PODCAST INTERVIEW: The Jean-Pierre Leloir Jazz Images LP and CD collection (with *cute* cat intervention)

Duke Ellington - Festival Session
Discussed at [2:30] in the podcast interview

A collection of jazz LP and CD re-issues, featuring the photography of Jean-Pierre Leloir, has just been released under the generic title "Jazz Images". Sebastian interviewed ANDREW CARTMEL, author of "The Vinyl Detective". In the picture Andrew is holding a copy of "Little Girl Blue" by Nina Simone. Audio production was by HARRY JONES:


LINKS - The entire collection listed at Discovery Records 
Jazz Images Records website

o - o - o - o - o


0:00 Describing the concept

1:15 Sound quality

1:30 Jean-Pierre Leloir and his photographic style / strengths

2:30 Introducing Duke Ellington – Festival Session from 1959
“a handsome package”

4: 16 MUSIC EXTRACT: Perdido

5:56 Introduction to Sidney Bechet / Martial Solal - Together

7:20 MUSIC EXTRACT : Rose Room

8: 40 Intro to Bill Evans – Waltz for Debby

[10:00 Soulful intervention by Andrew Cartmel’s Cat Jade bemoaning the cost of Bill Evans on original vinyl]

12:14 MUSIC EXTRACT: My Foolish Heart

14:15 Discussion of the merits of a series which sets out to be different from the originals . “A sound move.”

15:41 Nina Simone, swimming pools, the South of France and all that...


REVIEW: Grégory Privat New Trio with Linley Marthe and Tilo Bertholo at Duc Des Lombards, Paris

Grégory Privat, Linley Marthe, Tilo Bertholo

Grégory Privat New Trio
Duc des Lombards, Paris, 28th November 2016. Second set, first night. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Those hands. Perhaps one day someone will make a film about them. Pianist Grégory Privat's fingers are improbably, powerfully yet expressively long. He gave last night's Paris audience a wonderful demonstration of the movements of spiders in a web with them, to explain what his tune Zig Zagriyen (*) was all about. And then when he plays, the fingers are often laid completely straight and flat across the keys of the piano, which give him all kinds of options with his touch. He has velocity and technique to spare, and also a strong melodic sense, particularly in lyrical pieces such as Le Parfum and Le Bonheur. 


Last night was part of an album launch residency for his new CD Family Tree, and the Duc des Lombards was full to bursting. Word has definitely got about. Two young people from northern Greece whom I met in the queue had made the trip to Paris specially, with their outing to this gig as the highlight of the visit, having seen Privat on YouTube. One does indeed sense a building reputation.

The rhetoric and the "story" are about the Creole heritage - Privat's father is a pianist from Martinique -, and as a thoughtful and reflective musician who is launching a career in his early thirties, he has considered opinions about his origins. But musically what I was hearing far more was a strong jazz piano heritage: Jarrett, Petrucciani, and particularly Brad Mehldau.

He has a very fine trio indeed. The bassist Linley Marthe's quality and sheer presence are well known from his associations with the late Joe Zawinul and Trilok Gurtu. For this trio he ventures onto double bass, and was playin consistently in a space-leaving, less-is-more kind of a way, knowing absolutely every melodic intervention expected of him without any sheet  music or obvious cue-ing, He stayed in that inconspicuous and supportive role until right before the end. In the encore Galactica, he unleashed a complete storm of a solo with all kinds of finger-poppings and double stopping techniques adapted from the electric bass. Drummer Tilo Bertholo reminded me of Corrie Dick from Scotland. Both are  young masters of creating ambient textures full of tingling energy and life.

The Duc des Lombards is a tiny club with free seating which has its advantages and its drawbacks, The only way to nab a decent seat - one should learn from one's errors - is to stand and queue outside on the pavement for at least half an hour before the due time of the gig, which at this time of the year means bringing your coat and scarf. It is a tiny club, and last night there was an offensive total idiot, loudly praising and wolf-whistling the band, ranting that he was going exact personal revenge on people who didn't buy Grégory Privat's new album, by killing them. Privat dealt with his repeated, unfortunate interventions with poise and class. Privat has an assured, confident and friendly stage manner and it was clear that the audience was not just keen on the music anyeay, but also increasingly drawn in by the performance as the evening progressed.

All in all, this was a very fine and completely feel-good gig. A fascinating and individual musical voice well worth hearing.

Grégory Privat, Linley Marthe and Tilo Bertholo
acknowledge the applause at the end of the night

(*) Zig Zagriyen is a play on "zarenyen" the Creole word for spider.

LINKS: Grégory Privat at ACT Music


FEATURE: Adam Glasser writes about Pinise Saul (Celebration at the 100 Club, Thursday, 1st December)

This Thursday sees a London tribute to PINISE SAUL (1941-2016) at the 100 Club. Adam Glasser, who worked closely with her, and has had a role in putting the tribute together, remembers her utterly unique voice, and explains the background to the event:  

While the essentials of Pinise Saul’s career are covered in this Guardian obituary, my own journey with her began in the autumn of 1982 in the foyer of the Greenwich Theatre where I heard her in a trio performance with saxophonist Dudu Pukwana and legendary South African guitarist Allen Kwela. I was delighted and amazed to discover a voice which combined in equally profound measure the searing influence of Nancy Wilson and the perfet embodiment of South African township jazz, township mbaqanga, church choral harmony and rural indigenous music. The following year when Dudu Pukwana’s Zila released Life at Bracknell & Willisau 1983 (one of the very best South African jazz albums ever made outside SA) it became an obsession for me to work with her and Dudu one day.

In 1985 the opportunity arose: bassist Ernest Mothle put me forward to replace Django Bates who had just left the band… a terrifyingly hard act to follow! - especially when at one particular sound check Pinise opined openly ‘ Oooh, I miss my Djangorino!’ But I persisted and we began a performing/writing partnership that lasted on and off for 3 decades: August One ( now on the ABRSM Jazz Syllbus) we wrote for the album Zila 86, a Peter Whittingham Award funded album Live at The Space Theatre in 1997, tours with The African Jazz All Stars and her own SA Gospel Singers, and many gigs with The Township Comets (the band formed in 2009 by Chris Batchelor and myself to celebrate the music of Dudu Pukwana). A particular highlight for us was appearing together finally in South Africa at the 2012 Cape Town International Jazz Festival after my albums - to which she made vital contributions - had made a critical impact in our home country.

Pinise Saul had the dramatic stage qualities and charisma of old school artists whose presence could light up a jazz club or concert hall. Her turn of phrase and observational wit were both merciless and hilarious - provoking stitches of laughter suddenly during rehearsals or long car journeys. She would talk about the SA jazz scene in 60s where she cut her teeth or stories about tours with Zila. One favourite anecdote described an extraordinary encounter in a Caracas restaurant between Salvador Dali and Dudu Pukwana which developed into a friendship.

Pinise had so many world class musical qualities: her ear for south african vocal harmony, her deep sense of groove and time, a powerful resonant voice that sounded amazing even through the worst of PAs. And a truly inspired gift for spontaneous unfettered free vocal improvisation which drew from the palette of her own Xhosa tongue. And yet to hear her phrasing and swing on a traditional jazz ballad like Lakutshonilanga she was clearly up there with the very best artists of the genre.

The gig this Thursday 1st December at Oxford Street’s 100 Club celebrating the life of the extraordinarily talented and under-recognised South African vocalist Pinise Saul will be probably the last formal opportunity for UK based musicians to pay tribute to a major South African artist - also a Londoner since the mid seventies - whose immense contribution to the scene leaves a special memory with those that experienced her live performances and recordings over the years. 

