PREVIEW: Ivy Benson Reunion Band (Vortex, 8th April)

The Ivy Benson Reunion Band

Ivy Benson ran the most popular big band during and after WW2 at the end of the 1940s and 1950s. The Reunion Band played at the Celebration last year of what would have been Ivy Benson’s 100th birthday. Most of the group are bandleaders in their own right, and are based in Cornwall where they play regularly. They will be travelling up especially for to make the Vortex swing the Vortex with a mixture of jazz, ballads and latin on Wednesday April 8th. Deirdre Cartwright is especially excited about this gig - and explains why:

In May 1976 I had to make a very difficult choice. Was I going to take my end-of-year Economics exam, or play on a recording session in Manchester with the Ivy Benson Big Band, my first professional studio session? Both on the same day, what a clash! I remember closing the enormous Economics book and saying to my Mum I have to play on that session. End of my degree course at the Polytechnic of Central London after just one year.

At Strawberry Studios I met most of the band for the first time. I was nearly sick with fright. Kathy Stobart was there on baritone, my sister Bernice was Ivy’s bass player. However, the person that created a buzz in the studio was Carol MacBean. No longer with the band, she had been Ivy’s tenor player for several years.

As some of the horn section steadily got through several carrier bags of beers, they warmed up and despite no prior rehearsal with this particular line up, there was some great playing. I can still recall what a great sound Carol had and she could really improvise. We needed one more number to complete the album at the end of a marathon day. Ivy called ‘The Pink Panther’. Carol, despite being a bit worse for wear by this point stood up and played the theme beautifully with a couple of great bluesy breaks.

I often wondered what happened to Carol McBean? Never heard of her again. Then last year there was a big Ivy Benson Band reunion in Bristol. One of the old band mentioned that Carol McBean had played in the Reunion Quartet set. Her married name is Carol Gasser and she still plays regularly in Cornwall. Not only that but gigs regularly with Claudia Colmer-Lang  – this was Ivy’s legendary double bass player from the 1960s, who also lives in Cornwall.

I happened to be playing with ARQ in St Austell in November and managed to hook up with both of them. It was great meeting them and I managed to persuade them to come up to London, the first time in over 35 years for Claudia, to play at the Vortex as part of the Tomorrow the Moon season.

I think this is the last real link with her and her legacy. These three women played with her for many years and she is now being fast forgotten…


Blow the Fuse presents

Reunion Band (Ivy Benson musicians)
Wednesday 8 April 2015 Vortex Jazz Club

Musicians from the Ivy Benson band come to 'Swing the Vortex'

A Tomorrow the Moon event


Carol Gasser (MacBean) tenor sax,
Claudia Colmer-Lang double bass
Crissy Lee drums
Max Turnbull piano
The Vortex Jazz Club 11 Gillett Street, London N16 8JH Doors 8pm First set 8.45 pm

LINKS: Advance tickets £10 Door £12
A recent BBC Radio 2 programme Sax Appeal: Ivy Benson's All Girl Band about the legacy of Ivy Benson features Carol, Claudia and Crissy talking and playing.


PREVIEW: Three Jazz Poetry Superjams celebrating Michael Horovitz at 80 (Pheasantry, April 4th-6th)

Michael Horovitz has long been a champion of jazz and poetry (see the London Jazz review of an early live LP from an early New Departures jazz event he organised in 1962 ). 

To celebrate his 80th birthday, the Pheasantry is hosting three Jazz Poetry Superjams over the Easter weekend, the first of which reunites him with Pete Brown and Bobby Wellins from those early New Departures groups. Other guests include Steven Berkoff, Gwyneth Herbert, Alec Dankworth, Molly Parkin, Clark Tracey, Peter Lemer, Alexander Hawkins, John Hegley, Annie Whitehead, Jennifer Maidman, Vanessa Vie and Adam Horovitz.

Saturday 4th April 2015 - Jazz Poetry Superjam #1 


Sunday 5th April 2015 - Jazz Poetry Superjam #2


Monday 6th April 2015 - Jazz Poetry Superjam #3


"In the words of William Blake “Art Is Religion, Religion Is Politics, Politics Is Brotherhood”. Join Britain’s pre-eminent Beat poet, Michael Horovitz, and a host of special guests, in a celebration of everything worth celebrating at Easter and Passover, plus his own 80th birthday. Tonight's guests are celebrated poet Roger McGough (Liverpool Poets, The Scaffold); leading actor, playwright, theatre director (and film villain) Steven Berkoff; novelist, painter and poet Molly Parkin; cirtically acclaimed pianist/composer Alexander Hawkins, poet Adam Horovitz, and singer-songwriter Vanessa Vie."


INTERVIEW / PREVIEW: Close To You: Sinatra and the Hollywood Quartet’ (Cadogan Hall, 16th May)

Back row L-R:Callum Au, Jeremy Brown, Jeremy Isaac, Bozidar Vukotic
Middle row: Johns Mills, Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, Matthew Ford, Matt Skelton
Front: James Pearson

On 16th May at Cadogan Hall  ‘Close To You: Sinatra and the Hollywood Quartet’, will present a reinvention of the Sinatra recording ‘Close to You’ which had arrangements by Nelson Riddle. The concert features the Tippett String Quartet. Héloïse Werner interviewed two of their members, Jeremy Isaac (violin) and Bozidar Vukotic (cello):

LondonJazz News: How did this project come about?

Bozidar Vukotic: Our fantastic drummer, Matt Skelton, originally came up with the idea of recreating the Close To You album. He's an old friend whom we've all worked with in the John Wilson Orchestra over the years.  He loves chamber music and he felt Close To You was the obvious musical project for a string quartet that loves Sinatra, jazz and the great American Songbook. The Tippett Quartet has made a name for itself by pushing the boundaries of the quartet repertoire so it feels a natural project for us to be involved in. 

LJN: How do you go about rehearsing? Is one member of the ensemble considered the Musical Director or is it a more collaborative process?

Jeremy Isaac: Rehearsing is slightly different as there are many people to coordinate. It is still a collaborative process as we all have a say in how things are done. The rehearsal usually consists of making sure the logistics of starting (and ending!) are agreed upon - and negotiating any tricky transitions so we all feel comfortable. We (TQ) simply lock in and make sure our 'string' administration is taken care of in house so we don't waste time! Other things we have to consider is how the vocalist wants to shape each song in order to convey the right mood. We also make sure whoever has arranged the chart is happy with all the parts.

LJN: As a classical string quartet, do you feel that performing as part of such an ensemble is any different from your more usual classical concerts?

JI: So long as we are making a great sound and having fun it doesn't matter whether it is Schubert or Sinatra. The only difference being you don't get a James Pearson improvised piano solo in Death and the Maiden to enjoy mid movement!

 LJN: Looking at your recent CD releases, you seem to have a strong interest in Hollywood composers – can you tell us why?  

 BV: Many of the most successful composers of the golden period of Hollywood were already well-established and successful concert composers in their own right before they started writing film scores. Eric Korngold in particular was lauded as a child prodigy in his native Austria and he had his first opera produced by the Vienna State Opera at the age of 18. The string quartets of Korngold, Rozsa and Herrmann have been largely overlooked by performers and critics but we think they are full of passionate and inventive music and we love playing them. 

LJN: On 16th May you’ll also be playing Ravel’s Introduction & Allegro – why did you choose to programme that particular piece?

BV: Nelson Riddle, the arranger for the 'Close To You' Album was a big fan of Ravel and he based his arrangements on the instrumentation of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro. Ravel is considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, orchestrator in classical music so it's no coincidence his music had a huge influence on the composers and arrangers in Hollywood. 

LJN: If you were to describe the project in five words, what would they be?

JI: Unique, exciting, intimate, inspiring, fun.

