NEWS: Dankworth Prize for Composition Winners Misha Mullov-Abbado and Andrew Woodhead

Andrew Woodhead


The Dankworth Prize for composition (administered by the Musician's Company Jazz: the jazz programme of the Worshipful Company of Musicians) have just been announced.

Congratulations to:

Misha Mullov-Abbado who has won the big band prize for his composition New Ansonia. Mullov-Abbado receives £1000 and subsequent publicity.

Andrew Woodhead who has won the small ensemble prize with Sabbo. Woodhead wins £500 and subsequent publicity.

Mullov-Abbado is studying bass at postgraduate level at the Royal Academy of Music. Sebastian described his writing as having "moments of real pathos" in a piece from January last year about the Dave Douglas Mastrclass at the RAM (read it HERE).

Andrew Woodhead is a pianist/composer who is extremely active on the Birmingham scene. Peter Bacon says "if you are a singer and the pianist on your gig is Andrew Woodhead, then you’re reassured and smiling". Peter Bacon also has more background to the winning piece, dedicated to the late Pete Saberton.

More information about the prize HERE

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NEWS: Nick Malcolm is the Featured Artist on Jazz on 3

Nick Malcolm


Trumpeter/composer Nick Malcolm is currently the featured artist on Jazz on 3. There is a wide ranging interview (hosted by Kevin Le Gendre) in which Malcolm talks about his influences (with an interesting theory on the influence Miles Davis has had on subsequent generations of musicians). Listen HERE on Iplayer (three days left from today).

Some selected quotes from Kevin Le Gendre:

[Nick Malcolm] is a British trumpeter who is not afraid to swim in experimental waters, all the while surfing th many different waves of jazz history.

his tone is muscular and – every so often – a bit dark.... his compositions are very unpredictable, shape-shifting, wide-ranging..with echoes of Hardbop, hip hop...loose and tight; funky and free. I'm sure that Miles would approve.... it always pops off in another direction when you're not expecting it.

There are also two full sets from the Nick Malcolm Quartet's gig at the Vortex. The quartet features pianist Alexander Hawkins, bassist Olie Brice, and drummer Mark Whitlam.

The quartet's new album (featuring vibist Corey Mwamba): Beyond These Voices, is released in June

pp

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Review: Beverly Beirne at the Pheasantry

Beverly Beirne


Beverley Beirne
(Pheasantry, Kings Road, Chelsea. 26th February 2014. Review by Sarah Chaplin)


Beverley Beirne has been an active jazz vocalist on the Yorkshire scene for a few years but she recently graced us with her London début at the Pheasantry, enlisting the help of a dynamic young trio she’d assembled for the occasion – Sam Watts on piano, Flo Moore on bass, and Ben Brown on drums – to which she added the exemplary session musician Rob Hughes on saxes and flute.

Opening with  Beautiful Love, Beirne fired up her sultry, dark contralto and connected emotionally with her audience right from the start. There is a warm, sensual vulnerability to the way Beirne delivers a song, and many of the fresh takes of familiar tunes were her own arrangements.  Blue Skies  was dark, spare and slow with Hughes weaving through the lines on flute.  You and the Night and the Music was done most effectively as a tango. Nature Boy was presented in 6/8 time instead of the usual 4/4, giving it a pleasing languid quality. Perhaps the most engaging song in the first set was  Temptation, drawing on her lovely lower register against which the flute was a light textural foil. It began with a rumbling drum intro, and developed into something very moody, sexy and laid back.

By the second set, the audience was pretty rapt, drawn in by her confident delivery, offset by her self-deprecating northern remarks. She performed a stripped back version of the wonderful  Trouble is a Man, and then, much to the delight of the composer and saxophonist Duncan Lamont, who was in the audience, Beverley sang his piece  Dark Side of the Rainbow, with heart-stopping lyrics and phrasing. The soloing was excellent from all parties, and there was an evident sense that they were enjoying working through Beirne’s carefully considered repertoire. I hope to see her back in London soon!

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News. BBC Young Jazz Musician Comp 2014 to be held in Cardiff on Mar8, Televised, Hosted by Soweto Kinch, Mentored by Gwilym Simcock Trio



(UPDATE MAR 8th: RESULTS ANNOUNCED)

The key points are above in our title. All good news, we'd say: The BBC's inaugural Young Jazz Musician Competition (FINALISTS HERE ) has been properly thought through, it will be televised - scheduled transmission date May 23rd, time TBC on BBC4 - and is being generally taken seriously. BBC Producer/ competition manager Kerry Clark has explained the background in a SUBSTANTIAL piece for the BBC website, which has just been published.

A key paragraph from her piece reads like this :

"The Jazz Final takes place at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff on Saturday 8th March and is due to be broadcast on BBC Four at the end of May. The event will be presented by Soweto Kinch, the award-winning saxophonist and rapper. The finalists will all perform with the Gwilym Simcock Trio, who will work with and mentor them as they prepare for the final. The classical finalists are always most excited about the chance to work with a top orchestra and conductor and we wanted to come up with an equivalent experience for the jazz competitors - Gwilym is definitely that."

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CD Review: Brad Mehldau, Mark Guiliana: Mehliana- Taming the Dragon



Brad Mehldau, Mark Guiliana: Mehliana- Taming the Dragon
(Nonesuch STCD 400220 CD Review by Alison Bentley)


Mehliana is Brad Mehldau (Fender Rhodes, synthesisers) and Mark Guiliana (drums and effects), recording here the electronic music they’ve been touring for several years. Mehldau sets things firmly in the 1970s in the first track, Taming the Dragon- he narrates a dream sequence: a Dennis Hopper/Joe Walsh-like character is driving him round, protecting him from another, violent driver who wants to destroy him. But both characters are part of himself, and he can use the destructive character. ‘I think of it like taming the dragon…that’s where you get your power from...you want to make friends with him and harness his power so you can use it…’ Cue wild space-age synth sounds from Mehldau, with a strong suggestion of Herbie Hancock’s 1974 album Thrust. But Guiliana’s drumming puts this album in the present, and the fusing of 60s/70s keyboard sounds with modern jazz and electronic drum styles is breathtaking.

Luxe has repeated Fender Rhodes phrases dripping with delay effects (memories of Terry Riley or Soft Machine), interspersed with Guiliana’s impossibly fast drumming, full of electronic-style beats. It settles into a fast funky 7, with gunky synth bass lines. You Can’t Go Back Now opens with the lyrical piano Mehldau is perhaps best known for, before exploding into Amen breaks on the drums. It’s a sci-fi collage of spoken words and sounds, with dark synth bass. Yearning keyboard phrases remind us what a Romantic and virtuosic pianist Mehldau is.

Several tracks use spoken word samples.The Dreamer has a slower, triphop feel, full of Radiohead-like layers of sound- like Mehldau’s cover of their Paranoid Android, but electronic. The piano theme, short and very sweet, drifts over the dreamy sounds of the Moog Synthesiser. The narrator muses over gentle piano: ‘The dreamer…will remember, when he awakens, that there was this music, that there must be music like this somewhere, even if it is only in dreams…’ Elegy for Amelia E sent me back to listen to Mehldau’s 1999 solo piano Elegiac Cycle, where Jarrett-esque lyricism mixes with Classical piano styles.Elegy for Amelia E has many of those qualities, but played on Fender Rhodes. Synthesised choral sounds recreate the atmosphere of 2001 Space Odyssey, while a 1930s recording of aviator Amelia Earhart’s famous speech crackles in the background. The effect is ethereal and definitely elegiac. Gainsbourg reworks the chords of Serge Gainsbourg’s 1968 song Manon, with samples of Gainsbourg’s vocals smouldering behind jazz piano and Guiliana’s powerful hiphop.

