REPORT: The 2015 WDR Jazz Prize Concert in Dortmund

WDR Big Band directed by Ansgar Striepens, WDR Jazz Prize Concert 2015
Photo credit: WDR / lutz voigtlaender

Sebastian reports from the eleventh annual WDR Jazz Prize Concert:

The WDR Jazz Prize Concert, the annual celebration by WDR3, the radio station which is Europe's most extensive producer of jazz, is a big night. There are four prizes which draw attention towards things which are necessary to make the music happen and to flourish: improvisation, composition, the next generation and a “special prize” for ensuring that it is heard. The winners are always known in advance.

While the number of prizes, and what they are for, is fixed, other things do change from year to year. This was the 11th Prize Concert, but for the past three years it has been part of a festival. And this is the second year that the festival has been taken out of out on the road into the region into which WDR broadcasts. It is also the first year of live video-streaming.

The town which hosts this concert, and the festival around it makes a huge difference. Last year in Gütersloh it was all about the modern architecture of the theatre. This year it was about celebrating Dortmund's jazz heritage which goes back to the 1920s, and a club, Domicil, which has been important for presenting the music in Germany for more than half a century. There is a highly informative programme essay on this topic.

The Mayor of Dortmund set a genial tone for the evening's proceedings by unashamedly declaring his allegiance to jazz. In his speech, Mayor Sierau recounted fond memories of dancing - on tables - to the Chris Barber band. It was a good speech, given with affecting passion, vehemence and pride.

The tone was also set by TV host Götz Alsmann, whose energetic and gently ironic commentary on the proceedings was well-judged, and caught that mood of celebration of a passion shared: “What is jazz? It is music lived by, and experienced by people who will happily reply to that question with the answer that their lives are warmed and enriched by it.”

The first prize of the evening went to Curuba, a youth band from the music school KUMS in the town of Brühl, between Cologne and Bonn. The band director clearly capable of inspiring the teenagers, and encouraging them to produce bold effects. In one, he cut off a blazing full band chord, to leave nothing louder than the lingering resonance of a held piano chord from the impressive Theresa Krapp. It was a highly effective moment.

Michael Ruesenberg (left) receiving the Special Award
from the Head Programming at WDR3, Karl Karst.
Photo Credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR

The Special Prize (Sonderpreis) gives an opportunity to salute work in support of keeping the message alive and this year went to the four decades of work by broadcaster Michael Rüsenberg, who remembered having his very first job in Dortmund... in another century, He also thanked a number of people within WDR who at various stages had given him the freedom to pursue his distinguished career.

Nicolas Simion, WDR Jazz Prize Concert 2015
Photo credit: WDR / lutz voigtlaender

The Improvisation Prize went to the Romanian-born saxophonist Nicolas Simion . The citation praised the joy with which he plays and the echoes of his homeland. One observer simply described him as “ein toller Typ” ( a great guy). He is a musician who has made a lot happen in Cologne since he arrived there in the late 1990s. He was in a trio with characterful accordionist Fausto Beccalossi and the hugely adaptable pianist Sebastian Sternal. Their happy interaction was a delight. They were given the role of bringing the first half of the concert to a rousing conclusion. It happened with one of those accelerating recruiting dances, and Simion playing a blazing solo with an unforgettable sound on tárogató.

Götz Alsmann opened the second half with the nudge-wink irony he does well, joking that the band performing the second half was to be the B-team from the Brühl secondary school, whereas in fact the band due to play was no less than one of the top big bands in Europe, the WDR Big Band, directed by Ansgar Striepens - he is a former prize-winner. They played compositions by the compositions of prize-winner Tobias Wember.

The first serious appplause of the second half came for a solo from Australian-born trombonist Shannon Barnett. The scale, strength and individual character of her sound, purposefulness of her soloing had the audience completely won over.

The ballad Pine was the highlight of Tobias Wember' s set, and showed his strengths as a writer of the backdrops and supporting textures, first for bassist John Goldsby and later for pianist Frank Chastenier. Nicolas Simion was brought back to close the second half, which he did highly effectively with the Balkan tune One for Kisser in a clever arrangement by Bill Dobbins.

The Prize Concert is a formal occasion which follows a pattern, but the cumulative result, amplified by the context of the festival, is that local champions emerge from the pool of prize winners. Perhaps the best representation of this in action was the astonishingly good set on the previous night by Pablo Held's trio with John Scofield. As an expression of how a small region of Europe through nurturing jazz of world-class quality to enter into civilised musical dialogue with the very best in the world, it couldn't be done better.

LINKS:  Preview of 2015 Festival

Report of 2014 WDR Jazz Prize

Report on 2013 Jazz Prize

Report of 2011 WDR Jazz Prize


INTERVIEW: Django Bates

The first and second performances of Django Bates’ "Bass Clarinet Concerto Without End", written for Håvard Lund and the Arctic Philharmonic Orchestra, first on January 23rd 2015, at the Northern Lights Festival in Tromsø and on the next night at the Bodø Jazz Open. 

Jon Carvell attended the second performance, and spoke to Django Bates about this new work, plans for 2015, a third live Loose Tubes album to be released from 1990 recordings, and what the UK can learn from the jazz scene in Norway:

London Jazz News: How do you approach writing for a symphony orchestra?

Django Bates: I’ve always just looked at any writing situation as a group of musicians that throw up various, infinite possibilities, so I don’t really think in terms of orchestra, big band, chamber group or soloist. I just think ‘What have I got here today to play with?’, and so with Loose Tubes for instance, I’d heard a lot of big bands that you recognise immediately as big bands, and I wanted to find a way to find new sounds from those instruments. It was the same with the orchestra: I wanted to try to find sounds I haven’t heard before, and it’s funny because I’ve had my music played alongside Bernstein before, and in a way it’s difficult because you’ll never sound as loud as Bernstein! And I just have to accept that I’m looking for something less blatant.

LJNYour concerto is theatrical, with the orchestra actually disassembling as the piece goes on. Was there a link to the two Bernstein works in the concert programme- both originally for stage?

DB: I was aware of the rest of the programme, but the theatricality in the Bass Clarinet Concerto Without End is really odd because it honestly happened by accident. I was writing the piece and it kind of tumbled into the world of Scott Joplin, and I thought ‘I really like this’, and I really liked that moment of suddenly arriving in New Orleans. And then I thought it would be so weird to just stay here and not to ever go back, because normally people who know anything about my music would think ‘Ok, it’s Django he’s referring to something, he’s going to go back in 8 bars’, and I thought it would be really funny to just get stuck in a bar in New Orleans!

LJN: And why did you think of getting rid of the orchestra?

DB: I think at some point when you’re writing a piece, usually quite early on, you start to think of your options for getting out at the end. And I’ve tried all sorts of things, usually with the aim of making a really good ending that works and leaves everyone feeling satisfied. And just something inside me said ‘Why do you always do that? Why don’t you try and find an ending that leaves everyone feeling unsatisfied, but not in a bad way, in a good way?’

Also I think it was because I did a project with my students in Bern where the subject of our study was failure, and that ended up with us doing a performance. The performance was that the musicians would stand with their instruments, but just sing very quietly and listen to each other, just changing the harmony, with the rule that they would not stop until the last member of the audience had left, but the audience wouldn’t know that! I thought it would be interesting, but it became beyond interesting. People in the audience were freaking out. There was this one guy who couldn’t handle it, he was smashing a bottle on the floor – this is in Bern where everyone is very civilized – and then he’d stop and he’d try again to concentrate. Other people suddenly just started singing their own songs, and you saw the disintegration of the whole concept of audience and performer.

