Preview: Loop Collective Club night at the Vortex. Feb 8th

Dan Nicholls writes about a concert he has organised on February 8th at the Vortex with the Loop Collective:

February 8th marks the next in an ongoing series of Loop Collective Club Nights at The Vortex in Dalston. These nights have been a real success, showcasing groups which bring together eclectic influences – from African musics to electronica to improv – in front of big crowds and making use of The Vortex late bar with DJ sets from Soundspecies.

This upcoming night is a quadruple bill, starting at 8.45pm with a very exciting new project led by percussionist Bex Burch, who lived in Ghana for three years where she studied traditional Gyill music. The group plays arrangements of Ghanaian music featuring Tom Challenger, Dave Smith, Jim Hart, Simon Roth and myself, with Bex playing a specially adapted xylophone which is amplified to create a sound reminiscent of Congolese bands such as Konono No.1 and Kasai All Stars.

The next act is Mobo Award-winning saxophonist Shabaka Hutching's quartet featuring the electronic wizardry of Leafcutter John (Polar Bear) and the fantastic drums and bass partnership of Tom Skinner and Ruth Goller. This will be a rare opportunity to see four of London's finest playing together.

Next up is my own project Strobes+ByramArt which sees my group Strobes – with Matt Calvert (Three Trapped Tigers) and Dave Smith (Robert Plant, Fofoulah) – join forces with one of my heroes of visual art, Stephen Byram, who designs the cover art for Tim Berne's Screwgun label amongst a multitude of other work. The set will include visuals which are heavily integrated into the live music through the use of triggers and computer software.

The night will be finished off by a DJ set from Sounspecies' Ollie Keane – who never fails to play some of the hippest music from Africa and further afield – and a late bar.

For more info see the Vortex or Loop Collective websites


Preview: Filomena Campus and Antonello Salis All Stars Band at Pizza Express Jazz Club. Feb 12

Alison Bentley interviewed Antonello Salis ahead of his gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club on the 12th February. He will be joined by Filomena Campus, Cleveland Watkiss, Orphy Robinson, Steve Lodder and Adriano Adewale.

A rare opportunity to hear the great Sardinian accordionist and pianist, Antonello Salis, with a fine band of Italian and British jazz musicians.

Born in Sardinia in 1950, Salis started with a toy accordion as a child- he taught himself, and has developed a style so original and distinctive that he almost seems to bend the notes in the air. You're as likely to hear Sardinian folk tunes as jazz and rock, or a Beatles tune- or his own intriguing compositions.

He didn't want to play the traditional accordion repertoire. When I spoke to him in Sardinia last year, he talked about his struggle to find the right music for the accordion. 'I spent 20 years thinking the accordion was dead. During this 20 years, I played music by Edgard Varèse, Frank Zappa, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Indian music. After a long time, my ideas changed: I said, 'Why not use the accordion- but in the service of this music'. You really feel Salis could play anything on the accordion, but with such a sense of fun and mischief that he takes you with him.

Salis has worked with a Who's Who of American and European Jazz musicians: in a trio with Cecil Taylor and Tony Oxley; Pat Metheny; Nana Vasconcelos, with whom he's recorded; Lester Bowie (Salis even named his son Lester); Steve Turre, Roscoe Mitchell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Evan Parker, as well as fellow Italians Stefano Bollani and Paolo Fresu. Salis: 'I like Mark Ribot, Tim Berne, Ornette Coleman, though I've never played with him. And Dexter Gordon- very human.' He also loves rock guitarists: Jeff Beck, Hendrix, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani. Salis' own playing can have a rock intensity at times, between the humour and gentleness.

Salis is also a virtuoso pianist, and draws on music from many cultures for inspiration- 'African and Caribbean music, Eastern music- Cambodia, China...' and often puts artefacts on the piano strings to change the sound. He carries a suitcase of objects around to "prepare" the piano- small pieces of metal, plastic bags...

Salis' music is in demand with dance companies such as the experimental Pina Bausch Tanztheater. You can also hear him play in Eric Rohmer's film Autumn Tale. Salis said, 'It was a pleasure to meet these great people. But they were very normal people!' Salis himself has won many awards, including the Django d'Or Award 2005 and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2008 European Jazz Expo.

'I don't like to play in a fixed style. I play in many styles In my head...I'm looking for something from the imagination. It's in the atmosphere. I'm looking for music that doesn't exist, something primitive. It's like looking for the right colour for a painting. That's how it is with musical notes- to find out how to mix them.’

Expect the unexpected, with virtuosity, high spirits, playfulness, and the company of a superb band.

Antonello Salis, piano and accordion
Filomena Campus, vocals

‘All Stars Band:

Cleveland Watkiss, vocals
Orphy Robinson, vibes
Steve Lodder, piano
Adriano Adewale, percussion.

Tickets HERE


Interview / Preview: The Duval Project. 8th February at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Gary Alesbrook

Sebastian Scotney spoke to Gary Alesbrook about his gig (with The Duval Project) at Pizza Express Dean Street on the 8th February.

LondonJazz: Who Is The Duval Project?

Gary Alesbrook: Myself: trumpet/flugelhorn, Marie Lister: vocals, Danny Cox: drums, Andy Nowak: keys, Richie Blake: bass

LJ: How long has The Duval Project been going?

GA: It started off as an instrumental project in early 2010 and Danny, Richie and Andy have been with me from the beginning. I truly believe this is one of the best rhythm sections around and I can't imagine having anyone else behind me. Last year we found a gem of a vocalist and Marie has been with us ever since. She gives us a perfect balance between jazz and soul.

LJ: What's your background and where do you come from?

GA: I'm a jazz trumpet player hailing from sunny Plymouth. Up until studying jazz at Leeds College of Music, I primarily had a classical background. I started playing on the session circuit straight after college and I'd say this gave me quite a broad taste in music.

LJ: Who are your main influences?

GA: I mainly play flugelhorn in the project and love players like Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Gerard Precencer and Till Bronner. However, musically i listen to everything from Count Basie to Warren Zevon to Busta Rhymes. The Duval Project is heavily influenced by my time playing with the late Lynden David Hall and Raphael Saadiq. It's music based in jazz but with a heavy neo-soul influence.

LJ: What have been some of your favourite moments for the band over the last few months?

GA: Last month we supported Roy Ayers at the Jazz Café, we were so excited to be supporting such a legend! We've been invited over to New York so, fingers crossed we can get some funds together to do it all again!

Our E.P was released in November last year and somehow we managed to catch the ears of Grammy Winning recording engineer Russell Elevado in New York. Russell mixes artists such as Roy Hargrove and D'angelo so i was very excited he was interested in mixing and producing our debut E.P.

LondonJazz: Are you looking forward to your début at Pizza Express?

Gary Alesbrook: We're definitely looking forward to coming back to London as we were so well received at the Jazz Café and we're ready to branch out from our local gigs in Bristol. I've always wanted to play Pizza Express but never really had the right kind of project. I'm so proud of this band and can't wait to play there.

The Pizza Express gig will coincide with the release of two live tracks recorded at the end of last year featuring a song from the E.P and one from the live set. We recorded two tracks in a club underneath Bristol Temple Meads train station! I wanted to do something slightly different and we had strings with us too. The tracks sound beautiful and i can't wait to get them out.

You can listen to The Duval Project book tickets for the Pizza Express gig via the links below:

Pizza Express Live

The Duval Project Facebook page



Twitter : @DuvalProject



Preview: Steve Fishwick / Osian Roberts Sextet February UK Tour

Steve Fishwick writes:

I’m very excited about the release of our new Steve Fishwick/Osian Roberts sextet CD - When Night Falls - featuring one of the best exponents of Baritone Saxophone in NYC Frank Basile (Jimmy Heath, Vanguard Big Band, Joe Lovano, Dave Holland) and Spanish pianist Albert Sanz (Jorge Rossy, Chris Cheek, Kurt Rosenwinkel).

Thanks to Arts Council England we’re touring to promote the CD playing 10 dates throughout the UK. The touring band features Frank and some of the best UK musicians- Ross Stanley on piano, Jez Brown on bass and Matt Fishwick on drums.


