CD REVIEW: New York Standards Quartet - Power of 10



New York Standards Quartet - Power of 10
(Whirlwind Records WR4680. CD review by Mike Collins)


The cocktail of standards is well and truly shaken as well as stirred on this 10th anniversary release for the New York based team of saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman and drummer Gene Jackson. The quartet is completed for this recording by Whirlwind Records boss Michael Janisch and they deliver a fizzing, varied set of driving contemporary jazz.

Reinvention and re-making are the watchwords for some classic standards in the arranging and composing hands of pianist Berkman. All of Me’s familiar melody becomes a keening lament over a bubbling sequence of chords and bass figures, setting the scene for Armacost to stretch out on soprano, weaving long, fluent lines. Secret Love becomes Hidden Fondness with the familiar melody underpinned by Berkman’s re-harmonised sequence skating on Janisch’s bass notes. The piano solo is a typical Berkman workout, dense patterns then expansive chords and tense rhythmic patterns picked up and developed by the tenor in a blistering solo. Lush Life is dark and distorted before exiting with a spring its step. Deep High Wide Sky launches the set with an energetic, twisting, Tristano like theme over the sequence of How Deep is the Ocean. Doll’s Green Phone, a re-worked Green Dolphin Street has Janisch doubling another boppish theme with Armacost. Jackson is not an obtrusive presence on this set but his driving pulse and taut energy are part of what make this a compelling listen. Three Card Molly, an Elvin Jones piece is his arrangement and a standout track. Jackson and Berkman boil and buffet Armacost who is all muscular attack on a spiralling, passionate solo. Berkman too is on fire, before Jackson lets fly over a piano vamp. There are exquisitely tender moments and some of magical simplicity. It’s impossible not to smile at a short duo rendition by Berkman and Armacost of How Deep is the Ocean and sigh as Armacost’s Polka Dots and Moonbeams ends the set with a whisper, accompanied only by the colours from Jackson’s drums.

These are all top class players. A quick search will reveal formidable CVs. This recording finds them digging deep into the jazz canon, having fun and serving up a treat.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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CD REVIEW: Sam Crockatt - Mells Bells



Sam Crockatt - Mells Bells
(Whirlwind Records WR4681. CD review by Mike Collins)


The first chiming notes of Canon are an arresting opening to this dynamic and engaging album from saxophonist Sam Crockatt’s formidable quartet. The tenor’s phrase is echoed first by Kit Downes on piano, then Oli Hayhurst’s bass, followed by James Maddren’s drums before they accelerate and the band burst into life with an expansive solo from Downes over a restless groove from Maddren and Hayhurst.

The whole set is bubbling with energy and momentum. Crockatt’s compositions make the most of finely crafted and distilled ideas. Masterplan ups the temperature, a rollicking, shuffling, rocky groover launched by a theme full of snappy hooks and hits. The leader builds a storming solo from first, bluesy fragments, then spiralling runs, really digging into the groove. Downes is constantly goading and playing off him, before letting rip. I found you in the Jam unfolds from a declamatory, rubato theme, with first the piano then the tenor leading the whole band through a collective clattering lament. Mells Bells is built round a frenetic, spiralling figure spinning off into tumult, Maddren whipping it along with a boiling, relentless, barrage. Breath is tense and suspenseful, full of beautifully judged hesitations and delicate phrases. A Stroll on the Knoll is a trio take making the most of the gutsy roar and bite in Crockatt’s sound, a propulsive, impassioned performance with motifs and phrases changing shape as Hayhurst and Maddren follow every step of his jagged rythmic phrasing. The Land That Time Forget evolves more slowly from another ear tweaking, melodic phrase into a rolling climatic piece, Downes letting fly again with dazzling melodic flights.

This an excellent set from a quartet who are finely tuned to each other’s every move. It has the immediacy and vibrancy of a live performance and Sam Crockatt’s eight originals are a great vehicle for their melodic fluency and invention. Go and see this band.

Launch Tour Dates

2nd February 2016 – Pizza Express, London
3rd February 2016 – Anteros Arts Foundation, Norwich
18th April 2016 – Beaver Inn, Appledore
19th April 2016 – St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall
20th April 2016 – Restormel Arts, St Austell
21st April 2016 – The Blue Boar, Poole
24th April 2016 – Burdall’s Yard – Bath
23rd April 2016 – The Meeting House, Ilminster
30th June 2016 – The Spin Oxford

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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PHOTOS: Dave Liebman and Liam Noble at the Vortex


The stand at the Vortex
Photo Credit: © Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved


Photographer Victor Hugo Guidini captured a special event, the first appearance as a duo of DAVE LIEBMAN and LIAM NOBLE, played in front of a full house at the Vortex on Thursday 28th January 2016. All pictures are copyright the photographer.

Dave Liebman
Photo Credit: © Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved

Liam Noble
Photo Credit: © Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved

Liam Noble and Dave Liebman
Photo Credit: © Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved

Liam Noble and Dave Liebman
Photo Credit: ©Victor Hugo Guidini 2016. All Rights Reserved

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BOOK REVIEW: Peter Vacher - Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African American Jazz in Los Angeles



Peter Vacher - Swingin’ on Central Avenue: African American Jazz in Los Angeles
(Rowman & Littlefield, 346pp., £37.95. Book Review by Chris Parker)


Of all significant periods of jazz, the pre-war Los Angeles scene is, arguably, among the most poorly documented; the post-war jazz history of the city, its cool, breezy west coast sound epitomised by the likes of Shorty Rogers and Chet Baker, is relatively familiar, but the world described in these sixteen in-depth interviews by Peter Vacher is, by comparison, almost a vanished one.

Central Avenue was the pre-bebop hub of the LA jazz scene, attracting musicians from Chicago and the south to play in the swing bands that proliferated there, and Vacher has done jazz history a valuable service by tracking down surviving unsung heroes of this scene and allowing them space to talk about everything from clubowners and their habits, booking practices, the ‘mob’ and its involvement in the music scene, racial segregation, studio work etc. etc. He is clearly a good listener (an undervalued skill), and so his interviewees become expansive on all manner of topics – from the necessity of taking uncongenial daytime jobs to the unreasonableness of jazz leaders – not generally covered by jazz histories.

Vacher’s choice of subjects is also revealing: the likes of trumpeter Andy Blakeney, drummer Monk McFay, pianist Chester C. Lane et al. are by no means household names, even in the specialised jazz world, but this only serves to render their testimonies all the more pertinent. Hard work, struggle and neglect are the seams that run through this stratum of jazz history; the world of plush nightclubs with white clienteles is tellingly contrasted with the after-hours joints where the music was incubated; the occasional ‘big name’ (Billy Eckstine, Earl Hines, Jimmie Lunceford) generally mentioned solely in the context of comparative wages (‘Count Basie pays $8 a night and we make $12 over here’ … ‘[Cab Calloway] wanted me to go to New York and he said he would give me $50 a week, but I’m … probably making $100 a week [… and] would have to join Local 802, the New York local, and I didn’t want that’ are typical examples, both from trombonist ‘Streamline’ Ewing).

Anyone who has read Vacher’s other books (2012’s Mixed Messages: American Jazz Stories, published by Five Leaves, is a perfect example) will already be familiar with his quiet erudition and respectful courtesy; Swingin’ on Central Avenue is another fine addition to his oral-history oeuvre.

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REVIEW: Academy Big Band with Dave Liebman at Duke's Hall, RAM

Dave Liebman. Photo credit: Wolfgang Gonaus/
artist website 


Academy Big Band with Dave Liebman
(Duke's Hall, RAM, Marylebone Road, 29th January 2016. Review by Frank Griffith)

Saxist and composer Dave Liebman, was featured with the Academy Big Band, directed by Nick Smart. This annual event is part of the International Jazz Artist in Residence scheme at the RAM, now in its 5th year.

