REVIEW: Phronesis at Union Chapel

Phronesis at Union Chapel. May 2014
Photo Credit: Cat Munro. All Rigghts Reserved

Phronesis 
(Union Chapel, London N1. 29th May. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

There we were, gathered in the pews underneath the octagonal wooden lantern at Union Chapel. The cloud billowing out from a smoke-machine had obscured the cavernously high ceiling, so the space felt more intimate and spiritual. Would such an atmosphere overwhelm the music? No: for Phronesis' intense brand of jazz, nothing could seem more natural.

They opened their set with Urban Control, a trademark complex fast-paced piece, its sinister name belying the bright jumping descent of Ivo Neame's piano falling on top of Jasper Høiby's rhythmic double bass groove. The more ponderous Song for Lost Nomads followed, allowing space for each musician to take the focus alone, in particular a delicate and precise introduction from the dynamic and sartorially savvy Anton Eger on drums. The climax of Behind Bars was embellished by his bold rock drumming, followed closely by thoughtful brushed percussion in Eight Hours where we see Høiby fulfill his role as the lynch-pin of the group. Phronesis are a unique trio, and are much stronger than the sum of their parts. This richness comes from the flexibility of the musicians, each capable of a leading melodic role or building the infectious rolling groove which underpins so much of their music.

The light outside began to fade as the second set began, initially matched by more introspective compositions featuring bowed bass introductions and clean piano musings in Wings 2 the Mind and Phraternal, sandwiching the modal rhythmic loops of Blue Inspiration. Høiby, as charismatic head of the trio, is eminently relaxed and confident in between songs, with quick-witted jokes and irreverent quips about the holy trinity of the group on stage. This is undoubtedly a part of their wide appeal – Phronesis have done fantastically well in recent years, and Høiby is clearly appreciative of the diverse all-ages audience they gather and the attention they're receiving from industry – their gratitude particularly directed towards their manager Sue Edwards, expressed in the musical homage to where she lives, Herne Hill, and toDr Black, an epic piece for a 'guardian angel' on their recent Canadian tour, which stomps like one of Howard Shore's pieces scoring the journey's through Mordor.

While the majority of the songs were selected from their last album Life to Everything, they brought the scheduled set to a close with the alternating relentless grooving bass, searching piano stabs and virtuoso drumming of Abraham's New Gift, a perfect example of their high energy passionate sound.

What Union Chapel may lack in beneficial acoustics, it certainly makes up for in ambiance and spectacle. Architect James Cubitt's irregular octagonal layout for the 1870's Grade I listed building, with raked pews arranged in a semicircular pattern emanating from the altar, is unlike so many churches in that it was designed for listening and watching something, whether that something be religious guidance or music. It proved an ideal setting for this breathtaking performance.

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Japanese Extreme Evening at LCMF 2014

Russell Haswell and Pain Jerk at LCMF 2014
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved


Japanese Extreme evening 
(Second Home, Spitalfields and Oslo, Hackney. 29th May 2014; Third night of LCMF 2014. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The Japanese Extreme evening in the London Contemporary Music Festival (LCMF) was a Magical Mystery Tour, not just metaphorically but also literally. Comprising contrasts, complementary threads and convergences, and a voyage across East London, its journey encompassed around 600 years - and a few miles.

At Second Home, off Brick Lane, where two dramatic stage and viewing areas had been created within a disused carpet factory, the voyage began with a Noh performance of refined concision that revealed rich, traditionally embedded layers beneath the outwardly stark surface.

In pre-concert discussion with three of the young performers, lauded as leading exponents of the art, based primarily in the historic city of Kyoto, it was explained that the contemporary interpretations of Noh, which combines theatre, music, poetry and dance forms, are taken at a slower pace than older forms, and although strictly one-off collaborations, Noh performances allow no improvisation.

Their performance thrived on a sense of tension and the perception of sound in space, through patterns of discrete percussive accents, vocalisations and chants. The graceful restraint of the dance routines expressing both mythical beauty and a martial theme, was well suited to the spare aesthetic of the venue.

Swiss-born, London-based percussionist Serge Vuille's virtuosic performance of Himmels Tür (Heaven's Door), the fourth 'hour' of Stockhausen's unfinished 24 part cycle, Klang, carried the baton of Noh's spiky, spartan aesthetic in to the twentyfirst century. Performed on a unit of specially fabricated, paneled wooden double doors and floor, Vuille used an array of custom-made beaters, and shoes with metal inserts (similar to those worn by tap dancers), to articulate the rhythmic and tonal demands of the composer's prescriptive graphic score with breathtaking athleticism. Attacking and embracing different areas of the door and floor with a combination of balletic grace, hesitant restraint and aggressive stamping, Vuille finally gained access through the doors to enter a darkened chamber (shortly followed by the small girl scripted in to the piece) from which he released cacophonous cymbal and siren sounds in a chilling endpiece.

Then came the swerve-ball of the evening - an actual charabanc ride to Hackney - unplanned, but essential after the organisers had found out that Noise artists, Kohei Gomi (Pain Jerk) and Russell Haswell, would contravene the local noise limitations. So, the whole audience was shipped out to the excellent Oslo venue in Hackney for an intense, invigorating immersion in layer upon layer of machine-related sonics conjured in tandem by the duo. Their mechanistic noise stream, born of sci-fi spaceships at take-off, crunching factory looms, charging steam trains, rattling machine guns, and groaning earth movers, was mashed up with threads of abstract noise and techno bass pulsing in and out of their 45 minute live mix. For all the raw surface heft, this was, as with the restraint of the Noh troupe, a construct of subtlety, with rapid build ups of multiple sounds that were capable of rustling the ribcage or dissolving to continue on their ways at lower velocities - all meticulously controlled from their mixing desks front stage - with affinities to Stockhausen that created a fitting circularity to the night's musical trip.

Performers

Second Home, Spitalfields
Udaka Tatsushige, Udaka Norishige, Diego Pellecchia - actors, chorus
Akai Yosuke - flute
Hayashi Yamato - shoulder drum
Moriyama Yasuyuki - hip drum
Maekawa Mitsunori - stick drum
Serge Vuille - percussion

Oslo, Hackney
Kohei Gome (Pain Jerk) - electronics
Russell Haswell - electronics

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Preview: Anita Wardell's Songsuite Festival at the Pheasantry (27-29 June)

Anita Wardell. Photo credit: Melody McLaren. All Rights Reserved

Universally respected British jazz vocalist Anita Wardell brings her third Songsuite Festival to the Pheasantry this June. She talked to Alison Beck about her life in music, and what makes this jazz festival a little bit different from all the rest. There is a special ticket offer for readers underneath this feature. Alison writes:

Anyone who’s ever heard Anita Wardell sing live will already know that she can really, really improvise. Her passionate love for scat singing and bebop – underpinned by superlative phrasing and an impressive work ethic - has won her many accolades, including a BBC Jazz Award in 2006 and Best Vocalist in the 2013 British Jazz Awards.

The first thing you notice about Anita when you meet her is what she isn’t: a diva. Instead, she’s warm, down-to-earth, and pretty much overflowing with generosity and positive vibes.

I was interested to know what drove Anita into the arms of jazz in the first place. Was it a big part of her life when she was a child, I ask her? Surprisingly, she says she doesn’t come from a particularly musical family: “Nobody was a musician in the family. My great uncle was an amateur pianist; that was the only thing. But everybody in my family had a huge appreciation for music.”

“My mum listened to Motown and my dad listened to the albums of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman and all the big band leaders. He had a huge collection, and I used to learn all the trumpet and clarinet parts and everything when I was very young. I think my family thought I was crazy!”

When Anita was 11, the family moved from England to Australia. From there, her appreciation of music grew and grew, thanks to some incredibly supportive teachers. Anita says, “I was a very nervous child and a nervous performer. I had this burning love for it [music] but I wasn’t really capable of doing it at that point.”

When she was 16, Anita decided she really wanted to be an actor, and flew to London to audition at RADA. “I was too young, and I didn’t get in. So I went back and studied at college to become a music and drama teacher.” That’s where she joined a jazz choir for the first time (“I didn’t know what a jazz choir was”). And then one day, out of the blue, came her epiphany.