The Sleeping Giant dozes to Tangerine Dream-esque swirling synth sounds, before awakening slowly and humorously  to gravelly, blues-inflected bass riffs and a funky back beat. Hungry Ghost touches the heart with its beautiful Fender Rhodes solo, hissing drum ‘n’ bass groove in 7, and cadences that could almost come from Bach’s era. The spacey mood continues in Swimming: it begins with overlapping, watery keyboard phrases, dubstep drums and layers of prog-jazz sounds. London Gloaming’s gentle hiphop alludes to Radiohead’s Gloaming, a mellow late night groove where jazz chords float in the distance.

Just Call Me Nige has Guiliana at his most dragonish- his amazing energy combines Elvin Jones textures with an undertow of dubstep, over Mehldau’s buzzing bass line.Sassyassed Sassafrass, however, has some good-time, laid-back Hancockian Fender Rhodes, with some of Mehldau’s jazziest playing on the album- over looped chords and grungy bass sounds.

The electro-rock that Mehldau introduced into his Largo album has been taken much further in this new project. Guiliana calls his own music ‘experimental garage jazz’. It’s intriguing to hear this alongside Mehldau’s experimentation with classic synthesiser sounds. The dragon has been tamed, but not too much: there’s plenty of power as well as pathos in this highly original album- and extraordinary musicianship.

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Review Ralph Towner plus Egberto Gismonti at the Barbican

Ralph Towner. Barbican, February 2014
Photo Credit Roger Thomas. All Rights Reserved


Ralph Towner plus Egberto Gismonti
(Barbican Hall, 27th February 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)


There has been, there is, and there will remain an ECM effect. An evening in the 1,850-capacity Barbican Hall dedicated to two solo instrumentalists was certainly helped to become viable by the fact that both of the players have found their long-term home on Manfred Eicher's label.

But it's not just about economics, or about the benefits which loyalty and long-term marketing support from a record label  can bring. ECM is also an aesthetic, a way of teaching us to listen. No, not as in the in-joke that the Manfred Eicher mix of John Cage's 4'33" is 4'38" (groan), this is serious: over time he has worked a miracle to shift expectations, to bring listeners to accept and treasure the intimate, the stripped-down, the personal as a fulfilling way of experiencing music.

The two ECM artists Ralph Towner and Egberto Gismonti, who occupied the Barbican stage, alone, for half a concert each, last night, formed a contrasting pair. Their musical origins are very different, and after substantial careers - Towner is 73, Gismonti 66 - each of their musical presences is individual and strong.

Towner played first. His way is allusive understated, he often suggest notes and phrases, they exist in the half-light. Some tunes are allowed to linger. Others -the standard Stomping at the Savoy, for example - seem to say what they have to say, and leave the stage. Towner gives tunes character, pesonality, wholeness and uniqueness. I last heard him, and remember being very moved by his playing of the tune Anthem in an ancient building. He played it again tonight as encore. Then, as tonight, I could have happily listened to a second Ralph Towner set straight away.

 Egberto Gismonti is more percussive, more obviously virtuosic. The Brazilian heritage is clear, but my ears - particularly when he moved to the piano - kept picking up echoes different sound-worlds, such as the remorseless perpetuum mobile of, say, Georges Antheil's Ballet Mecanique. I had reservations; Gismonti's performance was cheered to the echo.

The solo recital, as heard last night -  without the distracton of loops , multi tracking or FX -  is a demanding form; its advantage is that nothing gets in the way of music, which emerges from silence. The performers have nowhere to hide.  There is an immediacy, honesty and integrity about the whole enterprise.

Admittedly, it's not acoustic sound, but tonight the engineers - to my ears - did a very good job of getting close to the natural sound, while having it emerge from large speakers.

The concert made me think forwards that another ECM guitarist John Abercrombie - is making a rare appearance in London soon.

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CD Review: Frank Holder / Shane Hill – Interpretations




Frank Holder/Shane Hill – Interpretations
(ShaneHill.co.uk FS001. CD Review by Peter Vacher)

Fast heading towards his 89th year, vocalist and Latin-American jazz percussionist Frank Holder shows little sign of slowing down. This one-time Dankworth Seven sideman has forged a wide-ranging career, crossing over from jazz to cabaret and back again, always offering a kind of engaging enthusiasm allied to a relaxed way with a lyric. Teamed here in this welcome new release with the fast-fingered guitarist Shane Hill with help from bass (Val Mannix) and drums (Noel Joyce), Holder pays tribute to a variety of song-writers, old and new, taking a classic like Blue Moon into crooner country before his embarks on one of his trademark scat routines, then giving George Michael’s Careless Whisper a swinging interpretation, with Peter King’s alto added for extra bite, thus undermining my assumption that modern pop vehicles have no actual merit.

And that’s the album’s over-riding theme, Holder/Hill’s Interpretations ranging far and wide as they cover songs by everyone from Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse and Katie Melua to Jobim, Gershwin and Arlen with some originals added along the way. Rather touchingly, Blues for John Dankworth by Hill, evokes Frank’s arrival in the UK from Guyana way back in 1944 and his journeys with JD, the lyrics like a heart-felt letter of thanks to the great man. Frank’s warm-sounding vocal approach and ease with a lyric shine through everything here, with Hill’s clever guitar figures, complex or understated, working like the best of embellishments. Highlight for me is the presence of flugelhornist Dick Pearce weaving in and out of Holder’s narrative on Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine of My Life. Nice work, Frank and Shane.

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Review: Keith Tippett Octet and Keith Tippett / Julie Tippetts Duo at Cafe Oto

Keith Tippett and Julie Tippetts at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved


Keith Tippett Octet and Keith Tippett / Julie Tippetts Duo
(Cafe Oto, 25 February 2014; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


Two contrasting sets from Keith Tippett, made for an engrossing and exhilarating evening, traversing the jazz, improvised and contemporary territories that the Bristol-born keyboard wizard and composer occupies with such consummate mastery.

The first set was a stardust-sprinkled duet with his wife and partner, vocalist Julie Tippetts, a meditation in non-verbal poetry which demonstrated Julie's extraordinary expressive vocal range and Keith's demanding approach to the piano which took them from the tiniest sounds to thunderous, percussive passages.

Keith graced the keys with pin-sharp assurance. Intricate runs were crossed with percussive perpetual motion and dramatically clipped harpsichord timbres as he applied a variety of blocks to the wires. The handle of a tiny musical box was turned to add a minute glint of glitter.

Julie multi-tasked not only with haunting voicings, but with recorder, rings and taps on percussion implements to round off the edges of their enchanting spontaneous composition.

The second half was a very different story - a second London outing for Keith Tippett's 'The Nine Dances of Patrick O'Gonogon', a major work for octet (and solo male dancer, where venue space allows), generously commissioned by Richard Wiltshire, based on a fictional character related to Tippett's Irish ancestry.

The gloriously poetic titles of each movement give the clues to the spirit of the suite - 'The Dance of the Return of the Swallows' is the first, and 'The Dance of the Bike Ride from Shinanagh Bridge with the Wind at his Back' and 'The Dance of the Wiley Old Fox of the Ballyhoura Mountains' make links with County Cork.

The ensemble filled the room with immense brass power right from the start. This was committed playing from an adept and imaginative young group, energetic and high-spirited, which rose to every challenge in Tippett's complex composition, adapting their tone as each milestone demanded. Superbly executed, this followed Tippett's tenet that 'I'd rather be over rehearsed than under-rehearsed', as he explained in his interview with LondonJazz News.

Tippett, playing with exceptional dexterity, also conducted from the piano stool, weaving his input through the rhythm and brass sections, with hints of the way that Ellington brought in organist Wild Bill Davies as a counter to his entire orchestra. The balance was perfectly poised, and the sound in the Cafe Oto room equally so.


Reuben Fowler at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved



Tippett left the space for each musician to break out of the highly notated structure of the suite, and to stamp their own imprint on the performance. From the brass came muted trombone calls and diversions from Kieran McLeod and Robbie Harvey, brightly whimsical trumpet flights from Reuben Fowler and rocket-powered alto solos from both James Gardiner-Bateman and Sam Mayne.

