CD REVIEW: Vijay Iyer Trio - Break Stuff

Vijay Iyer Trio - Break Stuff
(ECM. 470 8937. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Pianist Vijay Iyer's latest album is broadly a resetting of compositions for some larger ensembles for his long standing trio. The process of deconstructing them - stripping them down and reforming them for a classic jazz trio of piano, bass and drums - Iyer sees as "breaks": the space between the notes. In doing so, he acknowledges a wealth of influences, including many outside a usual jazz context: "breakdowns, break-beats and break dancing..." They can all be heard on this CD - one track, Hood, is a tribute to a techno DJ, Robert Hood (I only know this because it says so on Iyer's liner notes!) - but within an acoustic jazz format.

It is an interesting set of tunes from one of jazz's more searching performers. There is an emphasis on rhythm; much of Hood consists of the interplay between very simple piano figures, subtly changing bass, and complex, shifting drums patterns. The result on that track is not far from serial music - as if Steve Reich or Arvo Pärt wrote jazz. Some of the tracks have a kind of jerky insistence, as if the rhythms and melodies were trying to go in different directions.

Other tracks really swing; the contrast this creates is very effective. There are three covers on the CD. The trio's version of Monk's Work is played pretty straight, recognisably Monk, and demonstrates the trio's ability whilst Coltrane's Countdown is given the trio's breakdown treatment. Billy Strayhorn's Blood Count, his final composition, is a beautiful, slow, melancholy interpretation for solo piano, full of pathos.

The title track has an evolving, almost spiky rhythm, as if drummer Marcus Gilmore is both pushing forward and holding back, balanced by pulses from Stephan Crump's bass.

Three of the other tracks are based on birds - Starlings, Geese and Wrens, all from Iyer's Open City project, and a fourth is called Taking Flight. Iyer describes Open City as dealing with themes of migration, and sections of Taking Flight have a reggae rhythm whilst its opening is reminiscent of Satie or Debussy. Wrens, which closes the album, is a slow, thoughtful, rather lovely piece.

This is a compelling record, full of imaginative ideas and fascinating rhythms, trying new things whilst firmly rooted in a classic jazz context. By breaking down the tunes and putting them back together, Iyer has found space to experiment without scaring off the birds.


INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Malcolm Earle-Smith (Swing to Bop, Blackheath Halls, Fri. Mar 6th)

Malcolm Earle-Smith

Trombonist/ Educator/ early jazz specialist  MALCOLM EARLE-SMITH will be directing "Swing to Bop" with the Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble at Blackheath Halls on Friday March 6th. In this interview with Sebastian he explains how another cohort of Trinity Laban students is responding to being taken on a journey through an important part of jazz history: 

LondonJazz News: What is the background to the event?

Malcolm Earle-Smith: “Swing to Bop” features the Trinity Laban Jazz Ensemble (one of three big bands at the conservatoire), which I direct, and which is composed mainly of 1st and 2nd year BMus Jazz students. We started rehearsing in November and have already performed two gigs, one at King Charles Court (where Trinity Laban’s Faculty of Music is based) and one at the Gunnersbury Tavern in Chiswick earlier this month. This is the final gig in this particular project.

The band has worked really hard with the help of some great section tutors - Mick Foster, Mike Lovatt and Matt Skelton. It’s really starting to swing!

LJN: What pieces are being played and why them specifically?

ME-S: As the title of the gig suggest we are focusing on a selection of arrangements which were written from the late 30s to the early 50s. These included repertoire from the Tommy Dorsey and Woody Herman Bands, Duke Ellington, Claude Thornhill and Dizzy Gillespie. There were a great variety of approaches at this time, so stylistically this is a great challenge for us! There’s no greater way to understand the development of a music than to play it.

LJN: Are these transcriptions? Arrangements? Re-imaginings?

ME-S: Most of them are transcriptions - although we open some of them up for extending solos and we improvise backings.

LJN: Are you trying to stay as close to the originals as you can? If so what is the hardest part of that?

ME-S: As far as the arrangements are concerned, we do stick fairly closely to the original in order to absorb the style and this is also great for ensemble discipline. Maintaining the ensemble ’togetherness’ and stylistic consistency is certainly the hardest part - it requires continued concentration and a lot of self-discipline. But they’ve done very well. Many of the arrangements have the solos written out, which I think is useful to study - but as improvisers it’s important to let the students put their own stamp on it - so I always encourage them to do their own thing!

LJN: Anything of personal significance here?

ME-S: No more than any other project. They are all of personal significance to me, and I consider it a great privilege to be able to work with these young musicians year after year.

LJN: In general the growth of bands playing early jazz, some of whom (eg amongst Trinity Laban alumni) you have definitely sparked off, must bring quite some personal satisfaction?

ME-S: I think it’s really important that all styles of jazz continue to thrive. It does give me personal satisfaction to see a growth of younger bands playing early jazz - and without them these styles will die. But what really excites me is that a renewed understanding of these earlier traditions in the younger generations, coupled with innovations of today, could produce some really important new music.

Early jazz brings us closer to the emotional foundations of the music, and teaches us how to improvise with sound and melody - and how to improvise collectively. All these elements of music can be applied to any style.

LINKS: Swing to Bop, Blackheath Halls, Friday 6th March 
Malcolm Earle-Smith's Staff Page at Trinity Laban
Malcolm Earle-Smith's website


REPORT: Vula Viel at the Forge

Sebastian writes:

Last night was something special. The video here from last autumn does give a strong sense of what the incredibly lively band Vula Viel was four months ago, but on the evidence of an opening set heard at The Forge in Camden last night, the energy levels, the confidence, the commitment to the project, the band feel, the balance, the mix of energy and precision... have all moved on by leaps and bounds. Yes, leaps. Bex Burch, jumps up and down as if on springs, and yet musically everything is completely in place. It's an utterly joyful sound.

The fascinating back-story is that Bex Burch is a classically-trained percussionist who has done what Steve Reich always wanted to do and never did, given two years to being an apprentice with the Dagaare tribe in Northern Ghana. Matthew Wright has chronicled that story HERE.

Their next dates are HERE, including a tour in April. And there will be a sneak preview track from the forthcoming album being played on World on 3 tonight on BBC Radio 3. Summer festival bookers, you've just found a great band to fill that very last slot.


REVIEW : Mads Mathias UK debut at Pizza Express Dean Street

Mads Mathias at Pizza Express, February 2015
Photo credit: Cat Munro

Mads Mathias
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 24th February 2015. Review by Brian Blain)

Any misgivings about ‘gloomy Danes’ or the angsty introspection of original songs were swept away right from thr opening bars of Denmark’s Mads Mathias’s astonishing UK debut show in front of a jam-packed Dean St. Pizza Express on Tuesday, when we were treated to an electrifying evening of what can often be boring mainstream jazz from a singer, who also contributed a fair number of tasty tenor saxophone moments, who is clearly influenced by the master Kurt Elling. All the material apart from Stardust and a supersonic Tea For Two which closed the evening with scat that didn’t make you cringe,was written by this truly gifted artist and ,incredibly, it sounded like a programme of standards,with nice harmonic structures and good strong melodies that didn’t sound like pastiche or nostalgia.

Peter Rosendal, Mads Mathias at Pizza Express, February 2015
Photo credit: Cat Munro

Although they had only met earlier iin the day for the first time this was the kind of non tricksy material that allowed the rhythm section - Dave Ohm, Colin Oxley and Andy Cleyndert- to produce comfortable ,but not complacent, swing feels all built around Cleyndert’s great time. On tune after tune his great bass ‘walk’ intro’s with Mads’s stunning piano player,Peter Rosendal laying down subtle comping chords,beautifully placed in just the right places allowing Oxley and Ohm to breathe and lift Mathias up on a magic carpet of of beautiful swing time exposition: a masterclass in the classic art.

