus: Jonathan Gee, Mick Sexton, Trevor Taylor, Gary Plumley

(Great Northern Railway Tavern. 18th April 2013. Review by Brian Blain)

The great Torus revival is gathering momentum,and, on a recent Thursday night at the new venue in Hornsey’s Great Northern  Railway Tavern, a good sized crowd was treated to a blistering programme out of the 80’s that largely passed the English audience by at the time.

Jonathan Gee filled the piano chair which originally belonged to the great Pete Jacobson in the then Essex based band and though the piano’s projection in the first set left something to be desired,  Gee’s natural energy and ebullience was a dynamic addition to a kicking rhythm section all evening.

Although the leader is bassist Mick Sexton - behind the scenes stalwart of the Way Out West  musicians’ collective- Jaco Pastorious’ classic Three Views of a Secret was largely given over to Gary Plumley, surely the best under the radar tenor saxophonist around, and throughout both sets on great favourites like Steps Ahead’s Islands, a funky ballad by Mike Mainieri, Keith Jarrett’s Questar and even the straight ahead swing of Tea Bag, when Sexton’s long note bass lines really sang, Plumley was passionate, melodically sure, and both free or blues soaked funky ,as the material demanded.

FMR label boss Southend drummer Trevor Taylor mainly functions in the free improv area which meant that his fills and patterns always had the element of  surprise without losing grip on the groove held steady by Sexton.

In sum; a wonderful night of jazz of the kind that I never expected to hear on the live circuit again.


CD Review: Nils Wogram Septet, Complete Soul

CD Review: Nils Wogram Septet, 'Complete Soul'
(nWog Records 004. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

'I never liked the competition between European and American jazz,' German trombonist and composer Nils Wogram once told Downbeat Magazine. Instead, he brings them together. He’s partly inspired by the textures of Miles' Birth of the Cool, but unlike Gil Evans' arrangements, the Septet has no chordal instrument and no bass. The writing has a Mingus-like rambunctiousness combined with NDR precision. (Several Septet members work with this renowned German big band.) This recording fuses jazz with Balkan and Indian music, in dizzyingly eclectic compositions played and improvised by elite German musicians. The sheer exuberance, and anarchic array of sounds drawn from free jazz, is focused by the incredible discipline of the ensemble playing.

In Complete Soul the brass and woodwind interweave in boppish lines. The baritone takes the bass role, and the free-ish drums roll with big band energy (the remarkable John Schröder). Wogram's solo has a warm tone over gentle backing lines, then gruff motifs break out of the structure. Motivation begins with a hard bop theme, first unison, then overlapping like a canon, polyphonic and cool. Tilman Ehrhorn's squally tenor bursts out over the wild Elvin Jones-like drums. There's a lot of humour in everyone's playing: Wogram's growls recall Ray Anderson, or mentor Steve Turre, with his playful, gleeful range of sounds. He duets with Ehrhorn at the start of Zuerihorn - the gravelly multiphonics make the two instruments almost indistinguishable. Staggered long ensemble notes are held like hypnotic guitar chords. It's as if Ellington is about to unravel into free jazz: wah wah solos with a rasping edge, chattering sounds behind Claudio Puntin's ethereally pure clarinet sound.

Weakness is Your Friend is perhaps the most beautiful piece: a delicate, watery mood, as the silky, cool alto and clarinet tones swim among the slow chords. The ensemble’s timbre veers from Gil Evans to a Ligeti wind ensemble, or even the mischievous writing of Mingus sideman Jack Walrath.

Two pieces are based on South Indian ragas, summoning German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff's 60s Eastern experiments. Varunaprya is minor and meditative: instead of a harmonium drone, two instruments play the same note and slowly move apart; they're revealed as clarinet (Puntin) and bass clarinet (Steffen Schorn), but the distinctions between instrument tones are often delightfully blurred throughout the recording. The two flit around each other like birds. There's an otherworldly feeling as the instruments play unison melodies over an insistent low horn drone and ritualistic percussion (Schröder).