LINKS: Interview with Callum Au about Close To You
Cadogan Hall tickets


CD REVIEW: The Ben Cox Band - This Waiting Game

The Ben Cox Band - This Waiting Game
(Cinnamon Records. CD Review by Jeanie Barton)

Ben Cox’s lyrical, playful yet somehow sorrowful voice and compositions first put me in mind of a jazz inspired, soulful Gilbert O’Sullivan with the opening track This Waiting Game. His delicate counter tenor and falsetto range could perhaps also draw comparisons to James Blunt but he has an unexpected arsenal of chromatic and harmonic dexterity as well as carefully reserved strength. It’s hard to believe this musicality and individuality is emerging from someone who is only 21 years old and not yet graduated from London’s Guildhall School of Music.

His band; directed by Jamie Safiruddin on piano and keyboards, are chilled and smooth. The modal shifts they regularly employ give the album (produced and co-arranged by Ian Shaw) a modern, fresh feel, peppered with rock/funk edged grooves, notably on When Ends Appear and during a re-harmonisation of And I Love Her by Lennon and McCartney. Ben Cox’s voice is layered up both in unison, octaves and harmonies to create a wall of sound, Adam Chatterton not only contributes trumpet and flugelhorn of exemplary jazz character but also adds backing vocals. Most tracks bring all these sophisticated elements together making the ensemble sound much bigger than the five participants. During Sea the guitar and backing vocals of Kirk McElhinney are also added to the mix which fattens the sound further, while the driving Hammond line urges the swell to a crashing crescendo.

The ensemble showcase their spacious and delicate, classical jazz abilities in A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, a duet shared with Claire Martin wherein Flo Moore’s moreish double bass steals some limelight. Slow Dance has a similar soft, brushed retro vibe and is one of my favourites, it is an angular yet catchy tune that coils up and then unfurls almost seamlessly, Ben Cox’s voice and Adam Chatterton’s horn share the melody and the piano opens out at the close with a glorious flurry of theatricality, embellished by Will Glaser’s cymbals.

The band’s Latin virtuosity is brought to the fore in the syncopated Either Or as well as an effervescent This Happy Madness with Emily Dankworth (by Antonio Carlos Jobim & Vinícius De Moraes) wherein both she and Ben Cox start colla voce in alluring Portuguese and then vocally percuss a vivacious tempo to continue with the with English lyrics by Gene Lees. Another curious number is a poignant waltz called George, a song written by Jamie Safiruddin about George Michael. This and a number of other songs employ subtle electronic affects that are quite hypnotic juxtaposed over the more organic sounding compositions.

Just when you think they have employed every string on their bows, track 10, Country Song, shifts the album sideways; Cox takes to the keyboard and Safiruddin picks up the rhythm guitar to passionately strum an Irish enthused ditty with a song line that in my opinion shows Ben Cox’s voice off best. I wonder if he has Irish heritage as the style so suits him - he could easily make an album of similar material and most likely become a household name very quickly.


PREVIEW: 'Take the Green Train' full day seminar (2015 Gateshead Int. Jazz Festival, 10th April)

The Greenpeace International Airport at Glastonbury Festival 2009
Photo credit: Bobaliciouslondon/Creative Commons

This year's Gateshead International Jazz Fetival will be placing environmental awareness centre-stage at a seminar entitled Take the Green Train. Jon Carvell writes:

With Gwilym Simcock, Joshua Redman, John Scofield and Loose Tubes already confirmed for the 2015 Gateshead International Jazz Festival, alongside many other great and/or emerging acts, the festival organisers might be tempted to close the planning diary and to congratulate each other on a job well done. These days, however, festival promotion is about more than just getting the big names signed up. Increasingly the case is being made for a more environmentally aware arts sector, which is why this year’s festival kicks off with Take the Green Train, a free full day seminar on April 10th on sustainability in music.

The Sage already has a good reputation for being eco-friendly – with a dedicated Green Team, its very own environmental policy, and public commitments to exceeding industry benchmarks. In collaboration with Julie’s Bicycle, a charity focusing on green issues in the creative industries, and Europe Jazz Network, an association of producers, presenters and supporting from some 30 countries across Europe, Take the Green Train looks at how the jazz industry can do its bit for the environment.

The day includes presentations from Founder and CEO of Julie’s Bicycle, Alison Tickell, as well as former BPI Chairman and EMI Chief Executive Tony Wadsworth. There will be a Green Touring Masterclass, as well as perspectives from Laura Pando of Festival Republic – an industry leader in ecologically conscious festival promotion, most notably at Glastonbury, Latitude and the Leeds and Reading Festivals.

The 2015 Gateshead International Jazz Festival has a strong and exciting artistic vision, but it’s also refreshing and impressive to see a festival which doesn’t ignore the broader contextual issues within which it operates. Yes, touring will always have an environmental impact, especially when musicians from all over the world gather in one place, but how do we capitalise on that vital cultural exchange without neglecting our ecological responsibilities?

Take the Green Train on 10th April to find out.

Green Train Seminar
2015 Gateshead International Jazz Festival
Festival Republic sustainbility policy


PREVIEW: The Echoes of France programme in Bremen at and around 2015 jazzahead!

Vincent Peirani
(the accordionist will playing at the Gala Concert at Die Glocke, Bremen)
Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski
"By the time people leave this year's 'jazzahead!', they really should be aware that France is this year's partner country!"

The 10th trade show, showcase and festival in Bremen from April 23rd to 26th has a French focus. The main co-ordinator of this activity, under the combined banner of “Echoes of France” is AJC (Association Jazzé Croisé), represented by Antoine Bos. Sebastian visited him in Paris to get a better idea of the scale of the French cultural and jazz presence in Bremen in April. To say the least, there is a lot going on:

London Jazz News: What is Echoes of France?

Antoine Bos: It is an exceptional operation of promotion for the French jazz scene and all those active in it. We decided to put everything that's going on in Bremen in April, both before and during 'jazzahead!' under this single name.

LJN: How did it get started?

AB: It was at one of the European Jazz Network meetings, in 2013. Sybille Kornitschky presented the idea to me the for the first time that France could be the partner country for the 10th jazzahead! In 2015. Thereafter we discussed, and on the French side we developed the idea further. We felt we needed to make a real effort to achieve our goals, which is to make the French identity and our artists really stand out among all the huge amount of activity that goes on at 'jazzahead!'. It works for us because we want French artists to achieve greater European visibility and we can give them that at 'jazzahead!'.

LJN: The thing everyone knows about is the showcase, but Echoes of France seems to have a lot more to it. What are the components of the French presence at Jazzahead?

AB: There will be:

- A two-week festival during April  (9th -23rd) presenting a broader perspective of French culture in partnership wth the Institut Francais in Bremen, and the cultural bodies of the City of Bremen who have supported it. It will start on April 9th with a concert by Eric Truffaz et French singer Émilie Loizeau and a bassist/slammer Dgiz.

- During jazzahead! itself, there will be 20 concerts by French artists, including 8 bands on “French Night”

- Six seminars looking at subjects such as the one you're participating in about whether it makes sense to look at France as being different, as an “exception.” There will be one about how we can “federate”, how we can all work better across Europe, that sort of thing.

- A Gala concert in Bremen's main concert hall Die Glocke presenting accordionists Richard Galliano and Vincent Peirani

- Sacem night with two rising stars Raphaele Atlan and Airelle Besson (INTERVIEWED HERE)

- A French “Quartier” with a bistro

- An exhibition of jazz photography of French artists

- A 200 square metre area called “Open Space in which we will run events

- Live transmissions on the Radio station France-Musique from jazzahead! On the Thursday and the Friday of jazzahead!

The effort really is directed specifically around the time of Jazzahead, in the run-up to it, to have the maximum impact. By the time people leave jazzahed!, they really should be aware that France is this year's partner country.

LJN: There are a number of national jazz organizations in France. The way it works is that you've ben given the co-ordinating role?

AB. Yes, it'something particular to France, there are number of different bodies. jazzahead! had reasons why they wanted us as partner: because we'd been there as AFIJMA and more recently as AJC since the start, and because we have the experience of having put together international projects. They are people we know well, Philippe Ochem too, who is one of our board members.

We have been working at it for more than a year, but we have tried to be scrupulous about keeping a whole group of partners in the loop. Also all the members of AJC including our board have put in a lot of time on a pro bono basis.