LINKS: News story after the passing of Pinise Saul
Podcast intervew from 2014
Tickets for the tribute at the 100 Club


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Guy Barker (Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas" with Kurt Elling, Clare Teal, Soweto Kinch.., Royal Albert Hall, Sunday Dec 11th).

Guy Barker
Photo Credit: Charlie Chan

Trumpeter/ conductor/ arranger GUY BARKER will be directing and co-hosting "Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas" at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday December 11th. It is billed as a  "soulful celebration of big band music from Count Basie to Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Louis Prima with a Christmas twist." Participating will be KURT ELLING, CLARE TEAL (also co-host), SOWETO KINCH, actor/singer CLARKE PETERS from "The Wire", "Notting Hill" - and playing Nelson Mandela in "The Prison Years." Also appearing are VANESSA HAYNES and the a capella group ACCENT.

In the run-up to the show, Guy Barker spoke to Dan Paton:

Guy Barker quietly sustains one of the most relentless and intense work schedules in British music. Almost immediately after the now traditional Jazz Voice concert at the EFG London Jazz Festival (for which he serves as Musical Director and arranger), Barker embarked on a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong for some meetings, before returning to the UK to resume his work in preparation for Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas, a huge festive musical celebration at the Royal Albert Hall on 11th December.

How does he maintain such momentum? 'Whenever I put the pencil down, something else comes in', he says, more with genuine gratitude than exasperation or exhaustion. 'This year has been very busy. I wrote a lot of orchestral arrangements for Clare Teal's album, I did my annual Cheltenham Jazz Festival gig and I wrote a violin concerto which was premiered in Bucharest with Charles Mutter. I'm now working on a Cello concerto as well. I love the challenges of all these things. There are times when it is easier than other times, especially when you've been travelling. There was a time I remember doing a Miles Davis project for the BBC Big Band and Philharmonic at the same time as I was doing Jazz Voice - I was waking up in the night out of fear and panic!'

Fortunately, Barker does not seem even remotely fearful about his current workload, even after Jazz Voice, which he admits can be all-encompassing. He explains the slightly circuitous route by which he came to be doing a Christmas concert, the event having origins in a very different project. 'I got a call from Lucy Noble who runs the concert schedule there and she asked me what I would do if I could do anything at all.

I've worked with an author called Rob Ryan a lot and we wanted to do something inspired by a circus fire that took place in the 40s. There's a Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs book that we were looking at (And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks). Unfortunately, some of the soloists' touring schedules meant we couldn't get it together but Lucy was very keen not to lose the project completely. In the meantime, she asked me how I'd feel about doing a Christmas concert. She had seen the swing prom with Clare Teal and was probably thinking along those lines.'

Some jazz musicians might run for the hills at such a proposition, but Barker is adept at moulding ideas to his own creative concerns. 'We knew it had to be in contrast to regular Christmas material - immediately we wanted to avoid The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol, he explains. 'I also wanted the band to look very different from the Jazz Voice concert as they were only a month apart.'

This directed Barker towards expanding the band to include two drummers, two pianos and an 18 piece string section, among other developments. He also started investigating the lineage of Christmas themed jazz and found some surprising rewards (he becomes animated when discussing a Charlie Parker Christmas Day live radio broadcast).

He takes evident delight in the way great jazz musicians were able to develop even the most familiar and predictable of Christmas material. 'I heard a fantastic arrangement of Jingle Bells that Ernie Wilkins arranged for the Count Basie orchestra and there was a Louis Prima song from the 30s that just made me laugh so much (What Will Santa Claus Say When He Finds Everyone Swinging) and I searched for jazz artists who made successful Christmas albums. It turns out that there are quite a few - the Ramsey Lewis one is particularly great.' This research also helped Barker shape the brief to focus on his existing musical relationships and enthusiasms. He invited Clarke Peters due to his deep knowledge of Louis Prima and Louis Jordan and, for a more contemporary perspective, contacted the great singer Kurt Elling who himself has just released a Christmas album The Beautiful Day (Sony Okeh) a couple of songs from which will feature in the Royal Albert Hall programme). More broadly, the concert is taking Barker back to formative influences, some of the music he heard as a teenager when his father took him to see Count Basie and Benny Goodman concerts.

Barker clearly sees no mutual exclusivity between the demands of entertaining a large audience and finding creative satisfaction from his work. He repeatedly emphasises that the Big Band Christmas concert will be 'a lot of fun' but has also judiciously selected his special guest performers for their specific musical contributions. He describes Soweto Kinch as 'a fantastic musician', emphasising the work ethic Kinch had when first hitting the scene as a teenager, and how hearing Charlie Parker had 'ignited a fire' in the young saxophonist. He claims that Vanessa Haynes, who has just finished touring with Incognito, 'tends to bring the house down' and commends Clare Teal not just for being 'a great singer and personality' but also for being 'incredibly well organised' and able to make subtle but significant suggestions that often make a show work much more effectively. Also keen to recognise new and less well known talent, Barker has also enlisted the international vocal group Accent.

Working with a wide variety of vocalists has clearly become one of the pillars of Barker's work. He credits the meeting with John Cumming from Serious that initiated Jazz Voice as being a major turning point in his career, marking a shift from trumpet playing and bandleading to composing and arranging. Does working with singers have an impact on the process of arranging? Does it present any specific responsibilities? 'They are the person that has to shine', he states clearly. 'You want the arrangement to work itself but it's very important that the vocalist feels you've done something special for them. When you run it in rehearsal and they hear it for the first time and smile, that's when it feels we've got there.'

He also discusses the range of experiences when working with different singers. Sometimes he begins from scratch and at other times he works using existing recordings as a starting point. When developing the arrangement of Like Someone In Love that Lizz Wright performed at this year's Jazz Voice, conversation was the main catalyst. Wright had 'talked about the concept of the ballad. She seemed like someone with such a good soul - just the few conversations we had got me playing with ideas.'

Sometimes, Barker embarks on collaborations that might initially seem surprising, such as his work with Paloma Faith that put him in 'Film Noir territory' (which he loved) or his more recent work with Lady Leshurr at Jazz Voice. 'To work with Lady Leshurr was incredible', he enthuses. 'An orchestral version of rap - how on earth was I going to do that? Fortunately, there were some sampled strings that gave me a starting point, then I wrote the introduction to be big and dramatic - I wanted her to have a great time.'

