REPORT Enjoy Jazz Festival (Heidelberg, Mannheim, Ludwigshafen, Germany)

Jack DeJohnette/Ravi Coltrane/Matt Garrison at Enjoy Jazzz
Photo credit Henning Bolte


Enjoy Jazz 2016 – International Festival for Jazz and More
(Heidelberg/Mannheim/Ludwigshafen, October 20 – 25. Report, photos and DrawNote (*) by Henning Bolte)


Setting the Context

Unlike the fast-forward conveyor belt  of musical acts whizzing past in a short period of time, which is usual for a lot of jazz festivals, ENJOY JAZZ is spread over a longer period: six weeks in October and November. Moreover it is a regional festival spread over five cities in two federal states (Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate) and 24 venues.

The main bases are the attractive university city of Heidelberg on the river Neckar and the twin cities Mannheim, on the right bank of the Rhine and Ludwigshafen (left bank), a main part of the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Area with its population of some 2.4 million people.

Its most important industrial company is the chemical production of BASF (Badische Anilin & Sodafabrik) in Ludwigshafen, the world’s largest chemical producer employing more than 122,000 people, with over 52,800 in Germany alone. The cultural program of BASF engages with the festival in various ways (providing venues for example), as it has done for several years. However, the main sponsor of the festival is software provider SAS (Statistical Analysis System) based in Heidelberg .

Through its presence over several weeks, and these links, the festival manages to be neither a flash-in-the-pan nor an outlier. It builds on a higher degree of cultural participation fostering it by the way it is organized and arranged. It attracts audiences to single, one-off musical events, which sell well ( even when there are competing shows on the same night). It is a multi-disciplinary, multi-stylistic and multi-genre affair in a multifaceted context varying from industrial and business zones, high tech knowledge in combination with a rich and old academic tradition, with for its backdrop scenery and a river and mountain landscape which can evoke the German romantics. A good example of the building programmes to lure in the substantial academic and scientific communities in the area is the series Tunnel-Effekt referring to a phenomenon in quantum mechanics.

And part of it all is a rich jazz legacy in this region: the regional public radio (SWR, formerly SWF), was and still is famous for its jazz programmation - ruled and shaped by renowned jazz pioneer Joachim Ernst Berendt for 40 years who also contributed to the rich recording catalogue of the world famous MPS label. Thanks to the strong post war presence of American troops one of German’s internationally most renowned jazz musicians, pianist/vibraphonist Karl Berger (1935, Heidelberg), founder of the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock together with Ornette Coleman, got his on stage education in clubs of this area and the neighbouring Frankfurt.

Five concerts as a cross-section

Considering the length of the festival a slice out of it has to be chosen to visit, attend and to report on. Five concerts chosen are:

-The Jack DeJohnette Trio
-The Timeless Trio of Gérard Pansanel
-Matana Roberts
-John Potter’s Amadores Pasados
-Julia Hülsmann.

(Two shows unfortunately had to be cancelled in that period, the solo-recital of Swiss pianist Colin Vallon and Peter Schwalm’s “The Beauty of Disaster” featuring Eivind Aarset and Sophie Clement.)

Jack DeJohnette

Jack DeJohnette’s drumming is like a force of nature, akin to a strong tropical rain shower. The continuity of his career over the last 50 years is extraordinary and he is still involved in a series of vital groups. The group he is touring with at the moment has a strong connection to John Coltrane who was born 90 years ago – a reason for a concluding this year’s festival with a Coltrane tribute by Archie Shepp featuring Reggie Workman, Jason Moran, Nasheet Waits and Amir ElSaffar.

The trio with Matt Garrison (1970), the son of Coltrane’s bassist Jimmy Garrison, and with Coltrane’s son Ravi Coltrane(1965) both on the same instruments as their fathers, carries along some portion of the Coltrane legacy and is a strong family affair due to their personal relationships. Coltrane and Garrison are musicians in their own right, with their own path and voice, clearly differing from their fathers’. Also in this group Garrison is exclusively playing electric bass guitar, which steers the music in a special direction giving it a stronger electric character. Correspondingly high were the expectations and dasHAUS in Ludwigshafen sold out and packed mainly with older jazz aficionados who came to enjoy from the great master’s connection to the great master via this binding element.

It was a respectful reminiscence to a wider range of historical styles, melted into this trio’s characteristics and possibilities. Unfortunately this was not supported by the sound balance of the hall, which was frequently too loud for listeners to get much of their nuance and interlocking energy. Coltrane who frequently used the soprano/sopranino besides the tenor sax played in service of the varied music whereas Garrett had a strong tendency to virtuoso ostentatiousness. Nonetheless their music with the coltranesque The Wise One as a central piece fulfilled the expectation of the audience. The threesome made the circle round with Charlie Parker’s Segment as encore. Master Jack beat the pouring rain outside again, Coltrane played impeccably and Garrison’s electric bass went down many byways, which was not really beneficial to Parker’s piece.

Gérard Pansanel Timeless

One of the twinned cities of Heidelberg – since 1961 - is Montpellier, a university city of 560.000 inhabitants in southern France situated on the edge of the Rhône delta area known as Camargue. The partnership is among others materialized in the Montpellier Haus also running a cultural program. It is one example of the festival’s efforts to involve local/regional actors in the program design. As a result this year the Timeless Trio of Gérard Pansanel (1952) from Montpellier was invited for a festival appearance at the Karlstorbahnhof venue in Heidelberg.

Guitarist Gerard Pansanel (1952), a musician with international multi-genre experience, played full house with his two young fellow musicians Rémi Ploton (organ/electronics) and drummer Joël Allouche. The trio started their set super quietly, with some remarkable soft drumming and a very personal style of merging organ sounds and electronic treatments. It delivered a unique carefully shaped soft electro-acoustic sound somewhere in between traditional acoustic and electronic ambient. It was especially surprising when Pansanel fully joined in with a Scofield type of electric guitar articulation, which first felt a bit odd but very quickly worked surprisingly well with wonderful turns, expansions and layering. Gradually they expanded and worked towards a climax in a beautiful arc increasing intensity of volume, speed and other crucial elements although they remained quite a time on a low level of expanding and ascending, sometimes too cautious or too long-winded. Just before it was too late they started to play in a less controlled more unbuttoned way, ending up with a longer cheerful (calypso) loop and a happy encore.

Matana Roberts
Photo credit Henning Bolte 


Matana Roberts Coin Coin chapt. III

The appearance of Matana Roberts at the festival had been long awaited and longed for – with good reason, it turned out. Roberts, calling her work panoramic sound quilts is known for dissolving fossilized imaging, stereotypes, automated patterns of perception and categorization in a highly captivating, freeing and slightly mysterious, crossfading flow of sound and vision. This multidimensional flow with irregular spread of bright repetitious chants invites and offers freedom (and safety) to gently surrender to a multidimensional real new experience. In real at Mannheim’s venue Alte Feuerwache it was traveling, traveling on an energetic circular flow, in a swishing and crackling ether, through a fetching colourful space of sound, traveling in a regenerating stream of forgone times regained, a stream leavened by sorrow and joy, fused and con-fusing, filled with humming and invigorating vital voice, voice, voice. Of all appearances I attended it had the deepest impact, caused the longest lasting strong flashbacks.

John Potter and Amadores Pasados
Photo credit Henning Bolte


John Potter (Amadores Pasados)

The Heiliggeist church in the centre of the old city of Heidelberg was the location where British tenor John Potter, former member of renowned, now disbanded Hilliard Ensemble, Anna Maria Friman (vocal, fiddle (Trio Mediaeval), Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman (lute) performed “Amadores Pasados”, a growing collection of new Early Music the first edition of it was released in 2015 on an album of the same name on ECM.

