Book Review: Michel Legrand: Rien n'est grave dans les aigus (Autobiography)



Michel Legrand: Rien n'est grave dans les aigus (Autobiography)
(Cherche-Midi, 307pp. In French. Book Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The reach and the scale of Michel Legrand's career as songwriter, film composer and jazz musician make this autobiography a necessary book.

An early chapter concerns his five years of intense study with Nadia Boulanger. Hers was tough love indeed. He describes her 'sub machine-gun stare', tells of the uncompromising work demands she placed of him, and of her idiosyncratic teaching style. When they were walking together to her home one day, she came out with the advice:“You walk with your legs. You should learn to walk with your head”.

Legrand tells the story of how he put together a never-to-be-repeated line-up including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Ben Webster for the album Legrand Jazz in 1958. He also tells the story of the later collaboration with Miles Davis on the film Dingo, where he managed to find a method of working with Miles which meant that he carried through with the film, rather than abandoning it. It was to be Miles' very last album.

The book also gives tantalizing musings on how differently things could have turned out. It was the Conservatoire composition teacher Henri Challan who steered Legrand towards Boulanger's class. Legrand says: "I do owe Challan eternal gratitude: if he had pointed me in the direction of Olivier Messiaen, my life would have taken a radically different path".

Then there were the projects which never quite got off the ground, like a piano concerto which Legrand and Bill Evans were discussing, just days before the American pianist died, or a film with Jacques Demy, a sequel to the Demy/Legrand triumphs Les Parapluies de Cherborg and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, planned to be set in Russia. The Minister of Cinema of the Brezhnev government was offering them not just a big budget, but also the opportunity to make use of the entire Bolshoi ballet company.

Other people whom Legrand encountered briefly are appraised cleverly. Henry Mancini stands out as magnanimous in the extreme, Maurice Chevalier as ridiculously, comically penny-pinching, Charles Trenet as uncaring and impossible.

The book is written by Legrand in the first person, and is based on extensive conversations with the discographer and former university lecturer Stephane Lerouge, who has effectively ghosted and co-authored the book. Legrand in his early eighties is still involved in all kinds of projects, and each chapter uses a current or recent event as the stimulus and jumping-off point to tell the story of episode from the past.

For the reader of French, it's a lively narration. Legrand's astonishing, punishing work-rate comes across strongly. He also uses a colorful language, and can't resist punning whenever the opportunity arises. He is also candid about tougher episodes such as the severe depression he went through when living in California.

I would guess that the book probably won't get translated into English, but would argue that the chapter on Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and the one on Nadia Boulanger, are, at the very least, of significant and broad interest to anyone with an interest in 20th Century music.

There are also insights into what shapes the mind of the composer. Legrand was fortunate to get first-hand advice about composition as a teenager from no less an authority than Stravinsky. He had been been taken along by Nadia Boulanger to hear the great man rehearse. “One day we were in the canteen. I found myself between Nadia and the great Igor.” Legrand plucked up his courage, and asked him about Boulez'analysis and deconstruction of the Rite of Spring. Stravinsky said to him: “ he has attributed to me secret intentions which I had never thought of." Stravinsky then made a remark, about the magic and the alchemy of composing which Legrand says was to light up his life: “You should know one thing. When you are a true creator, you never know very well what it is you are doing.”

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News: Jazz New Year Honours for Nick Fogg and John Ruddick

Nick Fogg of Marlborough Jazz Festival
The New Year Honours has two people from the jazz community, both of whom receive an MBE- many congratulations! :

John Nicholas FOGG (Nick) For services to the Marlborough International Jazz Festival and to the community in Marlborough, Wiltshire. (The Marlborough Jazz Festival has been running continuously since 1986.)

 John George RUDDICK Musical Director, Midland Youth Jazz Orchestra. For services to Jazz. Solihull, West Midlands. (MYJO has flown the flag for British jazz, with trumpeter John Ruddick directing,  in the USA, Russia and Europe. More here.)

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A tribute to Stan Tracey (1926-2013), on what would have been his 87th birthday



Today would have been Stan Tracey's 87th birthday. Andy Boeckstaens remembers him:

“OK, here we go....” Stan Tracey would say, immediately before he launched his band into the first tune of a gig. At a time when many will be assessing Stan’s place in history and discussing his legacy, I would like to share a few memories of the 50-odd times that I saw him, some of which will have been enjoyed by others.

I became aware of Stan early in 1978, when his octet played a set to support the Gil Evans Orchestra on the London leg of its first British tour. I didn’t go to that February performance at the Royal Festival Hall (an inexplicable blunder for which I have never forgiven myself) but heard Stan for the first time at the 100 Club on 13 March in a quartet alongside Art Themen, Dave Green and Bryan Spring. The other set that night was a performance of Murder In The Air with poet Michael Horovitz and saxophonist Lol Coxhill. It is a measure of the affection and regard with which the pianist was held that all four survivers from that gig were present at Tracey’s funeral more than 35 years later.

Under Milk Wood was performed at Wembley Conference Centre on 9 November 1978 (the 25th anniversary of Dylan Thomas’ death). I was ignorant, then, of the seminal recording from 1965, but entranced by Tracey’s atmospheric music and the touching, hilarious poetry recited by actor Donald Houston. This was the first time that I saw Clark Tracey, who – at 17 years of age - had recently replaced Spring at the drums.

I was present at a couple of gigs that were recorded for posterity. The first was Stan’s “Golden Jubilee” concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 30 November 1993. This presented him solo, in a duet with Gerard Presencer, and with a quartet, a sextet, an octet and big band (highlights were issued as Stan Tracey Live at the QEH on Blue Note 7243 8 31139 2 7). At the Bull’s Head on 7 December 2006, the magnificent “Tracey/Wellins Play Monk” was recorded. As the name implies, it was an all-Monk programme with Bobby Wellins, together with regulars Andrew Cleyndert and Clark (ReSteamed RSJ 104).

In the years after his tenure as house pianist at Ronnie Scott’s, Stan’s appearances with American stars became infrequent. There were gigs and a recording with Sal Nistico, and shows with Bud Shank and Art Farmer but since the 1980’s Stan worked almost exclusively with his own hand-picked groups that spanned the generations and comprised the cream of the British crop, from Alan Skidmore to Nadim Teimoori.

Stan was an important part of the Charlie Watts Orchestra that appeared at Ronnie Scott’s in 1985 and 1986. The big band was a blast, of course, but it is easy to forget that the support sets every night were provided by a small group drawn from the ensemble of over 30 musicians. Once, it was a sextet of Stan with Don Weller, Ted Emmett, Jim Lawless, Ron Mathewson and John Stevens; another evening, Stan with Emmett again, Stan Sulzmann, Lennie Bush and Bill Eyden. The music they produced was sheer bliss.

