PREVIEW : Legends Festival. (Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham 17-19 July)

Henry Lowther. Photo credit: Garry Corbett

A new "Legends Festival" will start in Birmingham in July. The first one is partly devoted to Miles Davis and will be 'guest-curated' by Henry Lowther. Peter Bacon writes about the background:

In the rock and pop world tribute bands seem to me a bit like a minor but spreading infection. It’s not exactly the plague and a healthy shot of original music will usually clear it up, but it’s still mildly irritating.

But in the jazz world, we don’t have tribute bands, or rather we do but the very nature of the music and the way its players remake what has gone before in their own interpretations makes paying tribute the noble exercise it should be.

Not in the jazz world do we have the (honestly) named Fake Festival - there is one in my Midland city in August. Nor do we see the poster with “JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE” in giant letters with the small print reading: “as played by the Timi Bendicks Expedience”.

Nope, we have bands like:

- Chris Biscoe’s Mingus Profiles Sextet
- Simon Spillett’s Standard Miles
- Chris Gumbley's Quintet playing their Tribute to Cannonball Adderley.

Those three bands can be heard at a new festival in Birmingham which runs over the weekend of 17 to 19 July in the city’s Jewellery Quarter. It’s called the Legends Festival and intends to focus on a particular “jazz legend” each year. This year it’s Miles Davis, but the programme has been widened to include other “legends” in order to establish the concept.

Guest curator is trumpeter Henry Lowther who actually got to meet Miles. It was in Los Angeles in 1969 and Henry, who was playing with the Keef Hartley Band at the Whisky A Go Go, was introduced to Miles by Dave Holland, Miles’s bassist at the time.

Henry will recall that meeting and his time working in the Gil Evans Orchestra in a Legends Festival talk called He Also Plays Trumpet, and will be leading his own Still Waters band on the first night of the festival.

In addition to the Biscoe, Spillett and Gumbley bands, up-and-coming Birmingham pianist David Austin Grey will be investigating the influence of the electric Miles in his Little Church band, formed for the occasion and featuring Aaron Diaz on trumpet and electronics, and Rachael Cohen on alto saxophone. The Jim Wynn Nonet will be playing Miles’s Birth Of The Cool music, and Sean Gibbs will be playing music associated with another trumpeter: Clark Terry.

So, lots of tributes being paid - but lots of new music being made in the process.

LINKS: Full listing of Legends Festival events go to Interview with Henry Lowther


PREVIEW: Pete Churchill - Stories to Tell Album Launch at the Forge. Wednesday 8th July

 Pete Churchill's album of new songs,  Stories to Tell, with Mishka Adams, Mark Lockheart, Adriano Adewale and Ben Barritt is to be launched at the Forge on the 8th July. Pete writes about how it came about :

I think it was Stan Sulzmann who said to me that it was always a good idea to have a project on the go - something to return to in the middle of the madness of your day-to-day music-making. Specifically I think he meant a musical project - something close to your heart that would serve as a refuge from the balancing act  of gigs, rehearsals, teaching, commissions etc.

I have quiet obsessions outside music that take me away from it all - on rare occasions they help me forget about music all together. I had an allotment for a few years, I will always browse in secondhand shops for hours (especially bookshops) and, for a while, I collected 18th century prayer-books!

However, having a separate musical project of some sort is a totally different thing. It can be very liberating working on something that's ongoing and only has to make sense in terms of itself. As you probably guessed I have been working on just such a project for the last three years or so. It's a song-writing project which has resulted in an album called 'Stories to Tell' and I am launching it on Wednesday 8th July at The Forge in Camden (8.00 start). There - I've got the practicalities out if the way so I can return to the project itself.

I've always written songs. However, over the last ten years a lot of my commissions have been based around certain 'critical issues'. This does mean that I have, in my back catalogue, a fair amount of songs on subjects which I care deeply about. Clearly a whole album of these might have been a bit much and I have tempered these with a few more personal narratives - some imaginary and some deeply embedded in my own experience.

I think the best decision I made was not to sing them myself and so most of them (with a few exceptions) are sung by the wonderful Mishka Adams. She is a songwriter's dream - a great understanding of text and, quite simply, one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard.

With the addition of Ben Barritt on guitar, Adriano Adewale on percussion and the astonishing Mark Lockheart on saxophones we were able to spend more than a few days at Porcupine Studios with Nick Taylor at the helm. I'm convinced that the first thing you hear on any  recording is the atmosphere in which it was made. Nick creates such a wonderful ambience in his studio that it permeates the whole of our album - the process becomes the product.

So with typical bad planning I have loads of CDs in my garage with no record label, no distributor and no mechanism, as yet, to get them up and out. I gather that there is something called 'Bandcamp' that seems to work so keep your ears to the ground and your finger on the pulse of the information super-highway and 'Stories to Tell' may emerge. Or we can do things the old fashioned way. Come to my gigs/workshops/courses where I'll be hawking them shamelessly from a brown cardboard box - basically it's a case of 'stop-me-and-buy-one'!

Hope to see you on Wednesday, 8th July at the Forge in Camden... 8.00pm. Tickets HERE


REVIEW – Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra at Harrow Arts Centre

The Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra

Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra
(Harrow Arts Centre, 28th June 2015. Review by Peter Vacher)

Nothing twee or self-conscious, no hint of parody or Great Gatsby-style nostalgia, just a well-dressed and pleasing programme of 20s and 30s music. While that might not be the published mission statement for Tony Jacobs and the Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, it’s certainly what they delivered to an enthusiastic [if largely senior] audience at the HAC on Sunday night. As their publicity blurb put it, ‘the show is packed with great songs and tunes – authentically and lovingly recreated’, and so they were.

Front-man Jacobs, known for his ten-year vocal tenure with the Syd Lawrence orchestra has been presenting shows of this ilk for a while and has found a concert formula that really works well. The Tuxedo’s opening blast on ‘Stomp Off, Let’s Go’ in the Bob Crosby Bobcats arrangements set the mood, the tight ensemble and vigorous swing a promise of good things to come. These included a number of Bing Crosby-style vocals from Jacobs, whose easy manner and self-deprecating humour speak of a relaxed view of life, these complemented by the clear-voiced singing of Catherine Sykes. Ms Sykes has that most agreeable quality, an innate relish for the lyrics coupled with the kind of classy intonation that avoids extremes and just lets the song work for itself. Just to hear her sing ‘Comes Love’ against the backdrop of the original Artie Shaw arrangement was a delight in itself. She and Jacobs also duet endearingly on such things as ‘Cheek to Cheek’, and with trombonist Graham Hughes added, on the timeless ‘The Waiter, the Porter and the Upstairs Maid’.

Lest it be thought that the Jacobs programme was overly weighted towards popular show songs, jazz interest was satisfied by the presence of star trumpeter Peter Rudeforth, a Chris Barber man, growling expertly on ‘Black and Tan Fantasy’ and popping up throughout as did veteran tenor-man Jimmy Hastings who took charge on ‘Business in F’, the ensemble again in surging form on the climactic ‘White Heat’. I especially liked their band-within-a-band, the Little Tuxes, on ‘Royal Garden Blues’, with Rudeforth, Hughes and Hastings again, this time on clarinet, with strong support from the rhythm section primed by the virtuosic bass of Paul Morgan and the light touch of pianist Trevor Brown. This keyboard expert later excelled on a solo version of ‘Nola’ before giving the old crowd-pleaser ‘12th Street Rag’ a jaunty going-over. Eclectic choices maybe but done to perfection, the mixture of material, even including ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’, plus the expert musicianship of all concerned, making this old-style band show a joy to behold.

The Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra: Peter Rudeforth, Dave Ford [t] Graham Hughes [tb]; Jimmy Hastings [ts,cl]; Duncan Lamont Jr. [as,cl]; Mark Alloway [bs,as,cl]; Trevor Brown [p]; Len Walker [bjo]; Paul Morgan [b]; Jeff Lardner [d]; Catherine Sykes [voc]; Tony Jacobs [voc, dir].

Peter Vacher's new book ‘Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African-American Jazz in Los Angeles’ is out in September.


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Ben Cottrell/ Beats & Pieces Big Band (Ronnie Scott's 8th July)

Beats & Pieces setting up at Jazztage& Görlitz, May 2015

LondonJazz News first covered Beats & Pieces in May 2010 when they were about to do their first London gig at the Forge. Five years on, Ben Cottrell responded to some questions from Sebastian by email:

LondonJazz News: Have there been personnel changes or has it basically been the same band for five years?

