REVIEW: George Benson plus Polly Gibbons at the Royal Albert Hall

George Benson. Photo credit: Paul Wood

George Benson/Polly Gibbons
(Royal Albert Hall, Tuesday 28 June 2016. Review by Mark McKergow)

Smart and sassy vocalist Polly Gibbons is not a new face on the London jazz scene, but having signed with US-based Resonance Records, and recorded her latest album Many Faces Of Love in LA, and opening for George Benson at the Royal Albert Hall, there are plenty of signs that her career is gathering momentum. Support slots are never easy: the Benson fans were quite happy to chat away as they waited for the main attraction – but when she swayed onto the stage for the swinging bluesy opener Please Send Me Someone To Love it was evident that Gibbons was not fazed in the slightest.

Polly Gibbons has great style, with clear delivery, which pays dividends in the cavernous spaces of the RAH. Her performance overflowed with personality, and with commitment to the material. After the opening number she was straight into connecting with the audience by enthusing about the upcoming headliner, and launched into the slightly Benson-ish groove of That’s Enough For Me – an excellent choice which brought even more response and applause.

Gibbons clearly has a great relationship with keyboardist James Pearson, and his trio (with Tim Thornton, double bass and Chris Draper, drums) gave great support. The set showed great variation and pacing, with slow ballad Since I Fell For You moving into the out-and-out swing of Sarah Vaughan’s Don’t Be On The Outside. A nice diversion into an arrangement of Oh What A Beautiful Morning (complete with a story about performing it in Oklahoma, USA) moved into Polly’s own gospel-tinged Midnight Prayer from her My Own Company album (co-written with James Pearson). The trio helped get everyone clapping along with the closing Sun Gonna Shine On My Back Door and an engaging set was over.

Gibbons certainly has the personality to succeed in these settings, and listening to her open up with soul and passion is a joyous experience. It takes the sound a long time to get to the back of the RAH, so slowing down a bit in the between-song chat will help her to take even more command of the stage. I don’t think the Benson fans were familiar with her at the outset, but they are now.

George Benson took the stage to an ecstatic reception from the now-packed auditorium, and delivered a hits heavy selection from his extensive back-catalogue. Now well into his 70s, Benson still managed to pack a punch with his engaging brand of jazzy grooving soul. As a 10-time Grammy award winner Benson has little left to prove, but he’s still right on the money, striding on stage with his guitar and driving many of the audience to shrieks of delight. His 1976 breakthrough single Breezin’ appeared early in the set (a Bobby Womack tune, beloved of Carlos Santana in his jazzy early 70’s phase) before parking the guitar for a stroll through sexy and sultry numbers like Lady Love Me (One More Time), Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You and Turn Your Love Around.

Benson’s band was, as one would expect, right on the money too. Keyboardist and MD David Garfield was particularly impressive – directing the ensemble with tiny glances and eyebrow tweaks while watching Benson like a hawk and clearly enjoying every minute of it. After a sequence of hits and a brief conflab with the band (apparently varying his set list), Benson picked up his guitar again and showed his legendary scat-and-pick chops, keeping up with his own voice with great virtuosity. An inch-perfect Moody’s Mood followed, the vocalese of Eddie Jefferson’s take on James Moody’s famous solo flowing smoothly and precisely.

Nature Boy, a nod back to Benson’s forerunner Nat Cole, from Benson’s albums In Flight and Inspiration, was similarly spot-on. The title track brought the main show to an end before the band reappeared, visibly excited to be at the Albert Hall and taking videos of the cheering crowd, and the classic On Broadway brought the evening to a close. George Benson is still strutting it, and even though his hip-grinding moves now have a faint sense of knowing self-parody, he seems to have plenty of juice in the tank.


CD REVIEW: Kenny Garrett - Do Your Dance!

Kenny Garrett - Do Your Dance!
(Mack Avenue. MAC1098. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Multi-instrumentalistKenny Garrett likes to make people dance, and on Do Your Dance! he wants people to do whatever dance they like. He's produced a record of largely optimistic, energetic music to help you along.

Two drummers help him out, Ronald Bruner on four tracks and McLenty Hunter on five, on four of which he's also joined by percussionist Rudy Bird. Vernell Brown plays piano and Corcoran Holt bass on all tracks bar one, Persian Steps, on which Garrett plays piano and flute. On most of the tunes Garrett plays alto sax, playing soprano only on one, Waltz (3 Sisters).

They are joined joined on Wheatgrass Shot (Straight to the Head) by rapper Mista Enz, son of co-producer Donald Brown. Over a opening piano rhythm, the rap feels integral to the music rather than something bolted on after the event. This is jazz, with spoken words. The jazz is good, too: it's not that the words are covering anything up.

Mista Enz has a few lines at the end of Do Your Dance!, too. Most of the tune is a rocky riff with an appropriately fast beat over which Garrett lays down a choppy solo. Then, a coda to the main tune, they slow down, Enz entreating us to dance.

Garrett seems to invoke his influences throughout this album. The first track, Philly, starts with some sombre piano chords before tearing into a fast hard bop piece worthy of Blakey, with whom Garrett played early in his career. It is hard not hear Coltrane in Garrett's saxophone here, and Vernell Brown sounds uncannily like McCoy Tyner, who coincidentally came from Philadelphia.

The Coltrane influence is also present in Chasing the Wind, the closing track. This is a fast tune reminiscent of Giant Steps or Miles Davis' Seven Steps to Heaven, and Garrett plays it with speed and fluency, producing a dazzling cascade of notes. Bruner keeps his cymbals swinging, driving the rhythm forward; Vernell Brown lays down another exciting piano solo. A great hardbop finish!

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.


PREVIEW: Grand Union Orchestra Jelly Roll Soul Residency and Band off the Wall street band (Vortex July 8-10)

Tony Haynes

Tony Haynes,who runs the Grand Union Orchestra, writes…

Sunday July 10th is the 75 th anniversary of the death of Jelly Roll Morton. This seemed worth celebrating, but how to avoid a literal, sentimental tribute? Jazz doesn’t stand still, it’s a music that constantly needs to reinvent itself. So instead, I’ve assembled over a dozen of the Grand Union Orchestra’s long-standing core musicians, and devised a programme from the GUO repertoire that effectively spans the globe over three days – a kind of journey from China and India, through Africa, South America and the Caribbean, and finishing up on the Mississippi Delta. This I hope will evoke someth ing of the sounds that inspired Morton, and capture his spirit as it lives on a hundred years later in East London, the New Orleans of the 21 st Century!

This is the stellar cast:

Zhu Xiao Meng (China) – gu zheng (Chinese harp)
Baluji Shrivastav (India) – sitar, dilruba
Yousuf Ali Khan (Bangladesh) – tabla, dholak
Claude Deppa (South Africa) – trumpet, African drums
Shanti Paul Jayasinha (Scotland/Sri Lanka) – trumpet, cello
Tony Kofi (Ghana) – alto and baritone saxophones
Louise Elliott (Australia) – tenor saxophone, flute
Harry Brown (England) – trombone
Daniel Louis (St Lucia) – steel pan
Gerry Hunt (England) – guitar, soprano saxophone
Andres Lafone (Uruguay) – bass guitar
Paul Clarvis (England) – drums
Maja Rivić (Croatia) – voice
Tony Haynes (England) piano/trombone, composer/arranger

We will play each night in various combinations on this programme:

We’re also launching a new community street band that weekend – Band Off The Wall. Inspired by the Hackney Peace Carnival Mural opposite Dalston station, all instruments and musical styles are welcome (details for sign-up below)


Friday July 8th: Bengal Tiger, Shanghai Dragon – based around the classical and folk music of China and South Asia, with virtuoso performmers and plenty of startling improvisation!

Saturday July 9th: From African Shores to the New World – the migration of music, and particularly Yoruba culture, from West Africa to Latin-America and the Caribbean as a result of the Slave Trade.

Sunday July 10th: The Diamond King and the Voodoo Queen – all this ends up on the Mississippi delta in brassy arrangements and songs celebrating Morton and other legendary jazz musicians.

LINKS: Full programme booklet

Grand Union website / email is

Video of recent show

Band Off The Wall – details of the free open workshop Saturday July 9 th


RADIO: A round-up of Sebastian's six features for Jazz-Line-Up

Sebastian writes: 

Over the past fifteen months I have had the immense privilege to work with BBC producers Sushil Dade, Lindsay Pell and David Allison, and to devise and present six scripted features for BBC Radio  3's Jazz Line-Up, each lasting between fifteen and twenty minutes. They gave me a wonderful brief to "take us out of the studio and tell us a story." 

I have ideas for quite a few more, bu since there is a pause at the moment, it seemed like a good moment to round up the topics I have covered. The most recent three are available online, and links are included below

Sat 25 Apr 2015

Twenty-Five years of Malcolm Creese's Audio B Record label - interviews with Malcolm Creese and Tim Garland. 