In contrast, Karnakangi is quirky, using notes from the raga in dramatic call and response between low horns and high squealing. Like John McLaughlin, Wogram finds inspiration in percussive Indian vocal rhythms, and you can hear the influence here. Matthias Schriefl's trumpet solo draws on free jazz, and a Dave Douglas-like tone in its expressive squawks. Steffen Schorn's bari duet with drums is grungy, twangy, buzzy, while Frank Speer's alto runs helter-skelter, Steve Coleman-style, into ear-opening intervals. Ehrhorn's gritty tenor solo crumbles into a Snarky Puppy-ish driving punk theme.

Song For Ahmed and External Wind have a strong Eastern European influence. Wogram plays melodica like a Balkan accordion on the first, with fluttering 7/8 chords. The horns expand the harmonica chords with high energy, like a Bulgarian Ruchenitsa dance. Over a dark lolloping theme come high countermelodies, and a wild gypsy clarinet solo from Puntin (who also plays in a Balkan group). External Wind ends the album with a 9/8 tumbling theme, Schröder's huge funky sound propelling everything forward in a carefully-choreographed but Bacchanalian dance.

Wogram is incredibly productive, playing and recording with many different ensembles; he even set up his own recording label as his previous one thought he was doing too much. But who else has such a creative blend of discipline and wild improvisation; powerful technique and lightness of touch? Wogram wrote this music for these musicians to show them at their very best, and it does.

Words just can’t do it justice.


LP Review: Peter King - Shango

Peter King - Shango
(Mr Bongo Records MRBLP105. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

There is no shortage of notable jazz musicians called Peter King. Even if we limit ourselves to the ones who play the saxophone, we have at least three: the late tenorist who was born in London and co-founded Ronnie Scott’s; the alto player who was born in Kingston Surrey and is still wowing audiences today; and the subject of this review.

This Peter King is an Afrobeat and highlife star who plays tenor sax, double bass and drums and was born in Enugu, Nigeria. He got his first break in that country with local hero Roy Chicago before relocating to England in the early 1960s. Here King studied at the Guildhall and backed visiting Motown acts like Diana Ross and the Temptations. He later attended Berklee College in the States before returning to Europe where he played with Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

Writing music for British television allowed him to bankroll this album, which was recorded in Camden in 1974. Astonishingly, it remained unreleased until the early part of this century when it briefly surfaced before vanishing again.

Now, thanks to the Mr Bongo record label and their splendid “Classic African Recordings” revival series this lost treasure is available once more, and on an excellent vinyl pressing, too.

The title Shango refers to the Yoruba deity of thunder, lightning and fire — which explains the incendiary cover art. (Shango, or Sàngó, is sometimes spelled Django — but let’s not get into a Quentin Tarrantino diversion here).

The album is riveting and hard hitting and it’s no exaggeration to call it a classic. Why it took so long to be released is a mystery — and not the only one surrounding this outstanding work.

It opens with something resembling a Sun Ra chant before settling into a 70s funk groove. The diversity of music on offer here, and its integration, is startling and impressive. The wonderfully titled ‘Mr Lonely Wolf’ offers luscious fat guitar licks (Arthur Simon) alternating with stabbing sax (Humphrey Okoh-Turner plays alto on the album) and sweet floating flute from Peter King himself. It’s a track which manages, by turns, to be haunting and soulful, harsh and lyrical, while always maintaining a pulsing forward beat. And that’s some fine tambourine — not a phrase you’ll often hear me use.

Elsewhere ‘Now I’m a Man’ draws all the strands together in a brooding groove, ‘Go Go’s Feast’ has a swaggering urban assertiveness which calls to mind James Brown and ‘Mystery Tour’ evokes Zappa while also featuring some fine, bubbling synthesiser which could honourably be interpolated into Steely Dan’s Royal Scam.

In fact, the keyboard playing throughout this album is of a strikingly high standard, perhaps reaching a psychedelic peak on Watusi where it suggests Return to Forever-era Chick Corea. Yet while the cover notes name the above mentioned musicians plus David Williams on bass, Paul Edoh on congas, James Menin on drums and Mike Falana on trumpet, the keyboard player goes resolutely uncredited.

