REVIEW: Terry Riley and the London Contemporary Orchestra - 'In C' at the Barbican

Massed ranks of the LCO performing 'In C' at the Barbican
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Terry Riley and the London Contemporary Orchestra - In C
(Barbican Hall, 24th September 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The Terry Riley concert at the Barbican combined intimacy, with pianist Riley performing duets with his son Gyan Riley on electric guitar in the opening set, and the big stage, with over twenty musicians of the London Contemporary Orchestra and guests, directed by Hugh Brunt and Robert Ames, taking on Riley's landmark concept composition In C, with Riley himself taking a back seat role on prepared piano.

The duo's performance had a touching quality, perhaps the nearest an audience might get to an evening with Riley in a small venue. There was a symmetry to their impressively synchronised meanderings through a meditative raga and compositions by both father and son. Riley also took up the melodica to complement his gently luminous keyboard work laced with the tones of his Rainbow in Curved Air. Both excelled in the arts of complex interplay and their relaxed, smiling demeanours revealed how much they enjoyed this platform.

In C is a bit like a large lump of Plasticine, awaiting a unique reshaping every time it is performed. To quote from the programme: 'Each musician has the same 53 melodic motifs of different lengths to play in sequence, each of these for an unspecified duration. They play these independently, the only stipulation being not to fall too far behind the musician who is furthest ahead.'

The LCO's musicians are no strangers to the challenge of reinterpreting monumental contemporary works. In 2012 they added their own perspective to Basinski's Disintegration Loops (reviewed here ). Given the composer's directives the unpredictable ad hoc quality of their formidable group endeavour was to achieve a bright balance between formality and informality spiced with a faintly anarchic streak.

Riley's imposition of self-imposed discipline on each performer with reference to the whole inevitably put individuals on the spot, most visibly the three percussionists whose response included spells of sustained hand clapping, in the spirit of Reich's Drumming, on top of their rhythmic assault on a mind-boggling array of percussion instruments. Winds, strings, vocals, electric guitars, keyboards, including a portable chamber organ were all swept up in the remoulding of this key twentieth century work in an upbeat, enjoyable melée which kept all performers on their toes.

LINK: Terry Riley's website


FEATURE: NYJO's September 2016 tour with the Youth Jazz Orchestras of Germany and Holland

The three orchestras in Dortmund
NYJO are in blue, BuJazzO in black and NJJO in orange.

The UK's National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) has just been involved in a ground-breaking collaboration with its German and Dutch counterparts - BuJazzO and NJJO. The three bands finished off a four date-tour of Europe on Sunday September 25th with a storming performance at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis. For this feature article, Jonathan Carvell of NYJO asked the  UK orchestra's Artistic Director Mark Armstrong and its Executive Chair Nigel Tully to tell the story of the collaboration and to give their personal accounts of the tour and of its significance: 

Three big bands, three different countries, three solid days of intensive rehearsal, four different gig venues and over 70 of the most promising young European jazz musicians about to burst onto the scene. These were the ingredients for NYJO’s collaboration with the German Bundesjazzorchester and the Dutch Nationaal Jeugd Jazz Orkest, but where did such a bold idea come from and how did it all work?

“The whole concept for ‘Three Nations Under One Groove’ is to demonstrate that jazz is a universal language spoken by young musicians across Europe, with the variety of colours and ‘jazz dialects’ used by all three nations coming together to add nuance and conversation to the repertoire we play,” explains Armstrong.

Taking its name from the famous Parliament-Funkadelic album One Nation Under a Groove, and channelling the uniting forces of P-Funk, NYJO built a collaboration with BuJazzO and the NJJO which placed musical unity and cultural exchange at the heart of things. As Armstrong puts it, “We wanted particularly to show that, for NYJO, we are not a ‘Brexit Big Band’ but seek to maintain the connections and conversations with our fellow artists in Germany and Holland. We rehearsed together as a large group in Heek (in Germany near the Netherlands) then presented concerts at Heek, Düsseldorf, Dortmund and finally the Bimhuis in Amsterdam.”

It’s becoming clear that this week was something special for all involved: total immersion in the art-form, trialling new tunes and jamming as small groups in the evenings, but how to unite three different bands and make something musically coherent with so many people involved? “One key element was that although all three groups brought their own repertoire and players, they would perform as mixed groups rather than separately as NYJO, BuJazzO and NJJO,” explains Tully. “Each night the repertoire effectively had a different band for each number, demonstrating how seamlessly jazz musicians can interact in the moment with each other and create new energies and ideas in the music as a result.”

Looking at the set lists from the gigs, there are tunes from NYJO’s typically eclectic pad, original compositions by the NJJO director Martin Fondse, the epic Cuban Fire! by Johnny Richards for Stan Kenton, and a ‘jazz concerto grosso’ for big band and small solo group - specially written for the tour by Armstrong, and one of the stand out pieces of the blowout at the Bimhuis. It is perhaps this fluorescence of styles and a strong desire to celebrate difference that has led to the formation of such deep bonds between the German, Dutch and UK players. “It was fantastic to see musicians who had never met before getting on so well and creating a real spirit of togetherness and common endeavour as we performed taxing and complex but exciting and moving music,” comments Armstrong. Tully agrees, “I have rarely seen such a happy and positive vibe from a stage as I saw throughout Sunday night at the Bimhuis. All 70 young musicians radiated a feeling of success, achievement and real togetherness - they enjoyed each other’s playing, they played out of their skins, and they knew that they were part of an historic performance. I can’t wait to host them here in March next year; British jazz audiences deserve to experience this great show.”

The three organisations will be combining once again in 2017 to bring a big band extravaganza to UK audiences.

After the Brexit-vote, and in a world where we’re so used to having our differences divide us, we at NYJO and our German and Dutch friends have made a virtue of not being the same and are busy celebrating what we can learn from each other; uniting through diversity.

Three Nations Under One Groove in Dortmund
NYJO website 
BuJazzO Website 
NJJO website


FEATURE: Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson (Jazz Line-Up, BBC Radio 3, 1st October)

Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson
Photo credit: Brian Vass

Scottish pianist/composer EUAN STEVENSON and saxophonist/composer KONRAD WISZNIEWSKI will be presenting music from their current album release "New Focus On Song" (Whirlwind Recordings) at a special performance for Radio 3 Jazz Line-Up as part of the series Sound Frontiers – BBC Radio 3 Live at the South Bank Centre celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the BBC's Third Programme. Here each of them explains the background:

Konrad Wiszniewski

New Focus on Song is a collection of material that we have been playing for a few years now and when the option came to record again on Whirlwind we jumped at the chance. We had the luxury of two days in the studio this time which gave us time to explore different sounds and hopefully capture the essence of a new focus concert. The album features full ensemble playing of the nine piece and this time also stripped-down quartet versions which we will be featuring at this Saturday’s concert at the Southbank Centre.

Euan Stevenson

New Focus On Song, as the title suggests, is an album which we set out to make with the emphasis very much on the song writing craft - aiming to create hooky, memorable melodies, well structured and crafted into tight knit arrangements. This is an album mainly comprising of what might best be described as "songs without words". We sought to reconcile our stylistic influences and so the album is an amalgam of jazz, classical, folk and pop. The difference with the first album (in terms of instrumentation) is the addition of woodwind (flute, clarinet, and Celtic whistle) to the line up of jazz quartet, string quartet and harp. Also, there are a number of tracks which we chose to feature the jazz quartet alone and it is with this line up that we will have the pleasure of performing live at the Southbank Centre this Saturday on BBC radio 3.

LINK: Programme website. The show will also include Jim Mullen's organ trio


PHOTOS: The opening Spash Point Jazz Club gig at Fishermen's Club, Eastbourne

Line-up for the first gig at Fisherman's Club
Neal Richardson (promoter) , Nigel Thomas, Bobby Worth
Art Themen, Andy Panayi, Roy Hilton
Photo credit: Brian O'Connor/ Images of Jazz

The first Splash Point Jazz Club promotion in Eastbourne on Wednesday 28th September 2016 got off to a great start: it was packed out. This gig is scheduled to run on the last Wednesday of each month at the Fishermen's Club, close to the seafront. After Seaford and Brighton Marina this is the third venue for Neal Richardson's Splashpoint Jazz.(link below)

Andy Panayi. Photo credit: Brian O'Connor/ Images of Jazz

We hear from photographer Brian O'Connor that: "The set list was a mixture of the familiar and the more unusual, from Green Dolphin Street to Body and Soul, from the Latin feel of Charles Lloyd's Forest Flower to the tricky timings of Mingus's Dizzy Moods, there was plenty in the programme to satisfy most kinds of jazz fan. Nigel Thomas took some particularly pleasing solos, and was a solid presence throughout, and Roy Hilton and Bobby Worth proved yet again that they really are at the top of their game.

