PREVIEW: Beyond Cello Day II (Kings Place, March 12th 10.30am – 8.30pm)

Shirley Smart

Cellist SHIRLEY SMART previews the Beyond Cello Day II (Kings Place, March 12th 10.30am – 8.30pm)

As part of the Kings Place “Cello Unwrapped” Series, and in conjunction with the London Cello Society, Beyond Cello is a full day of workshops, talks and concerts celebrating the development of the cello in a variety of sphere’s outside of its usual classical role. Unlike its smaller relative, the violin, the cello has not established itself widely in jazz and world music traditions in quite same way. I have a theory about this – which is that this is almost entirely down to the fact that the violin is more portable and cheaper. At the same time, there is a growing number of cellists around the world who are slowly but surely creating a new voice for the instrument in a huge variety of ways. The Beyond Cello day is an exploration and celebration of some of the players here in the UK who are part of this development.

Ivan Hussey will be showcasing a new pizzicato technique that he has developed.
– Hannah Marshall is already known on the free jazz scene as a hugely inventive and interesting musician, so we are delighted that she will be giving a workshop and performing.
– Gregor Riddell will be playing with his recently recorded project Birdworld, which is a mixture of acoustic and electronics, with percussion provided by Adam Teixeira.
– Kate Shortt is one of the wackiest, and most versatile cellists in town – and she will be performing extracts from her ridiculously surreal and funny one-woman comedy show.

Each of these performers has a unique voice and direction that they have taken

I will also be performing with my trio – featuring John Crawford on piano and Demi Garcia Sabat on percussion. There are workshops all morning, and then 2 concerts. At 4pm, Ernst Reijseger and myself perform a full concert in Hall 2. At 7pm, there is a cabaret style performance featuring a short set from all of the above artists.

Beyond Cello also continues as a bi-weekly course run by myself on Tuesday evenings.

I do hope some of you will be able to join us in exploring the ever expanding world of the cello!!

LINKS: Kings Place Beyond Cello II
Beyond Cello Course 


CD REVIEW: Roger Garfitt (poet), Nikki Iles (composer) - In All My Holy Mountain

Roger Garfitt (poet), Nikki Iles (composer)-In All My Holy Mountain
(Restringing the Lyre. RTL 201601. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

The writer and poet Mary Webb (1881-1927) provides the common ground between Roger Garfitt’s poetry and Nikki Iles’ compositions, the words and music together showing each other in a new light. Iles was commissioned in 1998 by saxophonist John Williams, whose octet plays her music here. Garfitt weaves lines from Webb’s own writing into his own, as well as themes from her novels, and significant events in her life.

Westerly brings the atmosphere of Mary Webb’s Shropshire (where Garfitt also lives,) with its ‘dusting of blue.’ You may recognise the melody from Iles’ Printmakers’ Westerly album. In this new version, the flutes and clarinet echo the piano lines, with a pastoral trilling flute and lilting chords. The poem’s lines are like musical solos between the richly-textured ensemble passages. Karen Sharp’s resonant tenor solo and Dick Pearce’s plaintive, throaty flugelhorn drift in and out of the chords.

Trevor Tomkins’ delicate drumming accompanies the stanzas of Listening for the Sedge Warbler, the bird’s asymmetrical stepping (‘delicate as a moth’) enacted by the tumbling, boppish harmonies and exquisite recorder solo from Williams. Mary Webb and the bird are described in similar language (‘trailing wing of hair’) as she succumbs to illness; the music is slow and melancholy, and words and music are intertwined (Iles echoes the chaffinch’s song with piano notes.)

In Fatherless an elegiac bass clarinet accompanies the lines. Webb’s late father is described as part of nature; she:

‘…thought of the oaks

On Lyth Hill, old hulks

Roped with honeysuckle.’

The harmonised melody is deep-toned, with tense lines under the flute and piano. Dave Warren’s plangent guitar solo folds into Kenny Wheeler-esque backing lines.

The Wedding Breakfast opens with a summons from Pearce’s flugel, the ensemble playing as warm-toned as a brass band. The dance theme, like a folk song, (a reworking of Iles’ High Lands) is irresistibly uplifting as Mary (‘Miss Meredith of the Grange’) unexpectedly invites the poor of the village to her feast. A Latin groove emerges, with gorgeous layers of Wheeler-esque counter-melodies.