The two-lute line-up was an utterly exceptional as well as delicious affair, especially because all started with the delightful tripartite title piece Amadores Pasados by John Paul Jones (the one-time musical brain of Led Zeppelin): Al son des los arroyuelosNo dormiaSo ell encina. Its clarity and the entwining of the two lutes, it was something … .“Al son des los arroyuelos”: the sound of running water of a mountain creek with afar echoes of the archetypical “Bella Ciao”; "No sleep", a beautiful Kapsberger like piece and Zor enzima, a piece with a buoyant waltz feel. It opened lots of magic and beautiful associations. There was so much more in the diversity of the program (Peter Warlock, Tony Banks (former Genesis keyboarder), Peter Pope, Arvo Pärt, Sting, Gavin Bryars). The doubling of voice and lute rendered a bright as well as delicate sound in the church space. And, it sounded like both, old and new, in a fascinating balance and captivating transonant qualities – the realness of sonic fiction. It became a highly focused and delightful affair with lots of inner and outer smiles.

The ensemble is working on new pieces a.o. another piece by John Paul Jones, Blake Lullaby. In the concert short and longer pieces, simple and more complex pieces alternated. The whole thing would be even more of a winner if pieces were more interwoven by improvised transitions/a recurrent motif. It would cut off ritualistic applauding, generate longer stretches of attentive listening and decrease the onset of the feeling of too much of the same.

SWR Jazz Award: Julia Hülsmann

Pianist Julia Hülsmann won the annual SWR Jazzpreis, a prestigious award of venerable tradition dating back to 1981 when renowned jazz instigator Joachim E. Behrendt (1922-2000) was head of the jazz department of Südwestfunk radio in Baden-Baden (1947-1987) in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg. SWR (Südwestrundfunk), a regional public radio station of the two federal states Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland Palatinate, presently supplies 10 jazz programs every week.

The prize is jointly awarded by SWR radio and the (neighbouring) federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Hülsmann is the fifth female awardee in 35 years (earlier there were Ingrid Laubrock (2009), Aki Takase (2002), Sybille Pomorin (1988), Gabriele Hasler (1984)). The awardee is chosen by a jury under the chairmanship of the head of the radio’s jazz department, now Günther Huesmann, who since 1989 also has been the author of the continuation and complete revision of Berendt’s famous standard work "The Jazz Book" dating originally from 1952. The other nominees were saxophonists Angelika Niescier and Silke Eberhard as well as drummer Christian Lillinger. The award ceremony with Rhineland–Palatinatian minister of culture, Konrad Wolf, and the concert of the awardee took place as usual as part of ENJOY JAZZ Festival in DasHaus venue in Ludwigshafen.


Drawnote of Julia Huelsmann by Henning Bolte


Hülsmann is an in-demand musician and composer with numerous commissions for prestigious festivals link interview. Internationally, Hülsmann has made a mark with her albums on the ECM label with her trio augmented by British trumpet ace Tom Arthurs and for the recent Kurt Weill album Clear Midnight (2015) also by German-American vocalist extraordinaire Theo Bleckmann . Clear Midnight.

The strong affinity of Hülsmann’s work with singers (a.o. Rebekka Bakken and Roger Cicero) and with poetry and literary work was accounted for in the concert. It started with a duo of Hülsmann and Norwegian singer Torun Eriksen and continued with Hülsmann’s longstanding trio of of bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling with a program ranging from musical renditions of Shakespeare sonnets to interpretations of pieces by Randy Newman and Canadian singer-songwriter Feist.

Hülsmann’s music combines the constructivist with the ethereal. With intriguing harmonic figures, and a sometimes muffled piano timbre, her pianism has the effect lightly dancing above the firm ground of Muellbauer’s bass and Köbberling’s tidal drum work. Her music is rather sparing and essential than abundant. It shows a kind of understated clarity and a certain homely quality.

I would have expected a lean and soft-toned vocalist to fit into this context, whereas Torun Eriksen proved to be quite the opposite: a straight voice with a clear emphasizing (or now and then overemphasizing) sturdiness. This was a discrepancy which I felt remained throghout. I was in a minority : it delighted virtually all of the audience.

The purely instrumental second part of the concert was of a different order. All virtues of Hülsmann’s art and her trio’s playing came to fruition in the performance rendering originals as Der Mond (Hülsmann), The Last One Out (Muellbauer) and interpretations of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, Kauf dir einen bunten Luftballon (Profes/von Pinelli) and Randy Newman (“The Same Girl”) with Feist’s (“The Water”) possibly as the most fitting and enriching one in the trio’s musical universe.

Conclusion

Among the seven program elements there are four that fit the jazz mould (DeJohnette, Pansanel, Vallon, Hülsmann) and three of the category miscellaneous (Schwalm, Roberts, Potter). The performance of Potter’s group was a highly sophisticated, freeing and entertaining (in the best sense) play with musical possibilities of different genres and different epochs. The other two are integrated audio-visual works of no canonical form or format but only Schwalm’s work, characterized as ‘dark ambient drift’, was part of the tunnel effect series. That might be attributed to the fact that in Schwalm’s work recognizable known elements are recast whereas elements in Roberts' work are used in a cut-up way and its unity come into being at a high degree as a joint projection of performer and listener-watcher. Roberts' work indeed revealed as the most advanced and at the same time most beguiling of the five attended performances. It was also the most autonomous and sociocultural and political work. Considering these characteristics and the all over experience the “enjoy”-maxim turned into a sensible reality.

The sun setting over the Neckar at Heidelberg
Photo by Henning Bolte


(*)DrawNotes are non-edited drawn notes made spontaneously in real time during the performance

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CD REVIEW: Nikki Yeoh – Solo Gemini



Nikki Yeoh – Solo Gemini
(Infinitum Records. INF001. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)


With Nikki Yeoh scheduled to perform on November 11th at Kings Place for the upcoming London Jazz Festival (link below) it’s high time to consider her long-gestating solo album, released this summer. The ironic title, Solo Gemini, gives a hint of the playfulness and wit which informs her music. London-born Yeoh has played piano for Courtney Pine and Neneh Cherry, won the Independent’s award for best jazz musician of the year — twice, dueted with Chick Corea, and performs with the Mondesir brothers as the jazz trio Infinitum. This record consists of her own compositions, played — as the title suggests — solo and represents a distillation both of her craft as a player and her musical thinking as developed over a quarter of a century (she began playing at the age of five, sitting on a stack of books to supplement the height of her piano stool). Each track represents a narrative drawn from her life, and comes with a fascinating back story.

Six As 1 was composed as a companion piece to John Cage’s Winter Music for six pianos. It has a rolling jollity, and develops as an impressionist haze with dashes of colour, like fireworks through a mist. Dark chords run slipping and tumbling under the tune and there are occasional flashes of Monk, but it is more reminiscent of Denny Zeitlin, one of the most fascinating of the post-bop pianists. Powering through a range of moods of techniques, this opener is something of a tour de force.

Perfectidd, in contrast, begins in an insistent and melancholy vein with a flavour of Keith Jarrett in its window-glass purity and meditative ranging over scales and sauntering bass-line. But its development is much more in the British pastoral mood, delicate and understated and naturally beautiful in a manner Michael Garrick would have recognised and approved of. What Kind? This Kind! is titled as a riposte to a musician who declared to Yeoh, “What kind of music is this? It’s not jazz.” She suggests in the CD notes that it might be considered Third Stream, “but to be honest I just call it music.” It’s tantalising, insinuating music, circling like a bee attracted to someone’s perfume, taut and concise and a little enigmatic, but concluding succinctly and attractively. Indeed, the concision of some the pieces on the album add to its strength, and appeal. Whereas Six As 1 runs over ten minutes, this track and Perfectidd make their point in just two or three.

Elderflower and Ivy finds us once again in the English countryside, recalling a residency in Benjamin Britten’s Aldeburgh. The tune records personal grief while evoking the blossom on the elderflower trees, with figures of melody shifting like shadows cast by sunlight, through branches moved by the wind.

Apart from an attractive cardboard cover which momentarily delays the eager listener’s attempts to extract the CD nestling inside, this is a perfectly judged album, elegant, thoughtful and impressive.

LINK: Nikki Yeoh at the London Jazz Festival
Solo Gemini at Proper Music

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REMEMBERING BOBBY WELLINS - (1936 -2016)

Bobby Wellins
Photo credit: Helena Dornellas

Tributes to Bobby Wellins from fellow musicians, and from people who either worked with him or were deeply affected by his playing, have been coming in over the past few days. They show the very high regard in which he was held, and how much his unique presence on the scene will be missed. In great sadness: 

PETE CHURCHILL

I always thought, when I listened to Bobby play, that he wasn't just playing tunes, he was playing songs. This was my connection with Bobby - for he was the most amazing improviser to sing with... unapologetically ducking and diving around the lyric and making you work hard to hold your own. It was a great education.