Mads Mathias, Andy Cleyndert at Pizza Express, February 2015
Photo credit: Cat Munro

The divine Georgia Mancio duetted with Mads on the title track of his new album, Free Falling, just before the break and though slightly shambolic the sheer sense of mutual pleasure and good humour seemed to spread over everyone in the room. Serious musicians sparking off each other and clearly having a great time is always one of the best experiences you can get in this music and thiis was such an occasion. Come back asap.

Mads Mathias, Andy Cleyndert, Georgia Mancio at Pizza Express, February 2015
Photo credit: Cat Munro


Thu 26th Feb – Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
Fri 27th Feb - Pizza Express Music Room, Maidstone
Sat 28th Feb – The Cinnamon Club, Altrincham, Cheshire



CD REVIEW: Engines Orchestra + Phil Meadows Group - Lifecycles

Engines Orchestra + Phil Meadows Group - Lifecycles
(Engines Imprint. CD Review by Sarah Chaplin)

This album is a real feat. It’s the brainchild of human dynamo and 2014 Parliamentary Jazz Newcomer Award winner, saxophonist/composer Phil Meadows, who in less than 18 months secured himself a prestigious Peter Whittingham Jazz Award, wrote a powerful suite of music from scratch, formed a new 20-strong cross-genre ensemble of talented young players from across the capital to play alongside his own Phil Meadows Group, and recorded an ambitious debut studio album. They wowed audiences when the album launched at King’s Place during the EFG 2014 London Jazz Festival, and have now been nominated for a Parliamentary Award themselves. Meadows must be pleased as punch, and rightly so.

Lifecycles opens with a scene of tetchy domesticity: the urgent, insistent percussive skittering of what sounds like a bunch of kitchen utensils is supported by a low undertow of bass clarinet and a pad string section. Alice Zawadzki then supplies some lush vocals which stretch out over the top with evocative lyrics, turning the instruments into the hum of traffic, building in intensity. Conductor Matt Robinson skilfully steers a course towards a harp break before Meadows takes up his saxophone to provide a soulful melody, picking up the rhythmic feel again with Simon Roth on drums teasing alongside.

There’s an enjoyable filmic quality about the work, as if Meadows has conceived of it as a large multi-cultural city, where you might come across a lonely busker on one corner, some noisy skirmishes at a traffic intersection, before the sensory onslaught of a busy marketplace full of haggling musical phrases and rhythmic side deals. Meadows has a strong sense of form in his writing and gives the listener a generously proportioned kaleidoscopic soundscape, relishing the full range of instruments at his disposal, creating powerful settings for soloists and intriguing sectional textures.

Take Intoxicated Delirium for instance, which has an intentional untidiness and then in the midst of it all, something utterly controlled pierces through. It’s not specifically an orgy of mass improvisation as such, nor even about a strange clash of harmonies or cross rhythms, it’s more epic than that. You can hear the musicians gradually coming into spikes of alignment in the distance, creating the sense of an ambitious crowd scene that builds and builds and then comes to an abrupt end.

It’s followed by a deliciously restrained track called Euphoria, a more solitary piece using soprano saxophone and Tori Handsley on harp drawing out a plaintive lament. The strings hover above, bewitchingly watchful and edgy. The strings play a wide variety of roles: on Prelude they’re low and brooding, working their way through some dense dark harmonies, then on Remembrance they operate like a gang of gulls or monkeys in the distance calling to each other. As it develops fully into a tune, Elliot Galvin on piano takes up the lead with low, patient phrases that become bluesy and off-hand, ending with strong splashy chords as Zawadzki joins back in.

Celebration starts off like a vibrant folk tune played in unison, a happy dorian thing that then explodes like an unplanned firework, sputtering and fracturing into some weird turn of events, which after an exuberant piano break, sets off again at full tilt with a strong rock feel, showing us that Engines Orchestra really know how to construct a narrative. But it’s not only with a long-form tune that Meadows tells a story: Strife of Life is short and sweet, but it feels like you’ve been thrown into a bear pit only to escape within an inch of your life before encountering a divinely shy and contemplative trumpet solo from Laura Jurd. One of the most exciting moments on the album was the duo section on Twice the Man where Conor Chaplin takes a bass solo with Tori Handsley comping on harp.

Lifecycles has the energy of a live recording and the cleanness of the studio recording. There’s a wealth of of light and shade on the album, and the overall sense is that Meadows is continually pushing his collective out on a limb to search out something new. The music itself is a feat of ‘what-if’ type arranging, synthesising raw new blends, flavours and clashes of sound, which is probably why it comes across as a film score. There’s a whole range of moods on offer too, from exuberant, playful noisiness through to heartfelt interludes, yet despite the impressive production and mixing, it’s never too slick or hyped up for the sake of it. It’s one to keep, that’s for sure, but in terms of Meadows’ ambitious and exciting collaborative, it’s just the start of a mammoth new orchestral lifecycle.


CD REVIEW: Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm - Robin Goodie

Zhenya Strigalev’s Smiling Organizm - Robin Goodie
(Whirlwind Recordings WR4665. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

UK jazz fans will have known about Zhenya Strigalev for some time, but many – looking at the St Petersburg-born alto saxophonist’s new CD – may be intrigued by its cover and will be asking the question, “Who is Robin Goodie?”

Strigalev explained IN THIS INTERVIEW that the disc “is in some way dedicated to England and my time here...a mixture of Robin Hood and Boogie Woogie”. You’ll be hard pushed to find any boogie woogie, but Strigalev’s band of merry men shows some of the traits – strong personalities, rebelliousness – associated with the legend. The sleeve depicts Strigalev in a forest - in Russia? Nottinghamshire? - near an abandoned house where he worked on several tunes that eventually made it to the album (which was recorded in New Jersey).

The eleven compositions – all by Strigalev - are frequently unsettling. The album opens with its longest track, KUKU. It has unison passages for the leader and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, a pleasing theme and the occasional hook; yet the melodic and rhythmic motifs change every few moments. Several other selections have an equal restlessness, and demand stamina to navigate through a bewilderingly dense landscape of sound.

After urgently boppish passages by Strigalev and brushwork from drummer Eric Harland – penetrating, subtle and faultless as ever - Sharp Night takes on an altogether different hue. There’s a rapturous section led by pianist Taylor Eigsti; Larry Grenadier on double bass, and bass guitarist Tim Lefebvre shudder with nervous energy; and an oft-repeated trumpet note provides stability in the maelstrom. It’s a magical masterstroke that shows the band at its zenith.

Personal Opinion begins as conventionally as anything on the disc with an inviting riff, then dissolves into a collective improvisation after a couple of minutes. I may not fully understand Ornette Coleman's controversial theory of harmolodics, but this interactive episode is reminiscent of stuff that Prime Time did in the 80s. Just as alto sax, bass guitar and drums are blowing up a storm on the title track, the flow is suddenly interrupted by Strigalev saying “Hi, my name is Robin Goodie”, and the trumpet solo that follows fails to recapture the spirit. But Akinmusire’s gorgeous work on the following track, Lorton, makes up for it, and is matched by a fine contribution by Eigsti.

Instrumentally, Strigalev treads a fine line between poise and fragility on Unlimited Source of Pleasure, and his tone is at its purest as he throws in a few quotations during Urgent Ballad. His greatest strength, however, appears to lie in the ability to write for a frequently-shifting roster of band-mates who take risks and thrive on creating fleeting beauty from enigmatic, open-ended sketches.