LJN: With this piece, and the people involved Håvard Lund with Farmers Market, and also Christian Lindberg (the conductor of the Arctic Philharmonic) was it the perfect opportunity to apply those ideas? All three of you have a reputation for a good sense of humour, combined with great musicality.

DB: I was aware of the characters, and me and Håvard had talked about if there could be a theatrical element, and then I came away from that thinking probably not, because it can be so hammy to ask people in the classical world to act, because they’re not trained actors. But maybe it was because this interesting coming together of personalities that I thought ‘This is the one time where this is possible’. I was surprised on the first rehearsal, because I thought ‘What’ll happen is we’ll play through to that point [where the orchestra disassembles] and then it’ll kind of stop and it’ll be a big discussion about why they should get up and leave’. But, on the contrary, it got to that point and the band just started walking off and as it says on the part “Do not act! Just leave!”

LJN: What’s next for you?

DB: We’re mixing the album for Loose Tubes, the third of the live shows at Ronnie Scott’s from 1990. The album includes three of the new pieces we did when we played there a few months ago, so it kind of brings everything up to date.

LJN: Do you have a name for album yet?

DB: Arriving. That’s a track by Chris Batchelor that we play on the album, and it was always important for the band. It was the piece which often led us to leave the stage funnily enough. (I seem to have an obsession with leaving!) But it’s the perfect name from many angles: the original arriving at Ronnie Scott’s was as young musicians trying to get a foothold in the world of being a performer; arriving back there; arriving at a point where Loose Tubes is part of our history – which we celebrated last year and will do this year.

LJN: Will you do more trio work too?

DB: Yeah the trio is always ongoing and it’s quite a nice on a Sunday afternoon to just toy around with an idea and present it to them next time we meet. It can be quite spontaneous with that group. We’re working on material for a new album too.

LJN: And lastly, what do you think the UK could learn from the Norwegian jazz scene or the Scandinavian jazz scene as a whole?

DB: I don’t think the UK is in a position to do anything similar to what Scandinavia has done, because there’s a different attitude and a different budget. The UK still suffers from this idea that ‘Ok we know you must have culture’, and I’m talking about the way a politician thinks, ‘We know that you must have culture, otherwise you’re just an embarrassment to the world, and we know what the really high pinnacle of culture is, it’s an opera house, so let’s have two of those at least, and let’s put all of the money into that. We’ll have a few orchestras too and we’ll make sure they survive, all of which is good. Ok that’s it, we’ve done it!’ But everything that’s possibly more interesting, more cutting-edge, more organic and helping more real people be involved in the arts is really left on the fringes.

My experience has been going to festivals in Europe over the last few years, and there are journalists there and they say ‘Wow isn’t it incredible how many Norwegian bands there are playing. They rule the world in jazz don’t they?’ And I say ‘Ok it [Norway] does have fantastic jazz artists but let’s just be honest about it. It doesn’t cost any money for a Norwegian band to play here because their flights will be paid [by the Norwegian government].’ That doesn’t apply to an English band. An English band probably won’t go to that festival.

As our conversation comes to a close, Django Bates’ manager Jeremy Farnell is keen to add his own thoughts to a subject he also feels very strongly about. “What we really need in the UK, without sounding lofty about it, is an art ensemble. We’ve got a fantastically strong younger generation, but these people they haven’t got a jazz orchestral situation where they have funds to write new work, choose the musicians they’d like, and put a concert series on throughout the UK - we have all the potential do this, but there is very little political will to make that a reality.” Jeremy cites Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (another project of Håvard Lund’s) as a possible model, but the issue in UK, he says, is one of infrastructure around the music; “We’re doing world-class stuff here, we’re just not supporting it in a world-class way.”

LINK: Radio recording of the concert. The concerto starts at around [33:00]


CD REVIEW: Marshall Gilkes and the WDR Big Band - Köln

Marshall Gilkes and the WDR Big Band - Köln
(Alternate Side Records. CD Review by Nicky Schrire)

Large ensemble music is a goldmine for nuance and sonic detail, but it takes an exceptional and inspired person to take on the complexity of creating a full album of the genre (composing, arranging, notating, printing, checking scores and parts, coordinating rehearsal schedules, finding sizeable venues, often being responsible for paying the musicians, etc.) Composer, arranger and trombonist Marshall Gilkes is such a person.

New York-based Gilkes has a natural gift for creating evocative and exciting imagery on his latest album as a leader, simply titled Köln after the place in which the album’s featured WDR Big Band is based. His aptitude for showcasing both the individual and collective skills of the ensemble, widely considered one of the best professional big bands in jazz, as well as his own charismatic playing is testament to his ability as composer and arranger. Perhaps the four years he spent as a full-time member of the ensemble, or his continued work in the exemplary Maria Schneider Orchestra have helped shaped his identity and ability, but this album serves as a perfect vehicle for getting better acquainted with Gilkes’ writing and distinctive voice.

The opening interpretation of Arlen and Mercer’s My Shining Hour with its harmonically modulating and delectably winding introduction and Gilkes’ fiery solo sets the tone for the recording. There’s a succinctness and control within Gilkes’ arranging yet the musical result never sounds overly pedantic nor unmusical. The unison bass and piano line accentuated by Hans Dekker’s playful drumming in 4711 Special (which also boasts a dazzling solo from alto saxophonist Johan Hörlen) beautifully opens and ends the piece. It’s a symmetry that serves the tune well, while the soaring melodic theme has the same sublime emotional connection as much of Schneider’s thematic work.

The reflective ballad Vesper, and the poignant waltz Mary Louise (written for Gilkes’ mother) further showcase strong melody writing, while the arrangements provide inventive cushioning for soloists, including guest flugelhornist Michael Rodriguez and WDR pianist Frank Chastenier. But Gilkes’ is able to retain melodic integrity in the faster numbers too. The jaunty End in Sight is funky and punchy, a fact reiterated by saxophonists Karolina Strassmayr and Paul Heller who both contribute energetic solos with wailing exaltation.

The album which result from Gilkes' endeavours is a superb recording, and celebrates a truly imaginative musician.

Köln is available on February 10, 2015.

LINK: Marshall Gilkes' website


CD REVIEW: Diana Krall - Wallflower

Diana Krall - Wallflower
(Verve. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

Wallflower is a new studio recording of songs garnered from the five-time Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist/singer Diana Krall's formative years. It mostly takes familiar pop ballads from the '60s through to the present day, often shifting them further down a gear, and colours them in with lush orchestral arrangements. For anyone who appreciated the beautifully limpid, slo-mo interpretation of I've Got You Under My Skin from Diana Krall's superb live album A Night in Paris, it will strike a pleasing chord.

Once over the disappointing absence of Krall's improvisatory jazz piano scintillation of, say, I Love Being Here With You (2002) or cheeky, exuberant vocals heard in Love Me Like a Man (2004), the tightly-produced detail of these new recordings is enjoyable, if somewhat safe. Indeed, the commercial accessibility of the twelve radio-edit-sized songs is sure to find great appeal among smooth jazz and soft rock/pop audiences – especially as it includes vocal duets with both Michael Bublé and Bryan Adams – and no doubt it will engender a measure of 'selling out' criticism, too. But Krall's closely miked, softly husky delivery can still work its magic.

The singer feels a special affinity with each of the numbers, some of which have been covered numerous times before, whilst others are less obvious gems. The Eagles' lonesome Desperado is presented as sparse piano/vocal with the soft ebb and flow of deep strings – pleasing enough, though seeming to lack the passion of Don Henley's original vocal (or even Karen Carpenter's heart-tugging interpretation). The less-revisited early '70s chart hit of Gilbert O'Sullivan, Alone Again (Naturally), is interesting – Krall sharing its resigned yet heartfelt vocals with Michael Bublé – though the inherent pop feel is difficult to understand as 'jazz' (if, indeed, this is intended as a jazz album – perhaps not). Leon Russell's Superstar is more convincing, David Foster's sumptuous orchestration throughout matching Krall's restrained vocals whilst providing an impressively brooding undercurrent suggestive of blockbuster movie closing titles.