The percussion experience of Peter Fairclough ('an old comrade', as Tippett has put it) served well to complement Tom McCredie's careful bass work to keep the pace in check, as it ducked and dived with the the near-hysterical momentum of a Mingus band in full flight.

Tippett and the Octet deserved no less than their standing ovation from a delighted audience, which he accepted with characteristic modesty.

'The Nine Dances of Patrick O'Gonogon' will be performed again by the Keith Tippett Octet at the Vortex on11 April - put it in the diary.

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NEWS: @ConCellarJazz Fest (Mar 13-15) Tickets On Sale from Today



The Con Cellar Bar (42 St Pancras Way, NW1 0QT ) is an intimate basement space by the Regents Canal. Musicians Sam Jesson and George Crowley have organized a festival of top, young, London-based bands, running from  from 13-15th March.

Tickets have gone on sale from today: a festival pass is £16.50 and individual concerts are £7.50 each.

CONFEST PROGRAMMES:

13th March. 8:30pm: Brass Mask + Blue-Eyed Hawk

14th March. 8:30pm: Kit Downes Quintet + Dan Nicholls Trio + Money Jungle (plus Jam Session)

15th March. 8:30pm: Dave Hamblett Group + Tiny Beast Trio + Dixie Strollers

Tickets HERE

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Review: Bobby Wellins and Liam Noble at the Albion Beatnik Bookshop, Oxford

Bobby Wellins, Liam Noble. Oxford 2014.
Photo Credit: Alyn Shipton
Bobby Wellins and Liam Noble
(Albion Beatnik Bookshop, Oxford. 26th February 2014. Review by Alyn Shipton)


Nobody else in jazz has saxophonist Bobby Wellins’ talent for sidling up to a well-known tune and taking it apart at the same time as stating the melody. The distinctive tenor tone, as burnished now as it was on his celebrated recordings of the sixties, is perfect for embellishing standards, and that, for the most part, is what we got in his duo concert with pianist Liam Noble. My Funny Valentine and Lover Man both had slightly fragmented statements of the tune – but everyone in the audience at Dennis Harrison’s friendly bookshop in Walton Street in Oxford seemed to know the pieces well enough for that not to matter, and to follow every twist and turn with rapt concentration. With a constantly shifting piano backdrop on the former and a Latin-ish tinge to the latter, neither was straightforward, but both were immensely satisfying. Liam shot off in all directions on Lover Man freed from the constraints of bass and drums to set up little motifs and worry them all over the keyboard like a bouncy terrier with a rag.

The joy of the concert was the unexpected, Bobby turning Monk’s Mood into an intensely lyrical ballad, and then the pair of them finding Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way (the highlight of the evening) to be the perfect opportunity for musical dialogue. Liam’s ever denser solo, with improvised counterpoint and occasional stride echoes, was reminiscent of his imaginative Brubeck trio album from 2009, but then Bobby edged back in with an oblique restatement of the tune before they began trading bars. Sometimes it was burning, sometimes lumpy, but it was always driving, and in their swapped phrasing, neither ever went for the obvious. Their entire concert was notable for the absence of clichés.

The same could not be said for the mercifully brief set of Dan Holloway’s poems, which, whether unaccompanied, or backed by some subtle piano improvisation, were derivative, and largely lacking in the refreshing spontaneity of the music.

The return to the duo saw them playing even more freely, with a sumptuous Dream Dancing and a piece that morphed into a down-home blues. The book-lined walls of the Albion Beatnik create a dry acoustic, in which music carries easily without amplification. And if the attention should wander momentarily, then Dennis’s remarkable stock of books — music, foreign literature, fiction and travel writing — makes for an excellent diversion for the eyes. It’s an intimate and relaxed setting for chamber jazz, and when the musical conversation is as enthralling as this, few jazz clubs can match it.

The next Albion Beatnik gig is another duo, Gilad Atzmon with guitarist Luis D’Agostino, on 12 March. WEBSITE

Related article: Liam Noble wrote this tribute to Dave Brubeck.

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CD Review: Shez Raja Collective - Soho Live



Shez Raja Collective - Soho Live
(33 Records. 33JAzz238. CD Review by Rob Mallows)


London bassist Shez Raja is all about collaboration, variety and - let’s be frank - fun! Backed by his established Collective of sax player Aaron Liddard, antipodean violinist Pascal Roggen, drummer Chris Nickolls, keyboardist Alex Stanford and singer Monika Lidke, this album seeks to capture the party atmosphere of Shez’s live shows and the unique combination of flavours that mark Raja’s output as a flamboyant bass guitarist who is not one to hide at the back of the stage by the drum riser. 

In Soho Live, his top-drawer collaborators provide a fascinating counterpoint to Raja’s exemplary bass playing: Shabaka Hutchings plays a really fruity clarinet solo on the opening track Adrenalize, which the whooping of the Pizza Express Soho crowd follows instruction in the tune's title, and does exactly what it says on the tin. Soweto Kinch brings his rap skills to track 2 Karmic Flow along with a punchy sax melody and match-up with Jay Phelps on the last track, Freedom. Together, they make that song jump out at the listener and bring the concert to the boil. Each of these musicians (including Gilad Atzmon, who brings his unique tenor approach to FNUK and Quiverwish) add their own stylings on top of the Collective’s established confection of fusion/funk/world influences cut through with a harder jazz vibe. No ballads here: it’s eight slabs of heavy-duty, bass-fuelled funkiness.

The secret to Raja’s music is that he sees the bass guitar and its lower register as a challenge, not a limitation. Through extensive use of pedals and effects, and playing much of the time at the top of the fretboard, he can squeeze real creativity from his instrument without losing sight of its fundamental rhythmic role in the band. Chakras on the Wall is particularly a good case in point, his bass moving from a simple motif playing in unison behind Roggen’s violin and Lidke’s vocals to picking up the main melody before dextrously spinning some of the coolest bass-led solos you’ll hear this side of a Stanley Clarke gig. Indeed, the recording really communicates the energy of the live show: the band riff off each other’s ideas, taking it to the next level on every song. If I had any gripes with this record - at times, the use of bass and violin effects plus Stanford’s keyboard electronic smorgasbord of sounds can feel at times like a game of ‘who’s got the weirdest loop or patch' and cloys rather as a result. It may be the audio equipment I was listening on, but Raja’s low-end sound wasn’t prominent enough. 

However, these are minor points. Overall this album portrays an artist who’s definitely trying to keep jazz fresh, energised and pumped up, and always gives back to the live audience.

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CD Review: Joachim Kühn & Alexey Kruglov - Moscow (Duo Art)



Joachim Kühn & Alexey Kruglov - Moscow (Duo Art)
(ACT 9623-2. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)


Sensing the electricity between two jazz instrumentalists ‘in conversation’ can be both fascinating and revealing – and when musicians of the calibre of Joachim Kühn and Alexey Kruglov join forces, it’s a safe bet that a sensory display of fireworks is in the offing. Certainly, in the case of this new release, Moscow, it’s a pretty special coming together for the pianist and alto saxophonist as part of ACT’s expanding Duo Art series.

Joachim Kühn has been a central figure to the German jazz scene since the ’60s, recording for many years on Siggi Loch’s label. Celebrating his seventieth birthday on March 15th this year, the story goes that Kühn, seeking musicians who might join him for two concerts in Moscow, had Russian saxophonist Alexey Kruglov recommended to him. He discerned much of his own creative, musical personality in this remarkable player (of half his years), so much so that the two like-minded jazz talents quickly forged a partnership which first found them on stage together – and then, immediately after, recording in the studio. Incredibly, what is heard here in this sixty-minute dialogue was recorded in only four hours, Kühn professing, “It’s the feeling that counts.”

