CD Review: Larry Bartley and Just Us! - Beauty in the Hideous


Larry Bartley and Just Us! - Beauty in the Hideous
(Self-released. CD reviewed by Jon Turney)

Like any great bassist, Larry Bartley has lent his weight to many ensembles, but he seems to have a special affinity for classy saxophone players – including gigs or recordings with Denys Baptiste, Chris Biscoe, Jean Toussaint, Courtney Pine and Ingrid Laubrock. Just Us, who began gigging last Summer, features two more of them, Tony Kofi and Ed Jones, along with drummer Rod Youngs.

A new group of old hands, then, and their debut recording, makes the most of their collective experience. The strong flavour of Ornette Coleman in the opening moments of Kofi's alto statement on the first track tells you right away that this is squarely in the freebop zone - with two horns and a deeply responsive rhythm section - that Coleman's great quartets invented.

It’s a demanding area to operate in, leaving so much space to fill with invention. The players here rise to that challenge beautifully for 75 minutes. All the compositions are by Bartley, save for one from the drummer, and they mostly set a mood which the players then develop, sometimes at length, as the moment moves them. The most ambitious is the three-part Blackboy Hill (likely a reference to an old Bristol street name, I fancy), a recapitulation of the slave trade whose final portion Welcome to the New World, is anchored by a yearning bass riff. It continues unwavering as the horns expand a soft lament that doesn’t leave any doubt this is a grief-stricken journey’s end.

Elsewhere there are pieces that unfold over a groove, some languid, some snappy, plenty of solos from the horns – with Jones (I think) contributing on bass clarinet as well as tenor sax – and many passages where both saxes work together. They can do pinpoint unison, but are more inclined to exploit the pleasing tension of playing almost-but-not-quite-together, and both bend the pitch as well as the beat when it suits. As you’d expect there’s also a lot of improvising where they are playing interweaving lines simultaneously, sometimes fast and furious, often more measured, always sounding more like a live set than many studio albums do.

And always there is Bartley’s bass, with a deliciously dark, thick timbre – think Wilbur Ware or Jimmy Garrison – that reminds you how crucial the liberation of the sound of the great fiddle has been in this music. This is only his second effort as a leader, I believe. The first was over a decade ago. I suspect you are only going to see this fine new CD on a gig, or via the Just Us Facebook page – but do seek it out. We need to encourage him not to wait so long next time.

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News: Birds Eye View's Women in Jazz Celebration and Film Score Commissions



Birds Eye View, a film festival showcasing films directed and made by women, has announced a celebration of women in jazz and has commissioned film scores by female composers for their Sounds and Silents programme.

Perrirer Jazz Vocalist of the Year winner Niki King will perform a new song cycle to the 1920s film Why Change Your Wife?, there will be a return of 2013's score for Sumurun (One Arabian Night) by Amira Kheir, and Lola Perrin's score for The Wind (2011's Silent London Best Silent Film Score Award Winner).

The London events take place from 8-13 April at BFI Southbank, Barbican, and Electric Cinema Birds Eye View celebrates women in jazz with new live film score commissions for April Festival & touring.

EVENT INFORMATION:

Niki King: live score for Why Change Your Wife?
Première: Thu 10 April, 6.10pm, BFI Southbank, London / bfi.org.uk
Tickets £15 / £11.50 concs. Box office: 020 7928 3232

Lola Perrin: live score for The Wind
Wed 9 April, 7pm, Electric Cinema, London
Tickets £18. Box office: 020 7908 9696 / electriccinema.co.uk

+ Wed 30 April, 6pm, Watershed (Bristol).
Tickets £8.00 / £6.00. Box Office: 0117 927 5100 / watershed.co.uk

Amira Kheir: live score for Sumurun (One Arabian Night)
Fri 11 April, 7pm, Barbican, London
Tickets £11.50 / £10.50 concs. Box office: 020 7638 8891 / barbican.org.uk
+ date TBC - May 2014, Hyde Park Picturehouse, Leeds
Tickets £8.00 / £6.50 concs. Box office: 0113 275 2045 / hydeparkpicturehouse.co.uk

Birds Eye View Festival Site HERE

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Evan Parker : Documentary and 70th Birthday Apr 5th at Kings Place




Here's a short documentary about Evan Parker, entitled Awkward, with footage from August 2013 filmed at The Vortex of the trio with John Russell and John Edwards.

Credits for the film:

Director:  Adam Brichto
Editor: Umut Gunduz
Director of Photography: John Hooper
Editorial Consultant: Tamsin Graham
Additional phtoography: Lana Waterkeyn and Tamsin Graham

Evan Parker will be celebrating his 70th birthday this Saturday April 5th at Kings Place. See Sebastian's interview about that occasion on the Kings Place website.

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CD/EP Review : Nicky Schrire - To the Spring



Nicky Schrire - To the Spring
(From nickyschrire.com . CD/EP Review by Matthew Wright
)

To the Spring is New York-based singer and composer Nicky Schrire’s third release, and the first comprising all originals. It heralds a voice and lyrical ability of great originality.

There are six new songs here: lyrically sophisticated, figuratively dense and allusive pieces drawing in various ways on the concept of the spring as lovers’ muse and inspiration. Not that the influence of spring has proved efficacious: the predominant tone is of melancholy and loss, sometimes wistful, and sometimes with a bitter edge. Pianist Fabian Almazan and bassist Desmond White provide skilfully spare, tastefully sketched harmony that support the melody and lyrics. It’s as much about what isn’t there as what is, and it leaves centre stage for Schrire’s voice, one of the stars of the disc.

The lower end of her register conveys a mood of resilient, steely resolve, as she spits the words out with the precise articulation of a paring knife. Meaning matters in Schrire’s songs - not something that applies to every jazz vocalist, it must be said - and the pain with which lines like “The road’s a pleasing mistress/ her highs, her lows your drug…” (from opening song Traveler, a brief but devastating account of a relationship separated by a performing tour) are imbued is intense and almost tangible. Even more remarkable is this register’s upper counterpart, which seems to soar and soar with no upper limit, its delicate, translucent tone becoming ever more gossamer as it rises, kite-like, into the clouds.

However, we already knew Schrire could sing, and that Almazan and White could play. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of this EP is the quality of the lyrics, which pack a compelling back story into a very short space, which then unfolds with great dramatic skill during the song, and resonates with the listener for some time afterwards. Some critics have detected a folk influence, and there is, perhaps, a bucolic innocence about the way Schrire sings vulnerability that’s more folk than jazz. But the narrative weight of these songs suggests the biggest (and in some ways more exciting) stylistic affinity is with musical theatre.

For London listeners, the concept of innovative new pieces of musical theatre is, perhaps, an alien concept, given the ever more bloated series of rock and TV spinoffs that monopolise the London scene, but for a New York audience the similarities with many an off-Broadway piece will surely resonate. I was reminded of works like Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (the story of a failed marriage told alternately from each partner’s point of view, and with one story narrated chronologically back to front), which also marries dense and potent lyrics and a story soaked in hurt and yearning with some tricksy rhythms and bleak melody.

At only half an hour, this counts as an EP rather than a full-length album. Schrire seems to be dipping her toe in the water of original song-writing. With such narrative and musical gifts at her disposal, we can only hope she takes the plunge with a larger scale work next time.

Nicky Schrire's previous CD Space and Time was reviewed HERE

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Interview/Preview: Jeremy Pelt - Close to My Heart (Kings Place, Friday April 18th 2014)

Jeremy Pelt.
Photo credit: Jimmy Ryan (from jeremypelt.com)


Jeremy Pelt will be performing the music from the 2003 album 'Close to My Heart' at Kings Place on April 18th, as part of the Global Music Foundation London Jazz Workshop and Music Festival. Sebastian interviewed him by email:  

Sebastian Scotney : You grew up in California. What was the scene like when you were growing up ? What drew you to music?

Jeremy Pelt: To be perfectly honest, though I did grow up in LA, I was not part of the scene out there. I was just starting to get interested in Jazz when I was in highschool.. By the time I considered that I might be good at it, I was off to college. What drew me to the music was the energy and feel of it.

SS: How old were you when you began to take music seriously?

JP: I began taking music seriously at a VERY young age. Around 11 or 12.

SS: When did you start leading groups?

JP: I’ve always lead groups since I can remember. Even in high school.

SS: Then Berklee. Which teacher or fellow student has left the biggest imprint on you?