Handicapped by shyness (and mindful of Stan’s reputation for reticence and occasional prickliness) I didn’t meet him until a record signing in 1993. I decided to talk about his composition “One For Gil” [Evans] which appeared on Portraits Plus, his first recording for Blue Note (0777 7 80696 2 1). By then, I had learned quite a bit about its subject, and mentioned that I was interested to hear of Stan’s admiration for the American arranger. Perhaps sensitive to the (unstated and unintended) allusion to those who accused him of copying Monk and Ellington, Stan explained, politely but firmly, “Just because you like someone’s music, it doesn’t mean that you have to sound like them”. Stan was very much his own man, and a regular feature of his gigs – usually the first tune - was to fashion a piece of music, without a rehearsal, from nothing but his own will and the empathy of his sidemen. He was fond of standards like Bye Bye Blackbird, and gigs often included selections that no-one else seems to do, like Mr Gentle, Mr Cool (Duke Ellington) and Playin’ in the Yard (Sonny Rollins).

His own writing brought another dimension, and usually contained just the right mixture of composition and space for improvisation, delivered by carefully-chosen sidemen. A favourite of mine in this vein is Dream Of Many Colours (from Senior Moment, ReSteamed RSJ 108) with Simon Allen. Stan himself was always at the heart of these tunes and – whatever the size of the group involved – the audacious leaps, thrilling runs, rhythmic confidence, dissondance and resolution, the unusual harmonic progressions, were unique and unmistakable.

He did not relish the passing of the years, yet Stan frequently chose to play on his birthday and generally selected music that was wryly appropriate, such as Old Folks. These concerts often involved stars like Guy Barker and Peter King and were a highlight of the British jazz calendar. I am privileged to have heard ten of them (including those marking his 70th, 75th and 80th birthdays). In the middle of a complex drum solo, it was commonplace for Clark to blend in a rhythmic and melodic Happy Birthday, which Stan would acknowledge with a smile or a nod. Sometimes the gig would end with an unaccompanied Little Man You’ve Had A Busy Day and I like to think that that was Stan’s way of thanking his son in return.

On 9 September 2005, Stan was booked to play at the Bull’s Head with Don Weller, and it was to be recorded. But the star hadn’t turned up. After frantic phone calls were made, Weller announced that Stan was stuck in (Friday-night) traffic, and the show started without him. By the break, still no Stan; it seemed inevitable by then that he wasn’t going to make it. So the second set continued as a piano-less trio. At 10.40, the back door of the jazz room burst open, and in came Stan, ravaged by a journey from St Albans that had taken about four hours. He exclaimed, “M25, M4.....what can I say? The other piss-off is that the piano was specially tuned for tonight”. For the 20 minutes that remained, Stan pounded the hell out of it.

Stan Tracey's music enriched my life, and I feel extremely fortunate to have witnessed so much of it. Thoughts are now with his beloved family, especially Clark who has played a central role in his father’s life and music. As the humanist celebrant said at Stan’s funeral, to which the family were kind enough to extend a completely open and inclusive invitation, he will live on in the memories of everyone who knew him; and his wonderful music will outlive us all.

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30% OFF - Sale at Whirlwind Recordings to celebrate the end of a busy year



There is a 30%-off New Year Sale (until Jan 2nd) across the whole catalogue at Michael Janisch's Whirlwind label. More detail, and the discount access code (it is WWRHOLIDAY) HERE

The label has had quite a year in 2013:

- Whirlwind released fifteen new albums during the year, bringing the total of albums released to thirty-six

- A festival at Kings Place with twenty bands and one hundred musicians over three days

- Many of those concerts are featured on the label's Youtube channel . The band above Jim Hart's Cloudmakers Trio, has recorded a new album, for 2014 release.

- Six new distribution  deals abroad were agreed, plus a change of distributor in the UK to Proper

- The label had a busy stand at Jazzahead in Bremen and will be there again in 2014

- Michael Janisch also launched Jazz for Babies, and announced a partnership with the Lazy Daisy antenatal and baby class chain.

(pp) 

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RIP Yusef Lateef (1920-2013)

My friend and mentor Brother Yusef Lateef has passed. We are blessed to have been on the planet the same time as Yusef Lateef.

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RIP Herb Geller (1928-2013)



Sad to learn today via Doug Ramsey's authoritative Rifftides blog and Stephen Cerra's site that the West Coast-born, Hamburg-based fluently melodic alto saxophonist Herb Geller, a frequent visitor here in the 1980s and 1990s, died on Dec 19th.

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News: Chris Parker to step back as lead CD reviewer for LondonJazz News

Chris Parker taking notes for a CD review
while on summer holiday, 2013. 

Sebastian and Rob write: 

Chris Parker has decided to step back from his role as the lead reviewer of CDs at LondonJazz News.

We would like to thank him for an amazing contribution over the past three years to setting the tone, and to increasing the professionalism of LondonJazz News with every single piece he has written for us.

Henceforth, Chris's contribution to the site will be as an occasional book reviewer.

Chris is a one-time publisher of Wire magazine and jazz editor for Quartet Books, and he has written about jazz for The Times, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, BBC Music Magazine, Jazz Review and for the Vortex website. He was also presenter of Jazz Today and Jazz in Concert on Radio 3 in the 1980s and early 1990s.

For us it has been a constant privilege to host the work of a writer who is one of the cohort of the most experienced and respected reviewers in the UK. Chris's pieces are models of economy of expression and object lessons in the ethics of reviewing.

Chris is by profession a freelance book editor and proofreader with over 40 years' experience, so the copy he sends in is word-perfect every time. It's an editor's dream.

Chris says: "I've really enjoyed immersing myself in jazz's new releases over the past few years, but would like, while I'm still reasonably alert, to be able to spend more time with my existing record collection, sadly neglected over the past decade or so. Thanks to Seb & Rob for dealing with my copy so sensitively & professionally, & to the site's readers for their kind attention..."

In the wider context, Chris has made a substantial contribution to making UK jazz better known, appreciated and understood.

As regards LondonJazz news the implications are as follows

- We shall miss Chris's invaluable contribution

- Publicists and musicians who are seeking to place reviews of CDs: this is a significant change for us, we will be going through a transition, and ask you to patient with us while we put a new system in place.

- We currently expect to appoint a commissioning editor for CD reviews after our fifth birthday,  in late January

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Review: Peter King Quartet at the new jazz room of the Bulls Head, Barnes

Peter King. Photo credit: Melody McLaren. All Rights Reserved

Peter King Quartet
(The Bull’s Head, December 21st 2013. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


Thankfully, reports of the demise of jazz at the Bull’s Head have proved to be greatly exaggerated. The room is back in action as of this week, and is in very fine shape indeed. The first Saturday for the revived venue featured the Peter King Quartet, and they are on great form, too.