Ben Cottrell: Its basically the same group of people – on the new album I think half the band is the same people that I called for the very first rehearsal in January 2008 (when I’d only written 2 tunes and before we had a name or any gigs), and the most recent new addition joined permanently almost 2 and a half years ago. I know its really difficult to keep a consistent group of people together of any size, even a quartet sometimes, so I’m really lucky that the guys in Beats & Pieces are always really up for doing stuff and will go out of their way to dep out other gigs if they can, even when that involves them losing money (as it often does – big bands aren’t going to get anyone rich anytime soon…). That continuity is amazing as a composer as I know all of their musical personalities and individual sounds inside out, and I know whilst I’m writing how they’re going to react to what I give them. It also means that we’re able to do all gigs from memory with no charts, which just wouldn’t be possible if it was a radically different group of people from gig to gig.

LJN: How do you set about finding new people?

BC: There’s a pool of people that we’ve used as deps for rehearsals or gigs whenever one of the usual musicians can’t make it, and as I mentioned above everyone is really good at making themselves available for b&p so even on the odd occasion when a dep or two is required its really rare that we’re bringing in someone who’ll be completely new to the band. Even on those occasions its always someone that I know myself and/or that the guys have personally recommended from playing with them in another group – I think that personal connection is really important.

LJN: You've been on tour this year abroad - where did you go?

BC: We played a couple of gigs in Germany at the end of May – the first was a festival called Jazztage Görlitz which is a few hours on the train from Berlin, close to the Polish border. The gig was an outdoor stage inside a local brewery, which is pretty much a perfect venue! Then we travelled back to Berlin the next day for a gig at the b-flat, a really nice club that we first played last year. It was a cool weekend but pretty tiring as we drove down from Manchester overnight for a 6am flight from Luton on the morning of the first gig – it was the only way we could afford the flights…

That was our third time travelling to Germany since our first trip in 2011 when we won the European Young Artists’ Award in Burghausen, and we’ve been pretty fortunate at getting to other places outside of the UK too – so far we’ve also made it to Norway, France and Ireland and we’re always trying to get to new places. Of course with so many people to transport and accommodate its always difficult though, and it’s a shame that the UK doesn’t have the funding available for export that is commonplace in other countries across Europe. Hopefully that is something that can be changed in the near future.

LJN: You are all good friends from Manchester, but you must get to know each other better on tour right ? 

BC: It’s definitely really nice to spend a few solid days together – its something that doesn’t happen as often as it used to when we were all students seeing each other every day, especially now that some of them have moved away from Manchester and more are starting families etc. I think we probably revert to being students again when we’re all together on tour, which may or may not be a good thing!

LJN: What has been the inspiration for some of the tunes on the new album ?

BC: My writing is influenced by loads of things – I think that’s fairly common with people of my generation that have grown up with a wide variety of music easily available to listen to, and increasingly so now with the internet, shuffle modes, streaming etc. Maybe I’ll just talk about a few of the tunes from the album, in the order that they appear on the record.

LJN:  Shall we start with 'pop'?

BC:  pop was born out of an experiment with static and repetitive snare patterns that I noticed was common in lots of Quincy Jones’ productions for Michael Jackson – in tunes like The Way You Make Me Feel or Smooth Criminal from Bad there’s the exact same snare sound on 2 and 4 almost the whole way through, regardless of what else is going on in the drums or in the rest of the arrangement. I thought that was really different to how I imagine jazz drummers normally play, where they’re constantly listening and reacting to the rest of the ensemble and often no two bars are the same – so I wanted to try using that idea of a fixed and immovable drum pattern and see if it worked in a big band tune. Hopefully it turned out ok…

LJN: And what about 'rain'

BC: rain opens with a Rhodes riff in 7 that was inspired by one of Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain – the rhythm and rough pitches of the riff are pretty close to the original fragement of recorded speech. From there the piece then goes off to other places but the original riff keeps coming back in slightly different forms throughout.

LJN: And 'fairytale?

BC: The final track on the album is a short chorale type piece called fairytale. One of the reasons that I love writing for this combination of instruments is the flexibility that it offers a composer – I think that the contrast between fairytale and the opening track rocky really demonstrate that, they’re pretty much polar opposites in every way! All of the horn players in Beats & Pieces are classically trained and many currently do extra work with orchestras across the North (Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Opera North etc) so they’re able to play really beautifully and symphonically and I wanted to write something to show that off, and they all really nailed it.

LINKS: CD review "all in"
Bookings for Ronnie Scott's 8th July  
And Manchester on 7th July


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP/ PHOTOS: Bingen Swingt! 2015

Hildegard lernt fliegen at the Binger Bühne

Bingen Swingt! 2015
(Bingen-am-Rhein. 26-28 June 2015. Festival Round-Up and photos - All Rights Reserved -by Ralf Dombrowski)

The Rhine town of Bingen celebrated 20 years of "Bingen Swingt!" and struck lucky this year: the dark clouds that had emptied themselves over Mainz, never quite made it as far as the river Nahe. The result was that this open air festival - it has just one indoor stage in a club - the Binger Bühne - made it through to the end virtually rain-free.

China Moses

The programme was an eclectic mix. There were the acts who knew how to entertain, such as Roger Cicero, Jasmin Tabatabai and China Moses. They made their impact with showbiz style and big gestures, China Moses in particular, with her young band, built her show towards a rousing soul-jazz climax. Others, such as Emil Mangelsdorff played dependable jazz from the tradition. There were fledgling bands, such as Jugend Jazzt and the Boehringer Ingelheim Big Band, and there were the more seasoned outfits like the NDR Big Band working away at their familiar, extensive coal-face.

Christof Lauer

There were sounds for dancing, and for linking arms and swaying in time... (zum Schunkeln). There was also modern, engaging, innovative music. I heard the young guitarist and blues bard Jesper Munk, detached, serene, in his own world; there was Michael Sagmeister who had captured and absorbed the best of Wes Montgomery, and saxophonist Christof Lauer, who proved in his Trio - as he always does - that he is one of the greats when it comes to conjuring with the abstract. Another saxophonist Nicole Johänntgen showed her worth as a skilled and assertive newcomer.

Nicole Johänntgen

But right out in front of the pack were the sextet Hildegard lernt fliegen, around the Swiss vocalist Andreas Schaerer. They are a bunch of oddballs, but they offer complexity and the art of association. They may go deliberately mad, but their collective humour is not just planned, it is also, and on many levels, extremely funny, and just the right thing for a festival in the recently canonized St. Hildegard's home town.

Bingen Swingt website


REPORT: Peter King Benefit Night at Pizza Express Dean Street

L-R: Julian Arguelles, Peter King, Jeremy Brown, Jean Toussaint
Peter King Benefit night at Pizza Express Dean Street
Photo credit: Melody McLaren
Peter King Benefit Night
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 29th June 2015. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

Tributes and well-wishes to Peter King had come in from far and wide last night: from Jon Hendricks "you are the best of the jazz community", from Phil Woods, "fight the Eb fight," from Charles McPherson "keep going!", from clubs in Sheffield and Barcelona, from Charlie Watts, describing the "pleasure and the honour" to have played alongside the great British saxophonist whose health has been giving way in the past few years.

And yet, when King took the stand and played, and that sound, that beauty, that logic and clarity take over, it is easy to forget the pain he has been going through. I Can't Get Started was his first feature. This was the moment to forget the idea that playing over changes can ever be repetitive, or constraining, or been-there done-that. The sheer variety of vocabulary, the ability to land, to suggest new time-feels (quickly picked up on by a trio of Tom Cawley, Jeremy Brown and Stephen Keogh) to float a phrase as a question, as a warning, as a was wonderful to share, to be so close to, and to hope it continues.

There was an awed and admiring atmosphere on the stand, not least from saxophone brothers and willing and devoted acolytes Jean Toussaint and Julian Arguelles, which conveyed itself to the room. Others who made significant contributions were Pete Churchill, Tina May, guitarist Augustin Mas (spelling?), bassist Arnie Somogyi (who also ran an auction), drummers Matt Home and Steve Brown...

