REVIEW: Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project at Birmingham Town Hall

Terri Lyne Carrington in Birmingham Town Hall
Photo credit: John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project
(Birmingham Town Hall, 21 May 2017. Review by A J Dehany)

“It’s important to claim new standards,” says Terri Lyne Carrington, the Grammy award-winning drummer who has won a longstanding crossover audience and for over 30 years introduced soul tunes to jazz arrangements and jazz tunes to the deep grooves of soul. How does a song become a standard? Blind luck, good fortune, sheer chance… but a start would be somebody playing the song.

Terri Lyne Carrington’s only UK tour date to a diverse audience at Birmingham Town Hall, part of a two-day residence involving a day of drumming workshops as part of the Jazzlines Women In Jazz programme, was a projective lesson in the attempt to “claim new standards” from an eclectic selection of tunes from contemporary jazz and the classic pop songbook.

The thing about crossing over to a wider audience is you can go to them, but few will cross back over with you. The first hour of the concert was some quite hard jazzer’s jazz. A number of couples leaving I didn’t notice returning. The quartet’s playing is serious, with each player unafraid to take risks: rhythmically tripling up under the main rhythm is a strong suit in both Carrington’s drumming and under the fingers of pianist Helen Sung; and harmonically straying ‘outside’ as in the dextrous soloing of multiple sax player Tineke Postma. Generally the players keep to a strong group discipline.

Carrington’s Sweden sounds like a Wayne Shorter tune, but its restrained tempo is offset by quite busy playing; Carrington has a particular expressiveness on the ride cymbal that carries across her restless imagination. Her Mosaic Triad Part 1 similarly showcases her controlled creativity on the drums. It’s after Geri Allen’s deep cut Unconditional Love that Carrington makes her case for new standards, but continuing with Kenny Barron’s A Voyage we are still deep in jazzer’s jazz territory rather than the souljazz cross-over many have come to hear.

The final half hour of the concert, with vocalist China Moses, is truer to this fresher spirit, and in a sophisticated way. Hendrix’s Burning of the Midnight Lamp’s harpsichord intro is reapportioned into 7/4 time but perfectly recognisable whereas you might not necessarily spot the Beatles’ Michelle, which is also in 7/4 and taking the same approach to the melody: simplified to its bluest notes, the melodic essentials of the memory.

China Moses is a magnetic communicator. Her mother is Dee Dee Bridgewater so, as Carrington says, “the fruit don’t fall far from the tree”. Her self-confident contribution to the reworkings of Hendrix, Al Green, and the Beatles, as well as her own tune Disconnected and a languidly grooving arrangement of the legit standard Lover Man help open the music out into the auditorium. A frustrating concert in some ways, crucially divided between jazz and soul tendencies, but at their finest moments the strong playing of the group and the careful synergies of the arrangements spark an appealing frisson.

LINK: Terri Lyne Carrington interview


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NEWS: Tony Levin Prize at the 2017 JQ Legends Festival, Birmingham awarded to Gwilym Jones

Gwilym Jones getting happy during the Tony Levin Prize competiton.
Photo credit: Brian Homer

Peter Bacon reports on a competition for drummers held in Birmingham on Friday 19 May 2017: 

The legacy of the British jazz drummer Tony Levin, who died in 2011, is celebrated each year by Birmingham City University’s Conservatoire Jazz Department, where Tony had taught, in this prize for the best drummer among the conservatoire’s students.

Or, more precisely, “the most swinging drummer today, in this room,” as another BCU jazz tutor, double bassist Arnie Somogyi, explained Tony’s aim with the prize, the specificity an attempt to get around the whole modern distaste for competitions - and their reduction of artistic creativity into simple winners and, therefore, losers.

Among the collected audience on Friday lunchtime at The Red Lion in the Jewellery Quarter - this was the first event of this year’s JQ Legends Festival - were many jazz students, and among the students were seven drummers. Each would take their turn on the stand, pick a tune - literally - out of Arnie’s flat cap of standards, and play it with Somogyi on bass and Jean Toussaint on tenor saxophone.

And so, Piero Alessi played Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise, Oliver Baylis played All The Things You Are, Kai Chaurensy played I’ll Remember April… you get the picture. We also heard Rob Harper, Gwilym Jones, Israel Shabani and Noah Stone.

Then the adjudicators - Somogyi and Toussaint the main judges, with some assistance from Tony’s widow, Chris, and son, Miles - slimmed the list to two, to be followed, in Arnie’s words, by a “fight to the death”.

After all seven had been commended on their efforts, the shortlist of two was Gwilym Jones and Israel Shabani, with a recommendation of Kai Chaurensy, a first year, as a close third. Jones chose Softly… and Shabani I’ll Remember… and the judges consulted once more.

“The most swinging drummer today, in this room,” was deemed to be Gwilym Jones, and he celebrated with the appropriately titled Get Happy. He gets a pint bought for him by Arnie Somogyi and a cash prize. Mostly his reward was the chance to do his thing between Somogyi and Toussaint and to get lots of slaps on the back afterwards.

The audience’s reward was the vicarious thrill of hearing seven young musicians putting their skills on the line in the demanding but generous company of two expert players.


Congratulations to all of them, especially to Gwilym Jones.



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REVIEW: London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead - European Premiere at Kings Place

Pete Churchill, soloists and the London Vocal Project at the end
of the European premiere of Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead

London Vocal Project - Jon Hendricks' Miles Ahead
(Kings Place Hall One, 21 May 2017. Review by John L. Walters)

Pete Churchill and the London Vocal Project (LVP) are making history. They have realised Jon Hendricks’ ambition to make a vocalese version of Miles Ahead, the groundbreaking album of orchestral jazz by Miles Davis and Gil Evans. French jazz critic André Hodeir, in his sleeve notes for the original LP sleeve, described its contents as ‘ten little concertos assembled in a vast fresco’, and his allusion to the great art of the past is entirely appropriate. Davis, playing flügelhorn throughout, is the only soloist, supported by ‘19+’, a jazz big band enhanced by extra brass and woodwind but without chordal instruments. Evans’ arrangements have a ‘classical’ seriousness in their depth and dynamics, yet they feel light and easy on the ear. And though six decades have passed since Miles stepped into New York’s 30th Street Studio to record it (in May 1957), Miles Ahead still sounds breathtakingly fresh.

Hendricks, the godfather of harmonised vocalese, has been working on lyrics for Miles Ahead since the late 1960s. Manhattan Transfer recorded a sublime version of the Gil Evans composition Blues for Pablo on their underrated The Offbeat of Avenues (1991), but there have been few other realisations. What’s remarkable about Hendricks’ vision is that in addition to writing words for melodies and improvised solos (and re-working existing lyrics), he sought to write lyrics for all the internal parts, the countermelodies, comping [accompanying] chords, riffs and bravura ensemble passages – in Churchill’s words, ‘every note that Gil wrote.’

Pete Churchill persuaded Hendricks that the London Vocal Project could make his dream come true and it is down to the encouragement and tenacity of Churchill that the great singer-lyricist, now 95, completed all the words in time for its New York premiere last February (see Tessa Souter’s report  for LondonJazz News). And it’s also down to Churchill’s skill and hard graft as an arranger – he transcribed and scored the entire work for vocal ensemble – that it sounded so wonderful at Sunday evening’s sold-out London premiere;  it was a highly emotional occasion. To remind us of the source, he placed a mono vinyl copy of Miles Ahead against a stage monitor.

At Kings Place, the 24-strong LVP was augmented by Dave Whitford (bass) and Steve Brown (drums), plus three vocal soloists: Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, ‘national treasure’ Norma Winstone and Michele Hendricks, daughter of Jon. Churchill programmed the evening with Miles Ahead in the second half; a relaxed first set (all with vocalese lyrics by Jon Hendricks) included Neal Hefti’s Count Basie classic Li’l Darlin’ and Summertime (from the Davis/Evans Porgy and Bess, and a tune originally slated for Miles Ahead, according to its record producer George Avakian), with soloist Jessica Radcliffe. The LVP left the stage for trio-backed numbers by each of the soloists; Michele Hendricks delivered an exuberant Everybody’s Boppin’.