To hear Bobby on a ballad... to feel him hunker down for several choruses of endless invention with that unmistakeable 'cry' in his sound, this... this will stay with me forever.

Anyone who spent any time with him knew they were catching a glimpse of another era - here was a more direct and, dare I say it, deeper connection to the source of this music we play. You were in the hands of a master - the real deal... I can't believe he's gone... 'It never entered my mind'.

Bobby Wellins (foreground) with Andrew Cleyndert
Herts Jazz 2015
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


ANDREW CLEYNDERT

It’s too hard to believe Bobby has gone.

So many, many wonderful memories of the most joyous music making.

Cabin In The Sky springs to mind, his first tune of the day. One take. Breathtaking.

An immense generosity of spirit; a true giant; a unique source of the music’s essence; a player of the blues like few others; an irrepressible, infectious love of the music; a musical inclusiveness extended to players, audience, in fact, anyone that stepped in his path; that searing sound, slicing straight to the heart. Always looking ahead.

“… Think we nailed it!” he can’t help himself exclaiming, a broad, mischievous smile breaking, brimming with enjoyment after another typically outrageously swinging solo.

Yes, Bobby, you nailed it.



ADRIAN ELLIS

When I was 20 , I spent six weeks in Oxford’s Radcliffe Infirmary with renal failure. I became obsessed with the theme music chosen for Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, John Le Carré reading his own The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It was a gorgeous, out-of-time seven note riff played on a breathy tenor and repeated once, then fading tantalizing, just as the tune got going. I waited all day in my hospital bed just to hear that riff at the beginning and end of the 15 minute nightly installment – an ear worm of the most tenacious and welcome sort. I asked friends I thought could identify it, nothing; I wrote to the BBC, no reply.

About a decade later, I put on Stan Tracey’s Under Milk Wood and, wham, I was straight back in that hospital bed. It was of course the intro to Starless and Bible Black, one of the most beautiful, brooding, evocative tenor solos (and compositions) known to jazz, recorded in 1965 by a Scot in his late 20’s, who went on to play another half century’s worth of beautiful music. I never managed to get him to Jazz at Lincoln Center on my watch, which was our loss.

JACQUI HICKS

For me Bobby Wellins was one of the greats. He played the most lyrical lines with the most beautiful tone you'll ever hear coming from a saxophone. The way he created space and didn't waste a single note was pure magic. Working with him was a wonderfully musical (and humbling) experience. He made a little dream come true when he played on my album A Child Is Born. I could hear his sound as I was writing the arrangements but what he did on the day was everything, and then some. Always encouraging and enthusiastic, he inspired everyone who heard him. A lovely, lovely man who had a gift for telling stories and an even bigger gift for playing jazz. A national treasure who'll be sorely missed.

Tony Kofi and Bobby Wellins


TONY KOFI

I'd like to pay tribute to a great man Bobby Wellins who came into my life age 17 years old and gave me such a boost that the vibrations are still felt within me today. Thank you Bobby for all your encouraging words of wisdom, i would have probably given up had you'd not come to that weekend jazz course as a visiting artist all those years ago. You'll be sadly missed, it was such an honour to call you a friend and mentor. R.I.P.

NIKKI ILES

For me, Bobby had one of the most distinctive sounds I've ever heard. Thinking about him now I can easily hear him and conjure up the essence of him. I was fortunate to work in a quintet with Bobby in the north along with my great friends Jez Hall, Gary Culshaw and Tony Faulkner. Jez had been taught by Bobby in his late teens and the whole family were very supportive of Bobby at the time. So ... a quintet was formed - me in my twenties - and we worked sporadically for about 10 years. I knew at the time we were in the presence of a master. It was in Bobby's slightly wilder days and on the stand it was a REAL education. Uncompromising and burning playing from Bobby - stretching us on every gig. That look and the right leg twitching with the groove ...unbelievable to play with. When I look back, the fact that he never eased us in and expected a high level of commitment to the music, instilled a real sense of determination in me that continues to this day. He would have that glint in his eye after about 50 choruses on Cherokee full of ideas and forward motion - and then... over to me! I still have a thing about that tune and enjoy that roller coaster feeling, thinking of him every time. Recently I depped in Bobby's quartet at the 606 for the great Liam Noble. I felt very moved to hear that sound again and it really hit home how much he had affected me in those early years and given me the courage to keep at it. Thank you Bobby... your music lives on.

KEITH LOXAM 

So many happy memories of working with Bobby Wellins. His personality matched his playing; lyrical, considered, joyful and evocative. Just a pleasure to be in your company Bobby.

DAVID MOSSMANN

Bobby Wellins was a great supporter of the Vortex and loved its intimacy. It was a family affair when he played, often coming his family. But he particularly brought fabulous music and made a point of working with young musicians. The consummate professional. He also often arranged for some of the greats to play at the Vortex with him. Nothing was too much trouble. And even though he obviously needed paying, the music came first. He had an amazing trademark tone – you knew if it was Bob immediately.

LIAM NOBLE 

Hearing Bobby Wellins is a great lesson. He tapped into the timeless tradition that looks forward and back at once. He was completely original and yet, if you listened hard enough, you could hear everybody in his sound. It was. It about being original, but about being personal.

I played him a track of Eugene Chadbourne once, an ostensibly comic and fiercely avant garde rendition of "Stars Fell On Alabama". He fixed me with that glare we all knew so well and said "this guy's a player". Like Ellington, he saw music as happening or not happening, and so was up for a bit of rough and tumble on the bandstand. I never felt I knew him well as a person, but I have never felt so free as when he, I and Dave Wickins and Dave Whitford played to that 606 crowd, once a month (give or take) for almost twenty years. It was a feeling like no other.




BRIAN NOTT

Producing Bobby's The Satin Album way back, was such a privilege. Smooth, quietly controlled, Bobby, along with Colin, Dave and Clark put together a magnificent few days of hard work to create the landmark album with all the sessions totally live, without any repairs, resulting in something so splendidly professional and rich. He was very very special and will most certainly missed by many. RIP Bobby and sincere condolences to Isobel and family.

JULIA PAYNE

It’s all Bobby Wellins’ fault... His quartet gig at Falmer Arts Centre at Sussex University back in 1990 was my first ever jazz gig. My reasons for going weren’t entirely honourable…It was Valentine’s Day, my partner in jazz crime was cute…You get the picture. But that gig sealed my fate. It was my ticket into a musical world that I’d never explored before, and I was hooked. Fast forward a few years and I landed a job at The Stables, the venue established by John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, and my jazz education – and love of the music – ramped up a gear. Moving onto the Barbican I worked with some of the biggest names in the business, and now – some 25 years after first seeing Bobby play – I’m lucky enough to be a board member at the National Youth Jazz Collective, persuading other young people to explore jazz. In all that time, I’ve never forgotten that first gig back at Falmer, and so today I’m just so sad. RIP Bobby, and thanks. I wouldn’t be here without you.

SHONA PEW

Bobby was an absolute sweetheart, and as a fellow Glaswegian, he always liked reminiscing about the old Glasgow and it's music. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have worked with him many times in my BBC career. Your wonderful music will live on Bobby. Rest in peace.

SONNY ROLLINS

My good friend and colleague Bobby Wellins has graduated from this stressful life. A job well done, Bobby, and we’ll always remember Under Milk Wood.

STEVE RUBIE

Back in the late 60's, when I was a keen schoolboy wind player, my brother came home with a record by a pianist I had never heard of (Stan Tracey) featuring a sax player who's playing could best be described as magical. I was totally entranced by this music and pretty much wore a hole in the record. Little was I to know that more than 40 years on that sax player would be a close friend and a monthly regular at the 606 Club. I had the pleasure to listen for more than 15 years to those long, sinuous lines played with a sound and approach that was in every sense unique and unarguably creative. That wonder that I first heard all those years ago, even though I had heard Bobby play so many times since then, was undiminished and even the very last time I heard him I was still struck by how....magical....his playing was. A truly great player Bobby Wellins's presence on the international jazz scene will be sorely missed, but his spirit will undoubtedly live on.