These people all come and give their services in order to support an artist they revere, and that speaks volumes.  They are busy people, as a quick sample of my conversations around the room last night can testify:

- Pete Churchill will have new arrangements performed this Thursday when Quincy Jones collects a doctorate at the Royal Academy of Music. He will also launch a lovely new album of his songs with Mishka Adams, Ben Barritt, Mark Lockheart and Adriano Adewale next Wenesday (LINK)

- Tina May had just returned from touring in France and has a new album out with Enrico Pieranunzi

- Stephen Keogh will be running the August Global Music Foundation course in Certaldo    

- Julian Arguelles is preparing a tour with his quartet



INTERVIEW : Ambrose Akinmusire (Love Supreme 4th July, Pizza Express Dean St 14th/ 15th July, Co-published with Citizen Jazz)

Ambrose Akinmusire, Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2014
Photo credit: © John Watson/ . All Rights Reserved

Ambrose Akinmusire will be playing three UK dates this month: the trumpeter and his band will be at Love Supreme on Saturday 4th July (Big Top stage) and Pizza Express Dean Street on 14th & 15th July. Sandie Safont met him backstage at the Koa Jazz festival in Montpellier (France) last April. Their discussion touched on figures as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Kenny Wheeler. He also shared memories of his teachers, Laurie Frink (1951-2013) and Lew Soloff (1944-2015):  

LondonJazz News: The set you played tonight had some new material, and also a quartet version of your last album. Keeping your music organic while on tour can be quite a challenge …

Ambrose Akinmusire : It’s more about the challenge in growing as an artist. I just never want to get into the habit of creating an album and then going out and trying to play the album on tour because that’s not really possible. Imagine Jackson Pollock doing a painting and then going around to each date and each country and trying to re-create this painting.

It’s not really possible and that’s not what I’m really here for. I’m just trying to commit myself to this craft every day and get better and better and I don’t know how re- creating something that you did yesterday is really a part of that. Sometimes it can be, if you’re developing that thing but right now I’m more about writing and trying to develop the band and develop myself as a composer and as a player.

The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier To Paint came out a year ago, which means that it was recorded a year and a half ago and that I probably wrote those tunes two and a half years ago. I’m definitely not the same person that I was then.

LJN : ‘Music isn’t just about music, it’s about life’, some say. It’s amazing how life can impact your music and vice versa.

AA : Absolutely. Music is also about trying to express these things that aren’t easy to express. Trying to express the things that we can’t see. Trying to put them into some sort of physical form.

LJN : Are you going to record the new tunes we heard tonight?

AA : Maybe. But you know, in between albums there’s a lot of material that never gets recorded because I’m always writing and trying to develop the band. There are tunes that we were playing when we recorded the last album that we still haven’t recorded. I’ve also written music for a big band and a double quartet – a string quartet and a quartet – so, it’s a lot of music.

LJN : Is orchestral writing the natural progression for you as a composer, then?

AA : I would love to write for an orchestra, tour an orchestra and tour a string quartet and I have a lot of music for these things but I’m seen as a young guy, especially in jazz, where you have to graduate in these other areas. There’s a whole line of people who have to wait for them to get older and I understand it and I’m ok with that.

LJN : The ‘young player’ that you are has developed a sound and a style of his own. In terms of musical influences, who do you look up to the most?

AA : My number one influence in everything is Joni Mitchell.

LJN : And one can see why. The voice is very central to your work and your elaborated song titles show your love for words and poetry. And so, it’s no coincidence that you’ve collaborated with Becca Stevens on your last album, as she’s very often hailed as ‘the new Joni’.

AA : Definitely. In my generation, Becca is probably the most committed to the art form. She really breathes and lives the music. I try to hear everything as a voice and I’m very lucky to have people like Walter (Smith III) and Sam (Harris) who play like vocalists.

I’ve always been drawn to the trumpeters who didn’t get too much attention. The trumpet is such a hard instrument. Right now I’m getting a lot of attention so it’s easy for me to sit down and practice because I know everybody’s gonna hear me but what about these people who practice every day into their 70s and never got heard ?

That’s real committment. I’m thinking Marcus Belgrave, Charles Tolliver or even Dupree Bolton – who went to jail for a while. Those kind of guys who were really studious from the beginning to the end and who are one the best trumpet players but never got the attention.

LJN : Charles Tolliver has been getting more recognition recently - Gilles Peterson curated a Strata-East all stars evening at the Barbican last March. A belated but welcome recognition of a career spanning 50 years.

AA : Yeah, that’s super late. There was a point back in the 70s when Charles Tolliver was, in my opinion, just as good as Woody Shaw and Freddie and all these guys who were really getting attention. Also, during that time when Freddie started to do these LA studio sessions, Charles Tolliver stuck to his thing so, even when Wynton came along and said : ‘hey, we’re going back’, they said : ‘no, forward.’ and I think that’s really admirable and beautiful.

LJN : You’ve studied with the late Laurie Frink and Lew Soloff. How influential were they in your approach to your instrument, music and life?

AA : I studied with Lew before I studied with Laurie. The lessons with Lew were quite epic : we would sit in his drive way and he would make me listen to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way and I would be so mad because I just wanted to learn how to play high notes from him but he would sit me down and make me listen to the whole album and then we would go and improvise and that would be my lesson. And so, I kept coming back and towards the end of the year I was like : ‘Ah, I’m getting it!’ because it was just that record and Lew was trying to get me to show my stuff out and listen to the beauty of things and that was his high note lesson. And then, at our last lesson, he gave me some exercises for my range. But for a whole year, we just sat in his drive way listening to In A Silent Way!

And Laurie, wow, I don’t even know what to say about her. I mean, I wouldn’t be playing trumpet without Laurie. I studied with her for four or five years. She was like a mother to me. Out of everybody, I think I’ve studied the most with her. It got to a point where it was really like counselling. I would just go in and we would talk about trumpet for ten minutes but the rest of the lesson she would give me life advice. Even after graduating, I started gigging and I would call her whenever I had problems with my chops and she was like a doctor. And she could really play! There was this one time when she asked me to bend on a high E and I said to her I had been trying for the last six months and it just was impossible. She looked at me dead in the eye and just played a bended E! (He sings the note). Just like that. I mean, cold. We had been ten minutes into the lesson. No effort, no crack. Just perfect. Looking at me the whole time, like saying : ‘I know you bet I couldn’t play it!’

She was so amazing and such an inspiration for me.

LJN : Do you still practice those exercices?

AA : Well, fortunately and unfortunately it built my chops, so I try to do other things but I always go back to her exercises because they’re the foundation.

LJN : A few words on another trumpet giant, Kenny Wheeler, who passed away recently ? Has he ever been an influence on you ?

AA : I really like his Music for small and large ensembles and Angel Song and Gnu High but he’s never been an influence on me. I think what people hear in my playing that’s also in his playing is Booker Little – who was a huge influence on me and I know he was an influence on him, too.

LJN : And finally, what does being a Blue Note artist mean to you ?

AA : It’s just great to be on the same label that all my heroes were on. I have no problem being in line with the tradition. And the tradition of this music is looking to the future. And all the masters did that. Paying tribute to what came before while looking forward. It seems like a simple concept but a lot of people don’t seem to know about it and don’t talk about it.

This interview was originally conducted for Citizen Jazz, our French partners, and will be soon published on their site in French

More tour dates on

Love Supreme Festival 

Pizza Express Live


REVIEW: Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter at Music in the Garden

The LJO at Wavendon, with Henry Lowther (standing)
taking the Kenny Wheeler solo part.

Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter
(London Jazz Orchestra at Music in the Garden, Wavendon. 28th June 2015. Review by Tony Kelsey)

Almost fifty years after it was recorded, Kenny Wheeler’s Windmill Tilter (1968)  has finally been given two full live performances by the big band of which he was a founder member, the first at the Vortex, the second at the Laine/Dankworth Centre just South of Milton Keynes, as part of the month-long music series “Music in the Garden”.  The packed audience in the garden at Wavendon was on tenterhooks for this once-in-a-generation occasion, as the 20-piece orchestra walked onto the open air stage.

The afternoon opened with a sumptuous version of John Dankworth’s Tomorrow’s World theme which was immensely satisfying and benefitted from Pete Hurt soloing on flute and later tenor (compare and contrast to the version to be found on JD’s Lifeline album). The following numbers were variously penned by LJO members Robbie Robson, Henry Lowther, Josephine Davies and Stuart Hall, an the first half of this set ended with Noel Langley’s extraordinary arrangement of Edward Elgar’s  Nimrod, which must be a first for jazz.