“I heard these two girls next door singing” – she breaks off talking to demonstrate: shabbadoo-ee, shabbadoo-aa! – “and I thought, ‘What the hell’s that?!’ I ran out of the classroom and peeked through the glass in the door. They were scatting over Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Birks’ Works’” – she erupts into another brief rainbow arpeggio of scat – “and I said to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life’”.

From that moment on, she says, she “soaked herself” in recordings by the greats: Ella Fitzgerald, Coltrane, Betty Roche, Miles Davies. Six months later, she transferred to the jazz degree course at Adelaide University, and the rest is history.

Anita says: “If you want to be a jazz singer that improvises, there actually isn’t any room for mediocrity; you have to know your stuff. Know what I mean?” At university she didn’t have a singing teacher that taught improvisation/scat (there wasn’t one); instead, she learnt her craft with the instrumentalists.

In 1989, Anita moved to England and studied with Pete Churchill and others on the postgraduate jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music. And she’s stayed here in London ever since.

After two decades of gigging on the tough British jazz scene, she says she’s been thinking a lot lately about her own musical journey and the choices she’s made along the way. “[I’ve realised that] music has to come from a deep passion and a deep sense of who you are, not what other people want you to do, or think you should do. You’ve got to trust yourself, and sometimes I find it hard in this business. Swing and the bebop thing – it may be passé to some, but it really thrills me, this music. I get excited when I sing it. You’re not following someone else’s career path; you’re following your own path. Say to yourself, ‘What do I like? What do I want to do?’”

Anita is such a superb teacher, conversations with her have a way of always finding answers. I had just two more things I wanted to ask. First, what were the moments she'll never forget:

 “When I got to support Sarah Vaughan at the Sydney Opera House in 1984. And in 2011, getting up and singing with John Hendricks at the Jazz Academy.”

Her influence is everywhere among singers. So, I wondered, if she could give just one piece of advice, what would that be?

“Everything you need to know is on the records. It’s great to have lessons with people, but you learn so much by what the greats have done. And - never give up. If you worry about the struggles you have, that then becomes a block; another struggle.”

 
Anita Wardell and Ed Cherry, USA, September 2013



Anita’s Songsuite Festival

The Songsuite Festival is in its third year, and this June comes to the Pheasantry in Chelsea for the first time. (Sebastian interviewed her before last year's festival).

Anita says her motivation for setting up the festival was straightforward: to give a host of talented British unknown jazz singers a chance to perform, alongside a clutch of more established local and international names. “It’s a celebration of the talent that we have in this country. And I wanted people to see and hear that.”

“In the other [jazz] festivals, it’s always big names like Gregory Porter, Gretchen Parlato – much as I love them and we should be going to see them – but what about the people who are quietly, anonymously working away, that need a little platform?”

She adds, “I like to choose people who are really dedicated, work hard and are into the music. That’s what makes my heart sing, when I see people that are so committed to the art form.” View the festival line-up (link to:

This year’s festival also features two international acts: Sandy Cressman, a San Francisco-based Brazilian vocalist, and Nicky Schrire, half-South African and half-English (and just returned from five years in New York City).

The final gig of the festival promises to be a highlight: vocalists Tina May, Cleveland Watkiss and Anita Wardell sharing a stage. “We’re all the same age, and we all have a love for bebop and improvisation. That gig’s going to be so exciting. It’ll be seat of your pants.”

There’ll be daytime workshops for aspiring singers too – on Brazilian music, scat singing, and the Great American Songbook – but they are already totally sold out.

The Songsuite Festival runs from 27-29 June at the Pheasantry. 

Tickets are available on the Pizza Express website (link: http://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/)

LondonJazz readers can buy tickets for £12 instead of the usual £15 by calling the box office on 0845 602 7017 and quoting the discount code “blue89”.

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Preview: Cambridge Jazz Weekend (A new festival), 12th June - 15th June


Joe Stoddart previews the Cambridge Jazz Weekend, running 12th – 15th June at various venues in and around Cambridge. Joe writes:


- Thursday 12th June sees the opening day of the inaugural Cambridge Jazz Weekend, featuring 17 acts playing at 12 different venues across the city over the four days. The festival say that their aim is, “showcasing local talent as well as artists from further afield, aspiring becoming an annual feature for the city”.

- The weekend kicks off on Thursday with The Clark Tracey Quintet at Cambridge Modern Jazz Club at the Hidden Rooms. Joined by Henry Armburg-Jennings (Trumpet), Chris Maddock (Alto Sax), Harry Bolt (Piano) and Dan Casimir (Bass), the quintet will be playing material from this year’s release ‘Meantime’. 8pm

- Moving into Friday, Valia Calda, a London based ensemble who describe their music as a combination of ‘Mediterranean sounds, Jazz harmonies, complex Balkan rhythms and free improvisation’, play as part of Clare Jazz at Clare College. 9pm

- Also on Friday at Clare Jazz on the Friday night, a local band called EM:

- Saturday is the busiest day of the weekend, kicking off with a jazz workshop hosted by the fantastic Sam Bullard (Michael Garrick Big Band/Bad Ass Brass/SE Collective) at The Blue Moon on behalf of the Cambridge Jazz Co-op,

- There are evening performances from RipRap, a quartet who say, ‘They take their inspiration from the Beat Poets, with their freewheeling lateral association, Miles Davis and his open-ended forms…. ….and Kerouac's idea of a 'Holy Goof'’ at the Anglia Ruskin Recital Room (8pm )while local musician and educator Martin Kemp brings his band to The Flying Pig (9pm) . There is also some more gypsy jazz from Jonathan Holland at the Earl of Beaconsfield (8 30pm).

- The final day of the festival, Sunday,  begins with an afternoon performance by trio Q3 at The Anchor (12 noon), playing music from their new album ‘Spider Dance'. The Andy Bowie Quartet will be playing a ‘gripping repertoire of standards with a sprinkling of the rarer tracks that you've always wanted to hear, but never knew’ in The Tram Depot on Sunday night at 8pm

- While at the Music Centre at Churchill College (7pm), Jazzwise magazine’s “One To Watch 2014” trombonist  Tom Green and his band will be joined on the bill by David Ellingham’s trio Fromage a Trois and local ensemble Better Than TV with vocalist Roslin Russell.

See The Cambridge Jazz Weekend Facebook Page

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REVIEW: Cécile McLorin Salvant at Ronnie Scott's

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Ronnie Scott's, May 2014.
Photo credit: Benjamin Amure. All Rights Reserved

Cécile McLorin Salvant 
(RonnieScott's. Second night of two. Also live-streamed. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

"You're not there to review the audience," film critic Barry Norman once said. But when you see a performer who can keep everyone in a room so completely silent and spellbound as Cécile McLorin Salvant did at Ronnie Scott's last night, it might, actually, not be a bad place to start.

Most people who saw last night's gig will probably have done so via the live-stream, so the feeling of intense concentration in the room probably also . It was quite something: the gig induced the collective sense of an audience which has completely stopped breathing, exactly the atmosphere which Ian Shaw had described so well in his introduction.

The first thing which struck this listener about the 24-year-old Miami-born singer, winner of the 2010 Thelonious Monk competition, is quite how unbelievably clear her diction is. Can there be another singer who enunciates words with this level of communicative engagement? (The only other one I can think of is Marlene Verplanck). The mention of the Monk competition brings with it an irony and a telling contrast: the previous vocal winner Gretchen Parlato has headed completely in the opposite direction, and developed a way of singing in which the words are cloaked in mystery, subsumed into the music. Salvant makes the meaning of absolutely every syllable count. But hold on, she has a French mother and a Haitian father? Maybe there is a connection there.

The range of colour in the voice, and the freedom to switch within that range were mesmerising. And then there's the musicality. And add to that the musical vocabularly. Plus the breadth of her range of reference - Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most seemed to have a back door opening and shutting into Kenny Dorham's Blue Bossa, for example. And the fact that she can take a line wherever she wants it. The one song of her own that she sang, Womanchild, was a masterclass in approaches to the beat, attacking it, deaying it, skirting round it,caressing it. And then there's the variety of vocal charaacterization, the way she can summon up so many characters along the way, from sweet/innocent schoolchild, to the knowing, to the sassy, to the diva, and all bases in between. Wonderful.


