REVIEW: Soweto Kinch at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Soweto Kinch
Photo by John Watson /©

Soweto Kinch
(Parabola Theatre, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 29th April 2016. Review by Jon Turney)

The multi-skilled Soweto Kinch’s projects have generally majored in story-telling, with his coruscating alto playing complemented by his own rap vocals or the work of other singers. This impressive Cheltenham set signalled a move away from that, perhaps. We heard big helpings of new music developed he said, from explorations of number.

Hard to say more about that – there was so much music, other announcements were mostly dispensed with. Does this interest in numerology signal a move toward abstraction? Not quite. The sound mix was mainly familiar, with star recruit Gregory Hutchinson laying a rich carpet of beats on drums, Kinch adding electronic overtones and occasional loops to his sax lines, Nick Jurd powerfully propulsive on upright and electric bass, although Reuben James, slightly under-mixed, was unexpectedly decorous on piano.

L-R Reuben James, Nick Jurd, Soweto Kinch, Gregory Hutchinson
Photo by John Watson /©

The new work is often complex, with long written lines for sax and piano, or sometimes bass, in unison, and shifts of rhythm that come – a few bars of mid-tempo swing here, a brief glimpse of straightahead bass playing there – and go again rapidly. The first 45 minutes of their lengthy set ran without a break, and felt at times as if the band, while playing brilliantly, were working through the impressive mass of material ratrher than feeling easy enough with it all to let it flow.

Still, a few longeurs – some of the pieces, even some of the sax solos, sounded rather similar, the electronics muddied the sound and overwhelmed the piano here and there – were easily outweighed by the more arresting moments. And the second portion of the set offered a few more pauses for breath, a little more variety. There was space for a knockout bass solo from Jurd, and an up-tempo vocal from Kinch in a new rap piece reflecting on urban fear and paranoia. The brief freestyling interlude near the end, picking up words offered by listeners, didn’t sit that well with the new material, I fancy. Perhaps his enthusiastic audience – who packed the beautiful Parabola theatre - really thinks no Soweto gig is complete without this little party piece, but I reckon it’s now dispensible. The closer, whose title referenced being at peace and had a melody line to suit, was a cracker, though.

That finish reaffirmed that the new band is a good unit that has the potential to become great as it grows into the music. It was a treat to see them at this relatively early stage, and a great way to begin a Cheltenham weekend.


REVIEW: Jacob Collier Solo Show at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Jacob Collier. Cheltenham 2016.
Photo by John Watson/ ©

Jacob Collier Solo Show
(Jazz Arena, Cheltenham Jazz Festival. 29th April 2016. Review by Luke Davidson) 

I guess I am just spreading the news. Those who have heard of Jacob Collier will almost certainly have listened to him already via one of his brilliant self-made YouTube videos. They won’t need me to tell them that this young man is almost certainly a genius of some description, even if you, like me, hate the word ‘genius’ unless it comes attached with a signed certificate of the number of hours practised along side.

But in the event you have never heard of him, then you can go straight away to YouTube and see the reasons why he has received plaudits from the greatest living jazz musicians: Hancock, Corea, Metheny. They know ‘talent’ when they hear it. His one man show is an exercise in amazement; predictably, the exits after his gig at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival were full of middle-aged people shaking their heads in wonder. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not gushing. I am simply saying that any person with an ounce of musical sensibility will be thinking the same thing: how the Donald did he get to be this good, this fast?

Did I not say? Collier is perhaps 20 or 21 and looks like he might be asked to take his GCSEs soon. So, it is something extraordinary to consider that he is working closely with the boffins at MIT to create a special studio designed for advancing precisely the kind of show he presented to a wowed Cheltenham Jazz Festival audience. For Collier represents something interesting as well as remarkable. He weds a blistering musical technique and sensibility to modern technology, so that he performs complex big band arrangements with nothing more than all the paraphernalia of today’s musical geeks.

In a way, Collier represents the first jazz superstar of the iPod generation, a generation which is less tribal than previous ones, happier to ditch exclusivity to particular genres for the pleasure of grazing between 60s pop, Brazilian grooves, and world music, without feeling embarrassed and compromised. Collier’s music recycles hundreds of styles, often in breathtakingly fast sequences: soul, A Capella, beatboxing, Ravel, Quincy Jones, funk, and so on. He takes songs from the American Songbook (including Gershwin, Bacharach and Brian Wilson) and zips them up. So we heard a blistering Fascinating Rhythm, a spartan, funky Close to You and a lush and tender In My Room. His music is testament to an eclectic ear, one that has hoovered up everything and rejected nothing. Well, with the exception of death metal maybe.

Collier, I suspect, is not especially well served by presenting him as a ‘jazz artist’. Ultimately, it is limiting. But it makes sense to start there because he is, first and foremost, a brilliant jazz musician with a piano sound to die for. I daresay he will do piano trio work in due course and be taken seriously as an heir to some great defunct jazz pianist. But, in the meantime, he weds a rich harmonic language with a Brazilian sensibility. I mean, this guy, does many of the things a Brazilian jazz musician does - but out of a North London postcode.

Jacob Collier. Cheltenham 2016
Photo by John Watson/ ©

I did say that he plays all the instruments on stage? I didn’t? Well, he does: drums, percussion, piano, upright bass, fretless bass, the melodica, and assorted synths. But, in a way, if you spend too long marvelling at that, you might ignore the simple truth that he plays them all with breathtaking confidence. This enables him to create complex arrangements of great power, complexity and emotional reach. And while he is a polite, well-spoken young dweeb, when reaching for adjectives to describe his style, one has to quietly move out of English and try a few fancy French ones: ‘panache’, ‘verve’, and ‘élan’ spring to mind. Perhaps I may be allowed the Italian ‘brio’ and Castilian ‘bravado’, too, even in these days of Brexit, when presumably we should be content with jolly good English words untainted by Brussels bureaucrats? So, if you still haven’t gone on to YouTube and listened to him, prepare yourself for those polyrhythms, and rich harmonies, sung in swooping vocals blended expertly through a vocoder. Better still, wait until his album, In My Room, comes out on July 1st, and listen to him then, for a test of his achievement will be the extent he works solely on the ears.

Is Collier the future of jazz music? Or jazz musicians? That seems less likely. For one thing, Collier has set a bar to multi-instrumentalism that is going to be pretty hard to beat unless there are lots of kids out there who have spent quite as much time in their rooms as Collier has (his most affecting performance was the Beach Boys’ In My Room and he also performed a languid Jarrett-esque song called Hideaway: Collier is clearly the introvert’s introvert). But I can’t help feeling that, despite the very proper admiration one can feel for Collier’s achievements, and the existence of wonderful simultaneous projections behind him to delight the eye, there is something inevitably slightly soulless about a one-man show. Collier is enjoying himself on stage and it is good to watch in the way it is a good to watch a trapeze artist; it is the thrill of the extreme. Don’t get me wrong. It is musically exciting. But, inevitably, with pre-recorded loops and tight arrangements courtesy of processors, you miss the joy of a group of musicians communicating with one another.

We are at a state in history now that it is possible for one man to produce the power of the world’s most sophisticated ensembles. But now that we know that with a looping device a musician can recreate almost anything, does it follow that other musicians will be drawn, like Collier, to want to play everything? Most, I suspect, will continue to love the idea of the band, even though it means the indignity of long hours failing to agree rehearsal times. But, in the meantime, Collier is a future of music. He is busily setting a new benchmark for what a musician does, what it is possible to do. And if that does not pique your curiosity, then what are you doing still reading this review?

LINKS: Jacob Collier's YouTube Channel

Jacob Collier sings at the 2013 Dankworth Prize
Review of Jacob Collier - as pianist in 2014 in Misha Mullov-Abbado's Quintet
Review of Jacob Collier - as backing vocalist in 2014 at Jason Rebello's album launch
Photos by Carl Hyde of the debut solo show in July 2015
Tina Edwards gets the scoop on the album plans


PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Contemporary Jazz Cruise (with Pat Metheny, Marcus Miller...4th-11th Feb. 2017)

Composite photo showing the 2017 Contemporary Jazz Cruise Line-Up
L-R: Lalah Hathaway, Robert Glasper, Chucho Valdes, Terence Blanchard,
Marcus Miller, Pat Metheny,Dianne Reeves, Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus
Gregory Porter, David Sanborn
The astonishing line-up above is booked for the Contemporary Jazz Cruise, setting sail from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on February 4th 2017. 

Michael Lazaroff, who in his role as Executive Director of Entertainment Cruise Productions, produces the cruise, explained the history of the company, inclusing sixteen years promoting jazz cruises, and the background of this inaugural Contemporary Jazz Cruise to Sebastian:     

LondonJazz News: Please run us through this line-up for the Contemporary Jazz Cruise. Who were the first people you got on board (literally) and how did you build it from there?