Following the intermission, the orchestra reassembled in a slightly different configuration, for as leader and conductor Scott Stroman explained, John Dankworth had his own ideas about how a big band should be arranged to obtain the maximum sonic balance. Although this meant one less trombone, the bass notes were more than compensated for by former Dankworth band member Dave Powell on tuba.

From the first notes, the band presented a spine-tingling version of Windmill Tilter which even to those very familiar with this suite was hugely gratifying. Had it not been for John Dankworth’s largesse in commissioning Kenny Wheeler to write the piece when the trumpeter was out of action for a time, British jazz history might have been quite different.

Two trumpeters Robbie Robson and the redoubtable Henry Lowther took turns to perform the trumpet and flugelhorn parts previously played by Wheeler himself. Apart from being extremely moving, this was an edifying experience. Other soloists included Pete Hurt on tenor, Stuart Hall, taking on the mantle of the original “Windmill Tilter” guitarist, John McLaughlin and the great Chris Laurence, depping for the LJO’s usual bass player, Alec Dankworth, taking over the bass lines formerly meted out by Dave Holland on the Fontana recording. The afternoon concluded with a short version Duke Ellington’s  Tonight I Shall Sleep (With a Smile on My Face) which John Dankworth had always regarded highly.

Had the late Sir John and Kenny Wheeler been around to hear this performance they would have been justifiably proud and the London Jazz Orchestra too should give themselves a collective pat on the back for carrying off a brilliant rendition of this great jazz work.

Music in the Garden


REVIEW : Nora Germain at Pizza Express Dean Street (also available as video-stream)

L-R: Dave Newton,Alison Burns, Nora Germain

Nora Germain and Friends
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 28th June 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Last night's show by the 23-year old California-based (Wisconsin-born) violinist/singer Nora Germain was the first ever show to be live-streamed from Pizza Express Dean Street. So rather than reading on, you could just press play and experience the whole show, as live...


Germain gets a lot done: she is about to record her fourth album, for which there is a Pledge campaign. The album release coincides with a the publication of a life-skills book (sic). John Altman, who had set up last night's gig, the first in London in which Germain has led the band, sets the bar high: "Nora Germain is the best jazz violinist in the world, bar none," he writes. Her jazz style is rooted in Stuff Smith and Stephane Grappelli,

The programme was, mostly, unashamedly digging back into jazz and the songbook from the period up to the 1940's. We had a blistering Airmail Special, a lively Swing 42, a langorous Sunny Side of the Street, the core vibe a gentle medium swing.

The band are the kind of London musicians who can put something like this together more or less on the spot. Dave Newton on piano was particularly spacious on A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, Rob Luft on guitar, Lloyd Haines on drums, Terry Gregory on bass were discreet and everywhere they needed to be. Rhere were  guests too: a Kenny Davern-ish John Altman on soprano saxophone, plus cameos from singer Alison Burns and drummer James Taylor.

An impressive debut as leader, and a name to watch.


REVIEW: Schlippenbach Trio at Cafe Oto

Schlippenbach Trio
L-R: Alexander von  Schlippenbach, Evan Parker
Paul Lovens. Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Schlippenbach Trio
(Cafe Oto, 25th June 2015; second night of 2-day residency. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

It's not easy to pin down exactly what it is that makes this trio so special, but perhaps it is ultimately down to the composure that comes with experience. Alexander von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker and Paul Lovens have played together with intermittent regularity since the beginning of the 70s. Three iron-strong musical personalities, their individual paths have both collided and coalesced in this combination. Parker has noted that the trio can stretch them to breaking point, yet it can also lead to performances of a stunningly uplifting sensitivity, as it was at Cafe Oto.

The trio achieved a finely tuned expressive balance in their journey of rich explorations over two sets, with a light flow and a tight weave enabling each to turn the tentative to the resoundingly affirmative as the initiatives were traded and shared with intuitive equanimity.

The strong sense of continually seeking out the unknown banished any assumptions that a musical liaison of such long-standing might result in a formulaic performance. Monk was never far from von Schlippenbach's side in his scintillating runs and melodic angularity. Parker's range took on multicoloured hues, drifting from bassy resonances to mercurial high-pitched rounds. Yet, maybe it was Lovens who, with his quietly intense focus, held the key to their equilibrium. He pitched in with dynamic assurance mixing artillery precision with metallic, butterfly nuances, nurturing duets, then falling back to allow extended solos to emerge from the fray.

There was hardly any need to exchange glances - the understanding was so deeply ingrained, and when von Schlippenbach's piano took on the trance rhythms and intense tones of Parker's meditative flow the unity was complete. Spiritual nourishment of a very high order.

Alexander von Schlippenbach - piano
Evan Parker - saxophone
Paul Lovens - drums


CD REVIEW: Indigo Kid II - Fist Full of Notes

Indigo Kid II - Fist Full of Notes
(Babel BDV 14130. CD review by Mike Collins)

Indigo Kid’s first album, released in 2012, was a cocktail of melody, country, rock and jazz erudition delivered with whimsy and understated authority. It won plaudits all round (including from London Jazz’s Chris Parker - REVIEW) and was an early revelation of the composing and playing talents of leader Dan Messore. The follow up Fist Full of Notes, will garner plenty more praise.

Messore’s writes strong melodic themes blended with lilting grooves and wide-ranging musical and cultural reference points. It’s rich material to explore for a refreshed line up of Martin France on drums and Trish Clowes on saxes (Iain Ballamy still guests on two tracks having shouldered all the sax duties on the first album). Tim Harries completes the band on bass. Snow on Presellis starts with fragments of melody passed around all the band over a gently rocking pulse before accelerating to a quietly insistent samba like groove and a flowing guitar solo. All Hands to Dance and Skylark is a skipping joyful piece with Clowes stretching out. It’s confident, distinctive music, these pieces picking up the threads of the first album. There are extra dimensions to this album however. Messore has been exploring the use of electronics, not least in various collaborations including with Jake McMurchie’s Michelson Morley. Those techniques add an extra dimension to this album. Sometimes it’s atmospheric washes behind more melodic pieces. In other places a darker more intense mood emerges. From Nowhere to Our Place has muted thunder from Martin France’s drums as layers of guitar and distortion build up. Carpet Boys’ marching melody builds to climax of howling guitar battling with Clowes’ sax. Sketches in the fabric is a looser pieces with Iain Ballamy’s distinctive sound stating and exploring a plaintive theme against racing drums, Messore’s guitar weaving in and out.

From moments of almost unbearable tenderness and melancholy in pieces like The Healing Process, through the playful and dancing, to the dark and anguished this album is a significant achievement for a distinctive and confident musician.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman


REVIEW: Gregory Porter and Van Morrison - Nocturne in the Great Court of Blenheim Palace

Gregory Porter and Van Morrison - Nocturne in the Great Court of Blenheim Palace
(Woodstock, Oxfordshire. 26th June 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

What a great location. The organizers of next weekend's third Love Supreme Festival  - at Glynde in Sussex  - were doing a warm-up act for their festival, bringing a double bill of Gregory Porter and Van Morrison to Oxfordsire for this happy one-off event in the great court of Blenheim Palace, the first concert in this location for over a decade. The folk of Oxfordshire responded to this first invitation in great quantities. It wasn't sold out, but the numbers for a first event looked very healthy indeed.

Gregory Porter's band did a one-hour set. His voice and personality carry such warmth, he makes the transition from more intimate spaces to these larger stages with ease. It was a well-chosen set, establishing the tone with There Will Be No Love Dying Here, through tunes like Hey Laura and culminating in the edgier 1960 What? The band carries with it a real feelgood vibe wherever it goes, with some really creative piano work from Chip Crawford, and saxophonist Yousuke Soto suggesting that his headphone listening on tour these days may go all the way from Dave Koz to Evan Parker

Gregory Porter

Experienced Van Morrison watchers with an eye for his crabbiness level were telling me that the relaxed Woodstock (Oxfordshire) vibe had got through to him too. As the well-worked 90 minute set progressed, the 1960s, the Van hits and the 2010s with a few numbers from the recent Duets album coalesced happily, and more and more people - it was the older audience members who led the way - got up and danced. And the jazz quotient of Moondance, as it morphed in to So What and My Funny Valentine, kept this jazz-nut very happy.