Sat 20 Jun 2015

St Ives Jazz Club - interviews with Ralph Freeman and Marcus Vergette 

Sat 22 Aug 2015

Jazz and Sport - interviews with Graham Reid and Nina Ferro 
(repeated Sat 30 Jan 2016)

Sat 31 Oct 2015

  The Birmingham scene - interviews included Jeremy Price and Bryan Corbett
(Repeated 27th Feb 2016)

6 Feb 2016

  Four places in the UK which have produced cohorts of emerging jazz musicians
- Interviews with Laura Jurd and Gwyneth Herbert, Kit Downes and George Crowley, Reuben Fowler and Matt Robinson, and Kim Macari and Calum Gourlay

Sat 14 May 2016 / repeated 2nd July

Jazz and Folk connections - interviews with Huw Warren, Tony Woods, Barb Jungr and Laurence Hobgood 


REVIEW: Andy Sheppard / John Edwards / Eddie Prévost at Cafe Oto

Andy Sheppard at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Andy Sheppard / John Edwards / Eddie Prévost
(Cafe Oto, 27 June 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

There is a lyrical beauty to Andy Sheppard's playing which shone through in two glorious sets with leading lights of the jazz improvisation scene, percussionist Eddie Prévost and bassist, John Edwards, in the stripped-back intimacy of Cafe Oto.

Eddie Prévost, prominent improvising practitioner and theoretician, was the architect of this recital which kick starts a continuation of his live series of Meetings with Remarkable Saxophonists, that has to date involved John Butcher, Evan Parker, Jason Yarde and Bertrand Danzler, with bassists, including Edwards, completing the trio format. Each trio has been recorded and issued on CD by Prévost's Matchless Recordings label and the series will continue down at Eclectic in the autumn when he teams up with Trevor Watts.

Prévost recounted how he and Sheppard met thirty years ago, 'when we both had black hair!' and agreed that they should get together to perform, yet it had taken all that time to elapse and then a year to organise what is their first ever concert together - and being entirely improvised, Prévost, quietly confident of the trio's combined creativity, admitted he was not sure quite what might happen.

Pooling such a wealth of experience, talent and goodwill, any glimmer of uncertainty was brushed aside from the off. The trio gelled remarkably intuitively with poise, balance and fluidity, allowing space for Sheppard's softly focused lyricism to emerge on both soprano and tenor saxes, with Edwards and Prévost shaping a constantly mobile, yet structured ruckus at its foundation.

With Sheppard digging deep to offer streams of exquisite, melodic extemporisations, the trio's interplay took on the feel of an extended composition, with micro-niches of rhythmic and melodic statement emerging and evolving, all the more impressive for being 'on the fly'. Prévost's refined jazz chops and inventive powers were combined with understated authority to bring out brightly burnished beats, metallic rushes and low echoing resonances. Edwards, 'a force of nature', as Prévost described him, applied lateral thinking to his treatment of the stand-up bass, touching the end of the bow to the fingerboard, slapping not only the strings but also its body, and extracting, in contrast, the most delicate of tones and harmonics in response to Sheppard's spiritually-inflected phrasing and abstract excursions.

With the mix of a rhythmic groove that formed the core of a second set sequence and Sheppard's sustained high pitches, fluttering flights and drizzled deviations, flourishes of invention from all three continually refreshed the conversation to offer a most generous dialogue which, from the smiles of the performers and audience alike, hit the spot all round. And, it should be added, that it was a particular treat to see Sheppard in the low-key setting of Cafe Oto in such well-attuned company - with no frills, no distractions, and no formal expectations, very much in his element.


PREVIEW: Tom Challenger and Kit Downes in Freedom and Control (July 6th)

The saxophone and organ (in this case harmonium) duo of Tom Challenger and Kit Downes has been developing in the past two years, most recently working in Suffolk churches as part of the Aldeburgh Festival. They will be guests at a multi-media new music evening at the Rose Lipman Building (address below). Tom Challenger writes:

"Starting out as a saxophone and organ duo, our working processes throughout our collaboration has been to approach compositional outcomes by improvising. Usually starting with no musical direction, our limits (and usually, the most defining features) are numerous: The space we play in, alongside the Organ that inhabits that space; The limits of breath versus machine; the role of a present or non-present audience; our individual improvisatory limits, be them emotional or intellectual.

Performing our music and showcasing our processes at a festival that asks fundamental questions such as this will be an interesting scenario, hopefully one where both we as performers and those who listen will be able enter into dialogue and discussion on this subject"

There has been quite a bit of explanatory verbiage to describe the concept behind the evening. Helpful or not, here goes:

"A night of new music from Guildhall School ensembles and artists, exploring ideas around Freedom and Control in music and in our lives.

Musicians have long used experimental and improvised music to test the lines between Freedom and Control – whether it's punks rebelling against the state or electronic artists such as Holly Herndon studying surveillance online. In society, these themes resonate with us all; from questions around the privacy of our data to debates about our border controls.

In Curious Gig, musicians and artists use these ideas and present them as experimental performances, installations and inter-disciplinary pieces. 

Freedom and Control are the motors that spin the wheel of musical expression. From before the sound to after it, we are all collectively and individually affected by human experience, actions, ideas and visions. To what extent are we passengers or drivers when we interact with others? When - or even - do we morph between the two? Understanding is key to our ability to manipulate freedom and control, and thus interact universally, now."

Address : Rose Lipman Building   43 De Beauvoir Rd, London N1 5SQ
7 30 pm on Weds 6th July 2016, Part of Curious 2016
Admission is free but tickets need booking HERE


NEWS: World Heart Beat Academy benefit night at the 606 (4th July)

The World Heart Beat Music Academy, a charity based in Wandsworth giving musical opportunities to children, and founded by Sahana Gero in 2012, is having a fundraiser at the 606 on Monday 4th July.

A key point about the Academy is the inclusiveness of its organisation. It coaches music form all over the world, and it gives access to under-privileged families: “Regardless of background or ability…every child has access to the best musicians and top industry professionals in this extraordinary music academy.” wrote Michael Csanyi-Wills, composer in residence at the Welsh Sinfonia.

On July 4th there will be a set from the students at the Academy, directed by Trevor Watkis. The headliners playing a set will be the Julian Joseph Trio. There is likely to be a Brazilian theme, in celebration of the Olympics.

Steve Rubie says about the Academy: “World Heart Beat is not just important to the musical life of London – it’s essential.”

Quoting the blurb: "All entry fees to the 606 Club from this event will go towards funding the World Heart Beat jazz programme, giving young people the opportunity to learn from the artists at the forefront of British jazz."



INTERVIEW: Joanna Wallfisch (New CD Gardens In My Mind (Sunnyside Records)

Joanna Wallfisch

"The most adventurous project yet" is how London-born, New York-based vocalist JOANNA WALLFISCH describes her third album "Gardens In My Mind" (Sunnyside), with pianist Dan Tepfer and the Sacconi String Quartet, which stemmed from a Salisbury Festival commission, and was recorded last year in Wyastone, Monmouthshire. Sebastian found out more: 

LondonJazz News: You moved from London to Brooklyn a few years ago....

Joanna Wallfisch: I moved to New York to London in September 2012, pretty much as soon as I graduated from Guildhall, though I'd already started my love affair with the city in April 2011.

LJN: Is the US home now?

JW: New York is home, that's for sure. I, as do many others, see New York almost as its own country outside of the US. I am starting to get a feel for the LA scene as well, and I travel there a few times a year to connect with producers and songwriters on the commercial side of things, which is fascinating and a lot of fun for me... but New York is where my heart really belongs. 

LJN: Have you found what you were looking for / expecting to find in America - or mostly different things you never imagined ?

JW: I know I moved to New York because it gave me that feeling of 'anything is possible'. I guess I was looking for something - an adventure. I certainly found that. But, as with adventures, and as an adventurer, they don't really have a finishing point, so I would say that I am still very much looking. New York certainly keeps that carrot dangling in front of your nose, and if you have the patience, determination and touch of madness that can endure the perpetual and unquenchable thirst of that, then its a great place to be. I was looking for inspiration, and I certainly found that. I was looking for a new community, and I found that too. I was looking for an opportunity to grow musically and personally... and I believe have, though that is a lifetime's work.

LJN: This is your third record I believe ?

JW: Yes, since my first visit to New York in 2011 I have written and produced three full length albums, and I am now in the process of recording my fourth. The first, Wild Swan, was certainly, as they say, my "freshman" record, and very much a jazz vocal record. The second, The Origin of Adjustable Things (Sunnyside Records), was a move forward into the 'singer-songwriter' realm, the songs a direct result of the first two years of my time in New York. The third, and current project Gardens In My Mind (Sunnyside), is yet a new evolution, and for me possibly the most adventurous project yet, showcasing new songs and my own arrangements for string quartet and piano. The project I am working on now is what I would call my first 'solo project'... details to be revealed in another conversation... 