As well as working in the service of his collaborators, Barker is also keen to highlight what the musicians he works with can do in developing his music and how this can feel as a conductor in front of a large ensemble. 'It can be a lot of meaningless dots on a piece of paper until you put it into the hands of amazing musicians', he says. 'They tell you how it's supposed to go. That's the bit I love. Sometimes people play things in a way you wouldn't have thought of or expected and they take it on as their music.' Whilst Barker remains busy with other forthcoming arranging projects, including working with Billy Cobham, he also looks forward to working on something more personal in the not too distant future. If anyone can make time in an already intense schedule for something new, it's clearly Guy Barker. (pp)

LINKS: Kurt Elling's A Beautiful Day
DETAILS / BOOKINGS: Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas at the  Royal Albert Hall


PHOTOS: Omar Puente Group at Pizza Express Dean Street

Omar Puente
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini
Victor Hugo Guidini was out photographing the last night of OMAR PUENTE's  ACE funded tour to launch the album "Best Foot Forward" on 24th November. Sales of the CD at all of the well-attended gigs all over the country have been extremely high. JazzFM will be doing a live show broadcast to be recorded in early December

Michel Castellanos (drums)Oscar Martinez (percussion)
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini

The Full band L-R: Al Macsween,, Jimmy Martinez, Omar Puente,
Flavio Correa, Caroline Loftus, Michel Castellanos, Oscar Martinez
Photo credit: Victor Hugo Guidini


REPORT: A tribute in New York to pianist Derek Smith (1931-2016)

Preparing for the tribute at St Peter's Church, NYC

The British-born pianist DEREK SMITH was a member of the Dankworth band in the 1950's, moved to the United States in 1957 and had a highly successful career there for the next half-century. He was in the Benny Goodman band. At one point he made a recording with three of the members of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Another high-point was his role for five years as the pianist in the band of NBC's Tonight Show. He died in August 2016, and a very well-attended tribute tribute was held in New York City at the end of October. Derek Smith's daughter tells the story of that day: 

On Tuesday, October 25th , at St. Peters Church in New York City, a tribute was held to honor the great jazz musician and family man Derek Smith. Attended by his adoring family, friends, lifelong fans and fellow musicians, it was an evening filled with memories and great music.

Derk Smith as a teenager on Brighton Beach

It began with a photo montage showing Derek’s long and notable life. As a child walking along Brighton Beach with his family, playing with local bands as a teen, a baby-faced member of John Dankworth’s band, and boarding a transatlantic ship with his new wife en route to his new life in America. It continued with periodic glimpses into his life and career, showing dozens of hit album covers, group shots of the many musicians he played with and ended with many touching moments with his family.

A few words of introduction were spoken by his two daughters Helen and Valerie, and wife Shirley, describing what a happy, generous and gifted man he was, and how his incredible talent enabled him to have a seven decade-long career doing what he loved.

Warren Vache Performing at the tribute

The program was then handed over to the Master of Ceremonies, Dick Hyman. What followed were moving words and music by musicians both young and old, who had played with him and been inspired by him. Those musicians included Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Jerry Bruno, Bucky Pizzarelli, Jay Leonhart, Bill Charlap, Sandy Stewart, and Randy Sandke. The final performance of the evening was a beautiful flute and piano duet played by Dick Hyman and Derek’s granddaughter Samantha, who performed Concerto in D minor by Molique.

Finally, through the magic of technology the evening ended with a video of Derek performing one of his signature tunes Love For Sale. The feel in the room was if he was there performing, literally stealing the show and ending the tribute with a standing ovation.

With sincerest thanks to Derek Smith's daughter Valerie Anderson for contributing this piece and the photos, and to Keith McDowall for instigating and providing background information.

LINK: Peter Vacher's Guardian obituary


UPDATE: Aubrey Logan (new album in early 2017 and five UK dates)

Aubrey Logan at the 606 Club
Photo credit: Ram Shergill

Busy times are coming up for the live-wire Postmodern Jukebox singer and trombonist Aubrey Logan who has five London dates coming up, and will release a single in December and her Debut album in early 2017. Sebastian writes:

Seattle-born, LA-based Aubrey Logan was the winner of the Jazz Voice Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2009, and since then has performed or recorded with Quincy Jones, Burt Bacharach, Josh Groban, Linda Ronstadt, Smokey Robinson and Pharrell Williams.Recent videos such as Bills have had over 200,000 views


Logan is set to release her debut album Impossible at the beginning of 2017. "We titled the album Impossible because so many people were saying it couldn't be done, that we couldn't pull together an album with such a diversity of styles and genres." There are songs from MC Hammer... and Georges Bizet (Carmen).


The first stage of the release of the album is the release of the single "Pistol" in December. The PR blurb is:

"Striking a vibe not unlike the superspy soundtracks of the ‘60s (think “Bond, James Bond”), “Pistol” targets Logan’s “sassy-chick” side, according to the artist herself, who co-wrote the song with Pam Sheyne. “Pistol” was recorded in Pasadena, CA, at the studio of producer Dale Becker who brought together an ensemble of musicians to complement Logan’s vocal and instrumental styling. “To create a 007 vintage sound, and even incorporate some of that ‘60s psychedelia, Dale and I layered the vocal and instrumental tracks,” says Logan. “That way, I was able to do my own back-ups and add trombone harmonies.” The drums were layered for a surround effect, and characteristic keyboard sounds of the period were used."


- 6th December 606 Club

- 8th December Motown and Soul Christmas Concert, St Giles in the Fields. "The concert, a fundraiser for The Haven+London, features music stars including the talented multi-instrumentalist Mo Pleasure, (Earth, Wind and Fire), Richard Hadfield (formerly of Collabro) and renowned London choir collective, the Gospel Undertones." Tickets

- 18th February Pizza Express Music Room 32, Earl Street, Maidstone Kent on Saturday

- 20th and 21st February Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street

- 26th February - Ronnie Scotts, 47 Frith Street, (pp)

LINK: Interview with Aubrey Logan by Alison Bentley


CD REVIEW: Sienna Dahlen- Ice Age Paradise

Sienna Dahlen- Ice Age Paradise
(Sienna Dahlen Music/ Bandcamp. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

This paradise isn’t warm and tropical, but cold. The award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter Sienna Dahlen grew up in the west of Canada, where her memories are of the beauty of the cold, and connection with nature. Dahlen sings and plays guitar and piano in this lusciously-arranged song collection (her sixth album) along with a fine band of eight Canadian musicians.

Several songs have coldness as a central theme. The languid major/minor guitar arpeggios of Drifting Daydream evoke images of the north; the voice is spacey with reverb, and far back in the mix. Bassist Andrew Downing has arranged all the songs. Here are subtle, overlapping lines of cello and violin that echo and harmonise with the voice:

‘’The days grow thin
The nights fold in

Great grey owl, Phantom of the north.

The horns build in intensity but not volume. Dahlen describes the song as being influenced by Radiohead, but my first thought when hearing her enigmatic swooping vocals was of Jeff Buckley. Cold is slower and sparser. Electric guitar harmonics and delicate cymbals drip and crackle like melting ice as the oboe picks up the melody. Thom Gill’s thoughtful guitar solo floats over bass and drums. It’s a bleak vision transmuted by the beauty of the music: ‘Cold like cold like I’ve never felt.’

Many of her lyrics could stand alone as poems with their potent images. Your Eyes describes a former partner’s cold eyes.

‘Stones formed the weight of your words, dear 
Stones, you were aiming my way, dear’ 

The groove is urgent, almost a tango. In Ice Age Paradise, about the death of a ‘fearless snowboarder’ as well as lost love, the voice’s warm vibrato recalls the tone of compatriot kd lang. The lyrics pick out details to earth the abstractions: ‘Carving a path through the snow…’ before melting into glassy wordless vocal lines, ‘Chanting mantras at half mast…’

Blind Spot could be an elliptical lyric about love or, as Dahlen puts it, ‘Life, ephemeral’

‘Headlights flash sealing the deal
You got away
You flew away’

The orchestral layers, in somnambulistic 3/4, echo the vocal melody between lines. Boat Afloat an Ocean has the excellent Kevin Breit guesting on guitar and banjo, bringing more of an Americana flavour, with vocal rather than orchestral harmonies. Just as the cold can be both negative and positive, the boat, as a metaphor for ‘seasick’ love, is both ‘sinking sunk’ and ‘drifting home…’

Invisible and Reappearing Dream are about inner states. The first is a memorable melody partly in 5/4. There’s a particularly arresting moment where the high violin reinforces the vocals

‘Untameable urgency
A long, long journey home…’

A languid trumpet and guitar duet expands into a rich orchestral section. Reappearing Dream summons

‘Summer sky floating above a
Paris carrousel …’

as voices whisper in the background over string harmonics, in echoes of Elizabeth Fraser’s eerie vocal style.

