INTERVIEW/PREVIEW The Jazz Repertory Company presents Jazz in New York: The 1930s ( Cadogan Hall, Sat. Sept. 19th)

"Jazz in New York: The 1930s" will be the sixteenth presentation by Richard Pite's Jazz Repertory Company at Chelsea’s Cadogan Hall. It will feature music from Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Eddie Condon, Lee Wiley and Mildred Bailey. 

Author and broadcaster Alyn Shipton, who will be presenting the show, talks to Jazz Repertory Company’s director Richard Pite, who will also be the featured drummer for the concert:

Richard Pite: Alyn, I’m very pleased to have bagged you for this concert. At many of my previous concerts I have used the BBC’s other walking encyclopaedia of Jazz – Russell Davies. I never cease to be astonished at the breadth of knowledge both of you share on the history of the music. You seem to have an enthusiasm for every era in its history but do you have a particularly favourite period?

Alyn Shipton: Because I grew up during the 1960s, those years still have a special place in my heart. There were elder statesmen of New Orleans to be heard, like Louis Nelson and Kid Thomas; meanwhile first generation swing musicians like Buck Clayton and Bud Freeman were touring here; and yet simultaneously British jazz was entering one of its most fertile periods. Because my school was active in all kinds of music, I was lucky enough as a teenager to meet and make music with Michael Garrick (and members of the Rendell – Carr quintet), and with John Dankworth (who wrote Tom Sawyer’s Saturday for our orchestra) while going to the local jazz club once a month to hear Humph and Ken Colyer. So it was immensely fertile in terms of the musical landscape, and I think I owe my breadth of interest to what happened during that decade.

However, my second love has always been the 1930s, the period we are celebrating in this concert, because this is the music my father was keen on and as a child I was captivated by his 78s of Fats Waller, Earl Hines and Duke Ellington.

RP: We will be celebrating the centenary of Billie Holiday with a short set from Julia Biel, who for me beautifully captures the style and essence of her early years. Billie’s still a big influence on young jazz vocalists – is she the most important singer in the music’s history?

AS: I don’t like to label people “most important” or “greatest” because there’s always an exception to confound the rule. But there’s no doubt that Billie was and remains one of the most profoundly emotional singers in jazz. She rode roughshod over melodies, actually often working in a very narrow range, but she had a unique balance of caring for the words of a lyric, even the frothy ones about sunbonnets and roses round the door, and putting those words into a meaningful context. Whereas Ella’s delivery of words was sublime, and Sarah Vaughan’s grasp of harmony quite dazzling, neither of them managed to inhabit a lyric and create a story out of it with the same consistency and emotional depth as Billie.

RP: Two names that feature in our concert that might not be so familiar to today’s audience are Mildred Bailey and Lee Wiley (American singer Joan Viskant will be paying tribute to them)

AS: Poor Mildred Bailey  had such a short life, dying at only 44 owing to diabetes, but she made some great music during that time. Although she spent some years as Paul Whiteman’s female singer, (her brother Al Rinker also sang for Whiteman, with a young unknown called Bing Crosby) I think her most memorable work comes from her partnership with her sometime husband, the vibes and xylophone player Red Norvo. They were known as “Mr and Mrs Swing” and his openness to new musical ideas coupled with her sureness of touch as a singer make their records hidden treasures that are largely forgotten today. Her big hit was “Rockin’ Chair” but there are plenty of other fine examples.

There’s been a bit of a Lee Wiley revival going on among listeners to Jazz Record Requests lately, and it’s good to have had the chance to air some of her work as, like Mildred, she’s a largely forgotten figure today. Everybody thinks of Ella Fitzgerald as pioneering the “songbook” album of a particular writer’s work, but Lee was doing this with All Star bands some fifteen to twenty years earlier, starting with Gershwin in 1939. Unlike Mildred, she lived well into the post-war period and her albums from the 1950s are refreshingly different from other singers of the time. She had a directness and a slightly knowing quality about her delivery that is very beguiling.

RP: For "Jazz In The 30’s" we are featuring the German maestro Matthias Seuffert who also plays saxophone and clarinet in your Buck Clayton Legacy Band. We are both huge fans of his – have you known about him for a while now?

AS: I first met Matthias in Ascona in Switzerland in the late 1990s, and was immediately struck by his mastery of swing and early jazz styles of reed playing. He’s developed a really big tenor sound, a melée of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Herschel Evans, with overtones of Don Byas, that’s a real contrast to those players who follow a more Lester Young-influenced path, and it’s great to have him in a band doing this because he becomes a sort of rhythmic and tonal centre of gravity. Meanwhile his clarinet playing (using Albert system fingering, which allows the instrument a broader, woodier tone) is a vade mecum of classic jazz, immediately recognisable as Matthias, but encompassing nuances drawn from players as different as Johnny Dodds and Jimmy Hamilton.

RP: We are very lucky to have such an array of jazz musicians in the UK who have studied and mastered the styles of the early stars of the music. Enrico Tomasso does a marvellous Louis Armstrong, Keith Nichols has Fats Waller style stride piano off pat, and Martin Litton pretty much covers everyone up to Thelonious Monk. Do you think the playing of repertory jazz has improved as the music’s history has got longer and longer?

AS: I think repertory jazz has been rather good from the outset. Muggsy Spanier’s Ragtimers did a rather good job resuscitating Chicagoan jazz in 1939, and it goes on from there. What’s changed is that as jazz history has got longer, the smorgasbord from which we can pick and choose has grown immeasurably. Of course we’re lucky that players can emulate earlier great talents with skill and a degree of verisimilitude, but if you took 1960s France for example, you'd hear Irakli doing a more than passable turn as Louis, Claude Luter emulating Bechet and Christian Azzi sounding like James P Johnson. I think what stands out about today’s musicians at their best is that they have their own musical personalities, which they combine adroitly with the essence of earlier styles. So Rico, for instance, is very much his own man on his “Al Dente” CD, but he can equally well turn his hand to a range of material in a concert like this one, with an authentic feel to his timing, tone and choice of notes.

RP: Someone once said to me “Always remember how young these musicians were when they were playing this great music all those years ago.” A lot of these musicians in the 1930s were in their prime and playing with such power and vitality. It’s all about the excitement and if you didn’t generate that then the club owners would fire you!

AS: Age didn’t stop many of the swing masters of the 30s from continuing to play with that same degree of excitement and fire. When I heard Benny Goodman in 1981 at Carnegie Hall, he produced half a dozen choruses on Airmail Special that were as utterly dazzling as anything he did in the ‘30s. And I’ve been lucky enough with the BBC to work on broadcasts with the likes of Lionel Hampton and Harry "Sweets" Edison who were every bit as punchy in the 1990s as they had been 60 years before! So I think swing is an attitude of mind, and quite ageless.

RP: Do you have any particular recordings from the 1930s which are firm favourites?

AS: Too many to list here, but among the high points are Bill Coleman’s records with Fats Waller, things like “Night Wind” and “Believe It Beloved”; Billie Holiday’s sides with Teddy Wilson and particularly the ones with Buck Clayton and Lester Young, like “Mean To Me” or “When You’re Smiling”; Lionel Hampton’s small groups, especially the “Hot Mallets” session, Jimmy Blanton’s arrival with Ellington, say “Tootin Through The Roof” and – because I wrote a whole book about him – Cab Calloway’s records, including the “Minnie The Moocher” saga. My Royal Academy of Music students would also say that for reasons they never quite fathom, I always inflict Sharkey Bonano, Wingy Manone and Louis Prima’s 52nd Street groups on them, just to prove that there were other ways to play the trumpet…

RP: I like the Eddie Condon quote about the difference between the old style guys and the new breed. “The boppers flat their fifths. We consume ours”. To conclude, do you have any funny or remarkable stories about any of the 1930s jazz stars we’ll be paying tribute too?

AS: When Ronald Waller was asked at primary school what his father did for a living, he thought for a moment and said “He drinks gin”. So the high life was all part and parcel of the sounds of the era, and particularly in a country coming out of Prohibition. Jonah Jones told me in a BBC interview that when he worked for Stuff Smith, he and Cozy Cole were fined if they weren’t “high” by the interval — Jones eventually joined Calloway after his doctor said the diet of whisky and marijuana with Smith was killing him. And when Billie Holiday worked the Café Society for the famously racially tolerant Barney Josephson, his tolerance did not stretch to her smoking pot on the premises. So she really liked it when Doc Cheatham joined her backing band as he smoked a particularly vile and pungent variety of pipe tobacco. She used to persuade him to sit and puff his pipe outside her dressing room so that Josephson remained unaware of the more, er, subtle aroma coming from within!

RP: As the concert promoter,  I’d  better set the record straight on that point, and  reassure anybody coming to the show that our performance will be drug and alcohol free.

LINE-UP:  Keith Nichols and Martin Litton (piano), Joan Viskant and Julia Biel (vocals),  Enrico Tomasso (trumpet/ vocals),  Ian Bateman, (trombone), Anthony Kerr,(vibraphone), Thomas “Spats” Langham  (guitar), Dave Chamberlain (double bass and guitar). The show will also feature the German reedsman Matthias Seuffert and the Australian multi-instrumentalist Michael McQuaid

JAZZ IN NEW YORK: The 1930s is at Cadogan Hall  SW1 7.30 Saturday September 19th.