Unless your musical mind is highly developed, you probably won’t be humming these melodies on the bus in the morning. But - whatever its origins – Robin Goodie is highly absorbing, and there is much magnificent music to savour.

LINK: Zhenya Strigalev at Whirlwind Records


NEWS: Jamie Cullum to host BBC Introducing Showcase at Montreal Jazz Festival

The main outdoor stage at the 2014 Montreal Jazz Festival
Photo ©Festival International de Jazz de Montréal - Victor Diaz Lamich

Jamie Cullum annnounced on his radio show tonight that he will be hosting a BBC Introducing showcase at the vast, massively attended Montreal International Jazz Festival on July 1st. This showcase will be supported by the PRS for Music Foundation.

There has to our knowledge been no press release (yet?). The instructions of how bands can get involved are HERE. The terms and conditions relating to the tracks uploaded to the BBC Introducing site are HERE.

LINK: Sebastian's A to Z of the 2014 Montreal Jazz Festival for the Telegraph


INTERVIEW: Phil Donkin (The Gate Tour Dates 3rd - 13th March)

Phil Donkin. Photo credit: Lena Ganssmann

Bassist PHIL DONKIN is releasing his first album as leader "The Gate" (Whirlwind) on March 9th, and is touring in the UK (dates below). Sebastian asked him the questions by email:

LondonJazz News: Where are you from?

Phil Donkin: Sunderland, North East England

LJN: You’ve been living in New York, London, Berlin… Where’s home? Are you settled now?

PD: Right now I'm based in Berlin for two reasons - most of my work is touring : Europe and sometimes Asia and Africa so it's great for getting around. Plus my girlfriend lives there. I feel quite settled in Berlin, it's a great place to live but I do think about living in other places sometimes. I enjoy changing my environment now and again.

LJN: What made you choose the bass?

I was fascinated by it when I was a kid because when I would watch 'top of the pops' and programmes like that, it was the one instrument I couldn't hear. I loved that it looked like an electric guitar but was a bit different. I think I was fascinated by the fact that Bass Players tended to get looked over. That intrigued me because I sensed that something really cool lurked under the surface, but I'd have to look a little harder to see it. The least obvious choices have always appealed to me the most.

When I was 12 I saw the Blues Brothers movie, and I was blown away by what Duck Dunn was doing. It also helped that I could see him close up. Unlike rock music ( which is what I'd mainly been listening to ), I noticed that the bass had a different role to the guitar in that the bass part was usually independent of the guitar part and therefore could be heard better. Often the bass would be a low-end counter-melody to the vocal at the top - with the guitar and keybaords etc in the middle. This really appealed to me. Don't get me wrong, I love rock music too but checking out soul, funk and motown etc was great to see how the role of the bass could vary.

On the surface Bass Players tend to blend into the background, but really I think they have so much control over the music. A bassist could really sabotage the gig if he/she wanted to. But taste, generosity and restraint are crucial to make the whole thing work. This can be a lot of fun.

LJN:  You have performed with many interesting artists? Which stand out and why?

You know, as a Bass Player I think the experiences with drummers are always the most thrilling for me. I've been very lucky to play with some incredible drummers, and what amazes me the most is how much more exciting the music is with great drummers. Three names that stand out for me are Bill Stewart, Ralph Peterson and Ari Hoenig. With all of them I was hanging on for dear life. That is terribly exciting, and when it works out it feels very satisfying. It was very humbling because I really felt I was being tested to my limits, and I love when music is on the precipice of falling apart. To be honest, it's the only time when I think the music is really happening. The risk is always worth taking, even if it falls apart, which doesn't matter even if it does because the challenge is then in the recovery.

LJN: What has been your most surreal experience?

The most surreal experience I had was was probably on tour with Ari Hoenig and Jonathan Kreisberg in Finland - we played in a bus stop - No joke!

LJN:  I once heard a rumour that You were in the running for the bass chair in one of the salaried big bands in Germany - what happened? Is this still something you would be interested in?

PD: This is the first I've heard of that! No I've never applied for anything like that. But if I was asked, I don't think I'd want to do it because I don't like routine and I enjoy variety too much. But maybe one day I'll consider something like that if my priorities change.

LJN:  The album features fine musicians. How did you meet and what made you choose them for your debut album?

PD: I have known drummer Jochen Rückert (*) the longest, we've done many tours over the last 10 years or more. I met him in London around 2004 when he was playing with Marc Copland. I was (more ) naive back then which worked in my favour. I got his email address and plucked up the courage to ask if he wanted to jam. Luckily he said yes and we played some trio with Gwilym Simcock. It was a lot of fun, but I was very nervous and obviously got my arse kicked pretty hard. For some reason after that he recommended me to sub in some bands he worked with in Europe, so we kind of developed a musical rapport over time. When it came to choosing a drummer for my project, there was no question about asking Jochen. He just has 'the thing'. An amazing musician.

Pianist Glenn Zaleski and I became friends shortly after I moved to New York, he was a young guy on the scene and was always up for playing, as was I. So we ended up on many jam sessions and gigs together. Glenn is very special because he has so much depth, and doesn't just pander to whatever is in vogue at the moment. He knows so much about the history of the music, but is very creative and always fresh and in the moment. It's very easy to play with him because he listens so much. He comps really tastefully for bass solos too which I love.

Saxophonist Ben Wendel (*)  and I also met on the scene in NY. I always loved hearing him play, and the energy he brings to the music. He's a super nice guy and was always up for playing if he was in town. There's a lot of brilliant tenor players to choose from in NY, but because of how great Ben is and the experiences I'd had playing with him, it made sense to ask him. He totally nailed my music and added so much depth to it.

LJN:  You have been performing for many years - is there a particular reason why this is your debut album?

PD: Many reasons really. I had written some tunes and wanted to document my music. Also I felt that I needed to feature myself in a way that I might not get an opportunity to as a sideman. It's nice to be totally in charge of a project ( stressful as well of course! ) and get to make all the decisions. I wanted to test myself to see if I could do it actually. It would be easy as a bass player to not bother, but I like challenging myself. I didn't know how hard it was going to be though, I empathise with bandleaders much more now!


3 March – SoudCellar, Poole
4 March – Dempsey’s, Cardiff
5 March – Bonington Theatre, Arnold
6 March – Millennium Hall, Sheffield
10 March – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London (album launch)
11 March – Urban Coffee, Birmingham
12 March – The Spin, Oxford
13 March – Wakefield Jazz

(*) The UK tour dates are being played by either Colin Stranahan or James Maddren on drums. The 13 Mar UK date will feature Julian Siegel on saxophone 
LINK: Phil Donkin at Whirlwind Recordings


REVIEW: Rie Nakajima and Elliott Sharp at White Cube

Audience waiting for Rie Nakajima to 'animate the room', White Cube Gallery
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Rie Nakajima and Elliott Sharp
(White Cube, Bermondsey, 21 February 2015. Part of the Christian Marclay exhibition programme. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The single Saturday afternoon performance by sound artist, Rie Nakajima, became two as Elliott Sharp was in town for the première of his Christian Marclay/London Sinfonietta commission the next day. Both artists explored the acoustic properties of glass, a major theme of Marclay's exhibition, in their own unique ways - Nakajima through her process-based performance and Sharp, shortly after, in an electric guitar improvisation set.

Nakajima's performance, said White Cube's Scott Martin in his introduction, 'will involve her animating the room'. This set the scene for a captivating sequence which involved Nakajima unravelling the coils of red wire which she had placed in the centre of the gallery, to each of which was attached a tiny vibration motor the size of an in-ear headphone that drew its electric power from a central source.