First, the room. Cleverly resituated in a stand-alone building, complete with its own bar and toilets, what was once a back room of the pub is now a free-standing miniature jazz club. This immediately pays dividends by eliminating noise from the punters in the main bar (a major football match might previously have diminished a jazz fan’s pleasure) while presumably simultaneously protecting the drinkers from unwanted jazz. The music room has good acoustics. It is painted battleship grey, with red drapes. There are now tables as well as chairs for the customers (you used to have to put your pint on the floor under your seat, and try not to kick it over). The low stage is situated in a corner, with the audience on two sides in an L-shape.

Now, the music. Lalo Schifrin has called Peter King “one of the best musicians in the world,” so it’s a remarkable privilege to be able to pop down to a pub in southwest London to hear him on a Saturday night just before Christmas. King has a sweet, floating tone on his alto sax, and effortless control — and the listeners loved it. In the old days at the Bull’s Head there were often, sadly, more people on the bandstand than in the audience. Tonight the new room was packed, with the rapt customers outnumbering the musicians by a ratio of more than ten to one. And we were all in for a treat because on this date Peter King was splendidly partnered with Steve Melling on piano, Jeremy Brown on upright bass and Doug Sides on drums.

Opening with Chick Corea’s Inner Space, Peter King played with clarity and a luscious bell-like tone, spinning a carousel of bebop phrases. Steve Melling delivered a great solo, floating and streaming, weaving together right and left hand lines, high speed runs alternating with melodic clusters. Doug Sides was percussive and punchy, playing dense figures on cymbals and drums like a juggler keeping a whole set of crockery airborne. King soloed with laid back aplomb, a class act, warm and strong and precise. His playing was highly polished and melodic, but with echoes of the raw fury of Coltrane.

Jeremy Brown was showcased on V’s Groove, a hip, chic original by Steve Melling. Accompanied by Doug Sides’s shuffle brushes, Brown’s solo was unhurried, with rich, rounded tones. First he was funky, then soulful and gospel tinged before plucking out R&B phrases. This was bass playing of great melodic richness. Steve Melling’s sparkling piano was a synthesis of soul jazz and jelly roll, alternating breathless excitement with leisurely strolling swagger. Peter King came in like a train emerging from a tunnel, but this was a swinging locomotive, running smoothly, taking its own sweet time.

Body and Soul in John Coltrane’s arrangement saw King soaring and swirling around the melody while Steve Melling played with joyful agility, as if he was skipping along a steep, narrow path. Doug Sides deployed beautifully timed cymbal bursts and Jeremy Brown’s bass was plunging, honeyed and engulfing, even singing the melody line. Peter King closed the piece by playing a great cloud of notes with immense calm and poise before concluding with a concise homage to Coleman Hawkins.

King sat out On Green Dolphin Street which was a feature for Steve Melling’s distinctive skipping, dancing piano. Doug Sides’s timing was immaculate, striking a cymbal and then returning to strike it again and again, always exactly just as its shimmer of vibration was fading to inaudibility. He also demonstrated bravura time changes on the brushes.

I couldn’t wait to hear what this combo had in store for us next.

Samba D’Esprit was Doug Sides’s own tune and his drumming on it was dazzling. He had to play with restraint tonight so as not to overwhelm the small room, especially during his blazing fury of a solo on Joshua, and he managed the tricky task of swinging while keeping the volume in check.

World of Trane began as a Peter King composition before segueing into an odyssey of John Coltrane’s finest moments. Jeremy Brown’s bass solo called to mind the Ellington title Such Sweet Thunder for its stormy sonorities. Doug Sides added a dreamy flourish of shimmering drums and there was a piercing piano soliloquy from Steve Melling. Peter King revealed his wild side, occasionally glimpsed earlier, like the bright red lining of his black jacket. He ended with Coltrane’s version of My Favourite Things, playing with rapturous ululations and breathtaking pauses.

Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life provided a solo sax feature for King with the tune glimpsed in a bristling thicket of bebop improvisation. It was a masterful modernist collage, the trio only joining in at the end for a few seconds of ensemble conclusion.

This was a great gig at the end of the first week of operation of a wonderful new jazz room for London (see our previous report of the second night). As the new Bull’s Head finds its feet (so to speak) there are a couple of refinements they might care to consider. When Melling was asked what the piano was like, he replied, “It’s like a Yamaha upright. As opposed to a Yamaha grand.” And certainly the grand piano at the old Bulls Head was one of its great pleasures, but it seems the small stage area in the new room makes a grand implausible. Doug Sides also suggested extending the drapes behind the drum kit, and putting some carpeting under the bass drum, both of which would help with the volume of the drums.

These are minor points. We have a superb new jazz club in London, and it is immensely welcome.

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News: Vortex receives two-year grant from Paul Hamlyn Foundation



The Paul Hamlyn Foundation has made an award of £40,000 over two years to the Vortex Foundation, to support the Vortex Jazz Club’s management and programming.

Tim Ward, a director of the Vortex Foundation, says:  "The award of this grant by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation is great news for the Vortex Jazz Club and will help us build upon and strengthen our world class artistic programme. It is yet another example of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation's support for creative and innovatory work in the live arts.

The Vortex's new relationship with the Paul Hamlyn Foundation presents us with a real opportunity for the Vortex Jazz Club and its partners work in the community, to be sustained, flourish and develop in the years to come.”


(Sebastian is also a director of the Vortex Foundation)

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Review: The Apophonics at Cafe Oto

The Apophonics at Cafe Oto; John Butcher, John Edwards, Gino Robair
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


The Apophonics at Cafe Oto
(27 November 2013. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


The Apophonics gave a captivating recital at Cafe Oto on 27 November. John Butcher (saxes), John Edwards (bass) and Gino Robair (percussion) dived into a liminal, marginal zone.

Butcher fluttered the keys, tapped the top of the tenor sax, found feedback, flicked in and out of jazz, blasted the soprano sax. Edwards revealed gems in the bits of the stand-up bass that don't always get played, used the bow to describe tension as well as facilitate it, left it stuck in the strings - made crunchy, searing sounds. Robair, with the prestidigitateur's sleight of hand, waved cloths over the cymbals, dropped them on to the toms, clinked the floor, blew on to the drum kit, manhandled and bowed a misshapen metal sheet, swapped fine sticks for hands.

The trio gave the impression of electrons bouncing off each other in controlled, near-random activity - each maintaining its shape and integrity, irrespective of the velocity or scale of impact of individual collisions.