CD REVIEW: Samuel Hällkvist - Variety of Live

Samuel Hällkvist - Variety of Live
(BoogiePost Recordings BPCD020. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

In 2014, following his 2012 studio release Variety of Loud, Swedish guitarist Samuel Hällkvist made the decision to tour Denmark and Sweden in order to satisfy his curiosity of playing live with his strong personnel of Pat Mastelotto (traps & buttons), Qarin Wikström (voice, keys), Guy Pratt (bass) and Stefan Pasborg (drums).

It was, however, almost a year later that Hällkvist decided on his preferred artistic route for the recordings of the gigs. Rather than put out a straightforward live album, he would use these performance accounts as a basis for a fusion with studio creativity, inviting a number of guest contributions. The result is a powerful, immersive experience of rock, prog, jazz, funk and electronica, suggesting the busy, instrumental sound worlds of  - amongst others - King Crimson, Peter Gabriel and Nik Bärtsch.

The complimentary 'prog' tag is perhaps inevitable, given that Guy Pratt (Pink Floyd sideman bassist) and Pat Mastelotto (drummer with King Crimson since the '90s) are part of the driving energy propelled by drummer Stefan Pasborg. And, along with the influential role of keyboardist and programmer Richard Barbieri, as well as exotic world-music chants from Qarin Wikström, Mocako Asano and Yukiko Taniguchi, the improvisational jazz element is reinforced by British-based musicians Yazz Ahmed (trumpet) and Denys Baptiste (saxophone).

As Barbieri explains, it's the supportive cohesion of Hällkvist's guitars and devices which makes his approach so appealing: "I like the way he 'mangles' his guitar sounds to produce the weirdest textures and glitches. His playing is always tasteful and integrated into the song – there's no showiness or overplaying." Having said that, Variety of Loud can be intensely mesmerising, the usual instrumental delineation frequently blurred into a blend of constantly evolving phrases, rhythms, effects and atmospheres. Opening number Greyer Melange develops, raga-like, as Hällkvist's sustained, crackled guitar squeals (not unlike Fripp or Manzanera) permeate a vocalised, synthy pulse; and Chord: Horror Vacui bubbles to Patrick Moraz-style steel-pan keyboards and Baptiste's flowing tenor, before Pasborg's percussive battery erupts in blistering fashion.

Other highlights include the rocky modulations of Kiopotec, with a highly-charged, processed groove whose instrumentation is fascinatingly difficult to decipher; and Heru Ra-Ha/Road, which throbs effusively and then gradually stratifies, is pleasingly reminiscent of Bärtsch's Ronin. Music for the Maraca Triplet turns away from its initial Gong-like, xylophonic trance to become increasingly Floydian (though with apparitional trumpet improv), before dropping into the relative, almost-reggae lightness of In Transfer; and the solid rock riff of Cluck Old Hen is tangibly '70s metal, with strangely becalming trumpet lines from Yazz Ahmed amongst its widely demonstrative female vocals.

This is a continual soundscape in which to lose oneself, rather than a programme of individual tracks – and the effect of Hällkvist's project at high volume is exhilarating, especially if you have a 'proggy' predilection (which, I'm proud to say, I have!).

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site


RIP Steve Lane 1921-2015 (+ funeral details)

Steve Lane (second from right) in 1952

Roger Trobridge has written in with sad news:

The pioneer traditional band leader and cornet player, Steve Lane, died on Saturday, 22 August, 2015, aged 93.

He was a cornet player, guitarist, composer and arranger, as well as being a director of VJM Records from 1960 with Brian Rust and John Wadley.

Steve led his own Southern Stompers jazz band in the early 1950, and also led and recorded with his Red Hot Peppers and the VJM Washboard Band for over 50 years.

He was a a very traditional jazz player in the Ken Colyer style and he established the Ealing Jazz Club in the Fox and Goose, Hanger Lane, Ealing in 1952. Lots of good musicians passed through his band.

The photo here is from the Ealing Jazz Club, Fox and Goose, Hanger Lane, 1952, which Steve started. Steve on cornet, with Colin Kingwell on trombone, Ian MacDonald on piano, Jim Forey on banjo, Doug Grey on sousaphone and Johnny Milton on clarinet.

UPDATE 27th August from Roger Trobridge:

The funeral will start promptly at 12 o'clock on Monday 7 September, at
New Southgate Crematorium
Brunswick Park
Brunswick Park Road
New Southgate
London N11 1JJ

Travel details are on the WEBSITE

After the short service we can move on to a local pub.


NEWS: Jive Aces and Swing Museum to perform at National Jazz Archive Fundraiser on 18th September

A fun fundraising evening for the National Jazz Archive in Chingford on will feature the UK’s No. 1 jive and swing band The Jive Aces, and the Hot Club de France-inspired quartet Swing Museum. This lively event will be on Friday 18th September at Chingford Assembly Hall.


"A regular act at the biggest UK summer music festivals this summer, they are the the UK’s top jive and swing band, The Jive Aces are renowned for their high energy Jump Jive music (the exciting sound where Swing meets Rock ’n’ Roll) and spectacular stage show. They combine a mixture of fresh arrangements of swing/jive/R&B classics – songs made famous by such greats as Louis Prima, Cab Calloway, Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin, Big Joe Turner and Sammy Davis, Jr – along with a selection of superb swinging originals taken from their eight studio albums."


Swing Museum is led by violinist Andrew Rackham. "Inspired by the ‘Hot Club of France’, Swing Museum is a well-known instrumental Jazz Manouche quartet, playing a delightfully authentic version of this sophisticated and refined music from the 1930s and 1940s. By combining the innovative styling of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt with their own foot-tapping original compositions, they make each of their sets unique."

This concert is on Friday 18 September 2015, and is one of a series during the year to raise funds to support the work of the National Jazz Archive. It starts at 7.30pm and tickets cost £17.

The venue is Chingford Assembly Hall, Station Road, Chingford, London, E4 7EN (500 metres from Chingford Station), with parking close by, and good access by bus.

LINK/ TO BOOK : NJA EVENTS. Also phone 020 8502 4701 / email

The next event at the Archive itself is on Saturday lunchtime Sep 26th, a talk by blues specialist Lawrence Davies entitled New Orleans, London, Memphis, Manchester... British Blues before the 1960s. Details and tickets


CD REVIEW: Stuart McCallum – City

Stuart McCallum – City
(Naim Jazz Records naimcd219). CD Review by Peter Jones.

Some music is at its best after dark; after all, night is the time for introspection, and this, guitarist Stuart McCallum’s second album for Naim Jazz, is a case in point: we’re truly talking about 3.00am levels of introspection.

McCallum has used a rock line-up, merged with subtle electronica. The vibe is thrillingly slow, rich, sensuous, dark and mellow, one might almost say druggy. There are echoes not only of McCallum’s band The Cinematic Orchestra, but of the late lamented Durutti Column, with shades also of the Cocteau Twins, Massive Attack, Plastyc Buddha and Zero 7 - downtempo, chill-out, call it what you will. And before the jazz police come knocking (perhaps looking for the aforementioned drugs), I should add that there are clearly improvised elements to the music, with echoes of Emily Remler in McCallum’s beautiful, plangent guitar work.

As well as himself on both acoustic and electric guitars, the band consists of Robin Mullarkey on bass, Sean Foran on Fender Rhodes and most significantly of all, Richard Spaven on drums, synths and electronics. Spaven, who has contributed so much to José James’s sound, should really be co-credited with McCallum, having shared the writing and production duties with him. A variety of vocalists have been used, not in a conventional way, more as additional tones used like instruments in the overall mix.

It’s tough to pick out individual tracks: these don’t feel like conventional ‘tunes’ or ‘songs’ but looping, dreamlike pieces that flow from one to the next. But if I were compelled to mention any in particular, Mk II and Inhale are gorgeous, McCallum’s chiming guitars underpinned by Spaven’s signature broken-beat drumming to create a very fresh, contemporary sound picture. Lushly romantic as it is, it’s romance with a somewhat bleak northern aspect, in the best ‘ECM’ sense.

Frustratingly, Stuart McCallum has no plans to gig down south following his one London date last July, but the northern half of the country is in for a real treat.

Meanwhile City is available on 180gm vinyl as well as in CD and digital formats.

Stuart McCallum’s live dates are as follows:

Sept 24 - Grumbles, Stafford;
Oct 7 - Lescar, Sheffield;

Oct 8 - Mash Guru, Macclesfield;
Oct 9 - Cafe Lento, Leeds;
Oct 10 - Zefirellis, Ambleside
Oct 11 - Marsden Jazz Festival, West Yorks


CD REVIEW: Kait Dunton - Trio Kait

Kait Dunton - Trio Kait
(Real & Imagined Music R&I 003. CD review by Rob Mallows

Increasingly, many piano trios in contemporary jazz are reducing their reliance on red-hot soloing in favour of a more collective, constructed sound that’s reliant on strong melodies and an appeal to the emotions rather than the intellect. If that’s what it takes to make an album as fun as this, then I say more power to them.