Walking towards the perimeter of the room, in different directions with each wire, Nakajima stretched them out, one at a time, and positioned their ends at floor level at points between the centre of the room and the shelf running around the room on which were sitting numerous pristine beer, wine and spirits glasses. She then selected individual glasses, placed them on the floor and brought them in to contact with the vibration motors so they would rattle against the glass. With some she taped the wire in position to ensure that the ensuing chiming and jangling tones remained continuous.

The cumulative effect was to build up a charmed, lightly smile-inducing landscape of layered, ringing sounds and serendipitous pulses precipitated by the star-shaped tentacular incursion of wires that gradually defined the room's topography. Passing relationships of ownership were created between clusters of audience members and the varied sonorities that the nearby glasses cast in to the space.

From a steady, low scale intervention, more complex overlapping beats emerged from within the jangling jungle mist and, finally, urgent alarm calls imposed themselves until, without warning, Nakajima literally pulled the plug on proceedings and instant silence crashed the space.

Elliott Sharp at White Cube, Feb 2015
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved.
A black-clad Elliott Sharp followed a different tack, seated by a table with a small array of glasses and other implements which he selected to apply, at times simultaneously with a glass in each hand, to the strings, fretboard and pickup areas of his strikingly minimalist, transparent bodied guitar. He drifted from slinky, slide guitar abstractions, using glasses, short metal rods and an ebow as the slides, to deeply down-home, sad, anguished and angry Chicago blues resonances. From revving up an electric bass beat Sharp flipped to a liquid limbo, a mercurial one-man band, with swings, sustains and hums all extracted from the glass/metal interface in his calmly irrepressible sonic quest.

Nakajima's and Sharp's contrasting approaches made fascinating listening and viewing, adding further richness to Marclay's music programme at White Cube.


PHOTOS: Hellmüller Risso Zanoli at BMW-Welt Munich

Franz Hellmüller and Stefano Risso at BMW-Welt, February 2015
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Ralf Dombrowski writes: 

Some pictures from yesterday's fourth of the six competitive rounds of the BMW Welt Jazz Awards in Munich, with Swiss guitarist Franz Hellmüller, and Italians bassist Stefano Risso and drummer Marco Zanoli. This was a restrained affair, with more than a few evocative allusions to the masters of modern guitar atmospherics Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. But as a place of refuge from the unpleasant dankness of the weather outside, their welcoming ambient vibe had a good deal going for it.

Marco Zanoli at BMW-Welt, February 2015
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Franz Hellmüller at BMW-Welt, February 2015
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Hellmüller Risso Zanoli at BMW-Welt, February 2015
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Iiro Rantala (UK & Ireland dates, March 9th-15th)

Iiro Rantala. Photo Credit: Steven Haberland/ACT

Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala has a major presence on the European jazz scene. Kathryn Shackleton spoke to him ahead of  four dates in the UK and Ireland in March:

LondonJazz News: Despite your big following in Europe, you are not very well known in the UK. How would you describe your music to UK jazz fans who haven’t heard you yet?

Iiro Rantala: Lively and lovely too! My music is a mix of my own musical history. I started singing J.S. Bach Masses and Passions at the age of six, moving on to classical piano, then jazz and then going back to my roots – sad Scandinavian folk melodies and simplicity. Sounds like a mess, but that’s the formula.

LJN: You started singing in a choir at six? Is that normal in Finland?

IR: No, it’s not normal. Ice hockey is normal! But my mother had an idea that I could sing, when she heard me singing with the radio. We have no musicians in our family but she took me to a very professional choir called Cantores Minores and I started touring with them around Europe at the age of 7, and we even sang at the White House for Ronald Reagan!

I was always interested in the piano and there were pianos at the choir rehearsals, so I started playing and they couldn’t get me off the piano bench. I quickly learned the Bach piano parts and had a huge interest in the keys. When I was about 10 I switched to accompanying the choir on the piano. Piano technique always came easily to me.

My piano playing developed when I went to a classical music school and learnt first Scarlatti, Bach, Mozart and then more complex works. Next I went to a secondary school which was the only school in Finland that was also very strong in pop and jazz. In a few weeks I found myself in 4 or 5 bands and rehearsed every day after school. I loved it and my strong classical background meant it was easy for me to get into improvising.

LJN: What other influences made you become a jazz musician?

IR : Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, who I heard as a teenager. I started with the modern pianists and never got into swing and more traditional jazz. Chick Corea was my idol as a composer and Keith Jarrett as a player. Also Leonard Bernstein who’s like a perfect example of a human being who donates his life to music – not just boosting himself, but by helping others to develop and succeed.

LJN: You worked for many years in the successful Finnish band, Trio Töykeät. What do you get out of playing solo as opposed to playing in a trio?

IR: I spent 18 years working hard without breaks with the same people in Trio Töykeät and we played all the continents and over 40 countries. After that ended I approached ACT and Siggi Loch and suggested a solo album. Playing solo, it’s all in your hands and there is no bass solo where you can rest! In a band, if you’re not having a good evening or the sound or the piano is bad or you are tired, you really get the support from the others, but that is not the case if you are on your own. If the magic doesn’t happen in the first 5 minutes of a piece, then playing solo is really hard.

I like playing solo as much as in a trio, though – it’s more challenging but I get a kick out of it and my solo recording ‘Lost Heroes’ has become my best selling album.

LJN: What is the premise behind the album ‘Lost Heroes’?

IR: Some artists want to hide their influences, but I’ve always been very open with mine. Each track on the album honours a different pianist who has influenced me and who is no longer with us. My idea was to give something back and to point out that in music we don’t have to come up with everything ourselves.

When I was working on Lost Heroes it was the first time that I had ever been really ill. I had a slipped disc for 5 months. I was on strong pain-killers and I thought I would have to live with the pain for the rest of my life. The most melancholic compositions like Tears for Esbjorn came out, and it was a special time for me, preparing for that album. It was also the first time I had worked with a producer. On the 7 or 8 Trio Töykeät albums we were our own bosses. On Lost Heroes, though, I had Siggi Loch - ACT owner and producer - in the studio with lots of opinions, and he wasn’t hiding them! Siggi is always keen that a concept should flow through an album and he kicked 2 or 3 tunes out because they didn’t fit the mood. He was absolutely right and I really wanted him to be close to the recording as he has so much experience.

LJN: What defines the Finnish jazz scene to you, and how does it differ from the UK jazz scene?

IR: Actually, I don’t see myself as part of Finland’s jazz scene as I work mostly around Germany and I live in Majorca. I don’t know much about the UK jazz scene, except that you have some excellent musicians like Gwilym Simcock, who I work with, and John Parricelli, with whom I just played in Lars Danielsson’s band.

LJN: Who would be your dream band – living or dead?

IR: Peter Erskine on drums and Lars Danielsson on bass – in fact we are starting to work together this year. Bobby McFerrin could join us for a couple of songs, but I wouldn’t let him steal the whole show!

LJN:As well as your trio with Peter Erskine and Lars Danielsson, what other plans do you have for this year?

IR: This is a very busy year. I’m releasing a duo album with a great Finnish saxophonist, Jukka Perko and touring in duo with Marius Neset. As well as this I may be hosting a TV programme where we travel with a grand piano across 5 countries and I play in the streets with local guests. I’m also recording a solo piano album of John Lennon’s music for ACT for his 75th anniversary this October, and I’ll be touring heavily with that. I won’t be changing every chord and making it sound like Giant Steps with lots of improv. I’m trying to change as little as possible and still trying to make it sound fresh.

LJN: How do you compose?

IR: It always starts the same way. I do my piano practice, and then I start improvising. My piano practice involves scales, then I play Bach, then a Chopin Étude and sometimes I take a difficult piece that I would never play in a concert, like Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata. After that I start working on new compositions. I try to make up simple melodies, and there is a fine line between simple melodies and something that sounds like Richard Clayderman!

