BOOK REVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Omniverse Sun Ra by Hartmut Geerken and Chris Trent.



Omniverse Sun Ra
(
Hartmut Geerken and Chris Trent. Publisher: Art Yard. Interview/Book Review by Andrew Cartmel)

In 1994 a large format paperback appeared entitled Omniverse Sun Ra, written by Hartmut Geerken (in collaboration with Bernard Hefele) and featuring photographs by Val Wilmer. Geerken was a writer and musician who’d met Sun Ra when he was teaching at the Goethe Institute in Cairo in the early 1970s during the Arkestra’s first visit to Egypt. Subtitled a “comprehensive pictorial and annotated discography,” the book was a crucial text on Ra. Out of print for many years, this first edition is now a collector’s item and, appropriately enough, copies are astronomically expensive, with a price tag currently ranging from five hundred to a thousand quid. The publisher of Omniverse was called Waitawhile, which is also appropriate because Sun Ra fans have had to wait quite a while for a reprint. But here it is at last — a revised and considerably expanded second edition.

And this is all thanks to Peter Dennett of Art Yard records, a small British label who have been going since 2004 and releasing records by Sun Ra all that time. “When I was a kid I used to go to Chris Cutler’s record shop in the Wandsworth Road,” says Peter Dennett. “And I saw these Sun Ra records with handmade covers. I liked the covers… they just looked odd. I used to wander down there and buy them for three quid each. I would play all my friends Space is the Place and they simply didn’t get it. I got into producing music myself and I started to play the flute, went on to the alto sax and then got more into ideas about composition. To earn a living I worked as a freelance for various music companies for years, doing mastering, restoration work, designing covers, writing scores — I was commissioned to write the scores of some TV dramas.” These included The Great Dome Robbery (2002, directed by Gabriel Range) an acclaimed drama-documentary. “I was also a DJ at the ICA for some years, every Sunday alongside Jerry Dammers and Ollie Bailey. That night was called Library of Sound — and I was running the Jazzman record store in Camden on the weekends.

“But commissions as a composer were few and far between, so I had to do some other stuff too. When I set up Art Yard I started by locating some of Sun Ra's master tapes and releasing them, and then later on releasing Salah Ragab’s recordings and representing Salah's publishing.” Salah Ragab was a notable jazz musician, a drummer and bandleader in Cairo. He was also the head of military music in the Egyptian army and a brigadier general. Ragab loaned instruments to the Arkestra on their eventful first visit to his country. “I worked with Salah for the last years of his life and sorted out all his publishing rights. And, as I say, I’d been working with Sun Ra’s music for a long time. Initially I got in touch with Alton Abraham, Ra’s original publisher in Chicago and he asked me to do some work for him. I was freelancing for Alton twenty-odd years ago. That gave me an insight into the Sun Ra world… universe… omniverse… multiverse! Then Sun Ra left the planet, as did Alton, and for years it was all up in the air, all a mess — the copyrights, the publishing, lots of people were claiming this and that. It was around twelve years ago that the dust started to settle and I began to put some of the pieces of the puzzle back together again. Anyway — one thing I do now (through various routes) is to represent a lot of the rights globally for Sun Ra’s recordings.”

Omniverse Sun Ra is Art Yard’s first venture into book publishing, and Peter Dennett has pulled out all the stops. It features a fine selection of images by the great jazz photographer Val Wilmer, all beautifully reproduced — although the photo on the dust wrapper is actually by Hartmut Geerken. Lurking under that heavy duty dust wrapper is a blue cloth cover embossed in silver with the title, authors’ names and an image of Ra, from another photograph by Geerken. The entire book is extravagantly illustrated, not just with photos but also album cover art, handbills and original Sun Ra record catalogues, much of this in colour. It also comes with a snazzy sewn-in cloth bookmark. It is a large and heavy tome, over 300 pages, with a comprehensive discography and enough facts and images to keep any Sun Ra nut busy for years. There is a particularly excellent, and comprehensive, 36 page essay by Robert L. Campbell charting the history of Sun Ra’s music and groups, which makes the interesting point that “Like the later Duke Ellington bands, Arkestras of the 70s and 80s are yet to be fully documented.” The book also won my heart with the photograph of the cat on its copyright page, along with a dedication to “my beloved puss in boots… who has listened carefully to more Sun Ra than most folks on this fucking planet. Though once in a while he sought shelter from extended Moog between the legs of tables & chairs.”

“The original book has been out of print for twenty years,” concludes Peter Dennett. “This version is considerably revised and expanded. It’s been two years in the making.” The new edition is by Hartmut Geerken in collaboration with Chris Trent. “Trent has been a Sun Ra boffin and researcher for decades. Hartmut is more of a literary figure. They sent me a lot of new bits for the book and I put it all together. It’s a much nicer version. The paperback that came out twenty years ago wasn’t very readable — it was almost a bit too big in my opinion. We’ve got more photographs, a lot more record covers and an updated discography. The book was printed in Hong Kong as they do great colour printing. When it was completed they shipped it out and a ton of books literally showed up in an articulated lorry in my street.” Peter Dennett smiles. “I think it’s turned out quite well,” he says.

Art Yard Records website



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PRIZE DRAW ALBUM: Mimi Verderame's Flying Zone



Sebastian writes:

The video above presents Flying Zone, a new CD (his fifth as leader) from Liege-based drummer Mimi (short for Domenico) Verderame, a pivotal figure on the Belgian scene. . "With a musical career spanning over three decades, and a CV with references ranging from Jacques Pelzer to Toots Thielemans and Philip Catherine, drummer Mimi Verderame can be described without hesitation as a little monument of Belgian jazz." (Joachim Ceulemans, Jazzaround). His quartet includes fine, melodic, Italian pianist Nicola Andrioli who caught my ear on his UK debut (REVIEW) and who plays regularly with Belgian/British guitar legend Philip Catherine. The other quartet members are Czech guitarist David Dorůžka and Italian bassist Dario Deidda.

A trivia point for the visually minded is that the drummer's surname is derived from the Italian word for the pigment verdigris, as used by Vermeer, for example, and the new album artwork uses only that colour.

A copy of the CD will be our newsletter prize draw on January 7th. The CD was launched last month in Liege, and this lively quartet will be touring on the continent in March. Confirmed dates so far are:

11 March Brussels, Belgium - Sounds Jazz Club in Ixelles)
12 March Alsdorf (near Aachen, NRW), Germany - The Energeticon

Mimi Verderame website

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ROUND-UP OF 2015. The ten most-read stories on LondonJazz News (Second Part) 1 to 5

John Taylor
LondonJazz News has published almost 900 articles during 2015. We published 6-10 of the top ten most-read of these yesterday, December 28th. Here are the top five:


5. In fifth place was Patrick Hadfield's review in February of From Darkness by bassist Avishai Cohen's trio with pianist Nitai Hershkovits and drummer Daniel Dor. Patrick wished the album could have been longer. (REVIEW)

4. Following the death of guitarist and Berklee educator Garrison Fewell in July, we were very privileged to publish a very personal piece from Stephen Keogh of the Global Music Foundation, where Fewell had been a popular and universally respected figure: (OBITUARY)

3. Melody Gardot's CD Currency of Man created big waves, and continues to do so. Andrew Cartmel loved it and captured its spirit well: (CD REVIEW)

2. Rob Mallows enjoyed the "rich infusion of guitar sounds" in his review of the Al Di Meola CD Elysium published in May. It takes second spot. (CD REVIEW)