The Eagles' I Can't Tell You Why succeeds with its lilting bossa mood and a rare snatch of jazz piano; but again it's the orchestral inventiveness that more especially catches the ear in 10CC's I'm Not In Love, tempered with the thought that Diana might have infused more depth of character into the vocal to make it her own. Despair and mystery encircle Elton John's Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word, particularly with its distant tolling bell, in an arrangement which again feels overridingly cinematic. The hankering for a change of pace, something perhaps brighter, is satisfied courtesy of the title track, Bob Dylan's Wallflower – with the simpler accompaniment of string quartet and guest Blake Mills' bottleneck guitar, its countryfied demeanour breathes coolly amongst the album's fuller arrangements.

One surprise is a new song by Paul McCartney. Having worked with Sir Paul on his own jazz and pop covers album Kisses on the Bottom, Krall discovered the manuscript to one of his own compositions lying around on her piano – a number that hadn't made the final selection. So, permission granted, If I Take You Home Tonight appears here, with some delightfully recognisable McCartneyisms – and so easy to imagine his vocal above its guitar-inflected tension. Other songs include Crowded House's Don't Dream It's Over, The Mamas and Papas' California Dreamin' (perpetuating the album's predominant 'lovers by the fireside' or 'dinner party' coziness); and Randy Newman's homely positivity is always a pleasure, Bryan Adams and Diana duetting here on his song Feels Like Home.

Diana Krall has surprised before, notably with her 1920s/30s-themed Glad Rag Doll release of 2012, and it's creditable, as well as important, for any performer to explore different avenues during a hugely successful career. But a hope also remains that Krall's creative talents - both vocal and pianistic - which are under-used here, will sparkle and push at a few boundaries once again in the future.


FESTIVAL REPORT: First two nights of 2015 WDR3 Jazzfest in Dortmund

Pablo Held Trio, John Scofield, WDR Jazzfest 2015
Photo Credit: WDR / Lutz Voigtländer

Sebastian reports after two evenings of the WDR3 Jazzfest in Dortmund:

The City of Dortmund has just proudly declared itself to be nothing less than the Jazz Capital of Germany...until Sunday morning. Justifying that bold claim - which probably won't and can't be refuted in the days remaining-  is the presence here of the third WDR3 Jazzfest.

After two nights, the half-way mark of this imaginatively programmed festival has now been reached. From the six gigs so far, a set on the second night from the Pablo Held Trio with John Scofield stands out as being quite exceptional. It was also shining example of the continuity of the support which the broadcaster brings to the ecology of the local scene - Held's trio, which has been together for nine years, and all of whose members have been winners of the WDR Jazz Prize, is emerging as one of the top young bands in Europe.


Stefan Mattner's BEAM

It was a delight to watch this young group progressively gain in both confidence and enjoyment as the set progressed, after a cautious start. The compositions were characterful, notably some Kenny Wheeler-inspired melodic wordless pieces, in which vocalist Filippa Gojo was very effective in the kind of role in which Norma Winstone has excelled for decades.

Dee Alexander with the Kirk Lightsey Trio

Dee Alexander is a Chicago-based singer with a background in both gospel and jazz singing, and a strong heritage with AACM (more detailed biography here). She had flown across the Atlantic for this one-off appearance. She was presenting material from her new album Songs My Mother Loves.  Alexander has a strong presence, brings passion to everything she does and has an ability to settle down and to be completely at home in a variety of styles. She was performing with one of the greats of Detroit piano school, the vastly experienced and ever-energising Kirk Lightsey.

Kaja Draksler. Photo Credit: WDR / Lutz Voigtländer

Kaja Draksler solo

The main talking point on Wednesday was the third set of the night. The Slovenian-born, Holland-based pianist Kaja Draksler had created quite a buzz at both Jazzahead and of the 12 Points Festival in Dublin last year, and it is not difficult to see why. She produced a solo set ranging from the ethereal and the Satie to one lively piece, James and Jaki,  inspired by James P. Johnson and Jaki Byard.

What struck me was the strength of her inner pulse as a musician, which means that through long arcs of ideas she has the ability to hold the listener's attention transfixed. In a set starting at 11 30, people's attention will tend to drift; with Draksler it didn't. I also spoke to Kirk Lightsey (in a longer interview to appear later). He had heard her set and had been mesmerised by it. He told me: “She's great, she's truly clear, with her harmony, her counter-rhythms. She plays the orchestra that is inside the piano.”



The Festival's first presentation on Thursday was a new song project, Wiresongs, in which Swiss-born singer Sarah Buechi and the Cologne-based composer and saxophonist Niels Klein had been invited to do a one-off collaboration. The title of the project simply alluded the fact that both protagonists knew that once they arrived on stage there would be a lot of wires. Effects pedals, sequencers and tonal distortion were indeed much in evidence, but the two most appealing aspects of  the project were the particular way Sarah Buechi asserted simple melodic hooks and made them stick  - Meant to Last in particular came across as a very strong song indeed -  and the Jimmy Guiffre chalumeau tones of Klein's Bb clarinet and alto clarinet playing.

Melodic lines and the subject matter of lyrics seemed to proceed with no fear or restriction, which ws a good thing, but there were also excursions into twelve-tone language which required a lot of effort from the performers, and seemed to generate less reward. Among the band members, both guitarist Frank Wigold, who had also composed one of the songs, and bassist Matthias Nowak, who underpinned the many mood transitions very effectively,  left a strong impression

John Scofield with the Pablo Held Trio

You know when you've been to a good concert. A moment to treasure was when the audience first broke out into strong and spontaneous applause. John Scofield has a loyal following, and it was his presence which had brough out an older audience of long-term fans. However, their first response was not to Scofield, but rather to the sheer energy level being generated for him by the trio, and by drummer Jonas Burgwinkel in particular. This trio's longevity as a unit gives them an independence and a mutual trust which is telepathic; their reactions are lightning-quick; they can go anywhere they want.

If they were thrilled to be playing with one of their heroes, Scofield could not have been more emphatic in his praise for them: "One of the great groups. This is why I like to play music." Imaginary Time flowed like a story well told. In We Camp Out, the sense of groove was infectious. Pablo Held's Nocturne produced some of the best mutual listening I have ever heard. The final Joni Mitchell Marcie was a gem. As a transatlantic collaboration it could be of similar significance to the Impossible Gentlemen. It is to be hoped that this top-flight collaboration gets the chance to prosper, to generate and to play in new material, make another album, simply to take an exciting story further.

Nguyên Lê

A smart idea to invite the guitarist to create a score to play with the adventurous, dark 1926 Japanese film A Page of Madness (Kurutta ippêji). It is mainly set in a mental hospital, from which a man tries to free his imprisoned wife. The 2007 restoration is 78 minutes long, and with an 11 30 pm start time, and after two sets of music earlier in the evening... it was an effort to keep peak concentration. Nevertheless, Nguyên Lê carried off the task with huge imagination. His responses to the free association and the sudden changes of mood in the film were remarkable. There were delicious koto-like sounds, a phenomenal urgency about one fight scene, and the calm elegaic close was a delight.

WDR has been live -streaming these concerts, and we will provide links as they become available.


On Tubby Hayes' 80th Birthday

The great British saxophonist and bandleader Tubby Hayes (1935-1973) would have been 80 today.

- Simon Spillett is leading a celebration at Ronnie Scott's this Sunday lunchtime with, as special guest the 79-year old Bobby Wellins. The show is sold out.