Michael Lazaroff: For the past few years, all of our jazz programs begin with Marcus Miller. Not only is he a world class musician, but he helps us identify, attract and secure top talent as well as provide leadership with our programming and events. On the ship, he serves as the Music Director and Host. Marcus’ extensive successful career as a producer is the perfect skill set for what he does for us. The fact that he is one of the most genuine, sincere, kind and intelligent men on the planet also helps. Marcus is able to present our music with dignity, style and excitement.

Our next step was to secure the top talents in the genre. It is hard to dispute that this meant going after Pat Metheny, Gregory Porter, Terence Blanchard, Dianne Reeves, Robert Glasper and the rest of this amazing line-up. We are still tinkering with the line-up having just added Grace Kelly to host our “New Kids on the Block” segment, where we will present some new and upcoming stars of jazz.

LJN: You've been running jazz cruises for a few years now how did you start?

ML: For years Norwegian Cruise Line produced a jazz cruise. It was “straight ahead” jazz on the SS Norway. It was never a full ship charter, but it attracted 1200 people or so every year for 15 years or so. In 1999, NCL dropped the program along with all of their “theme” cruises.

A woman in St. Louis, who was the most successful travel agent selling cabins for this program, wanted to go it alone and produce the first full ship charter in the world dedicated to jazz. I knew that she was 70 years old at the time and I was concerned about her ability to pull it off. So, I met with her over lunch one day. My first words to her were “Mom, do you know what you are doing?” Yes, it was my mother and “yes” she knew what she was doing!

We chartered a 1,245-passenger ship from Holland America and started from there. That cruise sold out in weeks and we have been in business for the past 16 years and have completed nearly 65 full ship charters in that period of time.

Marcus Miller on the 2016 Jazz Cruise
Photo credit:Amanda Turner – TuKe Photography

LJN: Are you a fan yourself?

ML: I love jazz. I may have learned the cruise business from my mother, but I learned about music from my dad. Dad was an amateur saxophonist and vocalist who simply loved to play and perform. It was not only his hobby. It was who he was. Dad taught to love music and to adopt a philosophy that includes only two types of music in the world – good and bad!

LJN: Are there several stages where the musicians play? 

ML:  Yes, in fact, the cruise is on our new ship which provides us with 6 different venues for our jazz shows. We will craft shows to fit our large venues and our more intimate ones.

LJN: Do they just do their sets or is there a jamming / after hours hanging going on?

ML: There is a lot of after hours music and we are fortunate to have David Sanborn as our host of our Night Music segment, which will kick off the night-time activities each night.

LJN:  Jazz musicians will have fun with the names of tunes - any cruise-related songs that get played / or jokes that get made? 

ML: Our comic in residence is the very funny Alonzo Bodden, winner of the 1st Season of Last Comic Standing. He is famous for taking all of the musicians to task, exploiting their peccadilloes for the sake of good natured humor. It is hilarious.

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon on the 2016 cruise
Photo credit:Amanda Turner – TuKe Photography

LJN:  Are the stop-offs long enough to visit the places or is it just a few hours ? 

ML:  All of our stops are at least 8 hours, which is ample time to truly enjoy the sites, take in a great excursion or simply explore on your own.

LJN:  We Brits can be a bit shy and reserved.(aw) ..How are newcomers to the cruises made welcome?

ML: In the course of our many, many years of cruises, we have had a large number of “Brits” sailing with us and I do not recall any that are shy and reserved :) I do know that they are discerning, smart and great, great guests. As to being welcomed on the ship, with the cruise being a full ship charter, there is a natural affinity among the guests from the start.

We also have some “ice breaker” parties, one of which is exclusively for our International Guests, by the way, so meeting your fellow passengers is very easy. In fact, more than 10,000 people have sailed on our jazz cruises at least 4 times, so that alone shows you that it must be a very friendly atmosphere.

LJN:  What does it cost/ are their any early bird discounts or deals for booking both cruises?

- The cruises start as low as $2,300 USD/person, which is less than $330 USD/day. When you look at that cost covering your room, your meals and all that entertainment, the cruise is a great value.

- To make payment of the fee easier for our friends in the UK, we offer a Pay When You Are Ready Program (allowing you to decide when your payments will be made) as well as an Exchange Rate Guaranty (guaranteeing that your exchange rate will never be less than 1 GBP = 1.6 USD.).

- We also give you a 250 USD credit/cabin for your hotel room the night before the cruise.

- Finally, if you book both sailings, there is a 3% discount on each cruise (total of 6% off the total “stateroom” price for each cruise).

LJN: When do you sail? 

 ML: The Jazz Cruise sails from January 28 – February 4, 2017 and The Contemporary Jazz Cruise sails from February 4 – 11, 2017. As indicated earlier, both cruises are on Celebrity Summit, so you can sail these cruises back to back.

LINKS: Contemporary Jazz Cruise website
Entertainment Cruise Productions website


REVIEW: Iain Ballamy's Anorak and guests at the Guildhall School Annual Jazz Showcase

Anorak. L-R: Gareth Williams, Steve Watts, Iain Ballamy, Martin France

Iain Ballamy's Anorak and guests
(Milton Court Studio Theatre. 28th april 2016. Second Day of Guildhall Jazz Showcase. Review by Sebastian Scotney) 

"His tone," wrote Chris Parker of saxophonist Iain Ballamy, "is winsomely light, yet capable of great strength and variation, shading into either an attractively foggy breathiness or a rapturous warble as required." Those typically well-judged remarks were made about the most recent album by Ballamy's band Anorak. Which means they were made way back, in July 2007. Yes, it is now virtually a complete decade since this band - with a different bassist - last recorded an album. To state the obvious, things have moved on. There haven't been any albums, press releases, events, or "impact." But that doesn't mean either a lack of creativity, or things standing still. There has been all the strengthening, deepening and assuredness you could ever want in a band. The group can now deliver a far bigger sonic presence. What struck me most forcefully when Ballamy first walked on the stage at the Guildhall's new Milton Court Studio Theatre last night was the compelling focus, depth, scale and persuasiveness that he gave to his sound in the opener, Tribute to Alan Skidmore’s tribute to John Coltrane.

Ballamy's regular working quartet is also a remarkable unit. Steve Watts on bass gives a solidity to the pulse reminiscent of Ron Carter at his stentorian finest, and that gives both Martin France, "one of the most inventive and creative of mega-drummers," as Malcolm Edmonstone introduced him last night, and Gareth Williams, a pianist who will always take the listener by agreeable surprise, limitless freedom to roam.

Emmeline. Malcolm Edmonstone and Iain Ballamy

The opener of the second half, Emmeline, played by Ballamy in a duo with Malcolm Edmonstone, brought out the softer side of the saxophonist's playing, with excursions into subtone in all registers of the instrument.  The duo format also allowed the two players complete rhythmic freedom, each allowing the other space, this was superb colla parte playing in an effortlessly fluent, trusting game of give-and-take.

This was more than just a very good concert, the evening had a specific purpose as an occasion, a rite of passage. It was the formal marking of the arrival of Ballamy, France and Williams - and also Trish Clowes - as new members of the jazz faculty at Guildhall School. And it was also the culmination of the School's two-day jazz showcase in the Studio Theatre in Milton Court.

Gareth Williams' spoken contribution was brief, but wonderfully eloquent and poignant. He remembered that as a student at Guildhall in Ian Carr's jazz history class, Carr had encouraged them all to "check out this guy" - Iain Ballamy - and to listen to the album Balloon Man (1988). Thus for Williams to be playing, now, as a fellow Guildhall professor with Ballamy, meant a lot. Indeed, the sense that the Guildhall Jazz Department is locating some of its own buried roots, and picking up strength and momentum by re-connecting with them, is very much in the air at the moment.

The beginning of the evening had seen Trish Clowes performing three numbers, of which perhaps the most effective was the last one, a joyous Shorty Rogers-ish fast-bop roast. It set the tone just right for for a life-enhancing evening.  

Trish Clowes (foreground) and Steve Watts
LINKS: Iain Ballamy's website
Review of Liane Carroll and Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir March 2016


CD REVIEW: Danielsson Neset Lund - sun blowing

Danielsson Neset Lund - sun blowing
(ACT 9821-2. CD review by Jon Turney)

Three players come together, record a CD’s worth of music, and go their separate ways. A few of the thousands of recordings like this stand out. This is one of those.