Kruglov’s opener, Poet, almost encapsulates everything one needs to know about this collaboration, yet instantly creates a desire to hear what else might be conjured in these eight expansive tracks (pianist and saxophonist share the album’s writing credits, along with interpretations of two Ornette Coleman numbers). Kühn’s broad, searching, pedal-bass piano encourages a memorable ‘tv-theme’ sax melody which opens out into fascinating individual exploration for both musicians (including a beautiful piano ‘cadenza’ section), as well as tangibly demonstrating their empathy. At almost ten minutes in length, Because of Mouloud… provides a wide canvas for the duo to create and intensify their improvisations. Nothing is held back – Kühn’s initial fifths-grooving left-hand and unison piano/sax tune deconstruct into an exciting arena of the jagged and the screeching, with Kruglov’s squawking, rapidly-keyed alto echoed by high piano chattering, before a melodic reconvening. The lush Waltz For You, for all its gentle first impression and maintained dance tempo, again finds both players flying high with dazzling runs; and Ornette Coleman’s Researching Has No Limits – previously solo-recorded by Kühn (and perhaps an apt title here) – becomes increasingly agitated and nervously charged.

Joachim Kühn’s Desert Flower features barren, descending piano impressionism, followed by the relatively brighter awakening of Coleman’s Homogenous Emotions – the Kühn/Kruglov partnership melds particularly effectively here, characterised by the breadth of their skittering and thunderous techniques. Colourful Impressions stands out for the incessant, hard-edged brashness of Kruglov’s extreme reed calls which prompt a lively piano answer, ultimately combining in what might be described as a polychromic frenzy! A subtly comedic, jaunty finale is to be found in Phrasen, the duo almost vying for a first-past-the-post finish – breathless and exhilarating.

Infused with passion, verve and unrestrained experimentation, Moscow unequivocally displays the intent of the Duo Art concept – pairing outstanding musicians to capture, for a moment in time, their unadorned and skilful interactions. (Released 10 March, 2014.)

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Review: Dee Dee Bridgewater at Unterfahrt Munich

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jerome Jennings. Unterfahrt Munich
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved

Dee Dee Bridgewater 
(Unterfahrt Munich. 25th February2014. Review and photo by Ralf Dombrowski)

Dee Dee Bridgwater was having a laugh. The jokes were flowing about Bavarian beer and the crazy ,Dirndl‘ costumes worn by women during Munich's Oktoberfest, that very special, very busy and very drunk carnival. She was also talking about her admiration for Abbey Lincoln, about her wonderful band and all the great times they'd spent together on stage and on the road in the last few days. But above all, she was singing, with a deep and soulful swing, during the final concert of her winter tour in Europe, at Munich‘s Unterfahrt.

Maybe because of this special circumstances, a rare club gig with that end-of-term feeling, she changed the set-list completely and spontaneously, only performing one song from Abbey Lincoln and one from Billie Hiliday, in a programme nonetheless entitled "Billie, Abbey and me." She rang the changes with a handful of Stevie Wonder tracks like Living in the City plus a bit of Monk.

A very funky evening, then, with one of the greatest living jazz vocal divas, performing with a relaxed and groovy quartet of masters all eliciting sophisticated joy from their instruments: Edsel Gomez on piano, Theo Croker on trumpet, Michael Bowie on both electric and double bass, and the fabulous drummer Jerome Jennings. Luxury casting all the way!

She also promised she'd be back here next summer, with her daughter China Moses ...

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Review: Oli Rockberger at Le Caprice Restaurant



Oli Rockberger
(Le Caprice Restaurant, Arlington St , SW1. Review by Matthew Wright)


Since releasing Old Habits, his second solo album, last year, singer/songwriter Oli Rockberger has gradually been building a substantial two-pronged, transatlantic career. On this side of the pond, there were appearances at Love Supreme and the London Jazz Festivals, building on his slot as JazzFM’s artist of the week, soon after the album’s release last year. He was in London en route to Berlin for another gig when he dropped in on Sunday night diners at Le Caprice, just a few steps from The Ritz in St James's, to perform.

Le Caprice has teamed up with Jazz FM and leading Cognac producer Martell to present a monthly jazz session on the last Sunday of every month, with two sittings (7 and 9pm), and an alluring line-up of singers, including Julia Biel and Georgia Mancio. I reviewed the album Old Habits here on its release, noting the Rockberger’s combination of the “emotional directness of pop, the compelling rhythms of R&B, and the wit and fresh instrumental juxtapositions of jazz combine into a deceptively complex and tantalising experience”. As always, a live performance added detail and authenticity, enable the soft layers of Rockberger’s delivery to come through beautifully.

Sets are fairly short, so we didn’t get the whole album (nor could we have, since ”Never Grow Old” requires a children’s choir) but Rockberger chose an engagingly varied selection comprising about half of Old Habits. The title track incorporates some enjoyably showy synth playing, while “Queen of Evasion” is dominated by a catchy R&B chorus which worms its way irresistibly round the mind. The new composition “Ridiculous” using the air powered melodica, an amusing combination of synth, bagpipe and Christmas cracker novelty, added an exotic flavour. Throughout - and another advantage of live performance - the depth and craft of Rockberger’s lyrics stood out. He’s a superb lyric writer. Rockberger was joined by guitarist Femi Temowo, whose laid-back but still penetrating attack contrasted nicely with Rockberger’s delicately rasping voice.

The restaurant is wrapped around the ground floor of a residential building in a kind of jagged L shape, which doesn’t create an obvious stage area, though nowhere is far from the musicians, and there are lots of intimate nooks for diners. The fortunate members of the press attending sat, apparently, at Princess Diana’s preferred table, which is perfectly situated opposite the performer, with a fine view down Arlington Street. It’s always a difficult call for a restaurant to balance diners’ conversation with the singer’s audibility. The Sunday night crowd, mainly couples and families rather than hard-core music fans, clearly wanted a catch-up, and expectations needed to be managed a little more assertively. A discreet piece of staging might also help make the musicians more prominent.

Bars and restaurants have hosted jazz since its earliest days in the backstreets of New Orleans (though they wouldn’t have looked much like Le Caprice) and there’s still something deliciously sensuous about the combination of the two. Since the decline of Pizza on the Park, the lack of provision for high-quality dinner jazz in London has been felt even more keenly, so any new venture should be welcomed. The menu is a delectable range of modern British and European. My duck salad and fillet of cod were, tangily crunchy and firmly subtle respectively, perfectly done and sensitively flavoured. Le Caprice has great food and great music already. With a little more attention to the housekeeping, it could be an essential destination on the food- and music-lover’s London itinerary.

To see the full jazz schedule, visit www.jazzfm.com/jazzsessions

To make a reservation call 0207 629 2239 or visit www.le-caprice.co.uk/booking

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Preview/ Interview: Ann Hampton Callaway - Crazy Coqs Apr 8 -12


Sebastian spoke on the telephone earlier this week with “ singer, pianist, composer, lyricist, arranger, actress, educator, TV host, producer” and “one of the leading champions of the great American Songbook”, ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY.

Ann Hampton Callaway will be at Crazy Coqs for 8th to 12th April (8pm starts), making a welcome and very long overdue return to London, with a solo show called Diva Power. She will, she says, through the songs performed, not only give the audience “portraits of trailblazing people “ but also “put my own stamp on their songs.”

It's been a while, she agreed, in fact over fifteen years. In the 1990s she was a regular visitor to London. I remember one occasion when, in the early 1990s, the legendary Barbara Cook – whose theatre was dark because of a power cut – popped down to Pizza on the Park and sat in at her gig. AHC's last visit here was with her younger sister Liz Callaway, when they inaugurated the long-running Divas at the Donmar series in 1998.

I asked if she enjoyed solo performance: “ I like to play for myself, play the room be as intimate and personal as possible”. This enjoyment of working on the small scale is readily understandable. AHC has performed as guest with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops, notably on a highly popular symphony show "The Streisand Songbook" and – according to the website - with “more than thirty of the world's top orchestras and big bands”. She has even sung “Yes, Virginia” for that ultimate American “e pluribus kitsch” moment, the Christmas Parade at Macy's (ON VIDEO).