Bobby Worth. Photo credit: Brian O'Connor/ Images of Jazz

"Meanwhile the saxophone juggernaut of Themen and Panayi at the front just kept rolling. Both masters of inventiveness, Art Themen's soloing on 'Prelude to a Kiss' was a definite highlight, and Andy Panayi's tenor solo Body and Soul was beautiful, as were his two excursions onto the flute – real crowd-pleasers. But it was when they were both playing tenor that some of the sparkiest fireworks happened, as with the closer Cheesecake."

Some local sponsors are involved: Reid Briggs Insurance, Lawler Davis Financial Advisers and Jessica Hylands Confidence Coach, together with local volunteers.

LINK: Details of Splash Point Jazz Club promotions at its three venues


CD REVIEW: Philip Clemo - Dream Maps

Philip Clemo - Dream Maps
(All Colours Arts. ACACDS003. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Philip Clemo creates multifaceted music that spans several genres. Collaborating with jazz musicians and improvisers such as trumpeters Arne Henriksen, Byron Wallen and, on one track, Henry Lowther, tuba player Oren Marshall, drummer Martin France, and bassist John Edwards, together with modern-classical musicians such as cellist Peter Gregson and a large number of others, Dream Maps has elements of folk, jazz, rock, world and classical music, in a mixture that sounds both full and light. Clemo himself plays several instruments, as well making location recordings which he incorporates into the music.

Despite the large number of musicians credited, the music has a lot of space. It is hard to pull out individual contributions - from the review copy, it isn't clear who plays on which tracks - but that would be to miss the point. The effect is to create mesmerising soundscapes that one can get lost in.

Using a large number of instruments (including such esoteric ones as ondes martenot and glass harmonica) and a range of effects and treatments, including barely audible vocals from Clemo, Henriksen and Evi Vine, the music has a symphonic scope. It is dreamlike. There are clearly elements of improvisation and rhythmic drive - there are three percussionists on the record - and at times a window which opens onto the minimalist universe of, say, Reich and Glass.

It might be that to try too hard to understand Dream Maps world break the spell. The elusive quality would escape. Instead, like post-modern trance, let it flow over you, before awakening, refreshed

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

LINK: Interview with Philip Clemo about Dream Maps


FEATURE: Rory Simmons - We Drift Meridian (Album Launch, Servants Jazz Quarters, October 4th)

Monocled Man. L-R: Rory Simmons, Chris Montague, Jon Scott

Trumpeter, guitarist and composer RORY SIMMONS,who tours the world with Jamie Cullum's band will be launching the new album of his band Monocled Man on Tuesday October 4th at Servant’s Jazz Quarters. Here he explains the background:

This is the first album I have made which has begun with truly extra-musical inspiration. The imagery and narrative of this music is drawn from a book by German author Judith Shcalansky. Her Pocket Book Of Remote Islands tells a idiosyncratic tale of her childhood fascination with far flung islands around the world and their former (or current) inhabitants. Although in non-fiction format, the novel uses her quirky style to give a fascinating exploration of these far-flung islands.

A handful of these stories fascinated me in particular, and I decided to use these as the genesis for some track titles and lyrics which went on to form We Drift Meridian. More than the stories of the islands themselves, these were more about the characters and people who had become synonymous with these atolls. From the despotic Mexican miner on Clipperton Island in the South Pacific; to the recipient of his unwanted affections, Tirza Rendon. From the disappearance of an American teenager in the 70’s in the Marshall Islands to the Norwegian wife of an Edwardian whaler from Deception Island in the South Antarctic.

The music itself is driven by soundscapes and electronics, from the ambient to the beat driven. The influences of Clark, Bibio and Jon Hopkins were as strong on this album as the influences of Chicago Underground and Dave Douglas.

I’m delighted to have Chris Montague and Jon Scott in the band, what they bring sonically is truly individual, and what they bring improvisationally is constantly shifting and exciting to work with. The experience of recording, producing and performing this music live has been an inspiring process; using their musical voices in the recording of the raw materials for this album and shaping it along with their input and vision.

There are also two amazing vocalists featuring on the album. Emilia Martensson is someone I have worked with many times, and is a close friend as well as musical collaborator. Her performance on We Drift Meridian is one of poise and delicacy, yet with unmistakeable intention and depth. Also featuring is Ed Begley, whose delivery on Deception Island is as exciting to me now as it was the first time we recorded it. We are lucky to have a guest singer and another long time collaborator of mine on the launch gig on Tuesday. The incredible Elisabeth Nygaard, (who now resides in Trondheim, Norway) will be joining us.

Mixed by Alex Bonney and mastered by Peter Beckmann, I’m really lucky to have made an album with some great friends- which is an aspect of this album I really treasure.

Rory Simmons. Photo credit: Alex Bonney

We Drift Meridian is out on Whirlwind Recordings. The album launch is  on Tues Oct 4th at the Servant’s Jazz Quarters, with a support set from Chris Sharkey.

LINK: Rory Simmons website


LP REVIEW: Noah Preminger - Some Other Time

Noah Preminger - Some Other Time
(Newvelle Records NV003LP. LP review by Geoff Winston)

Noah Preminger's Some Other Time, the third, exclusively vinyl release in Newvelle's high-end subscription-only series more than lives up to expectations. It's a gorgeous, ballad-focused album, following in the footsteps of Jack deJohnette's exceptional Return (review) and Frank Kimbrough's Meantime, combining musicianship of the highest order with benchmark-setting recording and production values.

New York-based Preminger, barely thirty years of age, sits so comfortably in the company of luminaries, bassist John Patitucci, drummer Billy Hart (due to appear at the EFG London Jazz Festival with Wayne Shorter and The Cookers, respectively) and go-to guitarist Ben Monder, who took the main guitar spot on David Bowie's Blackstar album, also recorded in New York only a few months earlier than the Preminger quartet's two days of sessions in June 2015.

The quartet chart a sophisticated, delightfully surprising journey through standards and popular song, mixing Ellington, Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bernstein with a sprinkling of latin. The scene is set by Monder's hovering reverb on Strayhorn's My Little Brown Book, its resonant chimes captured perfectly by Grammy Award-winning sound engineer Marc Uselli in a soundscape paralleling the haunting spirit of Blackstar before opening the door to Preminger's powerful, sensitive phrasing with its hints of Sonny Rollins and Charles Lloyd.

It is the way the quartet works together, pooling their deeply rooted experience with a generous inclination to share the initiatives, triggering sequences of melody and counter-melody, investing the familiar with an extra dimension and blending changes of pace with consummate timing, that shapes the album and makes it so special.

Hart adds touches of magic with a natural restraint to maximise the percussive textures of his shimmering cymbals and sequences of fleet pattering that weave in and around Patitucci's lustrous bass tones and Monder's atmospheric washes and whispers which both support and quietly state and restate underlying melody, as in Preminger's Semenzato, hinging on the interplay between sax and guitar.

There are no rules - sometimes it's straight into a rich dialogue of improvisation with a nod to the core theme as with Ghost of a Chance, allowing Preminger's soft, sumptuous tone to break through, whereas with Try A Little Tenderness the recognition is instant. Other times it's a lone solo phrase that kicks off to define the melody, as Preminger does to mark out the title track, poignantly recalling its close associations with Bill Evans and Tony Bennett, before delivering the album's definitive, virtuosic, extended solo. Boots of Spanish Leather's one-off trio arrangement is also the only track to fade out, while others end with touches of light brilliance.

Some Other Time  is a rich album in so many senses and repeated listening reveals much that goes on under the surface. The audio quality on the clear vinyl is stunning, achieving a clarity and resonant depth that delivers each instrument with warmth and tangible presence. Patitucci's solo, for instance, in the reggae/bossa tinged Melancholia is captured with an exemplary 'live' feel that puts it right in the listening space.