NEA Jazz master Dave Liebman's career has spanned nearly five decades, beginning in the early 1970s as the saxophonist and flautist in both the Elvin Jones and Miles Davis groups. He is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) since 1989, which is a worldwide network of schools from nearly forty countries. His breadth of vision and experience was clearly communicated to the RAM students not only on stage but during his week-long residency working and rehearsing with them beforehand. The results of which were clearly evident in their exemplary performance of his complex and challenging music conducted quietly yet flawlessly by Nick Smart, an acclaimed trumpeter, composer and bandleader in his own right.

Liebman is arguably the most distinctive and influential voice on the soprano sax today. His sound has a sinewy intensity with a jagged lyricism that borrows equally from the Klezmer tradition as it does from post-Coltrane angular ferocity. It is these disparate yet symbiotic qualities that help to create his unparalleled voice on this instrument. His command of this unique tonal palette goes a long way to his projecting over the most complex and radiant big band figures on all registers of his instrument.

The repertoire performed was 80% Liebman's compositions arranged by a variety of writers including a few of Dave students (Andrew Rathbun and Henrik Frisk) to leading practitioners like Jim McNeely and Vince Mendoza. McNeely's distinctive treatment of Liebman's Enfin - meaning finally, or at last, and written as a tribute to the election of Obama in 2008 - was particularly memorable. In addition, McNeely's modernistic take on Sing, Sing, Sing the 1938 Benny Goodman anthem is clearly a great example of a timeless vehicle for big band and soloist. The melodies incorporated were largely the 1938 ones. His re-spelling of the rhythmic structures and the thicker, more dissonant harmonies sent Liebman into the lower register of his sinewy soprano. This clearly did not put off the audience as one observed their heads a-bobbin' and eyes a-listenin' throughout the largely "mature" audience - many of whom were probably familiar with the original.

Another welcome inclusion was trombonist and eminent jazz educator Scott Reeves' take on New Breed a 1972 Liebman composition originally recorded on Elvin Jones's Mr Jones LP which featured a lineup of two tenors, bass and drums. Reeves' expansive realisation began with the bass introducing the first eight bars of the melody extending into the sharing of the melody amongst the different sections in a seamless fashion. First-rate trumpeter James Copus offered a solo replete with angular melodicisms that scored highly. What followed then was a brilliantly played sax soli based on Liebman's original solo from the 1972 recording. A blistering tour de force chart climaxed by a semi-raucous and cacophonic climax then demurely sloping into a gentle close.

What a player, what a band and what a night!

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REPORT: First two nights of WDR3 Jazzfest 2016 at Theater Münster

The lampshades in the roof of Theater Münster.
Photo: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR


WDR3 Jazzfest 2015
(Theater Münster, 28th and 29th January 2016. Report by Sebastian Scotney)
 
Theater Münster, a building you don't forget, the one where you look up and capture the extraordinary sight of hundreds of domestic lampshades. It was the very first new theatre in Germany to open its doors after the second world war - in fact it will be celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of its official opening next Thursday - and the Münsteraner are justifiably proud of it.

That sense of pride in culture ran deep through the Friday night prize concert, which is the centre-piece of the WDR3 Jazzfest. The head of radio for WDR, Valerie Weber, called the region of NRW unequivocally the "größte Heimat des Jazz in Deutschland" (the most important home/homeland for jazz in Germany.) The first two nights of the festival have reinforced the theme of the exemplary commitment which the region and its broadcaster give to jazz, and the many forms which that support takes.

The prize concert celebrated four different aspects of that activity, and virtually all the other events on the first two nights brought to the fore the theme of sustainability. The spotlight was also put on several previous winners of WDR jazz prizes. The message is clear, that jazz musicians change and develop, and a continued and sustained approach to their creativity rather than one-off flashes in the pan is what creates a sustainable scene. One special event, which fell outside those themes was the appearance of Martial Solal, which I have reviewed separately.

A big big band with double wind and bass.
Unijazzity the Münsterland Youth Band
The first prize of the evening went to the big band of Münsterland Unijazzity, propelled by a very impressive young drummer.


L-R: NRW Culture Minister Christine Kampmann,
Sidsel Endresen, Annette Maye

The region of NRW has also given two European female artist prizes, to Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen and to German clarinettist Annette Maye. 


Julia Hülsmann and Torun Eriksen

This year's speial prize acknowledged the work of the Union Deutscher Jazzmusiker, which was re-launched in 2011, and has been an effective force in bringing recognition and understanding of what  professional jazz musicians do, and raising it in the political discussions at regional and national level. A prime mover in that re-birth was pianist Julia Hülsmann. She had appeared earlier in the evening with Norwegian vocalist Torun Eriksen. For me there was one magical moment when Eriksen switched to her native language, and the way Hülsmann tracked and reinforced the speech rhythms suddenly gave an extra level of expressive freedom to both of them.


Tobias Hoffmann trio
Photo credit: Lutz Voigtlaender/ WDR


The third of the evening's prizewinners was the awardee for improvisation, guitarist Tobias Hoffmann. He is a core member of the Klaeng collective, a group of musicians of the same generation, which also includes pianist Pablo Held. Hoffmann's recent CD 11 Famous Songs Tenderly Messed Up has won prizes, and his brief set drew the audience in immediately into its reflective, bluesy world.


Karolina Strassmayr and Shannon Barnett
of the WDR Big Band

The final prizewinner of the evening is from a very different generation. Saxophonist and arranger/composer Stefan Pfeifer-Galilea is in his mid-fifties and fell under the spell of the Thad Jones Mel Lewis band as a teenager in the hot summer of 1976. His writing still bears the imprint of that baptism. He was an eloquent and strong-toned soloist in a composition dedicated to his wife- in which I thought I also heard a mischievous quote from My Old Flame, and also had a number featuring the two female members of the WDR Big Band.

Gianluigi Trovesi and Annette Maye

The evening came to a happy close by briefly presenting one of the quiet legends of the European jazz scene, Gianluigi Trovesi, alongside prizewinning clarintettist Annette Maye.

There were several celebrations of previous prizewinners in the other concerts of the first two nights.


Steffen Schorn, his tubax and the Zurich Jazz Orchestra


Composer / saxophonist Steffen Schorn is a man irresistibly drawn to extremes. His preferred instruments are the tubax, bass flute and contrabass clarinet, and the themes of his compositions space travel, an encounter of Catweasel with the inventor of the metronome and "all the female creatures in the universe." It was a lively and varied set.


Gabriel Perez and the CCJO


Gabriel Perez is an Argentinian-born, passionately expressive musician steeped in the folklore traditions of his native country. His opening set of the festival featured two remarkable musicians, the fine accordionist Luciano Biondini and the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra's guitarist Markus Segschneider.  



Jan Clare's group
Finally, two reflective late night sessions on the festival's small stage. On the first night  Münster-based saxophonist Jan Clare had a highly musical quartet who slipped easily from composed sections and Hanns Eisler-like marches to free sections where the bassist and the trumpeter both simultaneously produced delicious slidings and slitherings in pitch.



Robert Landferman's Quartet


Festivals which give a local musician carte blanche to construct his or her dream band deserve a special salute. I remember Lotte Anker being given this opportunity by the Copenhagen Festival in 2010. Lat night it was the remarkable bassist Robert Landfermann. His quartet with Chris Speed, Jim Black and Achim Kaufmann held a late night audence's attention completely through their  beautifully thought-through, long and complex interactions.  