LJN: How did this record come into being?

JW: Well, the record came about totally serendipitously after being commissioned by The Salisbury Festival to arrange my music for and collaborate with the Sacconi Quartet, and as a result, the songs do have a certain flavor and story to them.

LJN: Can you describe what you mean by that?

JW: All my songs are based on true and personal stories. You will hear that many revolve around relationships and love, but also journeying and dreaming, and some even have a sense of humour. The title track was directly inspired by the view outside my old apartment window - "there's a brick wall outside my window' - possibly the simplest and most banal, unpoetic lyric I've ever put in a song. But hey, I'm just telling it how it is man. Then you have Moons of Jupiter, which, though it uses much more poetic language, is also a very plain telling of a true story, this time of love and a telescope (I really do have a telescope, through which you can see the moons of Jupiter from Brooklyn!). I try to be as honest as I can in my songs, and I find that life is a great informer. As Joni Mitchell has said, "a lot of it (songwriting) is being open... as you allow yourself to experience."

LJN: You mentioned Joni Mitchell - you have two contrasting takes on a song of hers. What's the reason? 

JW: Well, the full answer to this is that the string quartet arrangement came from a version I had originally created with my loop pedal, using just my voice to layer up harmonies to accompany the lead vocal. During the string arrangement process I took my vocal ideas and transcribed them, and then elaborated on them for the quartet. However, I still felt that the a cappella version was still fundamental to not only the arrangement but to the way I felt about and interpreted the song. It is a song about being on an endless journey, and I too feel that "I am on a lonely road, and I am traveling, traveling, traveling"... to start and end this record with these two versions was my way of saying that the journey has really only just begun.

LJN: So is the album a journey, then.  Which implies that one should listen to it straight through ?

JW: Yes. I would definitely advise listening straight through. The story begins with Moons of Jupiter which tells a tale of love beginning and of love ending. The song itself concludes with a cataclysmic dance between the piano and string quartet, denoting the universe exploding, and in its wake is the next song, my cover of Joni Mitchell's All I Want. I chose this song because it is about love, journeying and the never ending search for 'the key', and I conclude the whole album with an a cappella reprise of the same song. Following this, the other songs start unveiling what happens all along the way of this journey. The middle of the album is gently punctuated with my piece 'Patience', which behaves as a sort of meditation on the first act, before the second begins. In a way I see this album as of one of those vivid dreams that you wake from half way through, but are able to go straight back into it again even after waking. 

LJN: The promo video with the flowers - it's hard to work out if you're having fun or getting stressed or both or neither - what's the idea?

JW: Ha ha! I am having a ball!! I mean, lying on a hard floor for eight hours being painted and photographed petal by petal is no mean feat. But I was incredibly excited to bring my crazy idea to life, with the help of my very talented and equally crazy friends. It all came together remarkably easily. The idea of this video came to me from the title of the album... I wanted to create a video where it seemed as if the garden was literally growing out from the inside of my mind. I think my background in fine art helped a lot with the execution and editing of this video... the vast amount of meticulous work that had to go into it was more enticing than daunting, and it also gave me a chance to start revealing the kind of artist I really am... I like to be playful, and I enjoy bringing what is in my imagination to life, without limit or question.

LJN: Ukuleles - are they a fashion or here to stay? You've certainly seem to keep yours within reach

You know, I think the ukulele 'thing' is kind of great. For me it's been a life changer. The uke has enabled me to write a tome of songs, tour, hang upside-down from a trapeze whilst playing and singing, and there is a je ne sais quoi about the instrument - it's a conversation piece. Its quirky, cute and even a little bit sexy. They are pretty great little instruments, and if you have a high quality Uke, it can sound totally beautiful. I have started experimenting with using octave and reverb pedals with mine, which enables me to change the tonality completely, from sounding like a harp to sounding like a guitar to even sounding like a church organ. It gives me solo shows much more breadth and I love it.

LJN: You couldn't have got a better string quartet than the Sacconis....

JW: I thank Toby Smith, the programmer for the Salisbury Festival, for that! He invited me to perform at the Salisbury Festival, and then had the brilliant idea of joining forces with the Sacconis. I have also known the quartet for many years personally from frequenting the International Music Seminar in Prussia Cove, Cornwall. I am very much looking forward to working with them again in November during the London Jazz Festival - November 19th, at The Forge Venue - and also in the summer of 2017. 

LJN: The carrousel thing [recording of a voicemail message from France]  is definitely a surprise!

JW: Oh yes!! I must thank my dear friend Marc Petit for this one. He is the truest artist I have ever met. A poet and a sculptor, he writes me the most beautiful letters which arrive sometimes out of the blue. One day in 2014, after he'd heard the very first demo of my song Brighton Beach, he wrote me a letter expressing his feelings about it. His words were so touching and inspiring to me I replied asking if he would mind recording himself saying the very same thing, since the sound of his voice is like no other. A little while later I received his message, clucking chickens et al. He gave me permission to use it as the perfect prelude to my song. 

LJN: In what ways has your songwriting moved on since your (previous) duo album?

JW: Well, since there are songs on the new album that originally appeared on my duo record with Dan Tepfer there was some amount of rethinking. But to be honest, I had always heard these songs with some kind of lush orchestration, and so when I was invited by Toby Smith to write for quartet I felt that my chance to realize these songs fully had arrived. None of the songs are co-written. All lyrics, melody and arrangements are completely my own. Dan arranged strings for four of the 14 tracks on the record. I would say that I am quite an autonomous songwriter, however both my duo record, and this one, Dan acted as a collaborator and a creative support. And as far as how my songwriting has moved on since my duo record, well -- as I said before, I write from life and so as my life evolves, so do my songs. (pp.)

Gardens In My Mind is released on July 22nd on Sunnyside Records. Pre-Order HERE and receive an immediate download of the title track.


CD REVIEW: Miles Davis and Robert Glasper - Everything’s Beautiful

Miles Davis and Robert Glasper - Everything’s Beautiful
(Columbia/Blue Note/Legacy 88875157812). CD Review by Peter Jones

With the help of Miles’s nephew and erstwhile drummer, Vince Wilburn Jr, Robert Glasper was given permission to raid the Columbia vaults for the original master tapes of Miles Davis’s recordings over many years. The idea was to use the material as a starting point for these 11 new tracks, each one inspired by Miles, and featuring different vocalists, from Laura Mvula to Stevie Wonder, in a mixture of spoken word, rap and song.

On the opening track, Talking Shit, it’s the Prince of Darkness himself who provides the spoken vocal – snippets from the sessions for Jack Johnson, In A Silent Way and Nefertiti, combined with some looped Joe Zawinul piano from In A Silent Way. It could have been a dog’s breakfast, but it’s strangely lush and compelling. We move on to Ghetto Walkin’, a mellow, hip-hoppy tune taken from The Ghetto Walk, recorded for the In A Silent Way sessions, although not included on the original album. This track features the soulful vocal of Glasper’s old friend Bilal, segueing into They Can’t Hold Me Down with a rap from Illa J.

So far so pleasant, but it’s with Maiysha (So Long) that things really start to gel. This is a bossa nova version of a tune that appeared on the Miles compilation album Get Up With It in 1974. The original, a messy wah-wah organ and trumpet groove, has been cunningly augmented with lyrics and a vocal performance from Erykah Badu. The update improves on the original, whilst retaining Miles’s trumpet solo.

Violets started life as Bill Evans’s false start to Blue In Green, and Glasper has used it as a loop backing for the rapper Phonte, with a sweet vocal backing from 9th Wonder. The unearthly Little Church follows: it’s a track from Miles’s Live-Evil, re-imagined by futuristic Australian quartet Hiatus Kaiyote. The title of Mvula’s piece – Silence Is The Way – gives us a tiny clue about its origins, and with her meditative vocal harmony backing, it perfectly captures the minimalist darkness of the album which has inspired so much of the music on this new one.

The vocal group King (all female) were new to me, but with Song for Selim (from Live-Evil’s Selim) they have created a tune of dreamy beauty. Perhaps the weakest track is Milestones, featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow. Whereas the other musicians have been canny enough to choose relatively obscure tracks as their starting point, Muldrow went for something iconic, and her own version unfortunately suffers by comparison, losing the ferocious attack that made the original such a blast. I’m Leaving You is a straightahead funk groove featuring singer Ledisi that incorporates a chopped-up Lenny White drum pattern, and features none other than John Scofield scraping his pick along the guitar strings. The final track, Right On Brotha, contains a trumpet sample from Miles’s Right Off, with some classic harmonica wailing from Stevie Wonder.