-  A Man in a Hurry - a new documentary  - will be released shortly MORE HERE

- Simon Spillett's biography of Hayes, ‘The Long Shadow of the Little Giant: The Life, Work and Legacy of Tubby Hayes’ is due for release on 23rd March

- Vinyl specialists Gearbox have a number of releases by Hayes in their STORE

- Roger Farbey's Remember Tubbs tribute site is a good source for updates


REVIEW: Peter Brötzmann / Hamid Drake / William Parker Trio at Cafe Oto

Drake, Parker, and Brötzmann,Cafe Oto Jan 2015.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Peter Brötzmann / Hamid Drake / William Parker Trio
(Cafe Oto, 27th January 2015: day one of a three day residency; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

From Peter Brötzmann's first blast on tenor to Hamid Drake's showers of drum rolls and William Parker's bowed solo at the final curtain, their two sets of rolling intensity in a packed, hot Cafe Oto allowed no compromises. This seasoned improvising trio read each other's playing, and accommodated occasional tangential surprises, with a natural, flowing confidence born out of their long-standing association going back to the early 90s - notably in the Die Like a Dog Quartet with trumpeter Toshinori Kondo.

Brötzmann took the lead in terms of melodic input, in charged repetitions underscored with a dense, rhythmic imperative, but equally capable of lyrical flights on alto and silver clarinet. Parker and Drake wove their ways in and out of these threads with masterly understatement, supplying both the heartbeats and cascading passages to complement Brötzmann's singleminded advance.

At one with the upright bass, Parker, in trance-like mode, would deftly pluck at the strings with his right hand, while briefly resting his left on its body, taking up the bow to supplement the timbres. Drake's rich concatenations of percussive interplay with Brötzmann's explorations added another level of sensitivity to the rhythmic flows.

The deserts of Africa met the mountains of the Balkans when the second set opened with Drake singing a melodic poem as his fingers traced patterns on a hand-held frame drum, and Parker calmly putting down the essential pulse on the two strings of a guembri/sintir, to be joined by the plaintive yearnings of Brötzmann's tarogato, which then took on a North African flavour to add another disarming cross-cultural current to the mix.

The trio never let down their guard for a moment, even at their most relaxed. Their power phrasing was matched by beautiful duet interludes and brief snatches of funky, rock and soul backbeat. There was even a hint of Round Midnight. By eleven fifteen the trio had given their all and garnered a resoundingly appreciative response from an audience that had followed every step of their richly nuanced dialogue.


CD REVIEW: Mike Collins - And suddenly, evening

Mike Collins - And suddenly, evening
(Suitpieces Records spr0002. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

Those fortunate enough to have viewed the gentle illumination of the city once known as Aquae Sulis, at dusk from higher ground, might easily concur that this new quartet release, And suddenly, evening, offers a fittingly elegant soundtrack.

With a title actually inspired by Salvatore Quasimodo's poem Ed e Subito Sera – 'Everyone stands alone at the heart of the world, pierced by a ray of sunlight, and suddenly it is evening' – Bath-based pianist Mike Collins presents an accomplished programme of three originals and five arrangements which shimmer, mercurially, with subtle diffusions and crisp glints of light. Joining him are the equally adept Lee Goodall (saxophones), Ashley-John Long (bass) and Greg White (drums).

Opening with Pete Erskine's On the Lake (written for piano, bass and drums), the quartet colours  its sublimity differently, with Lee Goodall's softly-phrased and extended soprano sax improvisations; with Mike Collins' amiable piano cadences complemented by Ashley-John Long's delicately hovering bass soloing, and a diminishingly abstract watercolour coda, sundown at the water's edge is beautifully reflected. The 'polite funk' of Collins' own piano trio piece, Grieg is Here, possesses a charming Monkish impudence characterised by the resounding pliancy of Long's bass and the pianist's endearing melodic japes (perhaps a classic in the making); and Cole Porter's Everything I Love exudes, with notable immediacy, the feel-good swing of a good jazz night out, Collins' soloing both bright and frequently unpredictable.

The lyrical melancholy of Alec Wilder's Blackberry Winter is given a more optimistic 'New York smooth' groove in Collins' piano trio format, Greg White's softly brushed kit and Long's sustained bass underpinning crystalline, high piano extemporisation. Flat Six, a buoyant, ticking original from the leader, features fine tenor work from Goodall (phrasing and vibrato reminiscent of both Barbara Thompson and Tim Garland) and a memorable 'head', whilst the piano and bass duo arrangement of Cuban singer/songwriter Silvio Rodriguez's Oleo De Mujer Con Sombrero (inspired by Bobo Stenson's interpretation) dances elegantly and spaciously, Long's accurately decorated bass lines so very appealing.

ReProm highlights, again, the quality and attractiveness of Mike Collins' compositions – a lively, breezy quartet number which all seem to revel in. Here, Goodall brings both animation and mellowness to his sax explorations, as Collins and Long also shine individually over Greg White's brisk percussion. To close, the most delightfully sumptuous reading of Thelonious Monk's classic Ruby My Dear, Goodall's tenor simply magnificent in its deep, carefree deportment, and exquisitely measured all round.

This is a splendidly accessible quartet that clearly thrives on its blend of originals and interpretations of standards. Certainly a satisfying album, indicating a great live experience, too.

The CD launch will be at Bristol's Be Bop Club on 20 February. Further dates are on the Mike Collins Trio website.


STOLEN INSTRUMENT: Rare cornopean from 1849

A very rare instrument indeed, a cornopean from 1849 was stolen from the Spice of Life in Soho last Friday 23rd January. It belongs to Digby Fairweather and was bequeathed to him in the will of sound restorer/ member of the Temperance Seven John RT Davies. If there are any helpful leads, please contact Digby at



Kelvin Christiane and Ray Gelato (tenor saxes) at Twickenham Jazz Club, January 2015

Lesley and Kelvin Christiane have been running Twickenham Jazz Club for ten years. As part of their tenth anniversary celebrations, Lesley has kindly written this entertaining, instructive piece for us about their work as indefatigable promoters at the heart of the London scene: Here, from the people who know, are "The Joys and the Delights of Running a Local Jazz Club:"

New Year, New Venue and wonderful things are happening at Twickenham's long-running Jazz Club which now has a new home The Famous Cabbage Patch in London Road Twickenham in Patchworks night club.

Twickenham Jazz Club has had a rocky old road since we originally conceived the idea of it over ten years ago. We simply wanted to put on some great gigs in our own home town to avoid the journey to central London. The original venue ' The Red Lion' Twickenham, is now a Tesco mini store, another venue a pizzeria and so it goes on, but running local Jazz Clubs can be like that. You have to be dedicated, open hearted, enthusiastic and flexible. To this day and completely against the odds the club presents great music and maintains a very committed jazz following.

The latest venue is inspired with a new purpose built music room. a pub that has a positive attitude to music that gives the couple creative scope to again push the frontiers of Jazz.

So what are the secrets of our success and this longevity?

1) " We try to present a truly varied programme. Jazz preferences are as broad as the genre itself and not everyone will like it all, but the element of surprise is integral to capturing new and different audiences"

2) "We are always hospitable and welcome everyone and have many small clubs are unfriendly and look on newcomers with is so important to be inclusive and create a good atmosphere and be prepared to share your table !"

3) We always vary the rhythm section to suit different musicians. unfortunately some clubs don't do this and it can all get a little stale and very hard for the guest artist to perform at their best. Jazz is mercurial and wants to change shape and wander to where it wants to..its hard if it is stuck in a thermometer.

4) For us. glamour is legitimate..dressing up is such fun and everyone wants to really.