LINK: Preview of WDR3 Jazzfest 2016

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: John Law (Tour Dates until September)

John Law New Congregation. Photo credit: David Forman
Pianist and composer JOHN LAW is about to embark on an extensive British tour with his New Congregation, including a London launch of the band’s album, "These Skies In Which We Rust". He spoke to Peter Bacon about speaking to the heart, not being clever, and the imprecision that is instrumental music’s strength.

London Jazz News: Your current quartet, New Congregation, has developed out of the Congregation trio and the Art of Sound trio before that. What prompted the changes?

John Law: Essentially they were prompted by changes in personnel. The specific impetus for the new recording was reading my daughter Holly's poetry, which produced three of the tunes.

On the recording I used Josh Arcoleo on tenor sax, Yuri Goloubev on bass and Laurie Lowe on drums. On the up-coming tour I've got Dave Hamblett on drums, with some dates filled by Lloyd Haines. Josh is only doing a few dates, with Sam Crockatt doing most. On bass I'm alternating between four players: Yuri on quite a few, with Ashley John Long, James Agg and Oli Hayhurst doing the rest. I'm quite excited about keeping things fresh for myself by working with lots of different musicians!

With New Congregation I'm now trying to exert a little more control over solo space.

LJN: You are about to embark on a New Congregation tour and the London launch of your album. What can audiences expect at these concerts?

JL: The main thing I'm trying to do is cover lots of different areas. There are lots of references to classical music in these current compositions, from the general approach we take through to specific quotes. Then there's an element of rhythmic complexity.

And alongside this apparent complexity I'm fascinated by the simplicity and minimalism that form many of the contemporary creative trends. So many of my themes are really simple, and have a sort of rock music-like, quasi-anthemic quality. Then there's the electronics. I'm trying to use this quite subtly, so it's not overbearing.

In the end I want music to speak to people, to their hearts, not make clever music for other musicians.

LJN: You also have your Goldberg Project involving the music of Bach and film. Is your relationship with classical music different now from what it was when you were a child?

JL: I guess I'm coming back to classical music more now! Yet I've always played Bach, and generally started my day at the piano with his music.

I recorded the Goldberg Variations in 2014. I played the Bach fairly straight and then added an intro and outro, electronic ambient tracks composed by myself.

I've now started to do this work live, but with the added feature of visuals. I met the visual artist David Daniels in 2014 and he's put together a fascinating digital representation of the music. I'm still ironing out some kinks and I'm hoping to take the project into classical concert halls and maybe art cinemas in 2017/18.
Classical music will always be my first love. I just have to find the balance with jazz and creative/improvised music.

LJN: Are we living in an age where the divisions between different genres of music are being increasingly torn down? Or do you think it was ever thus? Does this make today a more exciting time to be making music?

JL: It's incredible how jazz has changed over the time I've been involved in it. The result of educational changes, plus the whole issue of the world shrinking though the use of the internet, and everyone's learning stuff from everyone else... If you want to see how things have changed I can show you how.

But if you want to know how things have stayed the same I can show you [that too]. Does anyone nowadays have more pianistic skill than Art Tatum, or Phineas Newborn, or the amazing relaxed pyrotechnics of Fats Waller?

Maybe we can't get any closer to the poignant, heartfelt truth relayed by music than a Chet Baker solo of the ’60s or a blues ballad by Bessie Smith from even earlier.

Plus, there's got to be a time (we're probably almost there) when the newness of cross-genre music begins to wear off. And then what? We're still faced with the same problems faced by musicians from previous generations: how do we mark time with sounds, in such a way that we convey something that speaks, that moves? It's always the same problem.

LJN: From classical to jazz, free to composed, your musical exploration has changed subtly over the decades. Were there things you got tired of; or things elsewhere that you were attracted to? Do you see your musical career as all of a piece?

JL: From one point of view everything I've done has come from me, so therefore it must be all of a oneness. From another point of view I must admit I've changed a lot over the years. And I believe that's confused a lot of people! It just sort of happened. I came across people and music that made me think and feel differently. I don't think there was anything that I got tired of, as such. All my new directions have felt really positive. It's always been something that really grabbed me, some person's music or playing, some genre/style that spoke to me in a way that the one I was playing in at that time didn't quite touch.

And I'm still very confused! For example I can go and hear a totally improvised gig and I'm all nostalgic again and envious for the complete freedom they have, to just go on stage, listen and play. A certain part of me thinks of all the composition and study of straighter forms of contemporary jazz I've done over the last 20 years as perhaps just preparatory to returning to free music... as a better, more rounded free player!

LJN: What most excites you outside of music?

JL: All my life my main interest outside of music has been art. A visual way of feeling music is quite essential for me, in many ways. Then there's the related interest of architecture.

Still, what really binds me to music is the imprecise nature of the 'language' we're dealing with. The words stop, the meaning becomes quite imprecise. That's why I'm completely devoted to instrumental music. I like music mainly because the words stop.

LINK: John Law’s website: http://www.johnlaw.org.uk



TOUR DATES - List correct as at 30th January 2016

February 2016

12/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Chichester University, Chapel of the Ascension at 7:30pm
18/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: The George, Norton St. Philip at 8:00pm
19/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Be-Bop Club, Bristol at 8:30pm
24/02/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Pizza Express, Dean Street, London at 7:30pm LONDON CD LAUNCH!

March 2016

02/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Dempsey's, Cardiff at 8:45pm
03/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Bonington Theatre, Nottingham at 8:00pm
04/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Xposed Club, Glos. University, Cheltenham at 8:00pm
10/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Blue Boar, Poole at 8:00pm
11/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Riverhouse Barn, Walton-on-Thames at 8:00pm
15/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: St. Ives Jazz Club at Western Hotel, St. Ives at 8:30pm
16/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Broomhill Art Hotel, Barnstaple at 8:30pm
19/03/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: The Collection, Lincoln at 7:30pm

April 2016

01/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Symphony Hall Foyer, Birmingham at 5:00pm
06/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Lescar, Sheffield at 8:00pm
07/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Seven Arts Centre, Leeds at 8:00pm
08/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Capstone Theatre, Liverpool at 7:30pm
14/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Cube, Corby at 7:30pm
15/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Wakefield Jazz at 8:00pm
16/04/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Sage Gateshead Jazz Festival, Gateshead at 4:00pm

May 2016

05/05/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Vortex Jazz Bar, London at 8:00pm
26/05/2015 Goldberg Project: Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester at 8:00pm
27/05/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Fleece Jazz, Stoke By Nayland at 8:00pm

June 2016

16/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Future Inns, Bristol at 8:00pm
17/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: St. Catherine's Church, Ventnor, Isle of Wight at 7:45pm
18/06/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton at 7:30pm

September 2016

09/09/2016 New Congregation CD Tour: Meeting House, Ilminster at 8:00pm
24/09/2016 Goldberg Project: Holburne Museum, Bath at 8:00pm

LINK: John Law website

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Matthew Halsall/ Gondwana Orchestra with support Mammal Hands (St John’s Church, Hackney 26 May)

Matthew Halsall


Early bird tickets are on sale for the GONDWANA ORCHESTRA’s Hackney gig in May which will also double as the launch pad for the latest album from label-mates Mammal Hands. 

On his way to his Manchester studio home from home, the orchestra’s MATTHEW HALSALL spoke to Stephen Graham:

Working on a remix of the master of On the Go in Manchester studio 80 Hertz it’s non-stop for Matthew Halsall. His idea he says is to add three or four bonus tracks to this 2011 sextet album and issue it for the first time as a special vinyl edition in time for Record Store Day in April.