Her solo shows end with an invitation to the audience to suggest unlikely words for her to put into an extemporised love song. She remembers London audiences back in the day as being more reticent than New Yorkers  to come forward with ideas. I suspect we may have changed...

AHC has a dozen solo and duo albums to her name. The latest “At Last” is on Telarc. The next album will be “The Sarah Vaughan Project: Live at Dizzy's.”

Alongside the interpretations of American songs, perhaps the most astonishing thing about AHC is the fact that she has stepped in as collaborator to write not only words for other people's tunes, but also the tunes for other people's words; and that she has done both at an unsurpassably high level.“I think of the words and the tune at the same time,” she says.

For example, writing words for tunes has led her to a unique assertion in her biography: that she is “the only composer to have collaborated with Cole Porter”. I asked her how that came about. Bradshaw Smith had discovered the lyrics by Cole Porter which “It never entered my Head” and I gaze in your eyes.For Callaway to perform her compositions, and to record the latter on as the first song on her first solo CD, she needed approval of Porter estate. The head of the estate Robert Townsend loved her song, and so this uniquely legitimized collaboration was allowed to happen with the estate's full blessing. The story didn't end there. Performing “I Gaze in Your Eyes” led her to meet the First World War veteran to whom Cole Porter had dedicated the words. He loved the song too, and told her how moved he had been to hear it.

 Writing tunes for words has led her to other unique, high-profile situations. Barbra Streisand (one of the divas to be celebrated, and whom AHC mimics hilariously - from [5:08] on the video) asked AHC to write words for a melody by Rolf Løvland of Secret Garden. The song is called “I've Dreamed of You”. Barbra Streisand sang it for the first time on the day she married James Brolin, and, and it has become a staple for her performances and anthologies ever since.

I couldn't help asking her the ultimate trivia question, whether there is any link to the Callaway Golf Company. The simple answer is no, she is not related. But the question acted as a spur for quickfire quip and anecdote. AHC told me she was once approached by the company's founder and President Eli Callaway Jr., who asked her : “Young lady, do you golf?”, a conversation which could easily have ended with AHC endorsing the brand. She also quite likes the idea that the opening couplet of Ellington's “It Don't Mean a Thing (if it ain't got that swing)” is a maxim “which can apply equally to both music and golf”.

I also asked her about heritage of her eminent journalist father John Callaway, the recipient of no fewer than fourteen Emmy awards and ten honorary doctorates. She made a remark which seemed to spring from a deep well, and to explain something her determination, energy motivation, which in turn explain the scale of what she has achieved : “You couldn't be my father's daughter if you didn't try”.

 And since the New York Times has described her as having: “a voice so rich, flexible and extravagantly gorgeous that it hardly matters what use she puts it to,” this show has to be a coup for Crazy Coqs. I'm looking forward to it.


CRAZY COQS, APR 8-12. BOOKINGS

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Preview: Paris Blues at Reel Islington Festival 2nd March




Selwyn Harris writes:

The theme of this year’s Reel Islington Film Festival is ‘Home is where I Want to Be’.

When the jazz programmer for the festival Kathianne Hingwan approached me to take part, I needed to find a film that fit the bill. I recently released a 5-CD box set French New Wave on my label Jazz on Film Records but nothing on it struck me as appropriate. But then a more mainstream Hollywood melodrama Paris Blues (1961) came to mind, with a Duke Ellington score that was released on a Jazz on Film 5-CD set Beat, Square & Cool my previous release in the series. It fit the bill perfectly. The young French New wave affiliated directors such as Roger Vadim, Jean Luc Godard and Louis Malle hung out on the Paris jazz scene and would hire both ex-patriot and regular touring African American and native jazz stars to underscore their films.

Paris Blues sets about telling the musicians’ story. Set in Paris, two American expat jazz musicians played by Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier fall in love with a pair of American tourists having to choose between returning home or remaining in a city that offers each of them personal and artistic freedoms. The story unfolds against a backdrop of drugs and romance. It’s a Hollywood romantic melodrama unlike another well known film set in a similar period in Paris, Bertrand Tavernier’s Round Midnight (1986), starring Dexter Gordon (based partly on the life of an ex pat Bud Powell) , which captures more a sense of realism and authenticity, ‘French New Wave’ style.

Yet still Paris Blues manages to address some of the racial issues at the time. The expression ‘Home is where I Want to Be’ makes perfect sense when we think about Sidney Poitier’s character. He is typical of the ex-pat African-American jazz musician that saw Paris as a sanctuary both artistically and from the perspective of the prejudice and segregation he had faced in his homeland.

The added enjoyment is Duke Ellington’s music, his second major feature film score and there’s a memorable cameo from Louis Armstrong. The way fictional feature films portray the ‘jazz life’ has become an outworn cliché, but Paris Blues was daring for its time.

DETAILS OF THE EVENT:

On Sunday 2nd of March at 4:15pm at Resource for London, 356 Holloway Rd , as part of the Reel Islington Film Festival.

After the film, there will be a set by gypsy ensemble Trio Manouche featuring Simon Harris (guitar/vocals), Ducato Pietrowski (guitar), and Nic Pini (bass).

16:15 – 18:30 FILM  £5/£2.50

18:30 – 20:00 TRIO MANOUCHE  £3/£1.50


REEL ISLINGTON WEBSITE

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RIP Paco de Lucia (1947 - 2014)



Sad to hear of the death – in Mexico of an apparent heart attack - of the influential flamenco/classical/jazz guitarist Paco de Lucia at the age of 66.

  Rod Fogg reviewed his 2010 London Jazz Festival show for us.

Don Mendelson reviewed him at the Festival in 2012

De Lucia will be remembered for, among other things, his work with John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola: an innovative guitar ensemble.

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Review: Didier Lockwood and Antonio Faraò at Ronnie Scott’s



Didier Lockwood and Antonio Faraò
(Ronnie Scott’s, 25 February 2014. First of two nights. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)


Whenever I think of violinist Didier Lockwood, I remember him as a callow, long-haired and enthusiastic 22-year-old alongside Stéphane Grappelli in 1978, at a concert in the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the 70th birthday of the legendary Parisian.

At Ronnie Scott’s, in a less-than-full house, Lockwood – now sporting a distinguished mane tinged with grey – channelled his phenomenal energy and prodigious skill into a performance that bristled with passion and physicality.

After a slightly hesitant start, the melody of Solar burst through and music tumbled across the stage. Lockwood meant business. One moment he was bending his knees, leaning to the floor and bowing in a manic blur; the next second, he swooped - head right back - in an ecstatic frenzy. Familiar standards received a rapturous treatment, including the waltz Someday My Prince Will Come. There was an unusually forceful beat to In a Sentimental Mood, which acquired a bluesy, funky slant.

It was a surprise to discover that Lockwood chose not to bring a regular band to the UK, but this is a top-quality band. Italian pianist Antonio Faraò (whose fine CD Evan is reviewed here) produced wonderfully expansive solos on several tunes including Coltrane’s Impressions, and contributed two pieces of his own: Positive Life and, referring to the scale used in flamenco music, Around Phrygian.

On bass, Dave Whitford maintained equanimity in the face of the furious activity around him. During an intricate solo, he was accompanied by Lockwood gently playing pizzicato with a tone akin to stabbing organ chords. Gene Calderazzo - never one to shy away from a challenge – went headlong into characteristic Elvin-mode and, with powerful and sensitive work, brilliantly negotiated the tortuous twists of the arrangements. He too engaged well with the leader, and they enjoyed a boiling dialogue on a fast minor blues.

Lockwood plays a traditional violin, but occasionally uses electronics to vary its tone and, most notably in an extended solo interlude towards the end, employed loops and echo to build up several layers of sound to accompany himself. His own composition Barbizon Blues emerged after this glorious episode and it closed the show in typically rousing style. Lockwood was given the kind of affectionate reception reserved only for the most iconic musicians, and it was well-deserved.