Fortune has definitely been smiling on Van Morrison's band since Dana Masters from South Carolina made her home in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. She brings a great powerful gospelly voice, ideally suited to the Van Morrison songbook, to this band. She had a chance to shine  on Sometimes We Cry, but it was all too brief

The organizers did seem to have thought of everything, with good sound, places to stroll beforehand and in the interval, the vibe overall was particularly relaxed. Careful thought had stretched to ensuring the logistics of speedily getting cars off the site afterwards. They had also planned the essential for an outdoor location in Southern England: good weather.

LINKS: Love Supreme Festival
Ludovico Einaudi this Sunday 28th at Blenheim


NEWS: Kyle Eastwood to headline TW12 Festival (July 17th-19th)

Kyle Eastwood.
Photo credit Aworan/Pixgremlin - Creative Commons

See how they grow! Janet McCunn and Terry Collie started running a TW12 Jazz Festival with a one-day one-location event down in Hampton Hill in 2013. In their third year, the hallmarks - a broad programme, some great names and a deep involvement in the community - are as ever there, but they now are up to three days and three locations, including the Saturday at David Garrick's riverside temple to Shakespeare from 1756.

Garrick's Temple. Photo credit Alastair Young/ Creative Commons


Jazz Cafe Posk, 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith W6 0RF

20:30 Janet's Jazz Friday - House band set with Janet McCunn on vocals, Terence Collie on piano, Richard Sadler on bass and Chris Nickolls on drums.

21:30 Jam Session - open to all singers and instrumentalists

Garrick's Temple, Hampton Court Road, Hampton, TW12 2EN.

15:00 Richmond Youth Jazz Band (free event) - School students from the Richmond Music Trust led by Musical Director Roger Perrin

19:30 Gareth Lockrane Quartet with Ross Stanley on organ, Mike Outram on guitar and Tim Giles on drums.

Hampton Hill Playhouse, 90 High Street, Hampton Hill, TW12 1NZ.

12:00 Questors Jazz Band - students to age of 18 from Questors Young Musicians Club led by Musical Director Jac Jones.

13:00 Swingatto - gypsy jazz project featuring Matt Dibble on clarinet, Antonio Feula on guitar Milko Ambrogini on double bass covering Django Reinhardt songs plus originals written by the band.

14:00 Janet & Friends - Festival host/vocalist Janet McCunn plus three guest singers Melissa Cantzlaar, Stephan O’Goodson and Marimba Arihi singing songs from the American Songbook plus others with Meredith White on piano, Nick Lenner-Webster on double bass, Rha Stranges on drums and Richard Halligan on tenor sax.

15:30 The Frank Harrison Trio - Frank Harrison on piano with Oli Hayhurst on double bass and Enzo Zirilli on drums.

17:00 Nigel Price Trio - Nigel Price on guitar, Ross Stanley on organ and Matt Home on drums.

19:00 TC3 - Brand new trio led by festival host Terence Collie on piano, Paul Michael on double bass and Jamie Trowell on drums playing some originals and re-worked standards.

20:15 Georgia Mancio - Vocalist/lyricist Georgia Mancio joined by Jason Pearson on piano, Julie Walkington on double bass and Dave Ohm on drums.

21:30 Kyle Eastwood Band - Headline Quintet led by bassist and composer Kyle Eastwood featuring Andrew McCormack on piano, Quentin Collins on trumpet, Brandon Allen on saxophone and Chris Higginbottom on drums.


REVIEW: Sarah Mckenzie Quartet at Pizza Express

Sarah Mackenzie

Sarah Mackenzie Quartet 
(Pizza Express, 24th June 2015, Second Night of two. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

 By the end of this summer, Sarah Mackenzie should have played for around 35,000 people on a series of dates in Europe. The 27-year old Australian singer/pianist will, for example, have played on the quatorze juillet at Juan-les-Pins, and also been the opening act for Jamie Cullum at the Schlossplatz in Stuttgart. The magazine covers will surely follow, when her next album comes out later in the year.

On the strength of last night, the second of two at Pizza Express, she has the personality, the musicality, the songs and the band not just make a success of this, but to build on it. She has won awards in Australia, been actively  encouraged and mentored by James Morrison, studied at Berklee in Boston, on a full scholarship. The traffic lights for this career are all on green.

For those who follow jazz, the resonances of Diana Krall in her "errand girl for rhythm" days in the 1990's are apparent. Mackenzie gets dug in to the hard swing tradition of Oscar Peterson/Ray Brown, and it's infectiously foot-tapping. She has a strong, characterful voice, knows how to bandlead, it's  pretty much the complete package.

Her own compositions also show a deep, happy, natural absorption of the tradition. That's It, I Quit is a child of the Blossom Dearie/Dave Frishberg family. Quoi, quoi, quoi sounded like a few healthy and energetic lengths (of front crawl - sorry can't resist) in Jobim's Waters of March. It will be fascinating to watch what direction she is headed. If I wanted to quibble, it is that the story/narrative arc/ guiding through songs could be stronger, but that is something which is bound to develop.

And the band are strong. Drummer Gregory Hutchinson, who now lives in Rome, in particular, was a constant inspiration. His early days were with Betty Carter and Ray Brown, then in the Joshua Redman quartet. He is now 45, and hearing him again was a complete joy. (biography here)The subtlety and variety of his attack. delay, texture, shimmer, silence, rim, sticks, brush could have mesmerized me for many more hours, and looking at the other bandmembers' smiles in his direction I wasn't alone. The mere word "tango" seemed to set him off in a particularly creative direction. Bassist Tom Farmer is a fine player at the top of his game, and Jo Caleb also thrives on the variety, and took his featured slot in Moon River allowing those bottom Bb's and A's of the seventh string on his guitar to ring out.

A happy gig, an exciting prospect, a story which will develop.


NEWS: Helena Kay wins 2015 Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year

Stephen Duffy presenting the award to Helena Kay 
The award for Scottish Young Jazz Musician of the Year 2015 has been awarded to saxophonist Helena Kay from Perth, aged 21. She is studying on the B.Mus course at the Guildhall School in London, and is about to enter her fourth year. She was a semi-finalist for the same competition in 2013. The award was made at the Glasgow Jazz Festival.

The other finalists were Declan Forde, age 22, from Glasgow (Piano), Sean Gibbs, age 21, from Edinburgh (Trumpet), Fergus McCreadie, age 17, from Dollar (Piano), and John Patton, age 22, from Greenock (Guitar)


CD REVIEW: Ron Carter and WDR Big Band- My Personal Songbook

Ron Carter and WDR Big Band- My Personal Songbook
In & Out Records. IOR 77123-9. Review by Frank Griffith)

My Personal Songbook is the perfect amalgamation of sterling bassist and composer, world-leading jazz orchestra and distinctive arranger forged together on this heroic recording.

Arguably the most proment and innovative modern jazz bassist today, Ron Carter is no mean composer either, and provides ten of his pieces of varying style feel and tempi. They offer ace arranger Richard DeRosa the handy challenge of harnessing this melange of repertoire into the seamless collection that results. Delivering this in stellar form is the WDR Big Band, based in Cologne, a first class ensemble boasting an array of brilliant soloists that include trumpeter, John Marshall; Paul Heller on tenor sax, Johan Hörlen alto sax, and trombonist Ludwig Nuss. Frank Chastenier's melodic but driving piano solos score throughout alongside the churning battery of Carter's bass and Hans Dekker's drums.

The leader's voice has such a sound and presence that goes well beyond his role in the rhythm section keeping time and goading on soloists.Its as if every note and rhythm and instrumentalist playing them are imbued with Carter's aura and message sending it well into an atmosphere of larger proportions. On a lighter note, Carter's playful propensity for quoting runs amok on his solo on "Receipt Please". He manges to squeeze in a circus call theme, Anything Goes and "All Blues" in as many bars. A feat worthy of a "red card" (in British football parlance) but all the better for his Puckish humour- always welcome in the music.
The magisterial arranging prowess of Rich DeRosa is exemplary throughout. Born and bred in Long Island, New York, Rich is the progeny of the late percussionist and jazz educator, Clem DeRosa. Rich's other writing credits include the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra (dig his swinging vocal chart on "Lullaby of Birdland")and Gerry Mulligan (with whom he drummed with for many years) as well as a 1980s orchestral jazz concern lead by (Garry) Dial and (Dick) Oatts.
DeRosa's Thad Jones-like rhythmic swagger and "red note" harmonies on Receipt Please, Blues for D.P. and Cut and Paste score highly in the 1960s/70s modern post Ellington/Basie tradition. For me , the real tour de force though is Sheila's Song which clearly draws from the sound world of the Gil/Miles 1958 Sketches of Spain collaboration. Not in a pastiche kind of way but more celebrating it in a contemporary fashion.