Her trio are a very classy unit. Pianist Aaron Diehl is equally at home in Bach-ian counterpoint as he is in hard swing. Drummer Pete Van Nostrand and bassist Paul Sikivie found ways to support a pulse which was often tantalisingly, daringly slow, notably in the quiet desolation of Shirley Horn's He's Gone Again.

Some people ask what happened to the real jazz singers, to Ella, Billie, to Sarah Vaughan? There can be no more powerful and complete heir to the totality of this tradition than Cécile McLorin Salvant. And the really exciting prospect is that she has a whole lifetime ahead of her to take it further.

Support was from Tom Cawley, Sam Burgess and Joshua Blackmore, in the trio format Curios, who were seeking out, and finding, the quiet, the abstract and the spacious in Tom Cawley's tunes.



Pete Van Nostrand, Paul Sikivie, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Aaron Diehl
Ronnie Scott's, May 2014. Photo Credit: Benjamin Amure. All Rights Reserved

SET LIST

1) When Rome I do as the Romans Do (Coleman/Leigh)
2) Nobody ( Bert Williams)
3) Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most (Wolf/ Landesman)
4) Laugh Clown Laugh (Lewis-Young-Fiorito)
5) The Stepsisters' Lament (Rodgers/Hammerstein)
6) They Say it's Spring (Marty Clark, Haymes)
7) Trolley Song - "Clang clang clang" (Blane /Garland /Martin)
8) Womanchild (McLorin Salvant)
9) He's Gone Again (Curtis Lewis)
10) What a Little Moonlight Can Do (Harry M Woods)
11) I didn't know what time it was (Rodggers/ Hart)
Encore) Goodbye (Gordon Jenkins)

LINK: Jade Lauren's review of Cécile McLorin Salvant's first night at Ronnies in October 2013

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Munira Mirza from City Hall talks about the threats to culture in London

Dr Munira Mirza


Dr Munira Mirza, Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture for London, and the author of 'The Politics of Culture: The Case for Universalism' (2011) has done a podcast for the Spitalfields Festival website. It can be listened to here. 

Her argument is as follows:

- London has incredible cultural life

- It brings economic benefit, notably through attracting tourism

- It is not just big institutions but also small-scale and experimental

- 'Can't assume funding will be there'

- There is a need to safeguard culture against dangers, those dangers being:

1) Economic growth and high land values mean that artists are priced out of living in many areas of London

2) Regulation /licensing: there is a tendency by the boroughs to over-control.

3) Free expression can be under threat from nervousness in the face of actual and potential censorship.

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Dominic McGonigal and James Joseph are New Interim Chair and Vice-Chair at Jazz Services



There has been no announcement of the change as yet, but the Jazz Services' website now shows a new Interim Chair of the board (Dominic McGonigal) in place of Kelly LeValley Hunt and an Interim Vice Chair (James Joseph) in place of Christine Allen. The board now consists of six individuals, the above plus Ivor Widdison, Barbara White, Geoff Wright and Brian Blain. Jazz Services' most recent Charity Commission filing with the previous board is HERE.  The important date for Arts Council England National Portfolio Organizations is July 1st, when funding levels and the new list of regularly supported organizations will be announced.

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Andrew Litton Performs Oscar Peterson Transcriptons. Conway Hall, June 2nd



In connection with the release of A Tribute to Oscar Peterson (Swedish BIS label, released in January 2014), conductor Andrew Litton will be performing transcribed Oscar Peterson improvisations in London next week.

Andrew Litton has said, in an interview with International Piano magazine (FULL TEXT HERE) "I’ve realised over the years that my strength [.] is to recreate. I love to take what somebody far more intelligent and brilliant and talented has done, and make it come to life."

The concert is at Conway Hall, in Red Lion Square, London, WC1, at 6.30pm. Admission is free and includes a drink, but tickets need to be reserved at Rhinegold Live.

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REVIEW: Shai Maestro Trio at Jazzahead!

Shai Maestro


American pianist Andrew Oliver, now based in London, was particularly won over by the Shai Maestro Trio at Jazzahead! in Bremen last month. He writes:


I have been hearing about the legendary excesses of Jazzahead in Bremen for years, and had a chance to go and participate in them this year for the first time, having recently moved to London from Portland, OR. There were also a huge number of showcase performances - one day focused on German jazz (SEE OUR REPORT), one on Danish jazz (SEE OUR REPORT), one on European jazz, and one on Overseas jazz.


 
 Amidst the general chaos, the standout peformance for me was an 11pm set by the Shai Maestro Trio featuring Jorge Roeder on bass and Ziv Ravitz on drums. I was familiar with Maestro from his work as pianist in Avishai Cohen's trio on their excellent 2008 album Gently Disturbed, which introduced the then 21-year old Israeli pianist to the larger jazz world.  This was my first hearing of his trio, and I was very impressed by the overall sound and concept. While their music bore the influence of Cohen's intense bassline-heavy polyrhythmic compositions, its standout qualities were essentially different:  Maestro's group impressed with a subtle maturity, a careful use of drama and an incredible combination of humility and technical bravado.


 Simple diatonic melodies, some adorned with unorthodox and compelling ornamentation were stated with great lyricism by Maestro, whose style and technique emphasize a singing quality in the piano.  Rarely prone to excess, his most dramatic pianistic moments often involved unison lower register riffs with Roeder or the occasional old-fashioned rock n roll piano, often leading to the climax of well thought-out compositions that almost never suffer from the modern jazz syndrome of excessive vamps.  Many of the tunes had a dark harmonic edge, not from particularly complex voicings or extended harmonies, but rather from a deceptively simple and tasteful triadic chord progressions that provided a highly emotionally satisfying experience of tension and release.  The performance as a whole was actually surprisingly diatonic, with only an occasional foray into real chromaticism, but to Maestro's credit as a composer, the tunes never lapsed into corniness or anywhere near "smooth" territory, a difficult balance with such a relatively straightforward harmonic pallete.


 Maestro was also perfectly matched with drummer Ravitz, who gave a thrilling performance himself on many levels.  Clearly highly invested in the music, Ravitz used his formidable technique for good, with compelling fills which ratcheted up the intensity and kept things unpredictable while at the same time remaining anchored to an incredible time feel and relaxed grooviness which kept him totally in control even at the most intense moments.  Special mention is due to his well-tuned drums and beautiful cymbal tone which was clear, distinct, and ringing without obscuring the piano's high end sound.  All three members of the trio exhibited just the right amount of bravado, a relaxed self-assuredness that kept the audience's focus squarely on the tension and release in the music rather than any external nervousness about whether they could actually pull off what they were going for.


 There were quite a few piano trios featured at Jazzahead! and indeed the configuration is so ubiquitous in jazz that it's very satisfying to hear a new trio emerging which shows another path forward for this endlessly flexible yet seemingly timeless instrumentation.  It's also very satisfying to hear a young pianist with such a command of his instrument combined with a very mature tastefulness which allows his best qualities to come across with abundant clarity.  Shai Maestro's trio achieved an impressive showing of taste, melody, groove, and highly effective emotional content in their very short 40-minute set at Jazzahead! These qualities are also in full effect on their newest release The Road to Ithaca, which I highly recommend.  Keep an eye out for the continued development of this great addition to the time honored jazz piano trio tradition.

Andrew Oliver will be with his trio Rubik (WEBSITE) at Jazzlive at the Crypt in Camberwell on July 11th.

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NEWS: New Monthly Jazz Night in Robertsbridge, East Sussex

Mike Hext (right) with Nick Rodwell and Stan Sulzmann
Trombonist Mike Hext, who was the first ever winner of BBC Young Musician of The Year in 1978, is involved in a new monthly jazz night at the Robertsbridge Jazz Club.

The gig is scheduled for the second Thursday of every month, presenting top British jazz musicians in an intimate setting, deep in the East Sussex countryside.

After an overwhelming response to the opening night earlier this month, future events include:

- Mike Hext (Trombone) with Rob Leake (Sax), Malcolm Edmonstone (Piano), Paul Kimber (Bass) and Pete Beament (Drums) on June 12th.

- Liane Carroll (Vocals) with Malcolm Edmonstone (Piano), Roger Carey (Bass) and Andrew Bain (Drums) on July 10th.

- And thereafter on the second Thursday of each month.