Here are few sketches done at the time.


The Apophonics at Cafe Oto; John Butcher, John Edwards, Gino Robair
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved



The Apophonics at Cafe Oto; John Butcher, John Edwards, Gino Robair
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved



The Apophonics at Cafe Oto; John Butcher and John Edwards
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


Their new album is reviewed by Andy Boeckstaens, HERE
.

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Printmakers CD for autumn 2014 release on Basho



Printmakers: Mike Walker, James Maddren, Norma Winstone, Steve Watts, Nikki Iles, Mark Lockheart
Sebastian writes:

Basho Records have confirmed that they will release ‘Westerly’, the long awaited debut album from Nikki Iles' generation-spanning group Printmakers in September 2014.

The album was recorded - and the picture above was taken - a few weeks ago at Yewfield, Ambleside in the Lake District The album has originals by band members, plus tunes by Ralph Towner, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Fred Hersch.

We interviewed Nikki Iles earlier inhe year, and she explained more about the history of the band and its repertoire in our PODCAST

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Book Review: Richard Havers - Verve: The Sound of America



Richard Havers - Verve: The Sound of America
(Thames & Hudson, 400pp., £45. Book Review by Chris Parker)


‘The story of Verve Records is the story of jazz.’ So begins the press release accompanying this sumptuously illustrated, meticulously detailed account of Norman Granz’s label (formed in 1955 to record Ella Fitzgerald), its predecessors Clef and Norgran, and the agenda-setting Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts and tours that began in July 1944. The hyperbole is understandable – any label that issued some of the best work of musicians such as Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Smith, Johnny Hodges, Stan Getz (to name just a few) would expect its publicity department to make such a claim – but, like the book’s subtitle, ‘The Sound of America’, it has approximately the same validity as ECM claiming to be ‘The Sound of Europe’ (which, of course, it would never dream of doing).

This caveat aside, Verve: The Sound of America is undoubtedly a toothsome production, packed with information discographical, historical and personal, and lavishly but sensibly illustrated with everything from contemporary playbills and publicity photos to record sleeves, contracts and news reports. It begins with a brisk history of the beginnings of jazz, then traces Norman Granz’s uniquely influential activities within the music: removing jazz from the club and staging it in the concert hall; fighting the racial segregation that blighted the lives of many of its performers; ensuring that its artists were faithfully recorded and then properly rewarded – in short, attempting to persuade America to treat jazz with the respect it deserved, as the country’s richest gift to the contemporary world of arts.

Perhaps the most valuable feature of books such as this is their ability, courtesy of their access to historical archives, to surprise with the contemporary view. Thus, Paul Whiteman, on visiting Britain in 1926, was billed as ‘The Mussolini of the Ragtime world’; Billie Holiday’s voice was described by one reviewer as a ‘petulant, sex-edged moan’; booking agent Joe Glaser said to Anita O’Day: ‘You’ve got a million dollars’ worth of talent and no class’; Herbie Mann complained about his reception by the music press: ‘To most jazz critics I was basically Kenny G. I was too successful.’

Similarly, concert photos, albums of informal snaps taken on tours, original cover artwork, even candid shots of cigarette-strewn post-session studios all contribute not only to a fascinating and compelling picture of the involvement of Verve in the post-war jazz world, but also to a proper appreciation of some of Granz’s less celebrated innovations: his refusal to acknowledge the validity of the then-common rigid division of the music into traditional/modern; his enterprising packaging of the music via ‘concept’ albums and boxed sets; his lifelong prickly refusal to be placated by belated recognition (‘I think you guys are a little late’ was his reaction to being offered, in 1994, a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; ‘All this talk of jazz being the only truly uniquely American art form apparently has gone right by you. Pity’ was his handwritten comment to Bill Clinton on the President’s failure to name a jazz musician to ‘an Arts Award, especially when Benny Carter the last of the giants of jazz ... is still actively playing beautifully’).

Of course, given that this is an ‘official’ biography of Verve etc., the more controversial aspects of Granz’s involvement in the music (succinctly summarised by the late Richard Cook: ‘he made something of a circus of jazz presentation, and his records were professionally satisfying but rarely surprising’) are barely touched upon, but overall Havers’s book is a skilfully presented and intelligently arranged tribute to a man who triumphantly succeeded in his stated aims: ‘I want to fight against racism, to give listeners a good product and to earn money from good music.’

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Report on the Stan Tracey funeral

Andy Boeckstaens writes:

I attended Stan's (humanist) funeral yesterday, which was a very emotional affair with speeches and poems by Bobby Wellins, Michael Horovitz, Andy Cleyndert and Ben Tracey (and Clark Tracey, read by the humanist celebrant).

There was live music in the chapel: a solo piano piece by Steve Melling ("Ballad For Loos" from Stan's last album The Flying Pig), and a trio ("Triple Celebration") with Melling, Cleyndert and Nadim Teimoori. Also recordings of Stan playing "Starless and Bible Black" and "Little Man You've Had A Busy Day" (Mabel Wayne,1934)...as his body was committed.

There was a wake afterwards to which the family had generously extended a completely open invitation to allcomers, with a jam session that included Julian Joseph, John Critchinson, Nick Weldon, Gareth Williams, Tom Cawley, Andy Cleyndert, Simon Thorpe, Arnie Somogyi, Dave Green, Bryan Spring, James Joseph, Steve Brown and (the only horn player) Mark Armstrong.

In sadness.

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Interview: Dawn Landes (Aurora Orchestra at Kings Place, Jan 4th)

Dawn Landes
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Sebastian Scotney interviewed American singer-songwriter Dawn Landes. She will be performing newly-commissioned songs and arrangements by American composer Nico Muhly with the Aurora Orchestra, in their American ' Road Trip' programme, which also includes works by Charles Ives, Aaron Copland and John Adams, at Kings Place on January 4th.

Sebastian Scotney: You grew up in Louisville, Kentucky but now live in New York?

Dawn Landes: I'm a Kentucky girl at heart but am starting to feel at home now in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I made the move to the East Coast in 2000 to study at New York University.

SS: So, Is Kentucky still 'home'?

DL: I do still feel very connected to Kentucky even though I haven't lived there in years. My dad lives there and I get back a few times each year. I'm nostalgic for it and in a way do still think of KY as home.

SS: Listening to your own songs your musical roots in American folk music seem quite strong. What were your influences?

DL: I grew up listening to the radio all of the time. Everything from pop radio to country and gospel... the midwest is vast with lots of long drives to educate you via radio. Some of my favorite singers were Linda Ronstadt, Joan Baez, and Lucinda Williams. They were all telling amazing stories with their songs.