6th Feb- Ent Shed, Bedford
7th February- Jazzlive @ the Crypt, Camberwell, London
8th February- Pinner Parish Church, Pinner, Middlesex
10th February- Ronnie Scott's Late Show
11th February- Ronnie Scott's Late Show
12th February- Jazz Bar Edinburgh
13th February- Glasgow Arts Club
14th February- Underground Theatre, Eastbourne
16th February- Coronation Tap, Bristol
17th February- Dempsey's, Cardiff


NEWS: BBC Young Jazz Musician Finalists Announced

Sean Payne and Jake Labazzi


All of the finalists in the first BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition have been announced. The Purcell School has named saxophonist Sean Payne, aged 13 and trumpeter Jake Labazzi as two of the five finalists. The National Youth Jazz Collective has named saxophonist/producerAlex Bone from Chetham's School, saxophonist Tom Smith who has a place at RAM for the autumn, and Chetham's School have named Freddie Jensen, as the fifth.

The BBC has retweeted one of these external confirmations but not yet released the full information itself.


CD Review: Howard Riley - Live With Repertoire

Howard Riley - Live with Repertoire
(NoBusiness Records NBCD 58. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Howard Riley is a master of both free improvisation and structured music, as demonstrated in a 45-year career during which he has collaborated with people as diverse as Barry Guy, Art Themen and Jaki Byard.

He explains in the sleevenote that he performs some gigs entirely without repertoire; some with and without, and others – as on this occasion, recorded at Embrace Arts in Leicester on 11 November 2011 – almost completely with repertoire.

I’ll try to be objective here, but I have to tell you that this is the jazz of my dreams, and I cried with pleasure when I first heard it. I listened more, for hours, and still gasped time and again at Riley’s brilliance and audacity. Throughout the CD there is a gloriously luminous, scintillating pianism, infused with logic and startling unity.

Small groups of notes, arpeggios and fragments of melody – superficially unrelated – begin the performance, then, teasing and hinting at what’s to come, gradually weave together. With grander chords and a bell-like sonority, the threads coalesce and Riley eventually slides into Monk’s Mood. Throughout the set, which includes four other compositions by Thelonious Monk, the pianist typically avoids the norm of stating the theme first.

Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues Are is thus prefaced by oblique passages delivered with admirable clarity, as little shoots of the song poke the surface and vie for exposure before finally breaking into flower. With lovely cadences, the early parts of Ruby My Dear are masterfully revised and at times take on a fabulous new identity. Riley’s approach - more adventurous than other distinguished Monk interpreters like Stan Tracey and Jan Kaspersen - features an innate swing and a deep feeling for the blues.

He reaches into the piano to mute the sound on short sections during Well You Needn’t, which receives an expansive exploration that veers through free-form territory but retains a structured core. Round Midnight is perhaps the “straightest” rendition on the album. Ironically, there are lulls when you can almost hear Riley thinking about what to do next. In this case, he turns them into a triumph with a magical phrase that brings it back on track for the conclusion.

This is followed by perhaps the most fulfilling standard, I’m Getting Sentimental Over You. Dense clusters become partially-disclosed ideas that wrestle with snatches of the theme; there are snippets of Everything Happens to Me and Moon River, and the tune appears fully only a minute from the end. Its joyful, slightly cheesy denouement seems inevitable and absolutely right.

Darn That Dream is more obvious but has moments of dissonance and a controlled waywardness. Johnny Green’s ubiquitous Body and Soul – so often a predictable dirge - is given a rare verve by Riley’s displaced rhythms and chord substitutions. It is the first time for ages that I have heard anyone sound as if they are actually putting their soul, via their body, into playing this.

Riley’s own compositions Now One and Now Two have motifs that sound spontaneous, and they struggle to take shape despite invigorating runs, repetition and development. Formerly incorporates elements of “stride”, references to My Old Flame and a beautiful resolution, and is amongst the most satisfying pieces on the album.

In a way, the selections in this concert are all of a kind, like a rhapsodic suite fused together by the pianist’s singular conception. Alone at the piano, Riley plays free jazz in the most literal sense: he has the imagination to create; the experience to know what works, and the skill to carry it off. Essential.


NEWS: Ollie Howell wins 2014 Sky Academy Arts Scholarship

Congratulations to drummer Ollie Howell who has just been awarded a 2014 Sky Academy Arts Scholarship, the first recipient of any of the Sky Awards from jazz. Ollie previously won a 2012 Peter Whittingham Development Award.

The main awards have been listed by the Arts Desk, and the ceremony is being screened on the Sky arts channel this Thursday 30th >


Full Musical Credits for the VW Needle in a Haystack TV Ad

Maybe the love affair of TV ad-men and swing jazz never really went away....


The song is Needle in a Haystack from the 1934 Fred Astaire film The Gay Divorcee

Music by Con Conrad

Lyrics by Herb Magidson

Singer Cate Ferris

Karen Straw, Paul Jordanous (trumpets).

Will Gibson, Duncan Hemstock (saxes & clarinets).

Ben Greenslade Stanton (trombone).

Bill Mudge (piano).

Richard Sadler (Double bass).

Ollie Howell (drums).

String section led by Lara Foot.

Arrangement by Paul Jordanous.

Editing/ Original Concept by Alex Banks ( also guitar)

Recording engineer Jon Bailey

Recorded at Air Studios.


NEWS/ UPDATE: Tommy Smith's Petition to The Scotsman Has Been Successful

Further to our post yesterday, Tommy Smith's petition to avert the end of World/ Classical/ Jazz reviewing has been successful:

From Tommy Smith's Facebook: "Waiting in my inbox, was an email from the Deputy Arts Editor of The Scotsman, who, this morning brought it to the attention of his management, who, in turned, quickly made money available for the continuation of World, classical and jazz CDs reviews; Weekend Life magazine is also going to thrive.

There will be no reviews this weekend but the three journalists involved are firmly reinstated, ready to listen, reflect and review World, classical and jazz music for all of us on February 8th. This is especially important to all the homegrown talent in Scotland, as it is a platform to the world stage.

For me, this, my first petition, was worth the sacrifice of besmirching my name against my hometown newspaper, which I’ve supported all my life, but the principle of injustice outweighed any personal loss to me.

I ended my petition with the 3rd line in the first stanza of Burn’s ‘Auld Lang Syne’. I will conclude this notification to you all with the 3rd line in the last stanza of the same song. 'And we'll take a rich guid-willy waught'; a draught of good fellowship.

Best wishes from the bottom of my heart.

Tommy Smith"


Review: Ahmad Jamal at the Royal Festival Hall

Ahmad Jamal. Photo credit: Paul Wood
Ahmad Jamal
(Royal Festival Hall, January 27th 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney. Drawing below by Geoffrey Winston)

Where do you go for the 'Sense of an Ending'? For the Eng. Lit tribe, it'll  be Frank Kermode; the book club set will succumb to the fey ambiguities of Julian Barnes. But in music you don't just get the sense of the endings, they're real; and there is no one who delivers them with quite the definitive coup de grâce, every time, like Pittsburgh-born jazz piano hero Ahmad Jamal.

The 83-year old tends to end pieces with his hands spread at least three octaves apart, for a single, percussive, incontrovertible staccato chord. It is as if he has said what needs to be said, and he can expect his word to stand. For the other members of the band, the semaphore couldn't be clearer: they all land perfectly on exactly the same dime every time. In one case last night he was already standing to play that final 'envoi'. In another he just sat patiently arms folded. Waited. Kapow.

All that, however, is really just one fine detail. What Jamal's quartet delivered throughout a 100-minute single set (it felt a good deal shorter) was a sense of constant forward propulsion, of groove, of infectious swing, of contrasts in sound and style. Jamal drops in on the standards repertoire and caresses it. His My Foolish Heart was as tender as Bill Evans. Sometimes he hints at the contours of tunes, in a manner similar to that other youthful octogenarian Martial Solal. Then you get a whole section where the band will inhabit an insistent groove, like the irresistible 'forward son clave' pattern which stayed throughout Silver, a tune written for Horace Silver.

Ahmad Jamal Quartet
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. All Rights Reserved
It is a great band. Percussionist Manolo Badrena has been lending his dexterity and his humour to bands ever since he joined Weather Report in his early 20s. Drummer Herlin Riley is a drummer whose authority and swing stay in the mind - I still haven't forgotten him powering the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the 2002 Proms.  And bassist Reginald Veal's deep and solid thrum and rhythmic energy are inspirational. The quartet earned their standing ovation. The CD signing queue that was forming after the gig for the new album Saturday Morning, issued last September and recorded at the la Buissonne studios in the Vaucluse in the South of France with exactly this personnel, was very long indeed.