This is the other mystery I mentioned. I can only speculate that it was someone so well known that they couldn’t be identified for contractual reasons. They sure as hell can play — as can everyone on this excellent album.

Mr Bongo deserve congratulations for making this extraordinary music available again. I look forward to all their future releases. And the vinyl is a fine pressing, clean, dynamic and noise free. As with the other Mr Bongo releases, some sources still suggest it’s an 180gram LP which it certainly isn’t, being considerably lighter than that. But that’s irrelevant — there’s no sonic compromise here. And the music is exceptional. I suggest you check it out. It is available on CD, too, if you like that sort of thing.

Oh yes, the vinyl release also comes with an MP3 download code — whatever that is.


Review: Pigfoot at the Vortex

Chris Batchelor

(The Vortex, April 19th. Review by Matthew Wright)

Pigfoot, Chris Batchelor’s new ‘21st-century acid trad’ band, with Liam Noble on piano, Paul Clarvis on drums and Oren Marshall on tuba, returned to the Vortex on Friday 19th, after a successful launch in the same venue in January. Their re-workings of the trad repertoire were stunning in their originality and almost anarchically gleeful sense of fun.

The first couple of numbers of a Pigfoot gig are an invigorating experience in creative dislocation. The melodies - staples of 1920s and 1930s pieces by Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Waller, Beiderbecke etc - were for the most part instantly recognisable, but the tonal palette, the harmony and above all the rhythm were bitingly fresh.

A typical technique was to alter the time signature, though the exhilarating novelty of the band’s sound was at least as much due to the swooping changes of pace within a tune, and the steely-gripped ensemble that made such loose-jointed playing work.

And just when their approach was beginning to feel familiar, they played a version of Beiderbecke’s ‘In a Mist’ that was suddenly introspective, almost minimalist. It fitted the piece perfectly.

Oren Marshall’s virtuosic tuba - two words that even in jazz you don’t often see together - added another dimension to their soundscape. Forget the intestinal plodding of an uninspired big band: Marshall’s tuba cried, squealed, groaned, whooped, and crashed like a breaking wave. He even managed to sing himself, through the mouthpiece.

There’s perhaps a touch of the Instant Composers’ Pool Orchestra about their combination of technical command and musical adventure. Otherwise, it’s difficult to know who to compare them to. Much of this repertoire has sadly been allowed to fade, grow stale through too-familiar and unimaginative repetition. Pigfoot reminded us that this music was once raucously subversive and intensely joyous.

They were good to watch, too, with Paul Clarvis alive with madcap glee, and Chris Batchelor electric with energy. Oren Marshall and his tuba swayed like a couple in a slow dance, joined at the lips, making beautiful music. Liam Noble, with his back to the audience, was to some extent left out of the visual display, but he made up for it with a supple, commanding performance, linking the brass lines as they jigged.

This is new music-making of the highest order. Fortunately the gig was recorded. Look out.


Preview: Patrick Cornelius (606 Club, April 22nd)

New York-based saxophonist PATICK CORNELIUS previews the London album pre-launch of , Infinite Blue (Whirlwind) at the 606 Club. Monday April 22nd.

My upcoming album, Infinite Blue, is in many ways an extension of the melodic concepts from my last CD, Maybe Steps (REVIEWED HERE). I continue to be fascinated with the idea of telling stories through the melodic contours and collective ensemble colors. Every song I’ve written for Infinite Blue has a discrete story behind it, either from my personal experience or one that I’ve invented specifically for that tune. For the recording session, I needed musicians with a keen ability to accompany and improvise with an ear towards musical narrative.