It’s a Scandinavian collaboration. Swede Lars Danielsson on bass and Dane Morten Lund on drums knew each other’s playing well, and felt the Norwegian rising star Marius Neset was a kindred spirit. A saxophone trio, then, with Neset playing tenor throughout and delivering some of his most open and exploratory playing. Since this session, laid down two years ago, he’s released fully-realised quintet and large ensemble albums, but the freedom afforded by the single-horn- plus-rhythm setting also suits him beautifully. And it shows how a supremely talented young horn player effortlessly evokes elders: the opening bluesy shuffle Little Jump had discernible echoes for me of Joshua Redman on Back East. Up North has something of the feel of State of the Tenor-era Joe Henderson. Elsewhere there are strong hints of Garbarek and Brecker, and tracks that will please fans of Andy Sheppard’s Trio Libero.

It’s not an exercise in styles, though. Neset’s personality shines through, and he brings his wonderful tone and fine story-teller’s instincts to each tune – all by his cohorts save for one of his own and one (The Cost of Living) by Don Grolnick. There are intense moments and some solid grooves, energized by Danielsson’s compelling, deep bass sound, but the more contemplative side of recent Scandinavian jazz features strongly, too. One tune of Danielsson’s is actually titled Folksong but several others have a folkish tinge.

The full set, then, is much more than the amiable exploration of standards found in many single session encounters. However these tunes began, all the music feels as if it was written for this trio, and each of them plays their part in the beauty of the results. It is the saxophonist’s sound that stays with me, though, with a recurring sense of a single horn line following a sequence of ideas to somewhere unexpected. Still, creating a setting where that kind of productive thinking aloud is possible is a collective achievement. And together the three have turned a session which could easily never have taken place into music that sounds as if it needed to be made.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter: @jonWturney

sun blowing is released today 29th April 2016

LINKS: Promotional video from ACT Music 
Interview with Morten Lund - the story behind the album


INTERVIEW / PREVIEW: Edana Minghella All or Nothing — Songs From the Billie Holiday Songbook

A multi-talented member of a multi-talented family which has already made its considerable mark on British culture, Edana Minghella proved good natured, amusing, and vividly illuminating throughout an interview  - which had threatened to be de-materialized by mysteriously blank CDRs, derailed by train strikes, or  interrupted by a dodgy Skype connection - with Andrew Cartmel:

LondonJazz News: I see your album credits you as arranger on all but one track....

Edana Minghella: I’m nervous about that word… I feel it slightly overstates the case. It’s just about putting it together. You know, “This is what I wanted it to sound like, and be like.”

LJN: As opposed to the singer who is manipulated and packaged by a Svengali figure.

EM: Oh yes. I’m too stubborn, and too long in the tooth, to be pushed around. But I do also collaborate, and take heed of the suggestions of others. I love having the input of somebody like Liane Carroll who listens so carefully and with love.

LJN: How did you come to singing, and singing jazz in particular?

EM: Well, I come from a family of show-offs. My mum was brought up in Glasgow in a poor Italian community and she and her sisters were all musicians. They played the accordion and they used to busk. And, any family occasion — the accordions came out. When my siblings and I were young we all had piano lessons. I read music and I play the songs I do myself, and practice them on the piano, but I’m not a good enough piano player to perform. I also play the accordion and I have the very accordion of my mum’s that she played in my brother Anthony’s film the English Patient. I’m not good enough to perform on that either! As a kid I was encouraged to do everything, music, drama and all of the arts, and just get on with it. My parents ran an Italian café and we were left to our own devices, but encouraged. My older brother Ant was very central in encouraging in me. He made a film called The Talented Mr Ripley with a massively brilliant jazz soundtrack and I went to Rome when he was making it and I just got really into it. Guy Barker was involved and played on the soundtrack and after the film he came down to the Isle of Wight with his quintet, straight from Ronnie Scott’s, for a family do of ours — our parents’ golden wedding anniversary. And he said, do you fancy doing some songs? And, like I said, we’re a family of show offs and we all had a good old go. And I enjoyed it so much I thought, why am I not doing this? So I blame Guy Barker.

LJN: How did it develop from there?

EM:  Guy was lovely and encouraging and sweet, but I thought, I can’t just go out there and do this; I have to practise. I started listening more carefully — to singers like Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald. And to more contemporary ones like Claire Martin, Liane Carroll. Betty Carter absolutely mesmerised me. And of course Nina Simone, I went to one of her last British gigs, in Manchester. Then I had some lessons, and after a few years I went to one of the Global Music Foundation's workshops at Certaldo in Tuscany and that sealed the deal. There I learned with Tina May and Deborah Brown — really interesting people. I got to sing with Nikki Iles on piano. These were world class musicians and singers. Being alongside them was great; you jam until the early hours with these really amazing people; I went there two or three times and really learned a lot.

LJN:  And you began performing then?

EM: I started to meet musicians hanging out at gigs. I met a local sax player in Brighton who was great and I sat in on a few of his gigs and even played the keyboards, god help me. People were very complimentary about my singing so I thought I’d get my own band together — hubris, I know — and I found myself setting up gigs. I don’t quite know how it happened. It just evolved and I started getting gigs.

LJN: Which led to you recording your first CD.

EM: I wanted to make a mark in the sand, and acknowledge my debt to my brother Ant, who died in 2008. So I made an album in 2011 with Liane and James MacMillan supporting me. I’d met Liane and done some workshops with her by then. And Guy Barker came and played on it, and that was a big turning point. When he came down to Hastings to play with me we did this song that I knew would be very emotional — Anthony had sung You Don’t Know What Love Is at the golden wedding do, and I asked Guy to come down to play on that song. We just looked at each other and we both cried. I think you can hear it on that track. Guy keeps a picture of Ant in his office, watching over him. That CD was called Still on My Feet and it’s dedicated to Ant. A key song on it is Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You. That was one of our family songs. Ant used to play it on the piano and we’d all stand around and sing at the top of our voices. The CD’s title is sort of a paraphrase of a line from that song.

LJN: Which brings us to your new CD, All or Nothing — Songs From the Billie Holiday Songbook.

EM: Yes, this is the follow up album. It’s hard to get the money together to do a CD, but when it was Billie Holiday’s centenary I was inspired to do some gigs around her music, but not just her music. I wanted to do something around her and her story. I wanted to learn more about her, and I had great fun and I learned a lot. And people really loved it and these gigs sold out. I thought, I’m loving singing this music and people seem to like it, so I took the chance of doing this CD. On it I’ve done some of the well known songs but I’ve also chosen some things that people don’t perform that often. Like Stormy Blues, which I’ve never heard anybody else perform. It’s a song Billie Holiday wrote herself. When I talk about it people always think I mean Stormy Monday.

LJN:  You’ve included Strange Fruit on the album. I say this with considerable trepidation, because I know it’s a sacred text, but I’ve never thought that much of that song. It’s very powerful, and it’s certainly a great and important message. But it’s just not a great song.

EM:  Well, it’s very interesting that you said that. It’s a song I have tricky feelings about. It’s an amazing poem, but I think it’s a black person’s song and I’m not a black person, so I didn’t do it at gigs and people would come up and ask for it, so I looked into the song, which was originally a poem by a Jewish schoolteacher called Abel Meeropol. So I thought I’d read it aloud, as a poem, in performance. Which took me back to my drama lessons. And I started reading it at gigs and people were incredibly affected by it, the readings… So when it came to the CD I wanted to include it but I didn’t want to sing it, so I told the band I’d read it and they should improvise — forget the original music, just improvise in D minor. The saddest key! And the result was an amazing free jazz improvisation. I think their music is spine tingling. It’s the last song on the album and it’s kind of proper.

LJN: It makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. And it also reminds me of Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood. Something about that collision of poetry and jazz…

EM: So to go back to arrangements… That’s the sort of thing I mean when I say I arranged most of the songs. It’s a matter of doing things that aren’t quite what it says on the tin. Doing a song so you won’t have heard it like that before. The thing about Billie Holiday, I think the reason I absolutely connect with her — this will be a bit controversial — is that she didn’t have a huge range, didn’t do a massive lot of virtuoso scatting — but she really moved you. And that’s what I want to do. To me it’s all about moving people and being moved by the music myself.

All or Nothing — Songs From the Billie Holiday Songbook is released on Edana Minghella Jazz - Catalogue Number EDANA2. It features Mark Edwards (piano), Janette Mason (piano), Pete Maxfield (double bass), Ben Reynolds (drums and percussion), Lee Goodall (alto sax), James McMillan (flugelhorn, trumpet) and Guillermo Rozenthuler (guitar, vocals). ORDER HERE


London: Pizza Express Dean St 15th May (ALREADY SOLD OUT)

Brighton: The Brunswick, 21st and 22nd May (TICKETS)

Isle of Wight: The Anthony Minghella Theatre, Quay Arts Centre, 28th May. (TICKETS)


REVIEW: Tania Chen, Steve Beresford, Stewart Lee - John Cage’s Indeterminacy at Cafe Oto

Left to right: Tania Chen, Steve Beresford, Stuart Lee at Spitalfields.
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All rights Reserved

Tania Chen, Steve Beresford, Stewart Lee - John Cage’s Indeterminacy
(Cafe Oto, 26th April 2016. Review by AJ Dehany)

John Cage’s Indeterminacy (1959) is published as ninety story cards to be read out loud in a random order. By turns thoughtful and banal, funny and sad, the cards form an unconnected batch of anecdotes and digressions, parables and paradoxes, with a lot about Buddhism and mushroom husbandry.