We invest a lot of time, our budget to do this included just one fulltime person on the project on a six-month contract. But the workload to put it together, working for the wider interest is huge. It is an operation for French jazz in general and that positioning has enabled us to work with all the partners in a common interest: the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the Instiut Francais, the copyright collection agencies SACEM, SPEDIDAM FCM and ADAMI, Bureau Export, CNV and Business France. These partners are not supporting Echoes of France because it's us that's doing it, they're doing it because the project is right.

Our role and the budget we have been given to do it with has been to pay the artists and their travelling and accomodation expenses – paying them properly is inportant -  plus the comunication, and putting together meetings as we have been preparing it all.

I would not want people to think that because it is France, it was easy to find money for this. France is not that rich and it is not easy to get a budget for such operation. They just all understood how such a project could be a real "plus" for the french jazz scene. It would not be easy to make this happen every year!

LJN: Can you give examples of what will go on in the festival before 'jazzahead!'

AB: Apart from the concert by Truffaz and Loizeau one really good thing will be a Boris Vian Day with five short films based on short stories by Vian. The day is put together by the custodian of his work Nicole Bertolt who is a real specialist on Vian. Vian was a great writer with strong links with jazz. (video here)

LJN: How was the French Night put together?

AB:  The selection was made by an international jury. These are people who do this kind of selection as their job. Three of the eight acts that they have chosen are participants in Jazz Migration, a project which we co-ordinate. We are glad that they were chosen, because it validates all the work we have done during so many years by promoting these young French talent, but these were the impartial choices of the judges. Honestly, we are super happy with the choices made by the jury because this selection reflects the french jazz scene in all its components and talents!

Magnetic Ensemble

The only thing we got involved directly in was Magnetic Ensemble for an afterparty, it was a collective decision by a whole group of people - member organisations board and board members involved with AJC.

LJN: How many French people will there be in Bremen in April for Jazzahead

AB: Taking musicians, festival promoters and eveyone together there will be around 200. They are listed HERE. In a normal year it's about 50.

LINKS: Echoes of France website 
Echoes of France is on Twitter and Facebook  
Foreign Press Enquiries:  the co-ordinator of foreign coverage for Echoes of France is Ann Katrin Hülsmann


CD REVIEW: Goran Kafješ Subtropic Arkestra - The Reason Why Vol.2

Goran Kafješ Subtropic Arkestra - The Reason Why Vol.2
(Headspin Head 021. CD Review by Peter Slavid)

I’m a big fan of contemporary big bands. My formative jazz experiences involved Loose Tubes, Sun Ra, and Brotherhood of Breath, and today the UK has several young bands following that tradition (not to mention Loose Tubes again!). I say this upfront to make it clear that my taste tends towards the slightly chaotic and quirky.

With a name like Subtropic Arkestra I was expecting something along similar lines from this CD. Add to that the fact that Croatian/Swedish trumpeter Goran Kafješ is am outstanding member of Oddjob – definitely a quirky band; as well as part of the ferocious Fire! Orchestra. So my expectations were high – maybe too high. There were times when I thought this was going to be a really great album – but it never quite made it.

Don’t get me wrong - it’s always enjoyable – with a nice funky, world music feel. There are some good solos too – but maybe not quite enough of them and maybe just too much repetitive riffing for my taste. It’s a talented band and when Kafješ himself and stellar musicians like saxophonist Jonas Kulhammer let rip, the music comes to life for me.

The opening track has a nice Balkan rhythm, some good guitar and trumpet solos. There’s a nice ballad – A Lua Girou, a Milton Nascimento tune that at times reminded me a bit of Oddjob’s fine album “The Good the Bad and the Ugly”. On Tamzara, an Armenian Folk Dance, the rhythms start to get interesting and then the saxophones lets rip with some fierce improvising. But there are other times where the CD feels on the edge of becoming easy listening. Sometimes the sound balance drops the soloist a bit too far behind the orchestra – and a live show would be stronger.

So, a good album, but perhaps a slightly misleading name. For me this is a big-band, not an Arkestra – or maybe I just read too much into a name.


REVIEW: Tina May - Divas at Harrow Arts Centre

Tina May. Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Tina May - Divas
(Harrow Arts Centre, Hatch End, Middlesex. 27th March 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

Threatened with closure due to cut-backs and now given a one-year reprieve, Harrow Arts Centre has responded with a vigorous yet eclectic programme of events, including a strong commitment to contemporary jazz. Courtney Pine and Jim Hart’s Cloudmakers are due soon; US trumpeter Andre Canniere and Zoe Rahman were there recently. This time it was songstress Tina May’s turn, with the Victorian splendour of the Elliott Hall transformed into a funky cabaret, well, almost, the audience seated at large round tables, relaxed and expectant, drinks at hand.

Tina is always a cheerful stage presence, this crowd soon warming to her distinctive yet engaging way with a song, her band focussed and perfect. And what a band she and her MD, saxophonist Frank Griffith, had assembled, what with John Pearce, piano, bassist Dave Green, Mike Outram, guitar, and drummer Winston Clifford, truly a peerless combination up for every musical twist and turn.

Looking to reference her recent releases on Hep, Tina introduced songs associated with such ‘Divas’ as Edith Piaf, Lotte Lenya, Carmen McRae and Peggy Lee, each piece like a miniature drama, the narratives sometimes carried through in French, her vocal line often unpredictable  yet unerring. Just to hear her essay Hoagy Carmichael’s Baltimore Oriole as a duet with Pearce was to watch an exercise in vocal bravery, Tina swooping onto each note and stretching the beat, as Pearce shadowed her every move, like an eager outside waiting for a pass. Elsewhere it was Outram who caught the ear, soloing attentively yet adventurously too, Clifford’s drum accents crisp and clear with Green’s bounding beat as valuable as ever. And that’s not to overlook Griffith’s strong tenor, this showcased on an impromptu instrumental version of Perdido that swung very hard, this almost upstaged by Tina’s readings of Let’s Get Lost and that hip anthem A Sunday Kind of Love.

As ever, it was this singer’s stylistic derring-do that impressed, the easy road eschewed, her honeyed sound and desire to improvise taking each song well away from anything merely routine. So a good night for jazz and the HAC itself, with Griffith imploring the audience to continue supporting the jazz programme. And so they should.


REVIEW: Claire Martin and Joe Stilgoe at Crazy Coqs

Joe Stilgoe, Claire Martin at Crazy Coqs. Photo from Brasserie Zedel 

Claire Martin and Joe Stilgoe (Crazy Coqs, 26th March 2015, third night of five. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

What's not to like? The duo of Claire Martin and Joe Stilgoe at Crazy Coqs sing a mixture of familiar and less familiar songs to perhaps the most attractive music room in London. They are both entertainers who bring huge enthusiasm and experience to their craft, clearly enjoy working together, and are building a strong partnership. It's a great evening.

The sequence of songs seems to flow naturally. Charlie Parker's Billie's Bounce was there at the top of the evening for the pair to bring a bit of energy into the room- it needed it -, and to get an audience into the mood to enjoy themselves.

People who like familiar and great songs won't have been disappointed, with acknowledgments to Peggy Lee (I Love Being Here With You), Sinatra (You Make Me Feel So Young) For those who need the unusual song or two there  were Donald Fagen's Do Wrong Shoes, and Noel Coward's A Room with a View. And what holds the interest throughout is both performers' knack of finding another unexpected mood or texture within a song. I particularly enjoyed their way with the song which stood as the title or linking theme for the evening, Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein II's It Might As Well Be Spring, and within it the words "I'm as busy as spider spinning daydreams," where there was a joyous surprise each time.

Joe Stilgoe brings a whole range of textures and sounds and variety and entertainment, with a tambourine, a mouth trumpet, a guitar, sibilants (in S'Wonderful), whistling, and the odd unexpected left-field lyric variation: I'm still pondering the rules of a new party game "Hide a Leek" (or possibly "Leak") which found its way into You Make Me Feel So Young.

Crazy Coqs is a great room. The sound is of very high quality. The staff are charming, discreet, impeccable. It seems a long long time since we first wrote about the potential of this room when it was being soft-launched in July 2012. And with a top-class duo like this in residence, where would you rather be?