5) We try to really look after our musicians.and never forget that making Jazz is a complex and demanding business, and they have dedicated their life to perfecting their we try to take care of them..because apart from the fact that many of them are our friends.if they feel happy in our venue, they play their very best and everyone benefits.

6) We don't take any of it too seriously ..not really .....!

- o - o - o -

Twickenham Jazz Club

The monthly programme always includes a Big Band Session with the in house Kelvin Christiane All Star Big Band. The Band Session which may include quartets, quintets. even sextets of original musicians with music that ranges from the mainstream American Songbook, to self-penned original music on the cutting edge of modern Jazz. The vocal session which is intimate and almost acoustic featuring our finest vocalists in a trio format, and there are ambitions to create a showcase night to present the new rising stars of Jazz..

Twickenham Jazz Club @ The Cabbage Patch.
Patchworks nightclub
67 London Road, TW1 3SZ.
(opposite Twickenham train station)

Tuesdays 8.30pm-11pm admission £11 concessions £10 


Tuesday 4th February
Kelvin Christiane ‘Allstars’ Big Band
Rousing night with the full Big Band sound, trumpets, trombones, saxophones, clarinets and full rhythm section featuring some of the finest names on the Jazz circuit and music from the roaring 40s to the present day.

Tuesday 10th February
Nick Mill's Blue Note Project
with Martin Shaw, trumpet, Nick Mill's,trombone, Leon Greening, piano, Jez Brown, double bass, Kelvin Christiane saxophone Matt Home, drums. Great all star sextet who's Jazz mantra is to keep the great music of the 60's Bluenote Era alive It Features the sounds of Art Blakeys Jazz Messengers, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson & Lee Morgan. The sextet performs all over the UK and Europe at festivals and clubs including guests such as legendary US Saxophonist Dave Liebman.

Tuesday 24th February
The Vocal Session
Zoe Francis with Jim Mullen, guitar, Mick Hutton double bass
An intimate, mellow almost acoustic session with this wonderful jazz vocalist and guitarist and gifted jazz legend Jim Mullen.

WEBSITE: PHONE: 0208 286 3242


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Bodø Jazz Open 2015

Knut Reiersrud at Sinus, Bodø Jazz Open 2015
Photo credit: Henrik Dvergsdal
Bodø Jazz Open 2015: Festival Round Up
(Bodø, Norway, 21 - 24 January. Review by Jonathan Carvell)

Against a backdrop of elk burgers and biting arctic wind, the 2015 Bodø Jazz Open had a fascinating and broad artistic programme, from established international acts such as the Jan Garbarek Group on the opening night, (link below) to emerging artists like Elle Marja Eira, who writes anthemic songs about reindeer based on traditional Sami melodies.

The festival saw an appearance from percussionist Marilyn Mazur’s group Future Song. Mazur (who toured with Miles Davis in the 80s, image below) and her seven piece ensemble provided a wild ride through compound-time grooves, with plenty of world music influences, and Nils Petter Molvær’s effect-drenched trumpet provided a number of highlights. Contrast this, then, with an interactive dance show from Kartellet, who reinvent and re-imagine traditional folk forms to create performances where the audience are part of the show itself, sitting on stage as dancers whirl around them.

Marilyn Mazur at the Bodø Jazz Open 2015
Photo credit: Henrik Dvergsdal

There were more experimental projects such as 365 Losvik – trumpeter Ole Jørn Myklebust and guitarist Roger Ludvigsen’s ambient duo accompanying a slideshow of Martin Losvik’s photographs of northern Norway. Late night jam sessions took place in a temporary boathouse (complete with working sauna) in a square in the town centre: John-Kåre Hansen (guitar) and Dag Erik Pedersen (bass) ripped through standards on Friday night. The Band Called Oh! (recently nominated for a Norwegian Grammy) provided neo-soul, as part of the North Norwegian Jazz Centre’s wonderfully diverse showcase evening (which saw some 32 performers take to the stage in just shy of 75 minutes). Aleksander Kostopoulos, (photo below) a young drummer, shone as part of a number of groups that night. Knut Reiersrud and his band brought blues to Sinus – the smallest of the three fantastic halls in Stormen. As if that wasn’t enough, the last day saw the arrival of an entire symphony orchestra - the Arctic Philharmonic - for the second ever performance of Django Bates’ bass clarinet concerto, written for Håvard Lund (a founding member of Farmers Market). This was a work of great wit and invention, and more than held its own in a programme completed by Bernstein’s suites from West Side Story and On the Waterfront.

Aleksander Kostopoulos in the Elle Márjá Eira Band, Bodø Jazz Open 2015
Photo credit: Henrik Dvergsdal

As a festival, it didn’t feel like something just put together to sell tickets – although every event was certainly well-attended and well-received. The sense of openness that the festival’s name invokes was genuinely present throughout: audiences in Bodø are as keen to hear a small band romp through Mingus-esque charts as they are to hear traditional folk melodies for violin and harmonium. As the festival went on, these eclectic ingredients came together to create a real sense of the place itself and the cultural vibe.

In this rugged, beautiful, freezing part of the world, in the depths of winter, Bodø Jazz Open celebrates the myriad talents of Norway’s wonderfully diverse and rich musical culture.

LINK: Review of Jan Garbarek at the Bodø Jazz Open 2015


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: 2015 South Coast Jazz Festival

Bobby Wellins, Geoff Simkins. South Coast Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit: Shaun Hines

Neal Richardson has just spent "three perfect, crisp January days by the sea" (January 23-25) at the 2015 South Coast Jazz Festival. He writes:

West Coast Cool? East Coast Hip? This past weekend it was all about South Coast Swagger… The UK’s south coast, that is, which saw the inaugural South Coast Jazz Festival take place in delightful Shoreham-by-Sea. Dreamt up, organised, curated and presented by Claire Martin OBE and Julian Nicholas, it had it all: all ages, all styles, all bases – from educational workshops for beginners, to talks, exhibitions, and masterclass concerts by top stars in the UK jazz firmament… all sharing an affinity of living near the sea.

The Ropetackle Arts Centre itself is excellent, with a foyer café/bar providing good food and a relaxed hubbub of musicians, audience, and locals, with the added majesty of David Redfern’s jazz photos gracing the walls.

- o - o - o -

Eleven Memorable Moments

· The Olympic roster of vocal talents on the opening night.

· Audience in tears (Liane Carroll amongst them) watching the local choir

· “If you make a mistake, don't worry about it - do it again!” . At the jazz workshop run by Sue Richardson and Trudy Kerr]

· Transcendent musicianship of the genre-busting and curiously-named Cloggz

· Cloggz’ 18yr-old guitarist Eden Townend’s perfectly tasteful accompaniment line on banjo (yes, really).

· Vibrant and engaged involvement of lots of young people in jazz (yes, you read that right).

· Audience singing to Bobby Wellins to celebrate his 79th birthday, on presentation of a cake during the gig. Radio 3 Jazz Line-up were there to record it.

· “I’m Glad to be here playing this gig on my birthday. At 79 I’m glad to be anywhere” (Bobby Wellins)

· Gareth Williams’ sublime solo piano introduction to It Never Entered My Mind

· “I can’t read these notes in this light – need my glasses – turns out mother was right all along” (Pete Long)

· Echoes of Ellington closing the Festival on Sunday night – a perfect ending.

- o - o - o -

Impressions of the Festival

I was impressed by the diversity of the programme. As well as the big stars – not least elder statesman Bobby Wellins, jazz headliners Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw, Pete Long, Mark Edwards, Mark Bassey, Geoff Simkins, Joe Stilgoe, Gareth Williams and of course Julian and Claire, there were solo acts up to big band; a local school choir; an improvisation workshop for kids; an all-day vocal workshop; an intro-to-jazz lecture by Kevin LeGendre; a film screening; performers aged 9 to 79; a close-up magician; a Sunday jam session…

The education programme produced, for me at least, a lump-in-the-throat moment at the end-of-workshop concert: 17 kids really having a go at soloing - and loving it. As Julian summed up “That’s not something we see enough of!”. This was sowing the seeds for the next generation of jazz - musicians and audience.

