Review: Norwegian Requiem at LSO St Luke's

Arve Henriksen

Norwegian Requiem
(LSO St. Luke's. 27th November 2013. Review by Alex Roth)

It is difficult to discuss a concert featuring Arve Henriksen without drawing attention to the sound he makes. Clearly one might expect the same to be said of any musician, but Henriksen – perhaps more than any of his contemporaries – has developed such a strikingly original approach to the trumpet that his sound bears particular importance. It is a startlingly sumptuous sound, at times swooping upwards like a shakuhachi flute, at others sighing uncannily like the human voice.

This affinity with vocal sounds made him a particularly apt participant in tonight's concert, which culminated in Andrew Smith's Norwegian Requiem (read Sebastian's interview with Andrew HERE), scored for girls' choir, community choir and organ with an improvised trumpet (and occasional solo vocal) part by Henriksen.

The evening began with Henriksen and his Supersilent bandmate Ståle Storløkken in duet, the latter drawing a wide range of timbres from his several keyboards. Analogue synth melodies morphed into organ-like chorales or denser textural clusters. The continuous set had the air of an improvisation, but the appearance of a few unison melodies suggested some preconceived material. Then again, such is the rapport between Henriksen and Storløkken, honed over nearly two decades, that this could well have been intuitive. Whether improvised or not, the duo's patience in developing their material allowed the music to dictate its own logic, each melodic statement emerging organically from the conversational exchange. Henriksen even instigated a bit of audience participation, gesturing for the LSO St Luke’s Community Choir (seated on stage ready for the second set), then those in the sold-out rostra to repeat a simple three-note figure while he and Storløkken extemporised over the top. As gimmicky as this might sound on paper, there was a very natural and unforced air to the proceedings which suggested that this was simply what the music called for.

After the interval Henriksen, Storløkken and the LSO St Luke’s Community Choir were joined by the Choralia Girls’ Choir of Wells Cathedral and conductor Christopher Finch to perform Andrew Smith's nine-movement piece based loosely on the requiem mass. A British-born composer based in Norway from the age of 14, Smith has written about the influence of the Utøya tragedy on the work, and the music was for the most part imbued with solemnity.

With strong roots in Gregorian chant and medieval choral music, Norwegian Requiem nevertheless sounded modern, thanks largely to a couple of climactic movements which built up densely polyphonic clouds of sound, like more tonal echoes of those in the Requiem by Ligeti (another composer fascinated with medieval compositional techniques). Even in these more intense moments, Smith's palette never strayed too far from strong melodic lines and tonal centres, and there was plenty of space for Henriksen to interject contrasting textures, occasionally adding a touch of electronics and at one point using his own voice to evoke a kind of universal folk quality.

The idea of creating a choral framework for Henriksen's improvising was beautifully conceived and executed, and if the resulting piece never quite elicited the kind of soul-stirring one might have hoped for, it did make for a successful meeting-point of Norwegian and British, notated and improvised.


Robbie Vincent decides to leave JazzFM

Robbie Vincent

The veteran broadcaster and DJ Robbie Vincent has decided to leave JazzFM. His decision to go appears to have been quite sudden. Nick Pitts, station controller at JazzFM said: “We’re very sad that Robbie has decided to leave Jazz FM. He is and always will be a legendary broadcaster and we’ll miss him here. Jeff Young will be replacing him with an extended programme full of the music that has fuelled both Robbie and Jeff for years and we look forward to this.

JazzFM always has its critics, budgets are tight, but the most recent scheduling changes have been in an encouraging direction: the evening and night-time scheduling - with good, knowledgeable, experienced jazz presenters such as Helen Mayhew and Mike Chadwick in place  -  is increasingly focused towards broadcasting a broad range of jazz. 


Happy 65th Birthday Stan Sulzmann

A very happy 65th birthday to a giant of British jazz Stan Sulzmann, whose Neon Orchestra will be at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham tonight. A couple of quotes from our recent LJF Preview:

“I know that if I had to just had to walk out and make music with someone, he'd be at the top of the list, the music is so heartfelt, it's such a natural thing.” Gwilym Simcock

“Great writing, great playing, a great musician. He's a fine example of a saxophonist who's worked in many different spheres, an example to musicians on any instrument. It's all about the music and his sound, and also about how much support he's given to all us other musicians." Julian Siegel.

And most medical conditions can be fixed and crimes solved with a quick fix of Stan playing the 1980's  Poirot theme.


News: Tim Garland Signed to Edition Records – Double Album to be Released in 2014 - with track embedded

Tim Garland

Composer / saxophonist Tim Garland is to release a double album on Edition Records in May 2014.

The album charts ten years of Garland's musical career and consolidates two of his most ambitious works: 

- Lighthouse Project  features John Turville, Jason Rebello, Geoffrey Keezer, Asaf Sirkis, Ant Law, and Don Paterson.

-  Songs to the North Sky (shortlisted for a 2013 British Composer Award) features the Northern Sinfonia, John Patitucci, and Asaf Sirkis.

Listen to The Road into the Night from Songs to the North Sky below:

More information HERE


CD Review: Jason Rebello - Anything but Look

Jason Rebello - Anything but Look
(Lyte LR021. CD Review by Rob Mallows)

“Not before time!”

So said the guy behind the counter at Ray’s Jazz in Foyles as I bought a copy of Jason Rebello's new CD...

“It’s good to see he’s back on the scene”, he added.

I couldn’t disagree. It is good to see Jason Rebello back.

Rebello’s first two albums, A Clearer View and Keeping Time, still regularly feature on my iPod playlist. They were my gateway drug into jazz: modern, hip, not-afraid-to-mix-it-up-kind of albums and I loved them.

Yet this nineties jazz pianist wunderkind pulled the plug on his recording career after a decade, thereafter playing with Sting and artists such as Jeff Beck. With no original music since 1999’s Next Time Round (unless you include his 2007 low-key jazz for kids record Jazz Rainbow) this album is a welcome return to recording form.

Backed by Jeremy Stacey on drums, brother Paul Stacey on guitar and Pino Palladino on bass (another titan straddling the two worlds of jazz and rock), the quality of the playing is super-tight and well mixed by drummer/producer Troy Miller.

These things are matters of taste, but for me Rebello is a little too reliant on the soul vibe with some of the vocal collaborators. Full-on soul does have its way of pushing jazz off into a quiet corner. Fellow early nineties jazz-soul phenomenon Omar opens the album with Know what you need and reminds me why his career faded somewhat. In contrast, the funk feel of New Joy, with regular Rebello contributor Joy Rose, works much better. Dark Night of the Soul has a very insistent left-hand melody and atmospheric vocals by Alicia Carroll which are a bit left field but totally work for this song. There's also a guest slot for rising star Jacob Collier.

The strongest tracks are the three instrumental tracks including Without a Paddle - which recalls the sounds of his earliest albums - where the band have space to open up and Rebello can demonstrate that he’s still got his contemporary jazz chops in spades. His recent show with this band and album material at Ronnie Scott’s, and this album itself demonstrate that Rebello has lost nothing of the inventiveness and joyful musicianship of his early years.


Preview: Kit Downes writes about Pablo Held. Double Bill with both trios - Pizza Express. 5th December

Pablo Held
Photo Credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

Kit Downes Writes:

I'm very happy to be able to invite Pablo Held to the UK once again, this time with his whole trio - made up of the fantastic improvisers Robert Landfermann (bass) and Jonas Burgwinkel (drums).

I have known Pablo since I was at college. Having heard each other's playing on the internet (I think Pablo came across my Academy end-of-year recital that I had put on myspace!) we soon discovered our mutual appreciation of pianists such as John Taylor (who taught Pablo at Cologne) and Paul Bley. So it was with great excitement that I invited him over for the Steinway two pianos festival last year to play a duet with me. We played a mixture of my music, Pablo's and other peoples', and we enjoyed this so much we decided to run a double bill trio tour this year - we are playing two dates in Germany (Aachen and Cologne) and two dates in the UK (Brighton and London) and are looking forward to hearing each other's music evolve in the rare scenario of playing back to back gigs.

Pablo is a great composer, but also has developed a way of performing with his trio where all 3 of them know each others parts for every tune - so anyone can cue any part of any tune by just playing a small part of it (even if it's in the middle of another tune) - so that they then seamlessly link in other material to the mix. This improvising with form (as well as with narrative and notes) is rare I think - especially in a piano trio, a medium that can often ends up sounding a bit the same. However, they are big risk-takers and are always concerned with developing what they are doing and moving forward. As a result they are very exciting to listen to.

 For me it will be a fun return to playing with my regular partners Calum Gourlay (bass) and James Maddren (drums). We have hardly played in the piano trio format at all in the last three years since I started the quintet, which was just  after the 2010 Mercury Music Awards. We'll be playing a mixture of new things and old things.