There is another Bowie link, through Tracey K Smith's energetic, reflective poem, Don't You Wonder, Sometimes?, voicing her ruminations on Bowie and mortality, from her 2011 collection, Life on Mars, reproduced on the inner sleeve as part of the beautifully designed Newvelle series packaging. Maybe she should have the last word on Some Other Time and its zestful musical quest - one line from her poem begins: 'Time never stops, but does it end?'

Just beautiful!


CD REVIEW: Øystein Blix - Conditions

Øystein Blix - Conditions
(Losen Records LOS 156-2. Review by Jon Carvell)

Tromsø trombonist Øystein Blix’s new disc Conditions features guitarist Kristian Svalestad Olstad and drummer Aleksander Kostopolous - both doubling on electronics - alongside the Mimas Male Choir in a forty-minute, ten-movement work, inspired by the political and financial struggles of musicians and artists in modern day Italy.

Safe to say then, this is not populist commercialism. Blix’s breathy and baleful tone permeates this album of challenging, large scale music. In Anche Cultura and Asse Sorri his lines float eerily above the dark timbres of the choir, often with ambient samples triggering in the background. However, these moments of pensive reflection stand in stark contrast to the distortion guitars, quick-fire drums and imposing choral fortissimi of Salvare I'italia, and the electronic experimentalism of Intrata with its echoes of 20th century modernist Edgard Varèse.

Alto Della Nomino features a call and response not dissimilar to Jan Garbarek’s work with the Hilliard Ensemble, whilst in Sticazzi disparate spoken fragments align gradually into a chant, over which Kostopolous solos frantically in a conflicting meter.

Oddly enough, this bizarre combination of textures and compositional influences is effective, and benefits from repeated listening. Although Blix’s choice of subject matter is a curious one, he does achieve a musically convincing and compelling bleakness.


PREVIEW: Marianne Trudel’s Trifolia (UK and European dates in October)

Marianne Trudel's Trifolia. Photo credit: Randy Cole
Montreal-based pianist and composer MARIANNE TRUDEL is an influential figure on the national scene in Canada. Her recordings have been nominated for a Felix (the Quebec awards) and a Juno (national awards). She was one of the first composers to receive a major commission from the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal.  In October she will be on a seven-date tour of Europe and the UK with her band Trifolia. The three UK dates will mark her debut in this country. Dan Paton interviewed her in anticipation of the tour:

Marianne Trudel is musing on whether the term ‘jazz pianist’ continues to have any real meaning. ‘For me, music is one inclusive thing and I never really felt good with labels. I don’t feel like I’m a jazz pianist - I’m a musician and I get inspired by really different musical traditions and I just try to blend it in a way that it speaks.’ Discussing her musical background and training, Trudel says ‘I grew up playing classical music and I switched to jazz when I was 18. This was because I’ve always loved improvising but I didn’t know anything about it beyond that at the time! I discovered the jazz tradition and loved it but I also found the improvising of Han Bennink and Evan Parker very inspiring. I listened to Kenny Wheeler’s music a lot and that inevitably influenced my melodic sense. I love Brazilian music too.’

Trudel’s band Trifolia, an unconventional piano trio, formed in Canada after its three members played as the rhythm section for a larger, 12 piece festival project and decided they had to play more together in a small band context. The band is named after a three leaved flower. Does Trudel also draw influence from observations in the natural world? ‘I’ve always been inspired by nature. I grew up in a very small village of about 800 people, along the Saint Laurence river. My backyard was pretty much the Saint Lawrence river! I’ve always felt really close to nature. I do play under the name Marianne Trudel Trio when it’s more of a standard jazz trio, but that never felt right for this. There is something very organic in the way we play and we are all very passionate about nature. Etienne (Lafrance, bassist) is a big canoe fan. Every summer, he goes far up in to north Quebec for a month by himself to go canoeing.’

Perhaps the name also encapsulates the band’s democratic modus operandi. Whilst the majority of compositions on 2013’s Le Refuge are Trudel’s, there are also some where writing credits are shared, and the approach to improvisation is consistently interactive. Trudel is keen to emphasise the importance of her musical colleagues in every project she leads. ‘If I want to play with people, it’s because I want to hear what they have to say. Sometimes it gets too much! For the project with (Canadian trumpeter) Ingrid Jensen, I had to re-record part of it because I realised there was only one piano solo on the whole album! Trudel’s passion and enthusiasm for Trifolia specifically is abundantly clear. ‘It’s very open’, Trudel explains. ‘This is not something we had at the very beginning. There was a musical connection between us, of course, but we toured a lot and this really made it bloom’. (It is interesting that Trudel continues to use the language of nature here). Trudel is aware that this makes the band special. ‘Unless you are a big name, it’s hard to tour a lot and to get deeper and deeper with the same project. We have been fortunate to be able to do this with Trifolia.’

In spite of all the obstacles, thanks to a combination of industrious hard work and assistance from The Canada Council of the Arts, Trudel will make an impressive UK debut in October, joining the line-up of the Marsden Jazz Festival and performing a show at The Vortex in London. ‘It’s a challenge financially’, Trudel says, although her breezy effervescence hardly makes it sound like a complaint. ‘It’s not like people are willing to pay a big fee. They will try for the first time and see what happens. It’s also really hard to work on promo from here. I have my network in Canada and I know exactly what to do, even if it means six hours to Vancouver on a plane. But touring away from home is an adventure too! We’ve just been to China for the first time - talk about a different place! It’s a risk but I’m willing to take that risk with Trifolia because it’s a dream I have and I really believe in the music.’ What about the actual approach to performing and communicating with new audiences? Trudel is keen to emphasise the social, communicative and interactive aspects of the band. ‘I love to meet new people and I love to talk to the audience. I also have two other musicians who are really passionate and who are great to watch onstage. There are lots of smiles and we have a lot of fun.’ The fundamental delight musicians take in playing can communicate a great deal to an audience, particularly those who may even be new to improvised music entirely.

It is not difficult to see why Trudel evangelises for the individual qualities of the musicians in Trifolia. The band has a unique sound and character that owes much to their contributions. For example, Patrick Graham uses a range of percussion instruments rather than a conventional drum kit, allowing for a very wide dynamic range and some compelling sound worlds. ‘The textures and colours that Patrick brings to Trifolia are crucial. His sound makes me play very differently from how I would with a regular drum kit. With Patrick, I could go back to a level of dynamics and sensitivity in my playing that had got a bit lost. He can take a hand drum and just caress the skin, and I can be behind him very softly. His playing also resonates for the part of me that loves orchestration too.’ Trudel also explains that bassist Etienne Lafrance worked as a bassist for the Quebec Symphony Orchestra. As a result, he has considerable arco playing skills. ‘He’s not one of those bassists who reaches for the bow and just makes you want to die’, Trudel jests. This clearly gives the band many more options in terms of sound and atmosphere.

There are other, more isolated elements of Trifolia’s sound that also seem striking. On Trois Soleils for example, Trudel improvises on Wurlitzer electric piano but accompanies herself on acoustic piano. Another is her occasional use of her own voice, albeit not in a dominant, foregrounded way. ‘These were accidents’, Trudel suggests, ‘although it also came from my love of orchestration. I want to have rich textures, even if it’s only three people involved. There was a Wurlitzer in the studio and the idea of playing my solo on Trois Soleils on it just came to me and I went for it. The singing was kind of an accident too! I always sing when I play, singing my lines when I improvise. The mic was set up in a way that they could hear my voice, but I didn’t mean it. I was very shy because I’m not a singer at all - but we decided to keep it. It’s just a different texture again. Those two songs with accordion and voice bring something different to the show when we play live too.’

Trudel has said that what she enjoys most about Trifolia is the ‘freedom’. What does she mean by this? Again, it at least partially seems to come down to her interaction with Patrick and Etienne. ‘The foundation of freedom is trust’, she states clearly. ‘If there is no trust, there is no freedom. When I’m free on stage, it means I totally trust the players I’m playing with. I’m less and less interested in playing in contexts where this is not happening - all the channels need to be open.’