Kait Dunton is the LA-based leader of this piano trio who, along with her bandmates bassist Cooper Appelt and drummer Jake Reed, has - on this, her third album - produced a singular sound that is all about the collective identity of the group. Rather like pioneers EST, Neil Cowley Trio and presently Robert Glasper, who’ve all sought to expand the horizons of jazz piano in different ways over the years - all with great commercial success, one might add - one senses Dunton is also seeking to squeeze as much juice out of the piano trio as she can.

A composer who seeks inspiration from electronica, rock, classical, R&B as well as jazz, this linkage to multiple musical sources of inspiration has helped Dunton strike the mother lode. She finds variety in rhythms, chord changes and tone, rather than pure improvisation and virtuosity. Not that she’s abandoned improvisation - it’s just she clearly doesn’t rely on it to create something compelling and utterly listenable.

Dunton has a choppy and angular style which cuts through on the opening track Prelude and pound out a confident melody that hints at what the album’s all about. Even relying solely on the acoustic piano on this album, she brings a rock-like power to her playing that creates a rich band sound.

Her rhythm section is perhaps the key to this album. Using electric bass rather than upright, Appelt achieves great cut-through in the sound on many of the tracks and adds some real colour higher up in the register which complements Dunton’s playing. The reliance on more rock-influenced rhythms from drummer Reed provides groove but never in any way that suggests this is anything but a jazz trio album.

Second track Channels - a more conventional ballad - is only 41 seconds of classical runs after which the album goes from first gear to fourth by leaping straight into funk-filled Chrysocolla. Time Travel, as its title suggests, is about finding creativity in the use of different and complex time signatures to illuminate the tune - the 7/4 rhythm fairly rushes along at breakneck speed conveying a simple tune. A great track that shows it’s not only pop music that can create three minute wonders. Yes is more late-night soul smoothness, with a gorgeously creamy bass sound that’s all about mood.

Album closer Customis a jazz-hip-hop confection so prevalent now on contemporary jazz albums, but this one is fairly benign. It has all the simple drum rhythms and dope-ass bass of street hip hop which call pall, but the repetitive melody is rather listenable and this track overall, while the weakest on the album, has a certain simplistic charm.

I was impressed by this album. The piano trio is a competitive market and any group must dig deep to find new musical avenues to explore and sounds to expand the listeners horizons and capture their attention. Trio Kait does this in spades.

When you thrown a lot of different musical influences into the jazz pot, you need a good chef to make the resulting meal palatable. On this evidence, Kait Dunton is already on her way to a Michelin star. Lovely album


SURVEY: Gender Roles in the Jazz Jam Session

Joy Ellis will be presenting a paper on Gender Roles in the Jazz Jam Session at the Darmstadt Jazzforum conference in early October, which this year - the Jazzarchiv's 25th Anniversary -  has as its theme Gender and Identity in Jazz.

Joy is currently conducting a survey of attitudes - the very worst of which are on display in the video above. Contributions to Joy's survey will be anonymous / unattributable.



NEWS: Six-day opening event for South African Jazz Cultures and the Archive culminates with Tete Mbambisa Sextet


The University of York is hosting a six-day programme of events focusing on SouthAfrican jazz from September 4th - 9th: discussions, public lectures, book readings, film showings, record launches and live music. The programme is devised by Dr. Jonathan Eato.

This series of events marks the start of a two-year British Academy Newton Advanced Fellowship project, in association with the University of York Department of Music, under the banner South African Jazz Cultures and the Archive.

UK-based artists with strong South African origin or deep connections such as Eugene Skeef, Adam Glasser, Pinise Saul and Darius Brubeck are involved. Skeef will present sections from an unfifnished film about Bheki Mseleku. The final event presents  a sextet led by pianist Tete Mbambisa, and including Julian Arguelles and Chris Batchelor.

Tickets are required to attend the events and they are available by emailing  jonathan (dot) eato (at) york (dot) ac (dot) uk

LINK: Full Programme for South African Jazz Cultures and the Archive


FEATURE: Elliot Galvin looks forward to 15-date trio tour (2- 18 Sept)

 The Elliot Galvin Trio (video of "Cozy" above by Alex Morley) has a fourteen-date September tour of the UK. Pianist Elliot Galvin, regular bassist Tom McCredie and drummer Simon Roth were all on the debut album "Dreamland" (Chaos, 2015). He writes:

For our tour starting 2nd September we will be bringing the music from our debut album Dreamland, along with some new material, to venues all around the country. We have a whole new album's worth of material that we plan to record in Berlin in early December, using the funds we received from winning the 2014 European Young Jazz Musicians of The Year Award in Burghausen.

As a band we are constantly trying to develop our sound and often searching beyond our comfort zone. One new piece features a microtonal melodica that I built out of two melodicas, keeping one in it’s original tuning and opening the other one up to file down all the metal reeds inside - detuning each by a microtone. This was a great way for me to achieve that sound without using technology.

We also have a new arrangement of Mac the Knife. I’ve always wanted to do an arrangement of Mac the Knife, because for me it’s a really misunderstood piece of music. By 1931, when Brecht added the extra final pay-off verse about the peope in the dark, the intention that the song could stand as a metaphor for the rise of Hitler, who had hated the 1928 Threepenny Opera, was evident -  and yet somehow it has become a pastiche crooner classic. I really wanted to do a version of the piece that kept the bite and dark wit of the original, something I’ve always admired in Kurt Weill’s music.

Some of the rest of the new material comes from our 2014 London Jazz Festival commission, and there is also Cozy, another one of our new tunes which came out of the multimedia installation we did at The Turner Contemporary in Margate last year. The viideo above was made for that installation:

 In our tour we will be playing at:

02 Sept - The lescar, Sheffield
03 Sept - Coffee Coasts, Birmingham
04 Sept - The Verdict, Brighton
06 Sept - The Lighthouse, Deal
07 Sept - Pizza Express, Maidstone
08 Sept - Dempsey's, Cardiff
09 Sept - The Vortex, London
10 Sept - Hidden Rooms, Cambridge
11 Sept - Colston hall Foyer, Bristol
12 Sept - Zeffirelli's, Ambleside
13 Sept - Seven Arts, Leeds
15 Sept – Edinburgh House Concert, Edinburgh (contact trio for details)
16 Sept - The Butterfly and Pig, Glasgow
17 Sept - The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
18 Sept - Literary and Philoso­­phical Society, Newcastle ­

­ The Elliot Galvin Trio UK tour has received support from The PRS for Music Foundation.

LINKS: CD Review Dreamland 
Review of CD Launch gig
Interview withElliot Galvin  


CD REVIEW: John Fedchock New York Big Band – Like It Is

John Fedchock New York Big Band – Like It Is
(Mama MAA1048. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Trombonists seem to like taking charge of big bands and large ensembles – presumably because that’s where they spend nearly all their time. Recently in the UK both Tom Green and Patrick Hayes have produced albums which are not only accomplished but fresh and challenging.

Across the pond another trombonist, ex-Woody Herman arranger John Fedchock, has been at it for a lot longer than them: this is his fifth recording with the 16-piece New York Big Band - ‘a vital large ensemble inspired by tradition and innovation’, according to the publicity. The new album contains ten tunes, half old and half new, but all characterized by super-glossy playing and highly-polished production. Fedchock has succeeded in getting commissions for four of them from four different universities – quite an achievement, and surely very helpful with the album’s production costs.

All the new numbers are his original compositions. Although the title track swaggers along with familiar New York attitude, the melody just doesn’t emerge all that strongly. It’s the same story on the mid-tempo swinger Just Sayin’. It’s brash and confident, but sayin’ what exactly? Hair Of The Dog lurches through the mean streets in more convincing fashion, bassist Dick Sarpola and pianist Allen Farnham setting a suitably queasy tone ahead of a conventional solo from Fedchock and a slightly more hung-over one from tenor saxophonist Walt Weiskopf. Ten Thirty 30 is a faster, more angular piece with some edgy playing from Farnham and tenor saxophonist Rich Perry.

The non-originals begin with You And The Night And The Music, in which the arranger’s stated aim was to ‘mask the original structure’ of the tune, and its identity is indeed skillfully disguised behind a new coat of musical paint. The wistful ballad Never Let Me Go is a highlight, the leader playing most of the melody himself and soloing with great sensitivity. Cedar Walton’s Ojos De Rojo contains some fine brass flourishes and a great drums from Dave Ratajczak. Just Squeeze Me sets up a nice call-and-response between Scott Robinson’s doleful baritone sax and the rest of the horns.

In short, a pleasant album, a thoroughly professional album, with some fine moments, but there’s a shortage of the promised innovation, and one can’t help wishing John Fedchock had taken more risks.