We - Pablo and I - will playing with both our bands on the 4th December in the intimate atmosphere of the Verdict club in Brighton, and again on the 5th December at the Pizza Express in London (TICKETS).


Book Review: Jimi Hendrix - Starting at Zero: His Own Story

Jimi Hendrix - Starting at Zero: His Own Story
(Bloomsbury, 256pp., £18.99. Book Review by Chris Parker)

‘His own story’ is the crucial element in the title of this intriguing book, a posthumous memoir of (arguably) the greatest guitarist in the history of rock music, Jimi Hendrix. Painstakingly assembled, by documentary film-maker Peter Neal and producer Alan Douglas, from interviews, diaries, stage announcements, lyrics and even letters and postcards to fans, Starting at Zero aims to tell Hendrix’s story in his own words, from the night in 1942 when he was born (‘the moon turned a fire red’) to his death in 1970 (‘when I die I’m going to have a jam session ... Roland Kirk will be there, and I’ll try to get Miles Davis along if he feels like making it. For that it’s almost worth dying’).

Perhaps the most misrepresented figure in 1960s popular culture (‘Wild Man of Pop is Dead’ was typical of the headlines announcing his premature, tragic demise), Hendrix emerges from this collection of autobiographical snippets as the thoughtful, modest, music-obsessed artist he was rather than the flamboyant, guitar-burning, drug-soaked womaniser portrayed in the tabloids of the time.

In an entry from 1969, Hendrix reflects on this dichotomy: ‘A couple of years ago all I wanted out of life was to be heard. Now I’m trying to figure out the wisest way to be heard. I don’t want to be a clown anymore. I don’t want to be a rock and roll star ... [Breaking things up and burning guitars] were just added on, like frosting, but the crowd started to want them more than the music.’

One of the most persistent effects of such ‘frosting’ was the idea, constantly promulgated in the popular press, that Hendrix’s stage act was obscene. He refutes this with his characteristic blend of broad-mindedness and percipience: ‘I don’t think it’s vulgar. Perhaps it’s sexy, but what music with a big beat isn’t? Music is such a personal expression that it’s bound to project sex. What is so wrong with that?’ Another effect, the widespread perception of him as a proselytiser for unbridled drug use, is also dealt with head on: ‘This I really believe, that anybody should be able to think or do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. It’s your own private thing if you use drugs of any kind. It’s nobody else’s concern ... The trouble starts when people let [drugs] rule them instead of using [them] as a step to something else.’

Also firmly knocked on the head by this memoir is the notion that Hendrix was somehow shamed, by the Black Panthers referring him to him as a ‘coconut’ (black on the outside, white within), into espousing the politics of racial confrontation: ‘Race isn’t a problem in my world. I don’t look at things in terms of races. I look at things in terms of people ... I’m thinking about the obselete and the new.’

Such single-minded determination to concentrate purely on matters musical pervades this collection: ‘Music is a universal language, and if it were respected properly it would have a way to reach people ... there is no white rock or black rock. There are only two kinds of music – good and bad ... My goal is to be one with the music. I just dedicate my whole life to this art.’

By allowing readers to hear Hendrix’s voice unmediated, straight from the heart, Starting at Zero places the man himself, in all his complexity, firmly at the centre of his own life story, and as such it usefully complements the most sensitive and comprehensive biography to date, Harry Shapiro and Caesar Glebbeek’s Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy; what it doesn’t do, however, is allow the jazz world (as it so often does, with talk of collaborations with Gil Evans and friendship with Miles Davis) to claim him as a potential convert: ‘[I]f I’m at home I’d never put on a jazz disc. I consider jazz to be a lot of horns and one of those top-speed bass lines ... But I don’t happen to know much about jazz.’ Ah well, nobody’s perfect, even Jimi Hendrix.


Review: Gwilym Simcock and Wolfgang Muthspiel at Pizza Express Dean Street

Gwilym Simcock and Wolfgang Muthspiel
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 27th November 2013. Last night of Gwilym Simcock's Eurozone residency. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

First some bad news: pianist Gwilym Simcock fell on his hand last week and tore a ligament in his right thumb, needing surgery. The injury will take at least a few weeks to recover.  The anxieties he as a pianist may have been having in the past week don't bear thinking about, but I am told he is expected to make a complete recovery.

For his solo concert at the Hampstead Festival last Thursday, John Taylor (no less) was able to step in as his last minute replacement, although Gwilym did join him for a three-hand finale. Since then has performed a five-night 'Eurozone' residency at the Pizza Express left-hand only. The gig I went to was the final night of that residency.

He was playing opposite one of the top jazz guitarists in continental Europe, the Austrian Wolfgang Muthspiel. Muthspiel is one of those players whose credentials are impeccable, but who gets whispered about in awe by musicians rather than hawked about the place by a large label. He's not an attention-craver, not a particularly loud player either.Muthspiel may have been scaling down his game deliberately to match and contrast with a temporarily one-handed piano player last night, but he proved the perfect foil.

The qualities I really like in Muthspiel's playing (mainly from getting to know  the 2004 album Air, Love and Vitamins on Quinton with Marc Johnson and Brian Blade) are the constant life and inventiveness in the line. He finds fabulous ways to use hesitation and silence, and then pounces on a phrase. His compositions are also worth getting to know, like the appealing Sunspot and Ibrahim, both played last night. They are full of life and twists and turns for improvisers to get their heads, hands and hearts round. And here's one sentence I like from his Wikipedia entry to give a bit of context: "[Muthspiel]'s high reputation, even in young years, made him the replacement of Pat Metheny in Gary Burton's band."

Bassist Jasper Hoiby's tune introductions have become a valued art-form in their own right. His years in London have left him with a mischievously arch brand of self-deprecation matched with that sing-songy Danish intonation to the end of sentences. Last night he was explaining that the tune Behind Bars was titled thus because the main aspiration of a musician while playing, or travelling, is to get to the bar, a repeated pattern which can also be imprisoning. Having said that, the ever-present life, charisma and musicianship in his playing are the real reason for hearing him, and all those were in place last night. Drummer Josh Blackmore, particularly in that tune of Hoiby's, but elsewhere too, is incredibly adept at providing punctuation and structure and shape and reference points in a musical structure.

What stays in the mind this morning is the effortlessly endlessly imaginative trading of ideas and fragments of melody in I Hear A Rhapsody. This was one of those quiet, unshowy, intensely musical, memorable gigs.

So, here's hoping times two: first that  it's not long before Wolfgang Muthspiel is back in London, and that Gwilym Simcock's recovery will be both rapid and complete.


Review: Grand Union Orchestra - On The Edge at Wilton's Music Hall

Grand Union Orchestra - On The Edge
(Wilton's Music Hall, London. Four nights, 21-24 November 2013. Review by Duncan Heining)

The Grand Union Orchestra is a celebration and never was this more clear than at the ensemble’s four night residency at Wilton’s Music Hall in late November. Featuring different sets each night and drawing on its vast pool of musical talent, GUO celebrated in song, in dance and in multi-cultural big band style the diversity of the music to be found in Britain and in London’s East End.

Strength in Depth? GUO have it in abundance, whether it is Indian violinist Jyotsna Srikanth, Bulgarian percussionist Lilia Iontcheva, Bengali tabla player Yousuf Ali Khan or jazzers such as Aussie saxophonist Louise Elliott, British alto star Chris Biscoe or Jamaican-British trumpeter Kevin Robinson. A tune or song can begin in New Orleans, samba down to Brazil before morphing into Township Jive. That’s how GUO celebrate jazz – no matter where it comes from on the globe, leader Tony Haynes will make it live and breathe afresh.

We danced on Thursday and Friday to Latin, West African and Caribbean rhythms and even to a Gypsy pulse courtesy of Roma virtuoso accordionist Ionel Mandache. We sang along on Saturday to the songs of past GUO shows as The Rhythm of Tides and If Paradise and swung like mad to Sunday’s night’s big band set.

GUO oozes commitment – not in some woolly, ‘make love not war’ or ‘love thy neighbour’ kind of way. These guys knows that what brings people together is something shared. It can be music. It may be through struggle. One thing’s sure the Grand Union Orchestra’s music makes you feel alive, makes you think and makes long for a better world.



Review: Veryan Weston’s MAKE with Evan Parker and Christine Duncan’s Element Choir at Shoreditch Church

Evan Parker, Veryan Weston, Christine Duncan, Element Choir
Photo Credit: David O'Connor

Veryan Weston’s MAKE and Christine Duncan’s Element Choir
(Shoreditch Church, November 24th 2013. Review by Geoff Eales)

The Palladian-styled St. Leonard’s Church Shoreditch, immortalized in the old nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons – “when I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch” – proved to be the perfect setting for this mightily impressive double-whammy of a concert. The 40 or so voices of the Element Choir directed by Canadian Christine Duncan, visiting the UK for the very first time, and the smaller MAKE Ensemble positively glowed in the heavenly acoustic of this ancient, crepuscular holy place.