One of her pieces, Possibilities Et Limitations, suggests that Trudel is also interested in limitations too. ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way, I’ve always loved that phrase!’ she enthuses. ‘I’ve always really pushed myself. I will always push myself to the limits, in all kinds of ways. But I reached a point where it was no longer true - sometimes where there’s a will, there’s no way! We are human. Everybody seems totally overworked, overstressed, overtired. At some point we hit a wall. The song, musically, is a pedal on F with a really cool bass line. I’m really big on harmonies, but we stick to the F pedal. This is the limitation - yet it also goes somewhere, in this very defined zone.’ Neither this nor the emphasis on trust mean that Trudel seeks to become formulaic or polished, however. She seeks to retain the crucial element of spontaneity that makes improvised music so exciting. ‘When I walk on stage, there needs to be a notion of risk. I don’t want to know exactly what will happen in advance.’ Trudel’s enthusiasm is infectious and there can be little doubt that she will revel in sharing that delight in risk taking with UK audiences. If Trudel achieves her stated aims, people will leave the concerts feeling transported and moved. They are not to be missed.

Marianne Trudel’s Trifolia UK and European tour (DATES) is assisted by The Canada Council for the Arts/ Conseil des arts du Canada

UK Tour Dates

Oct 9th 2:00 pm Marsden Jazz Festival, West Yorkshire
Oct 9th 8:30 pm The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Oct 11th 8:30 pm Vortex Jazz Club, London, N 16

LINKS: CD Review: La Vie Commence Ici
Trifolia at Marianne Trudel's website


INTERVIEW: Tom O'Grady of Resolution 88 (New Album After-glow + 2nd Cambridge Jazz Festival, 16-27 Nov)

Resolution 88 Afterglow album cover
The Cambridge Jazz Festival, 16-27 November 2016 
 has released an impressive, varied line-up for its second year. It features names such as Soweto Kinch, Laura Mvula and Anita Wardell. (FULL LINE-UP JUST PUBLISHED)

One of the headline acts is Resolution 88. Local heroes of the Cambridge scene, they will bring their signature lively jazz funk sound to La Raza, in a double bill with Binker Golding's Quartet,on Wednesday 23rd November 2016. 

Leah Williams interviewed Tom O’Grady, the band’s leader, about their new album "Afterglow,"  about November's Cambridge Jazz Fest, as well as what drew him to funk, and his experience of playing with Incognito:

LondonJazz News: You’ve taken a rather interesting path to becoming a professional musician, tell us how you got here?

Tom O’Grady: Well, I come from a very musical family. My mum’s a piano teacher and my dad’s a pianist so I started to learn the piano from a young age and it’s always been a very serious passion. When it came to deciding on a career though, I ended up going to study Engineering, thinking that it was probably safer to keep music as a part-time interest. I ended up becoming a Maths teacher in Cambridge after my studies but had continued to play a lot of music all the way through and was still really enjoying it. It got to a point where I realised that if I never really gave it a go to see where music could take me full-time then I would probably end up regretting it.

LJN: Is that how Resolution 88 came into being?

T O’G: Pretty much, yes. I went for a piano lesson with Rob Barron in London and one of the things he said that really kick-started the idea was that, aside from my own playing and practice of course, I should think about creating my own music as that’s an education in itself. I was playing a lot with local musicians on the Cambridge scene and I already knew who I really wanted to be involved - luckily they all said yes!

LJN: Reoslution 88 is described as a “hard-hitting, raw funk quartet”; is this what you set out to do from the start or is it a sound that’s evolved throughout the process?

T O’G: Well jazz funk, percussive music has always been something that I’ve listened to and taken inspiration from but in terms of writing my own music it developed quite naturally. My main ambition and drive was really just to create my own music but when I first started I wasn’t re-ally sure what kind of path that was going to take. One of my main inspirations at the time was Don Blackman and his eponymous album that was actually released the year I was born, in 1982. His music is more p-funk - quite tough 80s funk - and it’s also got vocals with it. I quickly realised through the writing process though that I was leaning more towards writing instrumental music and that was where my strengths lay. It was a combination of that natural inclination and the group of musicians we’d got together that really led the sound of our first album, Resolution 88, and, of course, the Fender Rhodes played its part in influencing the direction too.

Resolution 88 playing Ronnie Scott's. Photo credit Carl Hyde

LJN: Of course, the Fender Rhodes is a big part of your sound; how did you get in to playing this?

T O’G: Well I actually became interested in the Fender Rhodes early on when I started listening to Jamiroquai’s music at around the age of 12. The first thing you hear on their track Return of a Space Cowboy is actually a whole tone scale played on a Rhodes. I was so taken with the sound and what it brought to the music as a whole that I just knew it would end up becoming a big part of my music.

LJN: What is it you like so much about the instrument?

T O’G: There are so many things that make it such an exciting sound to work with but, to put it simply, I think the main difference between it and the piano is that the Rhodes can really blend into the sound of the band as a whole, rather than cutting through it as a soloist instrument. Putting more pressure on the keys doesn’t mean louder or bigger, it actually alters the tone and gives you so much versatility to work with.
Tom O'Grady photo credit John O'Connell

LJN: Cambridge has been a musical home to you of some sorts; how do you feel about the success of the Cambridge Jazz Festival so far?

T O’G: I think it’s amazing. It’s so incredible what they’ve managed to achieve in just two years. There’s a strong jazz and music scene in Cambridge so it’s really great that that’s being recognised and showcased there now and building more interest in the community.

LJN: You played at the Cambridge Jazz Fest last year, with Dennis Rollins as a guest trombonist. This year you’ve got Oli Savill (best known as the percussionist for Basement Jaxx) joining you. How did this come about?

T O’G: I first came across Oli when he was playing percussion with Kaidi Tatham, whose music is another of my biggest influences. Kaidi’s music heavily features percussion and it was through seeing him play live that I realised just how fundamental it is to the music - tying in the harmony as well as the rhythm. It’s definitely not just decoration. Oli’s one of the best percussion-ists around at the moment, that’s for sure, and we love playing with him.
Resolution 88 photo credit Rob Monk

LJN: Who else at the Cambridge Jazz Fest would you recommend catching?

T O’G: The line-up this year is even better than last year with some really exciting names. I’d definitely recommend Soweto Kinch. We’ve played with him before and he’s just the most incredible musician. Our music is quite complex to play but he just turned up and nailed it on the night - he’s quite something to see live. Otherwise the Misha Mullov-Abbado group are always on point and the Nigel Price organ trio will be coming off the back of a huge tour so they’ll be flying for their gig at the Festival.

LJN: Presumably, you’ll be playing music from your new album, Afterglow, for this gig?

T O’G: Yeah, we’re really excited about the new album and it’s been really well received so far. I think I learnt a lot from the process of putting out our first album and that my composition has naturally developed and become more refined since then. There are more common threads throughout, and more dynamics with a generally bigger sound. When Soweto Kinch played with us he played some second horn lines and we loved what it added to our sound. So for After-glow Alex overdubbed some second horn lines, so he’s actually playing bass clarinet as well as alto and tenor saxophone on this album.

LJN: "Afterglow" has been released on the Splash Blue label, which is run by Bluey (Jean-Paul Maunick) from Incognito, amongst others. How was it working with him?

T O’G: Oh, it’s fantastic. I’m currently filling in on keys on tour with Incognito and I’m such a big fan of their music and of Bluey himself. Being released on his label Splash Blue is so exciting because he only signs music that he genuinely wants to endorse and it’s so great to know that he’s behind us, helping to get our sound out there. He’s been so successful so we’re just happy to have the benefit of his experience and support.

Afterglow is released now and can be found on Bandcamp or iTunes.

Resolution 88
Resolution 88 on Bandcamp
Cambridge Jazz Festival


REVIEW: Iain Ballamy/ Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir / Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at Barbican Hall.

Iain Ballamy/ Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir
Barbican Hall. 23rd September. Review by Frank Griffith)

Iain Ballamy’s collaboration with the Guildhall Jazz Band and Choir with exquisite arrangements by Malcom Edmonstone took place at The Barbican on Friday 23rd September. The exemplary conducting of composer and veteran Guildhall Jazz Lecturer, Scott Stroman should not go unnoticed. Arriving in London in 1983, Indiana-born, Illinois-bred Stroman has been a formative figure in UK jazz education. His leadership of the jazz course commenced in 1987 and brought into being what has become an internationally recognised jazz course, where the idea of a centre of excellence continues to flourish: the extraordinary talents of the School's current students - from 1st year to post graduates -  all shone spectacularly.