CD REVIEW: José James - Yesterday I Had The Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday

José James - Yesterday I Had The Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday
(Blue Note 00600406536204. CD Review by Peter Jones)

With a string of genre-busting albums behind him, collaborations with everyone from Nicola Conte to Basement Jaxx, and a stellar performance at last year’s Love Supreme Festival, it seems José James can do no wrong. He has embraced hip-hop, rock and jazz. On early, groundbreaking tracks like Park Bench People (from his debut album The Dreamer), he staked out a piece of Gil Scott-Heron’s territory. Last year’s While You Were Sleeping featured both electric and acoustic rock guitar, reflecting his youthful passion for bands like Nirvana.

The velvet-voiced singer from Minneapolis, now reportedly resident in London, has been making a lot of new friends here, and with good reason: he doesn’t go in for the tiresome histrionics witnessed on talent show TV; his delivery is gentle and cool, dreamy and ecstatic, as if transfixed by the vision in his head. The result is a compelling intimacy of style that gives the impression that he’s singing just for you. His recordings have been among the most interesting and original in recent vocal jazz.

James is not afraid to take risks, and with this new tribute to Billie Holiday, he sets himself a target: the tunes are so well known and have been so often covered that he can now be judged alongside the greatest singers in jazz – including Billie herself. How well he pulls it off is a matter for debate.

He’s kept it stripped-down and simple, with just a piano trio led by Jason Moran, with John Pattitucci on bass and Eric Harland on drums. So far, so good. Now comes the problem: José is a hipster. It isn’t that he lacks passion, but his usual mode of expression is restrained and inward, casual, as if he can’t quite be bothered. This becomes apparent on songs like What a Little Moonlight Can Do. When played uptempo like this, the song’s vocal delivery needs to be snappier, otherwise the singer risks trailing in the band’s wake. Likewise on Fine and Mellow (cue some gender-reassigned lyrics), he doesn’t seem convincingly engaged. On Body and Soul, featuring some beautiful soloing from Moran, the last note José hits would have benefitted from the attention of producer Don Was.

But on the sixth track, a passionate version of Tenderly, José breaks free of his cool and hits his style. All of a sudden he’s in focus. The whole album should have been like this. And it continues: Lover Man leans on a simple bluesy bass-line from Pattitucci. James’s yearning vocal bursts out angrily on the line ‘No one’s here to love me’, as if raging at his lonely fate. God Bless the Child is another slow blues, Moran switching to Fender Rhodes for the first time, with a lovely variation in dynamic and a drawn-out ritardando ending.

But the album's closer Strange Fruit is the No.1 reason to listen to this album, for all its minor faults. Because no one can sing this tune unless they mean it. And José James does mean it, declaiming Abel Meeropol’s lyric a capella, backed only by a dark country church drone of weary voices and a plain handclap. Not merely spine-chilling, but one of the best things he’s ever done.

Jose James is at Ronnie Scott's on May 19th


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Dave Shepherd (NJA Fundraiser, Loughton, 11th April)

Clarinettist/bandleader DAVE SHEPHERD has played alongside Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson, Bud Freeman, Yank Lawson, Ruby Braff, Wild Bill Davison., Barney Kessel and Gerry Mulligan. He also ran the Pizza Express All-Stars for more than 20 years.In anticipation of his fundraising gig in Loughton in aid of the National Jazz Archive, Digby Fairweather interviewed him:

LondonJazz News: When did you form the Quintet?

Dave Shepherd: I think it was in l954 but the lineup was different to now of course. But we were picked up by the BBC very quickly and during the l960s/70s were on nearly every week!

LJN: What was the inspiration?

DS: Well really Benny Goodman's small groups. I loved Benny best of all and later on I toured with his pianist Teddy Wilson and we became great friends.

LJN: That must have be a special time?

DS: Yes it was. Jack Higgins who was my agent for over fifty years first put us together and I remember I went to Ronnie Scott's for the audition. Teddy was the prefect gentleman. He just said 'What do you know' and we took it from there! After that we toured all over Europe and made a lot of albums together too for Alan Bates' Black Lion label. One of them was recorded live at the Montreux Festival I remember and it's still about.

LJN: By that time you had the name of 'Britain's Benny Goodman'?

DS: Yes, for better or worse, I did - although I like a lot of other clarinet players too. I can do a great Pee Wee Russell if you want! But I did do a lot of Goodman-based albums starting with 'Salute' in l954 and three or four more from the l960s-80s; for Alan Bates, Rediffusion, Souvenir - several labels.

LJN: What was Teddy Wilson like?

DS: Very charming, quite reserved. He used to stay with me at my home in Theydon Bois and made great friends with our cats. And on one of the first evenings he asked if he could have a drink. I don't drink - never have - but found a bottle of gin and a tumbler! When the gin got near the top of the glass I said 'How's that Teddy?'. And he said 'Dave - that's coming along just fine!'. My old friend the late Brian Lemon was there too.

LJN: Who's in the Quintet now?

DS: Well Roger Nobes for years - to my mind the greatest vibraharpist in Britain. Brian Lemon was with me too for years of course but now I use Nick Dawson or John Pearce where I can - both fantastic musicians! Then there's bassist Len Skeat and Stan Bourke on drums - two more regulars and both great friends and colleagues for years now. I think Paul Morgan – another great player – may be playing bass this time though.

LJN: I gather you're playing for nothing for the National Jazz Archive?

DS: Yes, I'm funding the concert - and happy to do so. It's a great cause and over the last few years there's been some intensive fundraising in between grants from the HLF. I guested with the 'Great British Jazz Band' on one fundraiser last Autumn and it's good to be back with my own band.

LJN: And the date?

DS: It's Saturday April 11th in the afternoon starting at 1.30 at Loughton Methodist Church. It's a beautiful hall and the nearest tube is Loughton. I gather there's a few tickets left David Nathan the Archivist for tickets: 020 8502 8988. I think he works mornings most weekdays - except Thursdays.

LJN: Thank you Dave

DS: And thank you too.......

. LINK: Booking details are also on the National Jazz Archive website


CD REVIEW: Steve Cromity - All My Tomorrows

Steve Cromity - All My Tomorrows
(Cromcake Records. UP code 040232190667. CD review by Andy Boeckstaens)

Until a few months ago, I had never heard of the American vocalist Steve Cromity. Last September, I visited Emmanuel Baptist Church on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn to listen to the Eric Frazier-led sextet known as the Brooklyn Based Jazz Band, and Cromity was one of three singers who appeared with them. I was quickly won over by Cromity’s easy charm and sincerity, and these qualities are evident on this ten-song set that was recorded in June 2014. Many of the selections are associated with Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett, and their treatment majors on Cromity’s strong voice and unfussy work from the piano trio and three guest horn-men. The opening Old Devil Moon and When Lights Are Low are typical of what follows. The leader’s intonation and diction are excellent, and Kenyatta Beasley plays obbligatos and tidy solos on muted trumpet.

Bass player Eric Lemon is a model of good taste and restraint throughout the album, and leads off How Little We Know on his own. Cromity opines that (Carolyn Leigh’s lyrics) give an “important insight into the nature of human relations” and the group - a quartet here - offers an object-lesson in responsiveness and sensitivity. I’d like to have heard more from pianist Marcus Persiani. Although he takes credit as musical director - and for the arrangements along with Cromity and producer Rob Crocker - his prowess as a soloist is seldom highlighted. His feature on I Was Telling Her is a rare exception.

Perhaps the best-known performer is Patience Higgins (whom I have seen leading his own quartet at Harlem’s historic Lenox Lounge; and in London with people as stylistically diverse as pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and the remarkable tap dancer Savion Glover). He is as versatile as ever: on tenor saxophone during the tender title track; with soprano in hand on Where Do You Start, and flute for the attractive bossa nova My Little Boat. The powerful tenor sax on Sugar – by Stanley Turrentine and Jon Hendricks - is that of Eric Wyatt (who is Cromity’s nephew). He is also prominent on Jeannine and Without a Song, and his tone combines particularly well with Beasley’s open trumpet. Drummer Darrell Green kicks along these uptempo tunes with a beautifully light, subtle swing.