The text of Weston’s project derives from 52 nuggets of wisdom spoken by inspirational women from medieval times to the modern age – an eclectic mix of individuals including saints, sinners, singers, visionaries, poets, authors, composers, patrons of the arts and political activists. Each quotation has the word “make” in it.

As Veryan explains : “The piece is an experiment in two ways. The first is by using language as a means of generating rhythm as opposed to solely generating meaning. The purpose was to create mystery by concealing the meaning of each individual message and to overlay them with each other. Words could then be seen to become a poetic abstraction in sound. The second way is to use music as a means of generating meaning, where sound unifies the separate voices. It was realised that five simultaneous statements would be enough to mask any clear linguistic message. The statements are sung using one pitch. Because there are five statements, there is a chord of five notes, i.e. a pentatonic chord/scale as used in the Tessellations pieces.”

Below is a sample of five random statements :

“Just so, the breath of the air makes the earth fruitful. Thus the air is the soul of the earth, moistening it, greening it” – Saint Hildegard of Bingen

“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet” – Emily Dickinson

“ Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow” – Sylvia Plath

“People who have more should give it away and make life better for those who don’t” - Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter

“You can make people understand why freedom is so important through the arts” – Aung San Suu Kyi

The concert was neatly divided into four parts. The outer frames were occupied by the Element Choir, Parts 2 and 3 by “MAKE”.

Unlike the pre-composed, non-improvisatory “MAKE” with its strict use of closely-related pentatonic scales, the music of the Element Choir was totally improvised – and what gloriously colourful and dynamic improvisations they turned out to be ! With Veryan at the piano, Evan Parker on tenor saxophone, Julie Walkington on bass and Jean Martin behind the small drum kit, these masterly improvising musicians were an integral part of the equation and at all times sympathetic to the ever-changing moods of the choir – one minute an ethereal murmur, the next a blood-curdling shriek, utopia morphing into dystopia in a flash. Birdsong, jungle noises, heavenly harmonies, angry dissonance, seething rhythms, beautiful calm – all these elements figured in the ever-evolving and unpredictable story. Not for nothing is it called the Element Choir.

It was all perfect unisons in Part 2, the angelic voice of Iris Ederer ( augmented by the 12-piece mixed choir as the series of quotations drew to a close ) floating on top of an infectiously grooving rhythm section in 5/2 time. The same time-signature prevailed in Part 3 but here there are no instruments, the 10-strong female a cappella choir delivering their statements as a series of interlocking and overlapping pentatonic scales. The small audience erupted at the end of this magical piece making 30 people sound like 300, which just goes to show that magic truly can happen.

I left the church overwhelmed, enriched and cleansed by the whole evening’s experience and would like to thank Veryan, Iris, Evan, Julie, Jean, Phil Minton ( the things he does with his vocal chords are just mind-boggling ), Christine and all the members of the London Element Choir ( only formed that afternoon, they followed Christine’s multiple gestures and hand-movements to perfection at all times ) for making such wonderful, awe-inspiring, original music.

To learn more about Veryan Weston’s theories and compositional techniques visit . His preview of the concert is HERE


RIP Chico Hamilton (1921-2013)

Sad to hear of the death of drummer/bandleader Chico Hamilton yesterday November 25th at the age of 92.


Review: Carol Grimes at Lauderdale House (LJF)

Carol Grimes
(Lauderdale House. 21 November 2013 - LJF. Review by Brian Blain)

Carol Grimes and her current, beautifully tight band - Dorian Ford (piano), Neville Malcolm (bass) Winston Clifford (drums) and Annie Whitehead (trombone) -  put them all together and we had a feast of varied music and a totally sold out venue. Grimes is a true, charismatic artist,who can groove with her wonderful rhythm section, as on her old favourite Red Top, a King Pleasure version of a classic Gene Ammons solo on a Lionel Hampton blues, that had Clifford pushing to get in on the act with some brilliant scat, a briskish Round Midnight  and the delightful opener All Blues, a Miles favourite with singers.

But like many of the best contemporary singers she varied her programme with songs by Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and others, including a touching Scars, by that fine songwriting team Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace. Annie Whitehead’s trombone work really adds to the ‘colour’ of this band with beautiful plunger mute vocalisation,and a fine musical sense that made her counter lines and occasional pp endings to a song absolutely perfect.

Allen Toussaint’s joyfully upbeat ShooRah! Shoo-Rah! sent the audience home, faces wreathed in smiles and the band into a heartfelt team huddle,discreetly out of sight of the crowd, which spoke volumes about how much they all enjoy this collective music making. As Carol said 'This band likes to hug-a-lot.' Memorable stuff


Preview: Janette Mason - D'Ranged. New Album and Crowdfunding Campaign

Janette Mason

Pianist /arranger Janette Mason writes about D'Ranged, her third studio album, and the D'Ranged Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign:

My forthcoming album D’Ranged is a collaboration with some of the UK’s finest jazz singers and musicians.

I have spent the last year and a half as resident Musical Director at Hideaway in Streatham, where I have had the opportunity to work on a diverse range of shows with an eclectic group of musicians. This has given me the inspiration to put this project together.


- The concept behind D’Ranged is to take classic soul, jazz and pop tunes and give them a brand new jazz sensibility.

- I have assembled an outstanding group of musicians and singers who might not otherwise cross paths to execute my vision.

- I have arrangements of Bowie, Prince, Bacharach, Bee Gees and Rodgers and Hart ready to go, and I am working on some new arrangements of songs from the 60s to present day. They will be reharmonised, re-orchestrated and given a brand new personality.

- The production quality on this album is very important to me, so I am working alongside my long term colleague, engineer and producer Andrew Tulloch and we are booked into an amazing studio, Assault and Battery 2, home of legendary producers Flood (U2) and Alan Moulder (Arctic Monkeys).

- We have been meticulously planning every stage of the process, as we want to produce something that is not only musically brilliant but also sonically beautiful. I'm very lucky to have worked with some legendary musicians.


- Claire Martin OBE and I have collaborated many times over the years and I contributed an arrangement to her CD Too Darn Hot. For D’Ranged I am writing a cello quartet arrangement of the Bee Gees How Deep is Your Love plus the classic Rodgers and Hart tune Blue Moon in a way you’ve never heard it before.

- I had the pleasure of working with an emerging young American jazz vocalist earlier this year, Tatiana LadyMay Mayfield, she has such a mature voice and an incredible understanding of the jazz idiom, so I wanted to bring her to the attention of the UK listeners.

- David McAlmont and I have been working on the Wall 2 Wall series of concerts for Hideaway, where we re-work the music of a particular artist. We hit it off straight away and we have such diverse backgrounds that really compliment each other musically. He will be singing David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul and Prince’s When Doves Cry.

- Vula Malinga is a fearless singer and I have chosen Burt Bacharach’s all time classic Say A Little Prayer for her to let rip on.
- Gwyneth Herbert, a singer that I first worked with when she was very young, who has developed into such a unique artist will be singing a classic 60s hit.

- Special guests musicians include Tony Remy on guitar, Courtney Pine on sax and Karen Street on accordion plus there will be a five-piece horn section, percussion and the kitchen sink thrown in for good measure.

- I have two incredible rhythm sections, the winning combination of, in my opinion one of the best electric players in the country, Yolanda Charles with Westley Joseph on Drums and the brilliant acoustic bassist Sam Burgess with the incredibly musical drummer Jack Pollitt.


I will be producing and playing piano and keyboards with a sprinkling of Hammond organ, the first instrument that I learnt and showing off my piano playing on a couple of instrumental arrangements, including David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes.

My mother was a jazz organist and pianist and played in the Gracie Cole Big Band in the 50s. I grew up with no living room furniture but we had a set of vibes, grand piano, Hammond organ and drum kit and the strains of Oscar Peterson and Sergio Mendes in the background.

I have had a varied career from touring with top pop acts Pulp and Oasis to writing music for film and TV. Being a jazz artist and composer has always been central to my work.

I have gained a strong reputation as an arranger through my association with Ian Shaw; I contributed five arrangements to his Joni Mitchell album, Drawn To All Things and American jazz vocalist Lea DeLaria. Her 2008 release The Live Smoke Sessions that I arranged and produced, reached the Grammy Ballot. I set up a record company, Fireball Records, to put out my work. My first Trio album, Din and Tonic, garnered great reviews and the second, Alien Left Hand, was nominated in the best CD category in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2010.


For this new recording I decided to use a crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, to finance it. Given the complexity of the project and my high standards as a producer I didn’t want to scrimp on putting this together. I am also keen to engage fans/supporters at an early stage in the project, so that they can feel that they have truly been a part of making this collaboration happen.