Billed as Iain Ballamy’s 21st Century Pastoral the first half of the concert featured arrangements of Ballamy’s pieces by pianist and Head of Jazz, Malcolm Edmonstone as well as guitarist, Stuart Hall.

This was followed by the The Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Chorus performing works by Brahms and Walton. One might wonder as to why and how these seemingly disparate musical styles were programmed on the same bill but there are actual connections between the style. These were explored in a PREVIEW of the concert which noted that “the influence of jazz is well documented in the works of William Walton and jazz style rhythms, also strongly associated with Stravinsky, are self-evident in many of his works. Walton met many jazz musicians at the Savoy Theatre (in Harlem) and was known for his liking of music by Duke Ellington, Spike Hughes and Benny Goodman.”

The results of which were victorious in achieving a seamless articulation of idioms and sonorities in the two halves of the concert making for a delightful bouquet of large ensemble harmoniousness.

The music and the lyricism of Iain Ballamy were given depth and magic by the wondrous and larger-than-life arrangements of Edmonstone. These explored a range of colours and rhythmical grooves and changing metres. An expanded rhythm section included a kit drummer joined by four hand percussionists and seven guitarists (!) Speaking of which, two of Ballamy’s melodies were cleverly arranged by guitarist, Stuart Hall, for guitar ensemble and rhythm section. In addition to leading the group, Hall contributed some quirky and fiery solos of his own. This not only provided a welcome change of texture for the listener but presented yet another facet of Ballamy’s musical oeuvre. Hall’s harmonically updated treatment of Molly Malone certainly warmed the cockles and mussels of this listener's heart as well as providing an opportunity for several of the guitarists to let loose.

The primary figure of the evening though was Ballamy, of course. In addition to his excellent compositions exploring so many musical idioms his tenor sax scored highly as well. Possessing a rich and darkly sonorous tone he negotiated his way through the registers with both evenness and aplomb. His command of the horn is an inspiration to saxophonists and listeners alike, yet there is no hint of an icy or detached connection with the music. The warmth and melodic fluidity of his message reigned supreme at all times.

The pieces were from differing periods of Ballamy's career, and the inclusion and ordering of them helped the listener and  created a suite-like effect. This context gave a rounded and full perspective of a remarkable musician. Bravo to the Guildhall and Barbican for successfully marrying these musical idioms together as they clearly scored and resonated well. One looks forward to more initiatives like this in the future.

LINK: Interview with Iain Ballamy


PREVIEW: Tina May and Enrico Pieranunzi (tour dates tonight till Oct 7th, nearest to London on Oct 5th)

Enrico Pieranunzi and Tina May

Singer Tina May and pianist Enrico Pieranunzi will stir memories of two jazz legends who have been the focus of attention recently when they begin a UK in Langholm in the Scottish Borders tonight (Tuesday, September 27). Rob Adams explains the background - and the connections to Chet Baker and to Rudy Van Gelder: 

Tina May recorded The Ray Bryant Songbook in 2002 in the studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where the recently departed audio engineer Rudy Van Gelder helped to shape the sound of modern jazz on recordings by John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Lee Morgan, among many others. And Enrico Pieranunzi was once the regular accompanist to singer and trumpeter Chet Baker, the subject of Ethan Hawke’s latest film, Born to be Blue.

The tour is a belated launch for May and Pieranunzi’s Home is Where the Heart Is album, which was released on 33 Records in 2015 (Link to review below). Since recording the album the two musicians have been travelling separately almost constantly. May has made repeated journeys to the Far East and France, as well as gigging closer to home, and Pieranunzi has played gigs in New York and at the recent International Piano Trio festival at Ronnie Scott’s in London. So finding a mutually suitable period to tour proved a problem.

“It’s really just the way things are as a freelance musician,” says May. “You take every gig that comes along, assuming a mutually suitable gap will appear, and before you know it, the calendar’s changing. We meant to promote the album live at the time of its release but eventually we just had to set aside a couple weeks in late September and early October and go out and do some concerts together.”

The album continues May’s career as a lyricist as well as a singer. Having added words to compositions by Weather Report’s Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Bobby Watson in the mid-1990s, she teamed up in 2002 with the great pianist Ray Bryant – accompanist to Carmen McRae and Betty Carter as well as sideman to Lester Young and Miles Davis – on The Ray Bryant Songbook to considerable acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

On being introduced to Pieranunzi by a mutual friend in 2011, May and the pianist struck up an immediate rapport and five of the nine tracks on Home is Where the Heart Is are collaborative efforts.

As at home playing the works of Rossini as he is Sonny Rollins, Pieranunzi has vast experience as an accompanist, including his work with Chet Baker, with whom he recorded recording the album Soft Journey among others. He is also a recipient of France’s coveted Django d’Or award and a prolific composer.

“I love working with Enrico as a singer and as a songwriter,” says May. “He writes beautiful melodies that can immediately suggest ideas for lyrics and he seems to know intuitively where I’m going to be at any time in a song. I’m looking forward to the tour immensely because we always have a great time together.”

Tour dates

Tue Sep 27: Langholm, Buccleuch Centre
Wed Sep 28: Findhorn, Universal Hall
Thu Sep 29: Edinburgh, Queen’s Hall
Fri Sep 30: Stirling, Tolbooth
Sun Oct 2: Southport, Clifton Hotel
Wed Oct 5: Luton, The Bear Club
Thu Oct 6: Leeds, Seven Arts
Fri Oct 7: Liverpool, Capstone Theatre

LINK: Review of Enrico Pieranunzi Trio at Ronnie Scott's 
Review of CD Home is Where the Heart Is


TRIBUTE: Rob Adams remembers John Ellson (1952-2016)

John Ellson

The UK jazz community is mourning the loss of one of its most significant and energetic - and liked and respected -  behind-the-scenes instigators. The producer and promoter JOHN ELLSON, who died at home in Shiplake in Oxfordshire of a heart attack on September 17th 2016, was an integral part of the scene for over three decades. Rob Adams remembers him:

As is the way of these things, I’d been speaking about him the day before the news came through that John Ellson had died. Some musicians were looking to apply for Made in the UK and I’d assured them that, if successful, they’d be in the best possible hands.

They would also be joining a long, long list of musicians that John had expertly guided across the world, not just to Rochester International Jazz Festival in New York where Made in the UK has given British jazz a platform since 2008, but to just about everywhere jazz is played.

John was one of these people who take on the physical attributes of a geographical feature. We weren’t in touch that often latterly but it was easy to assume he would always be around and when we did bump into each other, it was always the same John you were dealing with. He was as steady as a rock.

We’d met in the 1980s when I was organising tours for Jazz Services in Covent Garden and John was working out of the office space over the dividing wall. Sometimes, if we were both in town, we’d share the walk from Waterloo over the Thames in the morning and compare notes.

I’d be sending bands to Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, or maybe Barnstaple, Exeter and Eype, and John would either be dealing with something similar on the considerably larger scale of the Contemporary Music Network tours or plotting some mammoth itinerary for all-star teams on transglobal jaunts sponsored by cigarette manufacturers Philip Morris. On these trips there invariably seemed to be a Hammond organ, complete with Lesley speaker cabinet, to shunt around the world’s airports. It sounded nightmarish but John dealt with it all as if it was no more onerous than a golf outing, something that he also enjoyed.

Eventually I moved back to Scotland to another jazz company that wasn’t quite as long for this world as I’d hoped and when it went under, John was one of the first to get in touch. He offered me a job which, not ungratefully, I turned down, sensing a move in another direction. I remember his response: I’d be back, running some tour or other. He was right, although it took a while and it hasn’t become a full-time occupation. Certainly not like John’s, which went on to include festival programming and production and overseeing recording projects plus many, many more waits by airport carousels.

The last time we met was at the Scottish Jazz Awards, at which John was presenting, I think, the live band of the year prize. That would have been the most appropriate category anyway for someone who thrived on making jazz happen, who saw no obstacles in its way and who loved dealing with everyone involved, especially the musicians. And they loved him back. How could they not love someone who came up with the idea of flying British musicians to America to play at a major jazz festival and then make that the springboard for concerts deeper into the U.S. and Canada?