Which, after a performance as totally persuasive as this one, was understandable.


Preview / Interview with Alison Rayner: Blow the Fuse 25th Birthday Celebrations

Alison Rayner

Rob Edgar spoke to bassist Alison Rayner about the 25th Birthday celebrations of Blow the Fuse with concerts from February to July at the Vortex (Dalston) and St Mary's Old Church (Stoke-Newington).

Rob Edgar: ”Blow the Fuse”, “Tomorrow the World”, “Where young meets old”, “where East meets West”. Tell me about this.

Alison Rayner: Blow the Fuse, based in London, is a partnership founded 25 years ago with Deirdre Cartwright and myself to promote and showcase the very best of live music. Since 1989, we’ve provided a focal point and performance opportunities for a small but very significant group – women jazz musicians – across the country.

Blow the Fuse runs regular jazz club nights and have produced UK jazz tours, larger scale events, educational projects and music workshops. We also created a record label – Blow the Fuse Records – with 10 CDs released to date (the 11th is due for release this summer).

Blow the Fuse Jazz Club is still the only jazz club in the country to consistently feature women jazz musicians. Dave Gelly wrote in The Observer that it is “… the friendliest and most attentive jazz club crowd in London”.

Tomorrow the World is the latest incarnation of our successful Tomorrow the Moon series of gigs which ran in 2011, 2012 and 2013 at the Vortex Jazz Club, featuring cross-generational double bills of women-led jazz projects. In the last three seasons of Tomorrow the Moon, we have programmed groups led by composers and performers Andre Vicari, Karen Sharp, Laura Jurd, Yazz Ahmed, Deirdre Cartwright, Vicky Tilson, myself, Laura Cole, Diane McLoughlin, Dee Byrne, Nora Bite, Lauren Kinsella, Karen Street, Jo Fooks, Michelle Drees, Roz Harding, Nikki Iles, Jan Ponsford, Chelsea Carmichael, Janette Mason and Shirley Tetteh. Needless to say, there are plenty of women jazz musicians out there!

Young meets old ... two generations. The cross-generational double-bills have age ranges spanning some 40 years between younger and older performers!

East meets West – this refers to our new project Tomorrow the World where we are presenting an amazing range of music from across the globe – Klezmer, Balkan and gypsy music, Indian sitar-led melodies and rhythms, Latin and European inspired compositions and South African influenced jazz – all including the ever-important jazz element of improvisation.

RE: It's a celebration of 25 years since you started your jazz night. What was the original idea behind it?

AR: Throughout the 80s, Deirdre and I were touring Europe and internationally with Jazz-Latin group the Guest Stars. When the band folded in 1988 we realised a need to reestablish local contacts and carve our niche in the London jazz scene again. On a trip to New York I saw Mike Stern playing his regular gig at the 55 Bar in Greenwich Village, his haunt when not touring. This planted a seed. And so we began a regular night where we could invite other musicians to play with us and learn new repertoire in the theatre of the Duke of Wellington Pub in Balls Pond Road. Blow the Fuse was born!

RE:How has it changed over the years?

AR: Initially, we ran a weekly gig with a house trio and a featured guest, at the Duke of Wellington. It then moved to the Kings Head Theatre in Islington then the Samuel Pepys next to the Hackney Empire, finally arriving at the Vortex – the original one – in Stoke Newington in the early 90s – then owned by the wonderful David Mossman. We changed from a weekly format during the 90s to a programme with a season of dates, using venues such as the new Vortex in Dalston, Chats Palace in Homerton and our latest venue, St Mary’s Old Church in Stoke Newington.

Programming style has shifted too – we have a number of formats with most recently, with double-bills which has been fantastic. So the first set includes a new band alongside either a more established group or the traditional format of a guest featuring with the house band in the second set. It’s a great melding of the old with the new!

One of the biggest changes has been in the audiences – in particular the size of them! There were times in the early days when you could count the audience on one hand. These days, thanks to a lot of marketing and accumulating a significant database, we can ensure a decent audience for all our gigs. I think one of our strengths has been a desire to communicate with our audience – through the music, of course, but also maintaining a strong relationship beyond the stage. We have a great deal of personal and now remote contact with them and have known some of them for over 30 years.

RE: Which are the oldest musical collaborations will you be presenting...?

AR: There are two evenings featuring collaborations between Deirdre and myself – we have played together since 1976! There will also be a concert in February featuring Laka D who we met in 1977, leading a new choir with Deidre and I accompanying her in the first set. The May date at the Vortex features Louise Eliot and Cheryl Alleyne who played at the first Blow the Fuse Club night in May 1989 – this will mark our 25th anniversary and will be a celebratory evening to boot.

RE: ...and the newest?

AR: There are a number of performers who we have not previously programmed – the wonderful bass player and composer Daphna Sadeh is bringing her group, The Voyagers, in March. Vocalist and sitar player Shama Rahman will bring her quartet to St Mary’s in April and the July date at the Vortex features a trio led by Flo Moore, a brilliant young bass player currently studying on the Academy jazz course.

RE: You have been a big supporter of women in jazz. This year, you're also including a world jazz aspect. What can we expect from this?

We have a 25 voice choir led by the charismatic vocalist Laka D, a night of Balkan, Klezmer Middle Eastern and jazz, a collaboration on the April date between guitarist Deirdre Cartwright and sitar player Sanjay Guha and then in June, a South African and Ska influenced world music workshop band led by trombonist Annie Whitehead. That’s just for starters.

Although initially from classical and rock and pop backgrounds, Deirdre and I have been influenced by a wide range of ‘world’ music including Santana’s Latin-rock, the Brazilian influence of say, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie’s use of Afro Cuban rhythms and the huge contribution made by South African musicians on the London jazz scene. Jazz is such an open and wide-reaching music genre, always absorbing other influences and re-inventing itself.

RE: You're working with PRSF and Jazz Services?

AR: We have been really fortunate to be receiving funding for the 4th year now from the Jazz Services and PRSF Small Promoters Fund. This is what has made the double-bills – a rich and diverse aspect to these projects – possible. We have thoroughly enjoyed mixing with younger musicians and their audiences along with our regular supporters. Every aspect of this coalescence has been very positive.

Rob Edgar: Finally, tell me about the choice of venues.

Alison Rayner: We decided to run this series across two venues – The Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston and St Mary’s Old Church in Stoke Newington. We feel the acoustics and space of the medieval church will really suit the choir concert and also work well for groups featuring acoustic instruments such as sitars and horns. It’s the first time we have used the church and we are very excited about the possibilities there. The Vortex is always a great place to play – intimate and in a funky area – with incredible support from all the volunteers who help make the evenings there terrific.

More information from the BLOW THE FUSE WEBSITE


CD Review: Chet Baker - Italian Movies

Chet Baker - Italian Movies
(Moochin’ About, MOOCHIN03. 3 CD set. Review by Nicolas Pillai.)

At the end of disc 1, Chet sings ‘Arrivederci’ in that haunting bittersweet voice, backed by lush strings. It’s a rather charming, wistful song from the musical comedy Urlatori alla sbarra (1960) and those who’ve seen Bruce Weber’s controversial documentary Let’s Get Lost (1988) will remember the sequence playing out behind the end credits. Chet leans against a tree, his dialogue dubbed by an improbably masculine-sounding Italian, as lovers frolic around him in a pastoral landscape. It’s the apotheosis of Weber’s vision of Chet: the corrupted little boy, lost to the past.

Refreshingly, the music that comprises this collection rather explodes that myth. There is none of the gloom or self-indulgence that typified the soupier of Chet’s recordings. Indeed, often Chet isn’t really the centre of attention and it’s nice to hear him playing so well with his Italian peers on disc 1. Along with Urlatori alla sbarra, this first disc presents the scores for Audace colpo dei soliti ignoti (Fiasco in Milan, 1959) and I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna St, 1958). Musically, Chet is in good company here although the repetition of musical cues, spread out across a film, can become a little wearing as part of a CD sequence.