A flamenco mood is established from the outset with a clever balance of mutes and flutes outlining transparent harmonies that belie their size and shape. One of Gil Evans' most remarkable skills  was to disguise and soften bracing dissonances (close and angular harmonies that could be accused of containing incorrect notes) with an orchestration that soothes and salves. DeRosa has clearly mastered this skill  bringing about a distinctive early 20th Century rural Spanish ambience to the proceedings....a "Manuel Defy Ya" vibe if you will.....(sorry..). What is also remarkable is that the composer solidly supplies the repeating ostinato bassline throughout the eleven minute track while allowing guitarist Paul Shigihara, and trumpeter Ruud Breuls to handle the solo spots.They do this magnificently, as well.

This is a CD of epic proportions combining flawless bassistry and distinctive compositions performed brilliantly by the WDR band with DeRosa's unparalled arrangements. A hallmark CD indeed. Bravo to all hands.


CD REVIEW: Sorana Santos - Our Lady of Stars

Sorana Santos - Our Lady of Stars
(I Dream in Sound. IDIS1CD. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

Overflowing with intrigue and frequently startling with the unexpected, Sorana Santos' debut album Our Lady of Stars on her own label 'I Dream in Sound' feels like one of the most delightfully original vocal jazz offerings of the year to date; a recording whose original compositions and performances progress with delicious unpredictability until they eventually seep into one's soul.

A graduate of the Guildhall School of Music, the creative outpouring of South-Londoner Santos is multi-faceted – pianist, guitarist, vocalist, composer, lyricist, poet. And, influenced by her studies of, amongst others, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Edgard Varèse, as well as embracing jazz, rock, soul and the singer/songwriter tradition, all combine to build these interpretations of fourteen of the darkest women's stories to be found in the Bible. These are depicted "from their own unique perspective as they deal with discrimination, childlessness and unrequited love; a portrayal of their battle against the inherent darkness of the human condition."

Sorana Santos' personnel on this recording comprises James Maddren (drums), Joe Wright (saxes, flute), Alex Bonney (trumpet, cornet) and the strings of the Ligeti Quartet. What makes this such a distinctive project is the way in which the impassioned drama of Santos' voice is so integral to the instrumental balance – worlds apart from the simple notion of upfront vocalist with backing musicians; and the singly-named tracks (for example, Salome, Lilith, Jezebel) tantalisingly provide no clue to the engagingly differing sound worlds that develop. But, interestingly, a password-protected URL quoted on the album sleeve invites the listener to follow Sorana's lyrics, as well as view her fascinating notated manuscripts.

With or without reference to its inspiration, this collection is compelling, right from the opening number Abigail whose free vocal ("I am the night you draw into to wait for the dawn") permeates a repeated, reversed, echoic chant, followed by the emotional rock groove of Sarah (Santos' hard vocal suggesting all the intensity of, say, Patti Smith or P J Harvey). The brooding new-age folkiness of Mary reveals the leader's prepared piano (a light chain across the strings) which becomes an effective feature of this album, whilst piano/vocal-dominated Ruth hints at Joni Mitchell or Tom Waits (Santos' intuitive piano creating pleasing textures).

Joe Wright's earthy tenor sax multiphonics and loops introduce the brief spaciality of Rachel ("And now my heart is as barren as I") before deep, heavy-metal piano chromatics and Maddren's thrashing drums launch Salome, its overwrought, emotional vocal giving way to cacophonous trumpet and tenor – a powerful episode indeed. One of the album's standouts is delivered in the form of Sorana's prepared guitar, which provides an infectiously rhythmic, dulcimer-like backbone to Jael, the '60s 'protest song' feel vocalised superbly.

Sustained internal piano effects reminiscent of John Cage define the edgy foreboding of Lilith, as disturbing wordless drones hover around; and the shrill dissonance of the Ligeti Quartet appropriately accompanies Santos' brief, dark lyrics. More hopeful in mood and theme is the steady, countryfied air of Miriam, opening into a beautiful blend of assertive, string-led instrumentation (including Alex Bonney's muted trumpet extemporisations) and soulful voice; and subtitled 'hymn for a wedding/funeral', Jezebel exudes a quiet, disembodied gospel feel as its bizarre 'tape-damaged' manipulations become strangely captivating.

Hannah's melodic plainchant is punctuated by an abstract undercurrent of electronics, whilst the metallic, bell-like prepared piano calm of Martha erupts into full-band solidity; and to close (or so it might seem), a reprise of the opening chant but with the addition of random instrumental voicings and improvisations, ad infinitum.

In current jazz circles, the originality of this album might be comparable to the work of, say, Alice Zawadzki or Lauren Kinsella – and yet Sorana Santos' distinct inventiveness and musicality leaves a different impression, not to say a good deal of unexpected shivers of pleasure. A great talent – it'll be interesting to see where this album leads.


CD REVIEW: Alex Hutton Trio Magna Carta Suite

Alex Hutton Trio Magna Carta Suite
(F-IRE CD82. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Medieval jazz? Sure, why not – after all, we’ve had Latin jazz. Having said that, looking at the sleeve, one feels a little apprehensive at the Olde Englishe font and Alban Low woodcut of Bad King John. A glance at the back, and we see the album features not merely a piano trio, but baroque flute, cor anglais and the spoken word.

Magna Carta Suite, the fourth album from Alex Hutton, turns out to be a thing of great beauty. It contains 12 short pieces, ten of them inspired by the 800th anniversary of said document. Hutton is a busy and inventive pianist, here accompanied by long-standing musical partners Yuri Goloubev on bass and Asaf Sirkis on drums.

For the most part it’s conventional piano trio music, and all the better for that, as the musical empathy among the trio is powerful. The added instrumental elements are provided by Goloubev’s gorgeous bowed bass, played high enough to sound richly melodic and cello-like on Old Yew and King John’s Hunting Lodge. Liz Palmer’s baroque flute on Old Yew is mixed low enough to provide just the right counterpoint to the bass melody. And on King John’s Hunting Lodge Liesbeth Allart’s cor anglais adds a sweet and attractive oboe-like texture that doesn’t overdo the medievalism.

There’s a folky, village green feel to The Barons, toughened by a solo from Sirkis, while June 15th 1215 is rather Keith Jarrett-like, with a delicate plucked solo from Goloubev which reminds you that he spent 12 years as a classical player in Moscow before dedicating himself to jazz. Maintaining the classical influence, the pounding Gunpowder and Compass is partly based on a fugue by JS Bach.

If all this makes Magna Carta Suite sound like a bit of a mish-mash, it’s actually a lot more cohesive than one might expect. Hutton is firmly on top of his disparate musical influences, and the project hangs together very well: it sounds like a suite.

There are albums that you review approvingly whilst knowing you won’t ever play them again. This one I will listen to for pleasure, although to be honest only as far as track 10: I found the recitations of Neil Sparkes on Thoughts Bear Heirs to Memory and As Sunlight Passses a little portentous.

The album is launched on 13th July at the 606 Club, with an additional date at Ronnie Scott’s on 13th August.


REVIEW: Doña Oxford at the 606 Club

Doña Oxford

Doña Oxford
(606 Club. 9th June 2015. Review by Brian Blain)

Our great good fortune that after touring Europe and the UK for three months with the great blues guitarist Albert Lee, keyboards player/singer/songwriter and legendary exponent of boogie woogie piano, Doña Oxford found enough time to get a fine British band together for a memorable night of music entertainment at the 606 a couple of weeks ago.

She is one of those US artists, steeped in show business and drama from an early age who discovered rock n’ roll, R ‘n B, soul and jazz in her teens so that despite the polymath nature of her talents (she is an actress and playwright as well) roots music is the core of what she is all about. She led the band who, not surprisingly, sounded a little tentative at first, with such enthusiasm, drive and generous humour, that long before the end of the first set, a riotous boogie number which included the trick of playing with her back to the keyboard, they had melded into a hard-swinging unit, far removed from so many of those stodgy, bog standard groups of the British blues boom.