Slithery bass clarinet and rumbling mallets on toms open The Haunting. Free jazz evokes the chaos of war as Garfitt quotes from Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth. It’s a ‘sideways glance’ at Webb’s World War 1 novel, Gone to Earth. The language has an understated directness as the memory of the young soldiers haunts the village:

‘…who left the ghost-cuts

of their spades

in the potato patch…’

There’s a slow march of horns with a ghostly accordion, (Iles) and a heart-stopping moment as piano and bass come in with an urgency that expresses the poem’s imagery of hunting. Pete Hurt’s soprano solo is powerful over the driving folk-edged 6/8 groove, with Tom Mark’s thrumming bass.
The Part Song takes a theme from Webb’s novel Precious Bane, where the protagonist has been rejected by her lover. She imagines ‘all the women of the past murmuring in sympathy’. The sweet flute with darker harmonies alludes to Webb’s own bitter-sweet experience; you appreciate the sounds of the words spoken over just a resonant bass solo:

‘…the criss-cross

Of scripts, pairing like swifts

On the wing…’

Westerly recurs as a coda- a sense of completion.

The album repays many listenings; you see more as you get a sense of the narrative, and the way the poems’ images connect with the music. If you follow the poems in the CD booklet, where the lines are loosely grouped across the pages, you have a different experience from just absorbing yourself in the recording. ‘The librettist is only the springboard- it’s the composer who has to do the backflips and double somersaults,’ said Garfitt at one of their performances. This is a beautiful album which draws you in with intriguing poetry and luscious composition.

Roger Garfitt: poet; John Williams: director, baritone sax, bass clarinet, recorder; Dick Pearce: trumpet, flugelhorn; Pete Hurt: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Bob Sydor : tenor saxophone (1, 2), flute; Karen Sharp: tenor sax (1 solo, 3-6), clarinet; Nikki Iles: composer, piano, accordion; Dave Warren: guitar, violin; Tom Mark: bass; Trevor Tomkins: drums, percussion.


INTERVIEW: Jon Shenoy - Draw By Four Quartet - (Tour dates March to July

Jon Shenoy. Photo credit:© Frantzesco Kagaris

Saxophonist JON SHENOY's quartet "Draw By Four" is embarking on a 24-date UK tour (new dates are still being added) under another title with a visual art reference FRAMEWORK. There are also plans for an album. Questions by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Jon, for people who are not aware of you - where do you come from - where did you train as a musician what made you determined to make it your profession?

Jon Shenoy: Just like Lewis Hamilton I’m from that cultural mecca, Stevenage. It’s unsurprising that such an artistically rich town can keep producing motivated and successful individuals. Actually I went to school in Hitchin and kept Stevenage for skateboarding and buying CDs. After that, I went to Goldsmiths College, Uni of London followed by Guildhall School of Music & Drama where I studied saxophone on the jazz postgraduate course. Determination is certainly the right word, I just kept ploughing on and on with music, keeping my head down and working really hard after leaving the conservatoire. I’m not a natural musician by any means, and certainly not one of the jazz überkinder who turn up at the doors of jazz school already fully-formed. It’s just so fun when it’s going well, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. Also there’s an artists’ Wall Of Fame at the Stevenage Arts & Leisure Centre (formerly Gordon Craig Theatre) which I’m hoping to get on to one of these days.

LJN: You are in the bands of other people / where might LJN readers have heard you recently?

JS: I straddle opposite ends of the jazz spectrum; you’ll see me on the woodwind chair of Claire Martin’s Hollywood Romance (we did a few nights at Ronnie Scotts in January), Arthur Lea’s Bootleg Brass (wonderful New Orleans inspired neo-soul) and for a few years I was part of Ivo Neame’s wonderful octet. I do a lot big band work, appearing fairly regularly with the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band and Syd Lawrence Orchestras. All pretty different ensembles.

LJN: You play flute, clarinet & saxophone. Do you have a "main" horn?

JS: Saxophone I suppose, from a creative point of view anyway. It’s all I play in Draw By Four, and how refreshing is that - not dragging around all the plumbing to every gig! I love the discipline of the clarinets and the ‘perfection' of flute but sax is where it’s at. I do a lot of alto in big bands but tenor and soprano are my favourite horns.

LJN: You have booked in twenty - two dates for this tour. You must like touring, and be mightily persuasive!