One of the things we dicussed on those walks across Waterloo Bridge was the Musicians Union exchange system which required incoming Americans’ gigs to be matched by MU members playing the same number of U.S. dates. Imagine if, instead of trading a whole UK tour by Jack Walrath for a weekend of Simple Minds gigs (as once happened), we could actually send British jazzers. John Ellson made that fantasy a reality. The jazz world has lost a big friend indeed.

Facebook has carried eloquent tributes from Sue Edwards , John HarleKerstan Mackness and John Nugent


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Joe Williamson of Square One (CD In Motion and Tour Dates 4 Oct-29 Nov)

Square One. Back L to R:   David Bowden, Stephen Henderson, Peter Johnstone.
Lower step: Joe Williamson 
If being invited down to London to play in the auditions for the Peter Whittingham Jazz Awards last December had been an unexpected pleasure for Square One...then the return journey following the event had an even bigger surprise in store. Rob Adams explains: 

It was while travelling back to Glasgow by train that the quartet Square One heard the news that they had been selected, alongside the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra, to receive the top prize in the Peter Whittingham Jazz Awards, of £5000. In music industry terms this may be a modest sum but it’s been a game changer for Square One, enabling them to record their first album, In Motion, which they are touring to promote in the UK from October 4 with a series of gigs in Poland in between two dates in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a final date in London at the Vortex.

“As well as the financial aspect, the award has been a fantastic boost for Square One,” says guitarist Joe Williamson. “It's really raised the profile of the band, and helped to get the attention of promoters - it’s great to have so many gigs on the album launch tour as a result. As well as the album we were also able to make some videos, which help to promote the band, and being able to afford the luxury of two days in a state of the art studio, Castlesound in Pencaitland, near Edinburgh, allowed us to take our time and get the music sounding the way we wanted.”

All four band members are graduates of the jazz course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, although they were part of three different in-takes and got together on a more social basis away from the course. Pianist and former Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, Peter Johnstone is the senior member and had already graduated when Square One began to play informally in the local scene in 2014.

“The nature of the RCS course is that, although it’s quite small, you get to play with lots of people and various bands come together among the students actually within the conservatoire,” says Williamson. “The four of us - Peter, David Bowden [bass] and Stephen Henderson [drums] – had played together a lot in various different line-ups, and found that we enjoyed playing each other’s music, so we wanted to take it a bit further. Very quickly, a style began to emerge, and as the sound began to develop we were able to start writing specifically for Square One.”

Most of the music on In Motion has been composed by Williamson, Bowden and Henderson, with Johnstone contributing ideas and suggestions for edits and arrangements. Already, though, there’s a unity of style. The key component for Williamson, who cites the Impossible Gentlemen in general and Mike Walker’s playing in particular as primary influences, is melody.

“We all play in other projects away from the band,” he says. “And we all bring different styles into the music. Peter, for example is a very accomplished classical pianist and is about to take a doctorate in performance back at the RCS. Stephen’s really into Steely Dan and the fusion side of things and also plays in a folk-rock band, and David’s interested in song-based compositions and has a very lyrical approach. At the same time, though, we all have the same mind-set as far as what we want to play as a band is concerned and I think that makes us well-balanced and keeps us focused on not just melody but in creating dynamism and drama within the arrangements.”

For Williamson, who was commissioned by Glasgow Jazz Festival this year to write an extended piece for the band, In Motion marks a staging post in Square One’s music. The album tracks are still evolving since being recorded and he’s looking forward to taking the music on tour.

“We feel that every time we play the music develops, so it’s going to be really exciting to go out on the road and play almost every night,” he says. “It’s great playing with Pete, David, and Stephen, as they always discover something new in the music every time we play it. It’s very exciting for us – we hope audiences will feel the same!’’ (pp)

Tour dates:

4th Oct - The Spotted Dog - Birmingham
5th Oct - Dempsey's - Cardiff
7th Oct - St Christopher's Church, Haslemere
9th Oct - The Phoenix Inn, York
10th Oct - The Wonder Inn, Manchester
12th Oct - The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
20th Oct - Harris Piano Bar, Krakow, Poland
22nd Oct - Dali Club, Krakow, Poland
23rd Oct - Theatre in the Castle, Przemsyl, Poland
1st Nov - The Hug and Pint, Glasgow
29th Nov – The Vortex, London


REVIEW: ELDA Trio - Album Launch at King’s Place

Emilia Mårtensson, Janez Dovč and Adriano Adewale of ELDA trio.
Photo credit Gierdre Cesnaite

ELDA Trio - Album Launch
(King’s Place. 22nd September 2016. Review by Leah Williams)

The transatlantic trio of Swedish vocalist Emilia Mårtensson, Slovenian accordionist Janez Dovč and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale are a new force to be reckoned with. Drawing on musical inspirations from their variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences, ELDA produces a full and uplifting sound that is both recognisable from its various distinctive elements, whilst also creating something completely new of its own. Launching their eponymous debut album, the trio treated us to a memorable celebration of cultures, musical heritage and life.

ELDA trio make for an interesting combination with a collection of instruments and backgrounds probably rarely seen together on stage. This “melting pot” of their respective musical styles and cultures is apparently simultaneously the result of and reason for this collaboration. They make it clear that this project wasn’t only a musical journey to see how their respective styles and sounds would come together, but had a larger purpose. As described by Adewale, this venture is about an “encounter of different cultures and noting not only the similarities but also respecting and celebrating the differences…which is important in times like this”.

The excitement and pure joy of their music-making remained dominant throughout and was truly infectious. From the way the instruments are set-up (in almost a music circle setting so they can all easily see and interact with one another) and the continuous grins and knowing looks they send to each other and out to the audience throughout, it is clear that not only is there a lot of love and respect there but that they are truly relishing every minute of finally seeing all their hard work and dreams for this trio come to life. The entire gig is high energy and whether a song is pure celebration or dealing with a more serious topic, the music never fails to be rousing. It’s the kind of music that gets every sense involved, leaving you with a stupid grin on your face and bringing goosebumps with every climax, which are both inevitably and organically built up to in each song but also somehow catch you by surprise.

The majority of the songs have been co-written by them all and this shows in the way that a consistent sound has been found amidst the many different styles and musical influences. They have drawn on folk tales and musical traditions from their varied cultures but then used these influences to push their music and style forwards to its own unique place, adding a few subtle electronic soundbites for a truly contemporary touch.

One of my personal favourites was Ellis Dreams, which Emilia Mårtensson introduced by explaining how one of the things they’d wanted to do with this music was to “tell stories that everyone can relate to” and then followed this by saying that perhaps not so many people would be able to relate to this one as she co-wrote it with a friend when they were drunk on red wine. The result is one of the most synergetic songs I’ve ever heard with a tipsy-topsy, fantastical, Willy Wonka style that makes you feel as though you’re right there with them, a few glasses down yourself! This aside, the majority of songs cover topics that will speak to all in the most poignant of ways, with lost love, displacement and a search for identity beautifully captured and communicated.

Who would have predicted that an accordion, a range of percussion instruments and pure, trandescent vocals could come together to create such musical magic? But this recipe does indeed make for one seriously tasty dish for the ears and the spirit. It is the kind of music that leaves you feeling alive and glad to be human (no mean feat sometimes these days and something we could all do with more of).

The scene had been nicely set by surprise support act, The Magic Lantern (aka singer/songwriter Jamie Doe), who set up a wonderful rapport with the audience. Not only was he at ease, he was also genuinely funny, delivering a seemingly natural mix of stand-up comedy and great acoustic folk music. His songs appeared deceptively simple but revealed a depth and life-experience that many will connect with. He even managed to produce a variety of sounds from his guitar - including one inspired by the African mbira (thumb piano) - using a few humorous props such as broken tent string and blu tac.

ELDA will be performing at the EFG London Jazz Festival in the Upper Hall (Bar) Union Chapel at 3 30pm on Nov 20th in a double bill with Fini Bearman. (DETAILS). The album ELDA Trio is released on Two Rivers Records.

LINK: ELDA Trio website


NEWS: Bassist Daniel Casimir wins 2016 Musicians Company Award

Master of the Musicians Company Andrew Morris and Daniel Casimir
Photo credit: Melody McLaren 

The winner of the 2016 Musicians' Company Young Jazz Musician Competition is bassist Daniel Casimir. This was the second win by a bassist in two years, last year's winner having been Adam King. The last (and only) guitarist to have won was Colin Oxley in 2001, the last pianist John Escreet in 2004.