Via Indiegogo, I am offering everything from signed CD’s, a Jazz workshop, a unique arrangement, and piano lessons to VIP Tickets for the CD launch in March. All contributions go towards recording, mixing, mastering and postproduction.

LINKS: Indiegogo campaign
            Janette Mason Website
            Hideaway Live website


Review: Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings at the Barbican

Bill Wyman

Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings
(Barbican, 25th November 2013. Review by Alyn Shipton)

Gone were the free stage, the printed paraphernalia of a London-wide event and the hordes of people of all ages who had been milling about the Barbican foyers over the last ten days. But even though the 21st London Jazz Festival lowered its final curtain the night before, the spirit of the music was still strongly in evidence when Bill Wyman’s band and its attendant audience of baby boomers invaded the Barbican Hall on Monday.

Strangely enough, despite the close links between jazz and blues, there hadn’t been a dedicated blues show on the LJF programme, but Wyman’s band more than made up for it, with songs by Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James. Sadly after going down with pneumonia earlier in the tour, Georgie Fame was not well enough to appear, but a surprise appearance by Mick Hucknall, singing the old Lowell Fulson blues Reconsider Baby with power and passion, filled the gap admirably.

Wyman’s band hit its stride early in the first set as saxophonist Frank Mead switched to harmonica for Just a Fool, with the rhythm section as tight as any Chicagoan blues band, anchored not only by the leader’s minimalist bass, but by the superlative drumming of Graham Broad. No matter what metre or genre the band ventured into, Broad was always there, precise, propulsive, flamboyant, but never so much as to take attention away from the singers or soloists.

The star soloist was guitarist Albert Lee, nimble, agile and inventive, even on tunes he must have played hundreds, if not thousands of times before, and he also showed his versatility with a touching keyboard and vocal version of the Everly Brothers’ Crying In The Rain, which made a neat contrast to his charismatic singing and guitar playing on Jitterbug Boogie. The Everly Brothers harmonies were conjured up by the band’s usual singer, Beverley Skeete, who came into her own with a perfectly paced version of James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s World. As well as nonchalantly turning in the impressive bassline to this song, while hardly appearing to move a muscle, the stony faced Wyman allowed himself a smile as Mead launched into an alto solo worthy of Maceo Parker.

The notorious Barbican sound system did Skeete no favours in the first half, muffling her delivery, but it improved greatly for her second half features, and for the singing of the band’s special guest Maria Muldaur. Yes, we got the inevitable Midnight at the Oasis, but we also got some genuinely bluesy singing from her, as she rattled the exoskeletons of two tambourines and soared into her highest register, admonishing us with Blue Lu Barker’s song Don’t You Feel My Legs.

By the time the band reached the last number, Wyman himself was coaxed to the vocal mike and as they roared into Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, the audience was on its feet, clapping, jumping up and down and even dancing in the aisles. As much good time fun had been packed into three hours as in most of the preceding week of concerts in the same venue.


Tuesday 26th Nov Brighton Dome
Wednesday 27th Nov Southend Cliffs Pavilion
Friday 29th Nov Poole Lighthouse
Saturday 30th Nov Plymouth Theatre Royal


Preview: Interview with Stian Westerhus (Spitalfields Music Winter Festival. 14th Dec 2013)

Stian Westerhus

"Blank out, listen, play [..]. It’s not about who and where, but about what comes out there and then." Fiona Talkington interviewed Stian Westerhus about his concert with the Britten Sinfonia at the Spitalfields Muic Winter Festival at Shoreditch Church on 14th December (and in Oslo on the 13th):

Stian Westerhus is a guitarist, but that’s hardly an adequate description of what he’s already brought to the music world. Yes, he’s an inspiring and virtuosic performer but he’s not a showman, no matter how awesome his stage appearances might be. His guitars are simply the channel through which his music comes, his techniques and affinity with the instrument giving him a vast expressive language.

Stian the composer is something of an “impatient visionary” as excited about the contemporary music scene as he is about performance. His 2012 album The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers, has inspired his writing for a collaboration with Britten Sinfonia as part of Spitalfields Music Winter Festival at Shoreditch Church on 14 December. The day before they'll have performed it together in Norway as part of the Conexions series which I curated for the Nasjonal Jazzscene in Oslo. It's an exciting proposition! His commission for the Molde Jazz Festival a few years ago gave a taster of musical ideas to come, his string and vocal writing in particular showed his growing affinity with the contemporary classical world: “exploring the territories that don’t necessarily come out in other contexts” as he says.

Writing for any ensemble is the same as improvising on stage, just at an agonizingly slow rate. The same feeling and decisiveness, the urgency, needs to be there in the music. In this way the musicians represent both the oportunities as well as the limitations in the music regardless of instrumentation. Without them and their interpretation there is no music, but their possibilities are not endless, though the context between the musical enteties are, so when I write I try to peel away the layers of color and reference and write as honestly as I can.” says Westerhus. In the Britten Sinfonia, who will perform in both London and Norway, Stian found an ensemble which shows no mercy regarding the territorial rights of the perceived classical music scene.

So, would Stian describe himself as a jazz musician? “Just a musician! Rock people will tell me that what I’m doing isn’t rock and jazz people say I don’t play jazz. But I don’t care. I’m very happy to have my own ideas of how I want things to sound, and that I feel free from feeling locked up inside some dogma of harmonic and structural rules.

With all the people I play with we share a similar way of thinking, and an attitude towards the music. It’s totally beyond the boundaries of the instruments and the ego of being a good player. There’s an understanding and a focus on the music itself. It’s the same mind-set: blank out, listen, play. It’s an intimate, fragile situation which demands a lot of everybody on stage, and I think this focus has helped me a lot. This attitude to music really matters, It’s not about who and where, but about what comes out there and then.

Tickets HERE


Review: Marcus Miller plus Carleen Anderson at the Royal Festival Hall (LJF)

Marcus Miller. Photo credit: Paul Wood

Marcus Miller plus Carleen Anderson
(Royal Festival Hall. Saturday 23rd Nov 2013 - LJF. Review by Alison Bentley)

Two legendary figures in jazz funk: bassist, composer and bandleader Marcus Miller and Carleen Anderson, seminal figure in Acid Jazz (The Young Disciples)- and James Brown's goddaughter!

Anderson’s band took the first set. ''Marcus Miller- I can't believe they even asked me to be on the same stage!' she mused, with a childlike excitement than ran though her set.

She opened with a poem ('The stage is set, the life begins'), her grainy voice like Tom Waits, over a funk groove led by James Pearson's Fender Rhodes. Her diminutive figure looked as if it might be swept away by the power of the beat. She sounded as if she'd lived every note, from the dark scratchy low tones to the high squeals, a tough-edged gospel sound, like Marian Anderson laced with Marianne Faithfull. In The Young Disciples' hit Apparently Nothing she got us to 'act like a choir' filling in the backing vocals for her, as her voice soared up with a terrifying vulnerability. The soulful Before Me was from an unrecorded musical she's writing about her family: American classical and soul singers, and you could hear the almost operatic influence on her voice.

True Spirit and Mama Said were from her True Spirit solo album, with an Acid Jazz beat- Simon Lea (drums) and Sam Burgess (bass) caught the pre-hip hop feel perfectly, Pearson a little like the Crusaders' Joe Sample. Instrumental solos were short, including a fine bluesy one from Al Cherry. In the impossibly infectious Mama Said, Anderson's voice was like a sweet drink with a bitter tang in it. Amy Winehouse once said she'd sit around a venue all day, just to hear Carleen Anderson soundcheck.

Marcus Miller is perhaps best known for his association with Miles Davis on several Tutu-era albums, and his opening Panther recalled one written for Miles' Amandla (Big Time). Instead of lush synth tones, there were punchy horn lines (Alex Han: saxes, Lee Hogans: trumpet). Miller's slap bass on fretted Fender bubbled up through the seats, like an earthquake breaking through the earth's crust. Robert "Sput" Searight's powerful drumming sounded like kit and percussion rolled into one. Detroit had an urban swagger, Miller's spidery fingers keeping the groove on the lowest string while playing the melody. The phrases of Brett Williams' piano solo skipped across the groove, like stones across water. Han's alto solo (a pinch of Kenny Garrett spiced with David Sanborn- with whom Miller has also worked extensively) was high energy, playing towards Miller like a rock guitarist, as if drawing energy from him.

Most of the tunes were from the new Renaissance album: Mr Clean felt like a direct descendent of Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters, with its nifty interlocking riffs and Miller's percussive bass. Revelation began with a mellow intro 'from a Puccini album' (!) before dancing into a fast 6/8 theme. Miller's trumpeters probably always invite comparison with Miles, but Hogan's sparky unmuted sound was more Hubbard, with a few Sandoval flourishes. The piece had a filmic quality, the denouement being Adam Agati's rocky, Mike Stern-like guitar solo.