Another aspect to emphasize was the organic nature of it all. No huge company nor agency behind this; no huge PR budget; no corporate sponsorship (just a small Arts Council grant); no multi-level ego passes; no bullsh*t; just a tiny team with big ideas… which they pulled off with aplomb. I don’t know how they did it, but they did! Administratrix supreme Elaine Crouch, production manager Phil “Unflappable” Jackson and Ropetackle Centre Manager Anne Hodgson get a special mention here.

- o - o - o -

In Summary

The atmosphere was beautiful: friendly, supportive, family-friendly, with a focus on the true creativity and love of the music. Walks on the beach...twinkling yachts in the harbour...a laid-back vibe... it was a glimpse of the future of jazz, and jazz festivals – organic, new, friendly, accepting, inclusive. No wonder it was completely sold out… The future’s looking very sunny for South Coast Jazz. More please!

Neal Richardson of Splash Point Music is on Twitter as @splashpointmuse


INTERVIEW: John Turville (visit to Budapest to play the new Boganyi piano)

The Boganyi piano. Photo credit: Tamas Bujnovszky
John Turville has been in Budapest, to see and play the revolutionary new Boganyi piano, and has already talked to BBC Radio 3 Music Matters about his trip. Sebastian interviewed him, and also caught up with his other current projects:

LondonJazz News: You've just been in Budapest, and you've seen the new Boganyi piano?

John Turville: Yes. The first thing that strikes you is how it looks. It's a completely redesigned piano with two legs and lots of curves on the body - the philosophy is that the sound isn't lost through the floor but resonates out. The soundboard is made of a composite material which includes carbon-fibre - one of the results is a much longer sustain which is great for romantic music (you really noticed it on Debussy's Clair De Lune, which the inventor/ designer Gergely Boganyi played, after a Bach transcription)

LJN: And you also heard Gerald Clayton play it?

JT: He played Alone Together and Round Midnight for the journalists. You notice the clarity and immediacy of sound. Since so much mechanical noise is removed, you could say the instrument doesn’t stop connection to the music

John Turville playing the Boganyi
Photo Credit: Amanda Holloway

LJN: But you also you also played it yourself how was that?

JT: The effect when you're playing is almost being enclosed by the sound, but this isn't so apparent from the perspective of the audience.

LJN: And how was the action, the feel of the keys?

JT: You really notice the difference in the action. It was made by the German firm Rener - it's hard to describe but it has a watery feel - less hammer action and more tone and much easier to play. It feels great for jazz as it still has the precision and a great staccato but a lot less noise.

There's a great consistency in the sound, over the whole range - there's no distortion or harshness when you're playing loud. I guess sometimes you might be going for that effect but it feels much more immediate somehow. And there's a beautiful singing quality in the tone. (The idea was to go back to some of the qualities of the early Steinways - around 1910/20 which projected less but produced a more round tone).

LJN: And what other impressions did you get of Budapest?

JT: It's a beautiful city of course - I went there eight years ago and it's just as I remember - beautiful views of the old city from the castle and a great buzz for classical music with practice wafting out of every other window. I didn't experience the Turkish baths this time though, but they're kind of fun if you don't mind a bit of mild hypothermia.

LJN: And what's coming up in your schedule?

JT: I had a bit of a busy December recording three new albums, with Matt Ridley, Alan Barnes/Tony Kofi and a co-run sextet called Solstice (a lovely band featuring Brigitte Beraha, Tori Freestone and Jez Franks). So will be touring those later in the year. In the meantime I'm touring with Tommasso Starace in the Southwest.

LJN: And there's also something called Transtango coming up? 

JT: That's right, we're restarting it. The project (WEBSITE- with sound) originally involved Tim Garland, but this time features two cellos, bandoneon and double bass. I'll be a bit more involved with the writing this time - it's a very creative and multi-disciplinary project with projections and dancers, and the producer wants to try to take it to some unconventional spaces like art galleries. I'm also recording a couple of Tim's notated pieces for classical saxophone and piano in a couple of weeks, which are fiendishly difficult as you might expect!

John Turville  also recorded an interview about the Boganyi piano for BBC Radio 3 Music Matters. The item runs from [21:15] to [27:43] with John Turville talking from [25:45]


REVIEW: The Impossible the Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford-on-Avon

The Impossible Gentlemen

The Impossible Gentlemen. 
(Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford-on-Avon, 24 January. Review by Jon Turney)

A shuffle of brushes, softly-picked chords on guitar, an insistent six-note bass figure: all cushioning a gorgeous melody line from the piano. It sounds exactly like the Impossible Gentlemen, but the opening number is brand new. And so it goes for two full sets. The Anglo-American quartet have two CD's worth of superb music recorded, but Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker have been composing again, and they have a big helping of new work to share .

This second night of their tour, following a couple of days working over the book with drummer Adam Nussbaum and bassist Steve Rodby, offers the excitement of discovery. The new pieces delight the band as well as the audience. There is a sense of things falling into place, but not always quite where the players expect.

What we do expect from this contemporary supergroup - never mind the large volume of new music - is immaculate performance and impassioned playing. The band bristles with virtuosity, leavened with easy humour and the sense they have always projected of being genuinely pleased to be in each other's company on stage. There are plenty of headlong flurries of notes, but enough variety to balance them out - just when you feel leaving more space would let some air into the music, there is a well-judged change of pace. The brighter, brasher, tunes contrast with the wryly Gothic moodiness of Dark Time, the gentle regrets of It Could Have Been a Simple Goodbye.

It's a beautifully integrated foursome, with Steve Rodby a fine successor to founder member Steve Swallow on bass. He takes few solos but contributes a matchless deep groove. This time out Simcock has two electric keyboards as well as grand piano, and plays some terrific locked hands improvisations on acoustic and electric keys simultaneously. Their rockier leanings are reinforced by Nussbaum's commanding drumming and Walker's guitar, but even when all four go full-tilt there is thoughtfulness in the detail, if you can keep up.

Some of us wouldn't have minded hearing a few of the old pieces from their now extensive book, but there clearly isn't much room for them on this tour. We did get a the raunchy Sure Would Baby, Nussbaum's tune from the first CD, for an encore, though, with Walker delivering a final, tremulous solo that reached the pitch of impassioned restraint that is something of a trade mark- a fine coda to a majestic evening.

In the notes to Internationally Recognised Aliens, their second release - recorded with Swallow but with producer Rodby beginning to size up the bass chair - Walker said he is interested in "blurring the lines between Jazz, Rock, Pop and Classical music in a way that creates a new, organic whole from these tried and tested forms". Here he has the band to do it.


The Impossible Gentlemen are on tour in Britain and Europe until March, and return for the Sligo Jazz Project in July.

LINK: Mike Walker previews the 2015 Tour - with tour dates


PHOTO-ESSAY: Pat Metheny - Inspired premiere at the Eberhard Weber Jubilee Concert in Stuttgart

Pat Metheny. Theaterhaus Stuttgart January 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved

Pat Metheny's affecting and beautifully crafted new work "Inspired" was premiered at the Eberhard Weber 75th Birthday Jubilee Concert in the Theaterhaus in Stuttgart on 23rd January 2015. Ralf Dombrowski photographed the rehearsal.

The final picture is of the dedicatee himself. All photos are Copyright Ralf Dombrowski/ All Rights Reserved.