The name of the record label suggests that the CD is the product of a cottage industry, but you would hardly know. From the clarity of the sound to the photography and digipak sleeve (and despite a couple of minor errors in the liner notes), its standards are very high.

There are few surprises and nothing radical on All My Tomorrows. Cromity and his team simply present melodic, uncomplicated mainstream jazz that many will find extremely pleasing.


REVIEW: Nicolas Collins and Okkyung Lee at White Cube

Cellist, Okkyung Lee, at White Cube
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Nicolas Collins and Okkyung Lee
(White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey, 21st and 22nd March 2015. Part of Christian Marclay's exhibition programme. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

"A live recording session - you don't know how strange this feels!" So proclaimed electronic music artist, Nicolas Collins, on the eighth weekend of the Christian Marclay season at White Cube. His improvised performance and that of the innovative Korean cellist, Okkyung Lee, whose commissioned work with the London Sinfonietta, Pub Crawl, Day One, was performed on the following afternoon, were recorded live for output as limited edition vinyl albums, to be pressed and packaged in the gallery, as with all the concerts.

Both events owed as much to the exuberant artistic melting pot of New York as they did to the vibrant London platform around which Marclay has built the series. Collins is a native New Yorker and, like Marclay, frightened the horses at CBGBs in the 80s. Lee is based in New York via Boston's Berklee, and Marclay, who conceived the entire series, now splits his time between the two cities.

Collins and Lee responded to Marclay's brief in unique engagements with the hundreds of drinking glasses crammed on to the shelf running round the pristine gallery.

Collins, in his first piece, worked carefully with feedback, using mics to interact with glasses hand-picked off the shelf. He captured, distorted and moulded the feedback from each mic, manoeuvring the glasses around them to shape the sounds, then poured water into each before extracting the liquid with a giant pipette, moving it from one glass to another to induce variations in pitch, with high hums and jamming signals adding highlights.

Small vibration motors were put to work in the fragile, active anarchy of his second piece, tapping on the glasses and beer mats placed over them, their echoes, tings, tinkles and tiny thuds eliding with lightly invasive feedback and sudden ear-crunching screeches. Collins turned each one off, singly, to return to silence.

Nicolas Collins, electronics artist, at White Cube
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Lee, for the Sunday commission, envisioned the entire space as the performance area. With the Sinfonietta's quartet positioned centrally, a large bass drum as visual focus, each musician faced outwards to the audience. In the initial, arcadian spell, Jonathan Morton opened with tentative violin scutterings, Joely Koos drew out fluffy sounds with her bow on the cello's wood, Scott Lygate turned his clarinet horizontally to blow through the keys and Oliver Lowe used chains to play on his timpani and cymbals. 'Think of water sprinklers ... going off unevenly' was one of Lee's scored instructions.

Departing from the central podium, they walked into the audience area, continuing to play, halting for moments as they wove around the packed room and were joined by Lee, playing her cello with gusto, emerging from the corner where the recording team were based.

Delicate sounds drifted in from all directions as in a constantly changing multi-phonic dream. Drama was added with Lowe's thunderous pummeling on the bass drum, and with a final, magical touch, audience members who had been primed by Lee, played on the shelf-based glasses with pens to add a shimmering, tinkling cascade. Lee had immersed the whole room in a beautifully crafted sound world that spun on a perfect balance between structure, imagination and engagement.

Okkyung Lee’s Pub Crawl, Day One will be repeated on Sunday 29 March at White Cube Bermondsey with a solo improvised set from Lee, too.



CD REVIEW: Streetworks - Unfurled

Streetworks - Unfurled.
(ATKS1501. CD review by Jon Turney)

The accordion, leader Karen Street’s instrument here, can be a domineering presence: that garrulous wheeze, the endless sustain, can leave other players with too little breathing space. Have no fear, she is far too good a musician and composer for that to ever happen. She is interested in colouring the soundscape and subtle orchestration and, although she can throw off a rapid fire solo with the best of them, there is relatively little of that here. She states some themes, embroiders others, comments and cajoles. But the bulk of the solo duties, and many of the lead lines, are shared by the pure-toned saxophone of Andy Tweed and Mike Outram’s superbly inventive guitar.

All three players stay mainly in a mellow mid-register, which with the immaculate support of Will Harris’s bass in this drummerless quartet gives the band a gently beguiling overall sound. There are no sonic extremes, save for a brief and – to my mind – not completely convincing burst of sax histrionics that underline the title of Tantrum. Otherwise, the more calculated approach of each arrangement allows the tunes to shine through. All are by Street, save for Tweed’s upbeat Beluga in the Bierkeller and No 255, a limpid reworking of a hymn tune by Basil Harwood. Street has said (in her interview here with LondonJazzNews) that this a contemplative, mid-life offering. It also seems a very good-humoured set, though, in an English way. Certainly the accordion playing leans more toward the jaunty rather than maudlin side of the instrument’s personality. There are more dances than dirges, although the exceptionally beautiful closer Peace – introduced by simply-stated solo bass – does have a pleasantly melancholy air.

There, as elsewhere, the four sustain the mood brilliantly, with perfectly pitched contributions from all the players. Outram’s guitar lines, especially, always draw the ear, but this attractively unusual CD is really about the band sound, and a lovely one it is. The accordion, almost in spite of itself, is constantly hinting at other musics, from folk tunes to tango, but its use here is individual, distinctively jazzy, and wholly effective. It is a nice lesson in how a mature, relaxed and undemonstrative player can, nevertheless, be the essential, central voice.


CD REVIEW: Polar Bear – Same As You

"Polar Bear – Same As You
(The Leaf Label. BAY 98CD . CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

More than a decade on from their first release, Dim Lit, Polar Bear have taken their sharpest change of tack yet with Same As You.

One gets a feeling that this album,
finished during an intimate six week stint shored up in the Mojave Desert, may be the closest that listeners have gotten until now to an understanding of the ever- enigmatic and musically multi-faceted Sebastian Rochford. The opening spoken word piece Life Love and Light was written and recited by Asar Mikael, a friend of Rochford's from Tottenham. It is a semi-spiritual sermon full of magnanimous wisdom and set over faint organ strains, and very much sets the tone of the record.

We Feel The Echoes is perhaps the start of the album proper, with Mark Lockheart and Pete Wareham combining - one tenor gently setting a context with the other rising over it - before embarking on quiet conversational solo tangents. The saxophones swap in and out, rising and falling as Tom Herbert's double bass anchors the group. Sounds all but cease before the Rochford's busy percussion creeps back into the frame, and ambient bass and subliminal sax return.

This very distant and minimal feel is surrendered a little as more recognisable Polar Bear emerges on The First Steps. The trademark interwoven tenor lines play out with more animation here over the urgent polyrhythmic backing that develops. Unrelenting Unconditional fulfills its earnest title with innocent clean sax melodies soaring over driving folk percussion and searching bass. It is slower paced and more reminiscent of Andy Sheppard's Nocturnal Tourist period say, than Polar Bear's own hustle and blustering bustle from some of their previous works.

The majority of tracks here pull up in a leisurely fashion and, after an interlude, drift off into the horizon. This is a pattern which makes Same As You very much a laid-back record.The delicate production focuses on the drums and bass, with the two saxophones left reverberating next door in the echo chamber instead of taking centre stage as they sometimes do. However the album's single Dont Let The Feeling Go takes a slightly more energetic attitude, opening with a solid yet patient bouncing bass line and contrasting Hannah Darling's clear vocals with Rochford's rougher singing style. The characteristic jaunty meandering sax middle period ends with a vocal reprise as the positive theme is reiterated. It returns once again at the end of the album.

Rochford has remarked that “the album is about love and positivity”, and while this is expressly clear in the lyrics on the two vocal tracks, what is so impressive is how he has made the other compositions exude his "wellbeing and happiness," too. This CD put me in thoughtful mood, so if I'm the "same as you", or even just simialr, it should have an equivalent effect, if you let it.