In Trio Töykeät everything had to be very fast and technical, but I’ve done that now and don’t need to show off my technique anymore, so I try to find perfect melodies. I like composing, but the main motive for me is to do it because I need new music to play in my concerts. I don’t really wake up in the morning and feel the need to write a symphony! I’ve always loved performing. That’s my thing.

Iiro Rantala will be appearing at:-

- Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean St., London on March 9th - with Gwilym Simcock

-  Watermill Jazz, Dorking on March 12th - solo

- The Model, Sligo on March 14th - solo

- Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin on March 15th - solo

Iiro Rantala’s first solo CD Lost Heroes was released in 2011 on ACT. He releases his next solo album in celebration of John Lennon’s music on the same label later this year.

LINK: Review - Iiro Rantala with Gwilym Simcock and Florian Ross at the 2010 European Jazz Piano Summit in Cologne


PHOTOS: Anna Maria Jopek Band at Union Chapel

Photo 1. Anna Maria Jopek and band, Union Chapel, February 2015
Photo credit © Monika S. Jakubowska. All Rights Reserved

Photographer Monika Jakubowska was at the Anna Maria Jopek concert at Union Chapel on 22nd February. Tomasz Furmanek has provided these evocative explanations of the photos..

Photo 1 (above). Anna Maria Jopek's Polanna proved to be a musical journey through centuries of Polish musical heritage in search of typically Polish soul in music. The result was of universal appeal, sublime, seriously refined, enchanting and revealing top class musicality. Touching.

Photo 2. Anna Maria Jopek and band, Union Chapel, February 2015
Photo credit © Monika S. Jakubowska. All Rights Reserved

Photo 2. Unparalleled performances from a band consisting of the very best Polish jazz musicians contributed to the great success of AMJ's musical vision - on this photo with outstanding pianist Krzysztof Herdzin and impressive bass player Robert Kubiszyn.

Photo 3. Anna Maria Jopek and band, Union Chapel, February 2015
Photo credit © Monika S. Jakubowska. All Rights Reserved

Photo 3. Musical chemistry between the singer and the band members plus a sheer joy of playing together were truly remarkable. Anna Maria Jopek with jazz guitar master Marek Napiorkowski.

Photo 4. Anna Maria Jopek and band, Union Chapel, February 2015
Photo credit © Monika S. Jakubowska. All Rights Reserved
Photo 4. Memories of a distant past with Piotr Nazaruk (left) - singer and flautist who also played zither, and partnered Anna Maria in a cappella sung parts of the program - inspired by medieval Polish music.


INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Emily Saunders Outsiders Insiders CD Launch (St James Studio, 17 Mar)

Emily Saunders. Photo credit: Matt Crossick

Emily Saunders's second album "Outsiders Insiders" will have its launch gig at St James Studio on  Tuesday March 17th. Sebastian interviewed her by email:

LondonJazz News: The difficult second album... you had quite some success with the debut, and maybe learnt lessons from that. What's different this time?

Emily Saunders: Yes thank you the 1st album was pretty successful which was a lovely surprise for a debut.

Cotton Skies came about naturally, as leading up to the album I was performing Brazilian repertoire with my band, which I love. I also had lots of my own compositions collected over years which I decided to try in the band. They went down really well, the audiences loved them. The Brazilian music, and my tunes were a great musical balance so I discovered I had an album to record.

With Outsiders Insiders, my second album, I decided to do all originals. I also aimed to continue with the sound that I'd created in my first album, but to extend it further in performance, my writing, and my production. Some people see jazz recordings as a capture of performance, whereas I see the production as part of the compositional process, which can lead to a different sound from the original performance.

LJN: What is the title song "Outsiders Insiders" about?

ES: I write about the world I see around me. Outsiders Insiders was originally written as a poem observing categories within society. When you have a group of people who see themselves as insiders that leaves others as outsiders, then by turn those outsiders can be come a group in themselves reversing the situation. It's a reflection of what happens within society all over the place, that society can become very divided. Therefore it's kind of a 'call to action' for us to connect more 'outside' of our 'inside' circles. Personally I believe we need more social connectedness.

This theme re-appears on the album in the tune Reflections. The phrase in the chorus 'all by yourself' refers to self-responsibility for change. I aimed for both Reflections and Outsiders Insiders to be about instigating positive change and connection. I've always loved the phrase that Gandhi is reputed to have said “be the change you want to see in the world” … apparently he may not have said these exact words, but the sentiment is still there.

LJN: "You Caught Me" is quite a "constructed" song?

ES: That's very complimentary that it comes over that way, in fact it's also a very ethereal song which is quite simplistic in its contents. I aimed for it to appear almost timeless via its construction. I think all art is constructed in some way or another. Throughout the album I've thought deeply as to how to construct the tunes both in themselves and in relation to each other.

LJN: And the idea of making / constructing feeds into how you put together a live programme and indeed the album?

ES: Yes that's right there are parallels between how I construct a live programme and an album. Everything that I'm reaching for is about balance - balancing opposites, balancing connections, balancing content. When I'm constructing, in doing this I'm aiming to give the audience an enjoyable experience.

LJN: Is there an overall shape or narrative to the album? 

ES: There is no narrative as such, no simple story arc, but what there is, is the concept Outsiders Insiders which focuses on the categories that people find themselves in and the need for some sort of reconciliation. This also refers to my compositional approach as I look at categories in an artistic representational way throughout the album, via tune balance, reflection and connection.

LJN: You have a way to make tunes "meander" through moods, is that something you've learnt from other composers

ES: I've been inspired by so many great composers and sounds it's impossible to quote them all, but everything goes through my own personal filters and out of that comes something original.

LJN: And you've always written poetry? Stories?

ES: Yes I've loved to write poems and stories since I was young kid. I now focus on poems as I find the reduction of language really powerful. I also love my poetry in a musical context hence they often become lyrics. It's one of the ways in which I make sense of the world. I write about what I see around me, either what I experience directly, or observe indirectly which is either sadly or happily universal. My approach to composing varies: sometimes I write words then add music, sometimes I write music then add words, and sometimes I write in conjunction. Some of my compositions don't have any words.

LJN: Is there catharsis involved?

ES: If people respond to my work then there should always be some cathartic element to it. I write about things I see around me, both in a personal reactive way, as well as purely observational. I aimed for this album to cover a wide spectrum of human emotions, as though the different tunes are moments in time in themselves capturing both personal or universal experiences.

LJN: How has Taoism influenced you?

ES: I read Tao Te Ching a while back and found it to be a beautiful book full of poems some of which portrayed balance in opposites. One element of Taoism is to reconcile opposites and to be able to tolerate ambiguity. That is an important part of what I'm doing in my writing. For example the words in Residing portray beauty in opposites: 'sunshines on cloudy days, snowdrops bloom in months of May' and 'sunrise dawns as night draws in, butterflies appear to swim'.

LJN: But "Summer Days" shows you as quite a cheerful person?

ES: Yes thank you that's lovely thing to say, and yes artistic balance is fundamental to my work. The words to Summer Days are about people chilling out in a park or at a carnival having fun. I love singing it, it is a very happy song and the audience always smile.

LINK: Outsiders Insiders CD Review
Review: Emily Saunders Band at the Spin Oxford in 2012


RIP Clark Terry (1920-2015)

Sad to report the passing away yesterday in a hospice yesterday of the kind-natured, massively influential Clark Terry at the age of 94. The message from Gwen Terry on his website says it all.