Cage is famed for generating music using ‘chance operations’ and then scoring these. Here there is no score. The ‘indeterminacy’ is not in the composition but the performance. More than you’d expect even from Cage’s work, there can’t be two alike performances. In 1959 Cage recorded it with David Tudor (the pianist who gave the first performance of 4’33”). Tudor mixed up elements from earlier recordings while Cage read, and neither could hear each other.

Six years ago, free improvisers Tania Chen and Steve Beresford and comedian Stewart Lee revived Indeterminacy for live performance. Compared to the last time they presented it at Cafe Oto, Lee’s signature deadpan delivery has warmed a little, and, while Chen and Beresford’s employment of toys borders on whimsical, this is to express a point.. Rather than trying to earnestly mimic Cage and Tudor’s ‘deaf’ recording method, they exploit a crucial ambiguity about whether they’re supporting or working against the text, and whether any of it is serious. Not unlike the outlandish sound effects on Spike Jones records, a comedy of disruption is set up.

They don't just play it for laughs but the laughs come easily. Each of the forty randomly chosen cards has to take a minute to read, regardless of length, resulting in comic variability of pace. The text jumps from between philosophical kōans and ruminations on mycology. At a table festooned with an eye- and ear-popping jamboree of brightly coloured toys, Chen and Beresford generate every sound from silly to scary.

At times Lee is drowned out by the racket of Beresford letting wind-up toys loose on the strings inside the piano or Chen releasing air slowly and squeakily from a balloon. Cage and Tudor’s 1959 recording revelled in the drowning. Cage explained that “a comparable visual experience is that of seeing someone across the street, and then not being able to see him because a truck passes between.”

An interesting meta-disruption occurs when a metal barrel at the back of venue clatters to the ground. Chen and Lee look up. There’s an audience laugh and a break in the spell, like a sonic heckler. Contrary to what one might think (and unlike in 4’33” where the experience centres on the ‘noises off’) performances of Cage are really about the interaction between the performers and the composition rather than on the whims of chance operations or metal barrels. Tensions between composition and improvisation are magnified, and sometimes we’re not sure whether to furrow our brow or laugh out loud. Cage’s comedy of disruption forces us to think for ourselves.

This concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3's Hear and Now, and will be transmitted on Saturday 25th May at 10pm

 LINKS: Review of Chen, Beresford and Lee in works by John Cage from 2011
Review of Indeterminacy at  the 2012 Spitalfields Festival


CD REVIEW: Moonlight Saving Time - Meeting at Night

Moonlight Saving Time - Meeting at Night
(MSTCD002. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

This fine band’s much awaited first CD, produced by Ben Lamdin (Jamie Cullum’s most recent producer) is a beguiling mix of free jazz, folk, classical song, swing and trip hop- but fused into something new and compelling.

Clouds opens with trumpet (Nick Malcolm) and harmonies from Malcolm and singer Emily Wright, a frontline rapport that runs through the recording: the way the purity and directness of the voice balance the fierce freedom of the trumpet is one of the band’s distinctive features. ‘The clouds play tricks’, (Lake District-inspired lyrics by Wright’s father) just as the trumpet lines trail behind the vocals, the latter poised yet emotive. Mark Whitlam’s gentle drumming brings just a little Massive Attack into the jazziness, and there’s a particularly fine piano solo from Dale Hambridge. It’s mostly in slow 5, with the beats strung subtly across the groove- typical of the way Moonlight Saving Time never draw attention to their musical sophistication, but let it serve the whole sound. The title track Meeting at Night is a setting by Wright and bassist Will Harris of Browning’s poem. Wright’s clear, folk-tinged voice negotiates the tricky melody with complete naturalness. The arrangement builds urgently, falling into free jazz as the lovers meet. Jason Yarde’s sax (he guests on two tracks) brings out the chords clearly as the cool vocal backing lines lead to a funky denouement.

The arching vocal and trumpet harmonies at times recall Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler in Azimuth- in particular Harris’ briefly haunting Trio, which works as an intro to Silence is Here, co-written with Wright. The rocking movement of Hambridge’s major-minor chords is mesmeric. The vocals are still and focused, while the arrangement gives a narrative push. The mood is dreamy, but the time shifts are complex and engaging. There are gorgeous multitracked vocal/trumpet harmonies, and a spacey piano solo over a trip hop feel.

Hambridge’s arrangement of Masefield/Ireland’s Sea Fever is slightly reharmonised, but piano and voice stay quite close to the original. A vocal breathiness brings a freshness to this well-known classical song. Desire for Nothing Known brings together Hambridge’s music with words by Wright and Martin Wells, inspired by an Emily Bronte poem; the delicate drum and bass feel gives a restlessness to the serenity of the melody and the excellent Hancock-esque piano solo. In Malcom’s Views, his spirited, free solo trumpet introduces the slow shimmering percussion: mallets, meditative chords and a thoughtful bass solo. Yarde’s sax cuts passionately through the layered counter-melodies as the piece develops through different stages.

The band takes Calvin Harris’ I’m Not Alone from clubland electronica to jazz ballad. A free, gospel-influenced piano intro becomes the gentlest of funk. Bass and voice draw out the longing in the song, with a little bluesiness in the voice. There’s a superb, sudden fall into brushes-led ballad in the chorus. The intensity of their treatment means that the pop lyric (‘If I see a light flashing, could this mean that I’m coming home…’) lies happily alongside Masefield and Browning’s lines. Dan Moore’s atmospheric Hammond (he also guests on two tracks) heightens the gospel feel and heartfelt trumpet fills between the melody lines. From My Window is another cover, written by Jamie Doe. Harris’ electric bass has an African feel, a little like Lionel Loueke. There’s a tingling moment where Wright sings the ambivalent line ‘overcast with love and beauty’ and the trumpet plays crooning free tones over the strong bass pulse, fading into ethereal harmonies.

Wright wrote Arthur’s Dance for her nephew, and the song has a personal feel, characteristic of the whole recording. It’s an uplifting final track with Latin hand percussion and joyful trumpet lines. The lyric: ‘…your dreams are your own, go where you choose…’ could be the album’s theme.

One of Moonlight Saving Time’s strengths is the fact that they’ve worked together for a number of years, and there’s a high level of trust and subtlety in their playing. It’s great to hear them continuing to develop their distinctive sound in their own compositions.

Alison Bentley is a singer and teaches singing. Her music is on Soundcloud



Two-time award winners Binker Golding and Moses Boyd
Image supplied by publicists AirMTM without citing any restrictions on usage

The JazzFM Awards were presented at the Bloomsbury Ballroom earlier this evening, and the winners were:

Breakthrough Act of the Year

WINNER: Binker & Moses

NOMINEES: Jacob Collier, Nerija

International Jazz Artist of the Year (Sponsored by Yamaha)

WINNER: Kamasi Washington

NOMINEES: Marcus Miller, Maria Schneider

Blues Artist of the Year

WINNER: Gary Clark Jnr

NOMINEES: Alabama Shakes, Buddy Guy

Soul Artist of the Year

WINNER: Jill Scott

NOMINEES: Leon Bridges, Lizz Wright

Instrumentalist of the Year (Sponsored by Arqiva)

WINNER: Mark Lockheart

NOMINEES: Theon Cross, Zoe Rahman

Vocalist of the Year

WINNER: Lauren Kinsella 

NOMINEES: Eska, Liane Carroll

Jazz Innovation of the Year (Sponsored by Mishcon de Reya)

WINNER: Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah

NOMINEES: Black Top, David Virelles

Digital Initiative of the Year (Sponsored by 7digital)

WINNER: Jacob Collier 

NOMINEES: Chassol, Tin Men and the Telephone

Album of the Year (Public Vote - Sponsored by Arqiva)

WINNER: Hiatus Kiayote ‘Choose Your Weapon’

NOMINEES: Christian Scott ‘Stretch Music’
Kamasi Washington ‘The Epic’
Maria Schneider ‘The Thompson Fields’
Charenee Wade ‘Offering’
Snarky Puppy ‘Sylva’

UK Jazz Act of the Year (Sponsored by Grange Hotels)

WINNER: Binker & Moses

NOMINEES: Matthew Halsall, Sons of Kemet

Live Experience of the Year (Public Vote)

WINNER: Ice-T and Ron McCurdy – The Langston Hughes Project at the Barbican

Nominees: Maria Schneider at Symphony Hall Birmingham
Taylor McFerrin at Rio Club Glasgow

Impact Award

Gregory Porter

Lifetime Achievement (Sponsored by PPL)

Quincy Jones

SPONSORS/ ORGANIZERS: The Jazz FM Awards 2016 is a partnership between Jazz FM and Serious and is made possible with the support of Grange Hotels, Mishcon De Reya, PPL, RCS, 7digital, Yamaha, Arqiva, Pink Pepper Gin, Fever Tree and Denbies Wine Estate.