Bustling along and talking with a smile in his voice as he speeds up to date he tells me that one of his bands, Norwich outfit Mammal Hands, recently camped out living like students in Halsall’s own house in Manchester, have now departed and everyone is counting down to the release of their latest album in the spring that Halsall is also producing and issuing on his label.

Leading the Gondwana Orchestra who released their latest album, the vocals-infused Into Forever back in the autumn, the trumpeter directs a much distilled spiritual sound, influenced by Alice Coltrane at its beating heart, the core eight piece on the album playing mainly his own compositions with additional percussion and strings, singer Josephine Oniyama enhancing the sound, the style moving on from the McCoy Tyner Sahara period-inspired When The World Was One.

The Gondwana Orchestra

Devoting himself to several activities as a multi-tasker, Matt’s also a DJ who trained as a sound engineer, first took to jazz when his parents brought him along as a young boy to hear a jazz band play Dizzy Gillespie’s A Night in Tunisia and Miles Davis’ Milestones, later, all grown up, now playing sessions, juggling a day job at Ticketmaster, saving up a few quid to found his own label. His brother Daniel is also involved with the label and designs the artwork, the ‘look’ influenced by Peter Saville and Designers Republic.

Matt traces his DJ roots partly back to the inspiration of Manchester club legend Mr Scruff and the sampling genius of the Cinematic Orchestra, and traces his record company inspiration back to the Hackensack and Englewood Cliffs studio sounds of Rudy Van Gelder, his music to Alice Coltrane and spiritual jazz, the Gondwanas’ stirring version of ‘Journey into Satchidananda’ the blueprint made real.

The local Matt and Phred’s jazz club scene played a big part in Halsall’s own jazz awakening. “Matt and Phred’s,” he says, “was basically the melting pot of the Manchester jazz scene, it was seven nights a week. It was run by Matt Nixon at the time, a sax player who was very much focussed on getting the best deepest musicians around and from further afield.”

Halsall also met Nat Birchall there deep in the Northern Quarter and with setting up his own label in mind started ‘headhunting’ players and bands to recruit. In conversation Halsall likes to use the word journey quite a bit and his own wanderings have taken him to live in the Japanese city of Osaka serious in his intent to represent his inner musical and spiritual quest and translate his love of jazz into life.

As well as signing the Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders-influenced Birchall, piano trio GoGo Penguin steeped in the twin inspirations of the electronica of Aphex Twin and the post-Monk ground breaking Scandinavian sound of EST, would release Fanfares and v.2.0 the latter picking up a Mercury nomination a breakthrough for both the band and the wider exposure of the label beyond its northern base.

Halsall picks up the GoGo Penguin theme by explaining how he met the trio. “Their drummer, Rob Turner had actually been depping for me quite a lot over the years. Because in Manchester there were two really, really, special drummers that everyone knew about. There was Luke Flowers, who’s with me now, and Rob Turner. Rob was the only person who could basically keep up with filling in the spots for Luke. I remember doing a gig down in London and playing Aphex Twin and Squarepusher records in the car on the way back. And I was saying to Rob that with his drumming skills he could really smash some acoustic electronica style and do really well out of it. And he actually told me he had been thinking the same thing. He sent me ‘Last Words’ which was like his composition that ended up on the first album and it was very much Aphex Twin-inspired. I immediately signed GoGo Penguin.”

Now about to release their Blue Note label debut Man Made Object and tour in the States GoGo Penguin may have flown the nest but Halsall still has another great band up his sleeve in Mammal Hands who launch their new album and provide support for the Gondwana orchestra at their St John’s church gig in Hackney on 26 May.

LINK: Details/bookings for 26th May

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REVIEW: Polymorph (Terry Day, Veryan Weston, Trevor Watts, Dominic Lash) at the Vortex



Polymorph - Terry Day, Veryan Weston, Trevor Watts, Dominic Lash
(Vortex,  24th January 2016. Review by AJ Dehany)

The gig has been listed as “Terry Day’s Polymorph” but the free-improvising drummer and polymath Terry Day tells us that the group should be thought of as Polymorph.

It’s the same group that has been previously listed under all four of the players’ names together, but has (poly)morphed into Polymorph, and here they are. The nomenclature doesn’t seem unimportant. It sounds like a real group with a truly ensemble feel - four voices, one voice. There’s no one leader and few solo moments. They are veteran free improvisers of the second wave who have played with everyone, and as you’d expect of players with their level of experience, they know how to work a dynamic.

Terry Day calls himself “that noisy bastard on the drums”. Typically quite a ‘busy’ drummer, his style is restless even in repose. He explores the kit with a range of unconventional materials and techniques, including chopsticks and red plastic brushes and using a sort of ‘plunging’ technique of rubbing the sticks against the drum skins. Cymbals are positioned at acute angles for extra precision of attack. The pillar in the middle of the Vortex stage has been incorporated into the kit and makes a wonderful ping.

Veryan Weston’s complex chordal voicings and classical colorations are at the heart of why this group has been called “a class act”. They ‘polymorph’ between shades of classical, jazz, and intensely personal expression.

The first set-length improvisation splits into three movements with brief intermezzos — those silent passages where you find that moment in free playing where everything seems to stop and both audience and musicians take stock and gather breath before building it back up again - the eye of the storm.

The second set opens quite abstractly with long bat noises from Trevor Watts on clarinet and harmonics from Dominic Lash’s bass with Weston’s unsettling piano chord clusters, before letting rip. There’s a thrilling episode of clustered sustained dissonance as the sax centres on one note and the piano hugs in around it chromatically with ear-splintering effect. The sound escalates into a shrill cadenza that blows the whole thing apart. Then there's a collective  stop moment which is my favourite bit of the set. No-one is prepared for it, and there’s a shared laugh. Free playing at its best is a meeting of the visceral and controlled, always unexpected, predictably unpredictable. Polymorphously perverse . .

Polymorph is a group, but it’s also hard to forget it’s not ‘the Terry Day Show’ with the film cameras rolling around him, gathering material for the ongoing documentary film that Blanca Regina is making, Unpredictable - A film about Terry Day (LINK). Free scene stalwart Alex Ward is recording the gig. There are at least two bootleggers and two photographers. What we’ve seen of the film so far illustrates Terry Day’s mixture of humourous mischief and ear for intense detail:

“Sorry about the drums. They’re really loud,” Terry explains unnecessarily, then adds mischievously, “It takes a year to tune a drum you know… You may laugh; it’s true!”

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REVIEW: Joe Locke's Love is a Pendulum Quartet at Watermill Jazz, Dorking

Joe Locke's Love is a Pendulum group at the A-Trane in Berlin
Photo credit: Nadja von Massow


Joe Locke's Love is a Pendulum Quartet
(Watermill Jazz, Dorking, 28th January 2016, review by Peter Jones)


Times are changing at Watermill Jazz: at some point in the Spring, the club will move from its present comfortable and spacious HQ at the Aviva Sports and Social Club to the Betchworth Golf Club, opposite the Watermill pub, where it started out in 1994.

In the meantime, the Aviva played host to an exhilarating evening with American vibraphonist Joe Locke, accompanied by Robert Rodriguez on piano (not to be confused with the director of cheapo action movies), Ricardo Rodriguez (apparently no relation) on bass and Terreon Gully on drums. They’d flown in from Vienna earlier that day, and survived a long crawl along the M25. Joe Locke had borrowed a vibraphone from his friend Neil Percy, principal percussionist of the London Symphony Orchestra, who was in the audience.

Born in California but raised in New York State, Locke is a full-on performer. While soloing he attacks his instrument with tremendous energy and passion, flushed of face, darting this way and that, singing or even shouting along with his solo, hopping in the air at the end of a phrase, mallets aloft. This seems to be more than mere showmanship: he is an intense man, and his music is rich and complex, requiring huge concentration.