The album is dedicated to Dahlen’s late mother, and Si Je Pouvais is a ‘song of love’ for her; the simple French lyric builds in repeated phrases till the phrase ‘comment je l’aime’ fades into a superb, unhurried trumpet solo. Venezia, written by Dahlen’s father Laine Dahlen, and sung in a duet with him, characterises the city as a beautiful woman. It’s a deeply romantic melody, recalling classic Italian love songs: ‘Guide me to enchanted lands..’

The whole album has an enchanted feel; the songs are personal but not confessional, and the orchestration develops them perfectly. There’s unflinching clarity and also beauty in these songs of love and loss.

Sienna Dahlen - Voice, Acoustic Guitar, Piano
Andrew Downing - Double Bass and Arrangements
Nick Fraser - Drums
Thom Gill- Electric Guitar
Lina Allemano - Trumpet
Lief Mosbaugh -  Oboe, English Horn
Micajah Sturgess - French Horn
Jennifer Burford- Violin
Evan Lamberton - Cello
Kevin Breit - Acoustic Guitars and Banjo (Track 9)
Laine Dahlen - Background Voice (Track 6)

LINK: Podcast interview with Sienna Dahlen about Ice Age Paradise

A new version of Ice Age Paradise with jazz orchestra will receive its premiere on 3rd December at L'Astral in Montreal, directed by Christine Jensen, as part of a fundraising campaign for the Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal


REVIEW: Dhafer Youssef plus Ambrose Akinmusire at the Barbican (2016 EFG LJF)

Dhafer Yousef in 2011. Photo credit Photo: © Oles Cheresko

Dhafer Youssef plus Ambrose Akinmusire 
(Barbican Hall. 20th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Zosia Jagodzinska)

Introduced passionately by Jumoke Fashola as a musician who ‘bridges the gap between the sacred and the profane’, Tunisian born singer, composer and oud player Dhafer Youssef and his skilled band members took us on a whirlwind journey through many countries and cultures, embodying, musically and physically, a deep, searching spirituality and joyful playfulness that left us feeling exhilarated, inspired, and wanting more.

Youssef cut a trendy and mischievous figure, wiggling his hips and dancing around the stage with his beloved oud. His sheer delight in playing and moving was infectious, and looking around the Barbican hall I saw that I was not the only one dancing in my seat, uncontrollably tapping my feet and fingers. The opening tune Fly Shadow Fly had a medieval feel to it, alternating between major and minor strummed chords on the oud, accompanied by the liquid legato introspection and poignant phrasing of Aaron Parks' piano playing; taking the audience back in time and creating a sacred space for Youssef’s remarkably moving voice to enter. Influenced by Sufi and Quawwali singers, Youssef has a very focussed, pure and soulful voice that ranges from dark and richly textured lows to beautifully resonant falsetto highs, touching on operatic and rock vocal qualities. On Of Beauty and Odd, he duetted with gifted guest trumpeter and support act, Ambrose Akinmusire, using intense nasality to create an unusual, spine tingling metallic sound; the tangling of Youssef’s high pitched wails with those of Akinmusire’s trumpet, microtonally and timbrally coiling around each other before unifying in tone quality, created a powerful tension and release. Youssef loves the oud for the special quality of its “double strings”, “I always have the feeling…that I’m trying to make two people sound the same, which are never the same.” Here he explored the ‘double strings’ of his own voice and the trumpet to stunning effect.

He has described singing as an ‘out of body experience’, the body becoming ‘a resonating instrument, like a bass or oud’. On stage he played around with spacing, time and delay, retreating from the microphone as he rose into the falsetto register, creating a distant, disembodied sound, enhanced with lots of reverb. As he reached the climax of his vocal phrases he rose to stand on his stool, raising his arms as if summoning the heavens, then jumped down, slinging on his oud and dancing sensually, transporting us to a smoky dance floor or jazz club. The band’s controlled emotional and dynamic build ups were suddenly broken off at the top of Youssef’s vocal phrases to drop into thrilling grooves, expertly executed by drummer Justin Faulkner. Individually each player demonstrated impressive instrumental skill and originality; Ben Williams’ warmly resonant and virtuosic bass solo towards the end of the set was particularly memorable.

The crowd’s shifting moods and reactions alternated between stunned silence, spontaneous loud whoops, cheers and applause at Youssef’s top notes and the big drops, and laughter at his cheeky persona and humorous chat. Despite this being a large concert hall, Youssef maintained an intimate camaraderie between audience, band and crew. He has said: “I feel like a mosaic of everything.” Widely travelled, he celebrated people’s heritage, mentioning each of the countries his crew originated from.

Musically, oud ornamentation and melodies, of Arabic and Tunisian origins were ‘clothed’ differently by the the constantly changing grooves, ranging from tango, Spanish flamenco and jazz to Afro latin, drum and Bass, hip hop and heavy rock. Communication was strong between all band members, but Youssef was intensely focussed on drummer Faulkner, demonstrating the central importance of rhythm and groove in this intricate fusion music. Not only were there lots of complex metric changes- including Indian Tabla influenced 13/8’s and 11/4’s, Jazzy 5/4’s, lilting 9/8’s and Rock 4/4’s- but within these meters, the feel was changed with accent displacement of strong and weak beats, playing with the listeners’ expectations.

When he sings he is an old soul, when he plays the oud he is a cheeky young thing. There was a strong sense of the mystic who is too playful and restless to remain profound for too long, yet so in touch with spirituality that he couldn’t be dancing and riffing around for too long either. This fascinating dialogue between the ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ was visually demarcated in the gig by Youssef’s physical rising and falling. At the end of the show he brought us to our feet, exclaiming “We’re going to dance. Make them near God!’, to which a ballsy audience member replied ‘No pressure then?!’ and everyone laughed. He and the band had taken us near to God and back to the dance floor, with effortless, charismatic ease. True artists can do that.

LINK: Interview with Dhafer Youssef


FEATURE: Trish Clowes (Emulsion V at mac Birmingham, 27th Jan 2017, and Kickstarter)

Trish Clowes directing the Emulsion Sinfonietta
Photo courtesy of Basho Music

Emulsion V is the latest incarnation of saxophonist/ composer TRISH CLOWES' 'no boundaries' contemporary music and improvisation festival -  a triple-bill concert, free space performances and a panel discussion. It will take place at mac birmingham on 27th January 2017.

Trish looks forward to the festival and writes about the programme. She also discusses the challenges in programming and organising the festival over five years. There is also the opportunity to be part of the commissioning of new music, which is at the heart of this event, through supporting the Emulsion Kickstarter. Trish writes:

I started EMULSION in 2012 with a desire to create a space for a “no boundaries” approach to music-making. Since then, Emulsion has presented three festivals, a residency at Cheltenham Music Festival and provided a professional development course for its core musicians. Crucially, we have also commissioned 11 new works from a wide range of composers.