Same As You is released on 30/03/2015


REVIEW: Eve Risser White Desert premiere at La Courneuve

Children from the Ecole Elementaire Charlie Chaplin, La Courneuve (foreground)
Antonin Tri-Hoang, Fidel Fourneyron, Eivind Lønning of the White Desert Orchestra
Photo Credit: Stephanie Knibbe

White Desert - World Premiere
(Centre Culturel Jean Houdremont, Courbevoie, France. 24th March 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

As Alsace-born composer/pianist Eve Risser observed with quite some emotion at the end of the evening, last night's remarkable premiere of her work for ten-piece ensemble and two choirs White Desert represented the first sight of a concept which she has been visualising for at least seven years.

Can the premiere of a project this big - not far short of a hundred participants were involved - but also this personal, define what a musician is about? Within limits, because both she and the work are bound to continue to develop. However, particularly for Risser, who has proved her adaptibility in a whole host of activities and groups - her website lists twelve!- last night certainly felt like an "apologia pro vita sua." This was a significant statement about how she as musician, as artist, as composer, as leader, can be herself, stand up to her full height, use her massive quiet energy and determination to not just have the vision but also see it through to completion.

 White Desert Orchestra
Photo Credit: Stephanie Knibbe

The main delight was to hear the composition. The variety, the scale, the sheer ambition of it left a big, and almost entirely positive impression. If the test of any music heard for the first time is how much of it one would happily hear again, and right away, then I would say that of all but about ten minutes. I'll come back to those. There were moments when the joyous power of Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden bands past were right there, notably in the tailgate Roswell Rudd-ish trombone of Fidel Fourneyron.  

There moments which were not just impressive when Risser used the scale and the vast tonal palette of her ensemble to suggest the formation of rocks, the elemental power of nature, something she is able to do as convincingly as any composer today. She is helped in that task by the authority of her rhythm players, notably Sylvain Darrifourcq, emerging as one of the handful of top percussion players in Europe. He started off proceedings with a huge bass drums you normally find in a Verdi Requiem, and continued to propel the band with exemplary skill, hand in glove with both premier league bassist Fanny Lasfarges, and guitarist Julien Desprez. The band came also came cross as a completely unified group, absolutely giving it their all.

Theremin player at the White Desert premiere
Photo Credit: Stephanie Knibbe

But this was only part of the story. There was one moment of real theatrical power, which Stephanie Knibbe has caught brilliantly, in the moment, in the photo above. There had been a quiet episode when flautist Sylvaine Hélary had been given free rein to capture the sounds of birds in the air, in that tradition of professionally schooled, beautifully-toned French flute-playing and teaching that goes from Paul Taffanel to Marcel Moyse and Alain Marion... when suddenly another, variably pitched sound came from much nearer to the audience. It was child of about seven carefully conjuring sounds out of a theremin. His action provided the cue for the stage to be invaded by a horde of young children, who gave a captivating, magc, uninhibited and lively performance. Risser herself abandoned the piano during that part, and let one of the children, standing, take charge. The leader of the children's group, music educator Azraël Tomé came across as a completely inspiring presence.

The only aspect of an exhilarating night which I found hard to come to terms with was the contribution of an amateur choir based at the local conservatoire. They were moving from unpitched to pitched sounds, inspired by Ligeti. The ending of a piece like this, I felt, really needed the professional energy of trained voices to lift the whole piece to the conclusion it was heading to, deserved, and needed. But, hey, you can't have everything...

Hats off to Xavier Lemettre and Banlieues Bleues and a raft of local supporters and sponsors for having given Eve Risser the right conditions to provide such a complete and fascinating definition of herself. They did it "without having heard a single note of the music," Risser noted with gratitude afterwards. It was a privilege to be there.

Eve Risser Interview
Franck Bergeron's review for Jazz Magazine, posted two hours after the end of the concert


REVIEW: Guildhall Jazz Ensemble play the Music of the E17 Jazz Collective

Carlos Lopez-Real
Guildhall Jazz Ensemble play the Music of the E17 Jazz Collective
(Guildhall Jazz Festival, 23rd March 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The Guildhall Jazz Festival has something memorable to offer each year. In recent times, this low-key festival has delivered some extraordinary concerts. For example, there have been guest residencies by artists such as Dave Liebman. Or the festival has given carte blanche to a single artist like Stan Sulzmann– which in his case gave the initial impetus to a major work, his extendable suite of big band pieces built on the compositions of younger jazz composers. Or there have been the album re-creations which Malcolm Edmonstone used to do – Nightfly in particular still stays in the mind. Or indeed there was a poignant memorial to bassist Jeff Clyne.

This year will culminate in a celebration of Kenny Wheeler on Saturday night in Milton Court, directed by Scott Stroman, That will be special: the shadow of the recently-departed genius hovers over our scene.

Monday night's programme, put together by Carlos Lopez-Real, was fascinating. For the past eight years, the saxophonist - and respected teacher - has been not just one of the organizing dynamos but also one of the creative fountainheads of the E17 jazz collective, in which a group of musicians who happen to live in Walthamstow have built and nurtured a significant local scene, through promoting their own regular gigs, in the make-it-happen, let's-do-it-anyway spirit which drives much of British jazz. The collective's major events have often been the premieres of works written for a large ensemble of muscians who lived in the area (like this one we reviewed of Liam Noble in 2009). so the idea behind this evening in which works created in this context and bringing them to the students was, in summary, a teacher saying “welcome to our world.”

The ensemble of students - who ranged from first years to post-grads - were put through their paces in compositions by Brigitte Beraha, John Turville, Dave Manington and Carlos Lopez-Real himself. The first half, which I heard, was all made up of challenging music. The student performers were doing well with the textures and sound-worlds, and just starting to get into their stride, to settle, to convey the narrative of the music with authority... when I had to leave. Alto saxophonist Matt Davies, for example, started tentatively but was alreay starting to play with more authority by the end of the set. Charlotte Keeffe was playing characterful beautiful-toned flugelhorn. Vocalist Claire Phoenix was doing well with a vocal part full of traps for the unwary on every page.

Perhaps the main thing which emerges from this all-too-short glimpse of a gig like this was a renewed a sense of respect for the members of E17 from whom this complex music seems to pour so idiomatically, naturally and necessarily. This was a reminder of quite what a vibrant scene is there to be enjoyed on our doorstep, all over London. Or as Roald Dahl once put it: "And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."

E17 Jazz Website  


REVIEW: Marc Ribot at Cafe Oto

Marc Ribot at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved 
Marc Ribot
(Cafe Oto, 20 March 2015. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Marc Ribot is a dangerous guitarist. In the first of his two sold out gigs at Cafe Oto he fashioned a virtuosic, sequence of disparate, fractured deconstructions of familiar repertoire, in an impromptu, multi-faceted journey which repeatedly stopped short of landing in any comfort zone.

Slumped over his battered, acoustic guitar he slipped and slid across many of the idioms which he has absorbed and hard-wired in to his system over the years - folk and country blues, pioneering jazz, hard blues and angry rock, classical Cuban and Spanish. An unsettling, discordant edge took hold from the start, a mirrored refraction of troubled times, with strums and metalled, vibrating harmonics undermining glimpses of gentler, melodic chord sequences.

With both hands on the fretboard and a near foetal attachment to his guitar, Ribot yielded a revealing insight into his musical personality. Like saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, he continually worried his chosen instrument to dig deep in to the driving forces of his relentless quest.

With a refreshed spring to his step in the second set, the romantic charms of the samba fell away to tunings and detunings and the resumption of Ribot’s asymmetrical attack.

Ayler's gigantic leaps and Coltrane's giant footsteps were ever-present. Immersed in the complex machinations of Coltrane's take on Dearly Beloved he pulled back from the brink to pick out a ragtime and flip over to what he jokingly reflected, was 'the world's slowest Bachata', bringing his fond embrace of Cuban flavours to the fore.