INTERVIEW: Alex Munk ( Flying Machines album Kickstarter just launched)

Guitarist ALEX MUNK has recorded a debut album with his band Flying Machines. He has just launched a Kickstarter campaign, in order to get the latter stages of album production finished for an autumn 2016 release. He explained the background to Sebastian.

London Jazz News: Where are you from?

Alex Munk: My family moved from London to Buckinghamshire soon after I was born. I started out playing classical guitar before switching to electric during secondary school. At this point I was just teaching myself by ear, playing along with some pop/rock records and wailing away with pentatonic scales over the top.

LJN: Who were your early influences and teachers?

AM: I was lucky to have a really inspired music teacher at school, Ray Cook. He was the first significant musical influence aside from my brother. He particularly loved Bach chorales and getting really stuck into the harmony, he just had a way of making the material come alive. Then I started having lessons with Chris Montague (Troyka) when I was around 17. It's impossible to overstate how significant these were for my development. I enrolled on the BA Jazz degree at Leeds College of Music in 2006, where I was lucky enough to carry on studying with Jez Franks and Mike Walker among others.

LJN: You studied at the RAM after Leeds, right? What have you done since leaving RAM?

AM: I've had some great sideman gigs! I play guitar in the Stan Sulzmann Big Band for instance, which is a dream of a band. I've also been playing alongside the likes of Gwilym Simcock, Iain Ballamy, Ivo Neame, Trish Clowes, Nick Smart and James Taylor. More recently I've been performing with the CBSO which has been a very different kind of an experience - really high pressure. We did this tour in Abu Dhabi playing all the songs from the James Bond films and everybody knows if you make a mistake playing those tunes! I've also recorded lots of albums as a sideman, with Dave Hamblett, Jack Davies, Joan Vidal, Matt Anderson, Stoop Quintet, Tom Millar Quartet, Sam Rapley and Reuben Fowler.

It's only in the last couple of years though that I've decided to stick my own flag in the ground. It took some time to get the whole music college thing into perspective. Playing other people's music also really helped me to figure out the kind of music I wanted to write.

LJN: Which is where Flying Machines comes in, right?

AM: I started Flying Machines in 2014 (see link below). By this point I was really itching to play music that resonated more with my own influences; there was no other choice but to start composing again and get a group of like-minded players together. The band actually started as an organ trio. I'd just done a gig with Dave Hamblett's band (which I'd been playing in for some years by this point) at the Con Cellar Bar in Camden and Dave had decided to do the gig without bass, so Matt Robinson filled out the bottom end on Rhodes instead. It was a blast! We started rehearsing some material that I was writing as a trio but it quickly became apparent that it was just going to work much better with electric bass. I asked Conor Chaplin to run some of the charts with us and he just nailed everything straight away.

LJN:  What has influenced the writing?

AM: I think there was a part of all of us that wanted to get stuck into a more groove-based and rock-influenced project than the more straight ahead bands we'd been involved in up to this point. That's certainly what I was thinking when I started to write the music. I wasn't so interested in writing abstract melodies or loads of chords for us to negotiate as soloists, I was more concerned with writing music that was going to make my hair stand on end, music that combined our improvisatory passions with a head-thrashing kind of an energy. I certainly hear that same aesthetic when I listen to the Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan. We all started listening to him about the same time we formed this band too, and he's been a huge inspiration. In terms of the rock energy thing I'd also have to cite Wayne Krantz, who just has this incredible time feel and rhythmic imagination.

LJN:  Why the name Flying Machines?

AM: It refers to my late father, Roger Munk, and the Airships (now more commonly referred to as Hybrid Air Vehicles) that he dedicated his working life to. He was a renowned expert and world leader in the field of lighter-than-air technology and he was integral in creating and developing every aspect of these astounding vehicles. The company that he founded in 2007, HAV, is now flight testing the world's largest air vehicle.

LJN:  As "Flying Machines" you recently recorded a debut album…? 

AM: After a pretty intensive period of rehearsing and gigging, we went into the studio last August to record nine original compositions of mine and I'm incredibly excited about what we captured in those three days. There's something on the album for everyone, from rock-out guitar improv to epic soundscapes and lyrical ballads. We worked with a wonderful engineer called Tim Thomas who has brought these tunes to life in ways that I'd never have imagined.

LJN:  You’ve just started a Kickstarter campaign to launch your debut album. How does this work?

AM: Kickstarter offers a platform from which we can reach out to new and existing fans to pre-order our album, with lots of other perks too, so that we can generate the necessary cash flow to get the album finished successfully. We've set ourselves 28 days to raise £3,500 and we won't get a single penny from the campaign unless we raise all the money. I'm thrilled that we've got off to such a great start, now it's just a race against the clock. I'm really pleased that we've taken the plunge and gone for it though; it has been heartening to see so many unfamiliar names signing up to pre-order CDs and downloads and we've had some extraordinarily generous donations. It's a very exciting time for us!

LINKS: Flying Machines' Kickstarter page
Flying Machines Website
Alex Munk website
Interview with Alex Munk before the band's first gigs in 2014


FEATURE: Sorana Santos - thoughts on returning from her Hejira journey

New Orleans street band

SORANA SANTOS has just returned from recreating Joni Mitchell's seminal road trip from Maine to LA on which she wrote "Hejira". In this short feature, and as she embarks on the next phase of her own song-writing based on the trip, Sorana shares her first personal reflections on her experience of making that journey. She writes: 

It’s remarkable how things unfold and how small things gain such momentum: I’d never have thought that the small action of taking a chance on buying a record I’d never heard by an artist called Joni Mitchell in my teenage years would lead to recreating the road trip that inspired Hejira, and that the small action of buying flights would lead to chance meetings and insights that would re-inform my creative practice.

There is so much I cannot put in writing yet due to not having the requisite permissions for all the media I’ve acquired. However, there are a few things I can touch on from the self-imposed exile I have placed myself in while I try to turn my creative ideas into tangible works while they are still fresh in my mind...

The hard facts are that I drove 4200 miles across several climates and four time zones, and while it was definitely rewarding, it was also deeply mentally, and emotionally exhausting. I recreated a few of the scenes in Hejira: visiting the now-closed Mandolin Brothers’ Staten Island; looking for the either-long- gone-or- entirely-fictional Cactus Tree Motel; seeing a gypsy on Bleecker Street for a tarot reading who told me I would come into a lot of money this year (which I look forward to as she cost rather more than the ‘eighteen bucks’ Mitchell paid). And yes, the nets were overflowing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf of Mexico

I even unintentionally took a photo that echoed the original album artwork:


Like Mitchell, I fell in with people on the trip; one short stay in Boston spawned infinite connections – from the warm welcomes of being recognised in a bar in New Orleans by a man who had received a photo of me from his friend in Boston and was told to look out for me, and being given food packages for the road, to the humorous situations of being told to ask for ‘Bullet Bob’ in a desert bar, who had a lead to a lead about Mitchell, and a dear Guildhall friend who sent his vinyl copy of Hejira for my arrival in LA.

A copy of Hejira which was sent to Sorana Santos in LA. 

It so happened that Easter also marked the 20th anniversary of my friends and I first meeting - around the time I bought that first Mitchell record. Again, a small action of some boys prank-calling a phone box led to a friendship group that is still going strong today, and to whom my musical development will be forever indebted. The endless warm welcomes soothed the homesickness; I felt as though I had taken my friend-family with me, and I subsequently realised that your ‘pack’ is in fact a global network of like-minded people. The list of thanks alone would fill an entire article.

Desert driving was more contemplative than that of the bustling Northern territories, and here journey turned inward; I began feeling the miles and the perils: hot changeable weather, twisters, snakes, sheer canyon drops, and lack of places to buy basic amenities took their toll. Driving became a meditative practice and consequently a transformative one - my perspective on life shifted and became less about the experiences I wanted to have and more about the type of character I want to develop – I wonder what new situations will emerge from that small decision.

It’s obvious, but I understand Hejira so much more now, and feel I can sing it with a degree of authenticity, even given how much has changed since Mitchell’s original trip in 1976 and the wildly different vantage point of my own experience. These differences made the trip more about bringing my experience into re-imagining Hejira and less about picking up her trail (which would have proved impossible as she purposely travelled incognito) and I am now incorporating field recordings, a few blues feels, and maybe even one of the street bands I met in my re-imagining of the work.