On 27th January 2017, we are taking Emulsion to Birmingham at the Midlands Art Centre (mac birmingham). Emulsion V, hosted by Radio 3 presenter and new music specialist Fiona Talkington, will take the form of a triple-bill concert, surrounded by free space performances and a panel discussion. We will be collaborating with local players and students.

It takes a huge amount of time, energy and money to keeps things like this alive. Other artists and festival promoters such as Cath Roberts and Dee Byrne of Lume or Georgia Mancio – Revoice! may tell the same story! Previously, Emulsion has been very lucky to get support from the PRS for Music Foundation, the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Musikkfondene (Norway), the Arts Council and then radio broadcasting support from BBC Radio 3.

This year we have managed to get some support from Arts Council England and from partner organisations in Birmingham. It’s been a long road, but we’ve finally received the funding to make sure the event can happen. What we still need is some money to commission new works for the festival and to invite some special guests to join us. We have now launched a crowdfunder on Kickstarter to help us achieve this.

The Kickstarter is HERE

Our goal is to raise £2000. This will enable us to commission Percy Pursglove, Hans Koller and Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian to write for the Emulsion Sinfonietta which is a colourful line-up of saxes, clarinet, oboe/cor anglias, cello, guitar, piano, violin, trumpet, bass and drums – a happy by-product of previous editions of Emulsion.

Cevanne’s commission is in two parts. She has written part 1 for my new band My Iris, which was supported by the PRS for Music Foundation and part 2 will be written to include the Sinfonietta.

We are also hoping to invite Joe Wright to perform solo saxophone, Cevanne to play solo folk Harp and Iain Ballamy to join us with the Emulsion Sinfonietta - should we surpass the initial £2000 kickstarter target.

The programme so far:

-Panel Discussion open to public, hosted by Fiona Talkington and in collaboration with Birmingham City University
-Hans Koller Quartet – featuring John O’Gallagher and Jeff Williams
-My Iris (my band with Chris Montague, Ross Stanley and James Maddren – part of our launch tour for my new album on Basho Records)
-Emulsion Sinfonietta (pieces by Koller, Pursglove, Montague, Cutler, Birmingham Conservatoire students)

LINK: Emulsion Music website

There are opportunities to get involved in Emulsion V -

- as advertised on the Kickstarter
- or via Facebook or Twitter
- or by email at : info (at ) emulsionmusic (dot) org


SUMMARY: Our thirty-five pieces of EFG London Jazz Festival 2016 coverage

Hilmar Jensson, Jon Irabagon and Magnus Broo
Bureau of Atomic Tourism at the Vortex
Photo credit: Sarah Houben / www.imagesandviews.com

LondonJazz News provides substantial review coverage of the London Jazz Festival . An incredible collaborative effort has produced these thirty-four pieces so far (one still on its way). Here is a listing:

Vincent Peirani (London debut) and Emile Parisien plus Nikki Yeoh at Kings Place 
(Alison Bentley)

 Evan Parker at the Royal Academy 
(Geoff Winston)

 Steve Wilson / Bruce Barth at Pizza Express
(Sebastian Scotney)

 Jazz Voice 2016
(Leah Williams)

Jacob Collier at the Brooklyn Bowl
(Liam Izod)

Laurent Cugny and the Gil Evans Paris Workshop feat. Andy Sheppard at Rich Mix
(Patrick Hadfield)

Jan Garbarek Group at the Royal Festival Hall
(Sarah Chaplin)

Wordless! -Art Spiegelman / Philip Johnston / The Silent Six at Barbican Hall
(John L Walters)

Kandace Springs
(Leah Williams)

Bureau of Atomic Tourism
(Geoff Winston)

Matt Wilson
(Steve Marchant / photos: Victor Hugo Guidini)

Bad Plus plus Binker and Moses
(Rob Mallows)

Dave Holland's AZIZA at Cadogan Hall
(Photos: Victor Hugo Guidini and Paul Wood)

Norma Winstone 75th Birthday Gala Concert at Cadogan Hall
(Mike Collins)

Christian Scott at Scala
(Rob Mallows)

SF Jazz Collective play Michael Jackson at Cadogan Hall
(John L Walters / photos Paul Wood)

Robert Glasper Experiment at KOKO
(AJ Dehany)

Matthew Halsall and the Gondwana Orchestra at Islington Assembly Hall
(Review and photos Patrick Hadfield)

Chico Freeman Plus + tet / The Cookers at Cadogan Hall
(Peter Vacher / photos by Paul Wood and Victor Hugo Guidini)

Trigon at The Forge
(Peter Slavid)

Jason Moran - Wind at Milton Court
(Jon Turney / photo (tricky!) by Paul Wood)

Enrico Rava, Matthew Herbert and Giovanni Guidi + Gavino Murgia and Filomena Campus at Kings Place
(Alison Bentley)
Laura Jurd's Dinosaur, Daniel Herskedal, BBC Concert Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall
(Jon Turney)

Nérija EP Launch at Foyles
(Geoff Winston)

Noble / Lewandowski / Clarvis play Fats Waller at The Vortex
(photos by Sarah Houben)

BLINQ (Brendan Reilly, Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw, Natalie Williams, and Gwilym Simcock) at Shoreditch Town Hall
(Rachel Maby)

Wayne Shorter Quartet and Eve Risser's White Desert at the Barbican
(Sebastian Scotney)

Charlie Haden's Liberation Orchestra directed by Carla Bley at Cadogan Hall
(Peter Slavid/ photos by Paul Wood)

Madeleine Peyroux at the Royal Festival Hall

(Leah Williams)

1956 - A Jazz Jubilee at Cadogan Hall 
(Peter Vacher)

Tim Garland Trio / Sacconi Quartet / Thomas Gould at Wigmore Hall
(AJ Dehany/ photo by Nadja von Massow)

Dhafer Youssef plus Ambrose Akinmusure at the Barbican
(Zosia Jagodzinska)

Bill Laurance Project at Shoreditch Town Hall
(Rob Mallows)

Mike Westbrook at Kings Place
(Jane Mann)


REVIEW: Tim Garland Trio / Sacconi Quartet / Thomas Gould Celebrating Stan Getz and Chick Corea at Wigmore Hall (2016 EFG LJF)

L-R: The Sacconi String Quartet, Thomas Gould, Yuri Goloubev
Tim Garland Asaf Sirkis
Photo credit: Nadja von Massow 

Tim Garland Trio / Sacconi Quartet / Thomas Gould Celebrating Stan Getz and Chick Corea (Wigmore Hall. 16th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)

Third-stream music is in rude health in 2016, so called for its bringing together jazz and classical vocabulary, forms and techniques. We’re blessed with jazz composers like Julian Joseph and Kate Williams, and bands like Partikel in their String Theory incarnation, taking inspiration from both realms, and contemporary classical composers like Louis Andriessen perking their works up with jazz. One of the most acclaimed figures in this fertile area is saxophonist, orchestrator and composer Tim Garland.

At the Wigmore Hall during the 2016 London Jazz Festival Garland presented a mixed ensemble with a jazz rhythm section of Yuri Goloubev on double bass and Asaf Sirkis on a hybrid light percussion kit, and from the classical world the bright young Sacconi Quartet augmented by violinist Thomas Gould, an incredible soloist whose improvisations shared the advanced harmonic language of classical harmony with a gusto and vitality recalling the best gypsy jazz.

The concert was a celebration of Stan Getz and Chick Corea. Following a perky trio rendition of Monk’s Bemsha Swing, the first set found the ensemble exploring Chick Corea compositions “Armando’s Rhumba”, Anna’s Tango and Windows, and as the centrepiece an astonishing and emotionally devastating reworking of Crystal Silence.