It could have been a right old dog’s breakfast, as I mentioned earlier. Instead it’s a triumph of the modern psychedelic art, the entire collaborative project full of interesting musical ideas and drenched in swoony melody.


REVIEW: Man Overboard Quintet at Childerley Hall Nr Cambridge

Bringing the dancers out: Man Overboard
at Childerley Hall. L-R: Fiona Monbet, Jean-Marie Fagon
Louisa Jones, Dave O'Brien, Ewan Bleach

Man Overboard Quintet
(Childerley Hall Nr Cambridge, 24th June 2016. Review by Sebastian Scotney) 

Man Overboard
 Quintet has been an important part of the UK's major swing revival of the last few years, "the counter-revolution," as it was tellingly described by Brian Blain HERE, light-hearted music which appeals to heart and the feet of audiences right across the age spectrum. The band's two impeccable albums on the label Champs Hill have also done well (disclosure: I wrote the sleeve notes). A few months ago the band announced that violinist Thomas Gould's diary as a classical soloist and orchestral leader is simply too busy to permit him to accept regular dates with the band (interview from February below.) So this concert, in a welcoming barn with a well-stocked bar a few miles to the West of Cambridge, was an early opportunity to hear his successor, the French violinist Fiona Monbet.

Monbet is a dazzling and versatile player. Her jazz violin pedigree is impeccable, having studied and worked at various stages with perhaps the most complete and revered jazz violinist in France, Didier Lockwood. She has absorbed much of his aesthetic on the instrument, the infinite variety of his attack, the teasing delays, perfect tuning being subjected to bends, smears and up-or-down glissandi, flautando harmonics, ricochet bowing - the full works. But she has her own musical avenues to step down, with everything from echoes of Brahms to powerfully laid-back bluegrass and punchy rock violin. And even a turned-sauce quote from the Marseillaise.

This was an early gig for this new format of the band, but Monbet has stepped into a group driven by a generous and tireless engine room. Jean-Marie Fagon the bandleader is flawless on rhythm guitar and Dave O'Brien is always characterful and supportive, if occasionally slightly over-prominent in the sound mix last night. Vocalist Louisa Jones steps into the band for her vocal numbers, and her compelling stage and vocal presence have a delightful way of communicating directly to the audience in the room from the moment she walks on and starts singing.

The Fiona Monbet/Ewan Bleach melodic partnership is already working very well with the mutual listening, the to- and fro-ing and duetting all working well. Bleach now perhaps feels more comfortable stepping ouside of the chords and extending the invitation to Monbet to join him than he did with Thomas Gould, and Monbet accepts the challenge with considerable style and flair. Bleach himself makes an astonishingly versatile contribution to the band, switching at will to soprano sax a la Bechet, to alto sax. He found all the mysterious hues of the throat register of the clarinet in Lullaby of the Leaves and his solo vocal number was one of the highlights of the evening.

Childerley Hall is in open country, tucked away at the end of a 2-mile private road. It is popular as a wedding and function venue, and puts on just a few concerts each year. There were rumours last night that the November Cambridge Jazz Festival might be thinking of eloping out-of-town for an evening. The temptation to stray should be encouraged. The evening ended on a real high as, by then, everyone had clearly taken Man Overboard to its heart, in typically cautious English slow-adopter style. The barn audience gave the speedy closing numbers All of Me and What a Little Moonlight Can Do vociferous approval and a standing ovation.

The French members: Fiona Monbet and Jean-Marie Fagon 

LINKS: Interview with Jean-Marie Fagon from February 2016
Podcast Interview with Jean-Marie Fagon and Thomas Gould from 2013
Childerley Hall 
Man Overboard  Quintet


CD REVIEW: Andy Nowak Trio - Sorrow and the Phoenix

Andy Nowak Trio - Sorrow and the Phoenix
(Self-released. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Given jazz’s abundant constellations of piano trios, Bristol-based pianist Andy Nowak’s debut album Sorrow and the Phoenix sparkles impressively. With colleagues Spencer Brown (double bass) and Andy Tween (drums), this eight-track sequence of originals offers an increasingly attractive blend of crystalline serenity and snappy incisiveness.

Over the last decade or so, the trio has been gigging in South West England, as well as in London and across the Severn, in Wales. They’ve recently completed an Arts Council-supported 2016 tour, and what audiences will have heard is a creative focus redolent of, say, Frank Harrison, Roberto Olzer or Alexi Tuomarila. It’s that spirit which engages so, from the get-up-and-go sprightliness of opener First Light, characterised by crisp, high-line piano improvisation and slick rhythm section, to the sorrowful longing of In the Leaving, its themes of break-up achingly portrayed in Nowak’s close, chromatic chords, though also offering a hint of resolve in that same, lush weave, along with Andy Tween’s emphatic drums/percussion.

Raining in Bristol is cleverly pictorialised by persistent piano ostinati and ricocheting percussion, whilst Spencer Brown’s resonant bass adds much to one of Nowak’s memorable motifs – a syncopated, descending pattern suggesting torrents of water against a pane; and gently-waltzing So Far Away becomes emotionally restless, the pianist’s unpredictable, entangled journeyings akin to Esbjörn Svensson’s more introverted passages. Somehow that e.s.t. reference is carried through into Stop’s agitated busyness, Andy Nowak’s strong phrases in thirds so simple, yet effective – and again, he surprises by regularly and abruptly halting the animation, reflecting those pools of quiet we crave in delicate, shimmering interludes (such compositional details elevate these performances so well).

The elegance of Falling implies a light-swinging, falling-leaf descent; Nowak’s deft, technique is especially appealing here, demanding close attention to his precise, melodic articulation, amplified all the more by intuitive support from Brown and Tween. (We’ve Got To) Bring It Down resulted from a conversation with a friend about tradition versus creativity (“any one of us can be creative; and when we are, we bring it down and make it manifest for ourselves and others”). Here, Tween’s beautifully pulled-back, soulful groove seems to open up a different, still more adventurous aspect of this trio’s character (clav or pitch-bent synth easily imaginable!) – and Nowak again teases with unexpected compositional twists. Finally, the steadily rising positivity of title track Sorrow and the Phoenix, through leaping bass, fizzing percussion and bright, often rocked-tinged piano soloing, draws this fine recording to a close.

With a second album already in development, as well as a Cathedral gig booked at Brecon Jazz Weekend 2016 on 12 August, this is clearly a UK trio with much to offer. Let the music behind the album’s subtly spangled cover art transport you.

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


CD REVIEW: Remi Harris - In On The 2

Remi Harris - In On The 2 
 (Yardbird Arts. CD Review by Jeanie Barton)

This album feels live; from the fevered flicking of strings to the conversational improvisation, it was a shock to realise half way through it is actually a subtly layered studio record featuring only Remi Harris on the guitars alongside the ever fabulous Mike Green on double bass - essentially a duo!

Remi has been gaining more and more plaudits since I first met him at a festival I co-organised here in Nottingham in October 2014; most recently he has been selected by BBC Introducing, the PRS Foundation and Jamie Cullum to play at this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival! This hot, young guitar genius’ star is firmly in the ascendant.

His second album, In on The 2, is a collection of tunes he has enjoyed exploring live, which all have a personal meaning to him. The disk begins with The Beatles (Can’t Buy Me Love), whom he credits as the reason he fell in love with music as a child. While his style focuses predominantly around Gypsy swing, as tracks progress, he dips deeper into rock and flamenco. His chosen repertoire sits on standard foundations (Round Midnight, Cherokee and others) but the sound is in no way vintage. There are some interesting but not overt substitutions to take well known tunes outside their well-worn box.

Remi’s up tempo, wall of sound, virtuosic playing is simply jaw-dropping for a man still in his 20s, especially in Have You Met Miss Jones (a tribute to Joe Pass, which sounds like a one-take, un-layered solo) and in Putting On The Ritz with its mind boggling scales and syncopation. I particularly love his version of Bill Evan’s Waltz for Debby, dedicated to his jazz-loving Grandad Bob Harris. It starts in an ethereal, loose folk style - almost disappearing from earshot and then dancing back, once in a swing groove the chromatic counter melodies chase up and down with zest while chops provide anchoring percussion.

Sissy Strut seeps some funk into the Gypsy house, Odd Elegy by Dhafer Youssef wanders even further from the traditional into African grooves and time signatures and his rock heart spills over in Need Your Love So Bad by Fleetwood Mac.

Remi showcases impeccably what he likes to play most, and it's serendipitous that it is exactly what today’s listeners want to hear.

LINK: News story about the Jamie Cullum BBC Introducing Montreal Showcase


FEATURE / PREVIEW: Nancy Harms, (Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, 30 June)

Nancy Harms. Photo credit: Ken Shung

CORRECTION / UPDATE: The trio at the Elgar Room will be Bruno Heinen, Mark Lewandowski, and Adam Pache - Jeremy Siskind, who is on the album, and is mentioned in the article, will not be playing.