Miller introduced Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as a 'schizophrenic' piece. 'The first part is is cool and chilled out, the second part is a little crazy.. I'm a Gemini so it make sense to me!' He's talked elsewhere of how he likes his rhythms to 'relate to the way people walk down the street today', and how in this tune he alternated funk with Art Blakey-like swing rhythms- and rocked-out parts, played behind the beat. It felt like a Saturday night piece, full of rock braggadocio and contrast.

The introspective Gorée was named, chillingly, for a Senegalese island where slaves were held before their cross-Atlantic journey. It was the end of the slaves' experience of Africa- but Miller also saw it as the beginning of African-American experience- and so, jazz. Miller played clarinet- bass, naturally- with a lyrical yearning, brushes on drums, lilting piano. When Miller strapped his fretless bass back on the energy levels leapt again, and his solo was melodic and Pastorius-like. Just as we thought things couldn't get any more energetic, the band broke into the Beatles' Come Together, the tune adapted into neatly-harmonised horn licks. Miller’s solo rampaged along the fretboard, slaps like gunshots, wreathing his hands both ways round the neck to reach impossible notes.

'These cats can really play, can't they- these young boys?' grinned Miller, and the audience stood as one to agree.


Film Review: Bayou Maharajah - The Life of New Orleans piano Legend James Booker (LJF)

Bayou Maharajah
(Feature-length documentary film about New Orleans piano legend James Booker. Screened at Barbican - 2013 LJF. Review by Kai Hoffman)

In much the same fashion as Lily Keber, director of the award-winning new film “Bayou Maharajah,” I hadn’t heard of James Booker - the man who Dr. John called “"the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced” - until a friend of mine turned me on to his music recently.

In her eloquent director’s statement about Bayou Maharajah, Lily Keber says that “James Booker was, first and foremost, one of America’s finest and most innovative musicians. But as a gay, bipolar Black man with one eye and a drug and alcohol problem, Booker was never going to make it to prime time. Yet in spite of all that – or perhaps because of it – his music pushes the boundaries of what is possible on the piano with an intricacy that surpasses Chopin. It was this complexity that attracted me to Booker. I needed to find out how a man could be both barely tolerated and completely loved – and how his music might make that possible.”

The film is an unbiased, earthy, well-edited and wild ride through the life, times, musical genius and tragic difficulties of James Booker - from an early classical music education and performance experience in Gospel churches, Booker began touring extensively as a side man with famous performers from Fats Domino to Aretha Franklin to Ray Charles and Ringo Starr, to name just a handful. He was then offered his first solo recording contract, toured around Europe and produced three albums inspite of bi-polar illness and drug addiction.

The story is told through photographs, interviews with James Booker himself, his most famous piano student, Harry Connick, Jr. (who Booker apparently got to know because of a desire to stay on the right side of the law, as Harry Connick, Sr. was the District Attorney for New Orleans), and numerous others, including Allen Toussaint, Hugh Laurie and Irma Thomas. There are even explanations of how Booker managed to play the way he did - like an entire band, like someone with three hands, a truly pioneering pianist... and sometimes he did the whole performance in his underpants.

With many different levels of appeal, this film is highly fascinating on a universal scale, whether you’re a musician or not - and deserves to go very, very far. It’s incredibly well-researched, cheeky, and completely addictive viewing.

Go see this whirlwind of a film, about a child-prodigy turned New Orleans piano legend who - with Keber’s extensive research - has been brought back from near-obscurity.

 It’s playing at the Lexi Cinema here in London on December 1st. Here’s the link.  


Review: Hal Willner: Nino Rota Amarcord (LJF)

Hal Willner: Nino Rota Amarcord
(The Barbican, November 22nd 2013- LJF. Review by Andrew Cartmel)

Hal Willner is a music producer and impresario who has presided over some of the most fascinating musical projects of the last three decades. He specialises in albums celebrating the work of great musicians — Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Kurt Weill — or key cultural figures, from Walt Disney to William Burroughs. These albums characteristically feature a magnificent diversity of musical talent paying tribute in often off-the-wall ways.

One of the most successful of these was the very first, Amarcord, a celebration of the music of Nino Rota. The title means 'I remember' in the dialect of Emilia Romagna. Rota was a distinguished Italian composer, notably of film music, perhaps most famous for his work with Fellini. The album, recorded in 1981, offered interpretations of the Fellini scores and on it Willner drew remarkable arrangements and performances from a marvellous group of jazz (and indeed pop) musicians. Now the Barbican has imaginatively revived and supplemented the original project, live on stage for this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

The big ensemble — orchestra, really — was a star studded collective of such virtuosity that even their tune-up sounded good. A full list of players will conclude this piece, but any band boasting Steve Swallow on electric bass and Alec Dankworth on double bass and Nitin Sawhney, Carla Bley and Rita Marcotulli on piano should get the hairs on the back of your neck stirring.

O Venezia, Venaga, Venusia (from Fellini’s Casanova) was arranged by Giancarlo Vulcano and conjured a wistful swaying with delicate reeds, pensive brass and sighing strings. Interjections from the muted trumpets — Steven Bernstein in particular embarking on what was to be an outstanding evening of playing — and Emma Black’s expert plucking on the cello added to the mesmerising mood, all underpinned by the dreamy menace of Alec Dankworth’s upright bass.

Amarcord was arranged by Italian jazz pianist Rita Marcotulli, based on the arrangement and performance on the original album by Jaki Byard. The piano intro was discursive and searching, darkly jaunty, before the trombones came in providing a noir-ish crime wave, played by Barnaby Dickinson and Andy Wood. On drums Ian Thomas cut loose, unleashing the rest of the ensemble with an easy, driving beat. Rowland Sutherland’s gorgeous, piercing flute rode over the rhapsodic, abstract piano, followed by Kate St John’s gentle yet forceful statement on the oboe. The mood was of a sad funhouse, a haunted circus, with dappled, falling notes before the ensemble gathered together the varied strands for a strong ending.

John Etheridge came decisively to the fore in I Vitelloni, arranged by Kate St John, another one of the Rota pieces added to the repertoire for tonight’s performance. Etheridge’s guitar offered giant, chunky, plangent chords, echoed by Steven Bernstein on melancholy muted trumpet. With Ian Thomas playing shuffle drums and Kate St John’s sinuous, sweet cor anglais they began to get the audience going like a futuristic Hot Club of Paris. Steven Bernstein and Kate St John were both superb and Etheridge was no slouch, either. Bittersweet, spooky and very hip. Etheridge then played Tema di Gitone (from Satyrcon) as a concise, Spaghetti Western-style solo.

Giulietta Degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits) arranged by Michael Gibbs, based on the arrangement and performance on the original album by Bill Frisell, was a feature for Steve Swallow and the outstanding string section, Vince Green, Max Baillie and Anna De Bruin, who played with delicacy, precision and great feeling. They evoked a floating mood, rising and falling like a curtain wafting in the breeze through an open window.

Selecting highlights from such wall to wall quality is difficult, but one certainly was Il Bidone, arranged by Steve Beresford, on which Etheridge's guitar was supplemented and doubled by BJ Cole on pedal steel, giving an extraordinary science fiction sound, almost Theremin-like in its tuneful eeriness. It evoked both a cosmic melancholy and Looney Tunes cartoons before transforming into rich Hawaiian style exotica. Hugh Wilkinson’s vibes provided punctuation as tectonic plates of mood and sound shifted.

And special mention must be reserved for arranged by Carla Bley, who had arranged and performed it on the original album. With tumbling-clown brass and snarky trombones, featuring a swaggering solo by Barnaby Dickinson, it developed into a high wire act between Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Bley’s silent-movie melodrama piano and Karen Mantler’s stabbing, sweet electric organ which transformed into aurora borealis swathes of colour. Sam Mayne was outstanding on alto, proffering gentle insinuations that turned into bold assertions while Dai Pritchard’s memorable clarinet contributed to a tour de force of transformed moods

Carla Bley and Karen Mantler returned for The Godfather, the only Rota tune in the program that didn’t derive from a Fellini film, in an arrangement by Karen Mantler. Barnaby Dickinson’s startled, throbbing trombone intro gradually teased out the melody as Karen Mantler joined in on harmonica: bluesy, beautiful and eloquent. Carla Bley played skeletal piano, her reverberating trills adroitly shaping that so-familiar theme. Julian Siegel on tenor played a despairing, lush, seductive solo with bebop decorations while Karen Mantler’s harmonica sobbed in sympathy. Mantler’s arrangement was a staggering piece of work, its alertness to the colours of the orchestra quite stunning.