The next journey lies in completing these re-imaginings for release in the not-too- distant future, and writing the new songs from the journey itself for yet another album afterwards. I look forward to sharing these journeys with you too, and the converging situations these small actions will inevitably lead to.

Boston Skyline

LINKS: Feature written before Sorana's Hejira journey
Sorana Santos website


PREVIEW FEATURE: Tim Whitehead's Sweet Thursdays at the Ram Jam Club in Kingston

Tim Whitehead. Photo credit: Ida Hollis

Saxophonist Tim Whitehead can draw on over 30 years performing, composing and presenting jazz in UK and abroad, and an artistic drive to cross genre boundaries. In his new Thursday series "Sweet Thursday," he will be presenting and performing in a programme of grass roots gigs which challenge categories, expectations. Tim writes:

What I want to do in this new series, called 'Sweet Thursday',is to mix music , the spoken word, and more, with an emphasis on the heart of jazz, improvisation, driving the programme, serving both the local community and a wider audience.There is an astonishing wealth of international London based artists whom I have worked with,plus young local talent already recognised.

Artists included in this series have, for example received the 2016 Glastonbury Festival Emerging Talent Award (Hattie Whitehead) , The Royal Academy Of Music (George Brown Griffiths) , and Google Sponsorship (Hattie Whitehead) .

We will be presenting and performing programmes mixing jazz with beatboxing and comedy, folk and roots opposite a two woman comedy/aerial /theatre show.

Then performers will come together and improvise a grand finale where unexpected mixes create new ideas in a spontaneous but relaxed atmosphere.I've noticed how audiences enjoy being part of something which they know hasn't been done before that moment of performance.

 Entrance is £15 /£10 concessions/£5 members We are offering 3 months club membership for £30 including free entrance to the first gig. concessionary membership £20 including free entrance to first gig


28th April “Brubecks Play Brubeck” 

Star tenor saxist Dave O'Higgins meets Tim and The Ram Jam Rhythm Section then jams with young faces on the jazz scene.

Hattie Whitehead

5th May Sisters On Stage 

2016 shortlisted Glastonbury Festival emerging talent award roots singer songwriter Hattie Whitehead vox/ guitar solo/duo with George Griffiths piano opposite aerialist/dancer/mime Maisie Whitehead with comic actor Beckie Moult in 'Shebang' (excerpts previewing new Brighton/Edinburgh Fringe Show)

12th May. Comic Licks 

Rising star comedian Milo McCabe vies with jazz trio Outram ,Fletcher and Whitehead (guitar, percussion and sax) ‘Riotous’ ***** (Scotsgay) ‘Masterclass in character comedy’ **** (

19th May Memphis comes to Kingston

US jazz singer songwriter Charlie Wood Band “Charlie Wood is that rarest of combinations, a singer who’s as soulful as his songwriting is smart."-Harry Shearer “I fell in love with this man’s voice the moment I heard it. He is the essence of soul and blues. I am so lucky to have sung on the same stage as him.” – Paloma Faith

26th May IAN SHAW and friends. 



Solo 2016 Glastonbury Emerging Talent Award runner up Hattie Whitehead appears opposite her favourite singer 2015 Glastonbury "BBC Introducing" singer songwriter Ellie Rose. Future programme includes Stand-Up Poets, Painting Music , jazz and improvised theatre.

DETAILS: The Ram Jam Club 46 Richmond Rd, Kingston upon Thames KT2 5EE
 Doors 7.30pm performance 8.30pm Entrance £15 /£10 concessions/£5 members

Sweet Thursday Membership: 3 months membership £30 including free entrance to first gig concessionary membership £20 including free entrance to first gig

LINKS: Sweet Thursday Club
Tim Whitehead's website


REVIEW: Oddarrang at jazzahead! in Bremen

Olavi Louhivuori in Bremen, 2016. Photo: Edition Records

(Showcase at jazzahead! Kulturzentrum Schlachthof, 23rd April 2016. Review by Mary James)

The word Oddarrang sounds like it should be Finnish but in fact it is it not. I was once told by a band member that it stands for Odd Arrangement - just look at the unique composition of the band - guitar, bass guitar, cello, trombone and drums with vocals and electronics. The Schlachthof was the perfect dark venue to stage the vast propulsive sound for which Finnish band Oddarrang is known. Oddarrang is a superstar band comprising Olavi Louhivuori (plays with Tomasz Stańko) on drums and keyboards, Ilmari Pohjola (brother of Verneri) on trombone, Osmo Ikonen on cello and vocals, Sigurdur Rögnvaldsson, guitar and Lasse Lindgren on acoustic bass.

Their sound is a bewitching mix of brooding strong melodies, menacing rock volume, folksong-like wordless vocals and delicate sounds (like dripping ice) still audible above the intensity. And yet they always hint at something spiritual, meditative and melancholy.

At one stage when explosive drummer Louhivuori switched to keyboards I was sure the cymbals sounded of their own accord - but that was an illusion - their sound had been looped. Perhaps that is symptomatic of the spell this band creates with its attention to timbre, and strong visual sense. It was an exciting 30 minutes comprising three new compositions having their first outing and a track from In Cinema, their last album.

And all credit to the soundman, the sixth artist in the band, for mixing a very complex soundscape and setting everything up in the tiny window bands have for soundcheck at Jazzahead.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, is an artist manager and member of the Jazz Promotion Network. Twitter @maryleamington


CD REVIEW: BLUEBLUT – Butt Butt (in London June 26th)

BLUEBLUT – Butt Butt
(Plagdichnicht PDN30. CD Review by Peter Slavid)

About eighteen months ago I reviewed the first CD from Blueblut called Hurts So Gut (review here)). It was great fun – but very hard to describe because of its complete unpredictability. This new CD called Butt Butt is just as much fun, just as unpredictable and just as difficult to describe.

In their own words you can expect “thrashing grooves, whirling improvs and electronic explorations, plus cowboy hoe-downs, prog rock, and even German grime” That's as good a description as I can come up with, especially since you often get all of those in one track.

BlueBlut are made up of the Austrian experimental electronics and guitar player Chris Janka; with two Vienna based Americans, Led Bib drummer Mark Holub and the virtuoso theremin player Pamelia Stickney (previously Pamelia Kurstin). If there is one thing that runs through all the tracks it's the strange sound of Stickney's theremin. It wails over crashing chords, it cuts through Holub's ferocious drumming and it can sometimes lead the melody. At other times it provides an eerie backdrop to some spoken words. There are various guests on vocals plus Thomas Berghammer on trumpet on one of the standout tracks Twien Town.

That track starts with a twanging guitar over a siren like theremin, and leads into steady rock beat over which the trumpet plays a growling solo (almost conventional so far). Then it suddenly turns quiet and mysterious for a few minutes until its time to build back up again with a rock rhythm gradually emerging and taking over. Then the guitar gets funky over the wailing theremin and then the rhythm disappears altogether to be replaced by thrashing drums and finally the twanging guitar returns alongside the theremin.

And then there's the track with the babble of a western rodeo auction, or the 45 second song about Inca Beer; or another 45 seconds called Some Jazz Has to Happen Somewhere – that has some very odd chat on it.

As I said at the beginning this is unpredictable – and shouldn't jazz always be unpredictable? It's definitely fun, it can even be a bit silly (and in my opinion there's not enough “silly” in jazz these days). I particularly want to see this band live, and they will be appearing at the Lume festival at the Iklectik Artlab on 26th June for which a Kickstarter Campaign is currently under way.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a weekly radio show of European Jazz 


CD REVIEW: Rebirth:Collective - Raincheck

Rebirth:Collective - Raincheck
(Soul Factory Records SFR-CD005. Review by Quentin Bryar)

Raincheck, a new CD paying tribute to the music of Billy Strayhorn whose centenary it was last year, unites Antwerp-based nine-piece little big band Rebirth::Collective with star Dutch guitarist Jesse van Ruller. It is very good indeed.

Rebirth:Collective is led by trombonist Dree Peremans who also does most of the arranging. They describe their music as building from the hard-swinging tradition of bebop and hard bop of the fifties and sixties, yet with a modern and youthful twist. Think a hip, updated, groovy version of Marty Paich with the subtlety, detail and controlled fire that implies.

All members of Rebirth take solos at some point on the record, but the emphasis here is on Jesse van Ruller, and the superb guitarist, winner of the Thelonious Monk Award back in 1995, dazzles throughout with his soulful and highly detailed playing.