LINK: Interview with Alyn Shipton


RIP Roger Dalleywater

Roger Dalleywater

Eddie Wilkinson writes:

Writer, broadcaster, musician Roger Dalleywater died peacefully at home on 20th February 2015 at the age of 78, following a long battle fighting heart disease.

Roger was one of the UK’s top jazz experts and for 30 years presented jazz on BBC Radio Kent and appeared on Radio 2,4 and The World Service. He was equally well known in America where he hosted concert , festivals and worked on numerous radio and TV stations. In addition to his writings on music, he was an authority on topography and buildings of historical interest. He leaves his second wife, son, daughter, stepdaughter and 6 grandchildren.


INTERVIEW: Gerard Presencer and A Modern Approach to Playing the Trumpet

Gerard Presencer in 2014. Picture courtesy of Danish Radio

Trumpeter GERARD PRESENCER has just launched a trumpet tutor book entitled "A Modern Approach to Playing the Trumpet" (Warwick Music).

Presencer now lives in Denmark where he works as trumpet soloist with the Danish Radio Big Band. He is Head of the Brass Department at the Jazz Institute, Berlin, and also hosts his own radio show on Danish Radio's P8 Jazz. (Full Biography)

Sebastian interviewed him about the new book:

= = = = =

LondonJazz News: You've been teaching for quite a while now. When did you start ?

Gerard Presencer: I have been teaching jazz trumpet for just over 20 years. I started private teaching when I was asked at gigs by young trumpeters and that led to lots of teaching one-to-one trumpet students for many of the London colleges. I was very much a player at this point and had little theory or idea of what I was doing, but I trusted my instincts and had experience of performance. I had learnt a lot of solos by ear and played the Parker Omnibook for some years in my teens.

LJN: Where have you been teaching recently?

GP: These days I teach at the Jazz Institute in Berlin (I have been there for more than 15 years).

LJN: Who were the teachers who took you the furthest?

GP: My teachers were the same as I was in my early teaching career. Good, strong gigging players who could relate their experiences of how to do it. Paul Eshelby was my longest serving teacher(!) and he would take me to gigs and recording sessions at Maida Vale.This was invaluable.

I had problems in my early career with my technique as I wanted to be my heroes - but continually hurt myself trying to reach their heights.

LJN: What led you the idea of this book?

GP: Seeing young enthusiatic players around also beating up their lips, over the years led me to form the the idea of writing this book. It has been on my to-do list for at least 10 years, becoming something of a joke with my students,as it has taken longer to write than War and Peace, but the ideas have kept developing and needed updating, normally because my students see a way to make it more interesting or challenging.

LJN: The basic idea?/ the USP?

GP: It has been on my mind when travelling around teaching, watching auditions or final concert exams, that nobody playing jazz trumpet has a similar technical approach. This is good up to a point, but also it prevents many musicians making progress, if their notion of technical development can often be 'something boring that classical players do'. I have wanted to integrate jazz language and rhythmic approach into a technical method, so when we come to improvise, it has technical support. You just cannot be as creative without a supportive technique, and even great trumpeters cited as weaker technical players who were highly creative, were actually strong technically (Miles and Chet for example).

LJN: What can the student expect to find in the book?

GP: Exercises that contain rhythmic and harmonic language used in improvisation, as well as templates to develop one's own ideas.To help develop supportive physical technique and muscle memory for improvisation on trumpet.

LJN: Which topic did you tackle first?

GP: Air is all. The first through to the last exercise.Everything else (tongue, breath accents,fingers) is there to support the air.

LJN: Didn't Arban's Cornet Method nail all that in 1864?

GP: The classic methods of Arban, Clarke, Colin are politely developed (odd-metered or changed harmonically) bringing in articulation for jazz and breath accents to swing without tonguing too hard (this causes us pain!). Also I have written some Bebop heads as a culmination of the exercises.

LJN: What books did you yourself learn from?

GP: I grew up on all these books, but played them too fast with no thought (only partially benefiting!)....I was in a hurry to hit the Aebersolds!

LJN: Who is the book aimed at? /What level of student?

GP: I am not sure. Probably Grade 6 onwards, but maybe a bit higher. If you want to improvise, get it anyway, as some of the exercises are hard, but are all extensions of earlier easier ones, so as you develop, it should be a straightforward progression.

LJN: Surely some people are just better at it, or happen to have chosen their parents well?

GP: Anyone can improvise.It's not hard to improvise, as it is more generic than we let on! Of course when it gets interesting some people will shine more than others, but I am positive all musicians who want to improvise can learn how to very quickly (this is not an improv book though).

LJN: So how do you develop your own voice and story-telling capacity?

GP: To play trumpet we need control to be able to make creative choices and to take risks.I don't just play one type of improvised music and to do this I need a foundation to adapt in whatever area of music I am asked to improvise in.

LJN: Are there things to do with the book online?

GP: I am going to be putting You Tube demos of the exercises up to support the book, as it will clarify the written exercises. There will be increasing amounts of clips over the coming weeks, but for starters there are some quavers with the articulation system of the book over a medium standard (LINK HERE).

LINKS: A Modern Approach to Playing the Trumpet at Warwick Music

Review - Gerard Presencer and Mulgrew Miller at the 2012 Copenhagen Jazz Festival

CD Review - Meditations / The Nightingale and the Rose by Siobhan Lamb (feat. Gerard Presencer)


NEWS: 2015 Echo-Jazz (Germany) Nominations announced

The nominations have just been announced for Germany's main jazz awards of the year, the Echo Jazz Prizes, organised by the Deutsche Phono-Akademie in Berlin. The awards ceremony will be in Hamburg at the Elbjazz Festival on May 28th in the Blohm + Voss shipyard hall. (Echo Jazz website)

Ensemble of the Year Germany

Hans Lüdemann Trio Ivoire - "Timbuktu"
Michael Wollny Trio - "Weltentraum"
Rainer Böhm Quartet - "Familia"

Ensemble of the Year – International

Hildegard lernt fliegen - "The Fundamental Rhythm of Unpolished Brains"
Pat Metheny Unity Group - "Kin"
Vincent Peirani & Emile Parisien - "Belle Époque"

Vocalist of the Year - Germany

Johanna Borchert - “FMbiography"
Tobias Christl - "Wildern"
Ulita Knaus - "The Moon On My Doorstep"

Vocalist of the Year - International

Rebekka Bakken -"Little Drop Of Poison "
Andreas Schaerer - "The Fundamental Rhythm of Unpolished Brains "
Somi - "The Lagos Music Salon "

Instrumentalist of the Year Germany  - Piano/Keyboards

Rainer Böhm - "Familia"
Julia Kadel - "Im Vertrauen"
Michael Wollny - "Weltentraum"

Instrumentalist of the Year International  - Piano/Keyboards

Stefano Bollani - "Sheik Yer Zappa"
Chick Corea - "Solo Piano Portraits"
Brad Mehldau - "Mehliana: Taming The Dragon"

Instrumentalist of the Year Germany - Saxophone/Woodwinds

Niels Klein - "Tubes And Wires"
Christof Lauer "Petite Fleur"
Max Merseny - "Everlasting"

Instrumentalist of the Year International  - Saxophone/Woodwinds

Branford Marsalis - "In My Solitude: Live in Concert at Grace Cathedral"
Emile Parisien - "Spezial Snack"
Joshua Redman - "Trios Live"

Instrumentalist of the Year Germany  - Drums/Percussion

Eva Klesse - "Xenon"
Diego Pinera - "Strange Ways"
Eric Schaefer - "Weltentraum"

Instrumentalist of the Year International  - Drums/Percussion

Jeff Ballard - "Time's Tales"
Brian Blade - "Landmarks"
Manu Katché - "Live in Concert"