At the end of the concert, amid much applause, Hal Willner took the stage. Someone shouted from the audience, “Where do we get a copy?” And Willner dryly explained that the album had been recorded over thirty years ago, “And it’s been out of print for twenty.” Well, it’s high time it came back into print. And while we’re at it, someone should release a supplementary album preserving the splendid wealth of new material that was created for this evening.

Full list of performers: Steve Swallow (electric bass), Alec Dankworth (double bass), Ian Thomas (drums), Hugh Wilkinson (percussion), Nitin Sawhney, Carla Bley, Rita Marcotulli (piano), Karen Mantler (glockenspiel, organ, harmonica), John Etheridge (guitar), BJ Cole (lap steel), Rowland Sutherland (flute), Sam Mayne (alto saxophone), Julian Siegel (tenor saxophone) Kate St John (oboe and cor anglais), Dai Pritchard (clarinet), Steven Bernstein, Tom Rees Roberts (trumpet), Barnaby Dickinson, Andy Wood (trombone), Andy Grappa (tuba), Vince Green (viola), Max Baillie, Anna De Bruin (violin), Emma Black (cello), Marc Almond, Richard Strange (vocals).

Arrangers: Giancarlo Vulcano, Rita Marcotulli, Kate St John, Steve Beresford, Michael Gibbs, Carla Bley, Karen Mantler, Steven Bernstein, Nitin Sawhney.

Conductors: Giancarlo Vulcano, Mike Gibbs, Steve Beresford, Steven Bernstein


Review: Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard at the Wigmore Hall (LJF)

Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Andy Sheppard.
Photo credit Roger Thomas. All Rights Reserved

Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard
(Wigmore Hall, Sunday 24 November 2013- LJF. Review by Andy Boeckstaens. Photo credit Roger Thomas, drawing by Geoff Winston)

The centrepiece of this performance by Carla Bley, Steve Swallow and Andy Sheppard was a new composition by Bley: one of 21 enterprising commissions by Serious to mark the 21st anniversary of the London Jazz Festival.

She explained that Naked Bridges, Diving Brides was also composed “with a little help from Felix Mendelssohn” to celebrate Sheppard’s recent marriage. The familiarity of extracts from the Wedding March contrasted sharply with the remainder of this work, which was complex and, on first hearing, pretty obscure. Its title, incidentally, comes from the opening phrase of the poem “Peking Widow” by Paul Haines, with whom Bley worked over 40 years ago.

Carla Bley.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

An hour before that, the concert began with Bley’s Wildlife trilogy, during which Sheppard produced astonishingly long lines via seamless (and apparently effortless) circular breathing on soprano saxophone.  The next two tunes were arrangements of material originally written for larger ensembles in the 1980’s: the smoothly smouldering Rut (from the Night-Glo album) and Valse Sinistre (from Social Studies), which was more challenging. Everyone studiously followed the dots, and – for much of the show - this extremely close attention to detail was interrupted only by quick glances to confirm a down beat or cue a solo.

At the end of the first set came the only music not composed by Bley. The long, hypnotic, constantly-shifting line of Thelonious Monk’s Misterioso melted into a gorgeous stately blues that had Sheppard swaying with delight.  The pianist’s arrangement gradually brought the piece to a logical and satisfying climax, without a recapitulation of the theme.

The transparent acoustic of Wigmore Hall and the rapt attention of the audience may have influenced the selections, not necessarily in a good way.  Although Bley's remarkable compositions are consistently ear-catching, the emphasis was on her mellower side.  High volume and bombast would have been a mistake, for sure, but this trio can tear it up with the best of them and sometimes one wished for more brio alongside the tender ballads. Things did intensify after the new commission, as if the musicians were gearing up to run through a few of their greatest hits.  Swallow's focus and concentration paid off during a fast and bluesy Awful Coffee, where the inimitable flow of his bass guitar drove the others on. The Lord Is Listenin’ To Ya, Hallelujah! was a real crowd-pleaser, and its cheesy, hymn-like cadences brought smiles all round.

Superficially a gentle samba, The Girl Who Cried Champagne contained some of the most adventurous music, during which Sheppard’s supreme technique and unique tone came to the fore. Bley may be primarily a composer and arranger, but here she also displayed daring instrumental skill.

The trio returned to the stage for an encore, Utviklingssang.  Swallow started with a simple motif, joined by Bley and then Sheppard. The tune slowly unfolded, and together they wound the concert to a typically peaceful conclusion.

Like the recent CD by this trio (ECM 2287) the gig was something of a career retrospective for Bley. It was impossible to do justice to her enormous body of work in one evening, but it was reassuring to know that she remains a vital composer and continues to lead one of the finest trios in jazz.


Review: Philip Catherine/ John Etheridge duo + Sylain Rifflet solo + Igor Gehenot Trio at the Vortex (LJF)

Philip Catherine/ John Etheridge duo + Sylain Rifflet solo + Igor Gehenot Trio
(Vortex, November 23rd 2013- LJF.Review by Sebastian Scotney)

“I have worked quite a bit on phrasing,” guitarist said Philip Catherine earlier this year, with extreme modesty, in an interview, “drawing inspiration from players who phrase amazingly well, and with whom you hear everything. That's what interests me more than being 'lyrical'.”

The British-born, Belgian-based guitarist's phrasing and melodic sense were a revelation, his duet set with John Etheridge at the Vortex on Saturday night was an inspiration, and certainly – for me - this was a highlight of the London Jazz Festival.

The two guitarists have met frequently over the years, but had never, until Saturday night, performed as a duo. The ease and the speed with which their collaboration bore fruit were astounding. They made instant counterpoint and instant joy. Both players are open, collaborative by nature, their civilized conversation, often at the boundaries of silence, held the audience spellbound.

They played a series of standards, starting with Freddie Freeloader, and finishing with My Foolish Hear. Etheridge did all the spoken introductions, Catherine's verbal interjections were almost non-existent. He would give the occasional clever steer like “and now together”, and once let out and an exclaimed, emphatic “You must be kidding!” when Etheridge broke into song, and by implication suggested that Catherine might accept the invitation to join in and sing too.

This duo set was the third part of an evening at the Vortex celebrating the 35th birthday of  the Igloo record label, with its studios in Etterbeek in Brussels run by Daniel Léon. The label's biggest seller was an album by Philip Catherine with Chet Baker. The evening was also supported by the Luxembourg export bureau 'music LX'.

Working backwards, the second set gave rise to an accidental premiere. Saxophonist Sylvain Rifflet had been due to perform a duet with vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher, but ended up playing a solo set for the first time in his life. With impossibly fast arpeggios, circular breathing, slap tonguing, but also a strong sense of structure and line he gave a set which traversed compositions of his own and a tune by Moondog, a performance with a rock-solid pulse and an acute sense of line. He has spent several months in primary schools in the poorer Paris suburbs teaching choirs to sing Moondog in English. This was a different kind of challenge, which he rose to superbly.

The first set was given by the trio of one of the youngest musicians around, the 23-year old pianist from Liège pianist/composer Igor Gehenot, whose debut album Road Story (Igloo) has been very well received, and whose huge promise is definitely attracting the attention of larger labels (one wasthere on Saturday). He has a superb bassist and drummer in Sam Gerstmans and Teun Verbruggen respectively. Gerstmans had a lot of repeated, motoric figures to play, but they came acrosss with subtlety and shape every time. I was seated about 60cm from the ride cymbal and therefore appreciated very much indeed Teun Verbruggen's amazing delicacy and control (Hartelijke Dank!)

A statistical analysis of the media coverage of the LJF will probably show a huge (any other adjectives come to mind?)  bias in favour of the American visitors to the festival. This evening showed the jazz strengths of a much travelled-through, overflown, joked-about corner of Europe right on our doorstep. The duo set was a very special occasion indeed. Away from the limelight, this triple bill taken all together added up to a very special night of the LJF.



Review: Troyk-estra at the Purcell Room (LJF)

(Purcell Room. November 23rd 2013 -LJF. Review by Jon Turney)

Troyk-estra were originally created for the Jazzwise fifteenth birthday celebrations in 2012 at Ronnie Scott's, surrounding the eclectic, electric trio Troyka with a big band of similarly open-minded and agile young players, conducted by Nick Smart, head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. The second outing was at the2013 Cheltenham Jazz festival. By all accounts, this latter concert, recorded for broadcast on Radio 3, was too good not to preserve. So here Troy-kestra were for their third ever outing, launching the new CD, remixed from the BBC's sound files of the Cheltenham performance.

And this London show confirms that they have retained most of the trio’s qualities now the tunes are clothed in big band attire. Josh Blackmore’s poundingly precise drumming, Chris Montague’s conspectus of contemporary guitar styles, and Kit Downes, who, on electric keyboards, unleashes an exuberantly funky Mr Hyde in place of the Dr Jekyll you may hear on acoustic piano, all play key roles, and write all the music between them.