For the second set, Churchill left the piano to join the bass voices. Michele Hendricks began Miles Ahead by singing the album’s opener, Springsville. The choir performed all ten tracks in album order, so Fitzgerald Burke then sang The Maids of Cadiz, floating on a super-smooth cloud of harmonised vocalese. Evans’ recomposition of the original Delibes tune was transformed further by Churchill’s sonorous arrangements, while Dave Whitford emerged from the shadows to play the prominent bass part. When Norma Winstone sang Dave Brubeck’s The Duke she totally ‘owned’ the Davis solo, and the LVP delivered the song’s elegant but intense contrasts, from chamber group, to shouting big band, to cool, spacious trio. The tune's erudite hat-tip to Duke Ellington, underlined by Hendricks’ words: ‘'Life is loaded with melody, he writes it down for you and me.’ Winstone stayed out front to sing the Ira Gershwin-Kurt Weill classic My Ship, and Fitzgerald Burke ended ‘side one’ with the thrilling positivity of Hendricks’ lyrics for Miles Ahead; the LVP’s articulation of the interlocking ensemble lines was impressive.

Churchill then flipped over the vinyl LP, leaving it on the piano, to remind us that we had come to side two of Miles Ahead. This starts with one of the greatest Gil Evans compositions ever (which kind of means one of the best pieces of music, ever), the magisterial and multi-stranded Blues for Pablo. Michele Hendricks made the flugel part authentic and highly emotional, while Churchill’s orchestration showed his mastery of the LVP’s timbres, the sheer scope of sounds it is possible to make with massed human voices. The high key of Ahmad Jamal’s New Rhumba was a challenge, but Norma Winstone attacked the Davis part with glee, and the ‘comping’ behind her solo was delicious. Part of the genius of Miles Ahead is the way Evans made a big ensemble feel as supple as a trio; the LVP version keeps this quality.

Hendricks’ lyrics are a constant delight: when Davis’s New Rhumba solo quotes from Richard Rodgers’ show tune ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’, Hendricks quotes Lorenz Hart’s lyrics – ‘wild again, beguiled again’.

A stack of vocal harmonies started The Meaning of the Blues, like the exposed struts of a great bridge or tower, prefacing a restrained but moving solo part by Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, melding without pause into J. J. Johnson’s Lament. The final track, I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed (By Anyone Else But You) is the Jack Elliott and Harold Spina tune that Ahmad Jamal made his own. Gil Evans’ chart transformed Jamal’s trio version into a tongue-in-cheek showstopper; Michele Hendricks delivered the Davis part with aplomb while the LVP went into virtuoso overdrive.

The singers of the London Vocal Project are something else. Not only did they successfully face the technical challenge of singing Evans’ charts, tricky parts that foxed even New York’s finest session guys in the 1950s, they sang the entire album from memory, every note bearing a Jon Hendricks lyric. Not only do they sound like a coherent ensemble – a real band – with a signature sound like no other choir on the scene, they have the technique to stretch and adapt their sound to the scores’ more extreme demands. Yet they wear their learning lightly, as Miles Davis did, as Gil Evans did. Their reinterpretation of Miles Ahead gives new life, texture and meaning to this orchestral jazz ‘fresco’ in a way that enhances and deepens our understanding and enjoyment of the original. To re-use Gil Evans’ metaphor, Hendricks, Churchill and the LVP have made the most beautiful new bottle for this fine old wine.

The Encore - Horace Silver's The Preacher


SET LISTS

FIRST SET

1) It's Sand Man by Ed Lewis & Jon Hendricks (Lambert, Hendricks and Ross - from 'Sing a song of Basie') (LVP)
2) Summertime - by Gershwin. New lyrics by Jon Hendricks (from Miles Davis/Gil Evans - Porgy and Bess) (LVP)
3) I'll bet you thought I'd never find you - by Les McCann & Jon Hendricks (Kevin Fitzgerald Burke)
4) Hi-Fly - by Randy Weston & Jon Hendricks (Norma Winstone)
5) Ev'rybody's Boppin' - Jon Hendricks (Michele Hendricks)
6) Li'l Darlin' - by Neil Hefti & Jon Hendricks (Andi Hopgood, LVP)
7) O Pato - by Jaime Silva/Neuza Teixeira -,English lyric by Jon Hendricks (LVP)

SECOND SET.. (All Lyrics by Jon Hendricks)

1) Springsville (John Carisi) - Michele Hendricks.
2) Maids of Cadiz (Delibes) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke.
3) The Duke (Dave Brubeck) - Norma Winstone.
4) My Ship (Kurt Weill) - Norma Winstone
5) Miles Ahead (Miles Davis/Gil Evans) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke.
6) Blues for Pablo (Gil Evans) -Michele Hendricks
7) New Rhumba (Ahmad Jamal) - Norma Winstone
8) (Bobby Troup/Leah Worth) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke
9) Lament (J.J.Johnson) - Kevin Fitzgerald Burke
10) I don't wanna be kissed (Jack Eliot/Harold Spina) - Michele Hendricks

ENCORE

The Preacher (Horace Silver, lyrics by Jon Hendricks)

Set lists courtesy of Pete Churchill and Nikki Iles

LINKS: Preview feature before the New York premiere
Emma Smith interviews Pete Churchill on BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Now
The history of the collaboration,
The first LVP Miles Ahead ‘teaser’, including footage of LVP in the recording studio,
Footage of final rehearsals and an interview with Pete Churchill prior to the New York premiere,

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CD REVIEW: Matt Holman – The Tenth Muse



Matt Holman – The Tenth Muse
(Panoramic PAN07. CD review by Brian Marley)

The few fragments of Sappho’s poetry that have come down to us from antiquity make unusually high demands of the reader. To make best sense of the poems, we have to fill in the gaps where words are missing, to connect the dots between one isolate phrase and the next.

But there are ways of doing that other than with words. Trumpet and flugelhorn player/ composer Matt Holman has crafted twelve pieces that are both interpretive and speculative in nature, and he and his ensemble have added four improvisations that are so perfectly in keeping with the compositions you’d be hard pressed to know which is which.

He’s chosen well, both in terms of Sappho translators (the poet Anne Carson) and his musicians: Chris Dingman (vibraphone), Bobby Avey (piano) and Sam Sadigursky (soprano saxophone, clarinets, flutes). This band - he had a different set of colleagues on his 2013 debut album When Flooded -  play these lyrically sophisticated and occasionally songlike compositions with elegance and grace. Holman himself has a strong harmonic sensibility, and his fluid phrasing and way with melody occasionally remind me of Kenny Wheeler. Although his role isn’t spotlit, he’s always there, at the heart of the music, the pivot around which everything revolves.

The compositions on The Tenth Muse have been arrived at by way of cryptograms. “Pitches and rhythms associated with specific letters or words,” as Holman explains. (J.S. Bach famously used the letters of his own name, of course.). But this is not a dry academic exercise. Holman has tried to make the music as expressive and emotionally varied as the poem fragments. To achieve the clarity required by this approach, the musicians have to work as one rather than as four individuals pursuing common ground – more akin to a string quartet than a jazz band. But there’s still plenty of improvisational room for manoeuvre, and the players take full advantage of it. The music is light, airy, and a tad mysterious – much like Sappho’s poems. It’s a fitting tribute.

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INTERVIEW: Hedwig Mollestad Thomassen (co-publication with Citizen Jazz, France)

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy


HEDVIG MOLLESTAD THOMASSEN played with her trio in Oslo at the 20th edition of the by:larm festival, where she played two impressive, fast, complementary shows on 3 and 4 March. The first show was at Kulturkiken Jacob, a church built in 1880 and now a place of culture welcoming art performances, the second at Victoria Nasjonal Jazzscene, the Oslo jazz club. Anne Yven of the Citizen Jazz (France) interview, and shared her interview for this co-publication with LondonJazz News.(*)

LondonJazz News: Tell us about your relationship with the guitar? Was it “love at first sight”?

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen: I started to play guitar when I was not even 10 years old, I think. There were a lot of instruments at home: a piano which I would also play, and my father played the flugelhorn, and the guitar was just there. I do think there’s a relation between what people would like to do and what they do well, or at least what they learn fast!

LJN: So is it a matter of pleasure or work? When did you decide to become a musician?

HMT: When something seems to fit your skills it’s easy to like it, of course! Therefore I did practise a lot because I enjoyed it. The most important thing is that my parents encouraged me to try everything. As a mother and as a musician I’m really interested in this issue of our growing-up environment. It has so much to do with who we are today as adults. How it shapes us.