1. The sudden death of John Taylor at a festival in France in July was felt like a seismic shock through the jazz community worldwide, and from our reader stats, massively overshadows everything else. We also published a marvellously eloquent tribute by Simon Purcell. (RIP John Taylor)

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ROUND-UP OF 2015. The ten most-read stories on LondonJazz News (First Part) 6 to 10

The picture which first conveyed the news of Gwilym Simcock joining
Pat Metheny' s quartet for 2016

Jazz is a music of communion, of interaction. This site is nothing without its readers, and we'd like to feed back to you an account of what has most sparked your interest this past year. It is definitely part of the story. LondonJazz News receives about 130,000 page-views a month, with a weekly spike as the newsletter goes out each Wednesday morning. So here, with sincerest thanks...in reverse order...and in two parts - of which this is the first - is the story of 2015 from the perspective of the pieces from the past year which were most-visited by readers:


10. Our live review of Nocturne at Blenheim Palace was in tenth slot. (Sebastian writes) The concert in June featured a double bill of Gregory Porter and Sir Van Morrison. The team behind the Love Supreme Festival were trying out a new location, and it went well. A hat-tip to my travelling companion Stephen Graham for his knowledge of all things Van, and for being patient as we got lost in my car in rural Oxfordshire. (REVIEW)

9. In ninth place was a set of photos. (Sebastian writes): I reviewed the Eberhard Weber Jubilee Concert for the Telegraph, featuring Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny and Gary Burton, but felt that a part of the story would only ever be conveyed by the images. I have the incredible privilege to work regularly with one of the top jazz writers/ photographers in Europe, Munich-based Ralf Dombrowski. His photos constitute a unique record of this once-in-a-lifetime event. (PHOTO-ESSAY)

8 The alto saxophonist Ray Warleigh (1938-20150 passed away in September. Geoff Castle wrote a personal and very moving tribute for us. Ray's and his individual greatness and great individuality are beautifullly portrayed elsewhere - in the Guardian obituary from Richard Williams, (RIP Ray Warleigh)

7. In June Dan Bergsagel wrote an eloquent and thoughtful review of Kamasi Washington's much talked-about triple CD The Epic. Dan's review was in seventh place. (CD REVIEW)

6. In sixth place was a news story that we broke in November. A sharp-eyed reader had spotted on the website of the Seoul Jazz Festival that Gwilym Simcock will be part of a new Pat Metheny Quartet. Such fantastic news: if there are levels in the computer game "Sideman" which go higher than this we want to know what they are. (NEWS STORY)

We will publish the top ten most-read pieces (1-5) tomorrow December 29th

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PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Oslo All-Star Jazz Band + Pixel, (5th January, Ronnie Scott’s)



On 5 January Ronnie Scott’s will have a distinctly Nordic feel with a gig that celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Jazz Festival.

This gig sees  the band Pixel, playing at the Soho club for the first time. They will be supporting the recent launch of theit new album "Golden Years" (REVIEWED), and performing in a double bill alongside a ‘super group’ of leading Norwegian jazz musicians, including players such as Matthias Eick (trumpet) and Trygve Seim (sax), who’ve all made an impact on the Oslo jazz festival over the years. 

Since forming in 2011, Pixel too has generated its own wave of excitement with Norwegian and European jazz audiences, with its piano-free, modern jazz quartet format that combines the energy and attitude of the indie rock scene with the improvisational sensibility one often associates with jazz from across the North Sea.  Rob Mallows spoke to Jonas Kilmork Vemøy (trumpet) and Harald Lassen (sax) from Pixel: 

LondonJazz News: What can fans expect from this double bill of Norwegian jazz at Ronnie Scott’s?

Pixel (Jonas Kilmork Vemøy): It brings together a range of top musicians from the Norwegian scene to promote the 30th anniversary of the Oslo jazz festival. It was natural for Pixel to be a part of it as Ellen Andrea Wang, our bassist, is part of this all-star group. Many of the musicians in the band are also our friends. They haven’t played together before, so it’s more of an ad hoc collaboration to highlight the strength of Norwegian jazz. So London jazz fans will be hearing something new! As a band, Pixel is really excited to be playing alongside this group of musicians.

LJN: Last time Pixel played in London it was at the Vortex as part of the Match & Fuse festival. Now, you’re co-headlining at Ronnie Scott’s, the home of UK jazz. That demonstrates how far Pixel has come in a relatively short time - you must feel excited?

Harald Lassen: Yeah, of course. I’ve been to Ronnie Scott's before but never played there. It’s a legendary place and it’s exciting for Pixel to play there. Our music aims to provide something for a broad audience of listeners and I’m confident it will go down really well with UK audiences. As a band we’ve always aimed to generate a strong band mentality and brand, if you will, that helps us define a clear sound for the band and makes us something more than just another jazz band. Doing something different such as making our award-winning music video for Call Me (above) is part of that approach.

LJN:  What’s the reaction been to your recent touring in Europe and the new album, "Golden Years".

Jonas Kilmork Vemøy Very positive. We’ve played lots of dates this year and the response from audiences and from the media has been really fantastic. With our new album, people are picking up on the fact that we’re not, as a band, constrained by the traditional conventions of the jazz format, and this allows us to create a sound that’s connecting with our audiences. This time around, Harald, Jon [Auden Bar, drummer] and I contributed vocals alongside Ellen [Andrea Wang, bassist and lead singer] on many of the songs. We all grew up in choirs and it’s been natural for us to sing more on this album.

At Ronnie Scott’s we’ll be playing a mixture of new songs from Golden Years plus some other tracks from our two other albums. We’re not sure yet exactly what we’ll play, but it will be exciting, that’s for sure. A Pixel concert has plenty of energy and we aim to create a great open atmosphere. One things we say to London fans: it’s quite hard to describe exactly what Pixel’s music is … but it’s very easy to like it!

LJN:  This gig is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Jazz Festival. Nordic jazz seems to be in rude health looking from here in the UK - what do you think about the state of jazz in the region?

Jonas Kilmork Vemøy: The Norwegian jazz scene is very rich and has grown really well over the last thirty years. It’s great that a number of great players, such as Jan Garbarek, have achieved international success. Sometimes it can feel, I think, that Norwegian and Nordic jazz is often put into a box marked ‘experimental’, whereas with Pixel we’re clear that we don’t want to be linked to one particular scene or approach. We want to challenge the definition of Nordic jazz. Copenhagen’s really interesting right now, for example - musicians there are not afraid to mix different influences into their jazz.

LJN:  How do you see the UK jazz scene at the moment?

Harald Lassen: It’s great. I know the UK scene pretty well; I’ve been working closely with the team from Match & Fuse and had recent experience touring with my band Mopti alongside the Laura Jurd Quartet. It’s a really positive scene right now, and there are some great young musicians who are grabbing the headlines. I’d pick out drummer Corrie Dick, saxophone player Jonathan Chung or bass player Brodie Jarvie from Scotland, who are all fantastic. In London particularly, as a jazz musician you really have to stand out and there’s a lot of competition between musicians in the UK that’s generating some great music.

RM: What’s next for Pixel as a band?

Harald Lassen: This short three-date tour in the UK and Holland is just the start, and we’re looking forward to playing lots more international gigs this year. We’re keen in particular to find new collaborators in the UK who can help us as the band is keen to play more dates in the UK, as we’ve had a great response so far from music fans here.