What is added? There are more layers – whole lotta ostinati going on much of the time – richer textures, natch, and plenty of sparkling solos from the likes of Reuben Fowler and James Allsopp.

There’s also a good ration of more open moments, in the often dense arrangements, with unusual textures to challenge the sound engineers – who did a great job in this excellent space – and catch the ear. Guitar and vibes blend in a theme statement. Bass clarinet, and vibes again, set up another piece before the whole horn section slams back in.

It’s urgent, absorbing stuff, rarely taking a straightforward route to any musical destination, keeping you on your toes. The wealth of ingredients means new possible influences keep coming to mind, everything from Henry Threadgill to Frank Zappa. Zebra (Braze on the anagramatically playful CD listing) has a fairground ending, jumping-off-the-roundabout, that brings Loose Tubes to mind. Downes’ The General, a new arrangement, begins with Frisellisms on guitar alongside acoustic piano, then gathers impetus in the way the composer loves to do. Chris Montague’s Chaplin has shades of Carla Bley of A Genuine Tong Funeral vintage. Another Montague piece comes across as, well, hard to improve on his own description, “music for robots to make love to”.

And doubtless there were plenty of other traces, and notable moments, that I missed. This is the kind of exuberantly accomplished contemporary jazz where attending closely can make it feel like there is too much to take in. Best just to relax a little more and enjoy the ride. After all, there’s a recording now to allow you tease out the details of what this richly talented lot can do. An invitation which, after this bravura performance, will be hard to resist.

The album – also available on vinyl –can be found on Impossible Ark records
Listen to it/buy it on Bandcamp.


Podcast: Interview with Arun Ghosh (Spitalfields Music Winter Festival, Tues 10th Dec)

We spoke to Clarinettist/composer Arun Ghosh about the Winter Rasa concert on the 10th of December at Shoreditch Church (7:00pm), part of the Spitalfields Winter Festival, and preceded by a talk at 6.00pm.

Ghosh has written a new piece based on Sonnet II by Shakespeare "When forty winters shall besiege thy brow", for the East End Notes, an all-male choir directed Omar Shahryar which he will perform at the concert.

We also talked about inspirations behind his new album A South Asian Suite, and other examples of the journey through landscapes as a theme in composition (Duke Ellington, Miles Davis).

Musical Excerpts from the CD A South Asian Suite (camoci, 2013):

After the Monsoon at [4:58]
Sufi Stomp (Soul of Sindh) at [8:27]

Winter Rasa tickets HERE


Review: Raymond Macdonald and Miguel Carvalhais at Club Inégales (LJF)

Raymond Macdonald and Miguel Carvalhais
(Club Inégales. 22 November 2013. Review by Rob Edgar)

Friday night saw an EFG London Jazz Festival gig at Club Inégales (a place which has built a loyal, intently listening audience). Each night at the club consists of three sets, one with the house band (the Notes Inégales), the second with the guests, and the third with both guests and house band together. (Peter Wiegold has written a profile of it here.)

The guests were Scottish free saxophonist Raymond Macdonald (recently made a professor of Improvisation and Music Psychology at Edinburgh University) and the Portuguese electro-acoustic composer Miguel Carvalhais.

Peter Wiegold started the programme by conducting the Notes band through a series of semi-improvised pieces from a new album (a homage to Miles Davis) recorded in French Switzerland. Désert infini sounded like a more ethereal In a Silent Way: bits of melody floated around the group coming to rest on individual band members before flying off again. The interplay between bassist Ben Markland and drummer Simon Limbrick made for a grooving lounge-esque feel and accordionist Joe Banks took on the spirit of Miles in his solo, with phrases made up of short, sharp bursts.

The pairing of Macdonald and Carvalhais was inspired: Carvalhais laid out subtle loops with crackling resonances, very hypnotic and mesmerising. Macdonald is an intensely thoughtful player - it took almost a minute for any sound to come out after he'd put the sax to his lips – there can be an expectation, with free players, that music will be harsh, abrasive and loud but this was just the opposite: he used circular breathing to deliver a constant stream of delicate, quiet arpeggios utilising the whole range of his instrument in a gentle frenzy. It was the delicacy of the piece that really stood out, like it was constantly on the brink of falling apart but Carvalhais and Macdonald were always able to rescue it.

The third, collaborative set showed a different side to Macdonald, one that is capable of taking control of the direction whilst simultaneously blowing the roof off, he played intense angular notes with touches of reverb here and there. There was a great moment when Macdonald and Banks locked horns musically, playing a game of call and response which lead to ever bigger and more expansive phrases.

Wiegold's conducting takes a kind of less-is-more approach, he makes only a few gestures (preferring to lead from his keyboard) but he is capable of building the group into the most chaotic climaxes only to abruptly shut them off and bring in a theme from earlier in the improv.

At the end of the night, the band was joined by one of Wiegold's Ph.D. students, saxophonist Matt London. He is a fine player, agile, unafraid to take the lead when necessary, but just as happy to sit back.

In its essence, the Notes Inégales' concept is quite simple: their music can to grow out of the most straightforward idea into complex havoc, but a guiding sense of form, structure and strategy is always there.

Raymond Macdonald will be at the Vortex with Marilyn Crispell, launching their new CD Parallel Moments on Friday 6th December at 8:00pm.


Review: Louis & The Duke In London at Cadogan Hall (LJF)

Louis & The Duke In London
(Cadogan Hall. Sunday, 24 November 2013 - LJF. Review by Peter Vacher)

Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company has cornered the market for large-scale celebratory excursions into past jazz history. Remember their successful replication of Benny Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert? This time round, it was two fanfares in one, the first half reprising Louis Armstrong’s ground-breaking appearance [with his ‘New Rhythm Band’] at the London Palladium in July 1932, this followed eleven months later by Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra, also making their European début at the same venue. Oddly perhaps, a certain Max Miller, by 1933 known as the ‘Cheeky Chappie’, was on both bills.

And yes, it was true that both these visiting jazz luminaries were cast as variety artists, appearing with a mixed bag of comics, jugglers and the like, this the result of musician union and Ministry of Labour stipulations then current. All of which was explained in Russell Davies’s sure-footed introductory narrative before the music got underway. That this was in the hands of Keith Nichols ensured authenticity but history also generated the idea that the concert proceedings should recall some of these long-gone variety artists. Thus we had a juggler, a Max Miller clone, a shake dancer, a drum routine, a ukulele act and most amusing of all, the sight of Richard Pite’s burly figure encoiled in a sousaphone, playing the Hungarian Dance no 5 alternately on this mammoth brass instrument and on a tiny piccolo fished out from a pocket. Oh well.

That some of these antics failed to fully engage with this SRO but essentially staid audience is of little consequence for the music accomplished much, most notably via Enrico Tomasso’s brilliant recreations of the Louis repertoire. Not sure that his Satchmo-style vocals and attempts at Louis’s prowling stage presence added much though nor that Davies’s transition into a 1930s style interlocutor worked either. This very much in contrast to Nicholl’s avuncular and witty handling of the second-half announcements as his Blues Devils dealt lovingly with the 1933 Ellington material, Julia Biel adding vocal lustre, the 13-piece band, highlighting Tomasso again and fellow-trumpeters George Hogg and Peter Horsfall, all impressively spirited. Just to hear them play ‘The New Black and Tan Fantasy’ was a joy.


News / Roundup Review: Take Five Takes Over at the Southbank Centre. Take Five Edition IX Musicians Announced (LJF)

London Vegetable Orchestra

EFG London Jazz Festival 21st Birthday Celebrations
(Southbank Centre. 24th November 2013. Roundup Report by Rob Edgar)

Yesterday was a day of celebration: It was the final day of the massive 2013 EFG London Jazz Festival (also the festival's 21st Birthday Party). The new participants of Take Five Edition IX were officially announced.

Congratulations to the new Take Five cohort:

Laura Jurd: - trumpet
Dan Nicholls - reeds, keyboards
Peter Edwards - piano
Nick Malcolm - trumpet
George Crowley - saxophone, clarinet
Shama Rahman - sitar, vocals
Alex Roth - guitar
James Mainwaring - saxophone

The Southbank Centre was buzzing with excitement and free stages were dotted around providing an astonishing display of talent:

Sonsale - veterans of Take Five - were in The Front Room of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Featuring vibist Corey Mwamba, bassist Andy Champion. It was a free set and had a very bass-heavy sound owing to the addition of cellist Valentin Ceccaldi. Mwamba used all manner of techniques, bowing, striking the bars with his hands or pinging them with a metallic beater at the top of the instrument, while Champion was furiously bowing the bass (culminating in an interesting solo which kept within a very melodically confined space) and Ceccaldi was snapping his strings against the cello's fingerboard. The hero of the set was Sylvain Darrifourcq who played what can only be described as a toccata for drum set: quick, fluid rhythms were interrupted by jagged snare drum off-beats, and strange sounds were coaxed out of the cymbals by striking them with a coat-hanger.