SS: Your singing has natural, honest sound. Was there a lot of singing in the family?

DL: I come from a long line of hummers. All the women in my family hum around the house. We're like a swarm of bees when we're all together!

My brother is a jazz trombone player, my aunt plays organ at the church and my grandfather played the violin. There were some sing-alongs around the holidays for sure.

SS: Were you formally trained as a musician?

DL: I took piano lessons for a few years as a child and then a few guitar lessons. Mostly I'm a self taught musician. I dabble in a lot of sound-making in the studio. As a producer and engineer I consider the computer to be my instrument as well. I do a lot of painting with different sonic textures. I have been singing my whole life and have had some amazing experiences working with great vocal coaches and choir directors.

SS: You have also written film scores?

DL: I've written two feature film scores "Blackbird" and "Familiar Strangers". It was a great experience and I'd love to do more work with film.

SS: What's your current album?

DL: My newest album is coming out Feb 18th, 2014 on Western Vinyl/ Secretly Canadian. The album is called "Bluebird" and was produced by Thomas Bartlett. [LISTEN HERE ]

It features string arrangements by Rob Moose (from Y Music) and guest appearances by Norah Jones on piano and vocals and Tony Scherr on upright bass. The song "Home" is from the forthcoming record.

SS: Your song Straight Lines (below) has been used by Transport for London in their campaign to get more people cycling. Any comment?!





DL: I feel honored to have my song in an ad to promote bicycling! I ride my bike year-round in NYC and don't know what I'd do without it.

SS: You've been to the UK before?

DL: I've been touring in Europe now for over a decade. I believe my first performance in London was back in 2004 at the ICA supporting Feist. I always love playing in London.

SS: What folk songs will you be singing on January 4th?

DL: Some shape note songs and some Scottish ballads - and some surprises!

SS: How long have you worked with Nico Muhly?

DL: Nico wrote a flute arrangement for my song "Brighton" from my 2009 album "Sweetheart Rodeo". Recently I sang the ballad Brown Girl (short extract below) in his score for Benjamin Millepied's ballet "Two Hearts" at Lincoln Center. I'm looking forward to singing that song again with the Aurora Orchestra for this performance.



Sebastian Scotney: The songs you will perform at Kings Place written/ arranged by Nico Muhly with you in mind. Is working with him a collaborative process?

Dawn Landes: It's collaborative in the very early stages and he's wonderfully open. Then he shuts the doors and makes his magic.

Kings Place / Aurora Orchestra tickets HERE

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Report: The new jazz room at the Bulls Head in Barnes

Sax Appeal at the new jazz room in the Bulls Head, Barnes 


Sebastian writes: 

The new music room at the Bulls Head in Barnes is open.

It is an appealing room and has been well kitted out club-style with tables. Compared to the old room, the proximity of the band and and immediacy of the music make it much more reminiscent of, say, the Ram Jam Club in Kingston. However, as everyone involved acknowledges, it is in reality currently at the try-out, 'work in progress' stage. They are also opening in the middle of the Christmas office-party season:. January will be a time for calmer reflection. The gigs in January will be properly advertised. Bookings in advance are also being taken.

Music room manager Dave Jones, who spent five years working at the Spice of Life in Cambridge Circus wants people to check it out and to feed in thoughts at this stage. He is also involved in the restaurant - it is good to have someone as hands-on involved in the general running of the venue taking such a fully committed and pro-active interest in music.

The programme will  also develop: from February the Way Out West collective will be programming its Wednesdays at the Bulls Head. The room is ideal for that kind of group, five to eight players. St Paul's boys school have also had an event there, so the room is getting tried out and put through its paces. It will also be available as a rehearsal space in the daytime.

The stage is currently a foot or two too narrow: they're going to extend it. The lighting isn't yet right- it's going to get sorted. The acoustic 'reflectiveness' of the unpainted surfaces of the air-con units is affecting the sound in the room. They'll be painted. And so on..

For those who know the place well, the music room is where the Thai restaurant used to be. It has been completely re-furbished. It seats sixty, and can fit in another thirty standing. The old music room is now a restaurant, which is knocked through/ opened up to the pub. It was completely full last night, with the residents of Barnes keen to try out not just the familiar staples on the menu like fish and chips and burgers, but also the more exotic fare - octopus and lobster.

I went on the second night, for Derek Nash's eight-piece Sax Appeal. (Matt Wates, Derek Nash, Duncan Eagles, Mornington Lockett and Bob Mackay saxes, plus Pete Adams piano,s Phil Scragg bass and Nick France drums.) It was great to hear Duncan Eagles playing in an unfamiliar guise, mellow, mainstream Zoot Sims-ish tenor. Mornington Lockett built solos of great shape and intensity, and Derek Nash gave the lively enterprise both dynamism and dynamics. The group is looking forward to the launch of a new album on Jazzizit in February.

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News: Sarah Jane Morris' New Album Pledge Campaign



Sarah Jane Morris writes:

It has been an intense year writing and touring with several different projects, including my usual band of Tony Remy, Henry Thomas, Tim Cansfield and Martyn Barker, Michael Rosen, Annie Whitehead and John Eacott. We are in the process of recording an album, which is influenced by the melodies and rhythms of African music. We would like to add a South African choir, a singer from Zimbabwe, a Senegalese singer, a kora player from Mali and many more guests including Courtney Pine on bass clarinet, to help make the album complete. To make this possible we are collaborating with Pledge Music to raise the money.

To help you can pledge to buy the signed CD, or to come to a Pledgers-only concert at The Hippodrome, Leicester Square on Thursday 24th April. You can pledge for a bass lesson with Henry Thomas or a guitar lesson with Tony Remy, or a singing lesson with myself. You can pledge for a concert in your own home with Tony Remy and myself, a chance to come and be part of the recording or mixing at Yellow Fish studios, near Lewes, Sussex or pledge for a download of the CD. We are offering individual ringtones, a meet and greet for UK or Italian concerts and a name dedication on the album.

The songs and music will do much to celebrate the people of Africa whilst dealing with human rights, the rise in homophobia, my childhood, love, motherhood and corruption. The music will make you dance the lyrics will occasionally make you think. I don’t have answers but I do have stories.

We hope to release this album at the end of June and will be launching it in Italy with a concert at the Auditorium in Rome in Sept 2014 and three nights at The Blue Note in Milan.

We are performing four concerts at Ronnie Scotts, Frith St, London on 3rd and 4th January 2014 to preview songs from the forthcoming album. Our guests will be Adriano Adewale on percussion, Suntou Susso on kora and the Janine Johnson vocal trio. We have many special guests lined up so please come and hear us.