REVIEW: Molly Ringwald at Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho

Molly Ringwald at Pizza Express
Photo credit: Cat Munro

Molly Ringwald
(Pizza Express Soho, August 19th 2015. Review by Andrew Cartmel)

It might surprise some to find Molly Ringwald, an iconic young movie star of the 1980s (Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink singing in a London jazz club. But as Ringwald herself has said, “My dad was a jazz pianist and I grew up on a steady diet of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines — I met Eubie Blake.” And in pursuit of her career as a jazz vocalist she has enlisted some impressive support. The gifted pianist and arranger Peter Smith is her regular collaborator and musical director. (He has also worked with James Tormé — and Stevie Wonder.) Their English pickup band — some pickup band — consists of double bassist Alec Dankworth, of course a scion of one of the most distinguished British jazz lineages, and drummer Winston Clifford who studied with Tubby Hayes’s drummer Bill Eyden and has played with Art Farmer and Freddie Hubbard.

Sooner or Later by Stephen Sondheim is from the film Dick Tracy where it was sung by nightclub chanteuse Breathless Mahoney, played by Madonna. Molly Ringwald was also up for the part, so there is an element of getting even in Ringwald’s rendition, where she demonstrates that she’s a rhythm singer with a fine sense of swing, and timing that gets the listener’s toe tapping. Her clipped rhythmic precision on Exactly Like You is emphasised by Dankworth’s incisive bass, Smith’s rich and discerning piano and a flurry of elegant brushwork by Clifford.

I Get Along Without You Very Well sees Dankworth and Clifford sitting out. Molly Ringwald extracts the maximum emotion from the lyric and Peter Smith plays elegant heartfelt flourishes, taking this standard at a sedate, pensive, searching pace. Smith specialises in considered, handsome piano figures, measured and richly melodic. The Great American Song Book predominates throughout the evening. On They Say it’s Spring by Marty Clark and Bob Haymes, Ringwald’s acting experience is evident both her driving diction and her knack for getting the full feeling and value from the words. Her musicians support her with great, jaunty unison playing, doing a terrific job of walking the fine line between comping and classy trio jazz. Peter Smith sets off on a skipping, eloquent excursion backed up by strong, subtle drumming with outstanding brushwork from Clifford and Dankworth’s sturdy, virile bass. Smith plays a gorgeous, insistent intro on It Never Entered My Mind as Molly savours the lyric, Winston Clifford’s delicate drumming gradually grows into a mist of shimmering cymbals and Dankworth flicks gentle thunder from the strings, then solos sonorously.

Molly Ringwald reminds us that these songs are vehicles for some of the best lyrics ever written. The most powerful moment of the evening comes with Buddy Can You Spare a Dime? by Jay Gorney and Yip Harburg. Molly performs a solo vocal introduction, moving as fast as a startled cat, and then the trio comes in. The song is delivered in snatched phrases, full of impact and bringing out Harburg’s caustic, timeless rhapsody of class war. There’s a chiming bop solo from Smith, feverish and skilful bass by Dankworth and restrained, explosive playing by Clifford. It’s an exceptional arrangement by Smith and Molly Ringwald’s singing is punchy and anguished. The impact is impressive, and dramatic. The highlight of the set, and a very unexpected one. We’re a long way from smooth dinner jazz here.

LINK: Molly Ringwald interview


REVIEW: Kirk Lightsey/ Paul Zauner Quintet at the Vortex

Kirk Kightsey at the Vortex
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Kirk Lightsey /Paul Zauner Quintet
(Vortex, 20 August 2015; night 2 of 2-day residency; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Pianist Kirk Lightsey and trombonist Paul Zauner combine mastery of their instruments with a sensitive, light touch that has formed the basis of their collaborations for nearly thirty years since they first shared billing on an early tour of Zauner's enduring Blue Brass group.

Lightsey, now based in Paris, grew up and cut his teeth in Detroit with its rich tradition of jazz piano, boasting such luminaries as Hank Jones, Sir Roland Hanna and Tommy Flanagan, and has been pianist of choice for many of the greats including Dexter Gordon, with whom he toured for four years, and Chet Baker, with whom he first played in the mid-60s.

Zauner is not only the leader of the very fine quartet which he brought to the Vortex, but also organiser of the unique INNtöne Festival which takes place on his pig farm in Austria and Director of the PAO label which forges some unexpected links between European and American jazz.

Trombonist Paul Zauner
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

On tenor sax, Klemens Pliem's unmistakable respect for Coltrane's legacy shaped the clarity of his dynamic and demanding contributions in both the standards in their repertoire and Lightsey's compositions, a balanced foil to Zauner's softly blended tonal range which took its cues from Bob Brookmeyer, spiced with blasts of Albert Mangelsdorff's spiky robustness. Dusan Novakov also carried the mantle of the bright, soft touch approach with impeccable timing on percussion and an unceasing alertness to every nuance of his co-musicans, traits that carried through to Wolfram Derschmidt's low-key, yet highly expressive bass work.

Lightsey grinned with delight as the quintet found the space to allow full voice to his own subtly constructed approach to the keyboard. What was so special was the way that he created spaces while he built up structures which, in an understated way, just leaned away from the predictable as he picked over the melodic routes with care, restraint and inspiration.

Ellington's Creole Love Call with its elastic, rubbery texture and Mood Indigo's slinky melancholy contrasted with the primal momentum of Santamaria's Afro Blue, while there was a suggestion of the quirky delicacy of Paul Klee's painting, The Twittering Machine, in the group's fragile interplay in Lightsey's Heaven Dance, following his beautifully articulated short solo piece, Kiwi. And a one-off towards the end - an extended flute duet shared by Lightsey and Pliem on Lightsey's Habiba, flickering and weaving hypnotically and eventually breaking down into a relaxed quintet groove, prefacing a fiercely demanded encore, a strong blues before the band headed for their overnight flight to Austria.

Kirk Lightsey, piano
Klemens Pliem, tenor sax
Paul Zauner, trombone
Wolfram Derschmidt, bass
Dusan Novakov, drums


INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Derek Nash (You’ve Got to Dig It to Dig It, You Dig? Album Launch Tour Dates, 3rd to 9th Sept)

Derek Nash

Saxophonist Derek Nash has a new Acoustic Quartet CD on Jazzizit Records, "You’ve Got to Dig It to Dig It, You Dig?" In this interview with Alison Bentley, he talked about the background to this new album, and also about his work with Sax Appeal, Jools Holland and Paul McCartney, and tells the story of the recording of Jamie Cullum’s first album.

London Jazz News: Where does the title of your new album come from?

Derek Nash: There’s a list of notes that the saxophonist Steve Lacey transcribed of Thelonious Monk’s advice: it’s things like: ‘Make the drummer sound good.’ ‘Stop playing all those weird notes.’ Slap bang in the middle is this: ‘You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?’ As soon as I read that I was inspired to write a piece of music, and I just used the rhythm of that phrase. It’s very much a boogaloo piece. Think Ramsey Lewis, Cannonball Adderley, all of those things when Blue Note jazz suddenly started to get a soul backbeat to it. I thought, if this is a piece of music that’s got to be dug, then it ought to be a little bit groovy: good-time jazz but with real chords that you can get your teeth stuck into.

LJN: How did you start working with David Newton, Geoff Gascoyne and Sebastiaan de Krom?

DN: Geoff came originally to me as an artist- I have a joint career running a recording studio- Clowns Pocket Recording Studio. Geoff and Trudy [Kerr] his wife have recorded between them ten or twelve albums there over the years. Geoff and Sebastiaan once turned up at my studio with an incredible and very young pianist/vocalist called Jamie Cullum. Geoff had met him on a Jazz course he was teaching on, and Jamie was a participant. That led to me recording the ‘Pointless Nostalgic’ album for Jamie when he was just beginning to get going. So I got to know Geoff and Sebastiaan incredibly well from those days. Dave Newton- I just adored his playing- always so melodic, swings, and when you want to be introspective, I love his ability almost to sound like Brad Mehldau at times. It’s one of those things where you just have to pluck up the courage and say, ‘I’d really like to work with you.’ Dave’s been fantastic.

LJN: Dave Newton has done an arrangement for your new album?

DN: Yes, he brought a version of Secret Love. Most people would look at it and think- they’re just going to play a standard swing version of a well-known tune. Dave had a pedal note running through most of the head (initial statement of the tune) and a little kind of Celtic vamp which is quite unexpected. It means when you first start playing, people really aren’t sure what you’re playing, but eventually it works its way into the tune. When you release it into the normal swing that people would expect, it’s almost as though you’d lit the blue touch paper.

Geoff had two compositions he thought would work really well for the Quartet- Vertigo, and Keep It To Yourself, which is based on ‘The Preacher’, the old Horace Silver tune. I decided to change the arrangement, and do a more New Orleans version of it. He was more than happy with that.

And with Geoff and Sebastiaan I’ve been doing a Gerry Mulligan/Chet Baker tribute, playing all that beautiful piano-less stuff from the 50s.

LJN: There’s one like that on the new CD?

DN: Yes, that was one I wrote that we’ve been doing live with the Quartet. I’m proud of it as a composition, and I have [trumpeter] Martin Shaw guesting with me on the recording.

LJN: And you’ve an acoustic version of a Yellowjackets tune?