The music on discs 2 and 3 is more variable, and may be of lesser interest to the jazz fan. Disc 2’s score for Intrigo a Los Angeles (1964) shifts from small band jazz to breezy Mediterranean pop to atonal organ/percussion. The latter presumably corresponded with a scene of torture or hallucination but for a listener ignorant of the source films like myself, the disc is tonally rather confusing. It is here especially that I would have welcomed liner notes that gave some account of the films themselves. One realises as one listens that this isn’t so much a Chet Baker collection as a collection on which Chet features. Indeed, it’s a shame that the CD set’s title omits the name of Piero Umiliani who, in previous releases of this music (e.g. by Liuto Records), shared the billing with Chet. The interior of the box does provide a rather touching recollection by Umiliani of working with the trumpeter, however: “I offered him three notes and he made something beautiful out of them. The idea was mine. The creativity was his…”

On disc 3, the score to Smog (1962), Chet is even more absent. Again, musical styles chop and change, switching between Milanese cocktail party, pleasantly sultry torch songs by Helen Merrill and a harmonising vocal group. Chet comes in at track 9, his trumpet sounding frail and furry. In James Gavin’s biography Deep in a Dream, he describes Italy as a particular low point in Chet’s lifetime of addiction. Perhaps this accounts for the sloppiness of some of his playing here. Happily, he’s back on more sparkling form for the CD’s finale ‘Thinking Blues’.

The CDs come in a smart card slipcase, a nice design marred somewhat by poor copy-editing and some pixelated images. On the album cover, Chet stands outside a shop, his face framed by postcards and magazines. Peering from beneath a flat cap, he looks bemused, ill at ease and uncomfortable in his own skin. Arrivederci, Chet.


Album Preview / Interview: Shez Raja - Soho Live (Launch Gigs Pizza Express April 16-17)

Rob Edgar spoke to Shez Raja about his live album Soho Live which is to be released in April 2014, with launch gigs at Pizza Express Jazz Club on 16-17 April (tickets HERE)

LondonJazz: 'Soho Live' is your first album in four years, what has changed since Mystic Radikal?'

Shez Raja: The musical chemistry between the band members is even stronger now. We’ve done a lot of gigs and festivals, shared some great experiences and have become closer friends in the process. This all adds up to a more intuitive, interactive and fun musical vibe, especially when we play live.

LJ: So what would be the highlights on the live performance front?

SR: We’ve been fortunate to have headlined a number of overseas festivals in the past few years. One standout gig would be Auckland Jazz Festival in New Zealand where we had probably the best view from a stage ever – overlooking a beach, with a volcano jutting out of the sea. St Petersburg festival was also incredible. They treated us really well and even provided us with a stretch limo. I think this should be the basic rider for all gigs!

LJ: Where is your music heading?

SR: It’s definitely getting more experimental. We’re pushing the envelope harmonically and rhythmically whilst sticking with the core essence of energetic grooves and strong melodies.

LJ: You're known for your highly entertaining and dynamic live shows. Is this the first time you've released a live album?

SR: Yes, this is the first live album. The aim was to try and capture the raw energy of the live show on record and I’m pleased to say that we’ve achieved it. I’m really happy with the results and if you play the CD very loud it’s just like being at one of our gigs.

LJ: Where was it recorded?

SR: One of the top London jazz venues, Pizza Express Dean Street.

LJ: Who is appearing on this album?

SR: We have a truly stellar line-up on this album including Soweto Kinch, Gilad Atzmon, Monika Lidke, Shabaka Hutchings, Jay Phelps, Aaron Liddard, Chris Nickolls, Pascal Roggen and Alex Stanford.

LJ: Tell us about the launch gigs at Pizza Express Dean St on 16-17 April: who will be joining you?

SR: We’ll have Shabaka Hutchings, Gilad Atzmon and Monika Lidke appearing as special guests on both nights. We’ll be playing some fresh material alongside all of the hits.

LondonJazz: Anything else going on at the moment?

Shez Raja: I’m honoured to be working on a new studio album - with jazz legends Mike Stern and Randy Brecker. We’re about half way through the recording and it’s sounding sensational.


Report: Michał Urbaniak Celebration at Embassy of the Republic of Poland

Michał Urbaniak Celebration
(Embassy of the Republic of Poland. 24th January 2014. Report by Rob Edgar)

The  Polish violinist / composer Michał Urbaniak has recorded and toured with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and Billy Cobham. On Friday night the Embassy of the Republic of Poland hosted a celebration organised by Xantoné Blacq, in  advance of Urbaniak's (sell-out) gig at Pizza Express Jazz Club with Urbanator, his first performance in London for many years.

In a conversation between Urbaniak and Xantoné, the violinist reflected on his musical career to date: “There was no one who was musical in my family, but my parents had a wide circle of friends. I remember sitting next to the gramophone and listening to accordion groups.” said Urbaniak. “I was playing the classical violin from a young age and playing with symphony orchestras by age 9”.

The young Urbaniak was introduced to jazz via shortwave radio (on a show called Now Listen Carefully) and it hit him “like a spark. I first heard Louis Armstrong and was recording the shows onto tape every night. From that moment, I was living a double life; I would play classical music during the day and listen to jazz at night”.

There was a group of jazz listeners in Poland in the early 1960s who would trade records. “We were rebels, dressed like Americans, with crew cuts and hip clothes. We were protesting without verbalising, it still feels like I'm protesting but I'm not sure what it's against.”

Urbaniak fell in love with American culture, and, in 1962, won a competition to visit New York, Washington D.C, and San Fransisco. “I couldn't remember how to say 'how do you do', so when I met Dean Rusk [then secretary of state], I just said 'High Five'!”.

It was after this trip that the violinist decided he would settle in America permanently. After playing around Europe, and recording as often as possible, he arrived in 1973 with a recording he had made in Germany and signed to Columbia, “the record business was booming in those days, so there was no risk to them. They did not interfere with the process, and we were able to play what we liked”.

The album was called Fusion and we listened to an excerpt - Mazurka. It betrays his Polish heritage, very earthy and folksy but with ethereal electronics (possibly a throwback to his shortwave radio listening days?) and morphs into a funky All Blues style solo section. “America is such a cultural melting pot, I wanted to be open to all the influences I could be” said Urbaniak.

Miles Davis was a constant influence on Michał , and when he was invited to play on Davis' Tutu album. “He'd heard me play and wanted my sound, when I got to the studio I just played like normal, but when I realised I'd recorded with Miles I started crying.”

Like Miles, Urbaniak has never stood still, constantly innovating and finding new ways to bring music seemingly disparate musics together. He has worked with Kenny Muhammad, a beatboxer whom he found on the street and immediately asked to record with him, in 1995 he brought together hip hop, jazz and a symphony orchestra with his Urbsymphony project. He is an accomplished saxophonist, “I wanted to learn a new instrument and decided on the saxophone, I approached it form the point of view of a violinist, but the more I played it the more I started to notice that my violin playing was using shapes and phrases that were sax influenced.”

Urbaniak regularly performs with his wife, Urszula Dudziak, George Benson, Quincy Jones and others. The Pizza Express show was sold out well in advance. For those that couldn't get in, we are being told that there are more UK performances planned in the near future.

Visit Urbaniak's website HERE


NEWS: 56th Jazz Grammy Winners

The 56th annual Grammy Awards were held in Los Angeles last night. Here are the winners / nominees in the jazz categories and others with a jazzconnection (The full list is here )


Don't Run (Terence Blanchard) from: Magnetic (Blue Note )

Song For Maura (Paquito D'Rivera) Song For Maura -Paquito D'Rivera And Trio Corrente - (Sunnyside Records/Paquito Records)

Song Without Words #4: Duet (Fred Hersch) from: Free Flying -Fred Hersch And Julian Lage (Palmetto Records)

Stadium Jazz (Donny McCaslin) from: Casting For Gravity( Greenleaf Music)

WINNER: Orbits (Wayne Shorter) from: Without A Net - The Wayne Shorter Quartet ( Blue Note )


The World According To Andy Bey - Andy Bey ( HighNote)

Attachments -Lorraine Feather (Jazzed Media)

WINNER: Liquid Spirit -Gregory Porter( Blue Note )

WomanChild - Cécile McLorin Salvant ( Mack Avenue)

After Blue - Tierney Sutton (BFM Jazz)


Guided Tour - The New Gary Burton Quartet ( Mack Avenue )

WINNER: Money Jungle: Provocative In Blue - Terri Lyne Carrington (Concord Jazz)