Most of the material in tonight’s show was taken from his new album Love Is A Pendulum, but they started out with the David Raksin standard Laura. It was a pleasingly Methenyesque arrangement, and beforehand Locke challenged the audience to identify it. This presented no difficulty: the correct answer was immediately called out by several people at the end of the number. The event had attracted an exceptionally attentive and knowledgeable crowd, as Locke himself pointed out later in the evening - and he wasn’t just soft-soaping them to buy the album.

Next came Betty One-Note, a version of Benny Golson’s Along Came Betty, followed by the Bobby Hutcherson-like This New October, and the skittering Love Is The Tide. In the second set came the Zappa-ish tune Love Is A Pendulum, featuring a brief but stunning Steve Gadd-style solo from Gully. It was followed by Sonny Rollins’s No Moe, based on the I Got Rhythm changes (and you could hear his nascent Alfie’s Theme) in the melody). The bass solo by Ricardo Rodriguez received one of the biggest ovations of the night – another indication, along with the absence of talking, that this was a proper jazz audience. After the ballad Embrace, they were called back for an encore described by its composer as a ‘barnburner’: Love Is Perpetual Motion.

Joe Locke is also perpetual motion, a man who throws his heart and soul into the music.

The same group is at Pizza Express Jazz Club Dean Street on Sunday night January 31st, 8pm start.  (BOOKINGS)

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REVIEW: Martial Solal Trio at Theater Münster (WDR 3 Jazzfest 2016 opening night)

Curtain call for Louis Moutin, Martial Solal and François Moutin

Martial Solal Trio
(WDR 3 Jazzfest 2016 opening night. Theater Münster. Review by Sebastian Scotney)


The 88 year-old jazz piano legend Martial Solal made the same gesture twice last night, at about the half-way point in his programme. He shut the lid of the Steinway, and then quickly re-opened it. It's just one typical example of his playful, teasing, and above all elusive sense of humour. It might not be advisable to think too hard about what it might actually mean, because once you do, all sorts of lugubrious possibilities come to mind: there clearly will come a point in his life when the piano lid will close for good, or when he knows he has said everything he wants or needs to say musically. But in the meantime, his virtuosity is completely intact, he has a new record out just within the last year, he clearly still has a lot to say, and every note of it is worth catching.

The introduction from the stage by Götz Bühler was a good reminder of quite what a unique figure Solal is. He has been the composer of thirty-five film scores including Godard's classic Breathless / A Bout de Souffle; he was one of the very first Europeans to appear at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1963; he has made classic recordings, notably a two-disc live recital from 1993, Martial Solal Improvise Pour France Musique.

I had previously heard Solal in London in solo recitals at Kings Place and the Wigmore Hall (links below), and in a duo with Stefano Bollani, but not in this formation, a regular and long-standing trio with the drummer Louis Moutin, and Louis' twin brother, the New York-based bassist François Moutin. Their stage set up is old-school, the Oscar Peterson formation where the bassist is parked behind the pianist's left shoulder, and the drummer is obliged to work with a view of Solal's back. It means that both brothers have to be alert to the constant challenge of keeping up with Solal's every whim.

And they do. It a task that which they both clearly enjoy, and they perform not just reverentially but with constant smiles going back and forth between them. Numbers are seldom announced in advanced, they are just launched straight in. The repertoire is of originals, always with sudden switch-backs, where the pianist takes his younger compatriots off on a Tom-and-Jerry chase, and of some standards.



The trio perform in the classic Oscar Peterson formation
My One and Only Love, dedicated to Solal's wife had the tune elongated with notes repeated and circled, and also moved off into abstraction – as is Solal's way, and seemed like an emotional heart to the set. There was a breakneck Sonny Rollins Oleo, and as an encore Jerome Kern's The Last Time I  Saw Paris.

It was a shame that Theater Münster wasn't sold out to hear him, but those who did witnessed one of the very great masters of piano jazz in irrepressible form.


LINKS: Review of Martial Solal / Stefano Bollani duo at the Barbican in 2011
Review of Martial Solal at Wigmore Hall in 2010
Review of Martial Solal in June 2009 at Kings Place
Interview with John Fordham from 2010

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CD REVIEW: Frank Woeste - Pocket Rhapsody



Frank Woeste - Pocket Rhapsody
(ACT Records 9587-2. CD Review by Rob Mallows)


I’ve always wondered what the convention is for naming a jazz album. Is it about representing a mood, perhaps, or a memory triggered during the writing, or the location of the recording. It must be even more challenging when there are few if any lyrics.

In the case of Frank Woeste’s debut recording for the ACT label - Pocket Rhapsody - this German pianist seems to want accuracy. Before I listened to this album I looked up the meaning of rhapsody on Wikipedia: “episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality.

Damn, if he hasn’t just hit the title nail on the head. Pocket Rhapsody contains most if not all of those elements over its ten tracks and it’s all the better for it. He’s clearly not content to cut off similar two-by-four shaped jazz planks to build this album. Incorporating nu-jazz, funk, free improvisation, classical and drum ’n’ bass, boring it ain’t. And, it fits in one’s pocket, too.

First track Terlingus is a slow-tempo funk, book-ended by the moodiest of dischordant sounds on the piano before the keyboard bass line pumps in backed by some rat-a-tat high-hat playing by drummer Justin Brown. The main piano theme by Woeste is simple but catchy, but then stretches out when embellished on the Hammond organ and through direct plucking of the piano strings.

Following the title description, second track Moving Light is a 90-degree turn: jauntier, Major in feel, recalling perhaps a little of the Snarky Puppy recipe with strong brass sounds over bass synth and keyboards. A pleasingly accessible tune, it’s still got a sufficiently knife-edge quality to ensure the listener isn’t too comfortable.

This album’s a bit like visiting a department store. Each floor, or track, offers a disparate range of items on offer. Up on the third floor, The Star Gazer is all plucked strings and moody, breathy lyrics from ACT stable-mate Youn Sun Nah. Avant grade and full of singer-songwriter emotion before moving into some deliciously syrupy piano improvisation, by now the listener starts to understand that West’s really sticking to the album title’s theme.

Best track on the album is the fourth cut, Buzz Addict, introduced by a simple four-chord sequence on the Hammond organ which seems to pay homage to Samuel Morse’s nineteenth-century code before more conventional piano tones and drumming solos enter the picture, along with intriguing accompaniment from Ben Monder’s guitar. It has a slightly space-adventure sort of feel, reflecting a tremendously exciting journey around the musical cosmos.

The rest of the album is like this - surprises around every corner. Like the way in which motorways are designed with gentle curves to stop drivers falling asleep, the variety in the track listing ensures the listener can’t take his or her eye off the musical road. The most interesting mood is on track eight Nouakchott, on which trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf provides a defiantly arabic sound palette that draws the reader’s mind to visions of sand dunes, wadis and the hubbub of the souk, on a track written on trips to the region by Woeste funded by the Goethe Institut.

This is a fine album with a defiantly idiosyncratic sound. It doesn’t sound like anyone else out there at the moment and Woeste has provided us with an album that won’t necessarily be satisfied with being listed solely under jazz. It’s more than that.

The whole album is packaged in one of the most beautifully simple covers I’ve seen for many a while, a colourful image by artist Terry Winters against a pure white background. It is very pleasing, as is the music inside.