If you would like to make a Pledge then please PLEDGE HERE

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News: Jerwood, Arts Council and PRS to support May 2014 Emulsion Festival at Village Underground

Emulsion I


Trish Clowes writes:

On 28th-29th May 2014, Emulsion III will take the form of a two-night festival at the Village Underground in Shoreditch. Food, the duo of ECM artists Iain Ballamy and Thomas Strønen, will be headlining the festival. Also performing are my ensemble Tangent, Luke Styles’ contemporary classical group Ensemble Amorpha, Rory Simmons’ Fringe Magnetic, contemporary vocal group Juice and a set from the Emulsion Sinfonietta.

As well as performances of existing repertoire from the 5 groups, the festival will be dotted with collaborations and premieres of new works supported by the PRS for Music Foundation. The festival is also supported by Arts Council England. The Emulsion development scheme for the core Emulsion artists is supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Tickets will be go on sale in January, along with more information about the performers and new works.

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Other LondonJazz Contributors' Top Albums of 2013

Following on from Chris Parker's Top Albums of 2013 list, here are four of our other contributors' favourites of the year:

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Alison Bentley:




John O’Gallagher - The Anton Webern Project (WR4635)

This music is addictive and beautiful, played with dedication and passion: challenging and intriguing, taking the jazz tradition on a step further into Schoenberg's 'emancipation of dissonance'.



Mulatu Astatke - Sketches of Ethiopia (Jazz Village)

Each listening reveals a new layer of subtlety and richness, as the compelling Ethiopian rhythms and scales fuse with jazz improvisation.

Photo Credit: Sofia Wilde


-isq - -isq (Cheespeas Records)

These superb musicians have brought together the musical styles they love with emotional authenticity.

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Andy Boeckstaens:



Terence Blanchard - Magnetic (Blue Note)



Ethan Iverson/Lee Konitz - Costumes Are Mandatory (Highnote)



Rudresh Mahanthappa - Gamak (ACT)



The Impossible Gentlemen - Internationally Recognised Aliens (Basho)

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Rob Edgar:



Ruthie Culver & the Utter Jazz Quartet - Look Stranger (Purring Recordings)

There are many intriguing and wonderful things about this album, first and foremost of which is the ensemble's deep and thoughtful understanding of the original music

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Sebastian Scotney:



Bill Frisell - Big Sur (Okeh)

The subtleties and the puzzles of Big Sur will be enjoyed for many years.



Vincent Peirani - Thrill Box (ACT)

After about a fortnight of listening to Vincent Peirani's CD Thrill Box(ACT Music), I'm still going back - again and and again



Kit Downes - Light from Old Stars (Basho Records, SRCD 42-2)

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Geoff Winston's Review of 2013 

ICP Orchestra at the Vortex
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved
Geoff Winston writes:

Dalston has been my main focus and the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra's 5-night residency at the Vortex was an incredible start to the year. The boisterous Dutch jazz collective has its roots in the 60s and we were privileged to witness two of its founders together onstage - the irrepressible drummer, Han Bennink and pianist, Misha Mengelberg, who, on the penultimate night brought great authority to the keyboard and the entire group - overcoming personal ailments to add extra depth to the ICP's dynamic solo and section work that hovered with humorous abandon on the line between anarchy and muscular, disciplined ensemble work.

Pianist Ahmad Jamal at 83, accompanied by his superb quartet at the Barbican, played with a staggering technical and imaginative agility underpinned with an elegance and intelligence that would leave most younger players gasping for breath! A true great.

... and at 86 saxophonist Lee Konitz teamed up with pianist Dan Tepfer at the QEH to deliver one of the most beautifully crafted and conceived sets I've seen.

Cafe Oto's tremendous programme had so many rich offerings that it's almost impossible to pick out stand-out concerts from those I've attended. In March, New York-based guitarist Marc Ribot gave a glowing, improvised solo acoustic performance, feeling his way over his lovingly wear-worn instrument as though it was Braille-encrypted. He commented that he felt perfectly at home at the venue - "nice messy dressing room, cool people, good acoustics, good beer."

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


Ribot followed up in October with two nights - 'intense, hair-raising and joyful rollercoasters' - with his wonderful trio, rooted by the dignified authority of the great bassist, Henry Grimes.

Keith Tippett at Café Oto.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All rights reserved.


Keith Tippett's remarkable solo piano debut at Cafe Oto was stamped with 'a technical virtuosity that all but defied credulity' - improvisation on an extraordinary high plane - and a moving humility - he couldn't believe the standing ovation he received. There was no other response possible!

Steve Noble, Jason Adasiewicz, John Edwards, Peter Brötzmann
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


Peter Brötzmann continued his series of extemporisations with Chicagoan vibes player, Jason Adasiewicz, teaming up with the unfailingly inventive percussion and bass of Steve Noble and John Edwards to deliver one of the least predictable and most rewarding excursions of the year, which had Adasiewicz all but rip up his vibraphone keys from their cords at one point! "It was, for us, a great adventure," declared Brötzmann!

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


Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's 3-nighter at Cafe Oto as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, was a remarkable experience, bringing together his own superb Golden Quartet with the British string players, the Ligeti Quartet, in a unique 7 hour interpretation of his major work, 'Ten Freedom Summers', that had the walls resonating with his articulation of the history of the Civil Rights movement - a moving blend of score-based improvisation and individual invention.

The Necks at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


The trailblazing Australian trio, The Necks, basked in the ambience of the venue for 3 nights. The first set of the final night was one I'd pick out to take with me to a desert island - a magical, beautifully paced set which had all the tensions and structural delicacy of a spider's web in construction.

Evan Parker at the Royal Naval Chapel Greenwich.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


Evan Parker wove a different magical spell in Greenwich, at the Royal Naval Chapel - a touch of Prospero, perhaps. In his solo performance he created 'a trance-like tension with interplay between upper and lower registers, notes flew around the room, different tempos closed in on each other and overlapped ...'. And the bonus was his post-concert conversation with Martin Speake at the Trinity Laban theatre, where he described with an illuminating clarity, the ways in which he approaches his music.

As for albums - well, I'd single out Nic Bullen's expertly and respectfully composed electronic essay, 'Component Fixations', and The Necks 'Open', a beautiful and subtle journey creating space out of the trio's intensely crafted abstract sonic encounters.

Sad that four heros of mine are no longer with us - Bobby Bland, one of the greatest blues singers of all, whom I was privileged to see live on several occasions. Lou Reed - whose uncompromising Metal Music Machine concerts threw down the gauntlet when I witnessed them in 2010. And two true masters, Chico Hamilton and Jim Hall, musicians' musicians, who made immeasurable contributions to jazz. Hamilton, whom I wish I'd seen, notably gave Eric Dolphy his break. Hall was always a joy to witness live - the pinnacle of precision, craft and creativity.