Life Forum - Gerald Clayton( Concord Jazz)

Pushing The World Away - Kenny Garrett (Mack Avenue)

Out Here - Christian McBride Trio ( Mack Avenue )


Brooklyn Babylon - Darcy James Argue's Secret Society ( New Amsterdam)

WINNER: Night In Calisia - Randy Brecker, Wlodek Pawlik Trio & Kalisz Philharmonic ( Summit Records)

Wild Beauty - Brussels Jazz Orchestra Featuring Joe Lovano (Half Note)

March Sublime - Alan Ferber ( Sunnyside )

Intrada - Dave Slonaker Big Band( Origin Records)


La Noche Más Larga - Buika (Warner Music Spain)

WINNER: Song For Maura - Paquito D'Rivera And Trio Corrente ( Sunnyside /Paquito)

Yo - Roberto Fonseca( Concord Jazz)

Egg_n - Omar Sosa( Otá )

Latin Jazz-Jazz Latin - Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet( Patois)


WINNER: Steppin' Out - Herb Alpert (Shout! Factory)
The Beat - Boney James (Concord)
Handpicked - Earl Klugh( Heads Up International)
Summer Horns - Dave Koz, Gerald Albright, Mindi Abair & Richard Elliot (Concord)
Hacienda - Jeff Lorber Fusion (Heads Up International)


Label: RCA Records / Bystorm Entertainment
WINNER: Something - Snarky Puppy With Lalah Hathaway - from: Family Dinner Volume One (Ropeadope Records)


Hey Laura - Gregory Porter. from: Liquid Spirit (Blue Note) - Category won by Gary Clark Jr.


Shrimp Po-Boy, Dressed - Allen Toussaint, songwriter (Allen Toussaint). From  Songbook (Rounder) - Category won by Edie Brickell and Steve Martin


Songbook - Allen Toussaint (Rounder) - Category won by Emmylou Harris


No Place For My Dream - Femi Kuti( Knitting Factory Records)
JOINT WINNER Live: Singing For Peace Around The World - Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Ladysmith Black Mambazo)
The Living Room Sessions Part 2 -Ravi Shankar (East Meets West Music)


Bound Away - Chuck Owen - Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge -  from: River Runs: A Concerto For Jazz Guitar, Saxophone & Orchestra (Mama)
WINNER: Pensamientos For Solo Alto Saxophone And Chamber Orchestra - Clare Fischer - The Clare Fischer Orchestra( Clavo Records)
String Quartet No. 1: Funky Diversion In Three Parts - Vince Mendoza- Quartet San Francisco-  from: Pacific Premieres: New Works By California Composers (Violinjazz Recordings)


Invitation - Kim Richmond,-Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra- from: Artistry: A Tribute To Stan Kenton (Mama)
WINNER: On Green Dolphin Street - Gordon Goodwin - Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band (Telarc)
Side Hikes - A Ridge Away - Chuck Owen, arranger (Chuck Owen & The Jazz Surge) -  from: River Runs: A Concerto For Jazz Guitar, Saxophone & Orchestra( Mama)
Wild Beauty - Gil Goldstein  - Brussels Jazz Orchestra Featuring Joe Lovano - Half Note


Let's Fall In Love - Chris Walden - Calabria Foti Featuring Seth MacFarlane (Moco)
The Moon's A Harsh Mistress - John Hollenbeck, arranger (John Hollenbeck) from:  Songs I Like A Lot (Sunnyside)
WINNER: Swing Low - Gil Goldstein, Bobby McFerrin & Esperanza Spalding ( Masterworks)


WINNER: Afro Blue Impressions - Remastered & Expanded -  Neil Tesser - John Coltrane( Pablo/Concord )


Sixteen Sunsets   -Jane Ira Bloom (Pure Audio) - category winner Paul McCartney


WINNER: Winter Morning Walks David Frost, Brian Losch & Tim Martyn, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Dawn Upshaw, Maria Schneider, Australian Chamber Orchestra & St. Paul Chamber Orchestra) Label: ArtistShare


Manfred Eicher - category winner David Frost


WINNER: Winter Morning Walks Dawn Upshaw (Maria Schneider; Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough & Scott Robinson; Australian Chamber Orchestra & St. Paul Chamber Orchestra) Label: ArtistShare


Tabakova: String Paths Maxim Rysanov; Manfred Eicher, producer Label: ECM New Series - Winner Hindemith/ Eschenbach


WINNER: Schneider, Maria: Winter Morning Walks Maria Schneider, composer - Dawn Upshaw, Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough, Scott Robinson & Australian Chamber Orchestra - (ArtistShare)


Review: Nelson Rangell at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Nelson Rangell. Photo Credit: Brian Nott

Nelson Rangell
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 24th January 2014. Review by Geoff Eales)

Nelson Rangell is so much more than a superb practitioner of radio-friendly smooth jazz. Whilst his credentials in this area are impeccable (you only have to survey his extensive discography), his live performances reveal the Denver saxman to be a serious jazz artist who has a much deeper message to convey.

Rangell didn’t start his career as a saxophonist. His first loves were the flute and the piccolo, and what a phenomenal flautist he is! Many sax players dabble with the flute with, at best, pretty mediocre results – and vice versa, of course. Nelson happens to be a virtuoso on both instruments.

Accompanied by a roaring rhythm section comprising Pete Adams on acoustic piano, Phil Mulford on bass guitar and Louie Palmer behind the drums, Rangell began the opening set like a hurricane. It was fast, furious, alto-led fusion, the title of his original, The Red Pill, most apposite. The audience was taken on a red-hot roller-coaster ride, replete with unexpected melodic, harmonic and rhythmic twists and turns, the music ebbing and flowing ecstatically.

Point of Departure, another Rangell original, was an object lesson in groove playing. All four musicians were “in the pocket” from start to finish, this slow burn of a number featuring a stunning solo from Adams. Nelson talked eloquently about the importance of “grace” in one’s life. It is refreshing to hear a person opening up his heart. We are not on this earth just to play or listen to music. We are human beings first and foremost – but a soul nourished by great music can only be a good thing. Some Next Grace turned out to be the most wonderful Rangell ballad.

The three tunes that formed the remainder of the first half were all covers. First up was Pat Metheny’s glorious Say The Brother’s Name, Rangell playing flute for the first time. Joe Sample’s Rainbow Seeker was a highly charged opus, Adams thrilling the audience with a double-fisted extended solo full of edgy polyrhythms, Rangell scaling new peaks on flute. The set concluded with a rumbustious version of Ray Charles’ Hallelujah, I Love Her So. This was music more for the body than the mind. A couple near the front of the stage couldn’t contain themselves any longer. Leaping from their table they proceeded to grind to the sax-driven greasy groove of the music. Fantastic.

It was more of the same in the second set. The flute danced over a lilting Latin beat in Vince Mendoza’s Ao Mar, Rangell staying on the instrument for his jaw-dropping arrangement of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. And then it was down and dirty again on Another Way. It was the world première for this sax-led funk original – but the band performed it as if they had been playing it forever.

Rangell is an exquisite whistler – and when he whistles it’s always perfectly in tune. His treatment of Hampton Hawes’ jazz waltz, Sonora, was delicious. After an improvised section on piccolo, the piece ended magically, as it had begun, on a whistle of the human-kind, but not before referencing My Favourite Things. The words : “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes…snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes…silver white winters that melt into spring…these are a few of my favourite things” kept echoing in my mind.

And so it was back to earth with a bang. The evening ended (or so it seemed) with a breathtaking rendition of Michel Camilo’s Not Yet. The audience erupted and bayed for more. They were not disappointed. There was a brief postlude where Nelson and Pete improvised very quietly from a blank canvas.

Rangell says : “I am more sure than ever that for all that is different from place to place, and for all the different things people are going through, within people there are many essential constants in need of being nourished and fortified. Music is one of the best tonics for our soul and is a reminder of the thread of our common humanity”.

He's right: the music left me, for one, thoroughly nourished and fortified.