Pocket Rhapsody is released today 29th January 2016

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CD REVIEW: Let Spin -
Let Go



Let Spin - Let Go
(Efpi Records FP023. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)


It's possible, considering today's welcome proliferation of independent jazz labels, that significant, gleaming gems of albums could be overlooked by the wider music media. A case in point might (but shouldn't) be this latest release on Manchester's artistically offbeat 'Efpi' label – Let Go, from collaborative quartet project Let Spin: Chris Williams (alto sax), Moss Freed (electric guitar), Ruth Goller (electric bass) and Finlay Panter (drums).

An eponymous debut recording in 2014 unleashed their powerful potential (hardly surprising when the personnel's backgrounds include Led Bib, Moss Project, Melt Yourself Down and Beats & Pieces Big Band). Excitingly, second album Let Go shines still brighter with a headier fusion of prog jazz and psychedelic rock, shot through with the rampant energy of ska and punk. Indeed, there's an overriding sense of raw-edged intent and keen individuality here that could be traced back to '70s and '80s bands such as National Health, Colosseum and Back Door.

In true collective spirit, compositional credits are shared equally throughout the eight tracks (two apiece), yet it's an impressively cohesive work – they're clearly all very much on the same air supply. Plug in, and the effect is both captivating and unpredictable – from the daybreak aurora of Goller's I Like to Sound Like a Rainforest, which erupts into a bass-babbling, Bowie-like anthem (Williams screeching at the top of his alto register), to the irresistible retro-pop/ska dance groove of Panter's Disa. This is a band which carefully constructs its arrangements, yet consistently plays its heart out, as in Williams' thrashing Walt's Waltz – a raucous, triple-time bop resounding to crashing guitar and fizzing percussion; and the contrasting, weightless guitar atmospherics of Freed's E.V.A. possesses a patient soundtrack quality as it gradually crescendos through atypical chord progressions into pulsating, full throttle magnificence. Yes, that good!

Finlay Panter's Rotation impertinently combines American rock with agitated free jazz and unyielding alto (could that be a Tubular Bells 'Piltdown Man' guitar/bass riff in there somewhere?), whilst forlorn, period-sci-fi outing Killing our Dreams (from Chris Williams' pen) finds positivity through its writer's extended, hard-blown phrasing. Ruth Goller's trippy All Animals are Beautiful, underpinned by her characteristically mobile bass, becomes a phantasmagoria of disembodied, echoic guitar wails, unexpected reverse effects, deliberate drum trickery, melodious sax improv… in fact, seven minutes of sheer fascination. And the lucid impressionism of Moss Freed's Rothko's Field beautifully blends electronically-effected guitar and sax themes across its liquid canvas.

Eclectic, impassioned and mind-blowing, Let Spin have shifted up a few more gears into the stratosphere – and it's a blast.

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NEWS: Finalists for BBC Young Musician 2016 Jazz Award announced



The five musicians who will go through to the BBC Young Musician 2016 Jazz Award 2016 final have been announced:


Alexandra Ridout - Trumpet (17 years old)

Tom Ridout - Saxophone and Recorder (21 years old)

Tom Smith - Saxophone (20 years old)

Noah Stoneman - Piano (15 years old)

Elliott Sansom - Piano (21 years old)

The final will be on Saturday 12th March in the Dora Stoutzker Hall of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. The Gwilym Simcock Trio with Yuri Goloubev and James Maddren will work with the 2016 finalists, who include a brother and a sister - Alexandra and Tom Ridout. Saxophonist Tom Smith was a finalist in 2014. 2014 winner saxophonist Alexander Bone will also be performing at the 2016 final.

LINK: Carlos Lopez-Real's report on the 2014 Final

Twitter: @bbcyoungmus 
Facebook

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NEW BLOG: Jazz January ("Can jazz music work on normal people?")



Writer Matthew Pannell has set up a 31-day blog Jazz January in which he is attempting to answer the question "Can jazz music work on normal people?"

Or as he elaborates his question further:

"Are special powers needed to ‘get’ it wherever you hear it? Is the brain of the ‘jazzer’ really different to yours? .......What is it with jazz? You can stand outside and listen for as long as you want, but you can’t get in. Is it because of the jazz-people and their secretive, nocturnal underworld? Or is the music just impossible for all but a chosen few?"

He has been taking "jazz testers" of all ages round clubs in London, and is promising to deliver the result when the experiment is complete at the end of the month.  Or possibly he will have just got hooked on the music anyway like the rest of us...There is some great lively writing in there. Recommended.

LINKS: JAZZ JANUARY BLOG
Twitter: @MJ_Pannell

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LP REVIEW: Charles Mingus – Presents Charles Mingus



Charles Mingus – Presents Charles Mingus
(Pure Pleasure/Candid CJS 9005. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


“Thank you again for not applauding. You dig it?” So speaks Charles Mingus on this album, recorded in November 1960 at Tommy Nola’s Penthouse Studios in New York. Mingus’s introductory announcement — “In fact don’t even take any drinks, or no cash register ringing, etc.” — is a particularly weird piece of theatre, since this isn’t a live recording and there was no audience present, let alone one which was drinking or operating cash registers. Apparently the maestro wanted to conjure a mood. Hence the feigned announcements, and turning down the lights in the studio. More specifically, Mingus wanted to pretend he’d created a live recording of the material he’d been playing so energetically with this quartet (Eric Dolphy reeds, Ted Curson trumpet, Dannie Richmond drums) in a series of memorable gigs at the Showplace club in recent weeks (“We don’t applaud here at the Showplace,” continues Mingus’s fantasia).

Live or not, this is classic Mingus and a milestone in his catalogue. It was originally released in 1961 on Nat Hentoff’s Candid Label and is now back in print in an audiophile vinyl version from Pure Pleasure, who have had the benefit of working from the original master tapes provided by Alan Bates at Candid. It’s a sonically superb reissue, 180gram vinyl in a flat edge pressing, and topnotch in every respect. Even the cover art is pin sharp, which is hardly ever the case with an album of this vintage.

Mingus’s fake patter is soon over, swallowed by the magnificent music here. When he’s introducing the band he mentions Ted Curson’s contribution on trumpet almost as an afterthought. But Curson is in many ways the hero of this set. His bluesy, soulful statements are certainly the lynchpin of Folk Forms No. 1, although Eric Dolphy’s alto is soon weaving wild weeds around the trumpeter’s solid structures, like vegetation gone out of control among the wreckage of a post-apocalypse metropolis. Curson and Dolphy battle it out right until the last note, and there is an exhausted sigh at the very end, which I suspect comes from Mingus, contemplating what he has wrought here.

Original Faubus Fables is a variant on Fables of Faubus which first appeared on Mingus’s 1959 album Mingus Ah Um. The song chronicles the misadventures of Arkansas governor and all-round bozo Orval E. Faubus, who unleashed troops to stop nine black children entering a white high school. Aptly for a political piece, it has a Weill and Brecht feel which comes through most clearly on this version (coincidentally, Dolphy would record an album of Weill tunes with John Lewis in 1965). Eric Dolphy closely shadows Mingus’s vocals and then falls into step with Curson’s punchy, measured lead. Then Dolphy takes centre stage with a spook-show solo. The two men make for a fascinating pair, giving Mingus a startlingly rich sound from such a small unit. Richmond’s staccato, military drumming is also outstanding.

Ted Curson’s lonely, exploratory trumpet on What Love is initially accompanied by chugging reeds from Dolphy, and then Curson suddenly begins to swing. Not to be outgunned, Dolphy plays choppy bass clarinet which develops into a solo with a distinctly otherworldly Sun Ra feel. Dannie Richmond evokes a backdrop of shimmering cymbals and there is raunchy, punchy bass from Mingus. Towards the end Curson and Mingus spar like boxers. Curson’s horn often suggests a bugle and indeed, on All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother he emits despairing bugle calls as if summoning reinforcements to Custer’s Last Stand.