 For more information please visit www.robertsbridgejazzclub.com. Robertsbridge Village Hall, Station Road, Robertsbridge, East Sussex, England, TN32 5DA.

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Jamie Cullum visits the Yamaha Piano Factory in Japan



Here's Jamie Cullum performing for the workers at Yamaha's piano manufacturing plant - we're assuming it's the one at Kakegawa near Shizuoka - on a recent trip to Japan. While there he also made a film about the philosophy behind Yamaha's process of piano manufacture. A quote from Jamie in the press release reads as follows:

  "The visit to the Yamaha factories made me appreciate that the people who produce these instruments for the artists are artists themselves. I'm sure there aren't many pianists who really appreciate the intensity of the processes involved in building a grand piano from raw materials and bringing it to the stage or shop. I'm delighted that the videos depict this with such beauty and passion."

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Review: Joanna Wallfisch and Dan Tepfer at 22 Mansfield St W1

Dan Tepfer, Joanna Wallfisch

Review: Joanna Wallfisch and Dan Tepfer
(22 Mansfield Street, London. 26th May 2014. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)


English vocalist Joanna Wallfisch is part of a family with distinguished musical roots that go back generations. She is the only daughter of cellist Raphael and violinist Elizabeth (Libby) Wallfisch, and her cellist grandmother, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch – now 88 - avoided the gas chambers only because she was a member of the Women’s Orchestra of Auschwitz. All three were present at this performance.

32 year old pianist Dan Tepfer’s classical background is only slightly less entrenched: his mother was an opera singer and his father a jazz pianist. The Paris-born New Yorker has collaborated frequently with the great saxophonist Lee Konitz, and his acclaimed 62-track album Goldberg Variations/Variations contains Bach’s aria and variations, and his own improvisations on them.

Beneath a sparkling chandelier and surrounded by works of art in an opulent salon off Portland Place, the pair started bravely with the semi-acronymic Back Attya (the American’s interesting re-jig of All The Things You Are). It immediately revealed Wallfisch's beautifully clear voice, Tepfer's supreme pianism, and the empathy between them.

You could hear traffic splashing the wet road outside as Wallfisch uttered “It’s raining in the city”, the opening line to her poetic Satin Grey. Tepfer’s wordless Diverge – described as “a bit of a tongue twister” – was more fun, and he fashioned a folky drone by tapping, plucking and stroking the piano strings throughout This Is How You Make Me Feel. It reminded me of Joni Mitchell, and spookily it was followed by a tender reading of the legendary Canadian’s Both Sides Now.

In a solo section, Wallfisch used loop technology to create, with her voice, a rhythmic backing and harmonies to Time Doesn’t Play Fair. At the piano – assisted by Tepfer, who obligingly held the microphone - she continued the melancholy mood with (Coney Island’s) Brighton Beach, where “Your anger, your envy, your doubt, your thirst for knowledge dissolves”.

The slow, dirty blues that one might have hoped for never came, but there were several highlights. Tepfer, unaccompanied, really laid into his improvisation on the last of five Goldberg Variations. During Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks, his face almost touched the keyboard as he rapturously swayed back and forth, and Wallfisch – singing Norma Winstone’s words – brilliantly negotiated the song's notoriously difficult bridge. At the end of the 75-minute set, real passion was unleashed at last. Tepfer flew through a magnificent, rhythmic solo, and Wallfisch’s cool melted in a flowing take on Chick Corea’s lovely You’re Everything.

Tepfer and Wallfisch delivered a stylish and enjoyable show, and they should be applauded, particularly, for presenting largely original material. They recorded several of these songs in New York a week ago, and the results – expected to appear on CD later this year – are eagerly awaited.

(The concert was hosted by Robert and Elisabeth Boas. It was in aid of the Nicholas Boas Charitable Trust which supports young musicians at the start of their careers.)

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Review: Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble in Bath Abbey

The Hilliard Ensemble, Jan Garbarek
Bath Abbey May 2014. Photo credit: Mick Destino


Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble
(Bath Abbey, 26th May. Part of Bath Festival. Review by Jon Turney)


A soprano saxophone playing unaccompanied, save for an enormous echo. In an unusually beautiful old abbey, it sounds out as a call to the faithful, and four singers duly join in, walking oh-so-slowly toward the horn's summons and assembling before a packed congregation of already enthralled listeners.

Who else but Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble? Reunited for a tour in the Hilliards' 40th - and final - year they make music of unusual power. Three may be preparing for retirement, but the four singers' voices all have a purity that is perfectly suited to the slow-tempo austerity of most of their repertoire, here mainly taken from their third recording with the saxophonist, Officium Novum (ECM) in 2010.

The vocal quartet in combination with the saxophone enhances both immeasurably. The vocals have a yearning quality that is matched by Garbarek's keening tone, while the saxophonist is free to embellish the written parts the singers endow with such grace. The words, in languages inaccessible to us, pass the listener by, save for the single repeated English line of Arvo Part's Most Holy Mother of God which is sung unaccompanied by the quartet. The rest of the time the harmonised singing and Garbarek's interjections offer the most elemental call and response.

There are gorgeous solos, duos and trios from the singers, too, but for me the sax provided the most memorable moments. The vocals are rhythmically static, and Garbarek needs to use only a small fraction of a jazz player's rhythmic flexibility for contrast. Similarly, there are no sheets of sound here, but a continual bubbling up of simple phrases that decorate the singing like sunlight sparkling on waves.

Like the singers, he plays the building, too - retreating to the end of the nave at one point and ruminating in the distance. When he returns to the stage there is an extended solo, which builds to a gently foot-tapping climax that hints at the blues, two things I suddenly realise have been entirely absent for the previous hour.

This minimal nod to modernity is more than enough, and the final piece returns to the more understated, monastic feel that holds the evening together. A farewell long fade contrived by filing into the distant reaches of the building while still singing and playing is followed by one of the longest pauses before applause I've ever seen. It can be an easy exaggeration to describe an audience as spellbound. This one was.

Jan Garbarek
Bath Abbey May 2014. Photo credit: Mick Destino
LINK: Previous review of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble (2009, St Paul's Cathedral)

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PODCAST: Interview with Guillermo Rozenthuler. LondonJazz TransLATES, 20th June at Crazy Coqs



London-based Argentine singer Guillermo Rozenthuler told us in an interview about his unusual heritage (his grandfather was a Romanian who jumped aboard the first ship he saw to escape the Great War and ended up in Argentina), his life in Buenos Aires and London, the first steps which led him to become a musician and a teacher, and lastly his involvement with the Global Music Foundation, looking forward to their summer course in Tuscany. .

Guillermo Rozenthuler's gig, the fourth in the LondonJazz TransLATES series at Crazy Coqs, is on Friday 20th June (tickets HERE).

Musical Excerpt

Volver - at 9:28

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Photos: Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio with Brian Blade and Larry Grenadier at Unterfahrt in Munich

Larry Grenadier at Unterfahrt Munich. May 2014
Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved


Thank you Ralf Dombrowski for sending in these three photos of the Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio with Brian Blade and Larry Grenadier performing on Sunday May 25th 2014 at Unterfahrt in Munich. 

Brian Blade at Unterfahrt Munich. May 2014
Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved



Wolfgang Muthspiel at Unterfahrt Munich. May 2014
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved


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INTERVIEW: Julia Hülsmann

Julia Hülsmann. Photo credit: Volker Beushausen

Alison Bentley interviewed Julia Hülsmann during Jazzahead 2014 in Bremen. The acclaimed German pianist talked to her about recording for ECM, working with UK trumpeter Tom Arthurs, being President of the German Association of Jazz Musicians, her work as ‘Improviser in residence’ at the Moers Festival and an album of Kurt Weill which is about to be recorded for ECM with vocalist Theo Bleckmann, and scheduled provisionally for release in 2015.

Alison Bentley: Tell me how you started with your jazz life.

Julia Hülsmann: I think when I was about 15, classical piano was boring, and I started on a few blues tunes and things like that. I stopped having classical piano lessons, and I actually really started to play. I started a band and I wanted to have a pop or rock teacher, but my mother didn’t find one. So I got this jazz teacher, and he was amazing! At that time I had no idea what he was doing, but now looking backwards it was just perfect to start with. He transcribed solos- not only by piano players, but by Louis Armstrong and things like that for me, and I played them on piano. I had no idea about theory but slowly I got into this music.