DN: I was incredibly privileged to spend a week in the company of Russ Ferrante  - the Yellowjackets' pianist - in America about six years ago. I was involved The Conference on World Affairs: it’s an amazing thing- they get musicians from all around the world and just put us together. We have to do a concert for 2,500 people in two days flat. I played a couple of Russ Ferrante’s tunes with him, and he played a couple of my tunes. I did it earlier this year too, and this time I was playing alongside Ernie Watts, who’s another childhood hero. I’ve been in touch with Russ ever since. I’ve always loved the Yellowjackets- they’re a very inspirational band. This was an early song that was done in a very poppy, synthy manner. One day I had an idea of doing it as a jazz waltz, just to see how it would work. I contacted Russ Ferrante and said, ‘I’d like to do a version of your tune Homecoming on my new album’. Twenty minutes later he’d emailed his original leadsheet to me. He was perfectly happy to hand out his original. I was so impressed by that that I’ve done the same thing- I’ve put some of my leadsheets on my website. I’d love to spread the gospel of my music, so if anyone wants to play it please do!

LJN: Do you play all four saxes on the new album, like the last one - Joyriding 2011, which won a British Jazz Award?

DN: Yes, this is something I’ve done for a long time now. I was an alto player first, and then I added soprano, then baritone, and I didn’t take up tenor till I was in my 20s. I was quite adept at baritone well before even thinking about even picking up a tenor sax. If I do a guest spot with a house rhythm section, I’ll always take all four saxophones with me. Firstly, it’s good for me to keep them all match fit. But more importantly, I think it gives the audience four totally different tone colours, and gives me a chance to play in a different way, because you never play on a soprano the way you do on a baritone. The only thing for me is, I’ve got to carry saxophones everywhere- my car has more equipment than most drummers!

LJN: You have a very tender bari tone on ‘Joyriding’. Do you have a favourite baritone player?

DN: Obviously Gerry Mulligan’s always going to be an important influence, and Harry Carney, Cecil Payne- he’s got a beautiful subtle sound.

LJN: Other sax players?

DN: Sonny Stitt and Cannonball Adderley. Sam Butera, who was the saxophone player with Louis Prima. He’s someone that everyone always forgets, but wow, he swung! And he had this lovely gritty sound that comes through everything. I love all the crossover guys like Stanley Turrentine. who can play the most heart-wrenching soul stuff, but also be a great swinging player. And I’ve done a fair amount of rock and roll grittiness over the years. I love doing double header gigs with Ray Gelato. I used to play in a band with Spike Robinson, sadly no longer with us. But we’ve been recently recreating the three tenors band that we had, now with myself, Alan Barnes and Vasilis Xenopoulos- a three tenor front line, going out with that, and that becomes a battle royal!

LJN: And your arranging?

DN: Arranging for me is just as important as composing. My dad was an arranger for the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra for 35 years. So I grew up with an arranger’s ear, and my dad showing me versions of chords, and how arrangements can change a tune dramatically. And I’ve been arranging for Jools [Holland] for ten years. I do five or six charts every year.

The whole thing about my musical life is that it is so varied. I've also run Sax Appeal for over thirty years, and Protect the Beat, a funk and fusion band. I’ve always experimented with Sax Appeal, with all the different colours you can get out of five saxophones and flutes; and putting sopranos on lead, and turning the voicing upside down with tenor on lead, and seeing what can happen. I’ve always been involved with arranging things and I love the challenge of it all- it’s great fun.

LJN: Any favourite arrangers?

DN: I love Claus Ogerman, particularly all the stuff he did with Michael Brecker and the early Brecker Brothers with that wonderful three horn writing. Though I probably listen to more Cannonball and Sonny Stitt than I do the Brecker Brothers these days.

LJN: You have a Sax Appeal gig in the middle of your Quartet tour?

DN: That’ll be with Brandon Allen and Simon Allen- both on the new Sax Appeal album. And Bob McKay has been my regular baritone player for years, and Scott Garland on lead alto. It’ll be Pete Adams on piano, Phil Scragg on bass, and Mike Bradley on drums. That line-up could always shuffle a tiny bit, to say the least!!

LJN: You’ve Got to Dig It to Dig It, You Dig? was recorded in your own studio, and is out on your own label, Jazzizit?

DN: We’re very proud- Jazzizit has been around for quite a long time now, and it’s an interesting thing to write, arrange, play, produce, and record your own music. You get so ingrained with it all, sometimes it’s very hard to keep focused. So I got this incredible young guy I’ve been working with called Chris Kalcov to master it, just because I wanted an independent pair of ears. And he ended up recording a whole suite by Sax Appeal that was written for The Watermill in Dorking, for their 20th anniversary- ‘The Phoenix Suite’. It’s on YouTube. The Watermill then invited me back to premiere the new Quartet album on the 3rd of Sept.

LJN: You get to work with all sorts of different people with Jools Holland.

DN: Yes, everyone from Solomon Burke to Jessie J, Ray LaMontagne, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Annie Lennox, Eric Clapton, and Kylie Minogue, who was a delight actually! Working with David Sanborn was an absolute treat. And then to play with Paul McCartney- we did Got to Get You Into My Life with all the fantastic brass stuff. You meet someone like Paul McCartney and you wonder what they’re going to be like. He politely asked the drummer, ‘Would you mind if I counted this in?’ He just wanted to be one of us. He said, ‘Play louder if you want. I just wanted to get more atmosphere. Let’s have a party onstage.’It’s opened all these doors for me in that respect.

Because I’ve got my fingers in so many musical pies, I get turned on by loads of different kinds of music. I suppose that shows up in the new album. We’ve worked together for a few years now, and this is the second album with the same line up. Geoff, Dave and Sebastiaan are a band: they have inputs into the arrangements, they have honest feeling, and what you get is a band telepathy. I’m still having an absolute ball making good music with amazing musicians.


Watermill Jazz, Dorking – Thursday 3rd September – 8.30pm

Jazz on the Pier, Southend-on-Sea – Sunday 6th September – 12.30pm

OFFICIAL CD LAUNCH – Pizza Express, Soho – Sunday 6th September – 7.30pm

Bexley Jazz Club – Monday 7th September – 8.30pm

The Woodman, Ide Hill – Wednesday 9th September – 8.30pm

SAX APPEAL Tuesday 8th September- The Bull’s Head, Barnes 8.30pm


NEWS: Tim Garland's Return to the Fire with Gerard Presencer and Jason Rebello set for October release on vinyl

Edition Records are today announcing the release of a new album from Tim Garland, entitled Return to the Fire, which re-unites the same quintet which made a recording, "Enter the Fire" in 1995. Release date is October 2nd.

The band is the same core quintet:

- Tim Garland (tenor, soprano saxophones and bass clarinet)
- Gerard Presencer (trumpet and flugelhorn)
- Jason Rebello (piano and fender rhodes)
- Jeremy Stacey (drums)
- Mick Hutton (double bass).

Additional musicians also appear: Tom Farmer (bass), Laurence Cottle (electric bass), James Maddren (drums) and Ant Law (guitar).

It is an out-and-out jazz album in the lineage of the acoustic quintets of Miles Davis. As Tim Garland explains in this interview with Dave Stapleton of Edition, it is honest and organic, we need this in our over produced, auto-tuned world." Here is the interview:

Dave Stapleton:How did this album come about?

Tim Garland: I had a more or less annual call from Jeremy Stacey over the years saying that we should do a follow up to Enter the Fire. After a few long tours with Chick Corea, I started to think about this more, because my chats with Chick tend be about the heritage of jazz, and our different takes on it. There were some ballads I'd wanted to approach for ages and it seemed like the right time to "Return To The Fire" especially as it turns out its a whole 20 years since this group last recorded.

Youve said that the first album with this quintet line-up, ‘Enter the Fire’ (Linn, 1995) was the album that originally sparked Chick's interest in you as a player. How did that happen?

Chick was given the original disc by Billy Childs and got in touch soon after, wondering where I was from. He loved the freedom and the compositions. It was the first time I'd felt comfortable playing music with such an American style heritage. The strong rhythm section of Jason Rebello, Jeremy Stacey and Mick Hutton helped with that confidence as they work together amazingly well. There is a true joy in swing when it is in their hands.

I had almost given up finishing the album and finding a label, things were hard and jazz musicians will tell you, they still are! But we pushed through and got heard by someone who really could make a difference. The strong connection with the history of our music has been brought out more in me, I think, through all these years with Chick, he looks forward and back at the same time and that's how I aspire to keep creating.

What is like working with these guys again almost 20 years later?

It is spooky how, on listening back, the band is still so unmistakably us, the same as 20 years ago, but hopefully a little better! I never forgot the freedom, the risk taking, the authenticity of swing and the near anarchic humour of this band, nothing has changed!

Why release on vinyl only?

The tracks that really worked got us to about 40 minutes of music, perfect for vinyl and moreover, the album has a strong tribute quality about it from the days when all I had was vinyl. This was a recording using equipment from the 50's and 60s, including the piano, it is so right that such a project is on this old format too. Also I applaud the come back of vinyl as we can ritualise, once more, the listening experience, instead of just "using" music like turning on air ventilation or the light in the fish tank!

The album appears to both look back and celebrate the music and the musicians but also look forward. The last track includes Fender Rhodes, is that an indication to what’s is coming in the future?