JP: The teachers that taught me the most in Berklee were Charlie Lewis (my trumpet instructor) and Ron Mahdi (bassist and ensemble teacher)

SS: Then New York. Was the Mingus Big Band significant? how did you first get involved?

JP: Mingus Band was very significant in that I was able to meet and network with the very best cats on the scene. The band was like a pool of the top names on the scene. Trumpeter Philip Harper got me in the band. Whilst there, I met Vincent Herring, who introduced me to Louis Hayes, and then that’s how THAT ball got rolling. So, the Mingus Band was definitely significant.

SS: You've mentioned Eddie Henderson as an influence. Can you encapsulate what he brought you?

JP: Eddie, by way of music, taught me to listen to the space in the music. Also, articulation.

SS: Miles leaves a huge shadow for anyone playing the trumpet. Is there a period/style from his playing which particularly drew you in when you were starting out?

JP: Initially, Miles’ early 60s period (w/ Hank Mobley, et al) was the reason that I got into the music. Then I worked outwards from there, both ways !

SS: Who in is your current group?

JP: My current group, The Jeremy Pelt Show, features tenor saxophonist, Roxy Coss; David Bryant- Fender Rhodes; Chris Smith- electric bass and Dana Hawkins- drums. Our latest CD is called “Face Forward, Jeremy”..

SS: 'Close to My Heart' - where does the idea come from to revisit the material of your 2003 album?

JP: I believe the idea for the “Close to my heart” reboot came from either Stephen Keogh or David O’Rourke (who did the arrangements).

SS: Does it have a special place among your albums for you?

JP: Yes it DOES have a special place in my collection. It’s a mantle piece of sorts. It is an album about telling stories. I recorded that CD when I was 26 years old. I hadn't done THAT much living relative to now, but I was able to pull it off somehow. If I were to record the CD now, it would sound completely different. Not better, but perhaps more honest according to life lived.

SS: I 'm particularly looking forward to Jimmy Rowles' 502 Blues and wonder if you know/ knew him in California?

JP: Never knew Jimmy Rowles, but I enjoyed the story about “502 Blues” (502 being the penal code for drink driving in California- hence the blues)

SS: What are the stories behind 'Pioggia de Perugia' and 'Take Me in Your Arms '

JP: Pioggia di Perugia (The rain in Perugia) is a song written by pianist Eric Reed. I thought it would be a nice addition to the CD. Take me in your arms is an old standard, and I got it from Red Garland’s “Red’s Good Groove”.

SS: Does London hold any particular significance or good memories for you? ?

Jeremy Pelt: London, has long been one of my favorite places to visit. It only saddens me from time to time that I don’t get there as often as I used to. I used to play Ronnie Scotts at least 3 times a year, and I felt like part of a continuing history of that club. I enjoyed getting to know the old door staff and finally, Pete King. Nevertheless, I remain excited at any chance to visit London and to play for the jazz fans there.

- Kings Place Hall One. Friday 18th April, 7 30 pm

- Jeremy Pelt with Global Arts Chamber Orchestra plays 'Close to my Heart'
Jeremy Pelt trumpet - Bruce Barth piano - Duncan Hopkins bass - Stephen Keogh drums
Global Arts Ensemble Chamber Orchestra | David O'Rourke conductor


- In a double bill with Tina May, Guillermo Rozenthuler and the London Filmharmonic (cond. Raphael Hurwitz, performing 'Musica Paradiso.' songs and stories of the Silver Screen.

Tickets and details of April 18th at Kings Place

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CD Review: Julian Arguelles - Circularity



Julian Arguelles - Circularity
(Cam Jazz. CAMJ 7872-2. CD Review by Mike Collins)


A propulsive bass riff; skidding, rolling drums; hanging piano chords, a single, repeated note from the tenor and within ten seconds this new recording by Julian Arguelles had this listener’s pulse racing before Triality bursts into life with the theme’s repeated then shifting phrases. The leader’s solo seems to just flow out of the initial statement. The distinctive melodic lines alternating with punchy rhythmic phrases and little swooping bends of notes were instantly recognisable and somehow suggestive of muscularity and vulnerability all at the same time. It was an instant reminder of why he has established such a big reputation over the years and why this release has been keenly anticipated.

It’s just over twenty years since Arguelles recorded his first solo release Phaedrus with almost the same band: John Taylor on piano, Martin France on drums and this time out Dave Holland instead of Mick Hutton. In that time he’s written and recorded with ensembles of all shapes and sizes. This collection of originals is recognisably the same composing and improvising voice, but it has an assurance, authority and ease about that is compelling.

There’s plenty of variety. The bustling mood of the opener gives way to the gently lilting Lardy Dardy, a flowing romantic melody inspiring expansive and lyrical solos all round. The urgent rising and falling phrases of the title track, Circularity, dissolve into episodes that give plenty of space for the band to interact and play off each other. Wilderness Road and A Lifelong Moment are ballads to swoon over, whilst Unopened Letter’s theme and rhythms hint at the Iberian peninsular.

A band comprising players who are themselves significant artists in the development of this music is not itself a guarantor of great music, but this recording doesn’t disappoint. It would be hard to overstate the electricity and groove that the combination of Dave Holland and Martin France bring at whatever tempo and John Taylor’s distinctive touch, elastic phrasing and sublime manipulation of harmony and melody on the fly have rich resources to exploit in these beautifully balanced compositions.

This is jazz from the top drawer. Click play, sit back and prepare to be transported.

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Review: James Tormé at The Bull’s Head



James Tormé and his Jazz All Stars
(The Bull’s Head, March 29th 2014. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


After years of under-attended gigs at the old Bull’s Head it’s cheering to see the new jazz room there packed with people on a Saturday night. I’m not exaggerating, either — it’s standing room only for singer James Tormé. Inheritor of one of the most famous names in the business, James immediately proceeds to demonstrate there’s no nepotism involved in his presence tonight as he launches straight into Almost Like Being in Love with perfect swing and absolute control. A great voice, and very powerful. I’d say something here about iron fists in velvet gloves if I hadn’t voluntarily embargoed the word ‘velvet’ for the duration of this review.

In No Moon At All James begins to show what else he can do with that voice, skimming effortlessly over the punchy, haunting tenor sax of Brandon Allen and silvery flashes of cymbals from drummer Martyn Kaine. Brandon Allen gives the song a bebop subtext while the rhythm section goes for swing. James Tormé has a voice that rocks the room, that you can feel as a sympathetic vibration in your diaphragm. The mood changes to rough-edged, soulful rhythm and blues with the Ray Charles number Drown in My Own Tears. Brandon Allen particularly catches the raw, smoky R&B feel of the number. He could be playing at a Saturday night fish fry, rather than Barnes, where people are steaming their scallops with vermicelli. His tenor solo rises like swirling smoke while Martyn Kaine maintains a metronomic pulse on drums with staccato cymbal passages. Allen’s solo builds to a magnificent squawking conclusion that is almost in free jazz territory.

The brilliant arranger Marty Paich was one of Mel Tormé’s best and most frequent collaborators, so it’s wonderful to hear Tormé’s son perform Paich’s classic arrangement of Too Close for Comfort. The singer and Brandon Allen harmonise in a benign blast of sound and then Allen gets a showcase bebop solo in this beautifully arranged miniature, which makes a quartet sound like a big band. James Tormé scats with concise, immaculate skill. Tom Farmer’s hip, bouncing upright bass provides the floorboards that the soloists stroll across, along with Martyn Kaine’s joyous drumming.

But one of the heroes of the evening has to be pianist Malcolm Edmonstone who stepped into the breach at the last moment. What Is There to Say begins with just Edmonstone and James Tormé, the piano rising like the skeletal scaffold of a tower into the sky where the floating clouds of the singer’s vocals await. James Tormé’s voice is fascinatingly different from his father’s — more plangent, playful and reverberant. The song is a concise masterpiece.

Mel Tormé’s hit Mountain Greenery is revisited in a fascinating version. James sings an intoxicating flow of vocals in this finger snapping, toe tapping number. Martyn Kaine’s delirious drums and cymbals and Tom Farmer’s high speed bass are adorned with Malcolm Edmonstone’s shards of Basie. The effortless time changes performed by James Tormé and the quartet re-contour the tune into modernistic chunks and Brandon Allen’s restrained, intermittent sax is like a gleam of precious ore in the mother rock.

It’s impressive how Brandon Allen controls his virtuosic playing, using immense restraint so as never to overwhelm the vocals. Restraint is evident in James Tormé, too. His voice is extraordinarily powerful. He controls it like a tiger on a leash. Occasionally he lets it off the leash — and then watch out.