JULIAN SIEGEL

Bobby was a true gent and a total world class musician, a real one off. I remember so many times listening to him play, absolutely spellbound. The few times I got to play with him were always a huge education, what a groove and sound he had, with ideas always flowing with some hip turn of phrase, really his own thing. Plus it all swung like the 'clappers' ! Going to miss hearing him play live and miss big time his beautiful and encouraging presence on the Jazz Scene. RIP the guvnor, Bobby Wellins. Sending condolences to his family and friends

TOMMY SMITH




SIMON SPILLETT

When I heard the news from Spike Wells, I immediately put on 'Starless and Bible Black', not quite believing we'll never hear THAT sound again. Bobby was so special - not just as a musician but as a man too. A real example of total commitment to the music through a series of often horrendous ups and downs, he never stopped creating individual, sincere and personal music, right up until a stroke ended his playing days. There was nobody like Bobby; that tone, the rhythmic feel, the lyricism, the boundless harmonic ideas - he was totally unique. Thanks for your friendship Bobby. I will treasure the times we spent together both on an off the stand. Your warmth, humour and priceless anecdotes will be much missed. Rest in Peace.

Under Milk Wood, Herts Jazz Festival, 2012
L.-R. Stan Tracey, Bobby Wellins, Andrew Cleyndert, Clark Tracey, Ben Tracey
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


CLARK TRACEY

Bobby's death has come as a shock to all of us. In the days since, I've been amazed at how widely he was respected not only as one of our finest musicians but also for his helpful nature and kind demeanour towards younger players. I remember Bobby from my earliest days - he and Stan were inseparable during the Sixties.

I was very privileged to be able to work with him for so many years myself. His sound just blew me away and the thought that I won't hear that on the stand again is a painful one.

EMIL VIKLICKÝ

Bobby was incredible musician. What an energy, creativity, emotions and spontaneity. Once in Porthcawl - at the soundcheck in an empty room - we played Cherokee in break neck tempo. Just duet, tenor sax and upright piano. It was an outburst of sheer energy, musicality, flow of fresh ideas. I could hardly follow, and will never forget an intensive feeling that I am playing with Sonny Rollins. Yes, no doubt. Bobby was in that category of world class players. It was our first encounter - and only much later I have learned that Bobby was in fact highly respected by Sonny. Indeed, Bobby was "musician´s musician".


DAVE WICKINS

I have known Bobby for 40 years and played in the Bobby Wellins Quartet for the last 20. It has been a privilege to work with someone who ranks among the world's greatest saxophone players, with a unique, sometimes mournful sound and a deeply expressive and personal language.

To me Bobby Wellins was a dear friend who delighted me and my family with his humour, intelligence, compassion and great storytelling, not to mention his humility.

I remember my late father Norman Wickins eulogising about Bobby's performance on one of our gigs, saying " Bobby, how do you weave such wonderful lines? " to which Bobby replied "pure genius, Norman, pure genius".

Of course Bobby's reply was tongue-in-cheek but I must say I agree with him.

Late set at the 606, Bobby would play I'm Wishing or Cabin in the Sky. Accompanying him then - a sublime experience.

I will miss him greatly.

KATE WILLIAMS

Bobby and I started working together regularly after we were invited to play a duo gig at St Lawrence Jewry Church one summer. This was the beginning of a musical partnership which continued for over 10 years. Bobby's inspirational playing had total honesty and lack of pretension - his soulful tenor tone was beautiful, and his phrasing really danced. As a person, his mischievous wit was infectious. We would sometimes rehearse (after tea and cake) at his home in Bognor. Following one such occasion, we had a text exchange which went like this:

KW: "I can't find that version of Favela - will keep looking. Choc cake recipe to follow soon"

BW: " Forget Favela, we'll stick with choc cake!!!"

And so it is with great sadness, but also many happy memories that I say:

Farewell Bobby, your unique sound will stay with me always - I can still hear Dream Dancing right now.

Bobby Wellins at the Cinnamon Club in 2015
Photo credit: William Ellis


LINK: News item RIP Bobby Wellins

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PODCAST INTERVIEW: French Horn player Jim Rattigan ("Pavillon" Tour Dates starting 12th November, until January)



French Horn player JIM RATTIGAN  is taking his twelve-piece ensemble "Pavillon" on a tour. In this podcast interview with Sebastian he explains the background: 

TOPICS IN THIS INTERVIEW


0:00 Intro

0:17 Music Extract: Strong Tea

1:31 Jim Rattigan - a jazz French horn player - how it happened
2:20 the orchestral horn sound
3:17 incorporating that sound into jazz
3:44 piano and accordion / early bands / influences
5: 02 Hans Koller and Magic Mountain
5:32 Writing music
6: 26 Intro to Dulwich Park

6:48 Music Extract: Dulwich Park

7:58 Story of the album Strong Tea
8:58 "I got my favourite musicians together"
9:52 new tunes
10:05 touring 12-piece band/ a challenge
10:30 The tour
10:55 Jim Rattigan's career as orchestral / session player
12:01 " I try to incorporate all the influences and styles"
12:15 Intro to 24/7

12: 37 Music Extract:  24/ 7


‘PAVILLON’ french horn led 12 piece ensemble - TOUR DATES


12th November London Vortex Jazz Club Time: 11:45pm.
17th November Leeds Seven Arts Centre
18th November Sheffield Crookes Social Club
22nd November Mold, North Wales northwalesjazz
23rd November Swansea, Wales swanseajazzland
1st December Bristol Jazz@FuturesInn
2nd December Birmingham Blue Orange Theatre
13th January 2017 Boxford, Suffolk - Fleece Jazz
14th January London Cafe Posk
19th January Oxford The Spin


LINK: Jim Rattigan's website

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CD REVIEW: Duski - Duski



Duski - Duski
(Cambrian Records CAM 008. CD review by Mike Collins)


There’s definitely something to be said for a band giving itself time to mature and find its groove. Duski’s self-titled debut release demonstrates the principle with every beat, ‘just-so’ pause and beautifully paced solo.

The group is the brain-child of bass player Aidan Thorne and have been gigging, touring, developing their music and adding instruments to the original trio for more than four years since Thorne graduated from the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff. Their sound now leans towards rocky, sometimes ambient grooves, built around stripped back melodic hooks and looping sequences. There’s ample space for Dan Messore’s guitar and Paul Jones’ keyboards and synths to conjure atmospheres and densely layered textures whilst Greg Sterland’s throaty tenor weaves through the mix and swoops exultantly by turns.

Spare Part calls a David Lynch soundtrack to mind (Thorne is a self-confessed Twin Peaks junkie) and Messore’s ambient washes and patiently climatic soloing stand out. Simple Song has a more funky propulsive groove and Jones builds the intensity with a swelling, rhythmic keyboards features. On Lakeside and Two Hours Long two languorous tunes with distilled and memorable melodic themes, the group’s collective sensibility really shows itself. Sterland’s tenor carries and develops the mood, delicious melodic invention judged to a tee, complemented by a distinctive hoarse and emotionally fraught tone. Messore doesn’t so much accompany as blend shimmering waves of sound around the tenor and bass and the pulse feels so natural as the music breathes, that you could miss Mark O'Connor.’s caressing touch at the drums.: Two exquisite performances. Another Simple Song’s pulsing, single note motif fits the title, the accelerating groove is a platform for another burning solo form Sterland.

This is a finely crafted melodic and atmospheric set with a compelling group performance.

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

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REVIEW: Fini Bearman - Burn the Boat Album Launch at Brilliant Corners

Fini Bearman at the launch
Photo Credit: Andy Wasley / courtesy of Fini Bearman


Fini Bearman - Burn the Boat Album launch
(Brilliant Corners, Dalston. 25th October 2016. Review by Rachel Maby)

The honest and musically open-minded approach of Fini Bearman's latest album Burn the Boat is what hits one the most. The music is full of nit and grit in its funky bass lines played by Conor Chaplin on electric bass, such as the one in the album's title song. There is floating folkloric material and ethereal guitar line played by Nick Costley-White, most notably on Sand on Sand. The music completely speaks for itself, captivating the listener with Bearman’s catchy melodies, strong harmonic structures and poetic lyricism.