If you check out albums like Water Babies (Miles Davis), they represent a collection of tracks documenting a musical evolution, as opposed to just a fixed genre. This time when electric instruments got taken up by jazz musicians was so exciting. Its quite possible to express 21st century musical ideas and refer to these seminal times, the music is intrinsically so open. I also love the fact we were so old-school about the way we recorded, it is honest and organic, we need this in our over produced, auto-tuned world!

YES, the future is an electric band, but led by the heart, and Jason Rebello is brilliant with keyboards. Ant Law is playing an 8-string guitar which employs a rich bass register, we cover the bass in very unique ways. It has a jazz-rock slant from my early influences such as Chick and the Bill Bruford bands.

LINKS:Edition Records website
Enter the Fire at Linn Records


REVIEW: Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto

Marshall Allen / Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Sun Ra Arkestra
(Cafe Oto. 17 August 2015. Night 1 of 3-day residency. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

The Sun Ra Arkestra were on fire on the opening night of their 3-day stint at Cafe Oto. Led by the energised and animated '91 years young Marshall Allen' - as baritone sax player Danny Ray Thompson reminded the full house (as if they needed reminding!) - the eleven-piece sizzled from the start, with effervescent vocalist Tara Middleton and guitarist Dave Hotep giving an extra fillip to the nine-piece that tore up the same venue two months ago.

Tara Middleton / Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. ©2015. All Rights Reserved

There was something in the air that drove the Arkestra to the highest levels of intensity. A vibrant momentum pulsed through richly hued arrangements which flowed with a combination of well-oiled group dynamics and individual artistry. The acoustics of the small space, packed to the gunnels, bolstered the growling riffs that chugged at the structural core.

The rainbow-hued, scaly, sequinned and pattern-emblazoned costumes added to the spectacle. Infectious chants were informed by the political drive that continued Sun Ra's personal crusades: 'Amongst so many stars you've lost your rights, you've lost your cosmic rights.' Outer space as a metaphor for the real world.

Tylor Mitchell / Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

An irrepressible humour bubbled to the surface with smiles and laughter and occasional wisecracks as they egged each other along through the spaceways. 'How dirty can you get?' quipped Thompson during Tylor Mitchell's beautifully crafted, muted bass solo supported by ever-so pianissimo piano.

Solos abounded - Marshall Allen was unstoppable, squalling and straining on alto, adding extra cosmic disorientation with retro electronic sound on EVI. Knoel Scott - eyes darting to ensure, with Allen, that the band were on track - added touches of Don Byas-like authority on tenor. Hotep took the inventively oblique guitar route as Stargazers took off and Thompson flipped from earthy, sculpted baritone to fluttering flute, while Cecil Brooks took up the mute in finely phrased counters to his soaring trumpet tones. Dave Davis cut through with brassy trombone swipes, and all the while, Wayne Smith Jnr, in tandem with Elson Nascimento just cooly kept that massive rhythmic drive powering on at every turn.

Dave Hotep / Sun Ra Arkestra at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

It was the Arkestra's cosmic jazz jam at its very best with, in the midst of proceedings, a massive big band blues to die for. Devastatingly fast synchronised passages, telepathically routed to perfection alternated with infectious swing, inspired treatments of jazz standards and spells of glorious, improvised mayhem. And they didn't grind to a halt until well in to the early hours - where they got the energy from … only Sun Ra would have been able to answer. Magnificent!

Marshall Allen – alto sax and EWI
Tara Middleton – vocals
Knoel Scott – alto sax and percussion
Danny Ray Thompson – baritone sax and percussion
Cecil Brooks – trumpet
Dave Davis – trombone
George Burton – piano
Tylor Mitchell – bass
Elson Nascimento – percussion
Wayne Smith Jnr – drums
Dave Hotep – guitar


CD REVIEW: The Rodriguez Brothers - Impromptu

The Rodriguez Brothers - Impromptu
(Criss Cross Jazz 1381. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

The sunshiny Latin zest of new quintet release Impromptu, from New York-based brothers Michael and Robert Rodriguez (trumpet and piano respectively), is wonderfully ingrained with percussive, improvisational high spirits.

Having collaborated individually with a panoply of artists including Roy Haynes, Wynton Marsalis and Quincy Jones, the brothers' working band has been in existence for some thirteen years and has three previous albums to its name. Driving the dance energy here, through eight originals penned mainly by Michael and Robert, is the busy rhythm section of Carlos Henriquez (bass), Ludwig Afonso (drums) and Samuel Torres (congas, percussion).

This hour-long, joyous celebration exudes impassioned musicality and technicality, tumbling to complex riffs and percussive grooves – and every track is capacious enough to allow the band to stretch out, as in opening title track Impromptu which effervesces to the leaders' extended trumpet and piano improvisations. The vibe they create is pretty compelling, with La Guaracha suggesting the Afro-Cuban/Latino soundworlds of Jerry Gonzalez and Gonzalo Rubalcaba; and the titling of Fragment perhaps sells itself short – a seven-minute wonderland of effusive rhythms, rapid, muted-trumpet licks and scintillating high-wire piano.

Descargation shuffles inquiringly to the clear, vibrato-embellished tone of Michael Rodriguez's trumpet; and smooth Love Samba widens into group vocal festivities before the eight minutes of Latin Jacks shimmies to the propulsion of congas and coruscating cymbals. Late-night Tu Mi Delirio (by the Cuban composer/lyricist César Portillo de la Luz) eases along to low, sundown flugelhorn melodies and pellucid, chromatic piano – a magical state of mellowness; and finally, Minor Things grooves sharply to tricksy rhythms and bright, imaginative soloing which breaks out into a concluding display of Latin exuberance.

An album whose pleasure is drawn from the overall feel-good, rather than any specific number, Impromptu is nevertheless imbued with an intoxicating, carnivalesque jazz atmosphere.


NEWS: Line-Up for London Latin Jazz Festival (Sep 29 to 3rd Oct) Announced

"What we bring is energy" is the first line of Festival Director Alex Wilson's description of the third annual London Latin Jazz Festival, at Pizza Express in Dean Street from 29th Sep to 3rd Oct. What the festival will also bring is the opportunity to confirm the theory - or to discuss if you want to take longer over it - that London's Latin jazz music scene is now just as distinctive and individual and varied as New York's, or Havana's...The festival website has a full page of VIDEOS.


 Tuesday 29th September Eliane Correa & En El Aire Project

Rising star Cuban vocalist/pianist/bandleader, Eliane Correa continues to blaze through with her fiery path, driving the scene forward with the launch of her new En El Aire CD, tipped by Gilles Peterson as one of the freshest new sounds to come out of Havana.

 Wednesday 30th September J-Sonics

Emerging from the London groove-jazz scene, J-Sonics are about to launch their debut album with tracks straddling Brazilian, Afrobeat and funk and will feature the dazzling Spanish vocalist Grace Rodson.

 Thursday 1st October Afro-Cuban Gospel Project with Alex Wilson & Nicky Brown

Alex Wilson presents gospel maestro Nicky Brown and his group of singers for a premiere of our new Afro-Cuban Gospel Project … latin fire with gospel vocal power, a potent mix for the night!

 Friday 2nd October Dorance Lorza & Sexteto Cafe

Colombian Dorance Lorza is one of the London pioneers of the latin-combo sound and he brings his compelling “salsa con vibes” latin jazz sound to the festival.

 Saturday 3rd October (two shows) - Omar Puente ‘Havana Class 86’ (early show)
Omar Puente ‘Havana Class 86’ (late show)

Cuban violin virtuoso Omar Puente brings in Grammy-winning flautist Oriente Lopez and Felipe Cabrera -

LINK: London Latin Jazz Fest Website


FESTIVAL REPORT: Festival Jazz em Agosto 2015 in Lisbon

The stage set for JemA 2015
Photo credit Henning Bolte. All Rights Reserved

Festival Jazz em Agosto 2015
(Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, July 31st – August 9th 2015. Report and all photos by Henning Bolte )

Jazz em Agosto (JemA) is one of those jazz festivals which, to its credit, pursues a clearly recognizable and consistent artistic line. The programme is composed of musicians/groups who have made an important and acknowledged contribution to the development of the music; or of musicians/groups advancing to new, unknown territories; or those are redefining, recombining and reinventing former creations and routines, with the addition of some creatively promising newcomers who bring new conceptions. The formula also means that some musicians return to the festival annually, but with different configurations each time.

The programming is based on astute observation of artistic developments across various scenes through the year. Special projects are set up, and it is rare to see musicians/groups from the circus of musicians/groups which does the rounds of the bigger summer festivals. As a consequence of this approach, the festival has developed a track record for unique appearances over the years. In recognition of this, it earned the European Jazz Network award for innovative programming in 2014.

The format of the festival has always rung the changes, but, compared to previous years, this year JemA presented an obviously trimmed down, easily surveyable edition. There was one concert per night during the festival's eight days.

JemA as an event of the unique, world-famous Gulbenkian Foundation has created its own faithful, open-minded, mixed age audience the festival not only can rely on but also allows challenging choices in the programming. A remarkable gender balance also characterized the Lisbon audience. Within this framework obviously a balanced sequence has to be worked out every year.

All of the concerts took place open-air in the marvellous, well-equipped amphitheatre situated in the unique park of the Gulbenkian Foundation nearby Praça Espanha.