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Chris Parker's Albums of the Year 2013 (with links to reviews)

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:




Dave Holland - Prism (OKeh 88883721802)

delivers pure, unalloyed pleasure for all of its 70 minutes.

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TOP TEN (in alphabetical order)

>


John Abercrombie Quartet - 39 Steps (ECM 374 2710)

Both Abercrombie and Copland are unhurried, thoughtful players, their solos impeccably tasteful but surprisingly robust



Chris Biscoe Profiles Quartet - Live at Campus West (Trio Records TR591)

...his [Biscoe's] unassuming, learned demeanour belying a soloist of passionate (and unfailingly inventive) intensity



Blue Touch Paper - Drawing Breath (Provocateur Records PVC 1043)

absorbing, often viscerally exciting album



Liane Carroll - Ballads (Quiet Monet Recordings QMR0002CD)

eschewing the vocal pyrotechnics that disfigure so much contemporary balladry, Carroll’s singing wrings the heart in a manner achieved by a precious few



Nathan Haines - The Poet’s Embrace (Warner Jazz HAVENCD004/2564854344)

a lush, occasionally downright sumptuously sensuous sound




Julia Hülsmann Quartet - In Full View (ECM 371 7777)

the quartet, throughout this utterly absorbing and consistently engaging album, constantly pull off small miracles of mutual sensitivity and poetic creativity.



Joe Lovano UsFive - Cross Culture (Blue Note 509996 38761 2 3)

 A hugely ambitious but stunningly realised album from a great master.



The Swallow Quintet - Into the Woodwork (XtraWATT 279 8380)

Swallow’s stellar band address his often deceptively simple-sounding themes with wry wit, exquisitely tasteful vigour and carefully calibrated control


Craig Taborn Trio - Chants (ECM 372 4543)

often relatively complex, tricksy affairs with subtly shifting rhythmic emphases and unusual melodies

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CD Review : Natalie Dessay / Michel Legrand - Entre Elle et Lui

Michel Legrand, Natalie Dessay. Photo Credit: Simon Fowler/ Warner Classics

CD Review: Natalie Dessay / Michel Legrand - Entre Elle et Lui
(Erato 934145 2. CD review by Sebastian Scotney)

Take one look at Michel Legrand's extraordinary career, and you start asking yourself the question: what have you been doing the rest of your life? The French composer/ songwriter/ pianist, now 81, has not only produced around 140 film scores, won three Oscars (out of eleven nominations), worked with Miles Davis, composed the kind of songs like Windmills of Your Mind or The Summer Knows which stay whirling in the mind, he has also just written an autobiography, and taken on a major touring project.

He is currently doing concerts with Natalie Dessay. The opera singer, probably the most complete and adaptable French singing actress of her generation is taking a 'sabbatical' from opera, described in more detail in this interview. She was originally trained as an actress, and on this album she inhabits many different roles and personalities with total conviction and persuasiveness.

The album Entre Elle et Lui is a compendium of eighteen familiar and unfamiliar songs. There are three from that magical Summer Holiday-meets-West Side Story 1967 movie by Jacques Demy Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, including the rapid-fire duet for the sisters Chanson des Jumelles, with as guest singer the characterful Patricia Petitbon. Vocally  the two are uncannily similar, it's a very clever piece of casting. Another guest vocalist is Dessay's husband Laurent Naouri on an anthemic treatment of the famous Guy-Genevieve duet from Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.

For someone not completely in awe of Legrand, the songs in English can come across as cloyingly sentimental. They are also longer. What are you Doing the Rest of Your Life, the longest track comes in at just under eight minutes; that's a lot of saccharine to take at one sitting. Legrand and Dessay also do some vocal duetting. Their version of Les Moulins de Mon Coeur has improvised freshness about it.

Legrand as pianist is great to hear, he plays with swing, drive, panache, but does have the occasional splashy moment. His regular rhythm section of bassist Pierre Boussaguet and Laurent Naizeau are extremely sympathetic, although I wondered in places how much they could hear on their monitors of what else was going on. Natalie Dessay mostly comes across on the album as astonishingly lively and fresh, although she has an energy lapse in La Chanson to words by Claude Nougaro - that song just sounds as if one of the recording sessions might have gone on for too long.

One genuine highlight is the song (completely unfamiliar to me) Le Rouge et Le Noir to words by Claude Nougaro, describing an assignation in a flop-house. It's a clever and tight song alternating the words 'rouge' and 'noir', and with a punchline playing on the double meaning of the word 'noir' in French to mean not just 'black' but also 'drunk'. The animal howl-growl which Dessay produces at the start of the last stanza/ blues chorus is one of the most extraordinary vocal sounds I've ever heard. Another joy is the song immediately after it, the Couperin-inspired homily Les Conseils de la Fée des Lilas as sung by Delphine Seyrig in the film Peau d'Ane.

For the fans of Legrand this is a central, indispensible document. As Richard Morrison pointed out in his review for the Times, it will also make great present for a francophone or francophile.

The Dessay/ Legrand tour will reach the UK for one date on 4th May 2014 at the London Palladium.

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Review: Minimal Klezmer at The Mill. Walthamstow



Minimal Klezmer
(The Mill, Walthamstow, 14 December 2013. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)


Enthused by Minimal Klezmer’s début recording CD (reviewed here in November) I sat with a few dozen others to listen to the band in a small community space on a Walthamstow side-street. The CD was good, but nothing could have prepared me for the live experience.

Martin Teshome’s cello set the pace with Mitzve Tenzl, joined by Francesco Socal on clarinet and Bob Durante on melodica. For the next hour, we were transported on a whistle-stop tour of Eastern Europe and beyond, with joyful dances and moody dirges delivered with sincerity, humour and great gusto.

It was fascinating to hear how some of the pieces on the record – which also features an accomplished accordionist – were rearranged for the basic trio. The titles Old Bulgar, Ukrainer Kuhsidl and Orientalishe Motive betray something of their origins. Socal worked his way through piccolo, alto and bass clarinets, and made vaguely absurdist announcements, often at the expense of his colleagues. Squatting on the floor, Durante struck a multitude of things surrounding him: a glockenspiel one minute, small metal trays the next, at one point creating a fast vamp by tapping tiny bells with astonishing precision. Beavering tirelessly at the back, Teshome was rock solid. The tightness of the arrangements – and the skill of their execution - was thrilling, yet the improvisation quotient was high and it swung like mad.