The new album was launched last Tuesday at the intimate Dalston venue, Brilliant Corners, and featured a four-piece rhythm section comprising Matt Robinson (piano), Nick Costley-White (guitar), Conor Chaplin (bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums). Tucked into the back room of the bar/Japanese restaurant, the 50 seat venue was jam packed and full of a host of London jazz musicians, family and friends.

This repertoire is rooted in the singer-songwriter world, with elements of improvisation seeping through intricate harmonic song structures. Bearman showed off her vocal colour in the incredibly mixed musical language, from strong driving soulful tones used on ‘Gone’ to beautiful folk vocal melismatic style on ‘I’d rather have the rain’. Her intonation was astounding and I think this was greatly illustrated on the rhythmically syncopated and contrapuntal texture on Portuguese inspired ‘I know, I alone’.

I especially love the way she uses her beautiful heart-warming vibrato to both drive emotion and vocal power in her music and then contrasts this with breathy head voice sections to show a raw vulnerability. She’s a true jazz artist – able to chose from a vast palette of vocal colours to suit the mood and emotional intent of her music.

The Burn the Boats album tour starts on Thursday 2nd February 2017 at King’s Place.

LINKS: Interview with Fini Bearman
Purchase the album from the Two Rivers Records bandcamp page

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PODCAST INTERVIEW : Emilia Mårtensson (New ELDA Trio CD)



In this interview with Sebastian, vocalist Emilia Mårtensson talks about her new ELDA Trio album  (Two Rivers Records) and her work with the other two trio members accordionist Janez Dovč and percussionist Adriano Adewale. 

Topics covered in the Podcast 


0:00 Music Extract: Lobo Guara

0:40 The new album
1:50 - Bringing cultures together telling stories
2:30 Introducing Alexandrinke

3:50 Music Extract: Alexandrinke

5:40 The name of the trio
6:25 The musicians
7: 25 Introducing Lobo Guara

7: 55 Music extract Lobo Guara

8: 45 Plans for the band
9:40 Introducing Stone Agaton

10: 35 Music Extract : Stone Agaton

Audio production by Harry Jones. 

LINKS: ELDA trio website
Review - ELDA trio album launch
Two Rivers Records website


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REVIEW: Matmos - Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives at Milton Court

Matmos, stage right, with supporting musicians, left, at Milton Court
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved


Matmos play Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives
Milton Court 23rd October 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

'What is that horrible thing under the floor?' asks Barbarella in Roger Vadim's eponymous 1968 sci-fi fantasy film. 'That is the Matmos, my child,' comes the reply, 'composed of living energy, but energy in liquid form - and it watches us … it thrives on evil thoughts, deeds - and flesh …' - from which the experimental electronics duo of M. C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, originally from San Francisco, now in Baltimore, derived their name, Matmos.

What has that got to do with Matmos's impeccable concert performance of three of the seven half-hour episodes of American composer Robert Ashley's magnum opus, Perfect Lives at Milton Court's state-of-the-art concert hall?

Well, Ashley's Perfect Lives is a forensic-fantastic cross-section through lives, thoughts and the fabric of the American mid-west - a 'television opera “about” bank robbery, cocktail lounges, geriatric love, adolescent elopement, et al …' - originally sponsored in the early 80s, to their credit, by Channel 4. 'These are songs about the Cornbelt and some of the people in it,' as Ashley put it in his introductions.

It's a major feat of storytelling positioned as an urbane, off-beat collage of observations and insights into the psyches and settings of small-town America. This is captured through Ashley's deadpan narrated libretto running with the music, and in this performance, integrated in real time by Max Eilbacher with a backdrop of continuously changing imagery which faithfully reflected the ethos and style of the original extraordinary TV presentation, including some original outtakes as a bonus.

Pure linear abstractions were spliced on-screen with road markings, fuzzy panoramas of park and field, gigantic letterforms, close ups of a bartender filling a glass ('We don't serve fine wine in half pints, Buddy.'), the image of a blue fluorescent light slowly slipping down the screen to synch with a lonely hotel room scene, and so much more, to add an enriching dimension to this tale of everyday folk.

Matmos are adventurers and perfectionists. Their fine-tuned presentation of this iconic work bubbled with the energy of inspiration and enquiry. With the top flight musicians, including strings led by bassist Britton Powell, who accompanied them on The Park and The Bar episodes, and stripped down to a duo on The Backyard, their interpretation was that of true devotees. The Backyard had passed muster with Ashley in person at The Stone in New York in 2008 (Ashley died in 2014, aged 84).

The constant narrative running through Ashley's unfolding saga had originally been intended for David Byrne, but the composer decided to deliver it himself for the film version. At Milton Court the crew-cut Schmidt, attired in a beige 60s-style cardigan with bow tie for The Park and in black for the remainder, recited the quirky, borderline surreal text with arresting articulation, and something of the oddball perspective of Byrne and Talking Heads circa 1980, which also lapped at the edges of Ashley's score.

The narrative was joyfully underpinned with the chanting of banal everyday phrases by the super-synchronised singers, Caroline Marcantoni and Jennifer Kirby - 'I'd say', 'Sure enough' - who responded to 'He saw her burst in to flames' with 'Spontaneous combustion!' You get the picture.

Daniel at the controls set the mood with a displaced Indian raga percussive pulse and Walker Teret's breezy boogie-woogie piano riffs made full sense when the image of '30 Easy Lessons Boogie Woogie' floated in to view.

In Perfect Lives the banal and the trivial rub shoulders with the timeless and the unknowable and with the trials and troubles of everyday existence. To quote from the text; 'There was a kind of madness to it - the kind one reads about in magazines.' Matmos, with their collaborators, drilled down right to the essence of these quandaries in a truly riveting concert rehearsed right down to the fine detail, with great sound and visuals - a five star performance.

M. C. Schmidt - narrator, video, guitar, string synthesizer
Drew Daniel - electronics
Britton Powell - upright bass, string leader
Caroline Marcantoni - vocal
Jennifer Kirby - vocal
Walker Teret - piano
Lucy Railton - cello
Angharad Davies - viola
Michael Lesirge - flute
Max Haft - violin
Gianluca Turrini - sound
Max Eilbacher - video

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FEATURE: Presenting the 2016 Yamaha Jazz Scholars (Will Arnold-Forster, David Bowden, Ben Brown, Jake Long, Roz Macdonald, Tom Ollendorf, Mark Pringle)

The 2016 Yamaha Jazz Scholars
L-R Back row: Mark Pringle, Ben Brown, Tom Ollendorf
L-R Front: David Bowden, Roz Macdonald, Will Arnold-Forster and Jake Long
Photo courtesy of Yamaha


The Yamaha Jazz Scholars Evening was held at Portcullis House in Westminster on Tuesday 25th October 2016. This is Alison Bentley's report:

The seven 2016 Yamaha Jazz Scholars were waiting shyly in the wings at the awards evening, hosted by Jason McCartney MP and other members of the the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group, at Portcullis House, Westminster. Every year since 2007, Yamaha has given scholarships to nurture young jazz musicians, chosen by the heads of six UK jazz conservatoire courses; 54 young musicians have benefited so far. Saxophonist Pete Long presented the awards after playing a set of effusive jazz with his own quartet- welcoming the newcomers into the jazz community, as he introduced the Scholars’ set of original music.

What had brought the young musicians to this point? Scottish bassist Roz MacDonald (Leeds College of Music) is the second woman- and first female instrumentalist- to be given the award. She composes for her trio Ekacnap: ‘…it’s pancake spelt backwards…at the moment I’m quite into straight ahead stuff, swing. I really like Charlie Haden, Paul Motian and Geri Allen. My favourite bass player’s Paul Chambers. I really like Monk a lot- he’s more intriguing to listen to. I got into jazz though my dad- he used to listen to a lot of records and I used to steal all his music.’

She shared bass duties with David Bowden, (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) ‘I’ve a band called Square One. We just released an album (In Motion) a few weeks ago. I write my own music. I’ve been living in Scotland, and there’s definitely a folk element there, quite melodic, good grooves. When I first got into music it was through other stuff: Motown and soul. The early recordings that really got to me were the classic Miles Quintet, Hank Mobley’s Soul Station; then the Brian Blade Fellowship and Brad Meldhau- and Larry Grenadier’s bass playing.’