All groups were mixed-generation affairs and mainly European configurations (Scandinavia, Portugal/Austria, Portugal/UK, Germany, France) plus two groups from the United States, one from Texas, the other one from New York. Five of the groups were large ensembles plus three small groups: LOK3, Red Trio+John Butcher and Wadada Leo Smith Great Lake quartet . There was the “old thing” in a new perspective (Michael Mantler’s Jazz Composer’s Update and Swedish Azz), there was the new thing as Fire! Orchestra, The Young Mothers and, by definition, Orchestre National de Jazz and there were hybrids as Swedish Azz, Lok3 and The Young Mothers. The two quartets, Red+John Butcher and Wadada Leo Smith 4, finally formed an entity of their own.

Fire! Orchestra and Michael Mantler w/Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos

Fire! Orchestra. JemA 2015
Photo credit Henning Bolte. All Rights Reserved

What the Fire! Orchestra is doing now was yet to be invented and designed when young Austrian musician Michael Mantler (1942) went to New York in the sixties. At the age of 24 he made plans there to compose for an orchestra of free(d) avant-garde jazz musicians as Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Larry Coryell, Roswell Rudd and Gato Barbieri. In 1968 the work was ready to be performed and recorded. Now, more than four decades later, Mantler has reworked it and it has been performed three times: two years ago at Vienna's well-known club Porgy & Bess with The Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band conducted by Christoph Cech, then with the same line-up at Moers Festival in Germany two months ago and now with the well-known Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos from Porto, one of the strongest large jazz ensembles of Portugal. Does it mean that it has now become a repertoire piece with a sacrosanct score like in classical music?

Not quite, because Mantler adapted it to other than the original musicians and instruments. He designed the reworked version for the Swedish guitarist Barne Roupé and for some well-known Austrian fellow musicians as Wolfgang Puschnig, Harry Sokal and young piano wizard David Helbock as soloists and the 16-piece-orchestra Nouvelle Cuisine. Apparently a jazz-opus is in need of this because of a different definition of “the voice of an individual musician”.

Realizing that Mantler’s work was ground-breaking and the beginning of a complete new, independent post-Ellingtonian orchestral manoeuvre, its wild and cheerful, almost innocent flow, its carefree absorption and handling of heterogeneous influences is still sensible in the new recording of the piece on ECM. These influences have been exploited thoroughly in the next decades in different kinds of music especially film music, such that these sounds and colours have become more commonplace for many listeners. But nonetheless it stands out as an important work of recent jazz history that demands to be confronted and contrasted with music young(er) musicians now create in a similar format. That’s why it would have made sense to start with the Mantler orchestra and then have the confronting/contrasting Fire! Orchestra as follow-up.

The starting point however was the sensational and still much in demand 19-piece-version of the Fire! Orchestra. It has a busy tour-schedule for the summer festivals of this year (amongst others Peitz, Ljubljana, Copenhagen, Molde, Saalfelden, S’ Anna Aresi). Fire! Orchestra started as an 28-piece extension of the trio Fire! of reed man Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin. The mega orchestra made a start in 2012, skyrocketed in the next two years and released two albums, Exit and Enter, on Rune Grammofon. The line-up had two excellent vocalists, Sofia Jernberg and Mariam Wallentin, as well as three ‘heavy’ female musicians, saxophonists Lotte Anker and Mette Rasmussen from Denmark and French hornist Hild Sofie Tafjord from Norway. The vocalists played a crucial role in relating the music to the audience and navigating through the sea of sounds. They were the lead dogs of the race sled.

The contrast with the Mantler-Orchestra couldn't have been starker and sharper. Fire! Orchestra is high volume and massive outward energy, shrieking burst-outs, dense playing, sonic caroms and accumulating sound piles all carried by hard-hitting rock riffs. Fire! Orchestra demands attention and gets it – from both presenters and the audience.

The sheer force of the powerful noise of so many (good) musicians’ joint action was sensational and impressive as such in the beginning. It had a sympathetic note to see all the great musicians united on the bandstand. There was a good drive first but in the longer run the orchestra lost its reach. Good moments alternated with ‘dead’ moments additionally impeded by a poor sound and flat lightning operated by the ensemble’s own technicians. It became too much exhibition of strength of will and had too little tension and magic. Bathing in a crazy big sound caused by so many extraordinary musicians may be thrilling for some people but artistically it does not suffice. Does it musically make sense to attach so many more dogs to the sled? It seems not - but fortunately there are more musical options with a pool like this. The potential of the orchestra has yet to prove, to unfold and take shape convincingly.

Under Cech as conductor the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos from Porto together with the three Austrian soloists brilliantly performed Mantler’s richly coloured work, which gave it the status of a definitely hardened version with some solo-slots for the Austrian musicians. It felt like a kind of finalizing. The work wins of precision and at the same time looses the original creational tension and also the creational tension that could have manifested in case you would have given the original score to some young musicians. Both are legitimate choices. For the audience this rendition surely was a great pleasure for the lovers of modern Big Band music and maybe a slightly disappointing experience for impro-aficionados. While Mantler strived to restructure and reconcile, Gustafsson strived to evade and blow up routinized forms and its sophistication and substitute it by the raw and rough power of sheer loud instrumental sound, a clear contrast and confrontation.

It seems high tide for (a diversity of) large ensembles (< 4) at the moment, which is also a clear contrast the initial situation of Mantler and his fellow musician’s enterprise. What is different too: presently Large Jazz Ensembles seem to be booming. All differ from classical Big Band jazz as well as from old school Free-jazz-orchestra’s. They all have their very own approach within a broad range of possibilities (Paal Nilsen-Love Lareg Unit, Carate Urio Orchestra, Andromeda Mega Express, Splitterorchester, the reunion of The Loose Tubes, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Jakob Bro Tentet, Flat Earth Society to name just a few).

Swedish Azz

Per-Åke Holmlander (Swedish Azz) at JemA 2015
Photo credit Henning Bolte. All Rights Reserved

That Mats Gustafsson can operate in a quite different mode was proven by the performance of his group Swedish Azz with Per–Åke Holmlander on tuba and especially cimbasso, Kjell Nordeson on vibraphone, Erik Carlsson on drums and Dieb 13, electronics and turntables. The group whose name is a conflation of ‘ace’, ‘ass’ and ‘jazz’ delivered a musical masterpiece of dialectical collage art celebrating legendary Swedish jazz pioneers from the 50s and 60s as baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin, bassist Georg Riedel and pianists/composers Jan Johansson and Lars Werner.

Aided by Gustafsson’s background narratives about Pippi Longstockings tunes and other matters fuelling the audience’s imagination flashes of the original tunes/sounds played live or sophisticatedly infused by Dieb 13 on his turntables. Together with brief truncated comments, free excursions and noise dusts all were intriguingly collaged, and enlivened by the vital, strong and beautiful playing of all musicians, especially Nordeson on vibraphone and Holmlander on cimbasso, an instrument with a special sound projection in the range of contrabass trombone and tuba. The awesome soloing, neatly embedded in the overall structure, made it a still richer affair. Erik Carlsson delivered one of the most remarkable drum solos I have experienced for a very long while. The performance was both a prudently filtered and convincingly projected tribute to the old tunes and musicians and a fairly stretched transformation of the “old stuff”.

Red Trio+John Butcher and Lok3

JemA 2015
Photo credit Henning Bolte. All Rights Reserved

Midweek the festival was continued with two small groups, the Lisbon Red Trio with reedman John Butcher as guest and the Berlin Lok3 threesome of Alexander von Schlippenbach, Aki Takase and Vinent von Schlippenbach aka DJ Illvibe.

Red Trio, an open-form-improvisation configuration from Lisbon, is a proven group that has beaten its own characteristic track through the field of free improvisation during more than a half decade now. It has made its first appearance at Jazz em Agosto during the festival’s 2010 edition. This time the trio played with British reedman extraordinaire John Butcher with whom they recorded the album Empire (NoBusiness Records, 2011).

The performance of this Anglo-Lusophile unit became a shadowy flickering and thundering affair, "uma passagem através de um corredor místico do universo", a passage through a mystic corridor of the universe. Rodrigo Pinheiro dug bells from the piano belly, John Butcher conjured prairie yells and cavern echoes with his soprano saxophone, Hernani Faustino canalized the seething lava streams and Gabriel Ferrandini swept the passage by the highly energetic whirling flow of his drumming. Butcher played totally in service of the trio’s approach what revealed some special, even unfamiliar sonic sides of him, which worked out beautifully in a duo with bassist Faustino. Pinheiro alternating between the keys and plucking inside the piano provided texture and brightened up the music in subtle ways whereas Ferrandini reached a impressively high level in his striking combination of energy, precision and flow. The group indisputably put down a strong marker.

Alexander von Schlippenbach, Aki Takase and Vincent Schlippenbach aka DJ Illvibe

Alexander von Schlippenbach, Aki Takase and Vincent Schlippenbach. JemA 2015
Photo credit Henning Bolte. All Rights Reserved

Instead of the regular music documentary film this edition presented two important historical cinematographic works, Walter Ruttmann’s 1927 silent movie “Berlin, Symphonie einer Grosstadt” (Berlin, Urban Symphony) and Viking Eggeling 1921 silent movie “Symphonie Diagonale” (Diagonal Symphony) accompanied by live music of two piano vedettes, Alexander von Schlippenbach and Aki Takase in collaboration with electronics by Schlippenbach’s son Vincent aka DJ Illvibe.