This month will see American jazz singer NANCY HARMS do her first ever solo concert in the UK, upstairs in the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on 30th June. Peter Coldham writes:

The concert will mark the release of Nancy Harms' third album, Ellington at Night, a collection of re-imaginings and reworkings of some of the composer’s most famous songs in trio and small ensemble settings.

From humble beginnings as a primary school teacher in Clara City, Minnesota, Harms did not take the conservatory route into jazz, but discovering a passion for singing, threw in teaching to head to Minneapolis to sing and record. Following her first two albums, In the Indigo (2009), and Dreams in Apartments (2010), she has now joined up with Jeremy Siskind, the unusual pianist-composer and self-avowed ‘finger-songwriter’ who romped to victory at the Nottingham International Jazz Piano Competition in 2012 with a take on Michael Jackson, among other offerings.( Link to Peter Coldham's review)

A few singers around today may be able to match Harms’s flexibility and range, with its whispery trebles. Cecile McLorin Salvant perhaps comes to mind as someone with the same cool poise and phrasing, who also still improvises as freely and flexibly as Harms does. But it’s hard to think of someone else who can combine all these skills with the subtle warmth and humour that seem to lie underneath all her singing.

Arrangements on the new album are Siskind’s and so display some of his flair for the humorous and unexpected in rarer Ellington tunes (such as Long, Strong and Consecutive, complete with stifled laugh at the end), and feel for the sentimental (Lost in Meditation). Her voice often finds the same the purity of tone she has achieved in previous recordings such in Midnight Sun, or the intimate longing she discovers in Never Let Me Go, in her superlative take on that tune (link to video from Paris).

As someone who’s been following her output avidly for a couple of years now, it’s exciting to have one of jazz singing's brightest lights here in the UK. The Elgar Room, with its elegant, high ceilings, low-lit ballroom feel and outrageous red piano should provide a suitable ambience for the occasion.

Peter Coldham is a pianist, singer and teacher in London

LINKS: Nancy Harms website
Elgar Room bookings


CD REVIEW: Empirical – Connection

Empirical – Connection
(Cuneiform Records RUNE416. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)

As cover artwork goes it is minimal: four unidentified bare forearms grasp each other, interlocked in a reciprocal system. Yet the visually crisp lack of redundancy, the reliance on one another, the faceless structure sums up the tight, coherent group performance that Empirical have assembled on their latest release, Connection.

The aptly named Initiate the Initiations opens the track-list with a patient percussive introduction, the band sneaking in with traps, clicks and cowbells. The layered rhythms smoothly switch to staccato contributions from the rhythm section to form a looping backing for Nathaniel Facey's characteristic fluid vocal improvisation style, sporadically joining them on a repetitive note hook.

The saxophone flirtation between forming rhythm and holding melody continues into the launch of the jaunty Anxiety Society. Vibraphone melodies jump on the cohesive tireless drum and double bass backing before being let loose in Stay the course -A multi-faceted odyssey alternating washed treble vibraphones with tight Dolphy-esque interludes, swagger and swing. Facey's light-fingered sax melodies drift off to allow Lewis Wright to step to the fore, his vibraphone hurtling along like Balla's Dog on a Leash, dragging a band rushing behind him.

Driving Force and Lethe bring the mood to a more ethereal footing with sustained vibraphone chords holding on to a tactful Shaney Forbes rolling and jolting liquid alto melodies into life. The Maze shocks things back to life with rampaging unsettling beats and fantastically coordinated washes of sound from drums led by Tom Farmer's persistent rolling bass. The stop-start seat-of-your-pants journey of Card Clash.

The animated bass work continues with off-kilter doubled melodies alternating with confident grooves of Mind Over Mayhem. Languid alto lines pick their way over minimal tom taps before expansive vibes wind a beautiful cadence amongst it. The pensive atmospheric wash of It's Out of Your Hands closes the album, alto lines rising through a utopian rhythm-section soup with a swift Gil Evans tinge and an uplifting up-tempo latin shuffle finale.

Empirical may have their stylistic foot a half century in the past, but they certainly have their heads in the here and now. In their developments of the free jazz they're constantly striving to reach a new and wider audience (their unusual residency location choices highlighted in the interview with Tom Farmer covering their 2016 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Ensemble - link below). They're achieving this partly by simply producing more concise recordings than their predecessors, and partly through the democratisation they operate within the band.

Facey and Wright are responsible for two of the album's stand-out tracks - Stay the Course and Mind Over Mayhem, respectively, however Farmer continues to grow into an intriguing composer and takes the lions share of the writing credits. Indeed Farmer's Initiate the Initiations and Card Clash in particular are two enduring pieces which have been with the group on-stage for a number of years and crystallise much of the sound associated with the band. It is really in this sense that Connections is such a success.

It is a rare recording that evolves much as a live set does. In this latest offering Empirical have gone some way to distilling their live intensity and collectivism into something we can take home with us.

LINK: Interview with Tom Farmer of Empirical and video of the Old Street pop-up gig


INTERVIEW: Norma Winstone (Duncan Lamont's 85th Birthday Celebration, Cafe Posk, 25th June)

Norma Winstone. Photo credit Melody McLaren

Ahead of vocalist Norma Winstone's appearance at Jazz Café POSK this Saturday 25th of June for a celebration of saxophonist/ composer Duncan Lamont's 85th birthday, she did an interview with Tomasz Furmanek:

LondonJazz News: You are coming to Posk this Saturday to celebrate your friend Duncan Lamont's birthday. Tell us about him.

Norma Winstone: He’s great! I am very fond of Duncan. I do like his songs, and also he is a great character, great personality… he’s a legend. I remember when he played in Kenny Wheeler’s big-band…he always had his own extraordinary kind of way of improvising, which was very special. I love his playing. He is one of the great British jazz musicians and composers, he’s written a lot of things apart from songs, there’s a suite “Young Person’s Guide to The Jazz Orchestra” based on Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” , music for theatre, for television… He is a very special talent.

LJN: Can you tell us about this Saturday's programme?

NW: Well, he has chosen the songs he would like me to sing. There are about 5 or 6 songs, so it’s a nice little set. As I mentioned before I love his songs, have recorded Manhattan in the Rain, and I will definitely sing it on Saturday. There is that funny story… I went to his house one evening and he said “oh, sing something, sing one of my songs”, I really liked Manhattan in The Rain, so I said that I’d sing that. Duncan’s wife, Bridget, said “Oh no, not that; it’s like a vocal exercise”. The funny thing is, Duncan told me some time later that somebody rang him from a college in America and said “we love your songs Duncan, and there’s one that we use as a vocal exercise, it’s called Manhattan in The Rain! So maybe his wife was right in a way! It’s a great, slightly difficult song, you just have to have a good ear to pitch those intervals. So I suppose it could be looked on as a good vocal exercise.

LJN: What makes a great jazz singer?

NW: I think that to have your own sound, that’s the basic thing. I think the thing is to be recognizable…immediately! This of course applies not only to singing jazz.

LJN: …and acquiring a flawless vocal technique?

NW: Well, it can help, but depends what you want to do… There are jazz singers who didn’t have a fantastic technique. I mean…Billie Holiday…she didn’t need to. She had a voice and a sound, but very, very moving, and that’s the point for me. I think if you’re singing a song, any song in any style, you have to be able to communicate something with your listener. And if what you want to communicate needs to have a fantastic vocal technique, then yes, you have to do that. I mean, there are people who had fantastic technique and fantastic voice naturally, like Sarah Vaughan…

LJN: ...but it is Billie Holiday who is widely regarded the greatest jazz singer…

NW: Yes, because she had something else, because of the anguish and the torment that you could hear in her voice. I think people responded to that; they could identify with it, just like they respond to other outstanding voices, not necessarily from the world of Amy Winehouse for example. People responded to that, because they can hear this kind of thing in her voice… And that’s something one cannot learn.

LJN: You were awarded MBE in 2007. How did you react when you fund out?

NW: Shocked! I was very, very surprised, I have no idea how it happened. And I don’t know if anybody knows how you get these things, somebody must have put my name forward, and there’s a voting process. They wrote to Colin Towns, who’s a marvellous arranger and a writer with whom I was working at that time, to say that I had been offered an MBE. For some reason they had not found my address! I was very happy, of course. I went to Buckingham Palace to collect it from Prince Charles. I took my sons, my husband and my father, who was 92 at that time, he died the following year. My father was very left wing, he never approved of The Royal Family, but of course he was very proud of me and he just liked the idea of going there with me. He proudly played the DVD to his neighbours…it was very funny, because he had always been so left wing.

LJN: On Saturday you will perform in a Polish Club. You were in Poland on many occasions, when was the first time?