Pat Metheny. Theaterhaus Stuttgart January 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved

Pat Metheny. Theaterhaus Stuttgart January 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved

Gary Burton, SWR Big Band Dir Helge Sunde, Pat Metheny. Theaterhaus Stuttgart January 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved

Eberhard Weber. Theaterhaus Stuttgart January 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved

LINK: Sebastian's REVIEW of the concert (5 Stars) for the Telegraph.


REVIEW: Julien Desprez solo + In Bed With at the Vortex

Julien Desprez solo + In Bed With
(Vortex, 23rd January 2015. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

With so much French spoken it could easily have been the east of Paris, but on Friday the 23rd the Jazz Shuttle had landed in east London bringing exciting cross-channel chaos to the Vortex.

The night started with Julien Desprez perched on stage alone, untrimmed strings waving madly from the end of his guitar like his errant hair as he embarked on his 25 minute solo journey, Acapulco. With overdrive and metal licks accompanied with a strong backing hum, what at first appeared to be a Gallic disregard for musical convention and concert niceties evolved into a deeply enthralling performance. Desprez alternated shredding for France with near silently tapping, the slap of strings on fretboard barely audible yet beautifully controlled. At times the raw industrial sounds partnered the exposed beams and profiled composite construction of the venue better than most of its program. Its not often that an electric guitar is made to sound like an old VW golf trying to shift gears, or a collection of electronic devices from the pre-internet era being abused, but the intensity of the results, and the concentration put into them, was enthralling.

And then there were three, with In Bed With taking the stage. A trio formed by Sylvain Darrifoucq, the musicians are connected by a web of collaborations in recent years, enabled by interfaces between the Loop Collective and the COAX collective and the new Entente Cordiale that is the Jazz Shuttle.

In Bed With are a band with rock at their heart: this sort of evening is the reason that the Vortex sell earplugs alongside cheese and onion crisps behind the bar. Darrifoucq has always reveled in the alternative genre influences that inform his musical approach, and the opening piece's square beats and crashing cymbals provide a sporadic rock backbone to the subterranean organ work of Kit Downes swaying from side to side. They play with the sort of bravado more commonly associated with Rage Against The Machine then a jazz ensemble. In the second piece their unbridled activity was followed by an urgent metronomic clack and submarine sonar sounds as Darrifoucq played with an array of toys. Their cultural reference points shift from 90s US rock and metal to 70s British prog-rock, but with the sharply changing dynamics and hyperactive bursts of a late 80s The Pixies.

Yet instead of a timeline of trans-Atlantic musical homage through a free filter, these sounds are mixed into an “In Bed With” sound, each style sampled and invited into the unconstrained environment that the trio create, molding rock conventions into an avant garde experiment driven by the push of the low organ and hanging chords over sharp machine gun drums. The ensemble are tight like a tiger, and clearly enjoy the experiment, with facial expressions swapping sheepish grins with engrossed concentration.

In announcing their final piece, Darrifoucq thanked the crowd for their curiosity in attending and seeking them out. And while perhaps his declaration of their last “tune” is stretching the limits of conventional interpretation of the word, immersed in his masterful rampaging drums and Desprez's riffage was some deep musicality, dulcet tones and pensive electronics. Certainly drumming was at the fore (if not literally centre stage) but it was Kit Downes' more reserved contributions that provided the necessary coherence to cling onto.

The goal of Jazz Shuttle is to encourage “une dynamique d’échanges culturels, un enrichissement et un élargissement du dialogue artistique entre les deux pays.” and for those pining for more French musical liberation in London, In Bed With were a treat that did just that.

LINK: Sylvain Darrifourcq Interview


CD REVIEW: Quest Ensemble - Footfall

Quest Ensemble - Footfall
(PFT 14001. CD Review by Matthew Wright)

Classical musicians are notoriously reluctant to improvise. So the jazz world generally believes, anyway. It means there’s a gap in the scene for a band that uses the instrumentation and tonal qualities of classical music with the communal spontaneity that improvisation can create. It’s a great opportunity for the right group of musicians, and why should improvised music necessarily involve drums and brass or reeds anyway?

Cue Footfall, the debut album from London Quest Ensemble, a Guildhall-educated trio of Preetha Narayanan (violin), Tara Franks (cello) and Filipe Sousa (piano). They offer an intriguing sense of how a classical ensemble, in this case the (classical) piano trio, might sound playing semi-improvised music. These pieces have roots in both classical music and jazz, and take in elements of country and world music too. Without percussion, the aesthetic is gentler than most jazz trios, but the interplay of musical lines is dextrous and intriguing. It’s melodic and easy to listen to, though its initial accessibility conceals some of the originality.

Quest describe their sound as encompassing Vaughan Williams, Steve Reich and the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, and certainly, those are, perhaps, the sonic outposts of their musical world. The Vaughan Williams can mainly be heard in the warmth of their string tone and the charmingly elastic melodies flavouring the lines of improvisation, as well as the flowing, pastoral quality to tracks such as Willow. The Reich is slightly more of a puzzle: Quest’s approach lacks Reich’s theoretical purity; as noted by other reviewers, a better comparison might be with John Adams, whose interest in repeated patterns of rhythm is tempered with vernacular decoration and melody. Which is certainly not to say there’s a lack of interest in structural experimentation. Chorale, for example, builds to a strikingly melancholy climax of violin and cello over a baroque-sounding piano bass line.

The players are all classically trained, though all also have experience in other genres. They clearly know each other well, and the interplay between weaving lines – in which roles are interchanged much more freely than in a traditional classical trio – generally feels athletic and intimate. Capturing the spontaneity of improvisation on CD, to be played in identical reproduction over and over again, always feels in principle a little incongruous. Some tracks here sound more spontaneous than others, though it’s a varied and appealing collection that will find an enthusiastic audience among both jazz and classical enthusiasts.

Quest Ensemble’s album. Footfall has been available on CD for a few months, and has just been released digitally on iTunes. They perform at The Vortex on February 12


CD REVIEW: Jaco Pastorius - Anthology: The Warner Bros. Years

Jaco Pastorius - Anthology: The Warner Bros. Years
(Warner Bros. Records - 8122795729. CD review by Joe Stoddart)

‘Anthology: The Warner Bros. Years’ is one of many retrospectives of bass genius Jaco Pastorius’ work that have been issued since his tragic death at the age of 35. Containing music from his time with the Warner Bros. label, the vast majority of the album is made up of selections from his sophomore solo studio release ‘Word Of Mouth’ and live albums ‘The Birthday Concert’ and ‘Invitation’.

Among the four tracks which are not from these albums, first up is a live version of ‘Okonkole y Trompa’ from debut album ‘Jaco Pastorius’. This recording comes from the Japanese release ‘Twins I & II’ and stays pretty close to the original as an atmospheric piece featuring some beautiful French horn. ‘Nativity’ from Weather Report and Return To Forever percussionist Airto Moreira’s 1977 album, ‘I’m Fine, How Are You?’, continues in the atmospheric vein before a more upbeat mood is struck on ‘Mood Swings’ from Mike Stern’s ‘Upside Downside’.

While the idea of seeing Jaco in other settings could well provide some interest, if there are only a couple of token examples his work with Joni Mitchell or Pat Metheny would almost certainly lend more insight than the selections here. All three of the tracks here were in fact included on 2003's 'Punk Jazz: The Jaco Pastorius Anthology' alongside some of his work with Mitchell and Metheny as well recordings from the beginnings of Jaco's career in an altogether more cohesive and informative compilation.

The only completely new material is a previously unissued recording of ‘Donna Lee’ from ‘The Birthday Concert’ session. Mainly serving the purpose of trombone feature, it feels like little more than a play through of the standard and you can see why it didn’t make the original album.