Comin’ Home Baby by Ben Tucker and Bob Dorough was another Mel Tormé hit. Martin Farmer’s intricate cross-weave of bass sets the mood, then James Tormé launches into a skipping, surging vocal. Brandon Allen, his saxophone henchman, joins in as they perform a heist that corners the market in cool. Malcolm Edmonstone plays coruscating runs that interweave, coil the tune up, then unleash it, spilling cascades of notes before he begins to hammer at the number with machine-gun authority. Martyn Kaine’s delicate drumming is like the excited heartbeat of a small creature before turning into a deep, thunderous, sonorous solo. Over all of this, James’s masterclass scatting unfurls in a liquid surge.

But the towering enormity of James Tormé’s voice, and his immaculate timing, is really evident on The Street Where You Live. It’s a rich, rhapsodic voice with vast reserves of power — I might mention a foghorn here, if I hadn’t vowed to abstain from using the word ‘fog’.

When Sunny Gets Blue was another homage to a great Mel Tormé arranger, Angela Morley (née Wally Stott), while In the Heat of the Night showcased the exquisitely tormented, soulful tenor of Brandon Allen. In an evening brimming with brilliant moments it’s difficult to chose favourites, but Bobby Timmons’ Dat Dere received an unforgettable treatment, featuring the unstoppable fluency of James Tormé’s vocals over the ticking cymbals and drum rolls of Martyn Kaine and exhilarating chords from Malcolm Edmonstone that progress towards an intricate, tripping, trilling piano feature. Then Brandon Allen launches a sweetly piercing tenor solo that develops into a big sound, like a searchlight being shone around the room.

This is a great jazz quartet fronted by an extraordinary singer with immense resources — on top of everything else, his phrasing on Love for Sale was audacious and brilliant. You should catch them all, live or on recordings, as soon as you can.

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NEWS: Edition Records secures external investment / co-founder Tim Dickeson into non-exec role

Dave Stapleton. Photo credit: Tim Dickeson


Six-year old Edition Records, with around 50 releases and many awards and plaudits to its name, has just announced that "it has secured significant external investment" and announced that it is "now able to implement much larger, expansive strategies to better serve its artists and engage with wider audiences throughout the world," according to co-founder Dave Stapleton.

- Tim Dickeson is going to "step back from the daily management of the business..and continue.. as a non-executive director." He, Mary and Olivia have manned Edition stalls at countless jazz festivals.

- Mike Gavin's role in publicity is formalized. Sean Bradley will run sales, Talea Bartlett will deal with the German market and Martin Hummel is to be non-executive chairman.

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Review: Yoko Ono Residency at Cafe Oto (22, 23, 25 March)

Yoko Ono onstage at Cafe Oto on 25 March
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All rights reserved


Yoko Ono residency at Cafe Oto
(22, 23 and 25 March 2014; nights 2 and 3 review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


A really special buzz gripped Cafe Oto, where Yoko Ono played three dates, announced at very short notice, two with Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley at the weekend, in a rare sighting of the Sonic Youth guitar/drums duo, and one with Nels Cline, guitarist extraordinaire and lynchpin of the current Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band, and percussion maestro, Talvin Singh, for a Tuesday after-hours show.

The sense of occasion in the air did nothing to compromise the intimacy and atmosphere of the tiny Dalston venue; patient queues, a discreet security guard at the door, fairy lights decorating the room and more reserved seats than Cafe Oto has ever seen!

On Sunday the audience was greeted by the sound of twittering birdsong and the sight of a succession of bare bottoms from her notorious film No. 4 (1966), and, to preface Yoko's entry, a short documentary, particularly moving when John Lennon's bloodstained spectacles were shown before footage of Yoko accepting a Grammy for Double Fantasy.

On Tuesday, an excerpt was shown from Cut Piece, the 1964 performance where the artist invited the audience to cut away her clothing, before a small voice announced, 'Hi, I'm Yoko' as the petite, black-clad performer was ushered in.

The inspired composition of the trios was fully vindicated by their razor sharp interactions with the unstoppable and extraordinary octogenarian. Everybody was kept on their toes by Yoko's iron-willed momentum, tempered with gentle, good-humoured communication, and the passion of her delivery. The concentrated, single sets of around 45 minutes were of indisputable five star quality.

The material visited on each performance overlapped, yet both trios created very different moods and settings for Yoko's often harrowing lyrics and tortured vocals. The mixture of scorching electrics and space-drift lacunae which Moore and Shelley tapped, digging in to the Sonic Youth soundwall, was complemented by the sublime Indo-Japanese fusion that enveloped the room two nights later as Singh's richly voiced Indian percussive palette inspired Cline to imbue his guitar with sliding sitar tones.

Gyrating more like a twenty-one year old, Yoko proved that she had lost none of the power to slice through to the emotional heart of the issue - whether deeply personal or globally relevant. The strength of her cathartic, unsettling, non-verbal vocalisations was balanced by a poetic lyrical streak that travels to areas both painful and naively whimsical.

Rising II's visceral opening lyrics (the 2001 version), 'You stoned me, you drowned me, you chained and blinded me ...' carried Yoko's optimism in their wake as she entreated, 'Listen to your heart, trust to your intuition', points at which Shelley intimated the lightest possible drum presence and Singh injected flicks of shimmering zither sweeps in two deeply resonant and moving interpretations.

Why, from her first Plastic Ono Band excursion (1970), stills buckles under its original weight and her searing vocals were as acidic as they were 45 years ago. Moore and Shelley ground out raw, axle-grinder strains as the foil to the desperation in Yoko's Japanese Minyo singing-rooted wails. On the same number, Cline's slide guitar escalated its frenetic, pained intensity as he and Singh rapidly constructed passages of uplifting fluidity. Singh's precisely placed tabla strokes, thuds, and hand swipes to the cymbals flew with Cline's intricate finger work and waves of reverberation. Riveting eye contact with Yoko was at the core of each three-way interaction.


Yoko Ono with Steve Shelley and Thurston Moore at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All rights reserved



With an inspired minimalist stroke, the amplified ticking of Moore's wristwatch placed against the guitar pickup dramatically punctuated the hushed poetry of Will I. 'Will I miss ... the ocean... the sunrise ... the city lights ... the jokes?', the latter eliciting a subdued ripple of laughter.

In contrasting spirit, Cline answered each of the poem's implicit questions with a sally of shuddering fretboard bon mots in Tuesday's finale, but not before the spellbound audience was treated to a poem that 'came to me yesterday' ... 'like going to a different space', which touched on a dream episode that involved Yoko losing touch with her mother.


The crowd at Cafe Oto before Yoko Ono's Sunday performance.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All rights reserved


On the build-up to Sunday's endgame, Yoko's sensuous strains and breathy voicings were supported by Moore placing snatches of feedback and grizzly drones alongside Shelley's mallet touches and tiny bell tinkles, as Fly (1970), the film following a fly alighting on a the body of a woman (actress, Virginia Lust), was projected behind them. A fresh gloss was put on Don't Worry, Kyoko (1971) by their buoyant, chugging rock and roll take before Yoko had her well-worn guitar strapped on for a duet with Thurston that had them prowling tentatively like animals - not without smiles - before their guitars crashed, literally, in a final, frenzied electric embrace.

'I have a voice of a woman in winter.' In these nine words, which Yoko Ono enunciated on both nights, she really did sum up a series of mesmerising performances that will go down among the most uniquely moving in Cafe Oto's history.

Night 2: Sunday 23 March: Yoko Ono (vocals), Thurston Moore (guitar), Steve Shelley (drums)

Night 3: Tuesday 25 March: Yoko Ono (vocals), Nels Cline (guitar), Talvin Singh (percussion)

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CD Review: Eddie Allen – Push



Eddie Allen – Push
(Edjalen Music 505. CD Review by Peter Vacher)

A discerning friend heard this album and pronounced it as being ‘typically New York’ in its energy and feel. Rightly so for leader Eddie Allen plays trumpet with the kind of emotional directness and cracking vigour that seems quintessentially New Yorkish and his chosen colleagues are similarly inclined.

Allen is known for his versatility and has been around long enough (he’s 56) to have run the gamut from Broadway shows to hard-bop combos and on to Lester Bowie’s Fantasy via Art Blakey’s big band and back again. His musical stance is broadly post-bop with hints in his tone and attack of an allegiance to both Lee Morgan and Bowie, with a dash of Wynton Marsalis here and there. Each of these facets is revealed in an album that demonstrates both his stylistic range and wide-ranging composing skills.