CD Review: Mike Rud - Notes on Montreal

Mike Rud - Notes on Montreal
(Mike Rud. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Soft city. I knew there would have to be an album somewhere, some time which would capture completely the essence and the spirit of Jonathan Raban's often re-published 1974 book. As Raban wrote, forty years ago:

“For better or worse, [the city] invites you to remake it, to consolidate it into a shape you can live in. [..]Cities, unlike villages and small towns, are plastic by nature. We mould them in our images : they, in their turn, shape us by the resistance they offer when we try to impose our own personal form on them. In this sense, it seems to me that living in a city is an art, and we need the vocabulary of art, of style, to describe the peculiar relation between man and material that exists in the continual creative play of urban living. The city as we imagine it, the soft city of illusion, myth, aspiration, nightmare, is as real, maybe more real, than the hard city one can locate in maps and statistics, in monographs on urban sociology and demography and architecture.”

In Notes on Montreal, guitarist/ songwriter Mike Rud has made that album. Its thirteen songs are all inspired by a deep knowledge of, and passion for the Canada's second city. Rud was raised in Alberta, has lived all over Canada, but has made his home in a city he describes as 'rich in everything good'.

It is in part a personal vision, but Rud also sees the city through the prism of its writers: there are more familiar (if not exactly household) names such as Mordecai Richler, Pierre Tremblay and Trevanian, and some lesser-known ones too. 

The strongest, most unapologetic heart-on-sleeve expression of this love for the city is saved until the last track, a 'personal anthem' to the history, to the human scale, to the feelings stirred by a tiny street in the Plateau area of the city called Rue Le Jeune, entitled The Alley is where to start, .

The Alley is where to start
The cherished hidden heart
All overgrown with oaks and maples
but I especially love
the clotheslines strung above
Garages built like horse stables.

The album picks up not just the beauty, but also the variety and juxtapositions of everyday life in a city of 3.5 million inhabitants. There are the "dealers and drifters, itinerant drifters and ghouls." Then there are songs about characters observed more closely, like an insatiable womanizer who - the songwriter speculates - is probably driven by a fear of being alone. The impermanence of the city's university student population is well, and sightly mockingly caught in a song called As the Cross Looks On - presumably a reference to their being observed with detachment and disdain by the Mount Royal Cross.

Rud doesn't sing. His muse is fine Toronto-based vocalist Sienna Dahlen with whom he has worked since 1997, and who has been a part of this project since inception in 2009. She deals with Rud's clever, poetic and allusive lyrics deftly, possibly most convincingly in a very tricky tale in which the lives of "horrible beautiful people" are revealed through the contents of their rubbish bins: Bags, Clothes, Bottles. There is also a homage to a landmark restaurant called Dusty's, which has officially been 'flipping pancakes since 1949.' But the album makes no mention of the fact that it had burnt down in suspicious circumstances in December 2012, a couple of months before the album was recorded. I'm puzzled by that one.

Rud does step in as a fluent and melodic jazz guitar soloist, on songs such as Dry Land Pirate. Chad Linsley is discreet and delicate pianist. Bassist Adrian Vedady anchors time sonorously and impeccably. There is also a very classy string quartet indeed, led by Mélanie Bélair. What a great album, and a fabulous taster of the sights, the sounds and the soft side of a fascinating and unique city.

Order from

It was Peter Hum's review of this album which alerted me to it. Thank you.

 For a diversion, here are some great photos of the Plateau Mont-Royal area of Montreal 


CD Review/ Tour Preview: Chris Ingham Quartet: Hoagy

Chris Ingham Quartet: Hoagy
(Downhome Records DOHO001. Review by Frank Griffith)

Pianist, vocalist, Chris Ingham's CD "Hoagy" on Downhome Records showcases his talents on sixteen of Mr Carmichael's finest songs. These include well known chestnuts like Georgia on My Mind, Skylark and Stardust as well as lesser known gems like Memphis in June and Lazy Bones. He even manages to toss in Dave Frishberg's Dear Bix, certainly a welcome addition.

This outstanding quartet includes Rev. Andrew Brown on bass, drummer, Russ Morgan along with Ingham's able and sparkly piano doing double duty accompanying his vocals as well as providing inspired solo forays. Rounding out the group is Paul Higgs' wistful but puckish trumpet flutterings that appropriately help to celebrate Hoagy's sardonic wit.

Chris' somewhat light and streamlined vocal quality is infused with a covering of Midwestern dustiness- just the job for this kind of material. One gets the sense that he revels in the opportunity to share these songs with whomever might be in his midst- whether in a concert hall or informal house party.

The nifty and concise arrangments are ideal for this varied collection, yet never sound short changed or predictable.

A fine delectation of Hoagy delights conveyed masterfully by an able foursome.


Fri 7 Feb - St James Studio, London SW1- album launch
Fri 28 Feb (1pm) - Cambridge Mumford Theatre
Wed 2 April - Dereham Jazz Society, Lyng
Thurs 3 April - Cambridge Modern Jazz Club
Thur 3 July - The Hoste, Burnham Market, Norfolk
Sun 21 September - Ipswich Jazz Club

Chris Ingham's WEBSITE


CD Review: Anita Wardell - The Road

Anita Wardell - The Road
(Specific Jazz SPEC 017. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

The Road is Anita Wardell’s third recording for Proper Record's Specific Jazz label, after Noted (from 2006) and Kinda Blue (which followed two years later).

Retaining pianist Robin Aspland and bass player Jeremy Brown from both of the earlier albums, Wardell has tremendous rapport with her sidemen. The drummer this time is Tristan Mailliot, who offers sympathetic and engaging support.

Opening the session with perfect diction, Wardell’s own lyrics about life’s journey (“Every step I take I savour, and gather treasures for my dreams”) are put to Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays’ Travels. It may not be the most arresting start, but it is sincere and affecting, and paves the way towards a set of interesting and frequently introspective selections. The vocalist also writes the contemplative words to Mirrors by the undersung multi-instrumentalist Joe Chambers (not Bobby Hutcherson as indicated, although it was recorded in 1963 for the more well-known vibist’s first album as a leader: “The Kicker”; Blue Note 21437). With no solos, it has a gorgeous flow and is a gentle tour de force for Wardell.

You’re My Thrill receives an unusual treatment. There’s a great contribution from Brown, a restless beat, and “vocal percussion” by Adriano Adewale. The Brazilian brings more conventional sounds to other songs, including Stevie Wonder’s evergreen, wistful Superwoman. Uruguayan guitarist Guillermo Hill also provides authenticity to the Latin-inflected numbers, including a jaunty Frevo Em Maceio by Hermeto Pascoal - with wordless vocals and Steve Gadd-like drum interludes - and Carlos Lyra and Vinicius de Moraes’ Você e eu (You and Me), which is sung in Portuguese.

As well as being a fine “straight” singer, Wardell is an improviser and thrives on sparring with front-line instrumentalists. But without any horns, this outing lacks the challenge of, say, her CD with Benn Clatworthy, “If You Never Come To Me” (Ultimate Groove UGCD12-0204). The compensation is in the enterprising arrangements by Aspland, who avoids the trap of spoiling the source in the name of individualism. Without a Song has a slightly altered melody and clips along nicely, containing a lovely unison passage for Wardell and Aspland before a terrific scat section and a majestic piano break. The rhythm of The Surrey with the Fringe on Top (which is co-arranged by Mailliot) is also spiced up. These familiar pieces do not pass by blandly.

There are several moments of brilliance, and Cy Coleman and David Zippel’s With Every Breath I Take (from the successful 1989 musical comedy City of Angels) is one of the highlights. Wardell’s intonation is stunningly accurate on a slow, tricky piece.

This is beautifully judged, mature jazz by a seasoned, well-rehearsed group, and a welcome addition to Wardell’s impressive discography.

We interviewed Anita Wardell about the album in May. It is our most popular podcast to date. 


CD Review: Pixel - We Are All Small Pixels

Pixel - We Are All Small Pixels
(Cuneiform Records Rune 372. CD Review by Rob Mallows)

The first thirty seconds of this album was enough to tell me that I would probably like Norwegian band Pixel. I did.

Opener Be Mine kicks the musical doors in and sends a signal of intent. A very simple but insistent electronic bass riff and hi-hat, followed by a joint trumpet and sax melody into which the sweet voice of bassist/singer Ellen Andrea Wang jumps.