Jake Long (Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance) first studied sax before settling on drums. ‘I really like what was happening in the 60s and 70s: the music of Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Coltrane, Miles, drummers like Ed Blackwell. I think London’s such an amazing scene for jazz and at the moment I’m trying to be inspired by what I’m surrounded by. All the support is appreciated.’

Ben Brown (Royal Academy of Music) said, ‘It was a drum teacher I had called Colin Brady who made me want to play drums. I thought at the time that Chad Smith, the drummer in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was as good as you can get, but then he showed me Dave Weckl and Vinnie Colaiuta, Tony Wiliams, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and Jack DeJohnette. My band is Waaju, West African grooves mixed with jazz, but with particular focus on the music of Mali.’

Guitarist Will Arnold-Forster has been gigging with former teacher Colin Oxley from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and Will is ‘really chuffed.’ ‘There were a few jazz CDs knocking around the house: Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, some Blue Note records. It’s still some of my favourite stuff. I’m a big fan of Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessell, Charlie Christian; also Pete Bernstein, Joe Cohn. It’s lovely to be involved in this award.’

Guitarist Tom Ollendorff (Royal Welsh College) also loves Hall, Montgomery and Tal Farlow. ‘I slowly got more into contemporary guitar playing: Lage Lund, Mike Moreno, Gilad Hekselman, other instrumentalists like Ben Van Gelder and Aaron Parks. I play an archtop, made by an Italian luthier. It sounds a little different from a really traditional jazz guitar- a little better for playing in a slightly more contemporary way.’

Pianist Mark Pringle (Birmingham Conservatoire) has already whetted appetites with his 2015 album A Moveable Feast. The Yamaha award is the most recent of several he’s won. ‘ I’m doing a Jazz Masters (EUjam) Programme based in Berlin, but some of the semesters are on exchange so I was in Copenhagen for 6 months, and now I’m in Amsterdam. I would say that Keith Jarrett is my biggest guy over the years. Also British piano players like Kit Downes and Liam Noble who taught me in Birmingham, and Gwilym Simcock; and more avant garde Americans like Paul Bley.’

The Scholars had only just met, and it was a tribute to their musicianship and ability to listen to each other that they were able to play each other’s compositions together in so many styles. MacDonald’s strong pulsing swing was particularly in evidence in the first (Monkish) piece in the set. The audience enthusiastically applauded Bowden’s melodic bass solo in a laid-back Ellington-style piece. Long’s drum skills were evident as he surged into a 12/8 Afro-Latin piece with huge energy, as well as playing shakers in a slower piece. Brown revealed his versatility throughout the evening, his fluttering brushwork as strong as his swing and freer playing. Arnold-Forster particularly stood out in the final piece, with his thoughtful bop-edged soloing. Fellow guitarist Ollendorff’s sound was Metheny-esque and emotive, his lines smooth and speedy. Pringle was featured in a piece that began with Messiaen-esque solo piano, resolving beautifully into dark chords and free jazz.

A CD is in perparation featuring recordings of the Scholars’ own bands, as well as Pete Long, Georgina Jackson and Ronnie Scott’s house pianist James Pearson. The scholarship includes this recording opportunity, as well as £500. Several high profile British jazz musicians were previously Yamaha Scholars, (Kit Downes, Calum Gourlay, Elliot Galvin, most of Snowpoet) so it’ll be exciting to see what this year’s Scholars do next.

LINKS: CD Review - A Moveable Feast
CD Review: In Motion


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REVIEW: Dick Oatts Quartet at Pizza Express

Dick Oatts. Photo credit Paul Wood

Dick Oatts Quartet
(Pizza Express, Dean Street, 27th October 2016. Second night of residency. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

No need to read on here folks - just about everything that needs to be said to explain the fine artistry of Dick Oatts was said in a full and wonderful preview feature by Gareth Lockrane which we published last week.

It was Oatts' first time in London for a very long time. The last he could remember - when I asked him - having been "with Red Rodney at Ronnie Scott's, in the eighties?" So if anyone can put a date on that, be our guest.

What I found increasingly captivating about his playing as the evening went on was two things:

First was how endlessly fluent yet how concise his way of improvising is. There isn't a wasted note, everything is structural rather than decorative, and he thinks - metaphorically - in words that form into sentences that build to long paragraphs. These are not meanderings or excursions, more like a guided tour. It was particularly true of an astonishing closing cadenza to the ballad Meant for You in the first half which had the band in suspension waiting the final signal, and created complete attentive silence among the audience in the room. It was also true of a memorable and masterful solo on Cole Porter's Use Your Imagination . A highlight of the night. And for that matter of  the week/ month/ year.

My other observation was the sheer range of sound and timbre, and what that does for expression and communication. At the more forceful end was King Henry. He had conjured up the image of an implacable small child who screams through an aeroplane flight at a volume which will compete with aircraft noise "as if he had had a particularly bad flight in a previous life." What we got was a steady build-up, reaching a point on the dial which I clocked in at slightly beyond the full Sanborn. At the opposite extreme there was ballad playing of infinite tenderness with a tone as silkily smooth as Paul Desmond's - in particular on Darn That Dream.

Barry Green and Dick Oatts
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Pianist Barry Green is on wonderful happy form right now (h/t Melody McLaren!). His fast explorations of the asymmetries and wilful quirkinesses of Charlie Parker's Cheryl stay in the mind. As do Stephen Keogh's stepping straight into a New Orleans marching groove for Gumbo G. And Mark Hodgson was finding an improbably natural, intuitive, rollicking way to propel Sophie's Dance - the tune is in a 7/4 or 7/8 time time signature, but it was so easeful it seemed counterintuitively danceable.

Come back Dick Oatts, and soon!

SET LISTS (Oatts originals unless stated)

One for Benny
King Henry
Gumbo G
Meant for You
You and the Night and the Music - (Schwartz/ Dietz)

One for Jacks
Simone's Dance
Use Your Imagination (Cole Porter)
Darn That Dream (Van Heusen/DeLange)
Cheryl (Charlie Parker)



L-R: Dick Oatts, Mark Hodgson, Stephen Keogh
Photo credit Paul Wood

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RIP Bobby Wellins (1936-2016)

Bobby Wellins at the Cinnamon Club in Altrincham in May 2015
Photo credit and © William Ellis. All Rights Reserved

One of the most individual and affecting sounds in jazz is no more. Tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins,  a wonderful, witty story-teller in music and in words, passed away yesterday at the age of 80. We will have tributes later. Condolences to Isobel and the family. In sadness.

[UPDATE: TRIBUTES TO BOBBY WELLINS FROM MUSICIANS (published 31st October)]





William Ellis writes of the picture below: "Bobby liked this one. Back of Stan Tracey's head on the left and Guy Barker in the background."

Bobby Welllins at the Scarborough Jazz Festival
Photo credit and © William Ellis. All Rights Reserved

LINK: 80th birthday celebration report - at the 606 Club
Lover Man (played as a samba) filmed at a concert in Hove in 2013 with Kate Williams
Mad About the Boy in 2012 in Brighton with Mark Edwards, Andrew Cleyndert and Spike Wells

LINK UPDATES:

Alison Kerr's obituary in the Herald
Clark Tracey's tribute at Jazzviews
John Fordham's Guardian obituary

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RIP Pinise Saul (1941-2016)

Pinise Saul. Photo credit: Richard Kaby

It is very sad to learn today from Adam Glasser that South African vocalist PINISE SAUL has passed away after an illness.

She sang and recorded in South Africa in the period from 1957 to 1975, and then went into exile. She lived for a time in Boston, appearing with the likes of Bob Marley und Patti LaBelle, and then moved to the UK. Her list of band credits, people she appeared in (or with) is long, impressive, and testament to her unique, charismatic and life-giving on-stage presence: Dudu Pukwana's Zila; Trevor Watts' Moire Music;Julian Bahula's Jabula, Brotherhood of Breath; David Murrays M’Bizo project; World Saxophone Quartet; Township Express; African Jazz Allstars; Township Comets; A longer, fuller, more fitting tribute will follow. In sadness.