Allen is teamed here with a number of capable players, the stand-outs being tenorist Keith Loftis (recently seen in Britain) and the excellent pianist Mark Soskin. I’m less taken with trombonist Dion Tucker who seems at a loss to find a memorable phrase when it’s his turn to solo.

Allen says his music is intended to be ‘fun to listen to’ and there’s a diversity of intention in the eight originals he offers that is genuinely rewarding, balanced by a soulful reading of Anthony Newley’s Who Can I Turn To that is quite measured and stately. If there’s one question mark for me it is in the presence of keyboards player Misha Tsiganov who lays down some squishy backgrounds and assorted effects that seem to add little of consequence. Worth pursuing for Allen and Soskin best of all, although Loftis runs them close.

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CD Review: Pigfoot - 21st Century Acid Trad



Pigfoot - 21st Century Acid Trad
( Village Life. CD review by KaiHoffman)

This is my first journey into the world of Pigfoot and it really excites me. I have to admit, when I first put 21st Century Acid Trad on the CD player, listening from my present perspective of traditional swing, and harmonious tonalities - and without someone holding my hand - certain aspects of the album were rather like a physical assault. But then I remembered the Berg in my past… This recording sneaks up on you, grabs you around the ankles and forces you listen in a new way. Taking these classic tunes and creating an entirely different atmosphere from what you might expect, Pigfoot lures you into a world where you can hear it’s not safe to go out at night, but you’re gonna have a heck of a good time if you do.

Recorded live at the Vortex Jazz Club, the album order has been masterfully chosen to take you right to the border of madness then bring you back, safely, tonally, and make you feel just reassured enough that you’ll venture on to the next tune, and then the next.  Quite an experience for the listener. There is plenty of playing on the edge, with every virtuosic member of the band shining through at various points, producing a vast spectrum of sound qualities, especially in the way the brass can can completely alter their sounds, from whispery and floating to laser-like, haunting, harsh and back again. I would have liked to hear more extended technique from the piano and drums however - the brass are going there, so I reckon it’s safe for the other guys too. They’re pushing the envelope, but I’d like them to push it even further.

Every track of 21st Century Acid Trad is strong, but Mood Indigo had a particularly effervescent glow - I loved the extended brass techniques and vocalisations, and the virtuosic, rhythmically complex soloing of pianist Liam Noble.The absolutely brilliant tuba playing of Oren Marshall is a particular feature of this album. Having long been a master of this most uncontrollable elephant of an instrument, Oren somehow manages to make it dance, elegantly, with a bottle of gin in it’s hand, throughout the album - there were moments of Mussorgsky, whisperings of Alec Wilder, and the heavy stomp of Pigfoot. Brilliant. Trumpeter Chris Batchelor tends to be the most tonal of the group, though when he goes off-piste he stays there, man, and really gets his groove on, with a sound sometimes haunting and soprano-saxophone-like, sometimes like an alarm bell warning you of dangers to come.

I love the way in which Pigfoot employ traditional ideas and techniques with their modern, ‘acid’ sensibilities, with changes in rhythm and tonality, the ‘out’ soloing mixing with the traditional-sounding influences. There are lots of exciting ideas which must have been quite mesmerising to hear live in the club - this music needs that live energy, which the Vortex has very successfully captured on the recording. The group - and in particular drummer Paul Clarvis - react to each other on a dime and create a remarkable sense of ensemble playing. You can feel the vast stores of energy that Pigfoot pour into every tune, but which is particularly rousing on Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, the last track on the album, with just the hint of resolution coming from the tuba at the end. (Phew!).

Once I got myself past the idea of expecting anything like your traditional Sunday afternoon tonalities, and realised we were definitely at around 3am on a Tuesday night, the whole experience of this album began to make sense to my ears. This is what happens to jazz when it drinks a little too much and ends up in the alley behind the bar, rather than in the bar itself. The flickering glimpses of traditional harmony are like dry, warm shelters from the thunder and rain. Don’t read the track listing first, don’t compare this to anything you might be expecting, don’t think, just listen. Because it isn’t what you’re expecting, it’s something entirely new. And I suspect that that’s probably the whole point….

Release date 31st March. Distributed by Proper

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Interview/ Preview: Cameron Pierre (The Flyover, W10, Easter Sunday April 20th)



Sebastian Scotney spoke to guitarist Cameron Pierre, about his gig at The Flyover in W10 on April 20th, performing music from his 2012 album Radio Jumbo:

Sebastian Scotney: You came to the UK from Dominica at 18 What was the original plan?

Cameron Pierre: I had no idea that I was about to travel to the UK. There I was age 18 enjoying life discovering music and girls, all of a sudden a letter arrives from the travel agent informing me that my passage had been paid for me to travel to the UK in one week's time. No warning, no nothing. Arrrggghhh!!!!!! My original plan upon arrival was to study audio electronics but for several reasons that did not happen.

SS: You were working (doing what?) , but also had a reggae band at first?

CP: Within two months or arriving in the UK I found myself a job at “Fidelity Radios” working on an assembly line, assembling radio, stereo and television sets. An experience which has proved to be quite invaluable over the years. One year later I started my very first band with my brother called Samaritans, which then mushroomed into another band call Inity Rockers. We spent many years as a backing band for several Jamaican reggae artists. Back then I was primarily a reggae musician. A vastly different cosmos I can tell you.

SS: You have been in Courtney Pine's band for roughly a quarter of a century.How did you two meet?

CP: I met Courtney after one of the singers in the reggae band that I was in casually mentioned that her best friend’s brother played the saxophone, so we invited him down. He was 16 at the time.

SS: Your most recent album is 'Radio Jumbo'. What's the story?

CP:Radio Jumbo” was a French radio station based in Citronia, Southwest of Dominica. What separated Radio Jumbo from the rest was the music that it played. While the other stations in the region concentrated mainly on Top 40 music from America and the UK, Jumbo’s stock-in-trade was music from the French speaking Caribbean. Martinique, Guadeloupe, Haiti and all points in-between, including music from Cuba, Columbia and the Dominican Republic.

I wanted to document some of the sounds and ideas that mesmerized me as a kid. Interestingly since Jumbo’s release I’ve had emails from some of the original DJs thanking me for remembering them… Plus the raison d'être  for Jumbo’s existence.

SS: Who will be playing the Apr 20 gig at The Flyover?

CP: I’ll be performing with some of my favourite musicians… Michael Bailey: bass, Donald Gamble: perc, Westley Joseph: drums, Felix Ruiz: keys.

SS: What's the venue?

CP: The venue is called The Flyover, previously known as ‘Inn On The Green'. Great venue, great food. It’s in Notting Hill Gate, my manor, off Portobello Road.. Nowhere else in London can compare.

Sebastian Scotney: What kind of music will you be playing?

Cameron Pierre: We will be performing music from the “Radio Jumbo” album.
Have a listen : the title track from the album is on Youtube

Tickets HERE

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CD Review: Jim Hart, Barry Green, Matt Ridley, Steve Brown with Dave O'Higgins - the MJQ celebration



Jim Hart, Barry Green, Matt Ridley, Steve Brown with Dave O'Higgins - the MJQ celebration
(Kings Gambit Records KGR001. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)


Originally formed by pianist and composer Michael Garrick MBE, who sadly passed away in 2011, The MJQ Celebration had been delighting sell-out UK audiences with their fresh interpretations of the pioneering 1950s/60s sounds of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Determined to continue the success of the project, and in Michael's memory, the friends are now touring again as a new line-up, launching this engaging debut release.

Combining their evocative MJQ reworkings with three characteristic Sonny Rollins numbers, as well as fitting tributes to their founder member, the present quartet of Jim Hart (vibes), Barry Green (piano), Matt Ridley (bass) and Steve Brown (drums), plus tenor saxophonist Dave O'Higgins, demonstrate their supreme qualification in perpetuating the spirit of Milt Jackson, John Lewis, Percy Heath and Connie Kay. Impressively – testament to their calibre and the understanding between them – the whole recording of some sixty six minutes was captured, without overdubs or edits, in a single day.

Key to the authentic MJQ sound is the sustained yet athletic vibraphone of Jim Hart, a hugely accomplished and popular ambassador for his instrument; and, opening with John Lewis's The Golden Striker, the bright, jingling atmosphere is immediately established. The double bass versatility and compositional talent of Matt Ridley were confirmed in his 2013 debut album Thymos – here, that same expertise and clarity drive the quartet along, Milt Jackson's Bluesology swinging infectiously, and pacier than the original.