Along with the recent visit to London of Michal Urbaniak, the forthcoming appearance at Ronnie Scott’s of Jean-Luc Ponty (30 and 31 May), and a wealth of UK-based players such as Christian Garrick, Omar Puente, Ben Holder and Richard Jones... this gig demonstrated that modern jazz violin is in great shape.

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News: Do I Hear a...Coincidence?



Do I Hear a Waltz?, is a rarely-performed 1965 musical set in Venice. Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents.

Highlights from it will be performed - by the Nash Ensemble of London with Kim Criswell, Louise Dearman, and William Burden (conducted by David Childs) - is to be performed at the Wigmore Hall on Saturday the 8th March at 7:30 pm. The concert also features other music by Rodgers. This is claimed to be the first West End performance. There was a concert performance in London in 1997.

Do I hear another waltz? Coincidentally, there is a series of performances of Do I Hear A Waltz? by the Charles Court Light Opera Company at a new theatre in Finsbury Park, The Park Theatre, opened in May 2013, (the construction of which was financed by clever use of air rights), and which has shows running from 5th - 30th March.

Wigmore tickets HERE

Park Theatre tickets HERE

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CD Review: Pat Metheny Unity Group - Kin (<—>)



Pat Metheny Unity Group - Kin (<—>)
(Nonesuch 7558-79581. CD Review by Rob Mallows)


This album marks guitarist Pat Metheny’s next development of his Unity Band, with which for the first time in decades he has built around the tenor sound of saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Ben Williams, and multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi . The album won a Grammy and London fans will be able to catch much of it in June (*)

In adding a fifth member to the band, Metheny talks of creating a more lush and orchestrated sound. In his words: “If the first Unity Band record was a thoughtful, black and white documentary of four musicians in a recording studio playing, this record is more like the Technicolor, IMAX version of what a band like this could be!”.  It’s a mix of the familiar and the slightly surprising, evidence that Metheny has found in this group a context in which he can fully stretch his musical muscles, and keep things fresh.

The album gives the listener a full understanding of what Metheny, now nearly sixty, is all about and where he feels comfortable in his role as grand master of contemporary jazz. The opening track, On Day One, dawdles along, eventually introducing a simple but infectious groove from William’s bass and a sweet melody from Potter's sax. On this track and others, Metheny eschews the opportunity to let his guitar playing hog the limelight in the mix. Rise Up's stirring acoustic guitar opens up into a jaunty theme by Potter which builds in volume and complexity, whilst Adagio stops the album in its tracks: Metheny brings the pace right down and plays a charming melody with minimal accompaniment from Potter. He also calms things down on the ballad Born. You get a feel as you listen of the great interplay which Metheny has discovered with these particular musicians, the joy of the 'group’ which seems to have enthused and energised him.

There are some less convincing moments: I found that Sign of the Season and We Go On, sounded confused because of the excessive range of influences zipping past. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, it's a solid album with plenty to grab the attention both of die-hard Metheny fan and of newer listeners.

(*) Eventim Apollo Hammersmith on 11 June 2014 (tickets are already selling out).

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CD Review: Chaos Orchestra- Island Mentality



Chaos Orchestra- Island Mentality
(Chaos Collective CC002. CD Review by Frank Griffith)


The Chaos Orchestra's début CD Island Mentality showcases the compositions of Laura Jurd, Simon Marsh and Alex Roth. An eclectic mix to be sure, with an angular, rhythmically complex take on the conventional big band line-up with a clarinet and flute added. The distinctive vocal talent and interpretations of Lauren Kinsella contribute richly to the mix as well.

This outstanding band draws largely from the forces of recent graduates of the exemplary jazz course at the Trinity Laban. Time doesn't allow discussion of each of the excellent eight tracks; I found Laura Jurd's four offerings the most distinctive and refreshing. The eminent saxophonist and composer, Mark Lockheart, also makes brief cameos as both composer and soloist.

A young, vibrant ensemble with a quirky and humorous side yet not lacking in depth or love for the craft. Chaos models a sound and approach not dissimilar to Manchester’s Beats and Pieces but perhaps more along the lines of "Piecemeal Beatings" of the big band canon. Albums such as this move that tradition forward, and  in a fashion which is unique, inspired,.....and necessary.

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News: Screening of Paris Blues, and Trio Manouche at the Reel Islington Film Festival. 2nd March

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Review and five drawings: Matthew Shipp solo at Cafe Oto

Matthew Shipp at Cafe Oto's sonorous grand piano.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew Shipp
(solo concert at Cafe Oto, 21 February 2014, night 3 of 3-day residency. Drawings and review by Geoff Winston)


Matthew Shipp saved his remarkable solo recital for the last of his three nights at Cafe Oto. Whereas on the preceding two evenings he had worked with some of his favourite musicians - as he gracefully acknowledged - the Friday night  audience could succumb to the spell of a keyboard master out on his own.

Above and below the line. Matthew Shipp at Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Shipp plays by his own rules. In two sets of concentrated sparring with Cafe Oto's Yamaha piano he plumbed its deep resonances with the physical force of a Brubeck or Peterson, delivering maximum power with the loud pedal and, by way of contrast, hopped, skipped and skirted around and beyond the repertoire, deftly polishing the keys with cycles of rolling runs and obliquely precise chords.

Matthew Shipp at the keyboard at Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Shipp's lush amalgam of invention and technical discipline revealed a haunting, personal lyricism. Impulsive and compulsive, he mixed dark themes, laden with thunderous foreboding, with brightly accented figures, each turn revealing the virtuosic evolution of his patterns of thought and expression. The apparent abandon with which he could throw his hands at the keyboard was a smokescreen for his outstandingly imaginative and technically controlled variations - not a superfluous note in sight, not a note out of place.

Thoughtful. Matthew Shipp at Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Although often depicted as a maverick, Shipp lovingly embraces the jazz, modernist classical and popular idioms with an irrepressible curiosity and revealed a deeply ingrained understanding of their roots and structures in his own richly hued explorations.

Early in his second set he stretched over to pluck celeste-like notes from the wires within, and gave a soft-surfaced twist to his rigorous expansions and deconstructions of standards, notably, 'Fly me to the moon' (I think!) which grew in significance each time Shipp returned to its core melody, and others which bore the flavour of the Monk songbook. At one point he seemed poised to break in to boogie-woogie, but the moment passed as he changed direction, never to be second-guessed.


A blur of hands and fast-moving fingers. Matthew Shipp at Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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CD Review: Christine Tobin - A Thousand Kisses Deep


Christine Tobin - A Thousand Kisses Deep
(Trail Belle Records TBR03. CD Review by Jon Turney)

Leonard Cohen never made much impression on me, save when his songs crop up on others' recordings. The peerless singer Christine Tobin, though, has long had a special affinity for his work, and his words - a song or two of his appears on many of her past sessions. Now she gives us a full programme devoted to the sepulchral Canadian's work.

As her show at last year's London Jazz Festival (reviewed here) presaged, the result is a real gem, a perfect presentation of 11 of his dark musings. The arrangements are stripped back, with acoustic or subtly electric guitar from Phil Robson, Dave Whitford's emphatic bass and percussion shaded just so by Adriano Adewale. Huw Warren, a strong presence on Tobin's first recording back in 1995, adds atmospheric accordion now and again. Anthem is a superb duo for voice and Gwilym Simcock's piano, and Nick Smart contributes affecting trumpet to Dance Me To the End of Love.

All the songs benefit from the breathing space built into this production. They are not so much jazzed up, perhaps, as jazzed down, the delivery tending at times almost to recitation. All the better for it: every word is heard to best effect, Tobin always finding exactly the right emphasis and inflection to bring out points of the lyric you might not notice.

There are musical touches to relish in every track, too: the nod to Miles' In A Silent Way at the close of Tower of Song; a Viennese tilt to Take This Waltz which would fit Ute Lemper (the accordion especially effective here); that interplay between voice and piano on Anthem. Overall, though, it is the blend of Tobin's lustrous dark voice with tart, often brooding words that creates that sense of rightness, that these songs might have been written with this performer in mind, because her mind reads them so sympathetically.