Crystal Silence is one of Chick’s most famous pieces, which Garland has arranged many times. He did five of the arrangements for The New Crystal Silence with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra which was released in 2008 and won a Grammy. As Garland tells it, he asked Chick to play a completely free improvisation as an introduction to the tune, which he then wrote down and scored. He was encouraged by Chick to be liberal with re-orchestration and harmonisation. Garland’s orchestration at the Wigmore Hall made the best use of the ensemble with searing strings and Garland on soprano.

The second set presented Re:focus, a new suite by Garland. Focus (1961) is Stan Getz’s album with writer Eddie Sauter for strings without a standard rhythm section. Salter took the unique decision not to have a written part for the soloist. Getz’s melodic improvisations, recorded after the strings, and following the death of his mother, bear an emotional charge that endures. Getz said Focus was his favourite of his own albums, and it’s one of those slightly overlooked classics.

Re:focus is Garland’s reworking of this album fifty-six years on. The first movement It’s Late (originally It’s late, it’s late) peppers the Disney theme into angular and urgent writing for the strings heavily indebted to the composer Bela Bartok. Garland has transcribed it note for note. The subsequent movements of Re:focus are essentially new works based in homage to the originals. Interviewed on BBC Radio 3 in the run up to the debut concert performance of Re:focus (LINK) Garland noted that while the pieces are composed and unchanging, improvisation adds a “cat among the pigeon element that ensures each performance is different and vital.”

An encore performance of It’s late illustrated this vitality, revisiting the material of the opener but this time improvising without the transcription. It’s almost a different piece, and it’s thrilling to hear both in one concert. Whether or not we call it third-stream, the conversation between jazz and classical, improvisation and composition, is more exciting than ever in 2016. As Garland says “the old feeling of oil and water doesn’t seem to exist any more.”


REVIEW: Bill Laurance Project at Shoreditch Town Hall (EFG LJF 2016)

Add caption

Bill Laurance Project
(Shoreditch Town Hall, 20th November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Rob Mallows)

Bill Laurance couldn’t stop smiling at Sunday night’s gig in this newly refurbished performance space. It’s easy to see why.

He’s a founding member of one of the world’s hottest jazz-influenced bands, Snarky Puppy. A co-winner of two Grammys with the same. He’s been married just a month. His brand new CD/DVD Live at Union Chapel is by all accounts going gang-busters. And he’s just walked out to a packed, adoring London audience.

Bill Laurance is having a good year, to say the least. The show at Shoreditch Town Hall demonstrated why.

His music is entertaining as hell. It’s as simple as that. Sure, the guardians of the jazz Reinheitsgebot may turn a lip up at some of his more dance-influenced tracks, such as Night in the City, but there’s no denying that when it comes to creating compelling keyboard instrumentals, Laurance has more hooks in his locker than the average fly fisherman.

Track after track, the luxurious melodies kept coming, testifying to the rich compositional bent Laurance has been on since his first solo album, Flint just under three years ago!

He played thirteen tracks in one hundred or so minutes, mixing fan favourites like December in New York with the more ethereal, Brian-Eno-like colourwash of the third album title track Aftersun, a tune dedicated to the US cosmologist Carl Sagan, which was certainly as expansive and awe-inspiring in its soundscape as any galaxy.

Laurance mixed in ballads such as Madeleine (written for his now wife) with the joyously upbeat Red Sand, inspired by a stay with desert tribes in the Maghreb, and, in a mid-set solo break, his much reworked take on the rock classic House of the Rising Sun which notes soared beautifully through the proscenium arch and around this gloriously appointed, Italianate space.

The Bill Laurance Band were fundamental to creating this joyous experience. Chris Hyson on bass and bass keyboards was wildly cheered when introduced and for good reason - his playing was understated but created the surest of low-end foundations for Laurance’s keyboard gymnastics. Percussionist Felix Higginbottom, deputising too on keyboards, was mesmerising to watch as he hit, stroked, twanged and shook every piece of apparatus open to him to add that extra piquancy to each tune, particularly on his solo on The Real One. Star for me was drummer Joshua Blackmore. Undemonstrative, almost zen-like at his drum kit, his pacing all night was excellent and, in tandem with Higghinbottom, he generated a rhythmic cornucopia which gave Laurance's melodies real pep and vim. It’s so satisfying watching a drummer drum very well and make it look effortless.

Expect the Bill Laurance star to continue to rise in the firmament, on the basis of this showing. Compelling listening and thoroughly entertaining.


REVIEW: Mike Westbrook solo piano at Kings Place (2016 EFG LJF)

Mike Westbrook

Mike Westbrook
(Kings Place Hall One, 19th November 2016, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jane Mann)

This rare solo piano recital from British jazz legend Mike Westbrook marked his 80th birthday and the launch of Paris, only his second solo piano album in 40 years.

For 70 minutes, Westbrook improvised on pieces from his whole musical history from the 1970s big band compositions Citadel/Room 315 to the recent A Bigger Show. There were references to his music theatre works including The Ass and this year’s Paintbox Jane, and to London Bridge is Broken Down, originally written for voice, jazz and chamber orchestra. There were beautiful re-imaginings of standards from favourite composers Ellington, Strayhorn and Lennon and McCartney, and a surprise re-working of the Stylistics’ hit You make me feel brand new so full of bright chords and optimism that everybody smiled.

The beautifully structured set contained many songs written in collaboration with his wife, the artist, vocalist and librettist Kate Westbrook, and was split into four sections. The first part Westbrook referred to as The Front Page, with songs to do with big ideas: freedom and war, the world and the World Wide Web. After re-workings of recent pieces Freedom’s Crown and Propositions, Westbrook played Anthem, a work based on the Wilfred Owen poem Anthem for Doomed Youth which he recited movingly before plunging back into the music. Saturday was the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Somme, and Westbrook said he could not let it pass unmarked. After we had all looked into the abyss (at one point the music was so spare and so bleak that I momentarily imagined that we were all sitting on our chairs in an empty landscape of mud and ice), he gave us a glimpse of the moon through ragged cloud with the Beatles’ Because and then re-emergence into the light with Strayhorn’s ballad A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.

We were then transported to a Bar Room for the next section. These glorious tunes were played on the least barroomy piano in the world, and yet Westbrook still conjured up a knackered upright in a rough bar with his Ellington and Strayhorn tunes Sophisticated Lady, Solitude and Isfahan alongside his own Gaudy Bar, from Paintbox Jane.

The next section, Love Stories, included Westbrook ruminations on love, Nähe des Geliebten, View from the Drawbridge, Tender Love, and a new ballad Sound of Caress, along with three standards, a gentle, considered A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square, a delicate She Loves You and the brimming with joy You make me feel brand new, the perfect counterpoint to the dark first section. There were plenty of his trademark huge sonorous chords, with an incredible fullness of sound, and splendid resonance between pieces. The excellent sound was engineered by long time Westbrook collaborator Jon Hiseman who also produced the Paris CD. The final section was The Blues, the starting point for much of the Westbrook oeuvre – these blues comprised touching and fierce elegies for dead friends with versions of My Lovers Coat, D.T.T.M. and a snippet of Blues for Terenzi.