The London Vegetable Orchestra (Warning, pun alert!) were entertaining, playing instruments made out hollowed out carrots, turnips, courgettes...Upon taking the stage it was clear the seeds had been sown for what promised to be an excellent performance. During their last peas (an impromptu cover of Watermelon Man) they were perfectly on the beet and the sound leeked from the stage. It was too short though, I wish they'd lettuce hear more.

Bold as Brass, a vast choir of over 100 brass players were led by Jason Yarde conducting his commission for the Birthday celebrations. It featured full, resonant chords, repeated rhythmic phrases, some dark clusters, and angular melody lines in the saxophones but at its core, it was a kind of jazz fanfare. Carleen Anderson was another artist who performed a celebratory commission. It was a choral piece that was fundamentally tonal, but the melodies often took unexpected turns, frustrating the sense of key. It was underpinned by a warm Fender Rhodes, but the sound quality was a little muddy making it difficult to hear the subtler elements.

There was an extended set by the European Sunrise Band (the “live embodiment of Take Five Europe”). It featured a stellar line up of Chris Sharkey, Daniel Herskedal, Marcin Masecki, Arielle Besson and more. I cannot understand why this group were only given the foyer to play in. Their sound ranged from impressionistic textures to rock elements, and expressionistic dissonances. Clarinettist Arun Ghosh stole the set with his subtly South-Asian inflected soloing.

It was the blink-and-you'll-miss-it set by saxophonist Andy Sheppard which really blew me away. Sheppard performed his Serious commission alone on stage with his tenor saxophone, filling the Royal Festival Hall's Clore Ballroom with easy, agile melodies and quick arpeggiated harmony notes. He recorded himself playing little motifs which were looped enabling him to play off himself eventually ending up with a rich sound, full of interlocking lines. The piece ended abruptly with a quote from the Happy Birthday tune and Sheppard promptly left the stage after just fifteen minutes.


Review: Rick Simpson ‘Klämmer’ Septet at the Spice of Life (LJF)

Left to Right: Dave Hamblett, Tom Farmer, George Crowley, Mike Chillingworth
Rapph Wyld. Spice of Life, November 2013

> Rick Simpson ‘Klämmer’ Septet
(Spice of Life, 24th November 2013 -EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Sarah Chaplin)

What better way to spend the closing evening of the 21st London Jazz Festival than to be immersed in some spirited yet understated music from one of London’s own rising stars? Pianist and composer Rick Simpson’s reputation has understandably grown over the last few years, but he’s also extended his writing for his original quartet to encompass a larger line-up, which last night included vibes (Ralph Wyld) and a burning three-man horn section (saxophonists George Crowley and Mike Chillingworth and trumpeter Rory Simmons). The capable and imaginative Tom Farmer was in fine form on bass, complemented by the marvellous Dave Hamblett on drums. This performance brought to mind just how creative a composer can be when writing with the strengths and the foibles of particular musicians in mind.

There is a lot going on in this music: frequent shifts in time signature, tempo and feel, tricky rhythmic figures, highly textured percussive punctuation, unnerving close, Monkish harmonies, as well as beautiful lyrical elements, sometimes laid down as a vamped backdrop, sometimes draped over the top while the horns intone an insistent bell-like line. On several occasions, we were all lulled at times into a false sense of security (in a good way) before someone fired a salvo and the whole thing headed off in a different and unexpected direction.

Simpson is a skilful manipulator of the effect of an overall piece, moving for example from an opening statement played in total unison, then diverging with some complex counter movement, creating space for a complete departure into a free solo over a grounded structure. Things rarely – if ever - settle into a comfortable groove, and tension is sustained by stark and querulous swells or bickering horns, and moderated by self-assured slow-moving harmonic sequence on vibes or sustained pedal point on piano.

There were some truly delicious moments – Crowley’s achingly evocative solo on the piece about a power cut in a lonely cottage, the succulent sound of two tenors battling it out on Bethlehem Bingo, and Simpson’s own hammeringly good fugue-like solo on Pins, which sounded as if he had at least two pairs of hands.

There’s an endearingly self-deprecating humour in Simpson's musical vocabulary, and he uses it to good effect. I’m not talking about his choice of tune titles, which whilst memorable, often bear false witness to his sound. It’s more the way Simpson plays with our associations, and allows something emphatically droll to emerge. At the start of Semi-Wogan (the title track from his album on SaySo Records ), he was citing cheesy 1970s sit-com music. And best of all were the cunning references to Mingus in the closing tune of the night, Säd Acton, where we were invited to savour the irony of a mock calypso, and revel in his parting gesture, a drunken and debauched outro of lazy out-of-time horn riffs.


Review:Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers at Café Oto (LJF)

Wadada Leo Smith at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers
(Café Oto, 21/22/23 November 2013. Review of the three nights and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Three nights of Wadada Leo Smith's 'Ten Freedom Summers' was an extraordinary experience - for both the audience and the musicians. Affirmative, enlightening, chastening and enriching.

A deeply personal response to the civil rights movement's battles against cultural and institutional racism and segregation in the USA, Wadada's live direction of this inherently complex, organically evolving large-scale work mirrored real-life scenarios, where nothing is cast in stone, where obstacles and challenges are continually thrown in the path of participants, and where ways to overcome and face up to them have to be mobilised in the blink of an eye.

And that was how it was for the three two-hours plus uninterrupted sessions over three nights at Cafe Oto.

Wadada's way of working, as drummer Anthony Brown described to me, is never to stick dogmatically to his score, but to use it as the basis on which he will impose his intuitive interpretation of the moment. It's been like that for the 30 years that Brown has been playing with him, and Brown's state of permanent high-alert to Wadada's every nuanced gesture was a testimony to how well he and pianist, Anthony Davies, and bassist, John Lindberg, have been able to support Wadada in realising his grand vision.

Wadada would cajole, entreat and encourage his fellow musicians to express the shape of his feelings for the textures and the intensity demanded by each of the twenty-plus pieces he has now composed for 'Ten Freedom Summers', at the very moment of performance. 'C'mon, c'mon, c'mon,' he'd quietly but insistently instruct when he needed more percussion or piano power. 'I want a nice cadenza, now!' and Davies instantly knew exactly the reeling, almost anarchic glissando run that the piece required at that very moment.

It was total flying-by-the--seat-of-your-pants stuff, but keyed in to an inordinately demanding script, which is what made the events over the three nights absolutely unique.

And it was a similar story from Mandira de Saram and Richard Jones of the Ligeti Quartet, who said how privileged they felt to be given the chance to become involved in one of the most extraordinary cross-over compositional works in contemporary music. The quartet, who are building a reputation for their adventurous work with artists from a range of musical and artistic genres, responded with relish and imagination to the challenges that Wadada set out for them in three intensive pre-performance rehearsal sessions.

The detailed scores are notated unconventionally - they are works of art in themselves - but with strong structures, they explained, so they were able to establish very clear strategies (or 'routes', as Wadada called them) on how to interpret them, which accounts for their astonishing co-ordinated ensemble playing that mixed vigorous improvised passages with Wadada's modernist score.

Each night had its own flavour. Under the ever-watchful eye of Wadada, the Golden Quartet mobilised their massively accomplished jazz perspective alongside their young, classically-based counterparts, to start the creative sparks flying. The first night (reviewed HERE ) set the scene. On the second night they seemed to wind up half a gear as they found their footing as an eight-piece, with video artist Jesse Gilbert adding visual contexts and atmosphere.

Wadada's input was initially moderated, thoughtful, as he drew out the best from his co-performers - but each note he chose to play was laden with intensity and emotion. By the third night he found the space for his own captivating, extended contributions, which just flew with the consummate craft of a musician at one with his instrument.

Wadada summed up perfectly what made the evenings so special, when working out, in an interlude between numbers, how many years he's been putting together the 'Ten Freedom Summers' suite: "All you have to do is feel as a musician; you don't have to count!" The combination of the individual contributions - with solo spots of real beauty from the Golden Quartet - and the inspired ensemble work, against the undercurrent of the work's ethical and political dimension made an unforgettable impact.

And, it should not go without mentioning, a great achievement for Café Oto, in hosting so successfully, the historic European premiere of this major work in its entirely. Wadada thanked John Chantler at the venue and guitarist John Coxon, who initially floated the idea.

The event was supported by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation through USArtists International in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Golden Quartet:

Wadada Leo Smith / trumpet, flugelhorn
Anthony Davies / piano
Anthony Brown / drums
John Lindberg / bass

Ligeti String Quartet

Mandhira de Saram / violin 1
Patrick Dawkins / violin 2
Richard Jones / viola
Ben Davis / guest cellist

Jesse Gilbert / artist