More than sixty years on, Lewis's Milano is as nimble as ever, particularly when, midway, the metre is picked up so cheerily. And, with more awards over the years than you can shake a couple of sticks at, Steve Brown's customary enthusiasm is perceptible throughout, the solidity and intricacy of his drumming shining through. In the first of the Rollins interpretations, The Stopper, Brown is a fantastic rhythm-maker for seasoned tenorist Dave O'Higgins, the playful stop/start tempo and fast swing suiting his instinctive, sharp, drum technique.

A sublime quartet arrangement of Michael Garrick's jazz orchestra piece Lady Of The Aurian Wood chimes serenely to Hart's vibraphone; and the late leader's worthy successor, Barry Green, adds his crystalline piano to its shimmering, held-back elegance. Readings of classics Concorde and Django are finely observed; in the latter, the reverential, Bachian piano/vibes character so closely associated with Lewis and Jackson provides the prelude to that familiar MJQ sway, Green's bluesy piano breaking out with joyful abandon. No Moe and Scoops further celebrate the exuberance of Sonny Rollins' style (the link being the collaborative MJQ/Rollins album of 1956), Hart and O'Higgins effulgently soloing over Ridley's and Brown's 'conversations'; and Michael Garrick's Promises romps along excitedly – a great showcase for all five players.

Further pleasures amongst this thirteen-track treasure trove include Jim Hart's immaculately-weighted lead in Earl Brent and Matt Dennis's Angel Eyes, plus a perky, breathless take of La Ronde. The whole programme concludes with a much-loved favourite, Milt ('Bags') Jackson's Bags' Groove, its seven minutes brimming with this quartet's affectionate exaltation of their iconic predecessors.

An enormously entertaining project, already leaping on top of an early 'best of 2014' pile.

The MJQ Celebration is released on 7 April 2014 

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My ShiningHour: Vasilis Xenopoulos, Nigel Price and Trevor Tomkins



The lively, weekly, free-entry Monday night gig at the Red Lion in Isleworth, run by drummer Trevor Tomkins, is one of the cornerstone gigs of the London scene. This video was filmed earlier this week:  Monday March 24th 2014.

Here are Vasilis Xenopoulos (tenor sax), Nigel Price (guitar), Trevor Tomkins (drums), Ross Stanley (electronic piano) and Steve Watts (bass) in My Shining Hour (1943, Harold Arlen, Johny Mercer).

Solos :  

0:53 – Nigel Price
3: 54 - Vasilis Xenopoulos
7:16 - Ross Stanley
9:39 - Trevor Tomkins (just two quick choruses of fours)

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Review: James Taylor Quartet Big Band - From the Cat to the Moon at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.



James Taylor Quartet Big Band - From the Cat to the Moon
(Queen Elizabeth Hall. 24th March 2014. Review by Sarah Chaplin)


There was a real buzz among those who gathered at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday night for the James Taylor Quartet, comprising the man himself, Mark Cox on guitar, Andrew McKinney on bass and Pat Illingworth on drums, still going strong after twenty-eight years, performing a wide range of material from Jimmy Smith numbers to material from their latest album, Closer to the Moon.

The line-up chosen to augment the quartet was a somewhat unlikely-looking combination of an impressive big band drawn from trumpeter Nick Smart’s Royal Academy of Music crew, who populated one half of the stage, and Taylor’s beloved local Rochester Cathedral Choir led by Scott Farrell, who occupied the other half, resplendent in their red cassocks and white ruffs. Add to that flute supremo Gareth Lockrane and rising stars Ralph Wyld on vibes and percussion and Josh Arcoleo and you’ve got the makings of something pretty special.

The original quartet played in their first number Parallelo to remind everyone (who could forget) of their signature sound, with Taylor on great form with his Hammond and his Leslie. And what a showman: the energy levels were unstoppable right from the word go, and once the choir was arcing over the top of a funky bass line with rich soprano washes, the effect was mesmerising.

The arrangements were a very satisfying and varied mix of instrumentation, musical genres, rhythms and harmonies, starting with the JTQ theme followed by jazz waltz Proctor on three closely-voiced horns. The big band and choir were then employed on an epic new Bond-esque number called Spencer Takes a Trip, which proved something of a cultural and stylistic balancing act between classical and full-on funk. There were a couple of very effective Oliver Nelson big band arrangements, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Theme from the Carpetbaggers, then a lush original called Drifting, before they ushered Yvonne Yanney on stage to add her wonderful dance-anthem vocals on songs like the laid back groove Love TKO.

Somewhere in amongst all the craziness they played Herbie Hancock’s tune Blow Up, their first single back in 1986 which Taylor fondly remembered John Peel playing regularly on his show, so much so it made it onto his Festive Fifty of ‘87. I suppose I was expecting more from their innovative Acid Jazz output that followed and gave rise to a genre of music that dominated the late 80s and 90s. But I hadn’t taken into account they’d called this gig From the Cat to the Moon, intending it to be as much a celebration of a much earlier era of Hammond-led exuberance. So there were blues galore, and we even had an impromptu rendition of Green Onions to open the second set, with Taylor calling for solos from band members with a simple sweep of his arm. At one point he walked to the back of the stage and swept aside the curtain to reveal a church organ, which he played for one number with the choir.

Taylor had also written a suitably funky piece of choral music - his take on Kyrie Eleison - specially for the Rochester Cathedral Choir, really bringing to the fore their magical blend of voices. Sometimes when you closed your eyes, it was one fabulously atmospheric film soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin. Taylor himself sang on some numbers, including the beautifully paced Closer to You performed as a duet with Yanney. There were some wonderful solos, particularly from Betts, Smart, Wyld and Lockrane, and then, quite appropriately but all too soon, the evening ended with All Wrapped Up.

And now I have to admit something: whilst I went along hoping for an acid jazz nostalgia fix, I came away wanting to dig out some more of the Jimmy Smith back catalogue, and I can’t think of a better tribute to one of the best Hammond players alive today. JTQ: you rock!

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NEWS: Elliot Galvin Trio Win European Young Artists' Jazz Award Burghausen 2014

We have just heard that the Elliot Galvin Trio - Elliot Galvin piano, Tom McCredie bass and Simon Roth drums have won the European Young Artists' Jazz Award Burghausen 2014 Here is the full list of finalists aand other details of the competitiion.

We interviewed Elliot last month :


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Preview/ Frank Griffith Interview: Pizza Express Jazz Club String Quartet Festival (3-6 April)

Brodowski String Quartet. Photo Credit: Dave Stapleton
Sebastian interviewed clarinettist Frank Griffith by email about the String Quartet Festival which runs from 3-6 April at Pizza Express Jazz Club

LondonJazz: You've been arranging for strings for a long while?

Frank Griffith: Yes, my first arrangment was while I was at university in 1983 at City College of New York where I arranged Hoagy Carmichael's Skylark for the faculty string quartet. I will be performing it on 3rd April at Pizza Express along with 2 other works, including a premiere of Taking Five- a Fantasy co arranged by Nigel Waddington.

LJ: And string arranging has got you involved in some interesting collaborations?

FG: Indeed. I arranged a CD for baritone saxist, Joe Temperley (charter member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra since 1990) entitled Easy To Remember for Hepjazz in 2001 - string quartet and rhythm section. I also arranged several pieces of Native American saxist/composer, Jim Pepper (1940-1992) for the Brooklyn Philharmonic in 1990.

LJ: And you had a commission from Brunel?

FG: In 2004 I composed Round About for Clarinet and Strings originally for a 30-piece string ensemble and it has been subsequently adapted for string quartet. It was premièred in December 2007 in Norfolk by the Bravura Ensemble and will get another airing on 3 April with the Brodowski Quartet.

LJ: What is happening at the festival  / who is appearing?

FG: Each night will feature a different soloist accompanied by the Brodowski Quartet (www.brodowskiquartet.com).

- The first night, Thursday 3rd, will include myself and Julian Stringle on clarinets with the resident Brodowski Quartet.  I will do the first set and Julian and The Dream Band will play the 2nd set with his Its Clazzical programme. Julian has kindly invited me to guest on his arrangement of One Note Samba which I look forward to.