LJN: And I guess it also has to do with the many musicians and bands who have influenced your music? Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Chet Baker, Jim Hall. What about rock bands like Motorpsycho, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath? Are their influences coming from your teenage years?

HMT: No! I wasn’t exposed to the hard rock scene until very recently. When I was a teen, I was into the grunge rock wave, Pearl Jam, Nirvana... Plus, there were jazz “bacteria” in me when I grew up. The whole 1970s rock came much later, when I met musicians of my age who had been listening to hard rock, like Ivar (drummer of Hedvig Mollestatd Trio) who said to me “You’re so lucky you don’t know them! There’s so much music you’re going to love!”

LJN: “Hedvig Mollestad Trio”. The name of your band is also an artistic choice, isn’t it?

HMT: Definitely. We thought a lot about it. It was when I won this award at the Molde Jazz festival in 2009, which allowed me to put together a band and do concerts the year after. I had one year. So the first thing most people would do is put together a big band with all the great musicians you know because there’s money for it, but sometimes nothing more happens. I saw it as an opportunity to build something that can really last. You can’t pick the musicians that are already too busy, because then you cannot really create a unity.

LJN: The name is important for you. It’s your trio, your name, but you insist on the fact that it is a band.

HMT: Yes. The idea of having a rock band with a jazz name was not so calculated. There are so many guitar trios. The guitar trio is more powerful than the name. In our first record the songs are more structured in a jazz way: in the melodies and the harmonies, the schemes, a lot of solos and loose things in the writing. The music is changing, although we still look a little weird in the jazz festivals and a little weird in the rock festivals.

LJN: Your record label, Rune Gramofon, is also a reference in promoting fine music with jazz and rock influences. Do you consider it as a good support?

HMT: Absolutely. I like to stick with people and Rune (Kristoffersen) has been with us since the beginning. It is sometimes hard for him, hard to make a living with this. Selling records. He’s doing it out of love for the music. He gives us so much artistic freedom.

LJN: All Of Them Witches, Evil in Oslo, Blood Witch, Kathmandu, Code of Hammurabi… The titles of your albums and songs often have magical, esoteric or spiritual references. Are you looking for a sort of trance state?

HMT: We are not, our music is not, about getting high, doing drugs, and so on. We’ve never been into this. But what we do chase is this particular moment in music when it feels right for everyone at the same time, the three of us on stage and the audience. And when it happens it is still hard to describe why! Why this particular moment or version of the song or entire gig was just so perfect for us? If you want to call that a trance, this chase, you can.

Ellen Brekken
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy


LJN: For seven years now you’ve been writing for this trio with bass player Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad. How has your writing evolved? Do you think about them when you write?

HMT: It’s not a real conscious procedure but when I sit down and feel like playing, finding new material for the trio, I hear them. They are here. On the first record I was more focused on the melodies and the riffs of the guitar, trying to express my own different languages. Now I want to work on this thing that binds us together.

LJN: Do you feel more powerful when you express yourself through this unity?

HMT: Well, there’s a time for everything you know. I also do solo concerts and that’s something else. It’s human relationships anyway. Each relationship is unique.

And there must be room for chance in our music. A gig does not necessarily work the way you thought it would. It might sometimes surprise you and make you think differently. It opens your mind when something like that happens.

LJN: Is this the jazz side of your trio?

HMT: Yes, in a way. The thing about this music is that it is supposed to be free, whatever we put in the word “free”. We can almost do whatever we want. Almost. This music is about building a conversation so if someone starts to talk badly, to be rude in a way that it doesn’t make sense, nobody knows how to respond and it can’t work. You can do whatever you want but the intention must be good!

LJN: Finally, I would like you to talk about something you don’t like to talk about. Women in music. I have a few names in mind like Matana Roberts or Joelle Léandre. Both artists refer to their fight, because they’re still a minority. Do you feel concerned by this fight?

HMT: I can talk about it! I used not to talk about the subject because I thought it was important to be a female instrumentalist and play without focusing on the subject. It was more important for me to talk about the music, the band, the project, the trio. Of course if being a feminist means to demand equal rights for men and women then sure I am. And everyone should be. But when I perform music I’m only concerned about the music.

Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen
Photo credit: Ketil Hardy


LJN: You’re a live band, you’re offering something powerful, interacting with the audience, paying attention to details – you have a red dress code –, and the way you behave on stage. To me HM3 is a visual experience! Would you agree?

HMT: We did start as a jazz band, playing dressed in jeans and T-shirts… But I always felt like when I offer something on stage, I want to change. Not necessarily a big costume change, maybe a little lipstick or a dress. This is something every rock band would do, and I think, yes, the people who go to see a live band, deserve to have a visual experience. Jazz musicians are very focused on the music. I think to dress up a little more does not necessarily take the focus away from the music. It might actually give more focus and fun to the music!

It’s like the high heeled shoes I’m wearing on stage. I’m playing with codes. I actually have a double feeling about that. These are feminine objects developed, produced, for women, when they want to “dress up” but they make me move in the worst way on a stage! The red dress also. You can’t actually feel comfortable wearing it. But at the same time, the shoes make me taller, the dress makes me sweat but you don’t see that! The point is not to look better, the point’s to say to the audience “Look, here: we prepared something for you.”

LINKS:
(*) LJN has published an edited, shorter version of the Citizen Jazz interview
Nicky Schririe's 2014 interview with Hedwig Mollestad

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INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Kate Williams “Four Plus Three plus One featuring Kate Williams plus special guest John Williams,” 606 Club, 14 June)

Kate Williams
Photo credit: The Rev, London

Pianist Composer KATE WILLIAMS has invited her father, the classical guitarist JOHN WILLIAMS to be her guest in “Four Plus Three plus One” at the 606 Club on 14 June. She explained the background to this first-time father-daughter collaboration to Sebastian(*) :


LondonJazz News: The 606 website has announced a very intriguing gig on it's website for 14 June “Four Plus Three plus One featuring Kate Williams plus special guest John Williams”. Can you explain the background?

Kate Williams: It was the coming together of two different things. When I first started “Four Plus Three”, I always had it in mind that it could be a lineup that could be quite flexible. We would get different guests, and I would arrange everything around that – last November we had Gareth Lockrane and Mike Outram join us at the 606, and later this year we'll be collaborating with Georgia Mancio.

But it never occurred to me to ask my Dad, because from the time when I first decided to go into music, I was aware of the “Oh I’ve got a famous dad” thing. I was very careful early on to keep everything separate, and he always encouraged me to get on with my own thing. But I think sometimes those things then become a habit without you even really thinking abut it. It never really crossed my mind to ask him to do anything with Four Plus Three.

What actually happened was, at the 606 a few months before Xmas last year, Steve Rubie approached me and said “Oh, I’m just wondering, would you ever work with your dad, or have you ever considered it, and if so, would you do something with the strings project?” My very first thought was "Oh well I haven’t really thought of it." He said, “Just think, if you never work together you might regret it. If you never ever did one gig…Have a think about it and ask him..?” And when I thought about it I realised it would be really nice, a great thing to do.

So I asked my dad. You know - you ask someone a question in a way that leaves them a way out, in case they don’t want to do it. So I rang him up and just said, “Well you’ll probably want to mull this over… don’t give me an answer now... but would you be willing to do a gig at the 606 with Four Plus Three?” But he said yes immediately. No mulling over to be done. He was really pleased.

John Williams
Photo credit: Kathy Panama / Askonas Holt


LJN: So you’ll have to write parts out...?

KW: Yeah, this is my learning curve at the moment, because classical guitar is an instrument that I’ve never composed for, which might sound strange but because we haven't worked together before etc… So, I’ve been kind of listening to various things. I was listening to some Joe Pass the other day and trying to get his voicings, ‘steal’ some information that I could use in a useful way (smiles).

LJN: What will you be playing?

KW: We haven’t decided the whole program. It will be a mixture of things - there will be a collection of new pieces which I'm writing specially for it. I thought, let's have a few things that are completely fresh, no titles yet, but probably three or four short pieces grouped together. Then, at least one Bill Evans tune, but it won’t necessarily be one from the album, a tune or two from my septet CD, and Nuages by Django Reinhardt - something which was specifically written by a guitarist, I thought would be nice.

LJN:  And the form of the evening?

KW: I think that Four Plus Three will kick off each set and then John’ll come on and join us.

LJN: The whole Four Plus Three, combining the classical string quartet and the jazz piano trio has been picking up momentum. I'm curious which are the classical composers that you gravitate towards...