NW: My first visit to Poland took place in 1970, I was supposed to perform with the Mike Westbrook band in Warsaw at the Jazz Jamboree Festival in The Culture Palace but I didn’t make the concert as I was taken ill and spent the night in hospital. It was funny, because Urszula Dudziak was apparently in the audience and was waiting to hear me. I didn’t know her then, but many years later she told me “ You came on the stage, I was really looking forward to your performance…and then you immediately ran off.” I explained to her what had happened. The band sat in at a club the next evening and everybody was so enthusiastic and warm, so pleased that we were there. It was great! I just remember being excited that that I was in the Eastern Bloc… We were paid in zlotys and we had to spend the money before we left. I didn’t know how to spend all these zlotys, as at that time there wasn’t much to buy unless you had dollars; the merchandise was separated so that the better stuff could be bought in dollars.

The last time I was in Poland was in November 2015. A group of English musicians plus Dave Holland and Ralph Towner performed in a Kenny Wheeler tribute concert at The Cadogan Hall in London, then took the package to The Wroclaw Festival.

LJN:  Later you worked with Urszula Dudziak, are you still in touch with her?

NW: I worked with Urszula in the late 80s in an a capella vocal group called Vocal Summit including Jay Clayton and Michelle Hendricks. That was so much fun but we all lived so far apart that it wasn’t easy to keep it going. We are however hoping to get together again later this year (possibly in November) to do a concert called Vocal Summit and Beyond, in London, which I think will be great!

Tomasz Furmank produces the “Tomasz Furmanek invites…” series at Jazz Café POSK.  

Norma Winstone will appear as a special guest of Duncan Lamont’s 85th Birthday Celebrations at Jazz Café POSK on Saturday 25th of June 2016. Music starts at 8.30pm. 

Line up:

Duncan Lamont - sax
Norma Winstone - voc
Esther Bennett - voc
Sarah Moule - voc
John Crawford - piano
Simon Read - bass
Steve Taylor - drums

 Tickets: £12 at the door or online from or



REVIEW: Tania Chen and Thurston Moore Duo at Cafe Oto

Tania Chen (left) and Thurston Moore (right), power improvisers at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Tania Chen and Thurston Moore Duo
(Cafe Oto, 15 June 2016, day 3 of Ecstatic Peace Library - Conference #1; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Ecstatic Peace Library is the umbrella imprint, curated by publisher, Eva Prinz, and musician Thurston Moore, to give voice to the unconventional in the written, printed and musical genres. As the last event of the inaugural Ecstatic Peace Library Conference, held at Cafe Oto, hosting three days of musical adventure, with a smattering of literary discussion, Tania Chen and Thurston Moore celebrated a richly-hued path of poetic invention in an improvised duo full of surprise and invention.

Chen, erstwhile student of avante-garde proselytising pianist and improviser, John Tilbury, and Moore, erstwhile prime mover and guitarist with Sonic Youth, connect across many facets of the left-field musical spectrum. Chen has been an integral part of the group which Stewart Lee has brought together to champion John Cage's Indeterminacy, while Moore has been one of the most committed exponents of collaborative improvisation with other leading musicians and poets, oft witnessed in this particular corner of Dalston.

Positioned at either side of the stage, their complementary body language echoed their musical contributions. Chen, seated conventionally at the keyboard to pick out lightly ethereal phrases, later stood to reach in to the piano's innards with a delicate touch, while keeping one hand loosely active on the keys. Moore, studiously crouched over his guitar lying flat on his lap, picked on the strings to summon haunting, wirey chimes.

In marked contrast, reverb and distortion followed with hints of Hendrix's star-spangled anguish. Chen, leaning over the keys, used soft-headed mallets and flattened the piano sound to glockenspiel blockiness before repeatedly crashing the hinged fallboard and stamping resoundingly on the floor. The sonic assaults receded instantaneously for both to resume crafted, shimmering meanderings as though nothing had happened to disturb the calm.

Chen introduced pulsed and textured electronics, combining bursts of animated activations and keyboard clusters with Moore's crunching spasms of electric shock, scumbled collaging and a metallic plucked sound which could have passed for a kalimba (finger piano).

Chen, maybe indirectly acknowledging Gustav Metzger's Destruction In Art Symposium of 1966, crumpled a paper bag up at the mic then proceeded to dismember it with fittingly performative gestures.

Wrapping up with echoes of a post-nuclear fallout the duo ensured that there were never to be dull moments as they coaxed out their constantly engaging, intuitive dialogue.

To follow, the trio, Trash Kit, somewhat in the mould of punk heroines, The Slits, belted out short, sharp songs with a well-oiled bass and drums backbone.


FEATURE: The Impossible Gentlemen - (New Album Let’s Get Deluxe and touring )

The Impossible Gentlemen
L-R: Gwlym Simcock, Steve Rodby, Adam Nussbaum, Mike Walker

The Impossible Gentlemen is made up of the ever-growing and continuously impressive line-up of Mike Walker (guitar), Gwilym Simcock (piano, horn and a variety of percussive instruments), Adam Nussbaum (drums), Steve Rodby (bass) and now Iain Dixon (sax, clarinet, flute). Co-founders Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker talked to Leah Williams about the band's latest album, "Let’s Get Deluxe": 

Let’s Get Deluxe is the third album from this transatlantic, progressive group, coming almost three years since their last release. Gwilym Simcock is quick to mention that the title is intended to be tongue-in- cheek, which is obvious from the cool, American-style photo depicting a not-so- glamourous life on the road that adorns the album’s front cover as well as from the immediately evident down-to- earth personalities of the two frontmen.

Although one might argue that the album is indeed more deluxe than intended - but that comes entirely from the music itself. The Impossible Gentlemen’s third album strives to produce a different sound to their previous two. An obvious progression of course - as Gwilym states: writing for the first album particularly was about finding their feet and their sound together as a group whereas with each album that follows they are able to get in to their groove more as well as start exploring the sound in more depth - but it’s also an attestation to the creativity and cohesion of Mike and Gwilym as both musicians and a writing team. For that’s one of the main differences on this album: all songs were entirely co-written by the both of them.

Not straightforward by any means, finding someone you can write a whole album with without too many clashes of ideas, styles or preferences. So were there any fall-outs? Fisticuffs in the Manchester countryside as they argued over riffs and chord progressions? Not at all, laughs Gwilym, in fact he goes on to describe how the experience of writing with Mike was not only easy but also incredibly enjoyable: “We’ve always just got along so well, as friends and musicians, and that naturally progressed in to writing together. It’s not necessarily because we have the same style or the same ideas but in fact because we each have different, unique things to bring to the table. A lot of energy, time and hard work went in to this album but also a lot of enjoyment and excitement - and it’s that which we hope comes through in the music.” Mike concurs, saying that they have a really strong relationship “both musically and socially - we’re already planning the next album”.

This writing process has definitely brought many new layers and elements to the music and a more orchestral feel with a rich, textured sound is one of them. It was a conscious decision, they say, to start with writing music for the band and then to expand on that and enhance the music as much as they felt was appropriate for each individual song to result in this broader orchestration. Mike says that they wanted to “throw different ideas at the music, outside of the usual conventions, with counter melodies and snaking lines battling with the melody. On repeated listening, you might find yourself whistling melodies that were hidden in the shadows.” There are many rich and interesting moments born from this and they doubled a lot of the instruments in places in order to hopefully create a new sound entirely - one that isn’t immediately recognisable as horn or vibraphone etc. The addition of conscientiously chosen string sections, courtesy of The Crumbleton Strings, certainly helps to expand the album’s sound but it is mainly down to the abundant talent within the group itself that this evolution was possible: Gwilym moves seamlessly from piano to french horn to marimba (and many other things in between!) and then there is the new addition of Iain Dixon who is similarly multi-instrumental. On the album he “only” plays two saxes, and also clarinets and flutes but is apparently pretty handy on the keyboard too which could prove vital for live concerts when Gwilym might be busy wielding an accordion or tapping a vibraphone instead.

Steve Rodby, who had already begun to take on some of the bass playing on the last album, has also now become the sole bass player and has some real shining moments on Let’s Get Deluxe: “Steve is such an amazing soloist with incredible dexterity and a real individual sound; we really wanted him to have the opportunity to show off a bit on this album”.

One of the standout tracks on the album is It Could Have Been a Simple Goodbye, which they are now performing as A Simple Goodbye in tribute to the late John Taylor - a “phenomenal musician whom we love and miss very much”. It is noticeable for its understated elegance and obviously heartfelt performance. “The album recording is from the first take in the studio”, they explain, “The doubling and overdubs were added later but the base of the piece was done in one take and it is filled with a lot of emotion and sincerity.”