Ellen Andrea Wang has a voice that has retained enough of its nordic phrasing to keep it distinctive and could be described as ‘crystalline’. It’s certainly clear and has a jaunty pop feel. That’s not a criticism - it’s has a warmth that contrasts with the muscular sounds of her three band mates. But then on the second track, Space, she sings in unison with trumpeter Jonas Kilmork Vemøy which works so, so well in a pulsing tune with rich orchestration. Track three, Farris, drops the album into a lower gear, Vemøy’s trumpet letting the silences work as hard as the sparse notes he plays to provide a contrast to the helper skelter of the first two tunes.

Pixel has a joyful pick-&-mix of influences with jazz the strongest flavour but there are definitely elements of indie-pop in its production. Each track is on average three to four minutes long with a couple of exceptions and clearly targeted at a the iTunes generation with its short attention spans and readiness to listen to just single tracks rather than a full album. But, that’s perhaps just a marketing strategy - the band still works hard in those short bursts to give the listener a range of experiences.

Pixel’s material is described as having the orchestration of Ornette Coleman and “wantonly propulsive” beats. PR exaggeration aside, there’s definitely a lot of elements for the ear to pick up on and varieties of tempo, loudness and harmony to keep things interesting. Chief among them are Ellen Andrea Wang’s voice and Lassen’s sax playing, particularly the ground-shaking, single note riffs on Dreaming that could shake the plaster off the walls.

Wang is also a kick-ass bass player and composer who is in demand in her country. The production also gives plenty of room to Vemøy, sax player Harald Lassen and drummer Jon Audun Baar, who provides a lot of heavy two-by-four rock beats along with more complex pacings. The choice of songs gives the band space to show how tightly they play together.

Whatever you choose to define Pixel as - the PR material describes it as ‘indie-jazz’ with a pop feel - this band has something new to say musically and produces tunes that are toe-tappingly, wantonly catchy. Ellen Andrea Wang’s voice is a new colour on European jazz’s vocal palette and, based on this album, is deserving of display on a bigger canvas.


CD Review: Tord Gustavsen Quartet - Extended Circle

Tord Gustavsen Quartet - Extended Circle
(ECM Records 376 0239. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

 It's now some ten years since Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen’s ECM debut which began with a trilogy of trio releases (Changing Places, The Ground and Being There). 2009′s Restored, Returned appeared to divide opinion as Gustavsen augmented to an ensemble, with saxophonist Tore Brunberg and Kristin Asbjørnsen’s intruiging vocalisations of W H Auden’s words, which then evolved into the first quartet recording, 2012′s The Well.

So to this sixth and latest release, Extended Circle, featuring that same four-piece line-up – Gustavsen on piano  with Tore Brunborg (tenor saxophone), Mats Eilertsen (double bass) and Jarle Vespestad (drums) – in an outing which, whilst familiar, seeks to further push the creative possibilities. It’s safe to acknowledge that Gustavsen’s sound is like no other… clear, spacial, reverential, often wistful, yet mostly radiating a dignified calmness; and frequently there are subtle spiritual references (linking to the leader’s roots in church music) which imply the meditative stillness of cathedral vespers. But perhaps it is the introduction of Tore Brunborg’s tenor to the fold that has allowed Gustavsen’s original vision to break new ground. Referencing the album title, he describes his current band as “a creative circle or community – pulsating through communal experience, but also through whatever the individual musicians do outside this circle and bring back to the collective. We want to move in creative circles or spirals, coming back to musical and spiritual issues from ever-new angles.”

Right There introduces the album in classic Gustavsen piano trio mode… simple, sustained and quietly melodic – no surprises. But following is a bustling arrangement of a Norwegian hymn tune which the pianist says he has been playing all his life – Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg (A Castle in Heaven). In proverbial swan-like style, Tord’s piano lines somehow manage to gracefully flow over an otherwise turbulent undercurrent of bass and drums, the piece then opening out further with the introduction of Brunborg’s tenor whose climbing, reaching vibrato style here is not unlike Garbarek’s. Resulting from concert sound-check exploration, it’s a welcome ‘extended circle’ shift. The spontaneous extemporisations of Entrance, plus a later variation, are another indication of change (although it’s familiar territory for bassist Mats Eilertsen). And whilst there is an evident freedom in these two improvised miniatures, the quartet are still able to share and communicate beauty from within its loose structure.

A reminder of why many of us fell in love with Tord Gustavsen’s restrained piano is to be found in The Gift, as each of the trio players eloquently and loftily balance their contribution with each other. With Eilertsen’s delicately-placed Bachian octaves sounding for all the world like those of MJQ’s Ray Brown, and with Tord’s characteristic acciaccaturas, its simply a pleasure to unashamedly wallow in its completeness. Brunborg shares with Gustavsen the buoyant melodies of pleasant bluesy, gospel-tinged Staying There, before the lucid solo piano allure of Silent Spaces somehow elevates to a still higher plane. And, adapted from a liturgical mass for choir composed by Tord Gustavsen, the quartet’s Devotion reveals an engaging passage from darkness to light, culminating in Brunborg’s affirming tenor alleluias – beautiful imagery.

In an unusually bright and breezy major key, The Embrace glints with Brunborg’s joyous tenor improvisations… though with an unsettled, unresolved close. Then Eilertsen’s typically melodious bass transition leads to two final tracks – Glow, Vespestad’s precise snare and cymbal momentum supporting sax, piano and bass in their searching lines; and The Prodigal Song, an amiable trio conclusion whose artistry deserves to be examined closely.

At this stage in his musical journey, and with this current line-up, Tord Gustavsen continues to transfix with contemplative sound, space and emotion (touring the UK from 7-16 March 2014). Exquisitely recorded and packaged by ECM.


NEWS: The Scotsman withdraws from reviewing world/classical/jazz. Tommy Smith's response.

The offices of the Scotsman in Holyrood Road, Edinburgh since 1999, from which they will shortly be moving.
Tommy Smith has written an open letter (AND -UPDATE - SET UP A PETITION) about the Scotsman newspaper's decision to withdraw from reviewing World music, classical and jazz music, the decision coinciding with Burns night, and also with the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. Tommy writes:

Dear Robert Burns and his descendants

On this sacred day, the Scotsman newspaper has taken the budgetary decision to end reviewing world music, classical and jazz recordings, which is a heart-breaking bowdlerization of minority art forms and another cessation for the popularization and liberality of creativity. They may publish occasional reviews in the future but only from their syndication agreements, as long as they don't have to pay for them. Who knows where they'll appear, as their current Saturday magazine is also going to the four winds.

The final jazz CD reviewed for the Scotsman is printed today and coincidentally is for an ECM album featuring Aril Andersen, Paolo Vinnacia and myself, entitled MIRA, a red giant star. It is irrelevant whether the review is rated one star or a sea monster five, what is relevant is that the recording is reviewed for the public to read. Gratefully, the Scotsman will continue to review rock/pop and folk music, but should there be favouritism among musical genres? Equality will keep your heart pure. Let’s hope, one day, they will fluctuate their focus and luminescence on jazz, classical and world music again, just like we do when we look up at the astonishing MIRA balanced in the cosmos.

One thing I am glad about, is that you, Rabbie Burns, wrote about things tiny and guid, like the mouse and the louse. “We’ll tak a cup o kindness yet,” from the illiberal Scotsman.

 Tommy Smith


Stan Tracey remembered at the Bulls Head

Clark Tracey. The Bulls Head, 25th January 2014
Photo Credit: Brian O'Connor

Stan Tracey's regular Saturday gigs at the Bulls Head were one of the cornerstones of the London scene. The new Bulls Head hosted a night in his honour last nightin the new music room. In the first set, the group led by Clark Tracey played Stan's final work The Flying Pig. In the second set the quintet was joined by Mornington Lockett to form the Hexad Sextet. Thank you photographer Brian O'Connor for documenting a significant occasion.

Steve Melling, Mark Armstrong, Sam Mayne, Mornington Lockett
 The Bulls Head, 25th January 2014
Photo Credit: Brian O'Connor

 Mornington Lockett, Andy Cleyndert, Clark Tracey
Sam Mayne, Mark Armstrong, Steve Melling,
 The Bulls Head, 25th January 2014
Photo Credit: Brian O'Connor


CD Review: Cécile McLorin Salvant - WomanChild

Cécile McLorin Salvant - WomanChild
(Mack Avenue MAC1072. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

American singer Cécile McLorin Salvant's début album WomanChild reveals a voice with a deep, knowing side, as well as a childlike playfulness. Still in her early 20s, she was winner of the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010 and is already being fêted as the heir to the great jazz singers. Her repertoire and style are cool and modern as well as reaching back into jazz history.