The band’s originality hits you straight away with the opening track Isfahan, arranged by Peremans, which sets off at a brisk medium rather than the ballad tempo familiar from Duke Ellington and Strayhorn’s Far East Suite. Van Ruller plays the melody against swinging unison bass and left hand piano riffs before Wietse Meys takes a couple of soulful choruses on tenor accompanied by guitar, bass and drums. Boppy unison trombone, baritone, guitar and bass riffs follow and then van Ruller stretches out and is joined by the full band before an elaborate ending.

All the arrangements are like this: elaborate and clever, full of contrast and variety but never fussy. The band has a bluesy swagger exemplified by Raincheck where gospelly electric piano from Ewout Pierreux adds colour, van Ruller digs in and there is some full-throated shouting from the brass. Other felicities include a rocky, Brad Mehldau-like vamp intro and outro to Chelsea Bridge, where van Ruller plays the theme beautifully, fiery alto from Bruno Vansina on a brisk Johnny Come Lately, and the leader’s trombone, bluesy guitar from van Ruller and the shouting ensemble on a witty and miraculously unhackneyed Satin Doll.

LINK: Rebirth:collective website 
Raincheck On Video


ROUND-UP: April Jazz - Thirtieth Anniversary - in Tapiola (Finland)

Joey de Francesco Trio at April Jazz 2016.
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

April Jazz, Thirtieth Anniversary Festival
(Tapiola, Finland, 20th-26th April, 2016. Round-up report and photos by Ralf Dombrowski*)

These days, as Director of April Jazz Matti Lappalainen explained, it would be impossible to put on a concert like the one they had with Ray Charles in the late 90s. There were substantial sponsors back then, there was an indoor sports stadium they could use, and much else was different too. There might be regrets, but there can certainly be no cause for complaint, because the April Jazz Festival in Tapiola, the cultural quarter of the city of Espoo, has just celebrated its thirtieth year in existence.

It is something of a miracle that it has prospered for so long, particularly since story of how it all began is so curious. Matti's predecessor as Artistic Director was a big band enthusiast with almost exactly the same name - Martti Lappalainen. In the 1980's Martti had wanted to build the profile of his jazz orchestra, and also to attract guests to Finland's second largest city. His grasp of English was minimal, but he somehow succeeded before long in getting the name of the Espoo Big Band on to the list of performers at the festival in Montreux, and also in attracting luminaries sucn as Chick Corea and Dave Brubeck to make the journey up to the northernmost shores of the Baltic Sea.

Espoo Big Band
Photo Credit: Ralf Dombrowski

And that is how the cultural centre of Tapiola put itself firmly on the map, with an event which very few other towns in Finland can offer: a jazz festival now replete with its own proud history. For the thirtieth anniversary programme, Lappalainen continued on the path he has followed for quite a few years, and invited bands which go beyond the mainstream of jazz, but are nevertheless sufficiently well-known to lure audiences into the halls.

Robert Glasper and Derrick Hodge
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Robert Glasper, for example, was there with his Experiment Quartet. One's attention is drawn in the group to the saxophonist and singer Casey Benjamin, and Glasper also has a powerfully grooving rhythm team. Stylistically their programme was reminiscent of George Duke, but from the point of view of emotion it seemed leaden. While their set could not be described as a revelation, there were moments when Glasper was able to make the rest of the group hold back, when gave his keyboard more space and prominence. Those were times when an authentic sound came through, a concept of urban jazz which is in touch with the times we live in.

Other bands were dealing with the tradition, and in their own different ways. Hammond organist Joey De Francesco was rounding off his European tour at April Jazz with a celebratory last gig, to which he brought humour, and modern swing veering over into soul, in a trio whose art is based around the compelling way in which its members communicate with each other. The hosts, the Espoo Big Band set about a joyous and anarchic deconstruction of the concept of a jazz orchestra, bringing all kinds of unfamiliar structural elements to the large ensemble - three electric guitars and a theremin, for example, and much else besides.

José James
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Vocalist José James gave a wonderful concert, drawing on his soul roots, but also going beyond them. By adding an amalgam of spoken word and hiphop, what resulted was an incredibly vivid combination of the jazz heritage and the club dance-floor.

April Jazz has a great momentum going, and Matti Lappalainen has a long list of reasons to be cheerful. A fourth decade? Bring it on.

(*) Ralf's original German will appear in the Jazzzeitung


REVIEW-ESSAY: (2 of 3) Anthony Braxton – Quintet (Tristano) 2014 by Alexander Hawkins

Anthony Braxton – Quintet (Tristano) 2014
New Braxton House NBH905. Seven CDs. Review-Essay by Alexander Hawkins)

This second of three review-essays in which pianist/composer Alexander Hawkins considers recent major works by Anthony Braxton in depth:

Anthony Braxton’s output as a composer is prodigious and revolutionary; but it’s only an unrealistic and romanticised idea of genius which regards it as a something wholly originating within the individual. Surely the idiosyncratic spark is indeed necessary, but it finds its fullest realisation only in tandem with a deep assimilation and synthesis of context and ‘tradition’ (whatever that politically loaded term might mean in the jazz sphere).

That Braxton acknowledges debts is partially evidenced by the myriad dedications of his compositions. Composition No. 8, for instance, includes dedicatees ranging from John Cage (Composition No. 8(e)) to Cecil Taylor (Composition No. 8(f)), and from Bobby Fisher (Composition No. 8(i)) to Buckminster Fuller (Composition No. 8(j)). But homage is more explicit in a number of album-length explorations of various composers’ work dotted throughout his discography: take, for instance, the music of Andrew Hill in Nine Compositions (Hill) 2000, or of Thelonious Monk in Six Monk’s Compositions (1987).

Braxton has in fact already ‘covered’ Lennie Tristano at album length: on the wonderful Eight (+1) Tristano Compositions 1989 for Warne Marsh (artwork below), and the somewhat ill-starred Quintet (Tristano) 1997, the tale of which is recounted in the liner notes to this new set. His admiration for Tristano (as well as the likes of Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz) is well documented, and in the contemporary climate, in which the music of this ‘school’ is so widely lionised (including second-hand through a generation of players strongly indebted to the likes of Mark Turner), it is interesting to recall the younger Braxton, on routinely expressing his admiration for this music, being widely met with both consternation and considerable disapprobation. It was clearly the case for some that the white Tristano’s ‘avant-garde’ – caricatured (even if these ideas were relevant in some measure) as rational, cool and detached – was a different thing than the avant-garde with which an African-American ‘should’ (who knew that there were norms to creativity?) be concerning himself. This was only one offensive stereotype among many to which Braxton and others were subjected, and which he addressed – among countless other subjects – in his three volume philosophical treatise, the Tri-Axium Writings. (Braxton the iconoclast again: since when did musicians write about the music and the world, unless in orthodox autobiographical form?) In fact, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Tristano himself was widely met with consternation and disapprobation for various reasons throughout his career; and various parallels with Braxton’s experience are brilliantly teased out by Kevin Whitehead in his liner notes to this set.

Braxton’s approach to the ‘tribute’ album goes to the heart of thinking about ‘the tradition’. He is a musician for whom the tradition is innovation rather than simply the preservation of museum pieces. We don’t hear Monk critiqued for misunderstanding the stride tradition, despite the fact that his striding on something like Lulu’s Back in Town really isn’t how James P. Johnson would have done it. In fact, he honours the tradition because his striding isn’t how James P. would have done it. As it is, Braxton’s thinking about musical tradition is particularly sophisticated, and cuts through much of the bluster which occurs when the ‘tradition’ discussion periodically surfaces: for him, a healthy musical ecology is one where there is some kind of equilibrium between the ‘restructuralists’ (the handful-in-a-lifetime ‘game-changers’), the ‘stylists’ (those who have a recognisably personal take on an established current of language), and – yes – the ‘traditionalists’ (those who are most interested in the faithful recreation of an existing language).

Traditionalism as such isn’t Braxton’s especial concern, and his albums of other composers’ music bear this out. He captures some kind of an essence of the composer’s contribution (how tiresome to hear someone on a Monk tune, for instance, play a generic ‘rhythm changes’ solo rather than actually playing the implications of Rhythm-a-Ning, or whatever), whilst at the same time explicitly doing so in his own voice.

Which leads to one of the salient points of this particular collection. Whilst carrying Tristano’s name in its title, the set in fact also contains the compositions of various Tristano descendants/acolotyes/partners in crime: from the more fêted (Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh) to the brilliant but far less heralded musicians such as Ronnie Ball, Billy Bauer, Connie Crothers and Sal Mosca. And with the likes of Konitz and Marsh on the table, one might have expected Braxton to play saxophones here; but instead, he helms the quintet from the piano.