KW: If I had to narrow it down, if I’m practising at home and just reading through classical stuff, the two composers which I always come back to are Bach and Ravel, they’re the two that kind of keep coming back.... maybe some of it seeps in somewhere. It kind of all goes into the pot, it all goes in there somewhere but you can’t always tell when something’s going to appear. I did accidentally quote something (assuming that I don’t edit the piece!) in one of the originals that I’ve written. I didn’t do it deliberately, but I realised soon afterwards: Oh, there’s a Ravel quote in there. Anyway, it’s staying in because it works with what follows. If you know the piece it’s quite obvious, but I won’t tell you what it is - you can hear it on the gig!

(*) With thanks to Sara Mitra for extensive help in the production of this piece.

LINK:  Podcast interview with Kate Williams about Bill Evans and the Impressionists
Interview with Dan Paton about Four plus Three
 606 CLUB FOR BOOKINGS

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CD REVIEW: Alexi Tuomarila, Mats Eilertsen, Olavi Louhivuori - Kingdom



Alexi Tuomarila, , Mats Eilertsen, Olavi Louhivuori - Kingdom
(Edition EDN1090. CD review by Mike Collins)


Pianist Alexi Tuomarila has been a glowing, itinerant presence on the European jazz scene for some fifteen years. Now, settled back in his native Finland, he is releasing his second trio album with Edition. He’s teamed up with his regular band that has the look of a European super-group. Norwegian bass player Mats Eilertson released is ECM debut as a leader last year and Finnish drummer Olevi Louhivuori is the driving force behind Odarrang.

The trio share the writing credits for this varied set and there’s a cover of Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing. The Sun Hillock kicks off with a relaxed funky groove. Tuomarila’s left hand and the bass outline the melodic hook. Bass and piano solos follow with Tuomarila’s easy fluency spooling skipping lines across the rhythm. Rytter is more impressionistic with rippling arpeggios and colour from the drums. Fragments of melody come and go. The Girl in a Stetson Hat has an easy rocking momentum and rich cycling chords ground the song like melody. Tuomarila is at his most free-wheelingly lyrical in his solo. Vagabond first appeared on Toumarila’s quartet release with Edition, Drifter. The stuttering, staccato riffs have a more abstract, fractured feel on this take compared to edgier take of Drifter. The Dylan cover has an urgent flow and a bright, optimistic skip to it, there’s a sense of contentment and joy in Tuomarila’s changing times. Shadows, a Louhivuori contribution, is darker. A bass solo shades into an exploratory group improvisation before halfway through a racing pulse takes hold and the band fly, the leader unleashing a blistering solo. Aalto is a melodic evenly grooving number, Bruin Bay’s gently marching theme is kicked along by snappy off-kilter riffs. White Waters closes the set with a more meditative atmosphere of gently rocking lyricism.

Tuomarila’s trio is a formidable unit. All leaders in their own right, they play, as all great trios do, as a single unit. This set repays repeated listens. It has a reflective, quietly joyful air to is even as they occasionally let rip.

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

The Alexi Tuomarila Trio will be in the UK in June:

15 June, 2017, Kings Place, London
16 June, 2017, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
17 June, 2017, Turner Sims, Southampton
18 June, 2017, Band on the Wall, London

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CD REVIEW: Trombone Shorty - Parking Lot Symphony



Trombone Shorty - Parking Lot Symphony
(Blue Note. CD Review by John L. Walters)

There’s no-one quite like Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty. He’s no. 1 in a class of his own making, with a great back story (see ‘Illustrated gumbo’ in EYE Magazine) about the children’s picture-book of his life), and the weight of great expectations on his young shoulders. Andrews has a fine voice, but he is fundamentally a brass soloist (trombone and trumpet) who sings, putting him more in the tradition of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker and Roy Hargrove. He is not trying to compete with pop stars like Lenny Kravitz (with whom he toured early in his career) but he’s showing ­– like George Benson and even Herbie Hancock – that he can do vocal-led dance-oriented pop and R&B pretty well, thank you very much.

Parking Lot Symphony, his first album for Blue Note, throws together a grab bag of music styles in what some critics have interpreted as a lack of direction. I beg to differ – the relaxed and open-minded manner in which Andrews draws from black music heritage is part and parcel of his appeal and identity as a jazz musician and entertainer. And it is a highly musical album with enough depth and ambition to get away with the ‘symphony’ in the title. There are several co-composers besides Andrews, noticeably producer/arranger Chris Seefried, and there are two top-notch covers – extra-brassy versions of Allen Toussaint’s Here Come The Girls (a 1970 hit for Ernie K-Doe once used for a Boots TV advert) and The Meters’ It Ain’t No Use. Andrews and Seefried broaden out the latter track – a magnificent mid-tempo slice of 1970s rock-soul – by appending the chiming, ten-chord sequence that also lies at the heart of Laveau Dirge No. 1 and Laveau Dirge Finale, the instrumentals that bookend the generous eleven-track album.

Of the other instrumentals, Tripped Out Slim channels James Brown with a hollering, New Orleans-style relish, Fanfare is a jam that harks back to the Meters, and Like a Dog aims for thrilling electro-pomp.

Familiar ventures into contemporary R&B territory with parody of a paranoid R&B stalker – Andrews delivers the song tongue-in-cheek, with lashings of electronically enhanced brass. Dirty Water has a deliciously Sly Stone–influenced groove, while No Good Time is a soul anthem with a literate, churchy arrangement that tugs at the heartstrings. Maybe these tunes don’t need tight arrangements and jazz solos in order to function as feelgood music, but everything sounds so much better with horns. Where It At? (with its ‘I just want my heart back’ hook) has a laid-back groove, sneaky organ chops and an intoxicating backbeat concluding grandly with choir and strings – possibly a nod to Kamasi Washington’s magnificent The Epic.

Best of all is the title track, written by Andrews and Seefried with Alexander Ebert, a spine-chilling slice of soul-jazz that summarises everything Trombone Shorty does well; a beguiling vocal melody that grows to a grand conclusion (and a short trombone solo). As a bandleader, singer, songwriter, arranger, composer and producer who is fundamentally a jazz musician, Andrews has trodden deep in commercial swamplands where few dare go, and he’s come back smiling with a terrific album – entertaining and full of substance.

LINK: Trombone Shorty live review from 2010

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CD REVIEW: Aaron Parks - Find The Way



Aaron Parks - Find The Way
(ECM 478 1841. Review by Peter Bacon)

The California-born, Seattle-raised Aaron Parks' first ECM disc under his own name was the solo piano effort Arborescence (>Review) but for his second he leads a trio with Ben Street on double bass and Billy Hart on drums. (this trio was photographed in London in 2015)

There is a dreamy, indefinable quality about Parks' writing and playing which I find irresistibly intriguing. As a listener I find I am constantly reaching (figuratively) into the music and finding that what I thought was substantially there has somehow transfigured into gossamer and smoke and eluded my grasp, only to be replaced by a further, seemingly substantial, element... and on and on.
 It can't just be me that feels this way. That quality is reflected in some of the pianist's song titles: Adrift, Unravel, First Glance. And maybe even Hold Music. Which is in no way to suggest that it's all froth! There is real intellectual and emotional substance here, it's just that it's hard to pin down.

The other key to the pianist's music is in a further title: The Storyteller. Fellow pianist Kit Downes showed his appreciation in these words: "He has a compositional approach to improvising, always telling an interesting and clear story through his rich melodic lines. Even at very high speed, his lines always harness harmony and time together into one pure voice..." (Kit Downes writes... about Aaron Parks).

The choice of Street and Hart to amplify Parks' vision is a brilliant one. Ben Street follows and comments on the pianist's moves with equal melodic richness, while Hart, his drums exquisitely recorded with just the right amount of reverb to suggest the space around the kit as well as the drums themselves, adds an astonishing richness of sound and the subtlest of rhythmic accents. And yet neither bass nor drums overwhelm what must still be the beating heart of this music, the piano.

Chamber classical in its mood, cinematic in its evocation and thoroughly jazzy in its spontaneous creativity and lithe nature, Find The Way is one of the loveliest piano trio discs I expect to hear this year.

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PREVIEW: Talinka (new album; UK tour starts 22 May)

Talinka: Gilad Atzmon, Jenny Bliss Bennett, Tali Atzmon and Yaron Stavi
Photo credit: Chiara Ceolin
TALINKA, the British quartet which crosses boundaries and genres, begins a UK tour on Monday and releases its eponymous CD on 23 June.