There are two Bessie Smith covers: St. Louis Gal and Baby Have Pity on Me. McLorin Salvant sings with Smith's bluesy phrasing, laid-back but gentler, less raunchy. Every characterful detail is exposed by James Chirillo's lovely understated guitar- he plays on these two tracks only. There are two songs taken from popular early African American performers, which are full of humour. Nobody was sung by Bert Williams in the 1900s and is reworked with some excellent stride piano from Aaron Diehl. McLorin Salvant brings out the song's wry humour: 'When life seems full of clouds an' rain/ and I am filled with naught but pain,/ who soothes my thumpin' bumpin' brain ?/Nobody!'

Valaida Snow's You Bring Out the Savage in Me is sung with exquisite humour, over a fiery Afro-Latin groove. McLorin Salvant plays with vocal tones, from a Judy Garland drawl to a Blossom Dearie whisper. As McLorin Salvant puts it: 'I think you can make fun of the idea of jazz as “savage music” even while wanting to be primal'. Abbey Lincoln inspired her to 'go for it' as a singer, and she has a little of Lincoln's declamatory style in John Henry, a traditional song about the death of a railway worker. There's a toughness to the voice over the New Orleans-ish fast groove, with percussive piano.

Born in Miami to a French mother and Haitian father, McLorin Salvant’s first language was French. She's set Haitian poet Ida Faubert's poem Le Front Caché Sur Tes Genoux to music with a 6/8 jazz feel. She sings the emotive lyrics with a low, affecting vibrato. She's been studying Classical singing as well as jazz in France, and her own song Deep Dark Blue has long, beautifully-controlled vocal notes over Ravel-like dramatic piano. Her song WomanChild is autobiographical, 'Woman child falters/Clumsy on her feet/ Wonderin' where she'll go...', but it also, she's said, expresses her view of art- how it should be adult and childlike at the same time. The band moves from a McCoy Tyner-like swagger to compelling swing. Sarah Vaughan was an early influence on McLorin Salvant, and like Vaughan, her voice flickers between a full-powered tone and a mischievous, girlish sound.

The standards bring out the most modern aspects of McLorin Salvant's voice. I Didn't Know What Time it Was frames the voice with rhythmic stops, and McLorin Salvant sounds uncannily and beautifully like 60s Betty Carter. Her sense of swing is surefooted with a mixture of delicacy and confidence. There's a fine boppy melodic bass solo from Rodney Whitaker and sparkling piano solo from Diehl. There's a Lull in My Life is prefaced by Prelude, an instrumental section which displays the talents of the virtuosic and versatile piano trio. An excellent subtle backbeat and 12/8 feel from drummer Herlin Riley brings in the vocals. McLorin Salvant's said she wants '... to get as close to the centre of the song as I can,' and her expressive diction brings out the meaning brilliantly; as she sings 'the clock stops ticking' right behind the beat, you can almost hear the clocks slowing down. McLorin Salvant accompanies herself on piano on Jitterbug Waltz; she sings with such spontaneous, gamine glee, you feel you're waltzing with her.

Her rendering of What a Little Moonlight Can Do (much performed by Betty Carter) shows McLorin Salvant's full range- vocally and emotionally. She told one interviewer: 'When I sing I try not to think too much, and get into the story of the song...I get into that moment and just go.' There are swathes of long, improvised notes, haunting and intimate, over the piano trio's free-ish modern harmonies. They're interspersed with passages of fast swing, underpinned by Whitaker's immaculate bass. McLorin Salvant chokes comically and touchingly on the words '... all day long you'll only stutter, your poor tongue- it will not utter the words'.

McLorin Salvant matches playfulness with superb technique; devil-may-care performance with dedicated love of jazz. I can't wait for the next album.

See also this report of Cecile McLorin Salvanr's Ronnie Scotts's debut


News: Jazz Services Recording Support Scheme. Second tranche of successful applicants announced

Sam Leak -piano - with Noemi Nuti
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Jazz Services have just announced the final group of successful applicants for funding in their Recording Support Scheme for 2013. This scheme offers funding of up to £1,500 towards the costs of a debut recording. 

With seven bands already successful, the total number for the year is twelve:

This round of successful applicants (with our previous coverage) is:

Alan Benzie Trio (news story with a tribute from a former head teacher)

Noemi Nuti Band (reviewed at Anita Wardell's Songsuite Fesival here)

Terri Shaltiel

Tom Millar Quartet (previewed live here)

Blue-Eyed Hawk (reviewed live here)

Those previously announced as having been successful in the first and second rounds were:

Wildflower Sextet
Sam Gardiner Quartet
Tommy Andrews Quintet

Jumoké Fashola
Paul Riley Quartet
Tom Green Septet


Album Preview: Robin Phillips - Sing. Play ..for Pleasure (Launch Gig – Feb 2nd at Pizza Express Jazz Club)

Robin Phillips writes:

My new album, ‘Sing. Play.. for Pleasure’, is the culmination of two year’s discovering, listening, learning, sharing, enjoying, transcribing, arranging, recording, editing, mixing and mastering. I first discovered vocalese singing on the closing credits to the ‘Bird’ movie, then, just as Harry Connick Jr acted as the doorway for me into jazz as a teenager, Georgie Fame’s more recent vocalese album ‘Poet In New York’ got me fully into the vocalese artform and so I started looking up who were the main players and buying CDs. I listened to Eddie Jefferson, Kurt Elling, Lambert Hendricks and Ross, Mark Murphy, King Pleasure, Bob Dorough, and many others. Whilst I appreciated the skill of all the above it was King Pleasure’s voice, lyrics and delivery that I really connected with.

I became more and more immersed in King Pleasure’s voice, his clever wordplay, how he could find wonderful new ways of extrapolating the original song’s lyrics or meaning, to fill the huge word count required for a vocalese solo. Rather than say ‘I’ll know more in a few years’, he would say ‘if we just wait until we’ve made a few more trips around the sun perhaps I’ll know much more about it then’, awesome. Another factor that drew me to him was how few people know of King Pleasure (not King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys) or anything about him.

Discovering more information about King Pleasure was much harder than I thought, the same snippets of info kept coming up online. This led me CD liner notes first and then to vinyl, for the information on the sleeves, which has restarted a love-affair with this medium that will now continue.

In order to add something new and personal to the project, I started looking for solos to write some original vocalese to. I wanted to choose a much more modern song but soon realised that the best bet was to do as the greats had: find a melodic solo on an instrument close to the human voice. I ended up choosing Chet Baker’s solo to Let’s Get Lost and Jon Hendricks’ scat to No More Blues.

The other challenge I had to overcome was working out the correct lyrics to the existing vocalese solos that I was going to cover. Unlike most modern songs or jazz standards it is not as simple as searching for them online, and they are not really printed anywhere. Many of the original vocalese recordings are also not of great quality making it even harder to work out the lyrics by ear. In the end it came down to close listening, and a bit of help from the wonderful Anita Wardell.

Then, on the Friday before hitting the studio I received another King Pleasure vinyl album in the post. I’d got it hoping to find the original source of the Pleasure liner notes where he talks about his philosophy of Planetism and to my disappointment it was not on it. But to my utter delight I discovered two pages of liner notes about King Pleasure’s role in vocalese, jazz singing, and ‘moving the idiom forward’, written by the legendary (and still gigging in his 90s!) Jon Hendricks. What was more, they were written in rhyme, and also said (more eloquently than I ever could) almost exactly what I felt about Pleasure myself. I decided then and there and then that I simply had to record the liner notes and that is what is used as the text for the Liner Notes track on the album. Jon Hendricks has listened to this and given it his approval which was another great moment in realising this project.

This journey has been so inspiring, and if it draws even a few people to the work of King Pleasure then it will have played a role in keeping great jazz music alive. Even though King Pleasure only recorded a few dozen tunes and, it seems, disappeared suddenly off the scene, he along with Eddie Jefferson, was a founding figure in the concept of vocalese singing. As Hendricks says in his liner notes, how many can say they moved an art-form as ancient as singing, forwards. During this journey, I have learned so much about singing and jazz, so something that started off as a simple concept for an album, has turned into a pilgrimage.

Sing. Play ..for Pleasure is launched at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Feb 2nd. Tickets HERE