AB: So then you worked with a jazz big band. Were there a lot of women in those bands?

JH: When I started studying jazz in Berlin, I got into this Youth Jazz Orchestra with young musicians from all over Germany. There was one female drummer and trumpet player- and me. Later I got into an all-woman big band- United Women’s Orchestra. That was nice, but you have to be a woman to be in this band- I think it’s more important that you have to be a good musician to be in the band. So there was a kind of a problem, but it was also good for the experience and the atmosphere.

AB: And you’ve worked a lot with singers?

JH: Yes, Rebekka Bakken. I met her in New York when I was there to study, and I heard a concert by her. I decided I wanted to write music for her because she has such a special voice and presence onstage as well. Before I wasn’t interested in vocals at all. From that time on, I’ve loved working with singers, female or male. It’s a very direct way to make music.

AB: How did you start recording for ECM?

JH: The first contact I had with Manfred Eicher was here In Bremen at Jazzahead in 2006, so that’s why I like Jazzahead! I just went to him and said, ‘Hello,’ (laughs), and he said, ‘Hello, who are you?’ We had a little chat, and then I sent him some music. Actually, then I didn’t want to change from the ACT label to ECM. I had one project where I wrote the music but I wasn’t the leader of the band- we recorded this project with ECM, but he kept asking me for my trio. And so in the end, the three of us decided to go to ECM. That was just a wonderful offer.

AB: And then you heard Tom Arthurs?

JH: We met in Berlin in 2007 when he played with Ingrid Laubrock. We kept meeting by accident- at Jazzahead again- then he moved to Berlin. After a few years we managed to have a session, and we both had the feeling that we wanted to have bass and drums. He has a wonderful long tone, soft- and he knows, he understands, the music that I’m writing, and that’s so nice.

AB: Who would you say you’ve been most influenced by?

JH: I think it’s a mixture of music I’ve heard. Classical music- I loved Prokofiev, Hindemith, Shostakovich. And then, pop was always important to me when I was a teenager of course- so it was totally natural to me to put some of these tunes into the jazz context. The Police- I think Sting was a very important influence. Jazz- I heard a lot of Bill Evans. As a piano player that’s typical of course, but one of my main influences is also Don Grolnick. I like a lot his way of writing music- it’s very un-regular. Suddenly he does a totally different thing than you would expect, and that’s what I really like about him.

AB: Tell me about your time as President of the German Association of Jazz Musicians?

JH: We wanted to speak for jazz musicians in Germany. I did that for 2 years. And now it’s important to concentrate on my music again, but I think it helped that a lot of musicians got together. Again, it started at Jazzahead, because you meet so many musicians- here you meet everybody from all over Germany and all over the world, and that’s really helpful.

In Germany the system is that every region- for example, Berlin, Bavaria- is responsible for culture, not the state, but we wanted to do it for all Germany, not just these little parts. A lot of things have worked out- there is some money for jazz and rock/pop venues- there’s a prize a club can get for a very good programme.

We worked with other people of course- people who run labels, journalists and musicians- we all came together to see what we could do. So that’s really a nice developing thing. We are talking with the people who run the venues about the money they should pay musicians. Sometimes they don’t have money either, so we want to work together with the promoters, then go together to the politicians.

AB: So you’ve gone back to focus on your music now?

JH: At the moment I’m 'Improviser in Residence' in Moers, and that’s a very nice job! It’s part of the Moers Jazz Festival. I have a house there with a grand piano, with space and I can make music there 24 hours a day. My job there is to bring the idea of jazz and improvising to people in Moers. And I can do whatever I want- so, for example, I invite people to my house and we listen to music together We have themes- the first time it was Randy Newman, and we analysed one tune together. I didn’t know if it would work, but they were totally into it. It wasn’t just me telling them what it is- we worked on it together. So people come and listen, and it’s an exchange. And I’m writing music of course- I have a band at the Moers festival, a totally new programme.

Alison Bentley: And your new Kurt Weill project?

Julia Hülsmann: The Kurt Weill festival is in Dessau every year, and I’ve been working with this festival for the last 4 years. One day they said, ‘Would you like to do a project with a singer?’- Theo Bleckmann, a German singer who lives in New York. We worked very intensely on this project, and I found some not very well-known Weill tunes. And in June I’m recording them for ECM with Theo Bleckmann, and Tom will also stay in the quartet. That will come out at the beginning of 2015.

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CD Review: Ingrid Laubrock Octet - Zürich Concert, SWR NEWJazz Meeting



Ingrid Laubrock Octet - Zürich Concert, SWR NEWJazz Meeting
(Intakt CD 221. CD Review by Andy Boeckstaens)


When Ingrid Laubrock was living in the UK, she was an impressive and exciting presence on the improvised scene, and her activity has broadened since her move to New York in 2009. A week-long workshop at the NEWJazz Meeting of the SWR2 (South West German Radio) - with musicians from both sides of the Atlantic - culminated in this gig which was recorded at Zürich's Rote Fabrik in December 2011.

Far from being a wild free-for-all, the concert contains music that is strictly notated. There is some space for improvisation, but it feels contained within a tightly-controlled structure. Although Laubrock takes a couple of solos, her contribution as an instrumentalist is generally subsumed in the ensemble. No-one has the opportunity to dominate.

The performance begins with three pieces strung together. An improvisation for six of the participants using tuned, water-filled glasses creates a weird, intriguing sound. Glasses leads into Novemberdoodle with the steady accordion notes of Ted Reichman, punctuated by Mary Halvorson’s guitar and Liam Noble at the piano. They are joined by drummer Tom Rainey and Tom Arthurs on trumpet, and the mood darkens as the percussionist switches to xylophone. The stately, accordion-led conclusion has Drew Gress on bass and Rainey back at the drums, and that trio ends the medley with an improvised Blue Line & Sinker. Apart from this short coda, everything is composed by Laubrock.

Chant starts with luminous, echoey guitar. Following a few seconds of near-silence, Laubrock takes a rare solo on tenor sax, accompanied by piano and drums; Noble and Ben Davis’ cello are prominent after the leader drops out. The complex parts of Matrix - with skittering drums, muted trumpet, soprano sax, delicate accordion – are conducted by Rainey.

There is an absence of conventional swing, and spontaneous interplay between the musicians appears to be rare. The majority of the set is concerned with texture and detail, with no predictable progressions, few melodic hooks and just a handful of repeated rhythms. It’s challenging stuff, and requires concentration. Towards the end, the rhythmic element increases, and harmonic movement is more obvious. On the lengthy and episodic Nightbus, there are brief blow-outs through Noble’s reflective introduction. A section for sax and mallets is succeeded by a floaty interlude, and – in a passage that brings to mind Henry Threadgill - drums are set against accordion, trumpet and strings before the ensemble provides a backdrop to a piano solo. This is the finest thing on the album.

A repetitive guitar motif emerges from ruminative noises at the beginning of Der Zauberberg, and it’s overtaken by a hypnotic riff for xylophone that continues to the end, juxtaposed with trumpet, accordion, piano and guitar.

You won’t go away humming any of these tunes, but Zürich Concert will remain in the memory long after the final notes have faded.

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Review: Night 3, Barry Guy New Orchestra at Cafe Oto

Barry Guy and Maya Homburger playing Rondo for Nine Birds at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved


Barry Guy New Orchestra
(Cafe Oto, 22 May 2014; third of 3-night residency; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The Barry Guy New Orchestra wound up their 3-day residency in exhilarating style with sets constructed around 2 major works, Amphi, a seven part composition, written with the focus on Maya Homburger's baroque violin, and Radio Rondo, for concert piano pitted against the entire orchestra.

Johannes Bauer (trombone) and Barry Guy (bass) kicked off with finely nuanced sparring in a gently improvised duo that had passages spun so carefully that they might have been scored.

This set the tone for Amphi, New Tales of Enchantment, in an extended arrangement for improvising ensemble of a composition originally scored for violin and bass, which Guy positioned as 'having more to do with chamber music ...'. The initiative was passed around a changing flux of small groupings, balanced against Homburger's lightly strung baroque violin with a sense, as Guy explained, of the orchestra forming a metaphorically protective amphitheatre shape around the violin. Foils to the breadth and delicacy of Homburger's sensitive virtuosity, the self-contained voicings from each of the briefly convened groups ranged from the brightly accented to the quietly introspective, mirroring the spirit of Elana Gutmann's seven paintings which had inspired the suite and from which each movement derived its title.