Talinka is led by vocalist Tali Atzmon and draws together elements of folk music, jazz, tango and early classical music. The singer/composer has an evocative set of instrumental colours on which to draw with Jenny Bliss Bennett on viola da gamba, violin, flute and vocals, Gilad Atzmon on bass clarinet, soprano saxophone and accordion, and Yaron Stavi on double bass.

The band's repertoire incorporates original songs written by Tali and classics from the Great American Songbook given a fresh East mees West twist - Tali was a renowned singer and actress in Israel before coming to this country.


Of the song featured in this video, Tali explains: "I wote the song Losing Vision in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The bass clarinet together with the viola da gambia create a primordial auditory realm that evokes a deep sense of the Sisyphean existential struggle [yet also] a cry for a change."

You can hear Talinka in concert at the Beaver Inn, Devon (22 May), the Western Hotel in St Ives (23 May), the Hermon Chapel Arts Centre in Oswestry (3 June), The Alex in Felixstowe (4 June), Jazz Cafe Posk in London (24 June), Cheadle Hulme Con Club (7 July) and the Bonington Theatre in Nottingham (11 January 2018).

LINKS: Talinka


  

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REVIEW: Chris Potter Quartet at Unterfahrt in Munich

Chris Potter Quartet
L-R: David Virelles, Chris Potter, Joe Martin, Marcus Gilmore
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Chris Potter Quartet

(Unterfahrt, Munich. 16th May 2017. Review and photos by Ralf Dombrowski (*))

Drummer Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of hardbop drummer Roy Haynes, belongs to a generation of drummers for whom the crude laying-down of  beat has been consigned to the past, and polyrhythmic independence is the stuff of everyday life. This also means that he likes to play a lot, he creates carpets in sound, stays in control of cascades from the toms, and can simultaneously follow both a pulse and a basic groove with fiery intuition.

This makes him just the right partner for a saxophonist such as Chris Potter, who is constantly exploring the limits of what is technically achievable on tenor and soprano, without ever losing sight of the shaping of both his sound and a coherent line. Potter may be equipped with a quite insane level of velocity and and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the canon of modern jazz going back to Charlie Parker, yet his music is tied to a rigour in which ecstasy does exist - but always as a means of intensifying expression, and not just being in a daze.

Marcus Gilmore
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski


While Gilmore left the listener with the impression that he could not help but maintain the sense of forward propulsion, Potter's virtuosic flights of fancy were constantly oscillating between the solid and the filigree. Even ballads were a show of skill, if not of technical velocity then of the supple an malleable forming of melodic line and sound. And for that endeavour it was just right to have a pianist like David Virelles on board; in the context of the precise perfection of the Potter world he comes across as a source of strength, genius but also of confusion. As accompanist he is quiet and reserved, as soloist he creates motifs with space to breathe. His methods are not to inject athletic energy but rather to create anarchy of shapes and fragments.

The fourth quartet member bassist Joe Martin has a whole heritage of groove to work on and to make his own, his patterns and structures have the aura of self-sufficiency about them, and yet he fits perfectly into the tendency of his colleagues to create an opulence of shapes.

As a whole this concert was a very fine reflection of what an exploration of the borders of modern jazz can be. To play more impressively, more coherently or better than the Chris Potter Quartet...it really can't be done. But more movingly?...perhaps it can,
.


Joe Martin
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski



(*) LINKS: Ralf Dombrowski's original German is published today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung
CD Review :The Dreamer Is the Dream
Live Review: Chris Potter Trio at the Montreal Jazz Fesstival in 2016

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INTERVIEW/FEATURE: Kevin Fitzsimmons (new album Working Day And Night - launch Pizza Express 18 June)

Kevin Fitzsimmons


Singer KEVIN FITZSIMMONS has a new album out, Working Day And Night, recorded live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club. And that’s exactly where he and his band will be launching the album on 18 June. He spoke to Peter Bacon.

LondonJazz News: Your new album, Working Day And Night, is a live recording. What do you like about recording live? And what are the downsides?

Kevin Fitzsimmons: I think the upside to recording live is that you have a huge and very beneficial element in the room… the audience. They are as much a part of the music as the musicians on stage. They have the ability to affect the mood and emotion of the recording. The downside: you have to accept the first take.

LJN: You clearly have a rapport with your band on the album. Are the musicians you work with important to you? And how did you form this band?

KF: Musical accompaniment: oh man, how important is that! I know one thing, get it wrong and you’re sunk. I’ve been very fortunate along the way to have found some smart and very talented people I get along with musically and socially. I’ve met them through various musical scenarios, not always jazz but they are always jazz musicians.

LJN: It’s an eclectic mix of tunes - from old standards to contemporary, and a couple of original compositions. What do you look for in a song?

KF: A good lyric is high on the list, although more often than not a good lyric is normally accompanied by a good tune. My all-time favourite song, Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, has both these elements.

LJN: You work hard on a variety of projects, from tributes to the Ratpack and to Michael Buble, to swing bands and this jazz set. Are these projects beneficial to each other? Do they develop skills that are transferable, from one project to another?

KF: Our projects outside the jazz scene are very beneficial (mostly financially, Ha!) as it means we get to play together a fair bit. Plus we gain opportunities in the customary sound checks we do for those private corporate/wedding-type gigs to try out new material, etc, for our public jazz gigs. I don’t think I really take anything from one project to another other than experience. I normally close the door on one and enter the new with a completely new set of rules.
One of my favourite projects I did was a combination of two albums Cannonball Adderley recorded with two lesser known vocalists who were steeped in blues (Ernie Andrews and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson): Live Session! Cannonball Adderley With The New Exciting Voice Of Ernie Andrews and Cleanhead And Cannonball. (There’s a piece Kevin wrote about that project HERE.)

LJN: It sounds like your family background destined you for a life in showbiz? What were your early influences?

KF: Funny, but I had no aspirations whatsoever for a life in music or showbiz growing up. That came later. As a kid I was into athletics - middle and long distance running, and playing football - though I guess it’s helped with my breath control. Plus I had a passion for art so I spent a chunk of time drawing – which came in handy years later as it meant I could do my own artwork for the front covers of my albums. But music was always dominant in the Fitzsimmons household. My dad playing albums like Sinatra & Strings and Nat King Cole’s Complete After Midnight Sessions (though what I played at volume 11 in my bedroom didn’t remotely resemble my parents’ music). In fact, my Mum, in her teens back in her home town of Dublin, was lucky enough to see Nat Cole live and was blown away by the quality of his voice. She still talks about that night (nearly every time we see her, it seems, Ha!).

Kevin Fitzsimmons

LJN: What can people expect on your new CD?

KF: Well, like my previous (studio) album, Show Me The Way, I’ve looked at songs I like outside the jazz standard repertoire, like Michael Jackson’s Working Day And Night – the album’s title track - and reworked the arrangements to my band’s style. Plus there’s new material, although not as many as on the previous album as I didn’t want to overdose the live audience (when we recorded it at Pizza Express Jazz Club) with originals.

Naturally we include some standards, for example there’s a more up-tempo version of Leon Russell’s This Masquerade and one of my favourite Rogers & Hart songs, It Never Entered My Mind. At the album’s launch gig - Pizza Express Jazz Club 18 June - we’ll also include material not on the CD, including a few new arrangements of iconic soul/pop recordings that we’ll be playing live for the first time, which is always interesting to a jazz audience I guess. And nail-biting for the band!

LJN: Give our readers a tip: three top vocal albums of all time, in your opinion?

KF: Rachelle Ferrell’s First Instrument: for me she is one of the most gifted vocalists I’ve ever heard. A master class.

Mark Murphy’s The Latin Porter: ditto, this is a live album by the then 68-year-old Mark Murphy back in 2000, showing he was still on top form. In fact he’d won Best Male Jazz Vocalist that year in Downbeat magazine’s readers’ poll.

Frank Sinatra’s Songs For Swinging Lovers: a near perfect album and one I never tire of listening to. Cracking arrangements by Nelson Riddle and Sinatra at his vocal peak. These are some of my favourite songs from Sinatra when he was on the Capitol label, and I’m lucky to get to perform some of this stuff with a bigb, in a touring theatre concert that celebrates his era at Capitol.

LJN: And a tip or two for singers just starting out: how do you look after your voice?