Pixel & The Oslo All-Star Jazz Band will play Ronnie Scott’s on 5th January (doors: 1800h, music: 1930h)

LINKS Ronnie Scott's Bookings
Oslo Jazz Festival 
Pixel 

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YEAREND LISTS (4) Wishes for individuals and for the scene in 2016

De Beren Gieren in Bruges in 2015.
Photo credit: Mary James
Our writers' wishes in this final year end list fall into two categories. First, wishes concerning individual artists, and second, wishes for our scene in general. Comments and more wishes are very welcome:

1) SPECIFIC WISHES FOR INDIVIDUAL MUSICIANS OR BANDS


Ben Lee

Ben Lee is a Birmingham-based guitarist and composer. His nonet, the Ben Lee Double Band, has an intriguing suite called States which deserves more exposure. (Peter Bacon)

Sorana Santos

Sorana Santos

London-based Hispanic multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Sorana Santos released an extraordinarily intriguing debut release in June – Our Lady of Stars – embracing jazz, rock, soul and the singer/songwriter tradition (REVIEW). With a personnel of trumpeter Alex Bonney, saxophonist Joe Wright, drummer James Maddren and the Ligeti Strings, its fresh originality and power unexpectedly seeped into my consciousness and remains a compelling listen. Such deep musical and emotional expression suggests her name and output should be recognised more widely – in jazz circles and beyond. (Adrian Pallant)

Amina Figarova


Helen Sung and Amina Figarova 

Definitely two to watch and see again. (Brian O’Connor)

Reuben James (piano):

Can we tempt Reuben out of his job playing piano for multi-Grammy winning singer Sam Smith to get back into the jazz vibe? (Reviewed here in 2014) He seems to have a trio gig in Birmingham in January – let’s get him back to London. (Mark McKergow)

De Beren Gieren

I would like to hear more of De Beren Gieren, an energetic and talented Belgian Trio I saw in Bruges at the Belgian Jazz Meeting who literally leapt onto the stage, their joy at performing infectious, and their original material show-stopping and different. (Mary James)

Nigel Price

The guitarist is a pillar of our scene (INTERVIEW). He does around 400 jazz gigs a year, mostly in and around London. He organizes 40-date nationwide tours. To have heard a band which has really got its stuff together over more than thirty dates is something all too rare (REVIEW)... And yet - and he almost makes it a badge of honour - he has never had a gig in his own name in the London Jazz Festival. Will 2016 finally be the year that gets put right? (Sebastian Scotney)

Cecil Taylor / Tom Waits/ Annette Peacock

The piano legend will be doing a week at the new Whitney Museum in New York in April 2016 (details). Although age might be against this, could one of our great club venues or even a museum/gallery space host the piano genius? And Tom Waits is still well up at the top of my list - it's way too long since he played here - he just needs the right kind of intimate venue to give him the space to dig deep! It would be great to get Fred Van Hove and Annette Peacock back after their brilliant and all-too-rare concerts, both at Cafe Oto - I could see Peacock teaming up with the likes of Marc Ribot, too! (Geoff Winston)

Emjiem (Mondesirs + Nazam)

I am proud that both my wishes for 2014 (concerning Perfect House Plants and Steve Buckley) came true. This year, specifically, the trio Emjiem - Mark & Mike Mondesir and Mo Nazam. Driving complexity! But no gigs for too long. (Oliver Weindling)

2) GENERAL WISHES FOR THE SCENE

The UK and Europe (1)

I wish there were a larger and less apologetic UK presence at Jazzahead and I wish we could bridge the gap between the UK and Europe. That tiny strip of water may as well be one thousand miles for all the collaboration and opportunities it brings, we must all work to reduce this distance. (Mary James)

The UK and Europe (2)

There is so much good music coming out of Europe. We get the occasional visit from France and Scandinavia mainly because those countries offer funding to their artists. But it’s not enough. This year the revelation for me has been some of the great innovative jazz coming out of Italy, but lets see lots more from lots more countries! How about a festival of European Jazz as a wish for 2016! (Peter Slavid)



Bath Festival

2015 saw Bath Festival re-discover some of its imaginative mojo as David Jones of Serious was invited to step in for an Artistic Director double act with James Waters (formerly of Edinburgh International Festival). We saw a programme that included Hugh Masekela, American iconclast pianist Matthew Shipp, Jason Rebello and Gwilym Simcock in a piano face-off , Mike Westbrook, Black Top and more. With Jones and Waters’ subsequent appointment for a three-year stretch, here’s a wish that they re-establish Bath Festival as a distinctive ‘must –see’ on the circuit. (Mike Collins)



The Will Collier Septet at the first ever gig of the E17jazz Collective
E17 have Arts Council England funding for 2016

Collectives

More musicians herding together in collectives to create new music and events- and being funded. (Alison Bentley)

The return of support for the arts and music, including arts education - not the swingeing cuts and the corporate, bean-counting attitudes that have decimated the UK's unique creative culture through ignorance, greed and parsimony. The failure to value creativity in all the arts, including music, is a grievous reflection on governments' cultures, which, if not reviewed imminently will further wreak immeasurable, long-term damage to the country's future prospects.(Geoff Winston)

Brecon

Hoping someone can rescue the Brecon Festival (yet) again. Apart from their 30 year tradition, it's good to have a few festivals that don't lean too heavily on Serious for programming, splendid producers though they are...(Jon Turney)


Friends in high places and/or with deep pockets. 

The celebrity who can heighten the music's profile; the politician who can influence arts policy; the corporate sponsor who will throw money at it - British jazz needs more influential friends. (Peter Bacon)

A year round audience to respect the incredible energy and imagination of the musicians. (Oliver Weindling)

A younger audience

The average audience at a jazz gig appears to look like mid-day Monday at a Toby Carvery, though without the food. There is a desperate need to attract a younger clientele. Most of my ‘non jazz’ acquaintances think the music died in the 50’s. Frank Zappa said: ‘Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.’ Musicians, promoters and the media must do more to expand the awareness of the music outside its current narrow field. There is no shortage of musicians, both young and old, but unless action is taken soon most of the audience will have joined Duke Ellington and his buddies. (Brian O,Connor)

A wish about Brian Blain

That the Lauderdale House jazz nights on West Hill in Highgate will return when the house refurbishment is completed in Summer 2016. The North London scene isn’t the same without Brian Blain’s carefully curated programme, always interesting, varied and accessible. (Mark McKergow)
The Robert Fowler concert band at Southport
Photo credit: Robert Burns /Jazz on a Winter's Weekend


And Brian Blain's own wishes

For 2016 - a mix of possible and fantasy:

- That Jazz UK, the successor to Jazz Services , is given sufficient funding to take root and, whatever else it decides to do, continues the practice of support for bands trying to build tours.
- That people stop being grateful for the crumbs of BBC4,largely consisting of someone else's documentaries or old 625 programmes that reinforce the notion that jazz was 'then' and is now dead.
- That the London Jazz Festival gives more weight to concerts by some of our more mature outstanding players. If I hadn't been to Southport and Swanage for example I would never have known how outstanding Robert Fowler's Gerry Mulligan Concert Band or Jean Toussaint's Blakey project are. There are many more examples but such projects should be nurtured.The BBC bears some responsibility as well. It is absurd that the only band that an ordinary person has heard of is Jools Holland.