Pianist Frank Kimbrough is best known for the bespoke beauty that he creates within every single one of Maria Schneider’s gorgeous masterpieces for large ensemble. He brings an unparalleled finesse and the classiest brand of swing to the proceedings. Percussion master Jeff Ballard’s resume speaks for itself, but most specifically his work with Brad Mehldau and with his own band Fairgrounds affirm his mastery of storytelling with rhythm. Another goal for this recording was to bring together established, seasoned masters like Kimbrough and Ballard together with musicians of my generation. There is no other musician whom I’ve toured with more than London-based bassist Michael Janisch, whose unrelenting groove and musical palette provide the sonic foundation for the entire album. Trombonist Nick Vayenas and I have been close musical associates and collaborators since our days at Berklee College of Music together in the 90s. We’ve recorded 9 albums together, and have been artistic partners for 15 years. Florida native Mike Rodriguez is one of the leading trumpet virtuosos in New York right now. He earned his stripes playing with artists from Eric Reed to Charlie Hayden to Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and brings a beauty and grace to every project he works on.

The idea for Infinite Blue came while I was flying from New York to Texas on a family trip, seated next to the window. I looked out into the clear blue expanse, and got an idea for a melody stuck in my head, and was able to jot it down in my composition notebook. When I got back home, and was able to flesh out the tune, my 3 year old daughter brought me her coloring book and a handful of crayons to play with alongside her. One of the crayons caught my eye. It was labeled “Cielo Infinito.” That’s when I knew I had the title to my project.

Over the past week I’ve had the pleasure of touring this music around the UK with bassist Michael Janisch, guitar wizard Phil Robson, and drummers Andrew Bain and Shane Forbes (both incredible, in completely different ways), and the band has gotten better and better each night. After playing well over 100 concerts throughout Great Britain over the past 7 years, I've learned that the jazz audience here is among the most enthusiastic, knowledgable, and welcoming in the world, and I've had an absolute blast this past week. Our momentum has been building towards Monday night’s CD Release concert at the 606 Club in Chelsea, and the band should be really sizzling by then. For our final event of the tour, we’ll be showcasing the music from Infinite Blue, alongside a few choice classics from my back catalog. Please come out and join us!

 Infinite Blue is released worldwide on July 23rd.


Podcast - Interview with Liane Carroll

LondonJazz spoke to vocalist Liane Carroll about her about her new album Ballads. (UPDATE: REVIEWED BY CHRIS PARKER HERE) The album was produced by James McMillan (who also worked with her on her 2011 release Up and Down), and also features arrangements by Chris Walden and contributions from pianists Mark Edwards and Gwilym Simcock, bass clarinet from Julian Siegel, tenor sax from Kirk Whalum, Mark Jaimes on guitar, Steve Pearce Chris Hill, Mark Hodgson and Roger Carey on bass, Mark Fletcher and Ralph Salmins on drums, and the City of Prague Philharmonic string section.

Carroll also has live dates at Pizza Express Dean St:

25th April: with Gwilym Simcock & Roger Carey

26th April: Ballads London launch with Mark Hodgson, Mark Edwards, James McMillan and String Ensemble

27th April: with Ben Castle, James McMillan, Roger Carey, and Mark Fletcher

28th April: with John Etheridge, Roger Carey, and Mark Fletcher

29th April: with Mark Edwards, Christian Garrick, and Roger Carey

Musical Excerpts:

Calgary Bay at 02:39

Pretending to Care at 05:33

You've Changed at 08:57


The Vortex - embedded audio interview from Shoreditch Radio

An interesting interview with the team running the venue, explaining the philosophy behind the Vortex Club in Dalston. In this embedded audio file, Pearl Wise interviews Lucy Jamieson (Programme Manager) and Clarissa Carlyon (General Manager, and Site Manager of Gillett Square) for Ditch on Shoreditch Radio.


Interview: Charles Lloyd (Barbican, April 28th)

Ahead of Charles Lloyd's Barbican concert on 28th April with Maria Farantouri, we interviewed the saxophonist by email.

LondonJazz: What do you remember of the summer evening in Athens in 2010 when The Athens Concert was recorded?

Charles Lloyd: With a full moon in June shining down on us, and for us to look up from the stage of the Herodion and see the Acropolis glowing in the moonlight - to know that Callas had also stood on those stones and performed, and Nureyev, and so many legends - yes, it was a lifetime experience. But, I hope it will not be limited to just once - they have said they want us to come back to the Herodion, but things in Greece have sadly been on shaky ground for the last couple of years. I hear from Maria Farantouri there is a little light coming through the end of the tunnel.