All the track titles have obviously been carefully thought about and each seems to hint at an interesting back story: A Fedora for Dora ; Dog Time; Propane Jane. Terrace Legend is a prime example, which turns out to have been inspired by Neil Baldwin, a local man with what have been classed as “severe learning difficulties” who reached legend status due to his uninhibited style of asking for (and mostly getting) what he wanted and who ended up working as the kitman for Stoke FC (a topic close to Gwilym’s heart!) for over 7 years. His story has recently been made into a BAFTA-winning BBC film. Its light-hearted vitality, as well as sounds of the football ground which are subtly woven in to the tapestry of this track, are enhanced with new meaning when you have this inspirational story in mind.

Such humorous titles, cross-culture referencing and progressive sound aim to move the music on this album further away from traditional perceptions of “jazz” and may, hopefully, attract and encourage the younger listener. Working with young musicians and helping to widen the audience of the “jazz” genre are both important to The Impossible Gentlemen, as a group and as individual artists. They will be taking up residence at the Sligo Jazz Project in Ireland for a second year in July - something that Gwilym notes has actually given them a fresh perspective on their own playing. Through teaching together as a group, they have been able to explore new aspects of their playing and musicality that they may never have experienced otherwise: “You never stop learning as a musician and so it is both a responsibility and an opportunity when you can get involved in education in this way”. Mike says he loves doing these kinds of things because the younger generation are so open to exploring music in all its forms and this influences their jazz playing, pushing the genre forward as it should be: “I love the openness of the young generation. They listen to everything - pop stuff, old jazz, new jazz, classical. I love that. Anyone I've ever played with who brings me joy has that openness.”

The Impossible Gentlemen - for whom it seems anything could be possible - prove with this album that they have a lot yet left to come. (pp)

Let’s Get Deluxe will be released on Basho Records on 1st July 2016.

The official album launch is on 26th July at Manchester Jazz Festival. The tour also includes a 2-night residency at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on 31st July and 1st August.

Full tour dates are on the band's website


INTERVIEW: Alex Ridout: (606 Club, 28th June)

Alexandra Ridout

Though still only 17, trumpet player ALEXANDRA RIDOUT has been attracting a lot of attention since winning the BBC Young Musician Jazz Award earlier this year. She is a student at the Purcell School, a specialist music school, where she studies jazz and classical trumpet, as well as piano and voice. 

Julian Joseph, chair of the Award jury said, "we were enchanted by Alexandra’s presence as a musician…but I think most importantly there was a relationship with the blues and swinging that sounds important in her playing" (source of this quote HERE). Laura Thorne interviewed her:

LondonJazz News: Your father Mark is a professional guitarist, your brother Tom plays saxophone and recorder, and your mum Leigh plays saxophone as well.  What were your early experiences of music? What sparked your interest in the trumpet?

Alex Ridout: Yes music has definitely played a big part in my life growing up, having constantly been surrounded by it! I went to my local music centre from the age of about 2 or 3 and we always had all sorts of music playing in the house or in the car, lots of jazz included in that. When I was about 8 I went to a concert my brother was playing in and I saw the trumpets playing the tune really loud and that made me want to play really.

LJN: Who are your favourite trumpet players?

AR:  My favourite jazz trumpeters would be Freddie Hubbard, his playing with Herbie is some of my favourite jazz ever, he's the only person who could really do what he does on the instrument! Also Miles Davis of course, such a unique sound and he was a massive innovator as well as a beautiful player. Also Woody Shaw is an amazing player and also very unique but with so much energy and his lines are great! There are many many other trumpet players I love, including Kenny Wheeler and Clifford Brown to name a couple.

LJN:  You recently won the BBC Young Musician Jazz Award. Has winning made a difference to you personally, say for example made you feel more confident?

AR:  The competition definitely gave me a confidence boost as it did feel like a lot of hard work had paid off! I also feel like people respect me a bit more because of it. However it's nice in that most people haven't treated me any differently because I personally don't feel any different. It’s just down to a matter of opinion after all, so I'm glad it hasn't drastically changed people's opinion of me.

LJN: Women are still relatively few-and-far-between in the professional jazz world.....

AR:   Yes it is definitely the case there is a gender imbalance in jazz, though it probably is changing to some extent. However it's such a small collection of people in jazz anyway, that it's probably quite hard to balance out gender before bringing jazz to a wider audience (if that makes sense). I think being female won't do that much to my career, but if anything it's likely to do it good because I'd be slightly more unique, although I don't think of it in that way at all. At the end of the day it's about the music and there may be some issues I'll have to deal with, but if you're a good musician people who really care about the music will respect you for that I'm sure.

LJN: If you were to teaching someone to play an instrument, what would be the most important piece of advice or information that you could give them?

AR:  My main piece of advice for someone learning any instrument for any genre would probably be to make sure you enjoy what you're doing. Of course you have to practise and to become to the level you want to be it may become tedious at times, but you'll know if it's worth it so just enjoy it! My best advice for anyone who wants to learn jazz is just to listen to loads of your favourite musicians over and over. THE most important thing for jazz is listening.

LJN: You are playing at the 606 Club on Tuesday the 28th with your father Mark & your brother Tom. Tell us a bit about what we can expect to hear at the show.

AR:  Yes really looking forward to this gig! We will be doing a big variety of tunes, featuring originals from all of us! Mostly expect a very diverse programme.

LJN: What are your plans for the future?

AR:  I'm in year 12, so I have auditions for music college coming up in October. I'm hoping to go to music college and do a jazz degree, but I'd also like to carry on with my classical playing as much as I can. I love playing loads of types of music so I want to be gigging lots, playing all sorts of things, jazz, pop, classical or anything really!

Laura Thorne runs marketing for the 606 Club

LINKS: Video of Alexandra’s BBC Young Musician Jazz Award competition performance
Jon Turney's Report on the BBC Competition final


CD REVIEW: Georgie Fame and The Last Blue Flames - Swan Songs

Georgie Fame and The Last Blue Flames - Swan Songs
(Three Line Whip 010. CD Review by Brian Blain)

Released without a great deal of promo or hype, this really does seem to be the last time that the 'Godfather of UK Soul' has taken his magnificent Blue Flames - Guy Barker, Alan Skidmore, Anthony Kerr, Alec Dankworth, Tristan and James Powell - into the studio. The result is a satisfying mix of material from the rollicking shuffle beat of the frankly hedonistic Thinkin' and Drinkin to the heartfelt tribute to the late Steve Gray. one of Britain's finest ever arrangers, over an almost funereal march beat.

There's a distinct feel of nostalgia running like a thread through this collection of songs, whether it's The Diary Blues, beginning with Count Basie piano figures and and flares from the brass, which looks back on the life of a much travelled musician or the final My Ship (not the Kurt Weill one) a touching song written by an old friend from his Flamingo days, Mike O Neill, where he is joined by Madeline Bell and he intones a list of heroes like Gene Ammons, Oscar Brown Junior, Eddie Jefferson and Johnny Griffin under the final chorus as if to suggest that the music that has inspired him throughout his life is maybe over.

But it's not all tinged with melancholy. If his wacky 'trombone' scat on a Floyd Dixon blues doesn't make you laugh out loud maybe you shouldn't be listening to jazz at all, and the killer track, Mose Knows, dedicated to his mentor and inspiration Mose Allison is just amazing. Here he goes into almost rap mode over a furious straight-ahead beat powered by Dankworth and the Powell brothers - his two sons - which allows Anthony Kerr to show what a magnificent vibes player he is, and us to wonder why he is so seldom seen around. This album wasn't a review copy, so when I say this track alone is worth the price of the whole collection it's not just a glib cliché, but, for me, a statement of fact.


INTERVIEW: Dhafer Youssef (New CD + EFG LJF/ Barbican, 19th Nov)

Dhafer Youssef at the Viva Musica! Festival Bratislava in 2011.
Photo: © Oles Cheresko, by kind permission of Dhafer Youssef's management

Oud-player and singer DHAFER YOUSEF was born in a Tunisian fishing village to a ‘modest family’. In this interview he talks about: making his first oud; how learning to sing in a Turkish bath created his sound; working in Europe with Gilad Atzmon, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Nguyên Lê, Paolo Fresu and other jazz influences, his new jazz CD(*)  with a top New York band, and his birthday gig at the Barbican. Alison Bentley interviewed him:  

London Jazz News: Can you tell me about how you made your first oud?

Dhafer Youssef: I needed to do something, to play the notes I was hearing, so I had no other option than to try to make my own instrument. It was like a primitive oud, with wood and a can of tomatoes, and bicycle cables. I don’t even remember how it sounded, but it was like, ‘Okay, this is my first instrument!’ I was trying to bring out the notes that I heard on the radio, or that I sang.

LJN: What first attracted you to the sound of the oud?