This is an outstanding release from Pure Pleasure, a British label which has been issuing audiophile vinyl albums for 12 years now. Like the German firm Speakers Corner, they press their LPs at the legendary Pallas plant in Diepholz in Lower Saxony, and Pure Pleasure maintain a similarly dazzling high audio standard. They have a strong jazz catalogue including many other Candid titles, mastered, like this one, from the original tapes. It will indeed be a pure pleasure to explore their list further.

LINK: Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus at Pure Pleasure Records

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CD REVIEW: Corrie Dick Impossible Things



Corrie Dick Impossible Things
(Chaos Collective CC006. CD Review by Peter Jones)


Corrie Dick is much more than a drummer, and Impossible Things is far more than a ‘drummer’s album’. It provides evidence of a thoughtful, sensitive and imaginative all-round composer and bandleader with a lot to say: the music is brimming with optimism, energy and ideas. Not for nothing does Dick call them his ‘Band of Joy’.

The album is bolstered on the distaff side by the ubiquitous Alice Zawadzki (vocals, violin and some of the lyrics), and two of Dick’s colleagues in Blue-Eyed Hawk - Laura Jurd (trumpet), and – off-stage – Lauren Kinsella, who also helped out with lyrics. Other band members include Joe Webb and Matt Robinson on keys, Joe Wright and George Crowley on saxophones, Felix Higginbottom on percussion and Conor Chaplin on bass.

Soar features a joyous, surging melody led mainly by Robinson’s piano, with a spoken poem-cum-love song by Zawadzki, whose voice really shines throughout the album. Dick’s Scottish heritage comes through on King William Walk, with a fiddle/whistle melody reminiscent of some Scottish dance, albeit you’d tie yourself in knots trying to figure out the time signature; it then morphs into something faintly African. On Six Impossible Things, we are in the world of Alice – Through the Looking Glass, as well as Zawadzki – since the lyric refers to the White Queen’s remark to the eponymous heroine: Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.. Annamarrakech is a gorgeous, swooping tune with an airy solo by Laura Jurd, a celebration of the time Dick went to Morocco with his girlfriend and played with local musicians in Djemaa el-Fnaa square.

The mood softens with Farewell Modhachaidh, a lovely breathy piece about the home of Dick’s grandparents on the Isle of Skye. Lock Your Heart Up subtly prolongs the mood before evolving into a typically flamboyant soprano saxophone riot featuring Joe Wright. Like everything else on the album, it feels very free and spontaneous, while remaining intensely melodic. Everyone joins in on backing vocals on the mysteriously-titled What has Become of Albert? and the album ends with Don’t Cry, which Dick refers to as his calm-after-the-storm moment. This features another sweet, breathy vocal from Zawadzki, complete with background creaks and clicks which only add to the ambience, and the track fades out very slowly with an extended coda of chiming piano, overlaid with gorgeous vocal and trumpet improvisation.

Link: Interview with Corrie Dick

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CD REVIEW: Sonny Sharrock Ask the Ages



Sonny Sharrock Ask the Ages  
(M.O.D. Technologies. CD review by Jon Turney)


No prizes for identifying this music in a blindfold test. Crashing, overdriven, organ-like chords; keening single note melodies, fatter and rounder than the polite traditions of “jazz” guitar would ever license. It has to be Sonny Sharrock.

If anyone brought the full potential of electricity, beyond mere amplification, to the instrument in jazz, it was Sharrock, who died in 1994 just as his career was getting a second wind. This set, recorded three years earlier, was produced by the man largely responsible for that revival, Bill Laswell, and Laswell’s own label now brings it back into print. It ranks alongside the superb solo Guitar and quartet recording Seize the Rainbow as Sharrock’s best realised works. But this one is the closest to his main source of inspiration, John Coltrane’s saxophone playing.

That was emphasised by the setting, a quartet featuring Pharoah Sanders on sax, Elvin Jones on drums and the young (24) Charnett Moffett on acoustic bass. Sanders’ characteristic upper-register overblowing blends seamlessly with the guitar, and he has several ecstatic solo flights – though the leader’s solos are generally more incisive than his guest’s. Moffett plays more notes than he needs to some of the time, but when he relaxes works well with Jones, and Elvin is his excellent restless, polyrhythmic self, the six tracks here surely offering some of his very best late work.

In combination, they make each of the cuts here striking in its way, sometimes using the slenderest materials. Promises Kept has Sanders launched on a fierce solo almost as soon as it has begun, as if he can’t wait. Little Rock, has a simple descending riff - barely a composition at all - that leads straight into an impassioned guitar solo, with a Hendrix-flavoured combination of distortion which somehow retains bell-like clarity, which seems to be just getting up a head of steam when Sanders barges in again, in a lower register than usual. Who Does He Hope to Be is a bleary lament, Sharrock’s tone set for maximum emotion, though a frantic bass solo breaks the mood.

But the band work well together nearly everywhere, especially on the longest piece, the Love Supreme soundalike Many Mansions, which features Sanders on soprano. The feel leans strongly toward that of the Coltrane band around the time of the first live at the Village Vanguard sets, and the music is pretty well at that level, too.

I’m not sure why a set released in 1991 needed to be remixed, especially as remix specialist Laswell presided over the original. The selections, and track lengths, remain the same, although the flickering firefly accents of Jones’ drumming do perhaps come through the mix with a little more clarity.

But it’s good to have this one back as an actual CD; to remember Sharrock the electric pioneer; to be reminded that there are Coltrane-fixated guitar players apart from John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana; and because there is music here of enduring power.

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PREVIEW: Fishwick/Roberts/Basile Sextet UK Tour (Feb 3- 12)


Trumpeter Steve Fishwick (third  writes about his forthcoming sextet tour: 

Finally, after a lot of organisation and planning, we’re very excited to announce our UK tour dates for February 2016. Our new CD, In The Empire State, was recorded in New York in September 2014 after a run of seven gigs at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Smalls and Smoke as part of Dave Douglas’ Festival Of New Trumpet (by invitation of Jeremy Pelt who curated that particular event).

This new disc is a follow up to our first sextet CD When Night Falls (recorded 2013) which was nominated for a British Jazz Award for best CD release of 2015. There are some changes to personnel from the first CD as we have, in addition to Frank Basile on Baritone Saxophone, two of the finest jazz musicians in NYC joining us: Mike Karn and Jeb Patton on bass and piano respectively. We’re very pleased to say that we will be touring with the same group that we have on the CD.

Mike Karn established himself in New York in the 1990s as one of the best tenor saxophonists around. However he has been concentrating on his formidable bass talents for the past few years. His credits include The Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Walt Weiskopf and Ray Charles.

Jeb Patton is one of New York’s most treasured pianists having worked with a galaxy of jazz stars but the most relevant feather in his cap is his tenure with the Heath Brothers band for the past 20 years. I believe there isn’t a higher testament to a musician’s abilities than holding a gig with such luminaries for so long.

Frank Basile is one of the best exponents of the Baritone Saxophone in the world today having worked with Joe Lovano, Dave Holland, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and many others.

My long standing collaborator Osian Roberts will be playing tenor saxophone and my brother Matt Fishwick will be playing drums. Both are playing better than ever. I feel that this is a very special group and this is definitely the most ambitious UK tour we have organised so far, so I’m very much looking forward to sharing the stage with these outstanding musicians again for an extended run of gigs.