Braxton does have history with the piano, besides having written extensively for the instrument (Composition No. 1, no less, is a piano piece): he actually plays it briefly as far back as the duo album with Joseph Jarman, Together Alone, whilst there are also several CDs' worth of his playing from 1994 and 1995, (including Piano Quartet, Yoshi's 1994 - image above). His style at first blush appears to be an interesting one with which to approach Tristano-school music. He very rarely makes use of single-note lines, instead favouring a dense, dark, chordal approach: I’m put in mind of Mal Waldron, as well as the orchestral approach of AACM pianists such as Muhal Richard Abrams. In the way you sense Braxton thinking his way around the instrument, Charles Mingus’ piano playing is also recalled (this can be heard perhaps most explicitly on the album Solo Piano (Standards) 1995, on which it’s interesting to note the presence of compositions by both Mingus and Waldron). If the standard conception of the Konitz, Marsh and Tristano school texturally speaking is as linear and contrapuntal – strands woven into a fabric – Braxton tends to be more interested in carving out and reconfiguring blocks of colour: he’s generally playing at a Rubik’s Cube, rather than a tapestry. But it’s worth noting that this traditional characterisation of Tristano’s music is only partly accurate: whilst the groups as a whole tended texturally towards the linear, as a pianist, he was never afraid of chording. Watch, for instance, this solo recital from Copenhagen, and the famous single lines don’t appear until after the quarter-hour mark; and even then, their presence is only relatively fleeting. The predominant texture is very much homophonic, in a similar way to Braxton’s. Similar too is the density of the chording: both Tristano and Braxton frequently crowd a lot of notes into close quarters in their respective voicings (Dave Brubeck is another kindred spirit in this respect). Listen to Braxton playing on a very familiar set of chord changes (of which there are many among the contrafacts in this set: the likes of Cherokee, Indiana, and What is This Thing Called Love?), and it’s not hard to trace the contours of the harmony, which is clearly outlined, even if it is occasionally buried deep.

Rhythmically, the concepts of Braxton and Tristano diverge, and yet again, share interesting kinships. Tristano’s touch can be almost ruthlessly even, especially at faster tempi (it sounds very different, of course, but this is something which I also love about Hampton Hawes’ approach to the keyboard), and his lines are almost always rhythmically very decisive. They are also famously (dis-)‘placed’ in interesting ways within the bar. Braxton’s rhythmic sensibility is different, although no less treacherous. His sound is often frequently characterised by a playfulness (something which pervades many aspects of his work more generally) – he’ll stalk a chord in a way similar to how Misha Mengelberg might; and similarly to Misha, may or may not pounce (though again, this difference between Braxton and Tristano shouldn’t be overplayed: as the Copenhagen solo illustrates nicely, the artful stutter can also be found in the latter’s vocabulary.)

There are also macro-level parallels between the Tristano and Braxton senses of time. Simultaneity of musical events – a central element of Braxton’s language – is certainly a cousin of the extreme polyrhythmic approach deployed by Tristano in his seminal Turkish Mambo. Tristano also made use of multi-tracking himself (e.g. Descent into the Maelstrom), as Braxton did on a January 2nd 1971 recording of Composition No. 16. And Tristano’s ‘after the event’ manipulation of the sound source – such as in the speeding up of the basic tracks of Line Up, or in his collaged Requiem – has parallels in the Supercollider algorithms Braxton has derived for the processing of live audio in his Diamond Curtain Wall Music. [Here is an excellent in-depth account of Tristano and studio manipulation.]

In their most free-flowing incarnations, Tristano groups often achieved a rhythmic flexibility and daring such that the soloists in particular seemed to ‘take off’ and float freely, in some way parallel to the tune. Something similar could be said for the melodic language, which (in part due to the placement of phrases in unpredictable places within the bar) often seemed gently to decouple itself from the underlying harmony. The music was shot through with beguiling moments spent in the inside-outside frontier towns (since I’m sitting writing this on an aeroplane: like that moment during take-off when you’re not quite sure whether or not the wheels are still in contact with the runway.)

The quintet on this set often amplifies this approach, undertaking even more prolonged expeditions to the outside, making the still-almost-imperceptible returns to harmony/explicit time/explicit structure particularly thrilling. But for such a venture to be a success, the players need not only to be conceptually, but also technically, equipped: and Jackson Moore, Eivind Opsvik, Mike Szekely and André Vida all have disarming facility at negotiating the inside/outside traditions/transitions: both linguistic (such as gradually leaving the pulse or harmonic anchors behind) and formal (such as moving between ‘jazz’ norms of turn-taking and soloing/comping and the often different norms of collective abstraction).

The unit also feels free not to have to pull the same way at the same time. There are many wonderful passages where the bass and drums may be dealing with abstract, ‘pulse’ playing, whilst the horns are swinging their way through some knotty head or other (take, for example, the opening of 317 East 32nd Street), or where a horn player has slyly dodged the piste markers whilst the rhythm section still holds down the matrix of the song. This is true togetherness within an ensemble: where the empathy is such that the members don’t feel the need to be doing the same thing at the same time, in the knowledge that there is still a common endeavour to ensure coherence.

Where do all the different approaches come from? Traditionally we have improvised melody within the harmonic and rhythmic parameters of a composition; but there are plenty of other parameters to play with. How about playing I Won’t Dance, just using the rhythmic information of the melody line? How about disregarding the rhythmic information of Stella By Starlight, butting all the notes up against one another, and treating them as a tone row? How about ignoring technical musical parameters, but instead playing off something suggestive in either the title or the lyrics to a tune? How about not jettisoning anything, but instead introducing something – maybe locking-in some Language Music (say, trills), and then playing Marionette (a bit like playing Scrabble, but with only adjectives allowed)? Not that these need necessarily be conscious decisions: but part of the business of practice is to facilitate spontaneous, improvised manifestations of such behaviours come the time for performance.

Lennie Tristano and a small group in 1947
Photo credit: William P. Gottlieb/ Public Domain

Back to that caricature of the Tristano school as unduly rational. It’s understandable in a sense: we occasionally hear stories of Tristano practice regimes, such as learning to play a particular phrase beginning variously on each quaver within the bar. But it’s important not to underplay a very dream-like quality to some of the music. Think of the airiness of Konitz’s tone; think of the feeling of textural spaciousness when tenor and alto play those heads at the octave; think of the giddy yet nevertheless completely relaxed rhythmic contortions of those melodies; think of the way those heads realise the sound of surprise, whilst almost always tracking among the most standard of standard sets of chord changes; think of how the time seems warped by tunes taken really quite up-tempo nevertheless feeling lazy, and at slower tempi, of the improbable numbers of notes crammed into beats or across groups of beats.

The reed players here, Moore and Vida, are absolutely their own men, but especially when on alto and tenor respectively, definitely recall Konitz (lighter, airier) and Marsh (light, but with an occasional thicker, throatier undercurrent); a sense heightened by their rapport, which is now far more developed than on the 1997 session. Their playing also displays the influence of Konitz and Marsh on Braxton the saxophonist (especially tonally, and in the melodic contours) as well as of Braxton’s distinctive take on the language (in particular, through his very personal way with saxophone articulation). But as multi-instrumentalists, they also have the wherewithal to take us deeper into the surreal and dreamlike than we go on the original recordings: consider the wonderful way our perceptions are distorted when we hear what our brain has logged from the original soundworld as something which would probably be played on alto and tenor instead as a line shared by an alto and a bass saxophone (as on the trio take of Ice Cream Konitz, the final track in the set) or by baritone and contrabass saxophone (as on the marvellously brawling trio rendition of Lennie Bird, where the bass is effectively walking in the tessitura between the two horns; listen out also for the none-too-obvious final minute of the performance, which ends up with duetting soprano and sopranino saxophones).

If this is as though things have been pitch-shifted, we are also gently disorientated by time-shifting: the quintet will often play the material at subtly different speeds than the familiar older recordings. Again, it’s very true that those recordings themselves were perfectly capable of doing ‘woozy’ (take something like No Figs), but listen to the weirder-because-it’s-so-subtle effect here of playing a tune such as Wow that little bit slower than we’re used to hearing it.

One final reflection: we refer a lot to the Tristano ‘school’; and although there’s no need to define it, we (think we) know it when we hear it. Although recently retired, Braxton was a long-time teacher too, at the likes of Mills College, and most recently, Wesleyan. How can we identify ‘school of Braxton’? I don’t think we necessarily know it when we hear it – consider the very different music made as bandleaders by former students of his such as Mary Halvorson and Tyshawn Sorey (none of this is even to mention the countless musicians whom he has mentored ‘on the stand’, outside the academy). But this points to another crucial aspect of Braxton’s contribution to creativity, and one also borne out in the nature of this particular box set: the message is to take all the lessons you can, but ultimately, to do it your own way.

LINKS: Review-essay 1st of 3, on Anthony Braxton's 3 Compositions (EEMHM ) 2011
Review-Essay 3rd of 3, on Trillium J: The Non-Unconfessionables (Composition No. 380)