Tobin has some pretty good lyrics of her own, but just now she is on a roll with essays in intelligent interpretation. Her previous release Sailing to Byzantium, with her new settings of Yeats' poetry, was a fabulously successful marriage of words and music. Her vocal artistry here brings out the qualities of Cohen's words better than anyone else. It already makes her forthcoming collaboration with the always brilliant poet (and songwriter - they are different things) Paul Muldoon, sound like one to watch out for.

-----------------------------------------

 The official launch for 'A Thousand Kisses Deep' is at Ronnie Scott's on March 17th

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CD Review: Hanna Paulsberg Concept - Song for Josia


Hanna Paulsberg Concept - Song for Josia
(Øra fonogram OF058. Review Mike Collins)


Song for Josia is young Norwegian saxophonist Hanna Paulsberg's second album with the quartet she formed in her final year at Trondheim Conservatory in 2010. They are amongst a slew of emerging Nordic jazz musicians who have appeared at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in recent years thanks to the showcase it provides for a partnership between Birmingham Conservatoire and Trondheim. In 2012, they attracted admiring comments from Geoff Winston in his review for LondonJazz following an appearance at The Salisbury. This relatively short (41 minutes) CD is chance to savour the strong group feel that Geoff observed on that occasion.

The opener Frygia enters with a splashy loose feel, long notes from Paulsberg's tenor over rolling chords from Oscar Gronberg on piano. A bass solo from Trygve Fiske sustains the meditative atmosphere until they accelerate nicely into an energetic flowing piano solo. There's an organic feel that's sustained throughout the album and it's immediately evident that they draw inspiration as much from American post bop acoustic quartets as from their own rich Norwegian heritage. De Ensomme builds the intensity with an insistently repeated motif over Hans Hulbækmo's steady groove on toms until it bursts into a sax solo full of fire and declamatory phrases. Diamond(ra)'s balladic opening of breathy sighing tenor phrases evolves into a lilting waltz with evocative rippling lines and broken chords from the piano etching out the shifting harmony. The title track settles into a cantering samba after another sax drums conversation with a few angular hints at Giant Steps. Elephant Mist has the feeling of layered rhythms under its mazy theme and gives way to the most full throated blowing of the set from the whole band whilst the jaunty, calypso like Hermulen evokes the most playful and conversational interplay.

This is an attractive, varied set of originals from Hanna Paulsberg, played with assurance and energy by her fine quartet. Their aim with this recording, they say, was to produce something that captured the feel of a live performance and in that they've certainly succeeded both in the nature of the playing and in the ambience of the recording.

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CD Review: Gabrielle Ducomble - Notes from Paris



Gabrielle Ducomble - Notes from Paris
(MGP MGPCD011. CD Review by Matthew Wright)

Belgian-born and London-trained singer Gabrielle Ducomble’s second album, Notes from Paris, offers a glowing and vigorous account of the French chanson, seasoned with touches of jazz and tango. As you would expect in a French singer featured in Jazz FM’s Valentine's Day playlist, she draws heavily on the traditionally romantic perception of an English-speaking audience to both French lyrics and French-accented English.

Ducomble has made her own arrangements of some of the most iconic chansons in the repertoire for this album. Her background combines popular acclaim (she first made her name as the winner of a TV talent show) and high-class training (at the Guildhall School of Music). Her voice is exquisitely groomed, sumptuously powerful and buttery, like a fine Meursault, though that very poise, control and strength is occasionally at odds with the character of the original song. The strength of the best chansons - certainly Piaf’s, and in many ways Brel’s too - lies in their combination of defiance and vulnerability, expressed in that unmistakably nasal, even whinnying resilience that’s on the edge of dissolving into sobs. Ducomble’s versions are, on the whole, too slick and confident for that: there’s a sense she’s cheerfully revealing all to a stadium of fans rather than disclosing intimate secrets.

It’s particularly apparent with the Piaf numbers. La Vie en Rose, the first track on the album, opens with a crackly, period sound, before Ducomble’s glossy tone bursts through, perhaps a little stridently, given the tenderness of the lyrics. Ducomble’s version of Je ne regrette rien, though a novel re-working, also obscures the desperation in the speaker’s defiance beneath a rather too-fluent self-confidence. However, her version of Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas is, for the most part, beautifully desolate, Chris Garrick’s spare violin opening setting the scene in evocative, vaguely Celtic colours.

There’s much to enjoy in the album’s band of expert jazzers. Ducomble’s arrangements use instrumental colours well, especially saxes (Gilad Atzmon), which varies from cute, piping alto to sensual, thrusting tenor, and accordion (Dan Teper), which displays everything from cafe-style coquette to rasping menace.

A note is usually a slight, personal document; Notes from Paris is too big and bold for that, but it’s a confident statement by a powerful and charismatic singer, who’s destined to establish herself as a performer of the jazz- and tango-tinged chanson.

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CD Review: Scott Hamilton Quartet - Dean Street Nights



Scott Hamilton Quartet - Dean Street Nights
(Woodville Records wvcd 141. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Tenor sax player Scott Hamilton performed his first gigs in the UK in 1978, following a much-heralded breakthrough in the States alongside Roy Eldridge and Benny Goodman. He was described as the saviour of mainstream jazz, a young fogey and a Ben Webster sound-alike. It soon became apparent that, while each of these statements had an element of truth, Hamilton was intent on forging his own way through the international jazz scene with an individual voice grounded in quality, consistency and swing.

Hamilton’s latest release, recorded at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, celebrates the 35th anniversary of his début appearance at the venue. The quartet has been touring in the UK and elsewhere since the turn of the millennium. Some of the relationships go back much further: John Pearce (whom I first saw with Hamilton beside Dick Morrissey in 1989) is a hugely experienced and enterprising pianist; bass legend Dave Green has worked with Hamilton on and off for at least 20 years, and the talented, brio-fuelled Steve Brown replaced the much-loved drummer Allan Ganley in 2000.

The opener, I Just Found out about Love, is relatively benign and gives little indication of what comes later. Sweet and Lovely - arranged as a slowish samba – includes a magnificent piano solo followed by a quietly arresting creation by the leader. You think you know what you’re going to get from Hamilton, but his work is full of surprises and rarely derivative. He prefers to improvise on the music at hand - rather than throw in quotations at random - and it’s easy to overlook the power that he generates.

Zoot’s Blues is a bright, jaunty tribute to one of Hamilton’s early influences, John Haley “Zoot” Sims. Its swagger is ideal for him and Pearce, whose skilful runs and beautiful chording maintain the momentum. Most revered for his ballad interpretations, Hamilton displays a fluffy and expressive vibrato on If I Had You and Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most. They both contain well-executed work and beautiful flourishes, although they are arguably the least impressive selections in a varied and classy concert.

The cornerstone is Fats Waller’s Jitterbug Waltz, which Hamilton has recorded several times before. The responsiveness of the musicians – especially Brown, who you can see smiling right the way through – makes all the difference. Pearce’s solo fires up as soon as the drummer switches from brushes to sticks, and later, Hamilton plays hard and bluesy, swinging like mad. After a fine bass feature and an extended section of “fours”, you think the piece is ending. But then there’s a short duet for saxophone and piano, and the others rejoin to triumphant hoots from Hamilton prior to a slow, greasy conclusion. This really does have the “Oh yeah!” factor.

Cherokee is a favourite set-closer. Its tendency to over-familiarity is avoided by an arrangement that provides considerable freedom, and begins with a tenor cadenza. As the rhythm team kicks in, Hamilton packs in a lot of melody – along with a few quotations and some humorous touches - over the shifting chords. Pearce contributes another fine solo before an exciting dialogue between all four men.

This recording reinforces the values that Hamilton presented when he first emerged on the scene, and his timeless, distinctive style whets the appetite for his forthcoming shows at the Pizza Express (April 18-21).