-  Friday 4th April, will feature vocalist, Tina May, and her quartet with Nikki Iles on piano doing arrangements of popular songs by Colin Towns, Clark Tracey and John Jansoon. In addition, Tina and Nikki  will be appearing on Radio 3's In Tune programme on the same day at 5pm. So Tune in...to In Tune.

-  Saturday 5th, will have Gwilym Simcock's trio doing music from his recent CD on ACT Music Instrumation. Of this Gwilym says "All of this music is neither 'jazz' nor 'classical'. What I feel is important in music is lyricism, subtlety and clarity in harmonic and rhythmic movement and an overall sense of an emotional connection with the listener, whatever the context of the music may be".

- The festival will close on Sunday 6th, with a set by the Liane Carroll Quartet featuring trumpeter, James MacMillan. The set will include selections from her recent CD Ballads, arranged by Grammy winning orchestrator, Chris Walden, for a slightly enlarged string septet. Everything from Only The Lonely, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow to Calgary Bay. Something for everybody.

LJ: Where did the idea for this festival come from?

FG: The sparkplug for this was a performance I attended (and reviewed for the LJN) in October 2012 at the club with pianist/composer, Tim Lapthorn, (a member of my nonet since 2005) with the Kerenza String Quartet. There was something special about the fully gowned up quartet  tucked into the intimate Victorian cellar confines in Soho’s' finest jazz club that resonated with me. The intimacy of the two quartets (Tim's and the Kirenza) were just so well suited for this music and ambiance. I met with Ross Dines shortly after for a quiet lunchtime coffee and two hours later a festival idea was hatched. This, of course, adds to the existing annual ReVoice!, Steinway, Latin and many other festival held at the club. Many thanks, of course, to Ross for supporting and encouraging this festival idea which we hope to make into an annual event.

The Festival's Facebook page ("String Quartet Festival") has more news and details about the shows and performers.

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Court Ruling for Camden Council makes "unamplified and unaccompanied singing" " a criminal offence"



Licensing campaigner Hamish Birchall writes about the new powers given to Camden Council by a High Court ruling

The full court judgment by Mrs Justice Patterson in the case of 'KEEP STREETS LIVE CAMPAIGN LIMITED v LONDON BOROUGH OF CAMDEN' is HERE

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CD Review: Seamus Blake and Chris Cheek - Reeds Ramble



Seamus Blake and Chris Cheek - Reeds Ramble
(Criss Cross Jazz 1364. CD Review by Eric Ford)


If you like jazz, it's very probable that you'll love this CD. Simple as that. Two of the tenor titans of our time with a top rhythm section playing a thoughtfully-arranged program of seven little-known and/or highly unexpected tunes from such as Chico Buarque, Elmo Hope, Eddie Harris, Jim Beard and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys plus an original each from Blake and Cheek.

The glue that sticks all the varied material together is the highly distinctive and characterful playing of (especially) Seamus Blake, Chris Cheek and pianist Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, who brings his customary brilliance and wild imagination to this, his first recording on the Dutch label Criss Cross.

Also making his debut on Criss Cross with this CD is drummer Jochen Rueckert. Whilst the band-members' humour certainly makes itself evident in the music, fans of Rueckert's (mock?) drum tuition video will be disappointed to learn that his "roast beef curtains" lick (SEE VIDEO) is nowhere to be heard on this CD.

Add to all this Matt Penman on bass, and here you have the perfect rebuttal to those who say that jazz musicians these days aren't distinctive like the old guys were. It's also proof that great contemporary jazz doesn't have to avoid swing or traditional song-forms or instrumentation. Enjoy!

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CD Review: Regina Carter - Southern Comfort



Regina Carter - Southern Comfort
(Sony Masterworks. CD review by Jon Turney)


Excavations of the past - personal, historical or both at once - are proving fruitful for US jazz people just now - see Dave Douglas' Be Still or the unfolding installments of Matana Roberts' Coin Coin project. Here, Regina Carter turns over some fertile musical soil from Alabama. Her paternal grandfather, whom she never knew, was a miner there, a connection which inspired a search for the music he might have heard.

The results bring together old folk strains with blues, bluegrass and country, all of which burst with life when channeled through her violin. Backing from Chris Lightcap or Jess Murphy on bass, Alvester Garnett's drums, Adam Rogers and Marvin Sewell on guitar and (less appealingly to my ear) Will Holshouser's accordion energises a set that has echoes of Bill Frisell's Americana-drenched ensembles.

Carter's Americana is less tongue-in-cheek than Frisell's tends to be, and some of the arrangements lean more to respectful recreation rather than reinvention - a little too respectful perhaps. The rudimentary basslines and rhythms here and there may hark back to simpler times but don't always keep the attention. But there are many fine moments spread over the 11 tracks here, the finest from Carter's marvellous violin playing.

That is plenty varied, too, from down home - though always retaining her classical purity of tone - on Blues de Basile to an Indian tinge in the closing moments of Breakaway and sharing some Mahavishnu orchestra moments with the guitar on the rocking I Moaned and I Moaned. The funked-up spiritual Trampin', the haunting melody of Cornbread Crumbled in Gravy, and its affecting vocal reprise as a cracked lullaby, the infectious shuffle of Honky Tonkin', the Appalachian charm of the children's song Shoo Rye and a new look at See See Rider all add flavour to the mix.

The musicians performing and arranging these pieces were all obviously drawn into the spirit of the project. Still, I doubt that Carter intended it, but the strength of her contributions is such that the songs seem to function mainly as settings for her playing. At the end, it is the violin sound that stays with you.

All in all perhaps, this disc is not as much of a landmark in Carter's discography as Douglas' or Roberts' efforts are in theirs. Nevertheless, this is a fine, heartfelt collection from a consistently interesting artist whose next project will undoubtedly be different.

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Garbarek and the Hilliards Take Bath



Just opened for booking today: one of the last scheduled appearances by Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble before they stop touring, playing mainly material from the Officium Novum. Venue is Bath Abbey, 8pm on Monday 26 May. Tickets by phone from 01225 463362.

Other jazz in the festival from Stacey Kent (24th) Iiro Rantala, Brass Jaw, and the Canadian Hutchinson Andrew Trio (25th).

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Review: Claire Martin and the Montpellier 'Cello Quartet at Kings Place

Claire Martin with the Montpellier 'Cello Quartet
KingsPlace, March 2014. Photo credit: Roger Thomas


Claire Martin and the Montpellier 'Cello Quartet
(Kings Place Hall One. 22nd March 2014. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Claire Martin's four-'cello project moves on apace. First Claire wrote a preview explaining the concept and background. (HERE). Then, just under a year ago it had its delayed premiere performance in Brighton (see report). It first came to London for the London Jazz Festival (reviewed). There is now talk of an album in September.

At each outing, newly-crafted arrangements emerge. The listener marvels at Claire Martin's ability and determination to create a wholly new pad of repertoire from zero. One of the very first, the arrangement of Kurt Weill's My Ship by Richard Rodney Bennett, played at the beginning of the programme is - as I wrote in November - pretty close to perfection, and sets the bar for subsequent efforts impossibly high. Nevertheless, the two arrangements premiered on Saturday didn't disappoint.

Some have long gestation times, such as a remarkable and very affecting new song written - words and lyrics - and arranged by Geoffrey Keezer called Featherfall. It is a song about a musician missing the family during time on the road. The performance revealed another one of Claire Martin's strengths: she seemed to own and inhabit the new song completely, and as if it had been around for ever. 

Another novelty had a different birth-route. The news that Kate Bush is about to go on tour for the first time since the 1970's inspired Claire Martin to cajole a new arrangement of The Man With The Child In His Eyes from Peter Davidson, the husband of one of the 'cellists, at very short notice. It was another highlight.

One small quibble: Kings Place Hall One really is at its best as an acoustic hall, and the level of amplification of this intimate-scale music at first felt over-powering, and took quite a bit of getting used to. That, however, was the only blot on a very enjoyable evening. 

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CD Review: Fernando Ulibarri - Transform



Fernando Ulibarri -  Transform
(Self-released, UPC Code 884501993289. CD review by Eric Ford)

Fernando Ulibarri teaches guitar and music technology at Broward College in Miami, having previously taught at two other colleges in the city. It's interesting that his playing has absorbed many signature phrases of Miami's most recent big-time guitar export, Jonathan Kreisberg, as well as having traces of Lage Lund. Ulibarri's playing doesn't boil over like theirs can, but all members of the quartet - guitar / keys / acoustic bass (Josh Allen) and drums (John Yarling)- play beautifully on his very melodic tunes.