LJ: The quartet has really moved on since then, right?

CL: I love this formation. It is a flower that keeps blooming. An unfinished painting that reveals new colors.

LJ: It's a great collaboration with Jason Moran. How many years has it been going?

CL: Jason joined me in April 2007. Among the concerts in his first tour with me were Cheltenham and London. We share a deep bond and sympatico on so many levels. And I very happy that we have also now made a duo album together – Hagar’s Song.

LJ: People write about the dreamlike character of your playing. Does the mind wander off as you play?

CL: Hmmm. That could be dangerous to let the mind wander too far off while playing -we have to stay focused and keep our ears open – to be aware of what everyone else is doing at the same time. I prefer to think of us as explorers with the mission of discovery percolating in minds.

LJ: How do you find UK audiences?Aren't we a bit buttoned-up?

CL:I have always experienced a warm reception the UK - so, yes, I do like the audiences. We're all funny at times.

LJ: What else is there planned around your 75th birthday?

Charles Lloyd: I will do some duo concerts with Jason during the year - summer festivals will be with Sangam, the group with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland - I have invited Bill Frisell to do some special events in the Fall and I have been commissioned by the festival in Wrocław to write a special piece for their 10th anniversary in November - the instrumentation will include cimbalom, piano, bass, drums and Greek lyra.

LondonJazz: Thank you. We're looking forward to the Barbican concert


News: New BBC4 Documentary Queens of Jazz: The Joy and Pain of the Jazz Divas - provisional transmission date 10th May

With a provisional transmission time of 9pm on Friday 10th May, BBC 4 is due to broadcast a new documentary Queens of JazzThe Joy and Pain of the Jazz Divas., charting the stories of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone and Annie Ross.

The 60 minute programme "takes an unflinching and revealing look at what it actually took to be a jazz diva during a turbulent time in America’s social history".

The programme will feature contributions from singers: Annie Ross, Lisa Stansfield, Melody Gardot, Diana Krall, Madeleine Peyroux, Claire Martin, Anita Wardell, Barb Jungr, Carleen Anderson, Tina May and Gregory Porter.

Other jazz people who were inteviewed for the documentary include musicians Bucky Pizzarelli and Bob Dorough critics Gary Giddins, Dave Gelly, Alvin Hall, Loren Schoenberg, plus Holly Foster Wells (Peggy Lee’s grand-daughter) and George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival.


News: BBC Proms Programme 2013 Announced

Django Bates at Kings Place
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

The BBC Proms Programme has just been announced and the jazz headline is Django Bates performing  Prom 62: A Celebration of Charlie Parker, including the UK premiere of his new piece The Study of Touch on Wednesday 28th August 2013 at 10:15pm; Bates will be joined by regular trio members  Peter Bruun on drums, Petter Eldh on double bass, plus the Norrbotten Big Band and Ashley Slater on vocals. A Celebration of Charlie Parker features the ensemble's take on classic Charlie Parker tunes interspersed with original compositions.

The Proms includes a complete Wagner Ring cycle. A few Proms of interest are:

Prom 7: Gospel Prom - 16th July 2013 at 10:15pm

Prom 22: Naturally 7 - 29th July 2013 at 10:15pm

Prom 25: Zappa, The Adventures of Greggery Peccary - 31st July 2013 at 10:15pm

Prom 37: Urban Classic Prom - 10th August at 8:00pm

Prom 40: 6 Music Prom - 12th August 2013 at 10:15pm

Prom 54: World Routes Prom - 22nd August 2013 at 10:00pm

Prom 59: Hollywood Rhapsody Prom - 26th August at 7:30pm

Prom 62: A Celebration of Charlie Parker - 28th August at 10:15pm

Link to full BBC Proms programme HERE.


CD Review: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - In the Spirit of Duke

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - In the Spirit of Duke
(Spartacus Records STS017. CD Review by Matthew Wright)

This disc is a selection of live recordings of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s autumn 2012 Ellington tour. It’s also a culmination of band leader and saxophonist Tommy Smith’s increasingly intimate and exciting acquaintance with Ellington’s music, which began with his 1997 album The Sound of Love and included a period playing alongside Ellington veterans in the Ellington Legacy Orchestra in 1999.