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YEAR-END LISTS (3): MUSICIANS OF THE YEAR (Over 35)

Tony Kinsey at Watermill Jazz, Dorking
Photo credit: Brian O'Connor/ Images of Jazz

In this, the third of year-end lists, our writers name some musicians of the year - (there is a separate list for musicians under 35 years of age): 


Tony Kinsey

The drummer/ composer/ bandleader born in 1927 and still going strong, is worthy of acknowledging through sheer durability, the fact that the playing still hold up is a bonus. On of the last of an era. Photographed here leading his quarte at the Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking, Surrey, in April. (Brian O’Connor)

Mike Westbrook

Mike Westbrook, who turns 80 next year, still regularly emerges from his home in the West country with astonishing music. Wonderful to hear the Westbrook Blake again at the Bath Festival. Almost better still to hear a new extended work for big band, A Bigger Show, a few weeks later in Bristol. And there's now a double live CD of the same music. The show goes on.(Jon Turney) 

Printmakers

Never mind over 35, I think most of The Printmakers may be over 50 (no, not you James Maddren), but with the release of their CD Westerly earlier this year (link to review) they’ve at last made a mark with a recording as well as with glowing memories of gigs. (Mike Collins)


Thomas Stronen

Thomas Stronen’s activities with both Food and Time Is A Blind Guide, both groups recording albums for ECM showed the importance of this Norwegian composer/drummer. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

Paul Dunmall

Paul Dunmall showed that he is one of the world's finest improvisers in tours with fellow saxophonist Tobias Delius and with The Deep Whole Trio with Paul Rogers and Mark Sanders. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

Clark Tracey and the Herts Jazz Fest team. L-R: Sylvia Tracey, Stephen Hyde,
William Kear, Hollie Stephens, Mike O'Brien, Ben Tracey, Pete Marshall
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


Clark Tracey
In his role as Artistic Director of Herts Jazz, Clark Tracey has led both the club and its annual Festival (celebrating its fifth year, run by the small but energetic team from strength to strength.  He ended the year by winning the British Jazz Awards best drummer accolade whilst growing his quintet featuring rising stars Harry Bolt, Henry Armburg Jennings, Chris Maddock, Daniel Casimir. (Melody McLaren)

Mark Lockheart

A consistently satisfying, creative jazz saxophonist of our generation, Mark Lockheart’s name and signature saxophone voice – producing those especially delicious, heartwarming tenor tones and phrases – has appeared regularly, during 2015, across album recordings (including The Printmakers’ Westerly, Polar Bear’s Same As You, Malija’s The Day I Had Everything) and gig listings. British contemporary jazz should be (and is) proud of its current buoyancy – and Mark is without doubt an established, feel-good instrumentalist/composer who continues to be one of its most exciting and distinguished torch-bearers. (Adrian Pallant)

Sun Ra and Henry Grimes

So many great players out there – and The Sun Ra Arkestra (REVIEW) is packed with them (around eleven at last count) - from leader Marshall Allen (91 yrs young!) to the heavyweight saxes of Danny Ray Thompson and Knoel Scott, they are the music - its no tribute band, you know you are in the presence of true originals who live and breath Ra's music. They can change style and mood at the drop of a hat and swing like hell! Allen also played with the formidable bassist Henry Grimes, now at 80 in the Magic Science Quartet (REVIEW), who blazed away, mining improvised gems, well after midnight. (Geoff Winston)

Mark Sanders at White Cube
Drawing by Geoff Winston © 2015. All Rights Reserved


Mark Sanders. 

Mark Sanders can make any group in which he plays sound great. (Oliver Weindling)


Pinski Zoo

It was wonderful to have them back, especially in the welcoming ambience of the Polish Jazz Café Posk, as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. (REVIEW) Anarchic funk (Ornette Coleman-esque), thundering grooves and plaintive Eastern European themes lit up with Jaz Kopinski’s searing sax and Wojtek Konikiewicz’s moody piano. Best of all was their sense of camaraderie and love of the music. (Alison Bentley)


Brian Blain's selection

- Almost everyone from Loose Tubes generation like Tim Whitehead, Mark Lockheart and Django  Bates himself.
- Winston Clifford, Steve Brown two amazing time players.
- Art Themen and Bobby Wellins - making a mockery of age by continuing to produce astonishing creativity
- Carol Grimes - really unique; been singing outside the box longer than anyone-good band too with Dorian Ford Neville Malcolm Annie Whitehead and Winston Clifford
- And of course the mighty Jim Mullen too easily overlooked because of his ubiquity over many years- his performances with Zoe Francis revealing a tender side we didn't fully realise he had. (Brian Blain)

Patrick Hadfield's selection

Zoe Rahman: I've seen Zoe play three gigs this year, two with Courtney Pine, but best of all was her solo show at Glasgow Jazz Festival.

Enrico Rava produced an exceptional CD, Wild Dance, growling, engaging trumpet.

Maria Schneider released one of the records of the the year, "Thomson Fields", and played in the UK for the first time in a while. Her next visit can't come quickly enough: her band were just superb.

John Taylor. His playing at Glasgow Jazz Festival was just sublime. Sorely missed. (Patrick Hadfield)

Percy Pursgove. Photo credit: Jo Hornsby/THSH Birmingham


Percy Pursglove x 2

Percy Pursglove - after years of sterling work in the engine rooms of bands here and in Europe, the Birmingham-based trumpeter and double bassist, as comfortable playing free with Evan Parker as he is in a Hot Club band, is beginning to be noticed on the upper decks of jazz. His composition Far Reaching Dreams Of Mortal Souls needs to be more widely heard. (Peter Bacon)

When Percy Pursglove popped up at the Kenny Wheeler celebration at London Jazz Festival, on trumpet in a compelling short set with Evan Parker’s Foxes Fox (review), I was beginning to lose track of the different ensembles and locations in which I’d seen him in 2015.He is a frequent visitor to Bristol most often playing (bass and trumpet) in Andy Sheppard ensembles. He impressed in Julian Arguelles’ Septet at the Cheltenham Festival (review) and has been out and about with his own projects. No matter the style or context, he's always made a mark. (Mike Collins)

ERRATUM / SIX MONTHS TOO EARLY

A week after this piece was published, it emerged - and Percy Pursglove also confirmed - that he was in fact born in June 1981. We were thus six months early in placing him in this category of Musicians of the Year. No reputations have been damaged by this error, for which we nonetheless apologise. 

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YEAR-END LISTS (2) : Musicians under 35

The NYJO Academy Big Band, directed by Sebastiaan De Krom
at Rich Mix during the EFG London Jazz Festival.
Photo credit Melody McLaren



In this, the second of our year-end lists, writers pick out musicians under the age of 35 who have made a big impression in 2015:

NYJO

In November we enjoyed a delightful Sunday at Rich Mix with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra celebrating 50 years during EFG London Jazz Festival. The programme included a workshop and jam led by the inspirational Mark Armstrong, followed by NYJO Academy ensemble performances led by Phil Meadows, Gemma Buckenham and Sebastiaan De Krom. The young musicians, and the audience, lit up the hall with such enthusiasm that we'd like to see this event format taken on the road in 2016 so as many music lovers as possible can enjoy it. The future of British jazz is clearly in great hands (Melody McLaren).


Kit Downes (twice)

He shone wherever I heard him this year: in duet with Lucy Railton, in his latest trio The Enemy, and, perhaps most enjoyably of all, in Julian Arguelles' Tetra, where he has forged a connection with the leader,s music that helps make this a special quartet. (Jon Turney)

 I have enjoyed all the projects Kit Downes has been involved with in the last year: Troyka, In Bed With, Time Is A Blind Guide, Tricko and the new trio The Enemy. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

Cellist Katrine Schiøtt and saxophonist Mette Henriette at Tampere Jazz Hapening 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


Mette Henriette (from Norway) and Mette Rasmussen (from Denmark but based in Trondheim, Norway)

The young Norwegian saxophonist Mette Henriette impressed me greatly at the Nordic Young Comets launch in Tampere and I also loved her double CD on ECM.  Another Mette, improvising saxophonist Mette Rasmussen, played a really strong set in duo with drummer Chris Corsano at Café Oto in July. (Tony Dudley-Evans)


Amy Roberts. 