The unusual format of the competition is to put together a six-piece band to play standards, and for the audience to choose the winner by secret ballot. The strongest impression was of the unbelievably the high standards and professional energy and adaptability attained by all six participants as they worked together as a band, and yet simultaneously vied for the audience's attention and/or affection. One stand-out moment was Elliott Sansom's  eloquent and beautifully crafted solo on Sam Rivers' Beatrice, but it was Daniel Casimir who won the audience over last night - and gained their vote by quite a margin - with a great mix of communicativeness, simplicity and sass.

The finalists' band. L-R: Elliott Sansom, Rob Luft, Daniel Casimir
Leo Richardson, Jackson Mathod, Scott Chapman
Photo credit Melody McLaren

Daniel Casimir. Photo credit: Melody McLaren

LINK: Musicians' Company Website


INTERVIEW: Mark Wingfield (Specialist Mixing and Mastering Service for Jazz at Heron Island Studio)

Mark Wingfield
MARK WINGFIELD is a musician and a specialist in mixing and mastering jazz recordings. In this in-depth interview he talks about the art and craft of mixing and mastering, and gives an insight into the issues involved when an album has been recorded in a cramped space. He explains the activity of Heron Island Studios, and brings to the fore some current industry trends. Sebastian asked the questions: 

LondonJazz News: What and where is Heron Island Studio?

Mark Wingfield:We are just outside of St Neots on an island on the Great Ouse river in an area rich in bird-life, hence the name Heron Island Studio. The road crosses over the island so no boats necessary! We overlook a nature reserve and are surrounded by natural beauty as well as the river, so it's a relaxing place to mix. Access from London is easy, we are 40 minutes by train from Kings Cross and just off the A1 for anyone coming by car.

LJN: You specialise in mixing and mastering jazz. Is your approach different from people mixing and mastering other types of music?

MW: Yes mixing jazz is very different from mixing for example, pop or rock. With rock and pop it's often the opposite approach to how you would mix a jazz record. Mixing rock and pop you are often trying to fill in the gaps, gel everything together, flatten out the dynamics. It often even involves moving every note onto the grid, removing all natural timing from the playing. This is all an anathema to jazz playing. In jazz the detail of what's played is very important. With a jazz musician, every inflection, nuance, dynamic and tonal change is part of their expression. So it is vital that the mixing approach allows all this to be heard clearly and that it makes everything sound as natural as possible.

Because of the budgetary limitations most jazz musicians face, most albums are being recorded in small studios. The problem with small studios is that the walls are too close to the instruments. This means that these studios are forced to deaden the walls and ceiling with sound baffling to prevent the kind of horrible sounding small room reverberation, which would otherwise ruin the recording. Try walking into a small empty room and clapping your hands. You get a sort of "boing" noise as the sound bounces off all the walls. If you imagine that sound on every instrument, it would be a very far cry from the big beautiful reverberation sound you get in a performance hall or even a small club. That's why small studios have to put absorbent baffling in the rooms.

LJN: What is the effect on the sound of recording in small deadened rooms and how do you work with this when mixing?

MW When you play back what you've recorded in one of these small rooms, the instruments sound like they are on top of each other. This is because the baffling has taken away the spacial information from the sound, so it's more difficult for the ear to separate the instruments and place them in space relative to each other. So you end up with a very dense, flat, crowded sound where it's hard to hear what's going on in detail. Part of our job when mixing is to take this raw recording and transform it into a mix where the instruments are in a beautiful sounding space. A beautiful sounding space where they are not on top of each other, but set out as if on stage or in a large room. What kind of space you create depends on the music. Some music needs an intimate atmosphere, some asks for a larger more epic space. You then place the instruments in this space in relation to each other, close enough together to sound like they are playing with each other, but with enough room between them so that you can hear all the details. For me, creating this space is part of the art of mixing jazz.

This involves many things, like making sure frequencies don't clash between instruments. For example if the kick drum is occupying part of the same frequency range as the acoustic bass, you won't hear either of them clearly. Sorting out these kinds of problems while keeping the instruments sounding very natural, is for me another part of the art of mixing jazz. These kinds of techniques have taken me many years of mixing and mastering to acquire and refine, but I think that comes from that fact that I absolutely love doing it.

LJN: Do you have a particular goal when you mix or master a jazz album?

MW:There are goals I have when mixing or mastering an album. I want to hear the wood in an acoustic bass, the texture of brush strokes on the snare or detailed work on the ride cymbal. I'm looking for a feeling of depth and warmth but without any muddiness. I want to hear the detail of what players are doing and the interaction that's going on clearly, because that's so important in jazz. I want it to be a truly pleasurable experience for the listener because I think that helps people connect with the music.

LJN: And you are a musician yourself – when did you start being involved on the other side of the microphone?

MW: I've always been involved in mixing and recording right from the beginning. Perhaps because I'm a guitarist and have always been very interested in the effects side of things, mixing was a natural extension of what I did as a musician from early on. I got hold of a mixing desk at the age of 18 and have been heavily involved in mixing now for over 20 years. Mastering is something I started doing later on, after I had been mixing for quite a while.

LJN: Are mixing and mastering a question of equipment or is it the person and their experience / judgment ?

MW:It's both for sure... I think the personal aesthetic of the mixing or mastering engineer is key to getting a sound that suits a particular style of music. If you are not really steeped in the music of the genre, though you might do a decent job, it's going to hard to really make the music shine. I've been involved with jazz and related music my whole life, so I know the history, all the classic recordings starting from the 40's right up to today. The sound of recording and mixing has changed over the decades along with the evolution of the music. I think this knowledge and listening experience makes a huge difference in how I mix and master. I mean if you gave me a thrash metal album or an electronic dance album to mix I could do a decent job, but it wouldn't be the same as getting someone who specialised in those genres. I think it's the same with jazz or any genre, if you have a deep knowledge of the music you're mixing and mastering it makes a huge difference in the results.

I think experience and judgement are far more important than the equipment. Someone who really knows what their doing can produce a good result from any decent equipment. Someone who isn't as skilled will produce a mediocre result with the best equipment in the world. But of course equipment does make a big difference. It means that a skilled engineer can make things sound even better.

LJN: Is there any particular piece of gear or software that you feel makes a difference in making a great sounding mix?

MW:A particularly important factor for jazz is having world class reverbs. I think people often don't realise what a difference it makes between using say, Lexicon's current flagship reverb, versus a lesser reverb like an older unit made in the 1980s or a cheap reverb plugin. The difference is like night and day. I see some studios using old or cheap reverbs and I can always hear it. To my ears they almost always muddy the sound without creating a realistic sense of space in the music. Certain kinds of studio gear haven't really improved since the 1970's. That's not true for reverb, it has improved dramatically in recent years in terms of realism and sonic quality. A great modern reverb allows you to create a beautiful 3D space for the music to be in, without you even noticing it's there. Put simply, world-class reverb makes the music a real pleasure to listen to, especially with acoustic instruments. Used correctly, it creates space between the instruments, which actually makes it easier to hear the details of what people are playing.

LJN: How did you get to know MoonJune?

MW:For anyone who doesn't know MoonJune Records, it's an innovative jazz label based in Manhattan, which has been nominated for label of the year in Downbeat two years running. I signed to MoonJune as a musician in 2014 and in 2015 recorded an album for them as band leader, called "Proof of Light". As well as playing on the album I also mixed and masted it. I have since recorded another four albums for them as band leader or co-leader. One coming out this year and another two in 2017.

"Proof of Light" got over 60 rave reviews around the world including Downbeat, Relix and many other major publications. One interesting upshot of all that publicity was that a lot of audiophiles commented about how good the album sounded in terms of the mixing and mastering audio quality. As a result Leonardo Pavkovic, the owner of MoonJune, asked me to mix and master some of the other albums on the label. Before long Heron Island became their go-to mixing and mastering studio. I'm incredibly pleased about the fact that all the records I have mixed and mastered for MoonJune have received world-wide critical acclaim.

It's a very similar story for Greydisc Records the Boston based label I do a lot of work for, which is also known for it's audiophile sound. One of the records I mixed and mastered for Greydisc was the subject of a feature article in Guitar Player magazine, and six others have been selected for the year's "best-of" list by numerous US jazz radio stations as well as by major music publications. That's something I'm very proud of.