Ulibarri states that his writing goal is to create "songs that stand on their own, but also to establish compositional unity through the album." He has achieved this, although for my taste there's too much unity - other than two one-minute rubato interludes entitled Transform and the medium swing of the opening The Left Side, every tune is medium "straight-eighths". There's a gradual transformation throughout the 45 minutes of the cd from the warm, soothing "late night" vibe of The Left Side to hints of unease in the middle and finally some angst, but I at least would have enjoyed more variation in tempo, feel and volume to add to the harmonic gradations.

Most of the timbral variation comes from pianist Jim Gasior, who also plays Fender Rhodes and a synth on the album.

This is a really appealing CD, which I wanted to find more diverting given the quality of the players and the fact that they form a working unit.

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CD Review: Paul Higgs - Pavane



Paul Higgs - Pavane
(Toucan Tango Music Ltd. CD Review by Frank Griffith)


Trumpeter, pianist, composer Paul Higgs, has produced a gently atmospheric melange of classical, jazz and new age vignettes. The eleven tracks that comprise Pavane, each about four minutes in length, subtly woo the listener in, with a combination of plainsong trumpet melodies supported by an evocative wash of cello and viola countermelodies ably played by Helen Yousaf. The trickly and wistful classical guitar broodings from Andy Watson score highly as well.

The collection feels more like a forty-five minute suite rather than a variety of distinctive compositions. A remarkable effect results from delivering changing sound palettes and tempi throughout ,yet unified by an overarching almost trance-like ethos.

In frenetic times Pavane escorts the listener to a softly lit secluded space, with music to soothe and salve the mind and body.

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Preview: Foliage by Elliott Sharp, directed by the composer. Birmingham and London 3-5 April


 Sebastian interviewed bassist/composer Riaan Vosloo, who will be performing three concerts presenting 'Foliage', a 'long-form graphic music score by composer/ guitarist Elliott Sharp that offers abstract instructions allowing for infinite possible interpretations by performing musicians', directed by Sharp himself, on April 3-5

Sebastian Scotney: Riaan, I understand that in addition to your bass-playing and composing, you're studying graphic scores for a doctorate at Birmingham Conservatoire?

Riaan Vosloo: I'm looking at an area of music which encompasses indeterminacy, aleatoric composition and improvisation- they all mean roughly the same thing but each one is concerned with putting the element of chance in a different place within composition and performance.

SS: What sparked your interest in the first place

RV: All the music that I study and play is concerned with the relationship between improvisation and composition and differing ways in which they can be combined- I think this is probably an area of interest for quite a large number of musicians. Each musician will all choose a unique way, from any number of options, as to how they will combine and reconcile these two areas- and that is the fun of it.

SS:  And I understand Elliot Sharp does particularly interesting innovative different work with slides

RV: Elliott has written a number of pieces that use graphics and non conventional notation. The piece that we are performing is called Foliage. Foliage is a series of slides made up of manipulated notation-in performance the slides morph into one another making the written/graphic notation act like an animation- this is projected, and the musicians play from this projected animation.

SS Tell us more about him - where's he from?

RV : Elliott is from New York, and has been associated with the downtown experimental music scene there since the 1970s. The downtown scene is a very loose scene that incorporates a vast array of different styles- from the minimalist composers, bands like sonic youth through to David Lang and John Zorn.

SS: Who inspired him?

RV: I would think that Elliott was inspired by different things for different pieces-for Foliage I would think that the work of Cage, Feldman, Wolfe, Brown, Braxton and possibly Cardew would have been primary influences. However, Elliott has also spoken about the influence of visual art on this piece- the score can work just as well as a piece of visual art.

SS How does it work with the slides in performance ?

RV: Foliage is a series of slides made up of manipulated notation-in performance the slides morph into one another making the written/graphic notation act like an animation- this is projected, and the musicians play from the projected animation.

SS It's a bit like John Zorn's Cobra/ there are similarities right ?

RV: Foliage is certainly in a similar area to Cobra, and also to Butch Morris and his conductions. All these works provide a formal framework without providing any specific musical information for the players. Because there is a form, the pieces will have a certain logic,even though the musicians are free to interpret rhythmically, melodically and harmonically.

SS This kind of work integrates genres, have we become too pigeonholed?

RV: The works we're talking about seem to be able to take on the character of whoever is playing them- I would imagine that playing the piece with a contemporary classical group would make the piece take on that character. Whist playing the piece with Jazz/improv players would lend it that type of flavour. What is interesting is that the piece has enough compositional integrity to still be recognizable as itself.

SS Who else is in the band  with you?

RV: Andrew Bain- Drums, Liam Noble- Piano, Jeremy Price- trombone, Alex Woods- saxophones, Percy Pursglove - trumpet, Jean Toussaint- saxophones (Birmingham only). And Elliott Sharp - guitar and conductor.

SS Where are you playing ?

We are playing at the Frontiers festival in Birmingham, on the 3rd April
And then two nights at the Vortex in London on the 4th and 5th April.

Sebastian Scotney: And at the Vortex they have some other ideas about projection too?

Riaan Vosloo: At the Vortex as well as projecting the piece inside the building, the score will projected onto the side of the of the building. So that as you look up from Gillett Square outside, you will see the piece.

Foliage at Reverse Space, New York  (May 2013)/ ElliottSharp.com.

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CD Review: Zara McFarlane - If You Knew Her



Zara McFarlane - If You Knew Her
(Brownswood Recordings. BWOOD0112CD. CD Review by Mike Collins)


Zara McFarlane has had a busy year couple of years since her debut recording Until Tomorrow was released on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label.  You’d guess that appearing alongside Gregory Porter at Nina Simone tribute concerts in the Netherlands and sharing the stage with Diana Reeves at the 2013 London Jazz Festival might be among her highlights.  If You Knew Her, the follow up album, is all the more remarkable given that context.  There’s no reaching for easy wins or crowd-pleasing formulae.  For much of this set, uncluttered melody, direct and personal lyrics and her rich, soulful and expressive voice are allowed to do their work with the accompaniment frequently stripped back to a minimum.

The first sounds on the album are of Manu Delago’s Hang drum, sounding a simple descending scale.  It could be music from almost any culture until the first vocal phrase and harmonies of Open Heart anchor the simple melancholy phrases somewhere between soul and gospel. It’s an emotional start.  Elsewhere, Jamaican music and reggae is an explicit reference point but completely re-worked.  The ringing harmonies on the open lines of a Nina Simone’s re-imagined Plain Gold Ring sound for all the world like the prelude to a lovers rock anthem. Instead, minimal percussion clicks the backbeat out over the simplest of bass lines.  Junior Murvin's hit Police and Thieves is twisted by a change of metre, whilst McFarlane’s wistful but rhythmic statement of the lyric ‘fightin the nation’ harks back to the original before Max Luthert on bass and Moses Boyd on drums morph the groove into an African lilt under Peter Edwards' piano solo.  On You’ll Get Me Into Trouble and The Games We Played McFarlane accompanies herself with, respectively, stroked guitar chords and melodic motifs on piano.  Angie La La with an endless swinging vamp and a guest appearance on vocal and trumpet from Leron Thomas steers closer to a jazzy vibe . One of the stand out ensemble tracks Women of the Olive Groves, evolves from a minor blues like melody over a throbbing bass figure into an impassioned sax solo from Binker Golding against Edwards' rolling McCoy Tyner like accompaniment.

Inspiration for her lyrics on this album come, McFarlane says, from the “..many amazing, charismatic black women in my life”.  This is a bold, beautiful musical statement through which that inspiration is expressed, consistently powerful and at its strongest when presented most simply. 

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William Basinski, Charlemagne Palestine and Rhys Chatham at St John's, Hackney

William Basinski at St John at Hackney
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All rights reserved
William Basinski, Charlemagne Palestine and Rhys Chatham 
(St John's, Hackney on 20 March 2014; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

There was a sprinkling of magic in the air at the final concert in William Basinski's Arcadia season, which more than lived up to the promise of the previous evening's conversation between Basinski and Rhys Chatham.

The combination of Basinski's haunting tape-loop based work, Vivian and Ondine, and the shared focus of the duo of Rhys Chatham and Charlemagne Palestine made for a moving, gently balanced serving of vital spontaneity and careful moderation.