Although Amy has been ‘on the scene’ for a couple of years or so, the first opportunity I have had to see her was on the 11th Dec. at the Under Ground Theatre in Eastbourne. As part of the Amy Roberts and Richard Exall Quintet her competence on three instruments (sax, clarinet, flute) was amazing, as is her apparent enjoyment of the music she is playing. Definitely one to watch.(Brian O’Connor) -

Adam King/ James Gardiner Bateman/ Ross Stanley

- Bassist Adam King- been making a mark for years but suffered setbacks with RSI injury. At last noticed by Worshipful Company Awards
- James Gardiner-Bateman  at last another alto player with big biting  sound and flowing ideas , sometimes outside the box .
- Ross Stanley piano/organ: is there any band that he doesn't play with? THE go to     piano/organistof the last three years  (Brian Blain)

Mark Pringle 

This Birmingham Conservatoire-trained pianist and composer released and performed his very impressive Parisian suite A Moveable Feast -(INTERVIEW) - in 2015. Now he is continuing his studies in Berlin and Copenhagen. A man to watch. (Peter Bacon)

...and others from Birmingham Conservatoire

Three young graduates or final year students from the Birmingham Conservatoire jazz course have shown huge potential, they are: guitarist Ben Lee, pianist Elliott Sansom and pianist Andy Bunting, leader of the Trope band.(Tony Dudley-Evans)

Emily Wright


Emily Wright (with Moonlight Saving Time)

Having followed the progress of Bristol-based BBC Introducing artists Moonlight Saving Time, they released their outstanding debut album – Meeting at Night – in October, and I was privileged to see them, for a second time, performing live. (CD REVIEW) Here is a quintet who successfully meld beautiful, original, written/improvised instrumental jazz with the charismatic voice and presence (as well as compositional prowess) of Emily Wright; her particularly elegant, expressive delivery echoing something of the mystique and individuality of the great jazz singers. I sincerely hope they continue on their impressive, upward journey. (Adrian Pallant)

Verneri Pohjola

The first I heard of the Finnish trumpeter was his 2015 release Bullhorn, a fine record, sounding simple and complex at the same time. (Patrick Hadfield)

Konrad Wisniewski and Euan Stevenson

They play together in their New Focus Quartet, as well as individually in different bands, create engaging, subtle modern music. And they're great live....And whilst I'm on about New Focus, drummer Alyn Cosker remains a powerful driving force in Scottish jazz. The man behind the drums with SNJO and many other bands is one of the most exciting drummers around.(Patrick Hadfield)

Jean Toussaint's Young Lions

I was knocked out by Jean Toussaint's Young Lions when they played Brilliant Corners in July. (REVIEW) Accompanying the sax master were trumpeter Mark Kavuma, Daniel Casimir on bass, drummer Femi Koleoso and pianist Ashley Henry. Their confidence, technical prowess and group dynamics were outstanding - international quality; as a group and individually they impressed with assurance, invention and respect in re-imagining Art Blakey's Roots and Herbs. They just hit that balance to make the whole set shift and glide beautifully. Anna B Savage, an emerging singer/songwriter, impressed greatly with her fresh, raw, and personal style. Her Cafe Oto set in June, which I saw, is on Bandcamp. (Geoff Winston)

Conor Chaplin

Bassists

We are blessed with a great new generation of bassists, worthy followers of the likes of Paul Rogers, John Edwards & Steve Watts. To pick two under 35 is hard. Olie Brice (34): imaginative and adventurous. And, from the newest group,  Conor Chaplin: his ability to ground a band at such a young age is awesome. (Oliver Weindling).

Kaja Draksler

On a cold wet evening at Austria’s Inntoene Jazz Festival, a slight figure sat at the piano, dwarfed by the cavernous barn, where the audience had just heard a 14-piece band. How could she hold their attention? By her complete focus- and compelling individual style. There were shades of Monk and stride piano, along with Messiaen, folk influences from her native Slovenia and Cecil Taylor’s free jazz. INTERVIEW (Alison Bentley)

Giacomo Smith 

Giacomo Smith, and indeed all his colleagues in the Kansas Smitty’s ventures. Outstanding playing, even more outstanding writing and arranging from the tightly-woven collective that effortlessly brings pre-war classic jazz into post-hipster Hackney.  Going from strength to strength, and rightly so.  First CD review. (Mark McKergow)

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NEWS: Showcasing Bands (and juries) for jazzahead! Bremen 2016 Announced

Bokani Dyer. Photo from SAMRO Foundation

The participants for the four showcases at the 11th edition of the world's leading jazz showcase and trade fair in Bremen - as well as the four juries who chose them - have been announced:

- A showcase from the official partner country Switzerland
- A German event sponsored by the Initiative fuer Musik, an initiative of the German Federal Government
- An international showcase
- A European showcase under the auspices of the Europe Jazz Meeting.

The press release cites the stats:  "a total of 587 bands from 43 countries submitted applications, an increase of 26%." 


Swiss Night - 21. April 2016; 8 PM-00:30 AM

Christoph Irniger Pilgrim
Colin Vallon Trio
Elina Duni Quartet
Julian Sartorius
Luca Sisera ROOFER
Plaistow
pommelHORSE

Weird Beard


JURY: Ulrich Beckerhoff, jazzahead!, Urs Röllin, Schaffhauser Jazzfestival, Pieter Koten, Vrijstaat O., Piotr Turkiewicz, Jazztopad, Elisabeth Stoudtmann, Swiss Vibes, Klaus Widmann, Südtirol Jazzfestival, Jez Nelson, BBC Radio 3.

German Jazz Expo - 22. April 2016, 2 PM-6 PM

Frederik Köster / Die Verwandlung
Hanno Busch Trio
Matthias Lindermayr Quintett
NICOLE JO
Pablo Held Trio
phishbacher trio
Rebecca Trescher Ensemble 11
Subtone

JURY: Ulrich Beckerhoff, jazzahead!, Markus Gottschlich, Miami Beach Jazz Festival, Jean-Yves Cavin, Cully Jazz Festival, Juhamatti Kauppinen, Tampere Jazz Happening, Anna Linka, Bohemian Jazz Festival, Jörg Süßenbach, Goethe-Institut, Michael Musiol, Jazzhaus Freiburg

Overseas Night - 22. April 2016, 8 PM-1 AM

Amir ElSaffar Two Rivers Ensemble (USA)
Bokani Dyer (South Africa)
Hadar Noiberg (USA)
Kevin Hays 'New Day' Trio (USA)
Laila Biali (Canada)
Maite Hontele (Colombia)
Omer Avital (USA)
The Aaron Diehl Trio (USA)

JURY: Peter Schulze, jazzahead!, Derya Bigali, Akbank Jazz Festival, Tim Jackson, Monterey Jazz Festival André Ishak, Oslo Jazz Festival, Stéphanie Moretti, Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation, Amy Pearce, London Jazz Festival, Huub van Riel, Bimhuis

Europe Jazz Meeting - 23. April 2016; 2 PM-6 PM and 8 PM-0 AM

Bojan Z & Nils Wogram (France)
Carlos Bica & Azul (Portugal)
Dans Dans (Belgium)
Khalifé Schumacher Tristano (Luxembourg)
LABtrio (Belgium)
Led Bib (United Kingdom)
Laura Jurd DINOSAUR (United Kingdom)
Mario Rom's INTERZONE (Austria)
Mette Henriette (Norway)
MINAFRIC ORCHESTRA + FARAUALLA (Italy)
Mopo (Finland)
Oddarrang (Finland)
P.L.I.N.T. Pablo Lapidusas International Trio (Portugal)
Shalosh (Israel)
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vågan (Norway)
Woody Black 4 (Austria)