Topos, the Evan Parker / Barry Guy / Paul Lytton trio augmented by Agusti Fernandez, rolled out a ferociously dynamic blast that appropriated the guise of a swarm of angry bees before sailing out in a joyful mash of pummelling, crashing and hissing articulation.

Rondo for Nine Birds, a recently composed Guy/ Homburger duet of extraordinary technical and emotional beauty, inspired by the art of Fred Hellier (who was in the audience), was a dazzling exposition of the sophistication and inspiration that runs through their unconventional, yet harmonious, musical collaboration, drawing together the worlds of improvisation and early baroque.

The only way to follow such a tour de force was with another! The full orchestra delivered such a powerfully visceral performance of Radio Rondo that it should have carried a 'Danger - high explosives' label. Loaded with vigorous, staccato movement - not least from Guy, simultaneously playing bass and controlling proceedings from the front - the razor-sharp interactions and challenging responses from brass and woodwind made for a compelling mix of military precision laced with improvising bravado. Agusti Fernandez was the pianist in the firing line and responded to everything that was thrown at him with unshakeable gusto and invention, hands leapfrogging over the keyboard until he took over the conductor's mantle in the final stages. This non-stop roller-coaster was the perfect way to sign off the BGNO's richly rewarding 3-day season at Cafe Oto.

BBC Radio 3's Jazz on 3 recorded this performance for broadcast on 23 June. 


Barry Guy / bass director
Johannes Bauer / trombone
Agusti Fernandez / piano
Per Åke Holmlander / tuba
Maya Homburger / baroque violin
Per Texas Johansson / sax, clarinets
Hans Koch / sax, clarinets
Paul Lytton / percussion
Evan Parker / sax
Herb Robertson / trumpet
Raymond Strid / percussion
Jürg Wickihalder / saxophone

PREVIOUS COVERAGE 

Geoff Winston's interview with Barry Guy
Review of Night 1
Review of Night 2 

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Preview/ Interview with Scott Stroman - As You Like It, Union Chapel, June 13th/ 14th

Scott Stroman


Highbury Opera Theatre (HOT)'s production of As You Like It, with music by Scott Stroman, will involve about 100 performers. It is directed by Bernie Moran and stars Grace Andrews as Rosalind, Robin Bailey as Orlando, Donna Canale as Celia, Robert Gildon as Touchstone and Jacques Verzier as Jaques. It will include the large choruses of Eclectic Voices and Highbury Young Singers

There will be three performances at Union Chapel on June 13th/14th as part of the Shakespeare 450. Andrew Cartmel talked to Scott Stroman about Shakespeare in jazz, and about the background to the forthcoming production:

Scott Stroman is a composer, conductor and trombonist who’s performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Cobham and Randy Brecker. His CV also extends to singing and extensive work as an educator. He currently directs the London Jazz Orchestra, teaches jazz arranging at the Guildhall and is the artistic director of Highbury Opera Theatre — HOT for short. His latest project brings together the diverse strands of his career in an ambitious jazz interpretation by HOT of Shakespeare’s As You Like It at the Union Chapel in Islington.

When I asked him about his choice of Shakespeare as a subject, Scott laughed and said, “I’ve done collaborative things with dead people before. I’ve worked with John Coltrane (The Africa Brass Suite) and Duke Ellington (The Second Sacred Concert). And it’s the same thing here. I’ve tried to imagine what Shakespeare would have asked me to do — “Use your music to carry my ideas to another level.” And while I was cutting lines from the play I was always thinking, ‘Is my boss going to sack me for this?’ Since I can’t ask him I consulted experts.”

The production features a six piece jazz band on stage, consisting of Tim Wells on bass, Paul Clarvis on drums and percussion, Pete Hurt on saxophones and woodwinds, Stuart Hall on guitar and Sonia Slany and Nick Cooper on violin and cello, respectively. “Violin and cello give you an idea of the sound world,” says Scott. “Modern jazz meets William Byrd. It all started with a commission from Lord and Lady Salisbury to write a piece to celebrate the 450th anniversary of Elizabeth I coming to the throne. Lord Salisbury lives in Hatfield House where Elizabeth resided when she got the call to be queen. He thought I could come up with a piece that was modern but also fun and would have legs – it could live after the event. So we arrived at the idea of setting some of Shakespeare’s songs, and also involving William Byrd, who was Elizabeth’s favourite composer. And we ended up with a suite of songs blending those influences, but also modern and jazzy. We recorded the songs at Abbey Road with the original incarnation of our current jazz sextet plus a teenage choir and the choir Eclectic Voices, which I direct.”

“The Byrd influence works well with modal jazz, since the sound at his time was leaning towards the modal. Lots of jazz musicians were influenced by the 16th Century sound. George Russell, whom I knew, in a way quantified the beginnings of modal music in jazz. His contention was that we’d turned the wrong way in about the 16th century — away from natural modality toward functional tonality. His basic argument was that our home chord, the tonic, should actually be a Lydian chord. For an improvising musician like Miles Davis you begin to see this coming into their music. When George Russell started working with Bill Evans, musicians began to play sharp 11ths on major scales, something you didn’t really hear before that. Russell thought it was more natural. That’s why it’s easy to find these connections between William Byrd and, say, Pat Metheny or Bill Evans. For the modern jazz musician there’s a natural connection with the modal music of the 15th and 16th century. Of course, there’s plenty of jazz Bach around, but it’s easier go pre-Bach. In Byrd you’re in one key and a lot of the interest is going from major to minor, this is what drives the music and it’s what you do in modal jazz. What Miles does in Kind of Blue is explore how these different notes feel within the scale.”

There’s a long and honourable tradition of Shakespeare songs in jazz settings and Scott is well aware of them. “I worked with John Dankworth at the Guildhall and I wrote some arrangements of his Shakespeare songs for Cleo Laine. When I began my song project, I thought gosh, have I pinched some of his ideas? So I went back and listened to Shakespeare and All That Jazz, but it was okay!”

Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder was another milestone of Shakespearean jazz, although it didn’t involve vocals. “And also with Duke you never knew how much music he actually wrote inspired by the text and how much was attributed after the fact — like Harlem Air Shaft which began life as something else entirely with a completely different programmatic context. On the other hand Sonnet to Hank Cinq is absolutely based on iambic pentameter. In contrast John Dankworth certainly did specifically set Shakespearean texts, but more from a point of view of English pastoral music meets jazz.”

Other composers who’ve taken on the Bard include Britten, Vaughan Williams and George Shearing. “But most of the time they try to fit Shakespeare’s words to their music,” says Scott. “The text is set on top of the composer’s style, rather than trying to find inspiration and meaning in the words. I like all of these examples. They’re lovely, but they’re less about drawing out the meaning of the text. When I composed my Shakespearean songs I was trying to do something more directly driven by the text. Which set me up beautifully for As You Like It, because the drama of the text was already being displayed by the songs. So when we put them into a dramatic context, they already reflect what’s going to be shown on stage.”

And it was these dramatic songs that gave birth to the new Shakespeare project. “I noticed that most of the songs I’d composed came from As You Like It — naturally enough, because that play had more songs than any of the others. So I thought, there must be a reason this play has all these songs in it and I began to study the play and became infatuated with it. In my mind I started to concoct it as a musical. Bit by bit it began to form itself. The songs are in a different places than they were in the original, because Shakespeare used them as a commentary rather than to drive the drama forward — which is what you need in a modern musical and what we’re doing here. In Shakespeare’s day it was more like a masque, a musical break, perhaps not even related to what happened on stage.”

“So I had these songs and a play which is much too long, full of subplots and minor characters – Shakespeare had an entire company that he needed to keep employed — whereas I wanted something much more lean, with a clean story and a musical narrative from beginning to end, not just songs thrown in arbitrarily. If you’re going to put about an hour of music into a play that originally ran three hours and fifteen minutes, something has to go. So I was absolutely ruthless cutting down most of Shakespeare’s words and then working with a writer to smooth it out.”