Instrumentalist of the Year Germany  - Bass/Bass guitar

Eva Kruse - "In Water"
Robert Landfermann - "Tiefgang"
Omar Rodriguez Calvo - "Beat"

Instrumentalist o the Year International  - Bass/Bass guitar

Lars Danielsson - "Liberetto II"
Dave Holland - "The Art Of Conversation"
Steve Swallow - "Simple Songs" (with Christian Muthspiel)

Instrumentalist of the Year Germany  - Brass

Till Brönner - "The Movie Album"
Sebastian Studnitzky - "KY The String Project"
Reiner Winterschladen - "Rio Bravo"

Instrumentalist of the Year I nternational  - Brass

Ambrose Akinmusire - "The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint"
Theo Croker - "Afro Physicist"
Nils Petter Molvaer - "Switch"

Instrumentalist of the Year Germany  - Guitar

Hanno Busch - "Absent"
Tobias Hoffmann - "11 Famous Songs Tenderly Messed Up"
Peter Meyer - "Hymnolia"

Instrumentalist of the Year International  - 

Bill Frisell - "Guitar In The Space Age"
Nguyên Lê - "Celebrating The Dark Side Of The Moon"
Pat Metheny - "Kin"

Instrumentalist of the Year - Other instruments

Adam Bałdych (Violin) - "The New Tradition"
Regina Carter (Violin) - "Southern Comfort"
Vincent Peirani (Accordion) - "Belle Époque"

Newcomer of the Year

Eva Klesse Quartett - "Xenon"
Tobias Hoffmann - "11 Famous Songs Tenderly Messed Up"
Julia Kadel Trio - "Im Vertrauen"

Big-Band Album of the Year

Rebekka Bakken & hr-Bigband - "Little Drop Of Poison"
Alan Broadbent & NDR Bigband - "America the Beautiful"
Christof Lauer & NDR Bigband - "Petite Fleur"


CD REVIEW: Tina May – My Kinda Love

Tina May – My Kinda Love
(Hep CD 2101. CD Review by Peter Vacher)

Tina May has always followed her own star, often popping up in challenging or off-beat situations. The root of her talent, though, as Hep producer Alistair Robertson emphasises in his sleeve-note, lies in her jazz sensibility. May is a true jazz singer, at ease with jazz musicians and content to operate in a jazz context. All of this is reaffirmed here where she works mostly with an accomplished small group, the arrangements largely in the hands of a regular collaborator, the saxophonist and bandleader Frank Griffith, but with the added layering of a string quartet on four of the dozen tracks. Robertson sees this new album as a follow-on to Divas, also on Hep, the song choices far from routine with the added bonus of two original compositions by the veteran tenor-saxophonist Duncan Lamont.

The title track is a relaxed hymn to love from 1929, Tina at one with the swinging background, Sammy Mayne’s alto prominent. In complete contrast, her reading of Lazy Afternoon, arranged by John Jannson, complete with its Satie-esque piano introduction, is languorous and heartfelt, the strings overlaid softly by the Griffith clarinet. Tina’s ability to move between vocal registers is notable here. Bassist Dave Green sets up Tina’s perky treatment of S’Posin’, this adorned by the welcome presence of trumpeter Janusz Carmello, Griffith spirited on clarinet ahead of John Pearce’s superb piano solo.

There’s evidence throughout this absorbing album of careful forethought, each track given a distinctive setting, Tina’s honeyed sound and perfect intonation applied as effectively to up-tempo swingers as they are to its more thoughtful pieces, each set of lyrics given proper attention. Nothing muddled or over-stretched here. Good to hear composer Lamont’s tenor-saxophone on his mellow Where Were You In April and Frank’s impressive tenor on A Sunday Kind of Love, Tina ‘positively flirtatious’ on this one in Robertson’s words. The final song, I’m Through With Love, taken slow, teams Tina with the duo of Pearce and Carmello, the trumpeter’s Braff-like solo entry quite breath-taking.

Helpfully detailed notes from Robertson and good session photography round out a quality release. Recommended.

LINK: CD Review - Tina May  - Divas


CD REVIEW: Gil Evans Project - Lines of Color: Live at Jazz Standard

 Gil Evans Project - Lines of Color: Live at Jazz Standard
(Blue Note / ArtistShare. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

The Gil Evans Project is the brainchild of composer, conductor and producer Ryan Truesdell, who has been working for several years to keep Gil Evans’ unique sound in the public eye. Lines of Color was recorded two years after the orchestra’s début CD marking its subject’s centennial in 2012, an album which was nominated for two Grammys and won one.

Unlike those who rely on transcriptions, Truesdell uses original manuscripts to guarantee correct instrumentation and orchestration, and this – together with the skill of top-notch players - results in music that is as genuine as possible. If you fear that this meticulous attention to detail might be a recipe for studious sterility, don’t worry. The 25-strong band produces potent music - captured over six nights at the Manhattan club Jazz Standard - and the audience is suitably responsive and appreciative.

Bix Beiderbecke’s Davenport Blues is an early highlight in the set: Evans’ peerless 1959 arrangement leaps out at you with a slow, stately majesty, and the young Australian trumpeter Mat Jodrell creates great excitement.

During the course of his painstaking research, Truesdell discovered over 50 “new” compositions and arrangements in addition to Evans’ known discography, and six of them are presented here. Just One of Those Things gets a lively treatment, with fine soprano sax from Steve Wilson. Evans’ tune Gypsy Jump has an arresting brass fanfare and a bouncy interlude for the reed section before the soloists - including Donny McCaslin on tenor – take centre stage. This would have made people sit up and listen when it was written in 1941. Even the less successful pieces Avalon Town and How High the Moon have noteworthy touches, and benefit from hand-picked players including pianist Frank Kimbrough and saxists Scott Robinson and Dave Pietro.

Evans arranged for singers at various times during his career, and the vocal tracks have a somewhat old fashioned feel that befits their 1947 vintage. Wendy Gilles is showcased on Can’t We Talk It Over and Sunday Drivin’. She also sings on Everything Happens to Me which, alongside the sumptuously-textured Moon Dreams, forms a seamless Easy Living Medley.

The downside to Truesdell’s use of authentic arrangements is that the more familiar tunes do not sound very different from the originals. However, two fabulous creations from 1964 - Time of the Barracudas and the canonical Concorde - were rarely performed during the last 20 years of Evans' life, so it’s particularly good to hear them "live". The former has a startling trombone solo by Marshall Gilkes; the latter, a surprise in the form of Lois Martin's viola.

Few things match the unfettered excitement of the “real” Gil Evans Orchestra, and those of us who witnessed the band in full cry will surely never forget it. Truesdell and his cohorts are much more than a repertory band, and they have a damn good shot at evoking the spirit of one of the icons of 20th century jazz.

LINK: Review of Ryan Truesdell and the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra at the 2013 WDR3 Jazzfest (German then English)


REVIEW: Ant Law Quintet Zero Sum World CD Launch at Pizza Express Dean Street

L-R:Ivo Neame, Ant Law, Tom Farmer
Ant Law Quintet - Zero Sum World CD Launch
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 16th Feb 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Time and again last night there were reminders of quite how high the level of musicianship in London is, and of what a quintet of our first-call players outside their more familiar contexts can do. Their overall assuredness, their band-feel, their inter-reactivity is so high, there is such positive energy, such high quality listening, trust and freedom going on....I was left with a single thought that wouldn't go away: how on earth can the complete absence of UK bands at the main industry showcase in the world, Jazzahead in Bremen in April be explained or justified? It surely defies all logic.