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Report: Charles McPherson and "balance in everything"

Charles McPherson, Pizza Express Dean Street Feb 2014
Photo Credit: Melody McLaren. All Rights Reserved

Sebastian writes:

I headed down for the first set of the second night of alto saxophonist and long-time Mingus sideman Charles McPherson's residency at Pizza Express. Afterwards, the musicians asked me if I had thought that the balance was OK. I'm no expert, to me it had sounded fine, I said. Luc at the Pizza does a very good job, (and is rumoured to be about to get a new sound system?)

I feel that conversations like this afterwards with musicians disqualify me from reviewing. But McPherson is indeed every bit as good and as authoritative as Jack Massarik explains in his five star review. 

The question about balance stayed with me. In the first place these are musicians who sense the right level, when to support, when to step forward and become the lead voice. Pianist  Bruce Barth has a superhuman command of the volume level to play at for each and every context. Jeremy Brown is completely balanced physically on the instrument, his time is unbelievable, and he plays impeccably in tune. And the drums surely cannot be played unless you are in balance, which Stephen Keogh certainly is.

Then, later, when I saw Melody McLaren's photo of the band, below, it made me think the question might go deeper still. It reminded me that a jazz musician had written on Facebook earlier this week.

"Isn't it funny. When you pick up your instrument everything goes away, and you feel a serene balance in everything." 

Melody McLaren's picture of the quartet (below) definitely captures something of the spirit of that. There is, absolutely, an inner balance and serenity in what these musicians do. It's also in the ethos of the courses run by the Global Music Foundation, where the day starts with an hour of Tai Chi.

Charles MacPherson (Missouri-Detroit-New York - San Diego) is a legend of the music, the others described to me the feeling of fulfilment that playing with him gave them. Even Bruce Barth (California- New York), who had never played with him before this week, talked about the privilege of sharing a stage with him. McPherson constructs a set well, flowing from familiar to unfamiliar, and the tunes are contoured, almost explained as he plays them. There's clarity of thought in his playing, and in his conversation. For 74 he is astonishingly positive, sprightly, inspiring.

One quibble. The start time for the first house - 6.30pm , yes you read that right - will take quite some getting used to, and the audience that had assembled, though attentive, responsive, was quite thin. The second house starting at 9pm was sold out. There must be a message there.


Bruce Barth, Charles McPherson, Jeremy Brown, Stephen eogh
Pizza Express Dean Street Feb 2014
Photo Credit: Melody McLaren. All Rights Reserved


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Review: Jay Phelps - Projections of Miles at Seven Arts (Leeds)

Jay Phelps Sextet. Photo Credit Roger Thomas


Jay Phelps - Projections of Miles
(Seven Arts. 20th February 2014. Second date of tour. Review by Kim Macari. Photos of the London tour date by Roger Thomas)


Selling out more than a week in advance, Leeds venue Seven Arts was filled to capacity for Jay Phelp's visit with his new project, Projections of Miles. As we have become accustomed to with Phelps and his contemporaries, the band took to the stage sharply dressed and confident, recalling the stylish musicians to whom they were paying homage.

Focusing on a musician whose career took him down many creative paths, it seemed apt that the gig featured arrangements not just by Jay but by virtually the entire band, showcasing their strong individual voices.

Thought had obviously been given as to which pieces best suited each solo voice and in fact, the entire gig managed to play to each of their strengths. It was on Jay's own arrangement of Walkin' and on Benet McLean's In The Night that the band really shone. Walkin' showcased the ensemble playing of the three-horn front line and gave altoist Logan Richardson space to build a dark, meandering solo over the energetic playing of McLean and Shane Forbes. Before playing, Jay remarked on how much the band enjoyed playing Benet McLean's arrangements and on In The Night everyone sounded at home both in the dark rubato intro and the groove which followed.

Throughout the performance, still photographs and silent video footage were projected onto a screen behind the band. The footage seemed well-considered; stills from the Birth of the Cool sessions appeared while the band played Rocker, and there were nods to the socio-political landscape which surrounded Filles De Kilimanjaro with footage of Martin Luther King Jr and the American rights revolution. Rather than the music being geared toward the visuals, the visuals gently complemented the music.

The decision to focus a project on a specific musician is always an interesting one and there is a delicate balance to be found between paying tribute and maintaining one's own creative vision. For Jay Phelps and the band, Miles Davis seemed to be the starting point rather than the destination and the sold-out crowd left the gig with smiles on their faces and Soweto's freestyle rap about Miles Davis albums ringing in their ears.

Jay Phelps. Photo Credit: Roger Thomas

Jay Phelps (trumpet)
Soweto Kinch (tenor)
Logan Richardson (alto)
Benet McLean (piano/vocals)
Tim Thornton (bass)
Shane Forbes (drums)

COMPOSITIONS

Rocker (Tim Thornton)
Walkin' (Jay Phelps)
Circle (Logan Richardson)
In The Night (Benet McLean)
Joshua (Soweto Kinch)

Filles De Kilimanjaro (Jay Phelps)
Cheryl (Tim Thornton)
Half Minded (Benet McLean)
Big Time (Soweto Kinch)

REMAINING TOUR DATES

Thursday 27th February
Terry O'Toole Theatre, Lincoln, LN6 9AX

Thursday 13th March
606 Club, London SW10 0QD

Friday 14th March
Crucible Studio, Sheffield, S1 1DA

Friday 28th March
Turner Sims, Southampton, SO17 1BJ.

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News: Worshipful Company of Musicians to Host the Dankworth Prize Event at Guildhall School (28th February)



The Musicians' Company is to host the 2014 Dankworth Prize event at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on the 28th of February.

The evening is free-entry and will feature music from the Guildhall Big Band and the announcement of the winners (by a member of the Dankworth family) of the Big Band Composition and Small Ensemble

The judges are Tim Garland, Nikki Iles, and Frank Griffith.

More information HERE . 

We reviewed the 2013 Prize Evening

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CD Review: Nick Vayenas - Some Other Time



Nick Vayenas – Some Other Time
(Whirlwind Recordings. WR4640. CD Review by Jeanie Barton)


  Trumpeter, trombonist and singer Nick Vayenas cuts a stylish and filmic silhouette on his album artwork with more than a hint of a likeness to Daniel Craig’s pouting Bond.  His music is a varied collection of pumping funky instrumentals and wistful classic ballads.  A New York vibe permeates all the tracks which were recorded in Brooklyn - one might imagine this charismatic multi-instrumentalist and singer would have made a desirable suitor for any of the girls in Sex and the City…

 But behave Barton - this Berklee graduate’s repertoire is indeed eclectic.  The CD opens with Vayenas’ original, I’m Looking at You in 15/8 which gives another meaning to the album’s title. Influenced by James Brown and a tribute to trombonist Fred Wesley it sets the scene for some slick session work by all participants.  Doug Wamble on guitar chops some sassy syncopated lines, Dan Kaufman on piano gels things subtly together with Michael Janisch in the driving seat as bassist and executive producer, also Rudy Royston on drums, who flourishes and punches at the correct weight.

  There are a lot of instrumental risks exercised within this record’s arrangements, in stark contrast to Nick’s vocals which are pure, clean and level, not unlike the late, great Chet Baker.

 Porter’s So In Love stands out for me; performed as a 6/8 shuffle which busies the superb band as the vocal soars above, like a serene swan on the water, its feet flapping furiously beneath.  I like this contrast - it is the best of both worlds, where each element compliments one another.  Sadly, the final track, a guitar and vocal duo of Blame It On My Youth, for me, doesn’t capture any emotional expression - a lack of connection with the lyric, minus the fullness of the band relies too heavily on Nick’s vocal interpretation which came across as skin deep.

 Vayenas however has undeniable strength as a trumpeter, trombonist, composer and arranger; his technical ability is what you would expect from his training and he perhaps just needs to have his heart bruised some more before he can perform the more vulnerable repertoire Chet mastered so fully.

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