JURY: Peter Schulze, jazzahead!, Bogdan Beigar, Ljubljana Jazz Festival, Simon Cooke, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club Kenneth Killeen, 12 Points Festival, Carlos Martins, Festa do Jazz do Sao Luiz, Ken Pickering, Vancouver Internationals Jazz Festival, Peter Bürli, SRF2 Kultur

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NEWS: Brad Mehldau is the first jazz musician to be awarded the Wigmore Medal

Brad Mehldau receiving the Wigmore Medal from John Gilhooly
Photo credit: Simon Jay Price

Mary James writes:

At Wigmore Hall on Friday 18th December 2015, John Gilhooly, Director of the Hall, awarded the Wigmore Medal to Brad Mehldau. This award was inaugurated in 2007, and recognises significant figures in the international music world who have a strong association with the Hall. Previous recipients include Matthias Goerne (2007), András Schiff (2009), Dame Felicity Lott (2010), Thomas Quasthoff (2011) and Menahem Pressler (2012), Graham Johnson (2013) and the Takács Quartet (2014).

In the medal citation, John Gilhooly said “Brad Mehldau has forged a unique path which embodies the essence of jazz exploration. He made his debut at Wigmore Hall in 2004, and in 2009 became the first artist to curate Wigmore Hall’s Jazz Series. Brad Mehldau is the first-ever jazz musician to receive the Wigmore Medal.”

Gilhooly also said "In a troubled world. we honour those who make us smile, and feel happy." Following the presentation, Mehldau took two encores, Paul McCartney's And I Love Her, (curiously pre-figured in this review - he hadn't played it the previous night) and Greensleeves. Earlier in his rapturously received solo set, he played a mixture of old and new standards including When I Fall In Love, Brian Wilson's 'Til I Die, Fool On The Hill and one original.

LINKS: Review of 17th December concert
Interview with Bruno Pfeiffer from 2010

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YEAR-END LISTS (1) Jazz Moments to Treasure from 2015



Brian Kellock, Tommy Smith
Photo credit: Brian O'Connor/ Imags of Jazz 

This is the first of our four end-year lists for 2015. It consists of writers' best moments in live gigs this past year. We hope people will send in more, or add them in the comments.


Brian Kellock and Tommy Smith at the Ilminster Arts Centre, Ilminster, Somerset. July 2015.

A delightful surprise. Set in the relaxing atmosphere of the Ilminster Arts Centre, a converted church, Brian and Tommy played a straightforward couple of sets comprising of mainly the Great American Songbook. Lovely melodies, memorable tunes, good soloing and presentation. Two consummate artists at ease with each other. Great stuff! (Brian O'Connor)


OXYD at the Manchester Jazz Festival

This was  first of two moments, both of them French - a dirty, noisy, sweaty night at the Manchester Jazz Festival down in the cellar of Matt & Phred’s club. (REVIEW)The band OXYD led by Alexander Herer from the Onze Heures Onze Collective blew away the mostly young crowd with some ferocious free improvisation built on top of clever imaginative arrangements. Individual excellence, but this was a really tight ensemble delivering some of the most exciting music I heard all year.   (Peter Slavid)


Surnatural Orchestra. Photo Credit Jerome Tisserand
Courtesy of Cheltenham Festivals

Surnatural Orchestra at Cheltenham (1)

Cheltenham Festival’s Parabola Arts Centre always provide something original. While the big names fill up the huge venues, the Parabola presents a more intimate space and the programming can afford to take more risks. 2015’s treat came from the Surnatural Orchestra (REVIEW). Very theatrical choreographed movement – a real performance. The music is nicely anarchic too, shades of Loose Tubes, Carla Bley and others – and a fine set of soloists. (Peter Slavid)

Surnatural Orchestra at Cheltenham
Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk


Surnatural Orchestra at Cheltenham (2)

They playing a wonderful set that presented great innovative music in a totally accessible approach that included choreographed movement of the musicians back and forth on the stage. It received an immediate standing ovation. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

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

Eve Risser's White Desert premiere in La Courneuve

That moment when the cultured, classic, schooled French flute sound of Sylvaine Hélary gave way to theremin sounds played by an eight year-old, symbolising the power of nature was just one of many successful moments in Eve Risser's hugely ambitious and superbly played score. (REVIEW)(Sebastian Scotney)



Loose Tubes at 2015 Herts Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


Loose Tubes at the opening night of Herts Jazz Festival

The performance by Loose Tubes, whose reunion band - which featured the extraordinary Japanese percussionist Akiko Horii as a last-minute guest - opened Herts Jazz Festival 2015, was far more than just a night of nostalgia to see musicians who have gone on to have an extraordinary mix of individual careers since their heyday in the 1980s. Led by the irrepressible Ashley Slater, it was obvious from the opening notes that, 25 years on, they can still conjure up the electrifying energy and unique harmonic blends that made them a force of nature and earned them a place in British jazz history.

Norma Winstone in Brecon Cathedral...

....singing Nick Drake's "Time of No Goodbye". Performed so soon after the death of John Taylor and delivered to devastating effect, there was no mistaking who she was thinking of. We felt the loss at a very deep level, beyond tears.(Mary James)


Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker

Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker at Manchester Jazz Festival

Amidst the typically vibrant, eclectic, summer atmospheres of Manchester Jazz Festival, a duo set by pianist Gwilym Simcock and guitarist Mike Walker at the quiet oasis of St Ann’s Church created an unforgettable focus of rapport, conviviality and astounding musicianship. (REVIEW) Playing to a rapt audience, and every moment shining like gold, it was their moving improvisations on the opening chorus of J S Bach’s Matthew Passion – Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen – which became especially transcendent. Displaying sublime reverence for and faithfulness to the original, this was unquestionably the most exquisite, in-the-moment chamber jazz which transported me to another place. (Adrian Pallant)


Marius Neset's quintet at the Lantern in Bristol.

The addition of Jim Hart on vibes adds a new dimension to an already mesmerising band, and Neset's composing goes from strength to strength, not to mention his jaw-dropping saxophone playng. They pack a simply astonishing amount of music into one concert. (Jon Turney)


Annette Peacock at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Cafe Oto

Cafe Oto had three of my gigs of the year in as many weeks - rare appearances, unique concerts.

- The Necks with Evan Parker (REVIEW)- in scintillating improvisational dialogue, mixing the power of Coltrane's Ascension with the magic of Prospero's isle
- Pianist Fred Van Hove's layers of flowing expression perfectly balanced by Roger Turner's adroit, rapid response percussion (REVIEW)
-  The spellbinding Annette Peacock, songwriter and vocalist at the keyboards, audience in an arc around her, with elusive, tangentially jazzy, touching songs of love, pain and honesty in one of the most mesmerising solo sets I've seen - ever! (REVIEW) (Geoff Winston)


Donny McCaslin, Maria Schneider Orchestra at Unterfahrt
Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski

The Maria Schneider Orchestra playing in Symphony Hall in Birmingham 
I had waited so long. It was all I had hoped for, and more. (Peter Bacon)

Maria Schneider running a workshop with her own Jazz Orchestra and the Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Orchestra in Birmingham Town Hall in November. Maria’s presence in the workshop was totally mesmerising and she brought out some excellent playing from the student jazz orchestra. The two bands were arranged in a large circle with one member of Maria’s Jazz Orchestra sitting next to a student giving advice and hints about the music in between Maria’s conducting. Very memorable. (Tony Dudley-Evans)