Each of the members of guitarist Ant Law's quintet has other allegiances, plays in better-known bands, but in this context, they were helping him to bring his varied and fascinating compositions to life, elucidating his fascinating stories. Law's tunes often have an engaging, easeful lyricism, but that instinct is conjoined with a delight in asymettry. Triviophobia is exactly that. The challenge for the players is to make its contours attractive, while at the same time relishing their unpredictability and irregularity, and  also, for good measure, allowing the whole piece to grow organically. It takes seasoned musicians to bring this off.

If you start from from the foundations of this band, there are two musicans, bassist Tom Farmer (better known from Empirical) and drummer James Maddren (better known from, well, everywhere - SEE OUR RECENT INTERVIEW) who have been stalwarts with Ant Law - both were also on his first album. Farmer gives a vast range of tonal colour, from a muffled Haden-ish thrum to fully resonant strings and in one solo gave a convincing impression of a Japanese koto. Maddren is as ever alert. alive to everything, but also capable - in a tune like Monument, written in praise of Ben Monder - of suddenly cutting across with delightful explosions which give the band a visible jolt.

For pianist Ivo Neame - it was John Turville on the first album - this is a very different context from the more extrovert tautness of Phronesis. He clearly relishes the challenges of playing music with a quieter more watchful, surreptitious vibe. In his soloing, he invariably brings an additional sense of freedom in the moment, of being able to take the listener to unexpected places. In the textures which emerged as he slotted back into the team-player role, the balance in his voicings, his classy supportive playing were a constant delight.

Ant Law's regular partner in front, Mike Chillingworth, had had to step down through illness at short notice. Step on Julian Siegel. He took on the role at virtually no notice and his contribution was a forceful tour de force. The contrast of Siegel's playing versus Chilllingworth's more ethereal sound as can be heard on the album was fascinating. Siegel states melodies more emphatically and directly, Also, seeing him alongside a guitarist brought the visual memories of Partisans, where guitarist Phil Robson presents Siegel with a very different challenge. While Robson and Siegel have been sparring and joshing for years, Law is much more oblique, elusive and allusive. If one has prior expectations of how Julian Siegel is going to play, he will confound and surpass them.

Ant Law himself is a modest man, the last person who is going to sing his own praises. The context of leading, filling a gig with punters and friends is also a stressful one, but several times he showed what a thoughtful soloist he is. It is always worth listening carefully for the inner logic of what he does. The lines of his concentration and his melodic improvisation are long,  There are controlled volleys of notes, but their is also a lyrical, listener-helpful, considerate side to his playing. I felt I understood his way of looking at the world better when he explained the background of the tune Entanglement. Law is fascinated by the theoretical possibility that two of Saturn'sixty-odd moons might swap orbital paths with each at regular intervals. The tune sends the band off into such an exploration in the calm beauty of space. But there isa parallel text: people with emotions also undergo entanglements in their orbits. His fascination with such parallels and with complexity draw one in to a different world, and his ability to define and shape that world grows stronger all the time.

If musicians who are as in-demand as those to be heard on the Dean Street stand last night choose to take on and inhabit Law's music with him, it is because he is not just a fine catalyst, but also, absolutely, their equal, Last night proved it.

The Zero Sum World tour dates are HERE (website has sound). There is a second night at Pizza Express Dean Street tonight.


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Julian Argüelles - (in duo with John Taylor, 606 Club, Thurs 26th Feb)

John Taylor (left) and Julian Argüelles (right)

Saxophonist Julian Argüelles and pianist John Taylor will be performing together as a duo at the 606 Club on Thursday 26th February. Julian Argüelles' latest CD, "Circularity", which has just been nominated for a Parliamentary Jazz Award, also features John Taylor on piano. We interviewed Argüelles by email about the work of this duo:

LondonJazz News: When did you first meet John Taylor and what were the circumstances?

Julian Arguelles: I have been listening to John's music almost from the time I first started getting into jazz. I think we both played together for the first time when i was 17, it was on a project by the composer Nick Purnell in about 1983. My brother Steve was already playing in various bands with John by that time.

LJN: John played on your first record, "Phaedrus". How did that come about?

JA: I was playing with John from an early age, but I feel I got to know him better during Kenny Wheeler's 60th birthday tour, the tour that produced the Small and Large Ensembles CD. Around that time I was starting to feel ready to make my first CD, I had been playing a lot around London and composing tunes that I enjoyed playing, but I wasn't quite sure who to use for the recording. After Kenny's tour we had a few get togethers to play through some tunes and it was soon obvious that John was the musician I wanted, after that everything else fell into place.

LJN: What you do enjoy most about playing with him?

JA: There are so many characteristics about John's playing that I think are special, of course he is a great composer too. The first thing that strikes me about his playing is his sound on the piano, its incredibly powerful, i've never played with another piano player with such a beautiful sound.

LJN: As musicians, what do you and John have most in common? And are there differences in approach?

JA: I think we both like a certain amount of openness, space to naturally develope the music within an improvising ensemble. I think we both like to try new things, new ideas, even though we've both come from a similar jazz tradition. I'm finding it hard to think of significant differences in approach, we both have a huge love of melody, harmony and rhythm all framed within an emotional language.

LJN: Is there something in particular that you have learned from him, musically, professionally or personally?

JA: I think John is a true artist, which is surprisingly rare, so I find his whole life, musical and personal, a huge source of inspiration.

LJN: What music are you and John planning to perform at your 606 Club date?

JA: I'm not sure yet, we'll probably both bring some originals, some new tunes some older. There'll be some surprises which, of course, is the way it should be.



PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Pete Horsfall. (Debut gig by Pete Horsfall Quartet, St James Studio, 27th Feb)

Pete Horsfall (centre). Photo credit: Benjamin Amure

Ahead of trumpeter/vocalist Pete Horsfall's debut with his new quartet on Friday February 27th at St James Studio, Sebastian interviewed him about it by email:  

LondonJazz News: What is special about the gig by the Pete Horsfall Quartet on on Fri 27th Febriary ?

Pete Horsfall: It will be the first gig for my new quartet. I'm launching the group at the St. James Theatre studio, one of my favourite venues in London - and I'll also be singing, which might be new for some of those who have only seen me play trumpet.

LJN: When did you start singing on gigs? And people have encouraged you ....?

PH: Playing with many early jazz groups (dixieland.. trad.. whatever you'd like to call it) over the past few years, singing tends to be encouraged. Often each member of a group will have at least one song they sing during the set. The basic thought is, I think, that audiences simply like to hear someone sing at some point during a set! My singing really grew from that background and now I'm featured singing in most of the groups I'm currently working with including the Kansas Smittys House Band and Basin Street Brawlers.

LJN:  And this is a different style from the Basin Street Brawlers which you also lead?

PH: Yes that's right, the new quartet is definitely working within a different style. We've taken a lot from the small group arrangements of the Nat Cole Trio, the Art Tatum trio of the early 1940s, and other associated acts like Slam Stewart and Slim Gaillard. I suppose you could call this small group swing, if you were forced to label it. It’s worth also mentioning the vocal influences of Billie Holliday.

LJN:  Who is in the band?

PH: Multi-instrumentalist Dave O'Brien plays double bass, Dave Archer plays guitar and Joe Webb plays piano.

LJN:  And you've been doing arrangements for this group?

PH:  Yes we've been arranging classic tunes like I Cover The Waterfront, alongside other less well known gems like I'll Be Around - taking inspiration from the tight arrangements of Nat King Cole and Art Tatum.

LJN:  And what plans do you have going further?

PH:  We have some high profile gigs coming up this year, including a confirmed appearance at Ronnie Scotts - we'll announce the date later in the year. We also plan to record an album of arrangements and new originals in summer 2015. & I’ll be dropping in to play with Joe Stilgoe next month, too.

St James Studio Feb 27th Tickets