“We’ve ended up with a two and a half hour musical in which we’ve eliminated subplots and combined some characters to create a strong simple storyline. The essence is still there, the story is the same, but this is our musical of As You Like It.”

TICKETS

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PREVIEW: Birmingham Monkathon (Frontiers Festival June 2-5) + Chasing the Unicorn at the Vortex, June 8

Jeremy Price, Tony Kofi

Hans Koller writes about the mind-cleansing which happens through playing  Thelonious Monk, and about playing the whole songbook in a forthcoming Monkathon in Birmingham, followed by a visit for the project to London:

With my colleagues and friends and students at Birmingham Conservatoire we're excited to be celebrating Monk's music, as part of the Frontiers Festival, playing his whole songbook over 4 days, during June 2-5.

Highlights include Jeremy Price's fittingly entitled group Ugly Beauty (with Tony Kofi, Liam Noble, Arnie Somogyi and Clark Tracey), and the Beat City Big Band, led by Tom Dunnett, playing new orchestral arrangements of Monk.

And as a reprise, we'll transport our group Chasing the Unicorn (François Théberge, Jeff Williams, Percy Pursglove) down to the Vortex in London for Sunday June the 8th, playing a newly conceived all-Monk programme.

o - o - o

Much has been said and written about Thelonious Monk over the years, and I'm thinking, "well you needn't"... add to it, but there again, sharing in the discourse about his music can sometimes produce a few little clues for orientation in the strange and wonderful land of Monk.

I remember the first time I heard a recording of Monk, visiting an older sister in Hamburg in the late 1980s. She had a boyfriend who was a student of musicology researching Monteverdi or someone like that, and being a typically Teutonic intellectual, he would relax not with any kind of mainstream nonsense but with the finest in modern jazz (pronounced a bit like 'modern chess' in the north of Germany), for example with Thelonious Monk's Live at the Five Spot from 1958.

A bottle of cold Jever in hand (non-Bavarian beer also being a first for me here), he would point out that Roy Haynes is actually playing the tune, not just an open drum solo, and that Monk's habitual silence a couple of choruses into a Johnny Griffin solo can mean a plethora of things: Monk thinks it's happening so he doesn't need to comp, just listening, he's gone dancing, or to the bar, he's waiting for a moment to insert something from the tune into the tenor shredding, floating noiselessly like a bird of prey before action. Ah, the old days of beer and vinyl. My never-to-be brother-in-law had to get up from his Sessel and turn the record over even more frequently than descent into the Keller to get more Jever.

Later, in 2003, my sense of direction in the land of Monk was greatly enhanced by meeting, learning from, and working with saxophonist Steve Lacy. There was an improviser of the highest order, a personality imbued with Monkisms ("Stick to the point" / "Lift the bandstand" / "Make the drummer sound good"...), a true sound innovator, and an original, outside-the-box thinker. Lacy, famously knew the entire Monk repertoire by heart before anyone else, worked with Monk's group in 1960, and was instrumental in opening Monk's music to both the early avant-garde then and to the consciousness of jazz and new music today.

For me the key always has been to look to bind improvisation and composition together. Lacy talks about the unity of the given and gotten, which necessitates the need to come up with a specific improvisational lexicon (to borrow a word from George Lewis) for each individual tune, hidden in the tune itself. This sounds daunting but gradually turns out to be very comforting as you have much more than just, say, a bunch of chords to play with. And, somewhat paradoxically, you can play less that way.

Almost all of his tunes are minimalist in the sense that the material is distilled to its essence, even a busy tune like Skippy: after a while you can hear that the line is basically simple voice-leading, just with the hippest decoration imaginable. Trinkle tinkle is another great example of this approach.

In Evidence, Monk actually does dispense with all decoration, and just gives us the voice-leading. But no ordinary voice-leading: Monk uses 11 of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale and sprinkles these seemingly freely, knowingly, sparingly (and actually symmetrically, not unlike someone like Anton Webern) over the form.

Almost all of his tunes are maximalist in the sense that the universe starts expanding as soon as you start playing his music. This is because there are hardly any ordinary repetitions. He tinkers with the phrasing at key moments (for example first time bar and third time bar are almost always slightly different) so you never feel claustrophobic. Sometimes he likes to defy the cliché of new material in the bridge, like in Criss Cross, or Gallop's Gallop, instead keeping going with developing a motif from the first section. In Epistrophy the phrases are placed as if in reflection to one another so the normal 32 bar length becomes the hippest form you've ever heard.

Lacy summed all this up eloquently:

"Monk represents the defense of a supreme equilibrium of rhythmic values and harmonic proportions".

o - o - o

This is our first Monkathon. I've been training for it like a frightened but keen novice - despite learning and listening to his music on and off for over 25 years. With Monk you have to start all over again, almost every day, re-learning to place, re-place, and shift and re-shift each note like a physical object in space and time. That's why trying to learn his tunes can feel like moving house for the umpteenth time but it also reveals a rare chance to investigate and re-define our habitat, and it reveals the beauty of getting rid of old (dys-)functionalities, and possessions that have slowed us down for too long, stuff we didn't even know we still had. You hear this cleansing of the mind in his music, and don't we all long for a bit of that?

 www.frontiersmusic.org

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Interview / Preview: A Love Supreme Re-Envisioned at Meltdown plus Journey to the One St Barnabas Soho

Steve Williamson, Shabaka Hutchings


London Jazz spoke to Paul Bradshaw about the upcoming reworking of 'A Love Supreme'; happening on 22nd June at Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Meltdown Festival. Tickets are available HERE



London Jazz: Paul, you were known as the pioneering editor of Straight No Chaser which stopped publishing in 2009. What are you mainly doing these days?

Paul Bradshaw: After doing Straight No Chaser for nigh on two decades it took a little time to re-calibrate the vision. I launched my own on-line journal - http://ancienttofuture.com - to satiate my own cultural pre-occupations, returned to freelance writing and decided to explore the art of curation.

2012 was a busy year. Along with two other art related projects I embarked on a serious music/spiritual jazz project - Sacred Music Sacred Spaces / Enlightenment: a Re-envisioning of John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme'. With the help of the PRS Foundation and Sound & Music we performed the piece in Chapel in Kings College on the eve of the summer solstice 2012.

LJ: In July you are curating a performance at this year's Meltdown on the South Bank and then a series at The House St Barnabas in Soho

PB: The performance of 'Enlightenment / A Love Supreme' is on the 22nd June, midsummer’s day, the final day of James Lavelle's Meltdown. Doing that is a major buzz! I’m even a touch nervous. I've known James Lavelle since he was 17 when we gave him a column 'Mo Wax Please' in Straight No Chaser. He's obsessed with music and art... culture. Both James and Jane Beese, who is head of contemporary music at the Southbank, are totally into the concepts behind the 'A Love Supreme' piece and it's brilliant to have it included in a line up the spans Goldie, Jeff Mills, Neneh Cherry, UNKLE and Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan (Queens of The Stone Age).

The House Of St Barnabas is a charity working to break the cycle of homelessness and they've hosted a range of music events in the Chapel, curated by people like Gilles Peterson, to attract publicity for their work. I was asked by the programmer at The House to curate a summer jazz series which I've called Journey To The One. It kicks off on June 16th with Mancunian trumpet player Matthew Halsall and his Gondwana Orchestra (TICKETS). It's promises to be a transcendental session that extends the vibe of the Coltrane project . Matthew's wonderful 8 piece ensemble - which includes harp and koto - explores the modal and mystical. A perfect combination in the intimate spiritual atmosphere of the Chapel.

LJ: You're also celebrating the Sun Ra centenary with the London Art Collective?

PB: That's on Monday July 7th. (TICKETS) This performance originated some years ago when it came alive in the Scala in Kings X and featured Carl Craig's drummer, the amazing Francisco Mora, and a light show by the Light Surgeons. The meticulous scores for those Sun Ra compositions were written by Rowland Sutherland and had been gathering dust. We felt the Chapel would be a great place to pay tribute to Ra and those strange celestial roads. The London Art Collective includes Rowland, Black Top duo Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas, bassist Neil Charles, percussionist Maurizio Ravalico and saxophonist Rachel Musson. I love Ra's music and still can’t believe I saw the Arkestra play in the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden… I'm seriously vibed on this.