LINK: Interview with Pinise Saul from 201

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REVIEW: Matana Roberts, Byron Wallen, Leafcutter John at Cafe Oto

Matana Roberts at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston
© 2016. All Rights Reserved


Matana Roberts, Byron Wallen, Leafcutter John
(Cafe Oto, 26 October 2016 - night 2 of 3 night 'Wildcard' residency at Cafe Oto; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


'Music is a language.' While the Chicago-born saxophonist Matana Roberts digressed to share amusing experiences of misunderstandings arising from the American and English usages of the same words, she didn't otherwise stray from her key message and said how much she enjoyed the challenge of sharing the language that is music with musicians she's not played with before - and with the audience.

Roberts immediately established common linguistic territory with trumpeter Byron Wallen and electronics whizz Leafcutter John. They put in place unspoken markers from which emerged surprising and closely bonded improvised gusts and flows of energetic and demanding improvisation - a network of inspired calls and responses, mergings and demergings and solo sprees, all held in place by a deep core of shared references and a sparkstream of musicianly dexterity.

Roberts referred to fellow Virgos - John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Charlie Parker - and the robust, graceful confidence in her profoundly rooted alto sax phrasings owed much to their groundwork and the struggles that these illustrious forebears had endured. In a wider context these are issues which Roberts is tackling in her monumental Coin Coin project, awaiting the completion next year, she revealed, of the fourth chapter in a projected series of 12 albums.

Wallen, likewise, dug deep to summon compressed flights of piercing notes, breathy exhalations and enduring, rippling runs which had at times the edgy, reflective qualities of fellow trumpeter, Wadada Leo Smith. Pausing to apply the mute, the sharper edges were softened - but not for long!

Leafcutter John was perhaps the wild card in this trio. In his acrobatic manipulation of hand-held lights to activate sounds via sensors in light-sensitive sheets he threw in all manner of swerveballs to which Roberts and Wallen responded with imagination and authority.

Sinking back to supply reverberating industrial drones and hums or washing the stage with liquid gurgles, searing electronic slashes or a pulse from Terry Riley's book, John pushed the envelope. The cogs turned with lightning speed as Roberts and Wallen connected with this extended argot, coming back with parallel voicings and throwing in new markers, making afresh the case for pure acoustic playing that lies at the heart of jazz.

Roberts, with long-standing connections in London, felt she was playing to her 'home town crowd' and demonstrated an engaging humility as she thanked the Cafe Oto audience for 'supporting fringe artists like myself.'

There are still a few tickets for Matana Roberts' third and final night of her Cafe Oto residency. Not to be missed!

Cafe Oto website

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REVIEW: Clare Teal and Jason Rebello at Crazy Coqs

Jason Rebello (L.) and Clare Teal


Clare Teal and Jason Rebello
(Crazy Coqs room at Zedel, 25th October 2016. First house. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Who could ask for anything more? The Crazy Coqs room works well for performers with experience, who know how to set up an easy rapport with each other and with the audience, and certainly worked a treat for the duo of Clare Teal and Jason Rebello last night, making their venue debut. The seventy-five minutes of their set seemed to pass by in no time at all.

Their programme was balanced, thought through, and by the time we got to a final rousing hard-swinging Ella version of Mack the Knife complete with Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong, we had just heard a lot of very fine songs delivered with authority, style, professionalism and heaps of musicality. 'It's just so...approachable,' my companion said afterwards.

Clare Teal's way of engaging and cheering an audience is unforced and natural. There were great jazz moments too. For example, in Kern/Fields'The Way you Look Tonight. Clare Teal intuited that Rebello's solo with an insistent, sassy, fast-walking bass line was really building and going somewhere, so she made sure he took an extra chorus, and then rounded off the song with some wonderful and forceful 'out' singing. For the next song, the contrast was maximised, the mood was taken right down, with the duo taking all the time in the world over a beautifully controlled account of the (completely unfamiliar to me at least?) verse to Secret Love.

The variety of Jason Rebello's piano textures, the rhythmic positivity, and his occasional backing vocals and vocal percussion were also a delight.

This is one of those shows to take the kind of people to who say they don't like - or know anything about - jazz. And also, quite definitely, those who do.

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CD REVIEW: Ben Lee Quintet - In The Tree



Ben Lee Quintet - In The Tree
(Stoney Lane Records SLR1892. CD review by Mike Collins)


Birmingham based Stoney Lane Records are getting into their stride, making sure that there’s no excuse for missing the creative hubbub being generated in the city. With In the Tree, they showcase the talents of young guitarist Ben Lee who leads a quintet comprising an unusual combination of his guitar, David Ferris on organ, Chris Young on alto sax, Richard Foote on trombone and Euan Palmer at the drums.

There’s a constant shifting between points on the musical compass throughout the set of ten originals but, to borrow one the trends amongst young European jazz groups discerned by Henning Bolte in his round up of this year’s 12 Points Festival, rock/ new beats is the general direction in which this band points with some large doses of playfulness.

Folk Theme kicks things off, sounding for all the world like it might be the theme from a western with throbbing bass drum and a simple atmospheric melody from the guitar but is immediately subverted by a snappy groove , the horns and organ conjuring up a competing vibe. Ferris’ solo surfs the energy and clatter. In the Tree’s oom-pah feel and simple theme give the band space to clamber over each other and hint at the potential for a more raucous performance live. First Contact ramps things up with a raunchy, rocky groove and more collective blowing and some expansive soloing from the leader and Ferris.

Beginning of the End’s skipping, slightly frenetic beat keeps the energy high, building riff on on riff laced with plenty of distorting guitar. Hygge conjures a more reflective atmosphere through melody whilst Drone sketches more with colours and textures. Kickin the Chicken hints both at southern african grooves and Caribbean melodies. The quirky Skateboarding On My Own, just voice and and acoustic guitar closes the set.

This is an ensemble performance with Lee’s guitar a constant presence but not always in the spotlight. This collection has an unmistakably creative and individual stamp however. Both Peter Bacon and Tony Dudley Evans picked him out in London Jazz’s 2015 end of year lists. This album shows us why.

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

LINK: Interview with Ben Lee

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FEATURE: Gearbox Records release five selected albums on CD (Mini LP Replica CD Series)



Vinyl specialist Gearbox Records is known for its high-quality releases of many previously unheard recordings by a number of jazz greats as well as, more recently, some award-winning contemporary artists such as Binker & Moses. The rapid growth and success of this label, since its foundation in 2009 by drummer, record collector and all-round entrepreneur Darrel Sheinman, is reflected in the general resurge in popularity of music on vinyl. 

In an interesting new development, Gearbox Records has decided to release five of its recordings on CD. Darrel Sheinman explained. Interview by Leah Williams: 

LondonJazz News: Gearbox Records is fast becoming one of the leaders in high-quality vinyl recordings, how did it all get started?

Darrel Sheinman: It actually all started at an N.E.R.D. concert. They were so amazing live and it just gave me this spark of an idea about how great it would be to be able to produce their music on vinyl, which is undoubtedly the best sound quality you can get. Of course, they weren’t just going to hand over the rights to their music to me - at that stage Gearbox Records wasn’t even a thing! - so I decided to start up by producing recordings of music that is definitely meant to be heard on vinyl: that of the jazz greats.

LJN: Where did you start with that?

DS: Well, I concentrated on getting the rights for famous jazz recordings that were aired as radio broadcasts back in the fifties and sixties but never actually released as recordings. This developed a good relationship with BBC Worldwide and we managed to buy some great recordings through them from legends such as Tubby Hayes and Joe Harriott. Those albums sold out within a year and the Gearbox Records name was officially out there; the potential just continued to grow from there.

LJN: You’ve got your own cutting and mastering studio now?

DS: Yes, in 2012 I let go of my other enterprises to work full time on the label, hired Adam Sieff (former Sony Jazz Director) to come work with me and we moved into a studio in the Tileyard Studios complex near King’s Cross. We built it up ourselves, sourcing and restoring some of the finest vintage equipment in order to ensure that we could produce the highest quality recordings possible.

LJN: Do you find that the older equipment is significantly better then?