Matthew Bourne Suedtirol Jazz Festival 2015
Photo Credit Ralf Dombrowski All Rights Reserved

Matthew Bourne at Suedtirol Jazz Festival

Matthew Bourne’s piano-playing matched the room perfectly. (REVIEW) Some notes were meditative and as austere as the large white room in Bolzano’s Museion Art Gallery (Suedtirol Jazz Festival) Some pieces were as stormy and scary as the high mountains looming through the huge window behind the piano. Ligeti, John Taylor and Bill Evans all seemed present in his music. He humanised everything with his humour: he used the rhythm of the squeaky piano stool as part of one of his improvisations. ‘It is an art gallery, after all!’ he said. (Alison Bentley)


Maja Ratkje playing with Chris Mapp’s Gominoblast band at The Crossing Birmingham

This performance was the culimination of Chris’ Jerwood Jazzlines Fellowship. The piece was totally improvised and built up to a wonderful climax featuring the electronics and vocals of Maja.(Tony Dudley-Evans)

Pat Metheny (foreground) with Eberhard Weber (background, on video). Theaterhaus Stuttgart Jan 2015
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski. All Rights Reserved


The Eberhard Weber Grand Jubilee Concert in Stutgart

Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny (with a major premiere), Gary Burton, Michael Gibbs all on one bill. One of those occasions you have to pinch yourself in case it was all a dream. The evidence that it wasn't has already come out on an ECM CD, and will appear on a SWR/Naxos DVD too. (REVIEW) (Sebastian Scotney)


Norma Winstone and Dave Holland at the Kenny Wheeler evocation (2015 EFG LJF)

There was a moment during the concert "Kenny Wheeler - An Evocation" (REVIEW by Mike Collins) that has stayed with me. The second half of the evening opened with bassist Dave Holland in duet with singer Norma Winstone. Holland took a slow bass solo. The bass had a warmth to it, resonating around the hall. It was a beautiful sound. With just bass, it felt as if it was Holland's personal tribute to Kenny Wheeler. (Patrick Hadfield)

Jean Toussaint in Swanage/ Brandon Allen in Highgate/ Georgie Fame at Ronnie Scott's

-  Jean Toussaint's Art Blakey set at the Swanage Festival, with Byron Wallen, Shane Forbes and Andrew McCormack (REVIEW)
-  Brandon Allen Sextet at Highgate jazz/soul Fest on August Bank Holiday: Brandon,Nigel Hitchcock Mark Nightingale Sam Burgess Tim Lapthorn Ian Thomas with a varied programme from standards to George Russell and Mingus.(Review by Mark McKergow)
- Georgie Fame and Guy Barker Big Band at Ronnie Scott's November: still the main man when it comes to singing a real JAZZ repertoire. (REVIEW) (Brian Blain)

Amok Amor’s at mac Birmingham

Their concert featured Petter Eldh, Christian Lillinger, Peter Evans and Wanja Slavin playing in the Hexagon Theatre . This was music of high intensity and energy that moved in and out of written material and improvisation. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

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REVIEW: Chris Watson's Okeanos (LCMF 2015)

The audience at Chris Watson's Okeanos at Ambika P3
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved


Chris Watson's Okeanos
(Ambika P3, 14 December 2015; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The world premiere of Chris Watson's Okeanos, commissioned by London Contemporary Music Festival, is about the sound of the sea  - but not quite as you've ever heard it before. Okeanos was something of a voyage, both for Watson, who crossed the globe from Antarctica via the Australian coast and the Carribbean to Lofoten in northern Norway and Iceland, recording the sounds of the ocean, and for the sell-out audience immersed for an hour in the massive sound chamber of Ambika-P3, this year's festival venue, to experience the 8-channel distillation of Watson's explorations.

Okeanos is a giant leap from the short recordings he made at depths of 3 and 10 metres for Oceanus Pacificus, his 7 inch vinyl with its locked grooves, for Touch. There was also a feeling that Watson might have taken a leaf out of the 'Deep Listening' book of Pauline Oliveros.

It was curiously serendipitous that that the launch of Okeanos, which focused intensely on the acoustic minutiae of 'Planet Ocean' coincided with the launch of the British astronaut, Tim Peake, in to space, to which the attention of millions was directed.

'We live on Planet Ocean,' said Watson, in his illuminating introduction, describing his use of hydrophones to capture the integrity of remote and deeply submerged locations, often in extreme climatic and environmental conditions - at 80 degrees South, he remarked, when there is 24 hour daylight the top temperature is 20 below zero.

Watson explained that sound travels five times faster through water than through air, hence he was able to record animal calls transmitted through the ocean from 20 kilometres distant. His recordings caught the grinding of immense ice masses, the crackling soundtrack of minute crustaceans, the shuffling of penguins on the Ross ice shelf and the songs of seven tonne orca whales and 900 pound seals in the Arctic.

'I regard this as a piece of music,' he stated, and indeed the final form of this commission far exceeded the sum of the myriad parts which constituted Watson's raw material.

From lapping water, clicks, crackles and rushing currents a roaring, deep-heated blast of drag-racer intensity emerged. It might have been Santa Pod or Silverstone. An insistent momentum was maintained with a constant, deep pulsing sub-rhythm, the unceasing heartbeat of the oceans, countering expectations of a soundtrack of calm trickles and eddies.

The fast-moving pace would briefly ease off and then be overtaken by gusts and rumbles from the deep with overlays of lowing, bellows and squeals, flocks in flight, whistling and rib-shaking vibrations as gigantic slabs of ice sheared, cracked and grated. The circular process of continually melting and freezing liquids added to the tensions.

Much more than a montage, the combined density of sound layers of Okeanos created a magnificent portrait of the ocean's enormity and power and of the life forces within it.

LINKS: LCMF 2015 Review - Five Ways to Kill Time
LCMF 2015 Review: West Coast Night

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REVIEW: Brad Mehldau's Three Pieces after Bach at the Wigmore Hall

Brad Mehldau receiving the applause from a packed Wigmore Hall


Brad Mehldau's Three Pieces after Bach
Wigmore Hall. 17th December 2015. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Re-interpretations of Bach through the prism of the jazz piano tradition can be more or less considered a durable, viable sub-genre in their own right. The Modern Jazz Quartet's John Lewis developed his own vision of the 48 Preludes and Fugues.  Jacques Loussier has left a significant mark. Leipzig-born Joachim Kühn was always bound to take it on, with his unique vision of the seriousness of the cantatas and motets. Last year the Wigmore Hall saw Dan Tepfer's lengthy exercise in extending the Goldberg Variations (INTERVIEWED). Alex Hutton's Gunpowder and Compass from his Magna Carta Suite gives a fascinating glimpse of his much broader and deeper Bach project.

Brad Mehldau's Bach project, co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall and organizations in Canada, Switzerland and Ireland, and already performed in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, clearly has momentum behind it. He has taken pieces from the '48' which he plays as lead-offs into either written pieces or improvisations. The evening was an impressive feat of stamina, virtually two hours of solo piano. For the Bach and for the Three Pieces after Bach he plays from a tablet, avoiding the need for a page-turner.

At a first hearing, the pieces have more the character of meditations on the Bach pieces rather than sets of variations. Mehldau has a way of circling them and dwelling around them. Methods include putting in a left hand idee fixe or ostinato, and then muddying and darkening the polytonalities around it, and also treating Bach's music as an invitation to densen and to blur rhythmic regularity, a procedure which is consistent with, and an extension of Bach's own process.