The performance became more theatrical as it went on. Socal bounced up and down and sang passionately. Durante – during a fine melodica solo - managed to drop things including a toy piano onto small cymbals to produce perfectly-timed crashes. Trapped behind his cello, Teshome was forced into being the straight man, and could only look on in amusement.

All of the selections, including Free-Vesile and Unzer Toirele-Taxim from the album, seemed to contain just the right mixture of sobriety and skewed sardonicism. A number of unconventional objects were employed, mostly for percussive effect...including a fire extinguisher and a staple-gun! Various items were handed to the audience to shake, rattle and blow. Most people were typically reticent, but a little boy who was given a duck-call was truly entranced; he delighted the crowd and almost stole the show.

Towards the end, there was a play-fight which ended up with Socal and Durante in a heap on the floor, and it was genuinely funny when a rubber pig was made to grunt when squeezed between a pair of headphones. Hard to believe, but all this happened while everyone was playing furiously.

Don’t be deceived by the clowning, though. There may have been a fair amount of comedy and physicality in the performance, but these men are serious about their music. Minimal Klezmer succeeded in delivering a highly entertaining and satisfying show.

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Review: MEV at Cafe Oto

MEV at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


MEV at Cafe Oto
(13 December 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


MEV - Musica Elettronica Viva, emerged in Rome in 1966, from the prevailing collective ethos and confrontational politics of the moment. They eschewed traditional compositional modes and dedicated themselves to improvisation and experimentation, taking cues from Cage and Tudor, and public disorder was sparked by their radical approach at the time. Personnel have changed over the years, and more recently they have crossed paths with AMM with whom they share common points of reference.

This concert at Cafe Oto by three founding members of MEV, Alvin Curran, Frederick Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum, each highly respected American composers and performers, hovered enticingly on the edges of unpredictability, characterised by the trio's acute sensitivity to the flux of the sonic events they generated as the single work evolved organically over a sixty minute span.

Curran has described the original contract between the performers: "... the fragile bond of human trust that linked us all in every moment remained unbroken. the music could go anywhere ... in the general euphoria of the times, MEV thought it had re-invented music; in any case it had certainly rediscovered it." They proved that they have lost none of that inquiring spirit or intellectual dexterity, and their combined experience yielded an impressively challenging and finely nuanced proposition.

There was no respect for consistency, or the borders of specific genres. They utilised all means available to achieve their end - what seemed like appropriation was more a collagist's approach where transformation through recontextualisation is the key to the process. The acoustic piano was centre stage - initially played by Curran for a short spell, then taken over by Rzewski. To its left, keyboard/electronics, behind which Curran settled, and to its right, electronics equipment and Mac laptop, presided over by Teitelbaum.

A dry humour surfaced in the form of verbal interjections by Rzewski, who started with a passage about the Mississippi, referred with a twist of nostalgia to "Brother Teitelbaum" and later declared, "If you think we don't know what we're doing, you're right!"

The key to the event was the creation of space by using the space of the room. Sampled yodels and crowd voices were poised alongside Curran's jazzy piano episode, snatches of blues and Bach. The piano wires were lent an off-key, displaced sound by shoes that Curran and Rzewski 'discovered' in its body.

Hand held toys - moo and baa boxes - were utilised for the banal sounds they offered, beats were pulled in and drawn out of the mix. Rzewski's increasingly intense piano explorations merged with the industrial electronic backwash with its sub-station humming, tremors and rumblings. A flock of geese passed through in milliseconds.

Their shared sensibility was the focus around which they gathered all the strands. It was subtle master class in improvisation, micro-adjusted at every point, that made its impact with low-volume tensions packed with bright detail, and brief bouts of power volume that, in juxtaposition, could not fail to delight and surprise.

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Preview: Cafe Society Swing at Leicester Square Theatre. 21-22 December

China Moses


Alex Webb writes:

Be careful what you wish for, the old saying goes, it might come true. Later this week Cafe Society Swing, originally conceived as a kind of lecture with music for the 2011 London Jazz Festival, finally reaches the West End as a fully-fledged musical revue, with a dramatic narrative, sets, lighting plan, costumes and a director.

When Barney Josephson opened Cafe Society, 75 years ago this month, it was the first desegregated night club in New York. ''I wanted a club where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front,'' he said. ''There wasn't, so far as I know, a place like it in New York - or in the whole country.''

The talent Josephson could call on in 1938 was quite extraordinary - on opening night alone he presented Big Joe Turner, pianists Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis, and Billie Holiday. Cafe Society went on to present an extraordinary list of jazz and blues names – Lena Horne, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Nellie Lutcher, Big Bill Broonzy and Josh White, among many others. But no good deed goes unpunished, and Josephson’s radical politics and links with the Left came back to haunt him after the end of WWII. When the House of Un-American Activities Committee took action against his communist brother Leon, Josephson found himself persecuted by powerful press columnists as a ‘fifth columnist’ running a club where, supposedly, Soviet spies would meet.

Josephson was eventually forced to close, in 1949. Intrigued by this story, I set about finding out more – and made contact with Josephson’s widow, still alive in New York. Her book, The Wrong Place for the Right People was an invaluable source for the story of the club. But I also had to find a group of musicians versatile enough to represent all the many styles of jazz played there. I called on Paris-based China Moses (daughter of Dee Dee Bridgewater) and Gwyneth Herbert, both of whom signed up straight away. For male vocals I brought in my partner in crime Alexander Stewart; and the band included strong soloists like Frank Griffith (tenor, clarinet, Nat Facey (alto) and Sue Richardson (trumpet). Several generations of the script and twenty-odd music arrangements later, we just about had a show. Now, finally, we’ll be in the West End.

But being a theatre producer ain’t easy. It’s a whole lot tougher than putting on a gig, and there’s a lot more financial risk involved. And just when the cast has finally got it all down, you find you have to replace someone – Gwyneth Herbert is working in Kenya this Christmas, so I’ve brought in a great young vocal talent, Cherise Adams-Burnett – definitely a name to watch. And while I’m looking after all this I’m also occupying the piano stool …

So if you like jazz and want to hear a revealing story about mid-century America, do come along to the Leicester Square Theatre this weekend. And don’t shoot the piano player, he’s doing his best.

Copasetic Productions Present:
CAFÉ SOCIETY SWING – A TRUE STORY by Alex Webb
Directed by Simon Green
Cast: China Moses, Harold Sanditen, Alexander Stewart and Cherise Adams-Burnett.

Dates: Saturday 21 December and Sunday 22 December 2013
Venue: The Leicester Square Theatre, 6 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX
Time: 9.30pm
Tickets: Advance tickets £18.50; £20.50 at the door (group discounts available)
Box Office: 08448 733 433
Tickets HERE

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