DY: It’s because I’m Tunisian. I always say, if I’d been born somewhere else in Africa, I’d maybe be a djembe-player or an ngoni or kora-player. If I’d been born in New York, maybe I’d be a double bass or saxophone-player. Maybe I’m lucky to be Tunisian because I love the sound of the oud. Every day when I wake up, I pick it up, even for a few minutes- sometimes it lasts for maybe an hour. Even for five minutes, it’s as if that’s really my breakfast!

LJN: How does the oud get its distinctive sound?

DY: What I love in the oud is the sound. I use, for example, Pyramid strings for Baroque lute, which could also be for guitar. The difference is that there are double strings, and that makes the special sound of the oud. I always have the feeling when I’m tuning the instrument that I’m trying to make two people sound the same, which are never the same. Because two strings, even if they are made by the same machine or the same hand- in the end they’re different. I do it myself, and in the end it sounds a little bit- not out of tune- but in the region of the right tuning. And that makes the speciality of the sound. That’s why I love the oud, actually. It’s different from the guitar- I love the guitar. I love all string instruments- banjo a little bit less! My respect to all banjo players! [laughs]

LJN: When you first started playing you practised on a toy guitar?

DY: Yes, the story is that I was so thirsty to play an instrument, because I didn’t play oud at that time. I was looking to have something just to play, to make noise, notes, sound. My neighbour at that time- he travelled abroad and came back with a toy guitar for his nephew and an acoustic guitar for himself. He knew that I was really into music and I wanted to learn, so he gave me the toy to practise a bit. So I was practising on that plastic toy every day. And then every month for a few days he gave me his acoustic guitar so I had to take care of it. It was almost like having a Rolls Royce after having the toy guitar. I have a funny story about this person. I was walking with him back to our neighbourhood, about 35 years ago. I told him, ‘Look, I want to travel the world to play my music. I’m thirsty to tell people my story.’ He was laughing. He thought, ‘He can’t even control the instrument, and he thinks he has a story to tell people all over the world?’ Four or five years ago, I met him and he told me, ‘Dhafer, I have to say that you are one of my idols, because you were so sure you wanted to say something.’

I believe that in music it’s this: it’s not the instrument you play, or the compositions you write; it’s much more what you have inside. So you have to have confidence, and you have to believe you have a story to tell. And I think from that point I understood that the instrument is just a means to tell this story, whether the voice or the oud, violin, composition, orchestra. In the end I believe we have a destiny- we are born to be something, and you have to fight for that.

LJN: Were you encouraged by your family to sing?

DY: At the beginning it was hard because they wanted me to study to be a doctor or an architect and have a normal job. Then they saw that I was really into it, so they understood that they would not change my mind. So now they are really proud. It wasn’t easy, but I think your personality always makes your decisions. They love it: ‘Okay, everyone has to be himself, to go where he wants to be.’

LJN: You practised your singing in the hammam? [Turkish bath]

DY: In the foyer of the hammam. When you enter there is a resonance. Some people say to me, ‘You use a lot of effects and delay.’ This is also an instrument for me. This instrument was not the oud, but these effects. Today when I sing I use this as an instrument, as a possibility to go somewhere else. When I began with that, I was not thinking about using this later on. But it became like a flavour, or maybe one of the most important techniques in my singing- this delay and echo. It’s not easy- you have to get used to it, the way some guitarists use pedals and effects. It’s another instrument, another way of thinking. I was lucky to have this hammam foyer. I believe a lot of things are destined. Sometimes things happen and you have no idea why, but they have to happen, because you have a way or path to go on- Mother Nature, God, or something else, helps you to do that. Just open your eyes and your mind, and you can take it.

LJN: When you started singing, you sang the call to prayer. Did that affect your style of singing later?

DY: Of course. You can’t learn something without it becoming essential to you in your life. What is important to me in that is the mystical part, not the religious part. Today I’m enjoying life, free from judgement. Keep your mind free like a bird. I sing about that!

LJN: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Alim Qasimov, qawwali singers- are you influenced by the ornamentation?

DY: I’m like a sponge- I absorb everything on my way. And then what comes after- of course I have a lot of things. I feel like a mosaic of everything. All those things are a part of my body and soul.

LJN: You have a beautiful high tone to your voice- I wondered if you were influenced by rock singers?

DY: I love to listen to rock, and when I was young too. For me, it’s very important, this wild emotion. You can really like whispering, but to give whispering a value you also have to scream. You have to let it out from your body. Of course, you have to learn how to do it. This is really important for me. Music is like life- you go outside sometimes and it sounds too loud, and you get used to that. But finally you want to be quiet.

LJN: What do you feel when you’re singing in that high powerful way?

DY: I feel like I’m just an instrument. I don’t know, there’s something playing on me, and sometimes it’s like a vibration between the musicians on the stage; and also the public, and the acoustic of the hall. There are some moments when I don’t feel my body any more. My body is like a resonance, like the body of a double bass or oud or piano. And then I’m really tired!

LJN: How did you get interested in jazz and which jazz musicians and singers have inspired you?

DY: I would not be able to be a musician if I wasn’t interested in jazz. For me, jazz is the best way to do music. Of course, I love classical music, traditional music, electronic music. I love all kinds of music which can touch me, if it’s done with love and originality. But jazz- it reminds me of when I was young with Arabic music. In a lot of traditional music, there is improvisation. For that you travel between [Arabic] maqams, between the moods- that’s why I love it. Then of course, with jazz on the stage you can have anybody, different people, any perspective of life. They can be Afro-American, European, Norwegian, Brazilian, Indian, African, but they try to build the same language. On stage everybody is trying to talk a common language, always looking for other textures for this language. And this is what I love in it: all of them understand that we are there to be surprised.

If I’m talking about who changed my life, I have to say Miles Davis- one of the most important musicians who really made me dream. Because in his career he did a lot- he was always doing new stuff, new ideas. And as a leader he was a big inspiration- the way he brings people together. This is my goal – to be able to have musicians around me who really share my story. Whenever I have a new project, I always think about Miles as a leader. He had no limits. I think he changed the scene. Today, all the great musicians played with him. People talk about him like a prophet; not in a religious sense, but as a creator. And of course, singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan- they changed my life. I’m not going to sing like them but they teach me without teaching me.

LJN: You’ve worked with so many people- to name a few: Gilad Atzmon, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Nguyên Lê, Paolo Fresu, and travelled to different places. Have these musicians influenced the way you play?

DY: Of course- these musicians are my bank account! [laughs] From them I have ideas. When I need ideas I play with them. Of course, I hope they are getting some back from me. I have to say, without them I would not be where I am today, or where I want to go. All these encounters are really important, much more important than eating caviar or drinking champagne.

LJN: Each of your CDs has a different sound, and your new CD is with your first all-American band?

DY: I always wanted to do a record with New York musicians. It began in 1999 when I recorded Electric Sufi, and finally I was divided between European and American musicians, like Markus Stockhausen, Dieter Ilg, Wolfgang Muthspiel. The American side was Doug Wimbish, Will Calhoun, Mino Cinelu. Then on Abu Nawas Rhapsody I tried to get all musicians from New York. In the end, Tigran Hamasyan was on board and just one American, Mark Guiliana, who’s also playing on the latest record. Finally, I believe that the project decides for me- I’m not the one who decides. After fifteen or sixteen years I’ve got 100% New York musicians in the band. Of course, I play with them because they are important as musicians, as human beings. If Aaron Parks lived in London, he would be in the band! I believe that the project itself, its personality, decides for me. Just before this project, I recorded two or three songs with [percussionist] Zakir Hussain, but I decided to make this much more jazzy.

LJN: Can you tell me something about the tracks on the new album? You have some very complex time signatures- does that come from Arabic music?

DY: I played with a tabla player from India, Jatinder Thakur. I’m lucky that I met him at that time in Vienna when I was living there. My first band was with him. Every day he was explaining things to me, and I fell in love with those odd metres. The title of this new record is Diwan of Beauty and Odd. A diwan is like a collection of poems written by a single poet. Normally they’re short, to be set to music, for example. The idea that I had for the whole record was: the ‘odd’ refers to the odd metres. The melodies, the bass lines, the piano-playing, the oud, the singing and everything- makes the ‘odd’ into beauty. I believe without opposites there’s nothing. In nature, it’s like beauty is only good because there is ugliness. It’s the same with music- it’s like the idea of having odd metres and then flying with them.

LJN: So you have "Fly Shadow Fly" and "17th Flyways"?

DY: The idea was to sing texts by a writer from Syria. This is a baby that needs to grow. I’m really excited to be playing this music in London at the Barbican, on Nov. 19th, my birthday! So ask everybody to be there!

(*) CD: Diwan of Beauty and Odd, with Aaron Parks- piano; Ben Williams- bass; Mark Guiliana- drums; Ambrose Akinmusire- trumpet, on Okeh label in Sept.)

LIVE: Barbican Centre, Nov 19th, EFG LJF