After an early nod to Ray Charles, we were into Bill Haley territory on Comes To Me Naturally when I couldn’t help being reminded by guitarist Les Davidson, who produced a rich vocabulary of classic answering phrases to Doña’s voice all night, of the classic Danny Cedrone on Haley’s era defining hit. Much later, having clearly taken a grip on proceedings, on Oxford’s Drinking Tanqueray, an endlessly repeated mantra-like lyric over a bouncy backbeat shuffle, he really got the bit between his teeth over four choruses for which his classic semi acoustic Gibson was made - a perfect blend of blueswail and bebop harmonic colouration. 19 year old drummer Mikey Ciano and electric bassist Sophie Lord, a protégé of The Blockheads’s Norman Watt Roy were a revelation, setting up terrific grooves and beats for a wide range of Dona’s original material that had her turning round and beaming like a proud mother hen . Two backing singers Betty Belay and Stephanie Parnell sang great, and completed the authentic R’nB package perfectly. Let us hope that that the dynamic and charismatic Doña Oxford can return next year and is able to set up some dates – Festivals would be perfect – for this abundantly talented crew.


FEATURE: Round-Up/Schedule of Releases at Edition Records

MALIJA: L-R (Li)am Noble, (Ma)rk Lockheart,(Ja)sper Høiby

There have been quite a few announcements and press releases in recent days from Edition Records. We wanted to aggregate them and give the full picture. So label boss Dave Stapleton talked Sebastian through what is currrently happening, notably the label's release schedule for the next few months, and also what have been the successes from the first half-year of 2015.


The complete chronological list of new releases from the Newbury-based label is below, but one important common strand in quite a few of the albums emerges, which is to bring a focus onto the continuing stories of five top UK jazz musicians in mid-career. Or as Dave Stapleton describes this trend: “ I want to go deeper into the story of the musicians and their collaborations. We've got amazing artists with stories to tell." Releases are in the pipeline from:

- Tim Garland. An album from Tim's “Electric Lighthouse” quartet (with Jason RebelloAnt Law and Asaf Sirkis) will be issued in April 2016

- Gerard Presencer. ‘Groove Travels’ is a significant new project from trumpeter/composer Gerard Presencer, of his arrangements and compositions with the DR Big Band from Copenhagen where he is trumpet soloist. It will be released in early Spring 2016.

- Mark Lockheart and Liam Noble are in a drumless trio with Jasper Høiby called after their christian names abridged and conflated: Malija. It is a collaborative project to which all three are bringing compositions and this is their debut album.

- Jason Rebello will release a first album of solo piano music in early 2016. “I've never had an opportunity to immerse myself fully in the piano. I’ve reached a point now where I feel there is something to say with just a piano and I’m relishing this opportunity to consolidate all my musical experiences on this record.”


Another release with an interesting story behind it is the album from Drifter with the title Flow. The background here is that Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila formed a quartet when he was studying at the Brussels Conservatoire. The band were faced with a tricky choice where to place their first album - the options open to them were either Blue Note or Warner. The album 02 was released – and was very successful – on Warner, in 2005, but then Warner shut down its jazz and classical department, bookings tailed off, and the band drifted apart. Tuomarila worked extensively with Tomasz Stanko, for example. Edition recorded and released Tuomarila's 2013 album Seven Hills and were approached as a result of that by Belgian saxophonist Nicolas Kummert, who had been a part of the original quartet. Dave Stapleton suggested the original group might re-form, and they did. Three of the players in Drifter are the same as in the original Tuomarila quartet, but there again they have all progressed significantly, since this is ten years on....


Dave Stapleton also talked about the albums from the first half of the year. He singled out first the Verneri Pohjola album (REVIEWED HERE) which has sold well both in Scandinavia and Germany.

Also the Daniel Herskedal release Slow Eastbound Train started slowly but sales have picked up momentum as the album's subtle charms have become better understood (REVIEW)


Dave Stapleton also talked about the classical label Edition Classics. The plan here is to be very selective, maybe two albums a year. One which has been particularly well received recently is the recording which Thomas Gould made of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in Riga.

Chronological list of forthcoming Edition Records releases

17th July – Drifter ‘Flow’

18th Sept – Girls In Airports ‘Fables’ - touring early May next year (this is the group's fourth album, and their first on Edition)

16th Oct (Europe)/ 28th August UK  – Misha Mullov-Abbado ‘New Ansonia’.The 2014 Kenny Wheeler prize-winner's album includes the elegy written in response to the death of his father, “Heal Me on this Cloudy Day” The launch will be on 12th September as part of the Kings Place Festival - (LIVE REVIEW)

27th Nov - MALIJA, debut  Mark Lockheart, pianist Liam Noble and bassist Jasper Høiby

Early spring 2016  Gerard Presencer / Danish Radio Big Band   ‘Groove Travels’ featuring his compositions and arrangements.

Early spring 2016 - Jason Rebello solo piano

April 2016 - Tim Garland Electric Lighthouse – with Ant Law and Asaf  Sirkis

Plans beyond that have not yet been released but Autumn 2016 will see the release of the Ralph Wyld debut album (Kenny Wheeler prizewinner 2015) and a new album from Slowly Rolling Camera.


CD REVIEW: Liam Noble A Room Somewhere

Liam Noble A Room Somewhere
(Basho Records SRCD 48-2. CD Review by Jon Carvell)

On the cover of his new disc A Room Somewhere, pianist Liam Noble is joined by a garish cuddly parrot. It’s not the most obvious choice of album art; however, it does perhaps hold the key to what is a highly polished and thoughtful solo album. Noble explains ‘I needed an accomplice, a kind of visible version of the internal me - something like a macaw… Playing solo, the only dialogue is one with oneself, or perhaps with the imaginary bird inside that self.’

Noble’s disc covers a broad range of subjects, from standards such as There is No Greater Love, Body and Soul and ’Round Midnight to more unusual choices for a solo piano disc, including Joe Zawinul’s Directions (taken from Miles Davis’s jazz-rock period) and even Elgar’s Salut D’Amour. Yet somehow this eclectic selection hangs together, thanks to Noble’s great gift for melody.

‘Improvisation starts from nothing in theory, but really it starts from memory, a recollection of whatever the player considers music’ says Noble. Especially with the standards on this disc, he provides what feels like a personal reminiscence of each tune, embroidered with his own counterpoint, best demonstrated in Body and Soul and his almost fugal There is No Greater Love. The whole record has a classy and refined approach, and evokes thoughts of Fred Hersch‘s lyrical style.

On Now and Then, Noble uses extended techniques - such as muting strings inside the piano - as well as an overdub, adding a further dimension to the idea of creating a dialogue with himself, and perhaps also giving a gentle nod to Bill Evans’s great Conversations with Myself. These delicate modernist textures then lead us in a completely different direction, as Noble plays a cover of Gillian Welch’s Six White Horses, a melancholic country classic.

Noble’s first solo record for 20 years is virtuosic and inventively programmed, yet also reflective and elegant. We’re lucky to listen in on this dialogue; hopefully the imaginary macaw won’t mind.


RIP Gunther Schuller (1925-2015)

Gunther Schuller. Photo: Boston Symphony Orchestra/WBUR

The eminent musician Gunther Schuller died yesterday Sunday June 21st of complications from leukemia, at the age of 89.

He was a composer (200 works), a horn player (principal horn of the Cincinnatti Symphony at the age of 17,  he also played on The Birth of the Cool), conductor, jazz historian (several books), educator and educational administrator at a key period of development for the New England Conservatory in Boston, advocate of the concept of the  Third Stream,  recipient of the Macarthur Foundation "genius" award in 1991, and of an NEA Jazz Master Award in 2008. This tribute telling his life-story in the Boston Globe portrays some of the lifetime's work of a giant of music.

LINK: Jazz on 3 commissioned Ethan Iverson to interview Gunther Schuller in 2010 - link to the transcribed interview - and much more.