What is lacking in new material is somewhat made up for by the quality of the original albums. From the technical virtuosity of ‘Chromatic Fantasy’, to the superb ensemble sound of ‘Liberty City’ and compositional genius of ‘Three Views Of A Secret’, all facets of what made Pastorius such a fantastic musician are on show. However, they have been presented in a vaguely baffling way, presumably shifted around in order to warrant a compilation which is basically a triple album reissue of the aforementioned albums with double performances of tunes removed. The worst example of this is where ‘Chromatic Fantasy’ has been plonked carelessly between ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Word Of Mouth’, having the sole effect of destroying the intensity created by the segue on the original album. The fact that such a glaringly unmusical decision has made it onto this release is extraordinary.

A mercurial talent whose career was all too brief, you may think that there isn’t enough material in his back catalogue to warrant so many compilations. Anthology seems to lend some weight to that argument.

For a Jaco fan, there’s nothing much new here; to check out Pastorius for the first time, you’d be better off purchasing the albums separately and experiencing them as the artist intended.


PHOTO: Curtain-call at the Eberhard Weber 75th Birthday Grand Jubilee Concert

L-R Helge Sunde, Scott, Colley, Jürgen Walther, Gary Burton,
Danny Gottlieb, Paul McCandless,Eberhard Weber.
Jan Garbarek, Manfred Schoof, Pat Metheny
Photo Credit: Theaterhaus/ Jörg Becker

Sebastian writes:

This is the curtain call after the 75th Birthday Concert for Eberhard Weber, including the premiere of a remarkable work by Pat Metheny.



CD REVIEW: Emily Saunders - Outsiders Insiders



REVIEW: Jan Garbarek Group at the Bodø Jazz Open in Norway

Jan Garbarek Group at the Bodø Jazz Open 2015
Photo Credit Henrik Dvergsdal

Jan Garbarek Group
(Stormen. Bodø Jazz Open 2015, 21 January. Review by Jonathan Carvell)

Founded in 2011, Bodø Jazz Open is an annual jazz festival which takes place surrounded by the spectacular scenery of northern Norway - the Northern Lights, mountains and sea. Bodø itself is a small city about a hundred miles within the Arctic Circle.The festival happens over the course of five days in January.

This year's Bodø Jazz Open began with a sold-out concert in the town’s brand-new concert hall, Stormen, from the Jan Garbarek Group, and what better way to celebrate this beautiful hall (opened only a few months ago) than with the Garbarek’s first appearance in Bodø for some 15 years. Stormen is a fantastic venue – great clarity of sound, comfortable yet stylish, and also well integrated into the city.

The new Stormen concert hall, Bodø Jazz Open 2015
Photo Credit Henrik Dvergsdal

At 67 years old, Garbarek has been a big name in Norwegian jazz for almost five decades now, but he is someone who still seems keen to go outside of his comfort zone and explore new musical possibilities. Garbarek, as always, brought a broad palette of colours to the tone of his saxophone: sometimes saccharin sweet, other times more plaintive, and his complete technical control found him very much at home as leader of this genre-defying group.

Trilok Gurtu at the Bodø Jazz Open 2015
Photo Credit Henrik Dvergsdal

Trilok Gurtu was a revelation on drums and percussion, with virtuosic playing and a sophisticated fusion-style. Gurtu employed underwater gong sounds (yes, really), hanging spiral cymbals and created some outrageous grooves by playing kit with one hand and tabla with the other. There is something naturalistic and visceral about his approach, often striking the kit with his hands and - for large parts of this concert - vocalising rhythms on a headset mic (evoking thoughts of Airto Moreira).

Yuri Daniel also impressed with agile fretless bass work. During the course of the evening each member of the quartet had an extended solo, and Daniel’s centred on a Jaco-esque chord loop redolent of Portrait of Tracy - complex chords contrasted with passages of scalic fireworks. Rainer Brüninghaus completed the group on piano and keyboards, bringing in classical contrapuntal influences as well as the occasional 80s synth vibe.

All of these different styles were corralled by Garbarek, with Indian musical influences blending into 12/8 South African township grooves; sweet ballad resolutions quickly becoming unison prog romps. Some of the compositions were a little uneven, but the highs which resulted when everything clicked were spectacular.

This was a bold an exciting start to the festival and it was rightly met with a standing ovation by the capacity crowd.

LINKS: Review: Jan Garbarek Group at the Barbican 2010
Review: an Garbarek Group at the 2012 London Jazz Festival


PODCAST INTERVIEW: Tom Green and Tom White Septets (2014 EFG @LondonJazzFest )

The Spice of Life witnessed one of those "You'll-Never-Believe-It- Actually- Happened" gigs, a double bill of septets each led by a trombonist called Tom, each with a surname representing a colour.

But happen it did. The Tom Green Septet and the Tom White Septet played the Spice of Life on 17th November 2014. And Hayley Redmond was there, to interviewed them both. In situ, on the night itself.

The photo of Tom Green above is by Ruth Butler.

LINK: Tom Green Skyline CD Review. The CD launch is at St James Studio on Jan 29th 2015


REVIEW: Harold Mabern Trio at Ronnie Scott's

Harold Mabern at Ronnie Scott's
Photo credit: Carl Hyde/ Ronnie Scott's

Harold Mabern Trio 
(Ronnie Scott's, 21st January 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Just as Harold Mabern's words in our interview just before Christmas seemed to bring the history of jazz so vividly to life, so his every touch of the piano speaks with authority and authenticity of a piano tradition with deep roots. There are acknowledged influences from both Phineas Newborn Jr. and from Ahmad Jamal, but Mabern is his own man, a highly individual player.

Can a written review explain or even describe the magic of the Memphis-born player's piano sound? Not really. Adjectives (bright-toned, percussive, decisive, emphatic) do help a bit, and Carl Hyde's great picture (above) of those strong hands poised to strike the keyboard helps....but doesn't take you the whole way. Yes, you have to be there, hear it and marvel at how it happens.

One highlight last night came with the most unexpected item, Sting's Fragile, played as an acknowledgement to the fact that Mabern was playing a gig ...sort of vaguely somewhere near where Sting came from.... (Birmingham? he asked), and played as the second set calmer/opener. It was poetic, lived, poised, beautiful, calmly stated, and with no jazz soloing in sight. Daahoud was played as ballad, and as an affectionate tribute to "the most perfect trumpet player" Clifford Brown. Mabern loves springing surprises, knows how to shift the mood and the narrative with masterly panache, and had more to give till the end of the show, not just playing but also singing a powerful and soulful blues as the first encore.

Joe Farnsworth at Ronnie Scott's
Photo credit: Carl Hyde/ Ronnie Scott's
If Mabern is so proudly self-taught, his rhythm cohort is exceptionally schooled. There were quite a few drummers in the house last night, and they had - presumably - come out to catch Joe Farnsworth. Farnsworth was a student of Alan Dawson, the same teacher who taught Tony Williams, and every one of the virtues which Tony Williams talks about in this remarkable lecture from 1989 were there in the drummer's playing, in particular that deep knowledge of the contours of tunes which gave crispness to everything from the sillinesses of El Jarabe Tapatio, (better known as the Mexican Hat-Dance) to his drum feature Bye Bye Baby. As Mabern said, ribbing him: "Joe Farnsworth has fast hands, we have to give him a chance to show off."

John Webber at Ronnie Scott's Photo credit: Carl Hyde/ Ronnie Scott's

The suave and unflappable John Webber has a completely balanced stance on the instrument, and his classical left hand shape looked to me like the living text-book, again well caught in Carl Hyde's photo here.

Ronnie's had taken an informed risk, but the club was completely full, and everybody, and especially those who were able to stay till the final solo encore, Bobby Timmons' Dat Dere,in the darkness, had a genuine treat.