Ruttmann’s movie is a dazzling composition of vast empty urban streets, busy business at central urban areas, constant movement, a circus of beginning advertising, newspapers, fashion, cafés, mechanics, steel, metal, asphalt, transportation, sports, wheel work, night life, all scenes with a characteristic sound, a sound that changed the world forever.

Schlippenbach and Takase delivered dotted abstract sounds mingled with truncated or camouflaged popular tunes that were interspersed with Illvibe’s great feinting electronic manoeuvres. This created an undertow highlighting the cadence of Ruttman’s montage and cinematographic flow. It intensified the amazement and pleasure still caused by Ruttmann’s opus. Takese’s special talent to raft through popular tunes of the film’s era fell into place here. Schlippenbach also entwined the music with that kind of elements. Caused by un petit malheur digital he had to postpone his part partly to the encore. The finale of Ruttmann’s opus was cut off by accident and substituted by a restart of Eggeling’s work. The confusion was solved by an encore that presented especially Schlippenbach’s music for the finale but then without motion pictures, which gave it a special twist.

The Young Mothers

The Young Mothers. JemA 2015
Photo credit Henning Bolte. All Rights Reserved

The Young Mothers is a relatively young group from Austin, Texas, launched by Austin’s well-known Viking, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. It comprises Jason Jackson (saxophone), Stefan Gonzales (vibraphone/drums), Jawwaad Taylor (trumpet and vocals), Jonathan Horne (guitar) and Frank Rosaly on drums.

The group has a lot of this special Texan spirit that allows bridging and merging naturally a great variety of contemporary musical styles and genres without loosing centre. It could be sensed from the first moment of its intense and joyful performance, a vital criss-cross, loose and edgy, motley and clear. It was a stunning example of energetic, lustful, gripping and coherent way of making music. The Norwegian-Chicagoan-Texan coupling was a revelation and it worked impressing.

The musicians all knew what they were doing and were fully into it - without forgetting the rest of the world. They were rushing headlong, joining the chasing like ferocious huskies. The pace was fast and furious. Everything was what it was, no hollow emphasis, no frills, and no high-strung manoeuvres. The music flew from the interior, and, it was flying high finally. All was in the service of the whole but each musician could shine thanks to unfettered engagement of the group. None of the musicians sought a high profile solistic role. It was just the combination of equals that made it so enjoyable. Also it was not the artful  - rather the whole thing was full of art. Sharply cut metal flew around the audience’s ears, Hip Hop blew in its face, and folk and rock fell down on its feet. Lots of wonderful passes were served, picked up, acted upon, and put away. Jawwaad, the trumpeter and rapper: "When we started I had my concerns regarding the meshing of Jazz and Hip Hop. But it’s gone. With this troupe it works for my feeling, excellent.” It was a clear high point of the festival. The encore was an even stronger affair and a contender of the hottest real encore of 2015.

Wadada Leo Smith

Wadada Leo Smith. JemA 2015
Photo credit Henning Bolte. All Rights Reserved

With the illustrious appearance of his 9-piece-ensemble Organic during the 2011-edition in mind Wadada Leo Smith’s appearance at this year’s edition with The Great Lake Suites featuring Henry Threadgill attracted the highest expectations. In the line-up too were bassist John Lindberg, his longstanding musical partner, and Marcus Gilmore subbing for Jack DeJohnette, the drummer from the original recording of the suite (2014, TUM Records). Hence the concert was eagerly awaited and despite a peppered ticket price the concert was sold out. Two “big names” and a highly talented young-and-upcoming drummer who had recorded with pianist Vijay Ijer, Mark Turner and David Virelles on ECM records and also with Steve Coleman, Gilad Hekselman, Gonzalo Rubalcaba amongst others. It sounded highly promising - maybe a bit too much promising.

It became a deep disappointment, causing considerable consternation.  Threadgill in particular was not “on line”, he struggled with his role, was looking disoriented and missed his entries. But also Gilmore was not really “in the music” either, and he struggled too. It was a problem apparently not sufficiently discerned/solved in advance. Smith, Lindberg and Gilmore tried to make the best out of it but failed. The performance did not really come off the ground and provided the encore of a new function. For the encore the quartet was demanded to deliver what it owed to the audience and happily it met the demand – as a small kind compensation - in a fulfilling way.


Theo Ceccaldi of ONJ. JemA 2015
Photo credit Henning Bolte. All Rights Reserved

Jazz from France has always been well presented at JemA. Considering that Orchestre National de Jazz (ONJ) is one of the most important talent-pools of highly promising musicians of the young French generation, it makes sense to invite and present the current incarnation of that orchestra.

ONJ is a longstanding French institution, an ensemble with a strictly limited working term of four years, changing leadership - and, for every working period - new members as well. The current installation, under the leadership of guitarist Olivier Benoit, is a bit atypical because it also includes a couple of well-established names among its ten members - including bassist Bruno Chevillon, drummer Eric Echampard and the pianists Sophie Agnel and Paul Brousseau - alongside highly impressive and promising talents such as saxophonists Alexandra Grimal and Hugues Mayot, violinist Theo Ceccaldi, trombonist Fidel Fourneyron, clarinettist Jean Dousteyssier and trumpeter Fabrice Martinez.

ONJ, as an instrument of its periodic leader, has always been a special tool for creating, producing and performing "big" works, big not only in the sense of orchestration and extended line-up, but also in terms of concept, references and projections. Benoit has been a member of ONJ himself during the Paolo Damiani tenure from 2001, and is also experienced with leading large ensembles having worked as conductor of Circum Grande Orchestra as well as La Peuvre and Feldspath.

Whereas Wadada Leo Smith took big geographic forces determining and shaping civilizational environments as a starting point and inspiration for his music, Olivier Benoit approaches ‘Europe’ by a musical exploration of various metropolitan spaces.

The first album of the present Benoit-led installation of ONJ was titled Europe Paris, a work of five extended parts totalling more than 90 minutes. In Lisbon ONJ presented a new second part Europe Berlin (a third part, related to Rome, is underway). The architectural character and the sound dynamics of Berlin are obviously different from Paris. Reflecting the urban space of Berlin, its construction, its history and mental states, Benoit opened up related perspectives in sound and form thereby drawing on musical currents “inhabiting” the German metropolis: minimalist music, free jazz, progressive rock and electronic music. Pieces of the Berlin-opus which where presented in Lisbon are “L’effacement des traces”, “Metonymie”, “Persistance de l’oubli”, “Revolution”, “Réécriture”.

The orchestra opened with “L’effacement des traces”, a superb haunting introduction with an impressive trombone-solo by Fourneyron. The second piece, “Metonymie”, had a delicate violin part by Theo Ceccaldi and a strong and colourful solo by Alexandra Grimal on tenor, fantastically underpinned by Echampard’s drum-work. A core piece was “Revolution” based on a incisive minimalistic piano pattern delivered by Sophie Agnel with a blazing trumpet-feature by Fabrice Martinez and a thundering drum-solo by Echampard, a piece of impressive dynamics and threatening moments. Echampard fulfilled a greatly executed pivotal role throughout. The well-deserved encore was built around a solo of keyboarder Paul Brousseau who coaxed an amazing sound world out of his fender Rhodes to infuse into the orchestral textures.

Benoit is a craftsman who has brought ONJ to a high level of contemporary orchestral jazz that also succeeded in reflecting the tumultuous characteristics of the respective urban spaces in stirring ways. The orchestra has clearly grown with the new program and rendered a highly dynamic, rounded finale of the festival.


The total of eight events of the festival can be distilled/extracted/rationalized into three thematic clusters:

- geographical/urban spaces
-  old music recycled,
- 'free' (open improvisation).

1) GEOGRAPHICAL/URBAN SPACE: two concerts were inspired by/related to Berlin (in different eras) by Orchestre National de Jazz and Lok3, one concert was inspired by/related to the geographical area of the Great Lakes in the North of the US/south of Canada.

2) OLD MUSIC: five concerts approached and treated "old" music in special ways: Michael Mantler's Jazz Composer's Update, Swedish Azz, Lok3, The Young Mothers and in a way also FIRE! Orchestra

3) FREE/OPEN IMPROVISATION: in the realms of "free" operated The Red Trio+John Butcher and to a certain extent Fire! Orchestra too.

Mantler and Fire! Orchestra were in a way antipodes or extremes on a continuum. The programme was more than just an illustrious collection of well-known acts of profiled musicians. It had some underlying logic at work that created a special consistency and cohesion.

The music went along the past and aimed at expansion to new territories with the Young Mothers as a centrepiece. It connected to other disciplines as cinema and related to urban spaces, their history, spirit and vibe. It all could unfold neatly and these strands could illuminate each other, which is a merit of this festival and a line definitely worth pursuing for the future.

A fuller selection of Henning Bolte's Lisbon photos can be found at