Another obsession, film scores, percolated through to add further weight to Ribot's magpie medley with a preview of his soundtrack to the as-yet-unreleased movie Under the Highline. The resonant familiarity of The Shadow of Your Smile was dissected and spliced with a radical take on Happy Birthday (maybe an oblique, celebratory anthem for one of the audience) and the gravelly pounding weight of a Muddy Waters riff.

In the hear-a-pin-drop setting of Cafe Oto, Ribot's intense, heartfelt commitment invited not only the closest of listening but also allowed scrutiny of his technical approach, offering a minor spectacle as well as a rare, transportative musical experience.


NEWS: Made in UK acts announced for 2015 Rochester Int. Jazz Festival

The crowd at Rochester

The acts for the Made in UK Showcase at the 2015 Rochester International Jazz Festival, organized by John Ellson of ESIP, have been announced: 

19th June.....Anthony Strong Trio
20th June.....Andrew McCormack Trio
21st June..... Tom Bancroft's 'Trio Red'
22nd June... Brian Molley Quartet
23rd June.....Cloudmakers
24th June..... Troyka
24th & 25th June.... Julia Biel
26th June..... Denys Baptiste 'Triumvirate'
27th June.... GoGo Penguin


NEWS/FUNERAL DETAILS: RIP Con the barman in the Bulls Head

We have had the following sad news about Con, the barman in the Bulls Head from 1959 for over fifty years:

"Con died after a long illness but without pain on March 16th.

The funeral will be at his church St Osmond’s, 79 Castelnau, Barnes , SW13 9RT on the 9th April at 11am.

The burial at East Sheen Cemetery and the Wake at the Coach & Horses Barnes High Street."

In sadness.


LP REVIEW: Abdullah Ibrahim – African Piano

Abdullah Ibrahim – African Piano
(JAPO/ECM Records JAPO 60002/ECM 374 3555. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

The great African pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim started his career as Dollar Brand and it was under this name that he recorded a live solo piano set in October 1969 at the ‘Montmartre’ Jazzhus in Copenhagen. The gig was first released by a Scandinavian label (Spectator Records) in 1970, then by the German Japo label, effectively a mail order division of ECM, before being subsumed into the ECM catalogue proper. And it is ECM from whom it now appears in a new high quality vinyl version.

It’s remarkable how much of Abdullah Ibrahim’s character comes over in the simplest of materials. From the very opening chords of the opening track Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro, this is unmistakably Ibrahim playing — rolling musically, staking out territory with ringing commentary and gradually establishing supremacy over the café conversation at the Jazzhus which soon falls respectfully silent. Swirling scales spread out like glittering tributaries of a river and swift rhythmic runs descend like waterfalls. The piece comes to a contemplative conclusion which is both precise and spacious. Ibrahim’s playing is continuous and without appreciable pause and we flow swiftly through the brief second track whose title is almost longer than its duration — Selby That the Eternal Spirit is the Only Reality. Then we are into the crowded rhythm of The Moon, a tour de force which dominates Side 1 of the album. Dense exposition yields to jaunty celebration and soon we’re chiming and churning, a runaway train through the African landscape. This tune is a benign juggernaut hurtling to a joyful destination. Ibrahim goes right past the stop signal, straight into the final tune of the first side, Xaba with bright right hand block chords suggesting token attempts at braking the express. But the wheels slow, the steam subsides and Abdullah Ibrahim’s piano fades out.

Although Side 2 nominally begins with a new track, Sunset in Blue, it sounds like a straight fade up of Side 1, with a cheerful lilting theme. The relentless, melodic excursion slows to a thoughtful lyricism in the shape of the slipping, slow and delicate Kippy, a pondering, poetic meditation with clean, open chords and a lot of space. The album wraps up with the infectious affirmation of Tintiyana, a sunny Sunday-go-to-church piece.

The ECM publicity notes for this valuable reissue advise that “the flavour of this album is ‘documentary’ rather than luxuriantly hi-fidelity.” But there’s no need for apologies or caveats; the sound is lovely, immediate and alive, the piano sharp, clean-cut and resonant (vastly better than, say, the tragically muffed piano miking of Duke Ellington on Money Jungle by a major label some years earlier). This is a great sound document catching the then Dollar Brand at his raw and virile best.


PREVIEW: Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (Premiere of a new work, Jazz Café Camden, Easter Monday April 6th, 7.30pm)

Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir

"As a gospel town," writes Miko Giedroyc, "London may not equal Detroit, Atlanta or Los Angeles, but I can testify from personal experience that it’s ahead of New York City." Here Miko writes about the strength in depth of our gospel scene, and previews "The Resurrection", a newly written gospel oratorio, presented by the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir, featuring Tracey Campbell, Yolanda Antonio, Kathy McLeish, Sophie Harriot, Hermione Fawcett Thomas, Richard Butt and Lawrence Rowe, at the Jazz Café Camden, on Easter Monday April 6th, 7.30pm:

In Britain, jazz music still fails to get the profile it deserves. Over thirty years ago, Ian Carr named it “Music Outside”, and in spite of substantial progress since then, notably within higher education, jazz is still more outside than inside today. But compared to Britain’s gospel music, jazz is as mainstream as The Great British Bake-Off.

British gospel is of astonishing quantity and quality...and invisibility. A myriad of generally small Pentecostal churches in and around the big cities of Britain which have large West Indian and African communities generate a torrent of singing and playing talent. For every single Catholic or Anglican church plodding its way through the hymnbook on Sundays, there are several Pentecostal churches in which home-grown contemporary gospel music of high quality is the expected norm. Exceptional talent will often, but not always, spend time in larger institutions (the bigger churches and independent choirs) but these have low visibility outside Pentecostal Christian circles relative to the quality of their music. One or two artists (eg Mica Paris) have achieved wide recognition, but otherwise it is usually as backing vocalists and instrumentalists with big acts that British gospel musicians and singers have direct contact with the wider public.

And yet, as a gospel town, London may not equal Detroit, Atlanta or Los Angeles, but I can testify from personal experience that it’s ahead of New York City.

Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (SSGC) exists to bring the Spirit-filled music of these amazing singers and players into mainstream Christian worship, working every month at Farm Street RC Church in Mayfair and St James’s Anglican Church Piccadilly. Its founding director was Tracey Campbell, one of Britain’s top gospel artists, and a great deal of Britain’s gospel talent has worked with SSGC and nurtured it. Some jazz artists too: for example, Dave Okumu, who wrote a beautiful but also functional congregational mass setting for SSGC in 2007.

Taking as blueprint the Passions of JS Bach, The Resurrection is a newly written gospel oratorio, a setting of John 20/21 and the Emmaus narrative from Luke 24 for choir, band, narrator (Evangelist) and soloists playing the key roles (Christ, Peter, John, Mary of Magdala, Thomas and the two Emmaus disciples), with original music in combination with well-known gospel anthems. The guest soloists are all among Britain’s finest gospel singers, and Tracey in particular is singing the part of Christ. The script has been written by one of SSGC’s altos, Ellen Havard, Artist in Residence at the Oxford Playhouse, the original music by choir members and directors (including a song by Tracey). The piece is written to be intelligible to, and enjoyed by, everyone, not just Christians.

Excerpts from it will be performed in Easter Glory on BBC Radio 2 on Easter Sunday at 8pm, and on Sunday Worship with The Rev Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James’s Piccadilly, on Radio 4 the following Sunday (the pre-record for which happens in the church at 9am on Saturday April 11th, to which all are welcome).

Our guest soloists – Tracey, Yolanda Antonio, Kathy Mcleish, Sophie Harriot, Hermione Fawcett Thomas, Richard Butt and Lawrence Rowe – have a list of credits and plaudits too long to cite!

LINK: Tickets for the premiere at Jazz Café Camden


CD REVIEW: Olivia's Owls - Moments Arriving

Olivia's Owls - Moments Arriving
(F-IRE Presents. F-IRECD73. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield.)

With thirteen tunes in less than forty minutes, Olivia's Owls cram a lot of different ideas and moods into their new CD, but some of them are lightly sketched out: they barely get going before the track is gone, and they are onto the next.  Fleeting Moments Arriving, perhaps...