The playing throughout was lovely, spare, with characteristic moments of dissonance threaded with wisps of the melodies to come, and always with the possibility that the music could go on in any direction. The large audience responded very warmly to this astounding concert, and Westbrook played a brief encore – his arrangement of a popular Christmas carol In the bleak midwinter, a short crystalline jazz-infused delight, and we all took a break before the Q&A with music journalist and composer Philip Clark.

Clark asked Westbrook questions about the set, remarking that there was a concentrated mood over the whole structure, the timbre, and the harmonies. Westbrook modestly replied “It’s just the way I play.” There followed a detailed and interesting dialogue between the two, covering composition, composer-pianists, re-harmonisation, some technical details on chord expansion (with examples from Westbrook at the keyboard), dissonance and contemporary classical music (an influence), the blues “a fundamental truth in Jazz”, a story about Ornette Coleman and a Hawaiian juggler, the music of Buddy Bolden and writing for musicians you know (Westbrook “I have an architectural approach, I allow structure with space for improvisers”). Westbrook concluded that “jazz gives us all creative freedom”, and we left it at that. A brilliant afternoon.

Paris is out now on the ASC label from www.Westbrookjazz.co.uk


REVIEW: 1956 - A Jazz Jubilee at Cadogan Hall (2016 EFG LJF)

Pete Long directing 1956 -  A Jazz Jubilee
Wayne McIntyre / Jazz Repertory Company

1956 - A Jazz Jubilee
Cadogan Hall, 18 November 2016. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Vacher)

Richard Pite and the Jazz Repertory Company have made Cadogan Hall into something of a home from home. What’s more, they have attracted and kept a loyal audience, this evident yet again with a packed house for their latest LJF extravaganza. They’ve also won a regular place for their kind of serious-yet-fun re-examinations of jazz milestones within the LJF’s sometimes stern-faced annual assembly of music. Indeed, Pite was able to announce that a date had been already set for them to appear at next year’s festival. Applause all round.

In coming up with a suitably enticing programme this time, Pite had looked inwards – well, to his own birthdate and deduced that 1956 was not only momentous for him but for jazz as well. In that year Count Basie released his breakthrough album April in Paris (this followed two years later by the timeless The Atomic Mr Basie), Sinatra and Riddle combined with Songs for Swinging Lovers while Ella Fitzgerald had her Cole Porter Songbook and tellingly, Duke Ellington’s At Newport recording marked a transforming resurgence in his fortunes. This gave Pite and company a template for the concert, with the very spirited Pete Long Orchestra of which drummer Pite is a part supported by vocalists Georgina Jackson covering Ella, and Iain Mackenzie channelling Sinatra each taking turns to recreate choice items from these classic recordings.

As ever the proceedings were leavened by Long’s humour even as the music-making was pursued with a seriousness of purpose that any historian would applaud. Long has his own well-honed repertory company, all crack players and many quite young, who can handle the dynamic diversity required of them, seguing, say, from the ultra-slow Li’l Darlin’ to an up-tempo rouser like Shiny Stockings without turning the proverbial hair, while managing the subtleties of Miss Otis Regrets or You’re Sensational. Jackson and Mackenzie stayed close to their chosen briefs but without in any way aping their great predecessors, each authoritative and engaging in their own way, much the same applying to the band’s soloists, most notably tenorist Dean Masser and his tour-de-force on Ellington’s Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, as he let go a flow of ideas that may have sought to parallel that of Paul Gonsalves back in the heady days of ’56 Newport but if anything, surpassed the original.

Right from the off, with altoist Simon Marsh recalling Johnny Hodges on Jeep’s Blues it was clear that Long had worked hard with his team to get the band sound right, the dynamics spot-on and tempos properly respected, this sparked by the likes of lead trumpeters George Hogg and Tommy Walsh plus lead trombonist Andy Flaxman and the marvellous rhythm team of pianist Nick Dawson, given his head on a JATP tribute in the manner of Oscar Peterson, guitarist Dave Chamberlain, bassist Joe Pettitt and Pite himself, tireless at the drums. With Long added on tenor, plus Masser and new find Joe Shenoy, there was even a gutsy tenor battle to stir the multitude, this before Jackson settled things down with more from the Cole Porter songbook. Highlights? Just hearing this fine band tear into the likes of Splanky and Whirlybird with Dawson excelling was enough to make even the most hardened Basie-ite overflow with joy.

And yes, we did sing Happy Birthday for Pite, the man without whom… as Long put it, this before the evening’s final surprise, their rendition, with Chamberlain hot on electric guitar, of Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, Jackson, Mackenzie and trombonist Chris Dean vocalising out front, as if to warn/remind us of the radical shift in public taste in the offing back then.


FEATURE: Tom Hewson writes about recording his new solo album Essence (CAMJazz)

Tom Hewson recording his new album in the
Bösendorfer workshop Selection Center, Wiener Neustadt
Photo credit: Elisa Caldana
Pianist TOM HEWSON has just been in Austria to record a second album for the ItalianUS label CAMJazz, following on from 2015's Treehouse (with Lewis Wright and Calum Gourlay). It is a solo album entitled "Essence". Here he explains the background:

On Friday, Ermanno Basso, producer at CAMJazz, engineer Stefano Amerio from Artesuono studio in Udine, photographer Elisa Caldana and I were handed the keys to the Bösendorfer workshop, located about 50 kilometres to the south of Vienna, in Wiener Neustadt. There were kids-in-a-candy-shop smiles all round as we set up the recording gear in the new 'Selection Center' which opened in May 2010, a sizeable space designed entirely around the acoustics of the piano and inhabited by about thirty instruments of all shapes and sizes.

The windows look out onto a small yard where orderly stacks of sawn spruce tonewood sit three meters high, ageing over a number of winters before starting their slow transformation into one of the few hundred instruments that leave the workshop each year.

I had visited once before in 2015 after director Brian Kemble came to see a gig Fini Bearman and I did at Jazzland in Vienna. After chatting for a while with Bösendorfer's Technical Director Ferdinand Bräu about the new 280VC piano they had been developing, we took a walk around the workshop to see every stage in the manufacturing process. From the strings being spun by hand to the drop of the hammers being meticulously regulated by a silent row of pin-wielding technicians it was completely mesmerising. At the end of it all was the first finished piano sitting in the Selection Center. As soon as I played it I started thinking about how I was going to get to come back!

We pianists can't lug our felt hammers and personalised soundboards around, so discovering a new instrument is like discovering an entirely new vocabulary. Ideas that might sound dull on an old upright suddenly make sense. A little rhythmic riff at the bottom of the piano might seem so full of energy that you have to abandon your structural ideas for the piece on the spot (as I had to repeatedly do) and just go with what the piano is telling you! The acoustic, the view of the wood yard, the tools and piano skeletons in the workshop; everything feeds into the music, changing not only the way you feel when you play, but the substance of the music itself.

Two days, nine new pieces and three re-workings later we had an album. Stefano took a picture underneath the Bösendorfer sign to send to his friends at Fazioli (I'm sure they took it well) and the Italians headed back to Artesuono to finalise the mixes. Huge thanks to Bösendorfer and everyone at CAMJazz for an unforgettable opportunity.