KF: I didn’t know you had to?! Joking aside, I don’t consciously do any specific rituals to look after my voice. But the moment I come into contact with anybody with a hanky or a sneeze I’m running for the hills. Another tip, never drink more (alcohol) than people think you should.

LJN: What does the future hold? Have you more projects lined up?

KF: You never know when new ideas are gonna cross your mind. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a new song or idea for an arrangement I’ll be thinking about a new song or idea for an arrangement, so there’s normally a flow of some kind of new material. Hope I don’t get a dry spell (fingers crossed).

LJN: Where can LondonJazz News readers find out more about you?

KF: Head to my website – www.Jazzwurx.co.uk – it’s full of the usual publicity and press reviews, videos, social media links and of course my contact page for London Jazz News readers to get in touch. (pp)

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CD REVIEW: The Playtime Trio - Tangential Excursions



The Playtime Trio - Tangential Excursions
(Interrupto Music. IM006. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)


The house band at the regular Playtime night in Edinburgh turn their hand to many different styles, from mainstream through bop to free jazz - often in the same evening. In this incarnation, they're deep into improvisation. Sometimes wholly improvised music can be difficult to listen, outside of the gig in which it is created; sometim es it can be difficult to listen to, full stop. This recording of two sets from a single gig last year isn't hard, and makes sense as a recording, too.

The three musicians - Tom Bancroft (drums), Graeme Stephen (guitar) and Martin Kershaw (alto and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet) - have a knowledge and experience of each other's playing going back years. They take turns to lead, the music morphing from one form to another; almost as if different sections or tracks were evolving as one listens.

Stephen uses a variety of pedals to build up his sound, creating loops of multiple tracks which he, Bancroft and Kershaw play with. Sometimes he sets up a bass line and then solos over the top; sometimes he is building the colour and texture, almost like a painter adding to the canvas. His loops seem to rise and fall twisting back on themselves and becoming reversed unruly they slowly disintegrate. His playing is inventive and melodic.

Kershaw is similarly versatile. He uses the bass clarinet clarinet as a drone, or to play a soulful, organ-like melody. There are some tempestuous saxophone solos, angry notes cascading front his soprano, and there are some beautiful, tender and romantic sections, too.

Balancing the guitar and reeds is Bancroft's rhythmic drive. He shifts gear, pushing on or holding back. He sets up a groove - some sections are almost funky - he swings, and he rocks. At times his playing is solid, at others loose, almost flowing. The one thing missing from listening to this recording compared to the live experiences is Bancroft's sense of humour: he incorporates a lot of humour into his playing, much of it visual, and this doesn't necessarily translate to the recorded medium.

The melodic and rhythmic progression in these excursions makes them very approachable and enjoyable. They way they twist and turn, moving from one form to another as the emphasis shifts from one musician to the next holds one's attention across both sets.

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

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CD REVIEWS IN BRIEF: Preservation Hall, Regina Carter, Billy Childs and others



Editor-At-Large Peter Bacon flips through his pile of recently-released CDs.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band - So It Is
(Sony Legacy 88985417912)

This New Orleans band might have been going for 50 years but it’s no mere “heritage” exercise.
PHJB stays true to the city’s tradition by maintaining the rhythms and party atmosphere but also moves it forward so that it sounds fresh and contemporary in 2017, just as it probably did when it first assembled in 1963.
Like the 2014 album That’s It, this one is made up of all original material, and it also boasts a rock co-producer. That’s It’s was My Morning Jacket’s Jim James; for So It Is it’s TV On The Radio’s David Andrew Sitek.
And this time there’s a strong Cuban influence, too, inspired by a 2015 trip there. Ben Jaffe (his dad was the band’s first musical director) leads from double bass (tuba on just one track), the two-tenor, trombone and trumpet front line is in fine form, and pianist Kyle Roussel adds tasty decoration. Light, but good fun for the summer.

Regina Carter - Ella: Accentuate The Positive
(Okeh Records 88985406042)

The violinist declares a soft spot for Ella Fitzgerald that goes back to her childhood. There are just two vocal tracks, with guest singers Miche Braden and Carla Cook, but neither is compelling. For the rest it’s a quintet with Marvin Sewell on guitars and Xavier Davis on keyboards.
Sewell’s use of slide and acoustic as well as electric, and Davis using Hammond B-3 and Fender Rhodes as well as acoustic piano all helps to widen the variety of the moods across the tracks, from gentle but chunky funk in Crying In The Chapel, to a more gospel feel on I’ll Never Be Free and pared-down ballad on Dedicated To You.
How much you like this will depend very much on how you get on with Carter’s playing style. I quite like her relatively vibrato-less tone and it’s nice to hear a fiddler who has eschewed the gipsy route, but her solos often fail to sustain my interest. Moderately underwhelming.

Phonophani - Animal Imagination
(Hubro HUBROCD2574)

Phonophani is the alias of Espen Sommer Eide, who also makes music as half of Alog. We’re in sound installation territory here, or ambient electronics. All the sounds are made by Eide, though it’s not at all easy to say how they are made. One track, Untime Me, has a highly processed vocal from Mari Kvien Brunvoll.
In the cover is this short note: “I started hammering the keyboard with my paws, the sound rushing past me like wind while running. There was no composition or reasoning, just the beating of blood in my ears. I was finally making music like a dog.”
It makes some sense, especially the beating blood. I find it interesting that most electronic musicians end up with drawn out washes of sound, the beats of dance music - Deep Learning being a prime example here - and also love the interruption and jump of a poor radio signal running through their work. They seem to cling to such conventions despite having the freedom to escape them. The vaguer tracks are the most successful. In a word, woof!

Billy Childs - Rebirth
(Mack Avenue MAC1122)

The pianist has made a strong career for himself in Los Angeles as an arranger, especially for singers; his last album was a collection of Laura Nyro songs re-interpreted by contemporary vocalists including Rickie Lee Jones, Becca Stevens and Dianne Reeves.
This album is centred on jazz and a basic quartet with saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Eric Harland particularly strong. There are a couple of vocal guests - the marvellous Claudia Acuna on the title tune, and the graceful Alicia Olatuja on Stay, a Childs composition that could easily become a jazz standard.
After six original compositions the album closes with versions of The Windmills Of Your Mind and Horace Silver’s Peace.
The recording is classy and the band is highly focussed, playing with great drive and an energy which can sometimes feel exhausting to listen to. Excellent, but not one to accompany a gentle dinner - you’d end up with indigestion!

Terence Blanchard - The Comedian
(Blue Note promo disc)

The jazz-for-movies king plays it fairly straight for this Original Motion Picture Soundtrack for the Robert De Niro turkey - “…boasts an incredibly talented cast, but they’re put to poor use in an aimless rom-com,” was the verdict from Rotten Tomatoes.
In some ways that’s not a bad description of the music. Cool, sophisticated but fairly featureless cocktail jazz played by the talented cast of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Ravi Coltrane on saxophone, Kenny Barron on piano… you get the picture.
The tunes go exactly where you expect them to, and if the solos are, understandably, more interesting, there is a sense of a band clocking in, doing the job, and getting the hell out…




Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Loafer’s Hollow
(Hot Cup HC161)

Bassist Moppa Elliott and his merry band of jazz pranksters like risky ventures which means some work better than others. I lean towards their albums that go back a fair way in jazz history, so thoroughly enjoyed Red Hot’s plundering of the 1920s and ‘30s released in  2013 but was less enamoured of their smooth jazz pastiche, Slippery Rock!, from that same year. And as for their controversial note-for-note copy of Kind Of Blue, called simply Blue, released in 2014, well let’s just say that little horrified emoji was never more apt, a response which I am certain delighted Moppa and crew.
Loafer’s Hollow finds the band more flexible decade-wise and more specific geographically. The album title is the original name for a place in South West Pennsylvania. The fact that it was subsequently called Library gives Elliott reason to theme the tunes around some of his favourite authors. They are James Joyce, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy and David Foster Wallace. It all makes sense.
The music has a healthily old-time feel and the band’s humour is enhanced by the addition of slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein to the band (his cadenza on Hi-Nella goes on just that delicious bit longer than you want in the style of a Family Guy joke). Brandon Seabrook on banjo adds a lot more joy and Jon Irabagon on saxophones manages to be both sumptuous, funny and searching all at the same time. Brilliantly subversive.