Vivian and Ondine, composed in 2007, takes 'an incredible, peaceful ambient loop as the basis of the main theme,' as Basinski explained when discussing its inclusion in the veteran's healing program at Strawberry Flag in LA, to which he randomly adds alternate themes from a box of a dozen other tape loops, 'beneath the threshold of the main theme'.

The impact was gradual, an incremental build up of a soft, yet insistent, echoing phrase with suggestions of a sub-aquatic atmosphere that washed through the vast nave of the church. Its genesis has a strong family connection for the composer, linked with the births on the same day of Basinski's niece, Vivian, and his cousin's granddaughter, Ondine, and he describes the work as 'a wonderful, nurturing, amniotic soup' with associations with birth, rebirth and flows of nutrients.

Quietly busy, manipulating the strings of tape and electronic processors from the desk centre stage, Basinski introduced light clicks and short, indistinct sampled vocal and orchestral interventions alongside the repeated, welling hums that progressively gained in intensity. The hypnotic rhythms, with a life of their own, were eventually faded out, eliciting the poignant sadness of an indefinable loss, leaving only echoes and a memory.

Chatham and Palestine started from a different point, quite literally, up beside the organ console in the corner of the rear balcony. Palestine, originally trained as a synagogue cantor in Brooklyn, activated a bagpipe-like organ drone and intoned with a wonderfully appropriate sense of vocal modulation, mirrored by Chatham's high-register, constrained vocal chants and flute phrasing.

Palestine's turquoise and red technicolour garb made an eye-catching contrast with Chatham's all black attire. Each donned a striking hat - red trilby and black fedora, respectively. There was sense of the pied piper as they exited the balcony with Chatham playing the flute, to descend the staircase to the auditorium level where the stage and piano were festooned with Charlemagne's signature soft toys and fabric swatches.

The generosity of spirit which defined their duet tracks back to their early acquaintance in the 70s when New York's experimental music scene was emerging as a major creative force, although both are now based in Europe, Chatham in France and Palestine in Brussels.

As the organ drone slowly subsided, loops, accents and pulses blended in a beautifully contained meditative dialogue. Chatham's live sampling and intuitively placed statements on a variety of instruments (flute, trumpet, pocket trumpet, electric guitar and vocals) merged with Charlemagne's poised, minimalist (despite his insistence that he is a 'maximalist'!) piano repetitions. With a final burst of energy they ran back up to the balcony where Palestine activated the church's organ to summon up its deeply majestic, near anarchic resonances with a masterly touch.

Back onstage they encored with an enchanting, wacky duet on hand-held soft toy keyboard instruments to leave smiles on everybody's faces.

Earlier, Ex-Easter Island Head had kicked off with their well-disciplined rhythmic trio performance on percussion and solid-bodied guitars.

William Basinski's Arcadia season was supported by Art Assembly and Sound and Music

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Herbie Tsoaeli on BBC Radio 3 Late Junction - and a quote from Hugh Masekela

Herbie Tsoaeli. Photo Credit: Moeti Moumakoe
Sebastian writes:

One of my musical heroes, South African bassist/ composer Herbie Tsoaeli had a track played by Fiona Talkington on Late Junction on Thursday 20th March. Fiona Talkington played a track from the SAMA-Award winning album African Time. LINK HERE. At [39:23]


Hugh Masekela has written about Herbie Tsoaeli:

"Herbıe Tsoaelı ıs a hıghly skılled vırtuoso musıcıan, extremely complementary and supportıve accompanıst,a gıfted composer and generous ensemble player. More than all of these,Herbıe ıs a pure joy to be wıth because of hıs joyous personalıty,sunny dısposıtıon, ınfectıous laugh and frıendly accessıbılıty. I love Herbıe Tsoaelı lıke a brother I never had." Hugh Masekela

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CD Review: Billy Hart Quartet- One Is The Other



Billy Hart Quartet- One Is The Other
(ECM 375 9733. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)


The breadth of Billy Hart’s career is extraordinary. For over 50 years, his drumming has graced hundreds of recordings and he has worked – either as a jobbing sidemen or integral band member – with the likes of Otis Redding, Walter Bishop Jr and Charles Lloyd. Oh, and Jimmy Smith, Stan Getz and Miles Davis.

One Is The Other is Hart’s third CD (the second on ECM) with a quartet that started life over a decade ago under the joint leadership of pianist Ethan Iverson and saxophonist Mark Turner, with Ben Street on bass. Hart has a reputation for stability, consistency and reliability, so it is surprising that many of his outings as a leader – including this one - are patchy.

Turner’s Lennie Groove has a complex melody, changes of pace and mood, and an unaccompanied piano opening that may be Tristano-esque but sounds like an advanced exercise. The saxophonist is also the creator of the very different Sonnet for Stevie, which is attractive, lightly swinging and bluesy. As an instrumentalist, Turner can do anything. Everything he plays – from the lowest to the very highest notes – is controlled, and his work on the only standard, Some Enchanted Evening, is perfectly poised.

Away from The Bad Plus, Iverson appears determined to avoid histrionics, and his work here is measured and thoughtful. His tune Maraschino has a fascinating melody, and Big Trees focuses on the drums and is punctuated by ensemble interludes.

Hart’s trademark of miraculously slowing the pace without interrupting the flow is rarely heard, although his skittering brush work and technique on hi-hat and bass drum are particularly distinctive. He makes the first sound on five of the eight selections, yet is as selfless as they come and never swamps his colleagues with clutter or bluster. Hart is also a talented composer, and three of his tunes form the core of the set. Teule’s Redemption, written for one of his sons, is typical. It offers anticipation, the development is constructed with skill, and there’s drama on the journey towards a conclusion. The through-composed Amethyst is rather obscure until the theme emerges at the end. Yard includes references to several of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker’s lines - most obviously “Cheryl” – and its jerky riff dissolves into a skewed blues that includes a brief bass solo. Mainly in the background, Street chooses his notes wisely, has great time, and makes a profound contribution.

One is the Other doesn’t come close to the majesty and luminosity of Hart’s first record as a leader, Enchance (A&M Horizon CD 0818) – from 1977 - but it’s a fine document of his current direction, and grows on you with repeated listening.

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CD Review: John Coltrane - Out Of This World (1960-62)



John Coltrane - Out Of This World
(Proper Note. PROPERBOX 181. 4 CD Set. Review by Nicolas Pillai)


By focusing only on the years 1960-1962, this elegant collection presents John Coltrane as a developing musician, drawing influence from his collaborators in a manner often neglected in grand narratives of his genius. Appropriately enough, then, the first disc kicks off with a lucid Miles solo on So What, a fourteen-minute 1960 version for a live audience in Stockholm. This sets the tone for a judicious balance of live and studio cuts in this collection, comprising thirty-three tracks across four discs, titled Exotica, Blues Minor, Chasin’ the Trane and Body and Soul.

The arrangement is roughly chronological, which enables the listener to chart Coltrane’s evolution over a busy two years. While listening to this music, I found myself reading and re-reading Simon Spillett’s comprehensive liner notes. These are not simply anecdotal or contextual. Spillett presents a compelling and meticulously researched argument regarding the importance of the 1960-1962 period in Coltrane’s life. Spillett dismantles the legend, but not the man, permitting us greater insight into the composition and achievement of Coltrane. This is a welcome trend, to be found elsewhere in Ben Ratliff’s recent Coltrane: The Story of a Sound.

Disc One: Exotica hinges on Spillett’s assertion that Coltrane needed a ‘more interactive kind of drumming’ than Billy Higgins could provide. This was found in Elvin Jones and amply demonstrated on albums Coltrane Jazz, My Favorite Things, Coltrane Plays the Blues and Coltrane’s Sound. Very usefully, Spillett notes Coltrane’s canny marketing sense and marketable persona, his original compositions combining traditional blues with ‘pseudo-ethnic ostinato bass patterns’ and ‘keys hitherto unfriendly for jazz improvising’. With the shift from Atlantic Records to Impulse and the good sales for Africa/Brass, Coltrane had become ‘the ultimate rarity – a saleable avant-gardist’.

Discs Three and Four further chart Coltrane’s turn toward experimentation but remind us of the concurrent desire to duplicate the success of My Favorite Things’ ‘commercial impact’ in Greensleeves and The Inchworm. Together, the discs evince the creativity of Coltrane’s collaborators, not just Jones but also Jimmy Garrison, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman and Eric Dolphy. For the Coltrane aficionado, this reminder is welcome; for the Coltrane neophyte, this collection is essential in depicting a period Ratliff has termed ‘a musician finding his own greatest resonance, hitting his spot’.

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