LJ: Your last event features Nina Miranda on the 13th August. She's is a new name to me. Who is she?

PB: This session (TICKETS) has a post- World Cup Brazilian dimension. Nina was the vocalist with Brazilian ensemble Da Lata and Marc Brown’s Smoke City and has performed with an array of "world music" superstars. She's just contributed to Gilles Peterson's forthcoming Sonzeira album and is poised to embark on her solo career. On this night she will be joined by percussionist Anslemo Netto and legendary Osibisa guitarist Alfred ‘Kari’ Bannerman, both of the much lauded Ibibio Sound Machine.

Also on the same night is Adriano Adewale's sublime quartet. Adriano taught me (or tried to teach me) how to play pandeiro and his skills have been rightfully compared with those of Nana Vasoncelos and the inimitable Trilok Gurtu. His quartet features the excellent Kadialy Kouyate on kora, bassist Nathan Rikki Thomson and flautist /saxophonist Marcelo Andrade. Their ‘Raizes’, CD on the Cabloco label was described by John Fordham in the Guardian as “superb”.

LJ: Going back to the Meltdown, I presume you are a big fan of the original 'A Love Supreme' album? Does it have personal associations for you?

PB: I grew up hearing Coltrane. My dad was a devotee. I played 'Wise One' from the 'Crescent' LP at his funeral. He'd grown up listening to jazz, he listened to everything. He was undaunted by the challenge of the Free Jazz explosion. In the Sixties he'd go to Barry's in Manchester and snap 2nd hand copies of things like Trane's 'Meditations' and 'Cosmic Music' or Ornette's Golden Circle LPs or Cecil Taylor. Basically, it was music a lot of straight ahead jazz fans couldn't handle.

In many ways, ' A Love Supreme' was the bridge between my own evolving musical tastes and his. I was at art school and among the music heads 'A Love Supreme' was essential listening alongside Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart or the Mothers Of Invention.

LJ: This December sees the 50th Anniversary of the recording of ‘A Love Supreme'. Was this a catalyst for the project? What other reasons did you have for wanting to do it?

PB: Not really. I was aware that the 50th anniversary was coming up but I was more into extending the original Suite to embrace instrumentation from different spiritual traditions around the world - many of which also reside in our own inner cities.

LJ: What is your objective for the project? What do you hope to achieve (musically) with the performance?

PB: We live a world where there is so much hate and conflict, a portion of which is generated by religious division. 'A Love Supreme' is a devotional statement, it's about Love. We need more love in this world. 'A Love Supreme' is an iconic album written for a quartet and the score, which has been done by flautist Rowland Sutherland, aims to retain essence of each of the four parts in the suite while introducing a whole new range of colours and sounds.

We listened to what others have done with 'A Love Supreme' like the Turtle Island Quartet, Anga Diaz and especially Alice Coltrane. Rowland was definitely influenced by the one live performance the quartet did at Antibes. We checked out Archie Shepp on the album's out-takes, reflected on Trane's earlier rapport with Eric Dolphy and his latter years relationship with Nigerian master drummer Babatunde Olatunji. Ha, it's a big responsibility re-imagining a piece of music like 'A Love Supreme'.

LJ: What instrumentation will you be using?

PB: Along with traditional jazz quartet back line of bass, drums and piano we have tenor, bass clarinet, flute, various melodic Indian instruments and percussion, bata drums, kora and electronics.

LJ: What made you choose the musicians you have for the group?

PB: They are all great musicians... most are associated with Jazz Warriors International and I've known them for a long time.

LJ: You must be pleased that the original gig is sold out!

PB: Amazing. The evening performance sold out in 10 days and we've been able to add a matinee that is also set to sell out. We’ve just heard that Jazz on 3 will record it. So, yeah, it’s great.

LJ: Have you got any plans to tour the project after the festival?

PB: It’s an ambitious venture and it got great reviews when we did it in the Chapel at Kings College but sadly, our attempts to have the piece performed around the UK have fallen largely on deaf ears and stony ground. That said, people might just wake up to it now that we are scheduled to perform it twice in the QEH on the same day! We’d love to take it to Europe… Japan… Zanzibar.

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Charity Concert. Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis. Secret Location in SW1. 17th June 2014



You won't need to look hard for reasons to want to go to this gig. And to go in support of a good cause.

Who was the anti-apartheid campaigner who first gave the fourteen year old Hugh Masekela a trumpet, and set him on the road to international stardom?

Who lined up the support from John Dankworth and Yehudi Menuhin to enable Masekela to leave South Africa to study?

Bishop Trevor Huddleston (1913- 1998).

Quote: “No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston.” Nelson Mandela

The concert on 17th June will be a fundraiser for the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre. The Centre is in Sophiatown in Johannesburg and runs youth programmes. If you want to hear more, just let Hugh Masekela tell you the story, its story, his very personal story first-hand, at a London SW1 venue  - which will be disclosed when you book a ticket.

You will also hear Larry Willis on a fabulous Fazioli grand piano.

YOU WILL NEED A TICKET

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Review: Nt 2, Barry Guy New Orchestra at Cafe Oto

Barry Guy New Orchestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2014. All Rights Reserved


Barry Guy New Orchestra
(Cafe Oto, 21 May 2014; second of 3-night residency; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


The second night of the Barry Guy New Orchestra residency took off right from where they left off on the first - and how!

Herb Robertson deconstructed his trumpet - literally! In his stunningly inventive solo spot he linked the mouthpiece to the leadpipe with his clenched hand, caused all kinds of visceral airflow, vocalisings and assorted sounds. As the instrument's components were reunited, gusts of breath were made visible, catching the light on exit from apertures; the mute was brought in to play and braying, mewling and sharp blasts were released with playful precision.

Cue Evan Parker on soprano sax, to form a concentrated dual-drive continuum with Robertson which set up his own euphonic solo where different parts of the register were activated simultaneously and with singleminded intensity. Agusti Fernandez blended in effortlessly and initiated his solo piano spell, finding space and depth in lashings of high-energy runs and richly resonant chordal barrages before being rejoined by Robertson and Parker.

Jürg Wickihalder began his duet with Per Texas Johansson by playing, with breathy application, the wrong end of his soprano sax. Johansson added a light, fluttering ethereality in his peregrinations on clarinet. A rare jazz lick momentarily surfaced in the search for new harmonic variations in the finely wrought lattice constructed by the duo.

The quartet of percussionists, Raymond Strid and Paul Lytton, with Hans Koch and Per Åke Holmander on bass clarinet and tuba respectively, created an enchanting parallel universe of tiny sounds that vibrated with eye-twinkling humour. The tuba purred, cooed and burbled; the lightest of bowings, scrapes, clanks and tics populated the space, which took on a nautical edge as the crew navigated forward in unison.

Barry Guy, watching from the wings, rightfully looked very pleased with the way this carefully constructed first set had panned out. Guy, Parker and Lytton then reconvened for their famed trio that had Guy, spring-loaded, moving so quickly that his every gesture disappeared in a coup d'oeil.

Finally, Vosteen, a glorious composition from Evan Parker which had the whole orchestra under his wing. Taking its name from Guy's previous home in rural Kilkenny, Ireland, where the piece was sketched out by Parker during a visit, this carefully nuanced amalgam of delicately coloured harmonies and individual extemporisations began with Holmander's barely audible whistling through the tuba. Guy added trembling, bowed high notes and Fernandez dragged blocks slithering over the wires to subtly build up the texture before Parker, raising his right arm skywards, issued the first of his hand signals to indicate a change of pace and instrumentation.

A mellow, thoughtful tone permeated the entire composition, which was not without its high tempo swells as the whole ensemble found itself swept along on the crest of a gentle, many-layered wave, a captivating and fitting finale to an evening of sparkling music.

Barry Guy / bass director
Johannes Bauer / trombone
Agusti Fernandez / piano
Per Åke Holmlander / tuba
Maya Homburger / baroque violin
Per Texas Johansson / sax, clarinets
Hans Koch / sax, clarinets
Paul Lytton / percussion
Evan Parker / sax
Herb Robertson / trumpet
Raymond Strid / percussion
Jürg Wickihalder / saxophone

See the Preview of the BGNO residency, Geoff Winston's interview with Barry Guy HERE

Supported by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia

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