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INTERVIEW: Chi Jazz - (Thames Jazz Nights on R.S. Hispaniola & City Cruises)

Chi Jazz  - City Cruises
Photo Credit: Chi Jazz



If you’re looking to get a jazz fix with a twist - writes Leah Williams -  then make your way down to the Thames where City Cruises provide wonderfully entertaining jazz dinner evenings that feed your eyes, ears and your appetite all at once! In addition to their regular Friday evening cruises, they are about to unveil, on the static floating restaurant - the R.S. Hispaniola - jazz nights, where a gourmet 3-course meal is on offer, together with a stunning view of Big Ben and The London Eye as well as the same sultry tones of the resident jazz quintet, Chi Jazz. City Cruises are kindly offering LondonJazz News readers 20% off all their Thames Jazz Nights.

John Clarke, drummer and one of the founders of Chi Jazz, spoke to Leah about why they love playing on the Thames Jazz Nights: 


LondonJazz News: Chi Jazz is the resident band aboard the Thames Jazz Nights - tell us a bit about how you came together.

John Clarke: We all met in Chichester, where we were studying jazz, around twenty years ago now. This is where the name comes from: the “Chi” is short for “Chichester”. We’d all been working as professional musicians for many years, across lots of different genres and projects, and all in our own way ended up realising that our main passion was for jazz so went to Chichester to study further. It was a great place because everyone there was already a very accomplished musician and so the vibe was brilliant and the jamming of a really high quality. We realised we were melding so well together as a group that it would be a shame not to take it further - Chi Jazz was born!

LJN: So everyone in Chi Jazz is from Chichester? How many of you are there?

JC: We’re quite an unusual outfit because we’re like a big musical family and there are around 15 of us now. This is what allows us to be in two (or even three!) places at the same time. The original members were all from Chichester - we even have some of the old tutors in the group - and now we’ve got a few younger members joining who are from Trinity or elsewhere as well.

LJN: So who from Chi Jazz plays on the Thames Jazz Nights with City Cruises?

JC: We’re made up of a core trio: myself on drums, Matt Tween on bass and Steve Grainger on sax. Then we add keys or guitar and normally a vocalist for a quintet line-up. We’ve got three excellent female vocalists who we work with on a regular basis and who all have their own individual styles and song books. So this, and the various instrumental line-ups, really keep every gig fresh and interesting. We also sometimes use twin horns instead of vocals, which has also proven to be really popular and gives a different edge to the sound.

LJN: What are some of your favourite pieces to play or what generally goes down well with the crowd?

JC: That’s almost impossible to answer because every evening can be so different! The most important thing for us is that the crowd are having a great, entertaining and memorable time. We play two sets during the evening and we usually start out with some jazz standards from the Great American Songbook. We have a set list of around 300 or more tunes that we can call on so we do tend to mix it up for every gig. Then it really depends on the audience; we try to gauge their reaction and decide what they might like next! We might do some more ballads or step it up and do some up-tempo contemporary jazz/pop crossover numbers if people are feeling energetic!

LJN: Do you ever try out any serious contemporary jazz numbers on them?

JC: No, we try to steer clear of any “off-the-edge” jazz. You’ve got to remember, this audience have got no escape route (laughs)! We don’t want people jumping overboard! It really is a great dinner jazz atmosphere and the main aim is that everyone has a good time. Also, we get a real mix of people coming. Some are really into their jazz but some are coming along to try something new or for the fun of an evening of music, dinner and fantastic views on the Thames. We really love jazz and want to spread the word rather than scare people off!

LJN: So will you also be playing on the R.S. Hispaniola, which is in fact a static restaurant rather than a cruise?

JC: We will indeed. We do every Friday on the Jazz Cruises and will be doing every Thursday night on the R.S. Hispaniola. It’s a really beautiful setting with a prime location looking out over the London Eye and Big Ben, which looks so stunning at night time especially. The food is set to be delicious and we’re super excited about getting started! (pp)

READER DISCOUNT: Book your tickets for any of the Thames Jazz Nights and get 20% discount by calling 0207 7400 400 and quote ‘LondonJazz News’ to redeem this offer.

LINK: City Cruises

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FEATURE: The Big Chris Barber Band (Cadogan Hall, 18 September)

Chris Barber


A legend of trad jazz, there is no one quite like CHRIS BARBER. Harnessing the glories of jazz and the blues, leading his own bands for decades, keeping on keeping on. In this feature he talks King Oliver, skiffle, and bebop in anticipation of the Big Chris Barber Band concert at Cadogan Hall on 18 September. Interview by Stephen Graham:

Speaking on the phone from his home near Hungerford, “technically Wiltshire” Chris Barber says when I stumble over jotting down the correct shire, where he has been living for the past decade Chris Barber is a good talker and friendly. I felt as if I had known him for years but we had never met and the only time I’ve been lucky enough to see him live was on a fun occasion in the Hippodrome in his old stomping ground of Golders Green in 2000 when he turned 70 and that as it turned out was the part of north London not far from where he grew up in although he was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, in 1930.

An immense amount of music has been made since he started out in the business at the beginning of the 1950s. Does it get easier or more difficult being a bandleader, I wonder? “It was never that easy,” Barber says fairly matter of factly, his preferred way of speaking, the emphasis lightly delivered without any severity, a slight stammer punctuating his thoughts. “Practicalities are sometimes an issue, people retiring, inconveniences,” he adds. These however haven’t stopped him touring widely, expanding his band.

“I always had a broad view of what we’d play,” he continues a little gnomically. And yet understandably. That broadness goes back to what you might consider the Jurassic period of rock and roll. Part of the skiffle movement, he played bass on the defining song of the style ‘Rock Island Line’ which became a monster hit for his bandmate Lonnie Donegan, but is mainly known as a trombonist, frontman, and enthusiastic vocalist.

His career in music had started earlier at the dawn of the 1950s inconsequentially enough and just out of his teens. “I was an amateur mathematician. I was listening to the American Forces Network radio, AFM, and local request programmes and played in pubs.” Living in north London, around Hampstead and Edgware, he was fond of cricket and would go down to Lord’s not too far away in St John’s Wood to watch the game. His middle class parents were socialists. Trad jazz much later in the 1950s became the soundtrack of the Ban the Bomb generation and the Aldermaston marches. His first wife Naida Lane was a dancer, the daughter of a Ghanaian. “Naida went to ballet school, and she was a lovely dancer,” Chris says. While there she encountered racism and she stopped training and instead began to work in music hall and later for the singer Shirley Bassey. Chris remembers how they met: ‘I remember seeing Naida at Collins’ Music Hall in north London in the Hot from Harlem black variety show. I met her, got together, we married at a registry office on the Harrow Road and lived in a flat down near Notting Hill Gate.” They parted eventually and divorced later. “She wanted a stage life of her own. We kept in touch.”

Things took off for Barber with skiffle but Dixieland jazz was more his thing. Skiffle was a bass heavy rudimentary style imported from black American traditions possessing plenty of crowd appeal and often seen now as a precursor to rock’n’roll but dismissed sniffily by some like blues guru Alexis Korner yet embraced wholeheartedly by the public who made a star of Lonnie Donegan. Chris was familiar with skiffle. He had found an old 1928 record and the party term he says was “occasionally used in the late-1930s by black musicians.” Lonnie, he says was a “dedicated cheeky chappie,” more a music hall performer adding approvingly: “He was a good banjo player.” Van Morrison many years later with Barber and Donegan recalled the skiffle sound decades on not many years before Donegan died with the release in 2000 of a live album that they had made a few years before based on a concert at the Whitla Hall in Belfast, a city Barber knows well and the city where he met his second wife singer Ottilie Patterson who he married at the end of the 1950s.

Barber has had an incredible career in music which he has written about in his 2013 autobiography Jazz Me Blues. He has met and performed with many of the greats spanning not just jazz and the blues, playing for instance with Muddy Waters in America and admiring the way that he could retune his guitar perfectly in front an audience, but gospel and rock. He speaks fondly of his encounters with Louis Armstrong. “A nice man. He just loved the music.”

A founding director of the famed London venue the Marquee in 1958 we talk a little about Harold Pendleton the businessman who ran the club. Chris mentions Pendleton’s north of England background a bit and says, somehow it seems important to him beyond trivia, that Pendleton was an amateur drummer. Chris clearly relished those days, the place wasn’t a pub so as a club had a different vibe and he says onstage at the Marquee, which was on Oxford Street first and then later Wardour Street in its earliest history (and Charing Cross Road even later), it “wasn’t rotten” to be on stage in terms of the sound, unlike a lot of places.