Led by bassist Hedi Pinkerfeld with Alex Coppard on  saxophone,  Charlie Laffer on guitar and Josh Stadlen on drums, Moments Arriving was recorded as live over a couple of days. Opening with Closure, the album starts with a wistful union of sax and guitar, before an insistent rhythm is set up by the drums and bass, pushing the guitar and sax riff forward. Many of the short pieces follow a similar format, with the guitar and sax setting the pace before Stadlen's forceful drums Pikerfield's bass join them. The melodies are lively and captivating, twisting and turning, and the music is energetic - particularly with the drums.

The band state that their influences include classical composers Fauré and Scriabin, and there is certainly a richness to the compositions that belies the creative process. These are tightly structured pieces, bringing classical and rock influences into a 21st century jazz format.

But I did wonder where they would have got to if they had carried on: I wanted them to explore their ideas more, to extend their tunes further. I would relish seeing Olivia's Owls live, too see where they can go. I like this CD a lot. Their live performance might well be even better.


PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Stéphane Belmondo’s Love for Chet (Ronnie Scott’s - Mar 30/31)

Stéphane Belmondo

Stéphane Belmondo, the talented and popular French Jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player, will make his Ronnie Scott's debut as leader  on two nights, March 30th and 31st, showcasing ‘Love for Chet’, his brand new album, due for release April 9th (Naive). In this interview he explains to Sandie Safont the origins of this project:

LJN: You’re coming to London next week for an exclusive UK showcase of your new album, ‘Love for Chet’ out on April 9th. Is it your first time at Ronnie’s ?

SB:: I have played Ronnie’s before – with Dee Dee Bridgewater, circa 1995 – but never under my own name, so these two shows will be very special to me. As a child I was exposed to Ronnie’s music through my dad’s record collection - lots of live recordings on vinyl – and what I particularly enjoyed listening to was the one-off cuts of jam sessions that Ronnie used to record live and release on LPs. It was a very innovative concept at the time and most probably one of the things that made this club so unique.

LJN: How do you like playing in the UK?

SB: It’s always a pleasure playing to a UK audience because you have a unique way to respond to music and I’m always amazed to see how broad your music tastes are. London has so many clubs playing so many different styles. I love the idea that one and the same person can go to a Metronomy gig one night and a jazz gig the other! Only you can do this.

LJN: You’ll be premiering your tribute to Chet Baker. We know that Chet recorded live at Ronnie’s in 1986. I guess this makes this occasion even more special to you?

SB: Absolutely. This recording came out on CD and DVD and it meant a lot to me at the time because it showed Chet’s versatility and eclectic tastes in music – with Elvis Costello & Van Morrison as special guests! And also, this was the year when I met Chet.

LJN: As a young promising talent back then, Chet took you under his wing and you had a very privileged relationship with him. Is that what held you back all these years from recording a tribute album?

SB: I’ve never considered recording such a project and would never have done so, but for Christophe Deghelt, my booking agent and manager. He too has a passion for Chet and even wrote a Ph.D thesis on him many years ago. I have a very organic approach to life and music and believe that everything happens – or doesn’t happen – for a reason. It’s all about timing. I guess the time was right when I met Christophe and that’s how the project came about.

I was sixteen years old when I met Chet and he had a huge influence on my playing but so did Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Tom Harrell. Knowing Chet personally made a difference and even though I have developed my own style there’s always been a little bit of him in my music, that’s my subconscious tribute to him, just like my cover version of “Little Girl Blue” on “Ever After”, my previous album. I knew Chet used to play this number a lot but that’s not the reason why I recorded it.

LJN: Chet’s discography is quite an extensive one, to say the least. How did you go about choosing the material?

SB: “Love for Chet” is the first album of a trilogy and it covers mostly the Steeplechase period of Chet (1979, 1985, 1986) in the trio format when he played with guitarist Doug Raney and bassist NHOP, as well as two originals of mine – one them based on a melody that my daughter made up - and some songs he never played but that are closely related to him, somehow.

LJN: You mean “La Chanson d’Hélène” by Philippe Sarde and “Tarde” by Milton Nascimento? We know Chet loved Brazilian music - he recorded a beautiful version of Jobim’s “Portrait in Black and White / Zingaro” with flautist and guitarist Nicolas Stilo.

SB: That’s right. This song features on “Let’s Get Lost”, a documentary film directed by Bruce Weber in 1988. Before that, Chet recorded with The Boto Brasilian Quartet led by keyboardist Rique Pentoja. “Tarde” is probably my favourite song by Milton. It’s never been played in this trio format – not that I’m aware of- and it would have suited Chet perfectly.

While in Europe in the 80s, he recorded lots of soundtracks for the French cinema – films like “L’As des As” and “Flic ou Voyou” starring Jean-Paul Belmondo (same surname, but we're not related) under the direction of great composers such as Vladimir Cosma and Philippe Sarde. The latter wrote the score to director Claude Sautet’s 1970 “Les Choses de la Vie” which features “La Chanson d’Hélène”, sung by Romy Schneider. I play this song as a duo with my friend Jacky Terrasson and because Chet worked for Sarde, it made perfect sense to me to include it on the album. I’m surprised he never recorded it himself.

LJN: Chet also played with famous composer/orchestra director Michel Legrand and so did you. That’s one more connection for you with Chet and French cinema...

SB: [smiles] Indeed. And Vladimir Cosma approached me on several occasion to record some of his music but our busy schedules never allowed it to happen.

LJN: A few words on the album title, “Love for Chet”, quite evocative?

SB: Clearly an evocation of “Love for Sale”, one of Chet’s signature songs, which also features on the album. It also echoes “Chet’s Romance”, a live session filmed by French photographer/director Bertrand Fèvre. We’ve known each other for years, so here again; he was my first choice man for the album cover and teaser.

LJN:You mentioned musicians associated with his Steeplechase period and you’ve played with some of them. What about the line-up for your tribute, then?

SB: I’m very pleased to be joined by the amazing Dutch guitarist Jesse Van Ruller. We first met on a recording project we did with the UER (Union Européenne de Radio Télévision) orchestra in Budapest in the early 90s. He was very young and his virtuoso performance made a strong impression on me - he later won the Thelonious Monk Competition in 1995. We lost touch for years and our paths met again only recently. I was hoping to renew our collab at some point and he knows Chet’s trio period really well, so he was first choice for this recording. On double bass we have my old friend and partner in crime Thomas Bramerie. His time is rock-solid, his bass lines are tastefully crafted and he’s played with Chet. It all happened organically and I could not dream of a better team.

LJN: And you have one special guest on vocals …

SB: Amin Bouker sings on “Blame It On My Youth”. His timbre and phrasing are very much in the same vein as Chet and yet different enough – his range is slightly lower. I met Amin in Paris in the 80s and he and my booking agent go way back, too. He used to sing with some of Chet’s former musicians: bassist Riccardo del Fra and pianist Alain Jean-Marie and I would sit in with the band. So, I’d say Amin was the natural choice when it came to vocals.

LJN: A few words on Kenny Wheeler, Clark Terry and Lew Soloff, who passed away recently? 

SB: It takes more than a few words to evoke these tragic losses. I was lucky enough to meet Clark about thirty years ago in Paris. One night he came along to my gig and we met again circa 1994 when I was living in NYC. He used to host a radio show and invited me along to play a selection of songs. We never got to play together, sadly enough.

I met Kenny Wheeler and Lew Soloff on a few occasions - Kenny and I spent long hours talking about music, as one would - but never got to play with them, either. Lew & I shared the stage at Jazz à Vienne Festival (France) back in 2006. He was playing in The Carla Bley Big Band and my brother and I, together with Yusef Lateef, were presenting “Influence”, our brand new album. Quite a memorable night, as you can imagine. Yusef died in 2013.

They were my generation and the new generation’s heroes and will be greatly missed.

LJN: “Love for Chet” comes out next month. When and where in France will you be playing the album launch gig?

SB: We’ll be playing the New Morning in Paris on May 6th. “Be there or be square!”
Review of the Belmondo family band at Duc Des Lombards
CD Review: The same as it never was before