DS: Definitely. A lot of the modern stuff is made for mass production and commercial use and it just doesn’t have the same construction and sound quality. The vintage equipment is built like a tanker using only the best components. The only downside is the amount of maintenance that it needs but I was lucky enough to learn from Sean Davies, one of the original recording legends, how to cut, master and maintain it all.

LJN: Priding yourselves on releasing high-quality vinyl recordings that “put the ritual back into music listening” is obviously the main ethos of the label, why then have you made the decision to release some of your recordings on CD?

DS: Well whilst it might seem like a bit of an odd move it felt like a natural progression of what we’re trying to do here in some ways. Alongside promoting vinyl and aiming to produce the best high-quality recordings on that format, we also want to simply give people the opportunity to access and listen to as much great music as possible. A lot of the jazz recordings that we have were previously unreleased and so are unavailable on any other format. By giving people the option to buy that music on CD we are helping more people listen to great music, it’s as simple as that.

LJN: Do you not worry that CD production might somewhat dilute your label’s message though?

DS: Of course, but at the same time we are not just producing regular CDs. We’re keeping the essence of vinyl - being something special and collectable with great sound and aesthetic quality - alive with these CD releases. In short, we’ve aimed to keep it “sexy”. We certainly wouldn’t have considered mass producing CDs or presenting them in any other cheap, plastic way. Our CD releases come inside little paper sleeves with the full sleeve notes of the record and housed in good-quality, durable card casing featuring the same unique artwork as their vinyl counterparts. They’re pretty much like mini vinyls.

LJN: And how has the idea been received by fans so far?

DS: Really well, actually. We’ve got a lot of pre-orders for the CDs already. One of the main reasons we saw this as the right development for us was because we were getting so much demand for it. It’s not going against our fanbase’s wishes but catering to them. Whilst our main concern is, and always will be, the production of vinyl recordings, we didn’t want to be so constrained by this that we inadvertently became a bit elitist and excluded anyone from being able to enjoy the music. A lot of the jazz recordings especially are artists who are loved by a generation who grew up with vinyl but then moved on as technology did. Perhaps they don’t want to buy a new turntable at the moment - with these CDs they still get the chance to hear these unique recordings and that’s what it’s all about.

LJN: Word on the grapevine is that Gearbox Records are actually in the process of designing their own turntable?

DS: That is underway, yes! We wanted to come up with a design that has a really great design aesthetic with a small footprint but that still delivers on quality. A lot of these small, stylised turntables you can get now aren’t durable and don’t give the sound quality your vinyls need. So packaged within a really smart design, we are producing something that will still be top of the line in terms of sound and endurance.

LJN: Sounds great! When will we be able to get one?

DS: Well, in the not too distant future if all goes to plan. We’ve got a working design prototype now so it’s a matter of logistics really. We're hoping we might be able to get it into production early next year.



LJN: Apart from all the above, is there anything else exciting on the horizon for Gearbox Records?

DS: Well, it’s still very much in the planning stages right now but we’ve got an exciting project that will hopefully get off the ground early next year called Gearbox Sessions. The plan is to get a group of 10 or so artists, who we really love but who aren’t necessarily signed with us, to do some recording sessions here at the studio, which we will then film and release on YouTube. The culmination of that would potentially be releasing an album featuring the best of these sessions so that’s pretty exciting.

LJN: Can we cut to the chase please...what is the key date, and which are the five CDs in the Mini LP Replica CD Series?

DS: The release date for the CDs was October 21st, and the five are:

- Michael Garrick Sextet with Don Rendell & Ian Carr -Prelude to Heart is a Lotus (Recorded 1968)

- The Jazz Couriers - Live In Morecambe 1959 - Tippin’

- Binker and Moses - Dem Ones (2015)

- Mark Murphy - A Beautiful Friendship: Remembering Shirley Horn (Recorded 2012)

- Nucleus With Leon Thomas - Live 1970

LJN: One last question: of all your albums, which is your favourite or the one you feel has give most exposure to the label?

DS: Well, funnily enough Binker & Moses’ debut album winning so many awards has really shone a light on the label and it’s actually their second album, already recorded but not due for release until February time next year, that is undoubtedly the best thing we’ve produced here so far in my opinion. It’s really different and exciting - we can’t wait for everyone to hear it. (pp)

- The new CD releases are available at Gearbox Records' online store

- Darrel Sheinman will be at Hidden Rooms in Cambridge, playing vinyl as part of a Japanese-style “Kissaten” listening session during the Cambridge Jazz Festival on 23 November at 6.30pm. (TICKETS)

Gearbox Records website

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REVIEW: William Kentridge and Philip Miller - Paper Music at Coronet Print Room

William Kentridge at Coronet Print Room
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved


William Kentridge and Philip Miller - Paper Music
(Coronet Print Room, 13th October 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

The films of South African artist William Kentridge have many lives. They are central to the challenging, multi-media room installations at his current major exhibition at London's Whitechapel gallery. For a short season at the Coronet Print Room theatre in Notting Hill a selection of around a dozen were also integral to the performances of Paper Music; a Ciné Concert, one of Kentridge's many fruitful collaborations with composer and compatriot Philip Miller.

'Most children draw … I just forgot to stop!' In interview, Kentridge succinctly gave this insight to his obsessive approach to drawing, which blurs the lines between figuration and abstraction, political issues and Dadaistic anarchy - and even traditional delineations between media. Drawing lies at the heart of his animated films, combining the plasticity of dynamically metamorphosing collage and live-action with the fluency of ink, charcoal and pencil mark-making.

In Paper Music the power of the proposition, stringing the line between certainty and uncertainty, was fully realised through the virtuosic performances of singers Ann Masina and Joanna Dudley and pianist Vincenzo Pasquariello - and on this particular evening, with a little help onstage from Kentridge himself.

The process of creative evolution of each film is interactive and symbiotic. Miller explained in an illuminating conversation how Kentridge liberated him from the prescriptive, narrative trope he was locked in to in the world of the commercial film soundtrack, to focus on much less deliberately structured form, which in time generates its own structure.

In iBook (Uses of a Tree) the relationship between apartheid era white families and black servants is turned topsy turvy through their reallocation of roles in exploring the ownership of the Fanagalo language, a Zulu pidgin which originated in the mines and had been co-opted by whites attempting to impose authority on dialogue. Kentridge sent the briefest of texts to Miller to which he responded by composing a song referencing Fanagalo, to which the artist replied with a flood of pages on which he drew. Finally, the order was reshaped in to its own explosive, filmic sequence to form the backbone of the politically charged statement at its heart and to render structure to the live performance.

Masina's range was extraordinary. Described in the programme as a 'formidably large woman with an even bigger voice' she was the embodiment, at times, of deep-rooted anger and essential matriarchal, societal authority from which she could switch to the most liminal of sounds or the sweetest of choral and operatic verses.

Dudley's vocal prowess and restrained stage style, informed by Javanese and Japanese tradition and left-field Dada performance, was a finely balanced complement to Masina as, with chilling accuracy, she imitated the gamut of intruder alarms in Lullaby for House Alarm, and combined the kind of clicking and creaking vocalisations pioneered by Joan La Barbara (REVIEWED) with ticking noises summoned from a spinning bicycle wheel, with its strong visual bond to Marcel Duchamp's readymade, Bicycle Wheel of 1913, in Other Faces.

Pasquariello, at the piano, proved to be an acutely sensitive interpreter of Miller's scores, whether focused on the keyboard, reaching within its body, or offering dense rhythmic pulsations of the order of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, while constantly attuned to the changing events front of stage. Described by Miller as a 'wannabe foley artist', he also added a discreet, translucent layer of effects while crumpling a sheet of paper at the microphone in tandem with other sonic peregrinations.

Kentridge's appearance, late on in the programme, added an additional layer of authority to proceedings and included the reading of his poem Panther (for Rilke) in German, echoed by Dudley's agile, part-improvised interpretations of the text in English whilst, on-screen behind them, the charcoal-rendered panther paced behind drawn bars which exhibited both built-in fluidity and disturbingly deliberate enclosure, to seal the statement.

Paper Music is such a rich concoction of visual and musical stimuli that it can veer close to information overload, yet its variety of signals and messages and the generous individual performances ensured an overwhelmingly positive 'Ciné Concert' experience at the Coronet.

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