Their are strong resonances of other piano traditions: it certainly sounds as if Mehldau is conversant with Shostakovich's '48,' and their are excursions reminiscent of Ravel (the second of the Bach pieces Ostinato has a very similar device to Ravel's Le Gibet), The third Mehldau piece Toccata  hovered and meandered in a Philip Glass manner, and the  last improvisation on Bach of the evening was summoning up the timelessness of Messiaen through a series of resonant chords.

For the end of the evening Mehldau gave the audience more melodically familiar material, with a Bach-ian treatment of The Beatles' Martha My Dear and a vast. protracted. portentous improvisation on Pete Townshend's Pinball Wizard.

My notes from last night contain one remark which keeps involuntarily coming back. "Miss J.T./ Escape," I wrote. Yes, I do miss John Taylor. Where Mehldau broods, meanders, circles, hovers, J.T - in a way which is also fully consistent with what Bach did - would have slipped off into another room, produced a sudden movement of escape, jinked, side-stepped, and smiled from wherever that unexpected place was that he had disappeared to.

Bach will always continue to provide a limitless source of inspiration to jazz pianists.

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REVIEW: Five Ways to Kill Time at Ambika P3 (LCMF 2015)

Stephen O'Malley at LCMF, Ambika-3
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Five Ways to Kill Time - 2015 LCMF 
(Ambika P3, 13th December 2015; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The premise for the third night of London Contemporary Music Festival was that time as a dimension in music can too easily be taken for granted.

Ellen Fullman's elegant Long Stringed Instrument, over fifty feet in length, was installed as the centrepiece of the massive Ambika-3 hall at the beginning of the festival, forming a slanted, sculptural division of its floor space. Fullman has described its genesis for a specific project space: 'In the summer of '88 I realized a fantasy of making a giant long stringed instrument with lots of players. … The room was 145 feet long and two resonators would hold 90 strings. … A player moves out to a designated colored line, which, in effect, denotes a specific period of time.'

The strings were set horizontally at waist height in two parallel sections. In an entrancing performance of the world premiere of The Watch Reprise (2015), Fullman stepped in to the space between them to touch and manipulate strings with her hands, moving back and forth along sections of the instrument, drawing out subtle, ambient vibrations, drones and sustains and sharper, sitar-like tones with acoustic chords and single note pitches floating and flooding the space.

By gentle contrast, the tender blues- and ragtime-inflected pieces of Ethiopian composer/pianist Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou (who, unfortunately, was unable to perform these herself due to travel permit problems) were imbued with a sense of relaxed, yet constrained time, lilting, thoughtful with repetitions that would incrementally get out of synch and recombine in pleasantly discordant order.

The Plus-Minus Ensemble, an Anglo-Belgian octet of over 12 years standing, took Bryn Harrison's Repetitions in Extended Time (2008) through a series of four movements where each instrument, including piano, cello, bass clarinet and electric guitar, had its own individual voice overlapping in lightly dappled acoustic space, resting on strong, repetitive figures. Quietly modulated evolution was the key.

Aisha Orazbayeva's healthily unconventional virtuoso approach to the violin was pitted against vocal performer Tim Etchells in their practiced, improvised dialogue, Seeping Through, that both sparkled and spluttered as its verbal insistence teetered at the edge of the banal with repetitions of everyday phrases purporting to carry more meaning or authority than perhaps they deserved.

Stephen O'Malley's thunderous, crashing guitar barrage, a continual exploration and reprocessing of chords that could have been extracted from Pete Townsend's repertoire with The Who, created a monumental endnote, in intentionally curated contrast to Fullman's brightly subdued butterfly net of wire sounds. A monochrome film which metamorphosed from the viscerally dripping bowels of the earth to fizzling catherine wheel firework revolutions served as a visual point of reference above O'Malley playing in near-darkness by his bank of speakers, as thrumming whirlpools of raw rhythm bled in to the space.

LINK: Review - West Coast Night at LCMF2015 

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REVIEW: West Coast Night at Ambika 3 (2015 London Contemp Music Fest)

Fresh and challenging: Pauline Oliveros at LCMF
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

LCMF 2015: West Coast Night
(Ambika 3, 12 December 2015; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

In its third year, London Contemporary Music Festival is once again presenting a week of back-to-back, diversely themed evenings which offer a left-field perspective on new music, its history and protagonists, performed in an unexpectedly cavernous, industrial space in the heart of London.

The massive, subterranean Ambika 3 venue opposite Madame Tussauds is the former test bed for major concrete engineering projects such as the Channel Tunnel and Birmingham's Gravelly Hill Interchange. The LCMF curators have imaginatively optimised the scale and interior architecture of this multi-level, 14,000 sq ft hall to articulate the range of music which comprises their programme.

The West Coast Night, focusing on California's role in the avant-garde, took pioneering composer, Henry Cowell, as its starting point with French experimental pianist Gwenaëlle Rouger's rigorous interpretation of his concise 1925 piece, The Banshee, exploiting the metallic qualities of the piano wires. John Cage's early First Construction (In Metal), performed by the RCM's PERC'M percussion ensemble conducted by Serge Vuillle, combined precision with raw energy, blending hints of bells and sirens with the pounding of metal sheets. On a staircase platform the bass recorder and cello were sensitively brought in to quiet interaction in the UK premiere of Catherine Lamb's Frames, by Lucia Mense and Anton Lukoszievze.

The piano was again the focus as four pianists expertly executed Terry Riley's Keyboard Studies No 2, from 1962. Its gentle synchronisations and discrete shifts in emphasis were complemented by Rouger's performance of John Luther Adams's Arctic-inspired Among Red Mountains (2001) with its crashing, bouncing chords, spiky accents and deep rumblings.

Two appearances on a side stage by the highly engaging LA-based poet, Otis O'Solomon, a veteran of the Watts Prophets poetry trio born out of the events of 1965, for whom 'words are spiritual things', connected 60s idealism with 21st century relevance, focussing on the misdeeds of 'the beast called man' on planet earth. 'Tomorrow might be too late …', he reflected and observed 'not progress … but retrogress'.

Two programmed electronics pieces from the 80s by Carl Stone and Maggi Payne, were pleasant, but somewhat anodyne, and did not stand the test of time that well in this context.



An evocative setting for 2015 LCMF: Ambika P3 at Baker Street
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2015. All Rights Reserved

Two major figures, still making waves in their ninth decades, rounded off the evening in remarkable style. It was the sensational improvised solo performance of around twenty minutes by Pauline Oliveras on the extraordinary, digital v-accordian that stole the show - which is not to take anything away from Morton Subotnik's absorbing and impressive improvised closing set on Buchla synthesiser, in a contrasting setting to the intimate Cafe Oto where he played in the summer (REVIEWED).

Oliveras took a few minutes to wait until the hall fell silent. With a complexity of structure and tone that brought to mind Ligeti's organ works, Oliveras summoned juxtapositions of sounds that were so surprising, fresh and challenging that she seemed to rewrite the possible with every note she played. Trombone and harpsichord rubbed shoulders with vocal samples, traditional accordion vamps, a chunk of funk and a sliver of blues. In recognising no boundaries she created new boundaries. It was a glorious and remarkable achievement, extremely demanding to perform and carried off with inspired panache.

Subotnik interpolated tapping patterns, wall-vibrating furies and lightly trickling liquid electronics, throwing sounds around the vast chamber, then put a witty seal on proceedings with his piano soundtrack to and presence alongside the projection of a short, explosive, psychedelic film by Tony Martin from the early 60s San Francisco Tape Center (Martin, incidentally, is the son of David Stone Martin, the great jazz album illustrator), well received by both the few who might have been of an age to recall it and the many who weren't!

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