It’s doubly important as a project: Ellington tours are always valuable in bringing new audiences to the increasingly rare and precarious world of live big band, while recordings of his music are vital in retaining his influence as an elemental part of the jazz tradition. Compared to the prolific tributes and reinterpretations of, for example, Davis or Coltrane, there’s not much new music that incorporates Ellington. For such a colossal, and entertaining figure, that’s a shame.

Smith, just old enough to have played with survivors of Ellington’s orchestra, is ideally placed to make Ellington’s case in a modern idiom. His choice of tracks for this disc is interestingly diverse, with every stage of the Duke’s career, from exuberant 1920s favourites like ‘Creole Love Call’ to some of the less well-known suites - especially the Queen’s Suite, composed after Ellington met the Queen in Leeds in 1958, and Ellington’s adaptations of Norwegian composer Grieg - from the last two decades of his career.

It hardly needs saying that an ensemble of this quality give a superb technical performance, the ensemble remaining well glued, despite their wild rhythmic tensions. The live sound is fresh and exciting, and the spirit of the gigs is compelling.

Comparing original recordings with the SNJO’s versions is fascinating, though conclusions must always be personal. The immediacy of the new recording inevitably does the SNJO a favour in any comparison, giving the brass sound a brighter, citrus lustre, and revealing more of the music’s texture.

I prefer the SNJO’s ‘Sepia Panorama’; Tommy Smith takes a crisper tempo than the slightly laboured Ellington original (the recording I have, anyway), and the brass sound gleams, and the rhythm pulses aggressively. Just for once, Ellington’s band sounds a bit flat in comparison.

‘Black and Tan Fantasy’, on the other hand, lacked, for me, the extravagant swagger of Ellington’s version. There’s something deliciously malevolent about Bubber Miley’s sneering muted trumpet in Duke’s version that the SNJO, for all of its polish, can’t quite match. It’s too polite, perhaps.

The SNJO creates a magnificent train in ‘Daybreak Express’, its more elastic tempos accelerating with relentless menace and exhilaration, while Ryan Quigley’s trumpet squeals and screams with glee. Ellington’s train sounds rather underpowered by contrast.

Of the less familiar material, the Grieg arrangements - according to Tommy Smith’s note, banned in Norway on release in 1960 - stand up better than The Queen’s Suite. This last piece, though interesting, is surely one of Ellington’s least original. It seems, perhaps because of its regal inspiration, to be aspiring to delicacy and prettiness. For all the big band’s merits, are surely the tones in which it has least to offer.

There are superb solos from most of the band. As well, of course, as Smith himself, who maintains order with the lightest of touches, and smoulders on sax, Ryan Quigley is acrobatically outstanding on trumpet, and Martin Kershaw on clarinet/sax perhaps stand out most. Ruaraidh Pattison, on his first SNJO tour, is irresistible in ‘Prelude to a Kiss’. And in several tracks, particularly ‘Le Sucrier Velours’ and ‘The Single Petal of a Rose’, Brian Kellock on piano leads with a perfect combination of authority and sensitivity.

This disc is a valuable piece of Ellingtonia for the dedicated fan, essential both for the range of its selection and the skill of execution. Whichever way their preferences fall between SNJO and Ellington, listeners are guaranteed an enjoyable time comparing tracks, and savouring the SNJO’s new perspectives.

Sufficient time has now elapsed since pre-bop originals were performed that for much of the audience it feels, arguably, more like a re-interpretation of archival material than a continuation of a tradition. The January debut of Chris Batchelor’s extraordinary new band Pigfoot, which part celebrates and part deconstructs the traditional repertoire was perhaps a turning point. The SNJO plays straighter than that, but even if it’s just in the brightness and freshness of the sound, there’s a revelatory sense of rediscovery, like seeing a newly restored old master scrubbed of its familiar grimy layers, emerge and astonish viewers newly.