LP REVIEW: Tony Bennett and Bill Evans – The Complete Recordings

Tony Bennett and Bill Evans – The Complete Recordings
(Fantasy FAN-36453-01. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

We have the British singer Annie Ross to thank for these milestones of vocal jazz. She recommended to Tony Bennett that he should record with Bill Evans and the suggestion took. After an initial meeting and discussion in London, an historic series of sessions proceeded on June 10-13, 1975 at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California. No other musicians were involved, just the pianist and singer. “It was my idea that we make it only piano, though it kind of scared me,” said Evans. “It seemed to be the best way to get that intimate communication going.”

Indeed, an agreeable intimacy is one of the hallmarks of these flawless, lustrous recordings. Singer and pianist shared the same room instead of performing in separate booths, which made a subtle but profound difference to everything that ensued. Some sources describe the performances as being virtually improvised. This is perhaps understandable given the utterly relaxed and natural quality of the songs, but it’s a long way from the truth. The mere fact of the existence of a track entitled ‘Take 18’ of You Don't Know What Love Is indicates that these sessions weren’t entirely ruled by off-the-cuff spontaneity. And Bennett recalls how Evans would “work for three or four hours on each song we did.”

But despite the rigorous preparation and striving for perfection that provided the bedrock for this music, simplicity really was a keynote. Mirroring the fact that it was just Bennett and Evans performing, the only other people in the studio were Helen Keane (Evans’s fiercely loyal long-time agent, here also acting as producer) and recording engineer Don Cody. The fruits of these first sessions were released on the Fantasy label simply as The Tony Bennett Bill Evans Album and were so successful that a follow up was immediately on the cards.

The second album Together Again was recorded for Bennett’s own label Improv, at the Columbia Studios in San Francisco on September 27-30, 1976. Don Cody was again the recording engineer and now also the co-producer with Helen Keane. Both of these records have been long out of print on vinyl and are scarce and sought after. Releases on CD have been sporadic and less than optimal. Certainly, considering the importance of this work, a definite revisiting has been long overdue.

But here it is, in a magnificent, definitive boxed set, which recaps both the original albums and adds an amazingly generous selection of bonus tracks and alternate takes. Released by Fantasy, which is now part of the Concord Music Group, this is a very stylishly package. Presented in new, simple, boldly graphic sleeves, two of the records replicate the original releases, and two more entire LPs contain the wealth of extra tracks. There is also a nice LP sized photo of Bennett and Evans and a twelve page illustrated booklet featuring detailed notes by Will Friedwald who co-wrote Bennett’s autobiography. Along with the recent Wes Montgomery set,  this wonderful collection seems to signal that we are entering a golden age of vinyl revivals.

Young and Foolish makes the magic of the relaxed simplicity of these recordings immediately evident. Technically speaking, the 180 gram vinyl has a great sound, open clear and powerful. As for the music, it’s hard to repress clichés about the raw silk quality of Bennett’s voice, and maybe we shouldn’t even try. This really is a case of taking the rough with the smooth, and in a way the listener will love. Evans builds simple structures around Bennett, as if protecting a small campfire from the wind, allowing the first tentative small flames to arise, the twigs to catch, and the fierce warm blaze to begin.

Cy Coleman’s delightful composition When In Rome paints such an insouciant portrait of Playboy Club jet-set philandering that it’s always a little surprising to remember that the lyric was written by a woman, Carolyn Leigh. Here Evans combines minimalism and jollity, while My Foolish Heart is oddly moving. On The Days Of Wine And Roses Bennett manages the neat trick of belting out the lyric, but with restraint. Evans is always at his shoulder, offering sensitive accompaniment, adding highlights as well as support. Make Someone Happy is memorable for Evans’s soft and delicate touch on the bass and The Touch Of Your Lips (Take 1) is an exercise in chiaroscuro with Bennett’s bright, bold voice set in bold contrast against the rich dark tones of Evans’s piano. For precision, prodigious fireworks from Evans check out Make Someone Happy (Take 5).

This sumptuous release is a dream come true for anyone who, like this reviewer, has longed for a properly complete and suitably respectful treatment of these crucial recordings. One couldn’t wish for a better embodiment of this great music.


INTERVIEW: Kaja Draksler

28-year old Slovenian pianist KAJA DRAKSLER, filmed above at Jazzahead in 2014, studied jazz piano in Groningen, Holland, and classical composition in Amsterdam, where she now lives, and is emerging as an unique voice. The mix of influences she has taken on board includes her Slovenian heritage, her teachers Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran; Cecil Taylor; Ligeti; Monk, Duke and stride pianists. For this interview she talked to Alison Bentley, after her solo gig at the 2015 Inntoene Jazz Festival:

London Jazz News: Would you say much of your musical inspiration comes from Slovenia?

Kaja Draksler: I think definitely some inspiration comes from there- nostalgic ideas of church bells and so on. Definitely memories, landscapes.

LJN: You studied piano in New York with Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran.

KD: The first time I was in New York I was on an exchange programme, and I had lessons with them, and I enjoyed it very much. When I went there again I had lessons with them again so…they are definitely two of my favourite pianists.

LJN: Vijay Iyer was influenced by Steve Coleman- is there something of the M-Base sound in your playing?

KD: I never really listened to Steve Coleman much, but definitely he’s had such a profound influence on many people that I like, for example Craig Taborn, who is also one of my favourite pianists. He was also under [Steve Coleman’s] tutelage. Vijay and Jason both played with [Coleman] as well. So many people played with him and went through his school. I guess he’s influenced me second-hand.

LJN: What about your Classical studies? I wondered if you enjoyed Ligeti?

KD: I love Ligeti! I’m trying to play some of his stuff but it’s very, very difficult- the Études- I’ve played some of those. And there’s also Musica Ricercata- there are some pieces from there that I tried to play but it takes a very long time to learn that, even to just read it, so I don’t really have enough patience most of the time to go through it!

LJN: And you wrote about Cecil Taylor?

KD: I did my Master’s thesis on one of his pieces.

LJN: Has he had a big influence on you?

KD: Definitely, at least for that period when I was writing about him and analysing his piece. I think not only his music, but also what he says about it- I mean, just his way of being a musician- his beliefs, his determination, and a lot of things about musical ethics. He believes very strongly in what he’s doing, and is very elaborate about it; very broad too, taking inspiration from architecture, talking about forces that exist- a little bit ethereal, philosophical. So that’s what I was very drawn to in his music- that he had this really broad way of thinking about it.

Kaja Draksler performing solo at the WDR3 Jazzfest, Dortmund, Jan 2015
Photo Credit: WDR / Lutz Voigtländer

LJN: Do you play differently in your solo performances ? Compared, for example, with your latest album which is a duo? [Miniatures From Our Living Room with guitarist Matiss Cudars]

KD: Of course there are some differences, because as a soloist you’re on your own and you can go wherever you want. But I’m trying not to separate things consciously- it’s just what happens organically. I’m on my own and there’s a different way I should treat the piano because I’m on my own. I have to think much more orchestrally, and I don’t really react to anything except the audience. It’s a different kind of dynamic, so I guess that changes the style as well to some degree.

LJN: Are there other jazz musicians you admire?

KD: The stride pianists, especially James P. Johnson and Jaki Byard. There are other pianists that I’m influenced by, like Herbie Nichols, Duke Ellington- as a pianist and also a composer, but mainly as a pianist- I really enjoy what he does. The whole lineage of James P and Duke and of course, Monk- a big influence. I very much enjoy pianist-composers. They have wonderful technique but it’s not just about showing off chops- it’s more about thinking in a composerly way- orchestrally.

LJN: Do you see yourself in a European jazz tradition?

KD: I don’t know- when I started my studies were very American-based- with my Bachelor’s [degree in Groningen] they have this Berklee programme of jazz, but now since I lived in Amsterdam for the last five years, I’ve been playing a lot with the people from that scene and so that’s definitely influenced me a lot. And also the fact that I was studying Classical composition- that also changed a lot of things aesthetically. For sure, I’m part of the European scene, since I live here!

LJN: How do you feel about this Festival?

KD: I think it’s great. I really enjoy the fact that people come here with open attitudes, ready to receive whatever comes. It feels very chilled. Sometimes at a festival you have almost a competitive feeling of band versus band, when there are more stages. Here, there is only one stage so it’s focused on only the person who is playing. It’s a very cosy atmosphere- it’s very easy to be natural, to just be who you are.

LINKS: Kaja Draksler reviewed in  Jan 2015 at the WDR3 Jazzfest in Dortmund 
Inntoene 2015 review
Kaja Draksler's website