Barber toured a lot back then, some things don’t change. On his gig sheet at the moment dates coming up criss-crossing England include during May and June alone, Lichfield, Bishop’s Cleeve, Haywards Heath, Stoke-on-Trent, Hunstanton, Aylesbury and Doncaster before the band head to Scotland later in the summer and then down to London in September. In Sixties Liverpool Barber was playing places like the huge 2,300-seater Empire theatre when The Beatles started out. Jazz was completely the thing then but not for long with the benefit of hindsight.

“The locals weren’t taking the Beatles seriously at first, but after our show we went to the Cavern and had a drink with [clarinettist] Terry Lightfoot and standing by the bar was John, Paul, Ringo and George, Lennon trying to convince [Barber band clarinettist] Ian Wheeler to be their manager!”

Chris is matter of fact when I ask him if ‘Rock Island Line,’ a hit single in both the UK and US in 1955, changed his life in any way? ‘No,’ he says quickly enough, then moderating a little: ‘Sort of. It was Lonnie’s record but people knew I played the slap bass on the record. Van Morrison was an enthusiast of the song, Van liking the blues side. He was sincere about it.’ Jokingly, he says, almost as an aside and with an understated gravitas that the music industry is not big on sincerity. Barber has been a regular guest performer with Van Morrison over many years and they remain good friends.

As for singer Ottilie Patterson, like Morrison, also from Northern Ireland but further from the city streets that Morrison was familiar with hailing instead from small town County Down, Chris during the conversation frequently mentioned playing in Ireland both north and south, and in his band currently and for some time is Northern Irish bassist Jackie Flavelle who used to have a long-running radio show certainly close enough for jazz on the Newtonwards-based commercial station Downtown. Chris says Patterson, who died in 2011, “was a lover, a purveyor, of the blues.” They met not far from Ards in Belfast itself. Barber’s family line, he tells me later in the conversation, goes back to County Monaghan, and he tells me his great grandfather was a Presbyterian church minister in Tydavnet who left for England before the famine.

Known mainly as a trombone player I ask him if Kid Ory was a big influence. Listening to Ory I can hear shades of the New Orleans early jazz legend a little in the way Barber phrases and wails. But he says no, instead he says it was Honoré Dutrey from King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band who he liked best explaining that he liked him for his “raunchy style” expanding: “Dutrey played melodic phrases between melodic phrases. It was an acquired taste.”

Inevitably when talking to someone who has been there, got the T shirt, although I’m not sure if he really ever was a T-shirt type, talk turns to some of the legends he has played with over a long career. Top of the list for me to ask about is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an enduring influence even on some of today’s finest gospel-inspired jazz singers including Lizz Wright, he recalls as a “marvellous person to work with, not intellectual, she was very religious, serious, we toured all over, the Manchester Free Trade Hall,” he remembers, “Bradford, Glasgow.”

One name closer to home we don’t have time to talk about, maybe just as well given it might take up all available practical space, was the legendarily irascible figure of Ken Colyer who loomed large in Barber lore in 1953-54 and since, but he is hardly Banquo’s ghost at this particular feast. Chris, hardly the haunted type, says however while his fans have long memories they are happy enough to hear newer material. It’s not all ‘Ice Cream’ by any means. He does not miss the dancing that used to go on when his band played ballrooms, the foxtrotting dancers circulating in the room could cause havoc with the jivers he says. Times change. Some things don’t. Wrapping up the conversation I was reluctant to ask the most difficult question on my scribbled down napkin list so spluttered out to ask whether he ever liked bebop, famously a bugbear with many tradsters, and again his answer surprised me. “I didn’t play it but did like it,” and he then talks enthusiastically about his friend pianist John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet who he toured with and mentions admiringly. So much for pigeonholing. (pp)

The Big Chris Barber band play Cadogan Hall, London on 18 September. Tickets and further information:

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INTERVIEW: Sue McCreeth (CD Look Back and Love - Launch 29 May Pizza Express Dean Street)

Sue McCreeth
Photo Credit: Ken Thomson

Singer SUE McCREETH launches her latest album, "Look Back and Love" at Pizza Express Dean Street on Monday 29th May and plays gigs across the UK over the next few months. Compiled from her five previous albums, "Look Back and Love" finds the singer taking stock  - and yet also looking ahead with four new tracks included. Interview by Rob Adams:

LondonJazz News: What made you look back at your career and compile "Look Back and Love" at this stage in your life and career; how do you feel your music’s changed over these fifteen years?

Sue McCreeth: I wanted to collect the very best of my writing, recent and less recent. I feel that my music has changed from searching for original sounds, to searching for authentic sounds. I’m developing all of my songs all of the time.

LJN: In selecting the tracks for the album, what were you looking to highlight?

SM: I chose the strongest vocal recordings to feature, and the most diverse compositions. I wanted to make a cd which would be good company on a long drive. I wanted people to experience the sublime beauty that all the musicians featured on this cd have brought to my music.

LJN: When and how did you get into singing jazz; was there one - or 101 - artist who made you think, I want to do that!?

SM: It's closer to 101! It started with a vinyl record called ‘The Incomparable Ella’, and at the age of 12 I could squeak my way through all 16 tracks, including improvisations. I saw Ella live on my 24th birthday. I love the sounds of Sarah Vaughan and Anita O’Day, and later I found Betty Carter and Shirley Horn. I’ve seen many American jazz stars in London, including the late Mark Murphy, Rebecca Parris, Shirley Horn and Flora Purim. The British jazz singers who have inspired me are Liane Carroll, Claire Martin, Tina May, Christine Tobin, Anita Wardell and Norma Winstone. All these singers have taught me that what matters is finding ones own unique voice.

LJN: When and how did you get into composing?

SM: I was writing songs from the age of 9, singing and playing guitar. After finishing my music degree in composition from Sussex University I started listening to and emulating some of the approaches of jazz luminaries such as Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, Laura Nyro, Flora Purim, Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul.

LJN: Can you describe your writing process for us; do you think of lyrics first, melody first or come up with a mood you want to work in and take it from there?

SM: I start with harmony, and then write the melody by picking out the notes I want to hear in the voice within each chord. Finally, I concentrate hard to write the lyrics.

LJN: What impact did studying improvisation with Gary Burton and composition with Joseph Mulholland at Berklee have on your approach to music?

SM: I am now confident about various ways of exploring harmony that I did not use before, and I have many scale choices in my voice for improvisation. I can also express my ideas more confidently in my arrangements. Gary and Joe have given me the highest possible grades for work I have done with them, and Joe has heard and praised all of my previous writing. My songwriting is used within Berklee as teaching material by Joe, and he collaborates with me too. All of this has had a beneficial impact upon my confidence as a composer and improvising musician.

LJN: You were out of action through illness for some time; what part did music play in the healing process?

SM: Music has helped me to feel more real and connected with the world. Invariably I make music with fantastically talented musicians, and rational coherent thought that is involved in writing, soothes the influence of memories, triggers and panic.

LJN: SatNam and Ettu Enna are intriguing tracks; can you tell us a bit about them?

SM: I wrote Sat Nam in 2000 whilst working in Dubai as a pianist/vocalist. Ettu Enna means, ‘What is this?’ in Tamil. At present I am developing my understanding of and competence with Indian ragas and bringing them into my music more authentically. I study and rehearse with an Indian based colleague over skype.

LJN: Who are you listening to at the moment; do you have any recent discoveries you’d like to share with London Jazz News readers?

SM: Carmen Lundy, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Lalah Hathaway, Jill Scott and Sabine Kabongo have influenced me. Also Laura Nyro’s songs as sung on ‘Map to the Treasure’ are incredibly varied, especially in the voices of great singers such as Renee Fleming, Lisa Fischer, Dianne Reeves and Esperanza Spalding. A while ago I was listening to Erykah Badu on my daily journeys into the West End for my piano/vocal gigs. ‘Only Here’ is my song for Erykah.

LJN: What can audiences expect to hear - and feel - on your upcoming concerts?

SM: There will be Indian and Arabic sounds in my own fusion songs, many languages, and also ‘The Touch of Your Lips’ and ‘Twentieth Century Blues’ for the mainstream jazz fans. I hope audiences will feel excited by the energy, variety and exuberance of my music, and my fantastic band. (pp)

LINK: Sue McCreeth website

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