LJN: What albums have you been working on recently?

MW: We've been working on some interesting music recently at Heron Island. I've just been mastering a Softworks album featuring Allan Holdsworth, John Marshall, Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper and a double album by the great Indonesian jazz pianist Dwiki Dharmawan called Pasar Klewer which features Gilad Atzmon, Nicolas Meier, Yaron Stavi and Asaf Sirkis. Before that I was mastering an album by the amazing NYC based guitarist Beledo featuring Gary Husband. Other albums recently have featured great musicians such as Iain Ballamy, Chad Wackerman, Lincoln Goines, Jimmy Haslip, Robert Mitchell and more.

LJN: Do you choose the work you get or does it choose you?

MW: It's a bit of both. I choose to work only on jazz related music, which includes some world music too. I prefer to work in that genre because I feel I have a deep understanding of jazz, I think that really helps in the mixing and mastering, and I feel like I can use the best of my mixing abilities. Having said that, I did mix and master a rock/pop album album for Warner Bros. recently. Mixing that style is unusual for me these days, but I was asked to do it and I liked the music. So I will make an exception if I like the music enough, but my speciality is jazz. There was a full string orchestra on the recording and as I have experience mixing classical music that may have played a part in them asking me.

LJN: Do you mix "in the box" or is there analogue outboard gear or what combination of the two?

MW:We have analog gear here and we use it if requested. However in the past three or four years, software has advanced to the point where it sounds as good as or better than the very best hardware. Most of the best analog gear has now been emulated so well with software, that the owners of the actual units that copied cannot tell which is which when you switch between the two. The analog magic created by prized hardware has now been completely understood and completely reproduced in software. If anyone reading this has doubts, I urge them to listen to the plugins made by SlateDigital, Millennia, Softube and Eiosis. These companies and a few others, have completely changed the game. As a result, a whole slew of famous Grammy Award winning engineers in the US, who all used to swear by analog, have come out and said that software now actually sounds as good or better than their hardware and are now mixing entirely in the box.

LJN: What does this mean for musicians recording today and what does it mean for you as a mix and mastering engineer?

MW:What this means to a musician or group recording an album is that they can now afford a world-class sound which would normally be way beyond the finances of most jazz groups. The cost of setting up a studio with at large mixing desk and the necessary racks of the best analog gear was 120 to 150 thousand pounds. Now you can get the same quality or better for under 10 thousand because it's based in software. In fact it's now arguably better because you don't have to compromise with the fact that your studio only has one or two examples of a particular piece of beautiful sounding analog gear. With software you can use that sound on every instrument. That's something that just wasn't possible in the analog world.

For me what's just as important is that in the past three or so years, the best software designers have taken things way past what analog can do. So for example, you might have a great sounding piece of analog gear which adds a sweetness to the mid range, a different unit might add richness to the low end and a third piece is nice because it tends to add a silky smoothness to the high frequencies. But each of these pieces of hardware comes with a hefty dose of noise and other changes to frequencies you really don't want to affect. So you gain something, but you also loose something, it's always a compromise in the analog world. The result was often a warm sounding mix, but also a loss of detail and space. Everything would be coated in a sort of gauze or mist. This can actually be a good thing for some kinds of rock music, but for jazz, you just end up missing out on the details and the depth in the sound.

This is one of a number of areas where software has now gone beyond the hardware. The best new software allows you to choose just the attribute you want to enhance without affecting anything else. So for example you can add a silky smoothness to the sax or vocal that a prized piece of analog hardware would add, but without adding mushiness to the mid range or low end that the actual hardware would. There's a lot less compromise in the sound quality now and it's easier to get just the sound you want on every instrument.

LJN: And the acoustic environment of the room is special / optimized ?

MW:Yes absolutely. A room which has been properly acoustically treated is one of the most important things in a mixing and mastering studio, it's even more important than the gear or software. The reason is that any room will have reflections across the frequency range. These bounce back at your ears just after the sound from the speakers and that causes frequencies to cancel out and multiply. The result is that what you hear is not what the music actually sounds like. You may be hearing more bass than there actually is, or less high frequencies than there actually are etc... You're hearing a skewed version of the music. This will very likely cause problems in the mix, because the mixer will be fixing problems which don't exist and missing problems which do.

A lot of our work in mastering is fixing problems in mixes which happened because the room was not properly treated or the mixing speakers were not good enough. In fact that's the most common problem any mastering engineer encounters. You can do a lot to fix this in mastering, but it's never going to be as good as if the mix didn't have those problems to begin with.

So proper acoustic treatment is essential. This is something you simply can't skimp on if you want great results and yet so many small studios don't take it seriously enough. It's simply not enough to put some foam and a few cheap sound baffles on the walls. That might help a little, but it's just not going to fix the major problems almost all rooms naturally have. For this reason we spent a good deal on acoustic treatment at Heron Island. Our acoustic treatment was bespoke designed for our studio by RealTraps who do many of the top NYC studios.

LJN: Is there anything else apart from the acoustic treatment that you feel is vital for a mixing or mastering studio?

MW:Great speakers are the other important thing. We use Adam A77Xs which swept the awards for studio speakers. Adam are are world-class mixing speakers which is why they are used by Abbey Road, Bomb Factory, Universal Studios, Deepwave, Rupert Neve, etc… Having speakers of this quality makes a huge difference in getting a great mix.

Mastering also requires great speakers and you can't use mixing speakers to master with. Mastering speakers are very different from near field mixing speakers. It's vitally important for a mastering studio to have truly great mastering speakers and amplifier. We are very lucky to have a pair of Duntech Viscount mastering speakers. Duntechs are legendary in the mastering world because they are extremely well balanced and accurate across the frequency spectrum and they have incredible detail and sound stage. We have a world-class Chord amplifier to drive them.

LJN: Is there an advantage in musicians coming to St Neots and working with you?

MW:That depends on the client. I mix music from all over the world. A lot of stuff from NYC, Boston, Berlin, Zurich, even as far afield as Jakarta (which has a huge and vibrant jazz scene). So I am used to receiving files over the internet or receiving a hard disk in the mail and working remotely. I often skype with the band or musicians to talk over what they would like from the mix. I'll then send high quality mp3s of rough mixes, get their comments and make changes based on that. This system works extremely well for many people. However some people would really like to be there during the mix and of course they are more than welcome to come to the studio. It's a very relaxing environment to work in here as I mentioned, we often have a break (important to do when mixing) and have a walk by the river around the island. There are restaurants, shops and pubs just a mile up the road in St Neots. So it's totally up to the client. We are more than happy to have people attend the mixing sessions or equally happy to do it remotely. The same goes with mastering, though as a rule not so many people want to attend mastering.

LJN: How long does mixing / mastering take?

MW: The time it takes to mix an album is variable. Some albums are quick to mix, others take longer. As a rough guide it takes about a week for most things. If there is a full string section or many instruments playing it's going to take longer than mixing a quartet or trio. It also depends on the budget of the musician, band or label. Because I know what it's like to be a struggling jazz musician I try to stay as flexible as possible. I discuss the project with the client to establish what's involved, and find out how complicated the mix is going to be. There will be a difference between how long it takes to mix a trio record and a record with fifteen instruments playing at the same time for example. From there I can work out a price and the time it will take. Mastering an album is usually done in a day, sometimes two.

LJN: People who hear you speak might not be able to place your accent. What's your story?

MW:I have an American father and English mother. I was born in Oklahoma USA then moved to the UK and spent some of my childhood here before returning to the US and spending my later childhood and teens in Boston. I then returned to the UK and have been here now for over 20 years.

LJN: Did you have mentors as musician and or as mixing /mastering specialist. What is it that makes one better than another?

MW:If I had to choose an engineer who I looked up to and someone who really changed the face of jazz sonically it would be Jan Erik Kongshaug. Jan Erik mixed many of the classic ECM recordings, Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Pat Metheny etc... and he along with Manfred Eicher, changed the sound of how jazz was recorded and mixed. There's barely and album made today which hasn't taken some influence from the way Jan Erik mixed those ECM recordings (and still does). If you listen to the clarity and detail in those recordings compared to pretty much anything that came before, you can hear how much he changed the face of jazz mixing. (pp)

LINK: Contacting Heron Island Studio