Tom Hewson won the 2014 Nottingham International Jazz piano competition
"Essence" will be released in late 2017

 LINKS: Tom Hewson's first album Treehouse
Pictures of the Selection Center and the opening ceremony in 2010
Tom Hewson writing in 2012 about Treehouse


REVIEW: Madeleine Peyroux at the Royal Festival Hall (2016 EFG LJF)

L-R: Madeleine Peyroux, Barak Mori, Jon Herington

Madeleine Peyroux - EFG London Jazz Festival

(Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. 20th November 2016. Review by Leah Williams)

Although Madeleine Peyroux doesn’t really need one, certainly not amongst the packed out concert hall of super fans last night, she was nevertheless given a nice introduction. Coined here as “Queen of the unhurried” - a term I found particularly inspired - and an unparalleled songstress who is a strong believer in the power of song, she’s quoted as having said “Music, song, the voice: this is my spiritual life”. Well, after last night’s incredible performance, I’m inclined to agree.

Her new album follows this idea nicely, being entitled Secular Hymns, and takes a wide range of songs written by a variety of big names right from Stephen Foster and Allen Toussaint (whose recent passing must have been of particular poignancy to Madeleine, as he played in the band on her 2011 album Standing on the Rooftop) through to Tom Waits and Linton Kwesi Johnson. As ever, no matter who the composer or what the subject matter, each song - and each lyric within that song - receives the special Peyroux touch, as was clear in her performance last night.

It’s rare to find someone capable of injecting such life into every single lyric and each emotion and sentiment was conveyed with such personality and conviction through her musical choices, inflection and perhaps simply natural ability to really tell a story through song. Whether you’re a fan of her music or not, I defy anyone to be immune to those languorous, dulcet tones that put her mark on any song she chooses to identify with and make her own.

Seeing her perform live gives the rare chance to witness how natural this is; there’s nothing contrived about her sound and you get the impression that she could simply be opening her mouth to speak and instead melodies come out. In addition to this, she’s obviously incredibly comfortable on stage and has that rare quality that immediately makes you feel as if you’re sitting down listening to some music with your best friend rather than amongst a mass of people watching someone “perform”.

The set-up of the evening nurtured this intimate, conversational atmosphere. The Royal Festival Hall is certainly a large venue and even the rear choir stalls had been opened up due to high demand for the concert. However, the soft lighting and the simplicity of the trio sitting casually together on stage belied this grandeur and instead made for a really warm, personal experience. Barak Mori on double bass and Jon Herington on guitar were both an important element in the success and conviviality of the gig, and were also given deserved space to let loose.

As wonderful and integral to the evening as her band-mates were, however, the first time that Peyroux opened a song simply accompanying herself on the guitar - the poignant Bird on the Wire from her album The Blue Rooms - it was so mesmerising that it became clear just how much power she holds all on her own. It wasn’t until the others came in that you even realised they weren’t playing. She later went on to play several songs by herself and these acoustic versions held a special kind of power that revealed her full talent, for to be able to hold an audience of thousands captive with just a guitar and your voice is really something quite impressive.

She made a joke halfway through the evening that she “doesn’t have a reputation for cheerful stuff and I’m trying to work on that” but the irony was that, whether the music she was playing was particularly cheerful or not, her rapport with the audience and cheerful character made the evening uplifting throughout. The demeanour of the trio as a whole was that of people who know they’re good and don’t feel the need to frown about it. They obviously don’t take themselves too seriously and knew how to have fun with the music, never failing to bring the audience in on the joke. There was a lot of laughing throughout the whole gig and, whilst the beauty of the music and Madeleine’s delicious voice often pulled on the heart-strings, there was a good serving of light-hearted entertainment too. Definitely a requirement in today’s climate, as Madeleine quipped at the end: “when things suck, you’ve just got to try to have more fun!”.

There were in fact many references to current political happenings, with her opening words being “So you thought they couldn’t beat Brexit….” followed by a face that resulted in a fair amount of nervous laughter. The recent President-elect was on the receiving end of quite a few comments and gags throughout the night, with the words of one of her new songs Hello Babe even being altered to make for comic results. In fact, political standings aside, her use of ad-libbing and melody manipulation was really on form all night and kept the music sounding fresh and spontaneous as well as showing off her obviously great musicianship. Even when she played a few of her most popular hits, such as Don’t Wait Too Long or her well-known version of the Leonard Cohen song Dance Me To The End Of Love, we weren’t simply listening to a replica of the album version but hearing new, interesting melodic and rhythmic interpretations, which is what live music (and especially jazz) is all about.

All in all, it was a perfect ending to another year of the London Jazz Festival that’s simply flown by. Luckily though, we don’t have to wait until next year to enjoy another evening of great music and fun with Madeleine Peyroux. She’ll be back in London at the Barbican on May 31st 2017 where you’ll get another chance to see her in this stripped-back trio setting. In the words of Madeleine, “don’t wait too long” as tickets are sure to sell out quickly.


REVIEW: Wayne Shorter Quartet plus Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra at the Barbican (2016 EFG LJF)

L-R: Wayne Shorter, John Patitucci, Danilo Perez,
Brian Blade

These were two performances at the Barbican on the last day of this year's EFG London Jazz Festival.

Wayne Shorter Quartet - main hall

The Wayne Shorter Quartet performance-in-two-parts, incorporated a set from the quartet on their own and then joined on stage by a Polish wind-and-brass dectet of classical players for a new commission. It was a fascinating juxtaposition.

There is no small band in the world with the played-in-ness, the ability to land as one, to find new avenues, to be suddenly inspired and break loose as this group. Every mood every tempo is established and set the moment it arrives, no doubts, no adumbrations, no preliminaries, it is about full and instant expression of a mood, an attitude, a vibe, a tempo which, once it is established, can lead straight to something else. Wayne Shorter’s utterances are increasingly epigrammatic, he is almost like the guest they all know who has freedom to do whatever he wants – whether it is to whistle, or indeed just to listen. That guiding spirit of complete freedom is something to be aspired to. The group – apart from Shorter - play with sheet music, but it is not a barrier in any way.

The arrival of the Polish wind players of the LutosAir wind ensemble for a newly-composed piece created a different vibe. The wind-writing reminded me of the slow build of sections of Berlioz's Te Deum, repetitive figures but always with a clear sense of direction. There were written sections, with the quartet involved interspersed with sections for the quartet alone. There was no mistaking the passion and involvement of the young wind players, but the twists and turns and traffic signals in this hybrid form served as a reminder of the sheer joy and freedom and utter completeness of the unbeatable quartet.

Eve Risser's White Desert Orchestra
Barbican Freestage

Eve Risser's White Desert Orchestra

Eve Risser’s White Desert Orchestra were making their London debut on the Barbican freestage. Having attended – and been bowled over by, and reviewed  - the premiere of her large-scale work now called Les Deux Versants se regardent (the two sides – of a canyon – look at each other) in early 2015,  I was fascinated to hear how the ensemble, which has been granted much higher profile at several European festivals has progressed.

These are the top French players of Eve Risser’s generation, and they are totally and unmistakably committed to her as composer in the same way that a group of Brooklyn-ites of the band Secret Society has committed to Darcy James Argue. The last two years have brought that feel of a band with common purpose a lot further. They relish the range of textures and expression inherent in Risser's writing that can be brought out in performance. The juxtapositions of sheer beauty and sheer power and /or anarchy she conjures up are one of a kind. In the challenging setting and tricky (ok pretty hopeless) acoustic of  the Barbican's foyer, a lot went missing, and the group were more reliant than usual on sheer performance energy to draw in a crowd – which they did. An incredible intensity build à trois at the end from Julien Desprez on guitar, Fanny Lasfargues on bass and Sylvain Darrifourcq on drums will stay in the mind for a very long time. The White Desert orchestra will have made new friends on Sunday, and are bound to be back for some other festivals, hopefully where they belong - on the main stages.