Tour Dates

3rd February The Cask, Scarborough
4th February Workshop Aberdeen Univirsity, The Blue Lamp Aberdeen
5th February Workshop Leeds College Of Music, Millenium Hall Sheffield
7th February Jazz on a Winter’s Weekend festival, Southport
8th February Ronnie Scott’s Late Show
9th February Ronnie Scott’s Late Show
10th February 606 Jazz Club, London (official CD Launch Party)
11th Hidden Rooms, Cambridge
12th The Verdict, Brighton

BAND

Steve Fishwick- Trumpet
Osian Roberts- Tenor Saxophone
Frank Basile- Baritone Saxophone
Jeb Patton- Piano
Mike Karn- Bass
Matt Fishwick- Drums

This tour acknowledges support from Arts Council England.

LINK: Preview of the inaugural tour in 2013

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PREVIEW: Zacc Harris Quartet (Opening for Mingus Big Band 26/27 Jan + Pizza Express Dean Street, Sat 30th Jan lunchtime)

Zacc Harris

Minneapolis-based guitarist Zacc Harris is in London this week, in a quartet which is doing the early set, opening for the sold-out gigs of the Mingus Big Band at Ronnie Scott's, and then performing at Pizza Express Dean Street this Saturday lunchtime. He is pleased to be in London, and explains the background to his visit. Zacc Harris writes:

Serendipity works in mysterious ways. In 2013, I met Michael Janisch while he was touring through the Twin Cities in Minnesota, where I’ve resided for the last decade. As we both run record labels (Whirlwind Recordings and Shifting Paradigm Records) while also managing our own playing careers, we had loads to talk about, and while he was in town, we scheduled a session at my place with the other members of my group Atlantis Quartet, Brandon Wozniak (Dave King Trucking Company) and Pete Hennig (Tony Hymas, Fantastic Merlins). The session was great, working thorough a handful of tunes by Michael and myself, and a friendship was born.

Last summer, serendipity struck again, as Michael’s Cloudmakers Trio followed Atlantis Quartet at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, and I was asked to sit in with them on their set. That night as we bounced around the stages and clubs of the festival, we dreamed up plans for Michael to tour in the Midwest with the Atlantis Quartet guys a couple months later, and I would come over to London for a week in 2016. So, here I am, and Michael has assembled a great run of shows, culminating in this Saturday’s afternoon set at the Pizza Express, and a truly stellar line-up of musicians to play my music, with George Crowley on saxophone, Andrew Bain on drums, and of course Michael Janisch himself on bass.

We kicked things off last night, playing the opening set at Ronnie Scott’s last night before the Mingus Big Band, then over to Jazz At the Oxford. Both sets were incredibly well received, and I was humbled by the warm reception of the audiences and the incredible London musicians that I met, like Hannes Riepler, Andre Canniere, and Dee Byrne. On the train back south from Kentish Town, Dee and I discussed composition and the idea of depicting our existential experience, an object, an event, or even an idea, through the music.

I realized that this is something I generally strive for in my compositions, whether it’s a feeling of angst conjured by concepts like “Lines In the Sand” or “The Edge of Reason”, the dark, hyperbolic animation of “Shadow Puppets”, or a depiction of something quite literal like “Ligaments” where I tried to stretch and pull the phrasing to paint a picture of this small yet vital piece of our anatomy. So it is tunes like these that we will play this Saturday, the 30th of January at 1:30pm at the Pizza Express, and with two more nights at Ronnie’s this week, this exceptional quartet will be deep inside the music and ready to bring these tunes to life, with their own experiences, as serendipity strikes once again. ​

PIZZA EXPRESS JAZZ CLUB  - ZACC HARRIS QUARTET BOOKINGS

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REVIEW: Ian Shaw with Barry Green, Mick Hutton and Dave Ohm at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Barry Green, Ian Shaw, Mick Hutton
Photo credit: Tim Francis
Ian Shaw with Barry Green, Mick Hutton and Dave Ohm
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 21st January 2016. Review by Brian Blain)

Although Ian Shaw's nights at Dean Street's Pizza Express earlier last week had featured major artists like Liane Carroll and Claire Martin, the producer of his latest album The Theory of Joy (Thursday night), which was devoted to its launch, was packed – an indication of Shaw's drawing power on his own and very gratifying to the bigwigs in attendance from Harmonia Mundi, on whose Jazz Village label the album sits.

I say 'on his own', but one of the main points of the new album is that it marks the return of Ian to working in the classic format of the piano trio. And what a trio it is, with Barry Green(piano) Mick Hutton (bass) and Dave Ohm (drums) ensuring that the singer's own high-level keyboard skills are safely dispensed with and he can get on with presenting a unique talent – his astonishing voice.

Joni Mitchell has always been a Shaw favourite and the outing for In France They Kiss On Main Street, with that lovely 'rollin', rollin', rock and rollin' phrase, had Hutton reminding me of how Cecil McBee brought back the subtlety of the acoustic bass to fusion rhythm sections all those years ago with Lonnie Liston Smith. In contrast, Hutton again produced notes, on the somewhat drawn-out intro to My Foolish Heart, that sounded immense without being over-amped; whilst on the brisker tunes, Ohm's patterns around the kit, complete with stop-time bars, were immaculate and far from overbearing – a great celebration of his umpteenth birthday. Green, in solo after solo, showed genuine creativity while fulfilling the role of accompanist-to-singer to perfection; a magic trio, without question. There was a nod to Bowie in the second set, with Walking The Dead, from the album Earthling. It left me baffled about meaning, but impressed by mood and melody, while a ferocious burst of scat – he is one of the very few who can make it worthwhile – led into the more familiar territory (to me anyway) of Mel Torme's Born To Be Blue, showing us his stunning vocal range, from deep bass to almost screaming falsetto, before getting down to cook with the rhythm section on the song itself.

Not sure if all the crowd were comfortable with it, but big respect for drawing attention to the plight of the refugees in Calais in his intro to My Brother, a song actually about his own brother (who died before he was born) but which has now become firmly associated with his Calais convictions and which has already been made into a minor hit by the excellent Robert Elms on Radio London. Just to show I am not unpaid PR for the man, I hated… Got to Pick a Pocket or Two from Lionel Bart's Oliver – a terrible song from a mawkish meritricious show; drop it, please. To make up, the final number before a genuinely demanded encore, Ian Shaw's Somewhere Towards Love – surely one of the best tunes ever, it was achingly tender, and pure magic. A beautiful ending to an evening of swing, groove, melody, humour and, for a few moments, deep seriousness. Can't think of anyone else who could pull it off.

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NEWS: Line-Up announced for Pizza Express Steinway Spirio Two Piano Festival (March 7th-13th)

Rick Wakeman. Photo credit: Aureliomoraes30 / Creative Commons


Pizza Express Dean Street has just made public the line-up for its Steinway two piano festival. 

- The centre-piece is two nights / four shows with Rick Wakeman with son Adam Wakeman. 

- The unmissable jazz rarity is Keith Tippett with Howard Riley . 

- The best humour  will be from  Liane Carroll and Joe Stilgoe

- The most surprises will be on the opening night. 

- The most  intriguing visitor is Dena DeRose

- Here is the full line-up, complete with booking links :

Monday 7th March – Steinway Spirio Festival Launch Night with Tom Cawley, Alexander Hawkins and more to be announced

Tuesday 8th March – Liane Carroll and Joe Stilgoe

Wednesday 9th March – Keith Tippett and Howard Riley

Thursday 10th March – Dena De Rose and Janette Mason / Dominic Alldis and Jonathan Gee

Friday 11th March (early show) – Rick Wakeman and Adam Wakeman

Friday 11th March (early show) – Rick Wakeman and Adam Wakeman

Saturday 12th March (early show) – Rick Wakeman and Adam Wakeman

Saturday 12th March (early show) – Rick Wakeman and Adam Wakeman

Sunday 13th March – An Evening with Stride Piano Legend Neville Dickie

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