JS: There’s actually still more dates dribbling in at the end of June actually, we’ll work up some real momentum with this many shows. I’ve never had that opportunity with any of my projects before, I’ve done enough touring on musicals to last me a lifetime but this’ll be totally different. I’ve got road maps ready, cultural itineraries prepared and pocket money for scotch eggs. I’m not sure I’m that persuasive, you should see how many venues didn’t want us. I’m probably quite annoying. Shenoying in fact. I just grind people down until they say yes.

LJN: Your parents are both involved in medicine but you have always been strongly (does that mean rebelliously?) drawn to the arts?

JS: No rebellion required whatsoever, they’re supportive to the very ends. In my family we have a mutual bewilderment of each others’ careers, which is quite a practical family dynamic. At school it was just novels, music and art. I’m far too selfish to do what my parents do, they’re the most unwaveringly selfless people I know.

LJN: And there is an artist connection in the family which means a lot to you personally?

JS: One of the paintings featured in the FRAMEWORK suite is by my late great-aunt Gill Holloway. She spent her lifetime painting and travelling, keeping diaries everywhere she went and constantly making sketches. I’m sad to say I never really knew her but she is part of a strong lineage of artistic women in my family starting with my great-grandmother who used to design for the William Morris company, down to my two sisters who are both artists. The other painters who inspired the music in the suite are JMW Turner and Winifred Knights, I thought it would be nice to honour Gill by making her work part of the process too.

LJN: And you were inspired by Tim Whitehead's "Turner and the Thames" project…

JS: Yes! I thought that was a really unique starting point for a composition - row yourself out to the site of an iconic painting, improvise to what you see, record it and build a composition out of it. Looking at a painting was a great way for me to start a piece of music, and hopefully it’s an alternative way for an audience member to get something out of the music. A demystifying way to connect with jazz perhaps.

LJN: And the visual connection is why you have called the tour and the prospective album Framework?

JS: That's right I wanted to convey above all the notion that each member of the quartet provides part of the frame within which a musical picture is formed. I like to think that the music, whilst being strongly rooted in lyricism and traditional forms has enough flexibility that we can swap musical rolls – providing backgrounds sometimes, subjects at other times. There’s a lot of improvising in the tunes but I like deconstructing the compositions in the rehearsals, making sure we know each other’s parts so that when we paint a picture together we’re all working from the same palette. This whole Framework thing was an opportunity to indulge myself in my love of art. I’ve chosen some paintings that I’ve seen at recent exhibitions by British painters and used them as inspiration for a suite of music. Where possible we’ll be projecting the artwork while we perform. I used to paint all the time when I was at school and probably would have chosen a career in art rather than music if only holding a paintbrush could have given me the same currency with girls as my Grade 7 merit on the clarinet then things may have turned out quite differently.

LJN: People will enjoy your promotional video - but if they are eagle-eyed, they will be also be noticing a few personnel changes in your quartet. Who has remained?

JS: My long-time pianistic collaborator and general lovely chap, Will Bartlett is still playing organ. I decided to keep myself in the band - for logistical reasons :)

LJN: And who is new?

JS: The ensemble took on a personnel change late last autumn with the arrival of Chris Draper on drums and Sam Dunn on guitar. Together they’ve brought a fantastic new energy to the music, fuelling the inertia of the group as we hurtle towards these forthcoming tour dates. I’ve been writing for this line-up for quite some time now but it wasn’t until recently that I thought I had the means to take the band around the country and show off the music. By this I mean that I’d finally gained ownership of the music and amassed the skills to lead an ensemble through the compositions. It’s one thing to put your tunes in front of other very capable musicians, it’s another thing to be able to really sing over them yourself and encapsulate the compositional processes in your playing.

Securing drummer Chris Draper to take the drum chair was a total result, him being so busy. I’d only really played with him a few times before but checked him out in Tim Thornton’s band and seem him at Ronnies. I asked him to do the tour with all my fingers and toes crossed and luckily he was really into the music and agreed. I’m really happy to have reconnected with (Sheffield-based) guitarist Sam Dunn - we went to college (Guildhall) together and were joint recipients of the spectacularly underwhelming Carlton Granberry award after scoring the joint highest mark in our recitals.

LJN: Organ trios / quartets why do you think they are so much "in" at the moment? And what is different about yours?

JS: Although the instrumental line-up is steeped in tradition, the idea was to write original compositions that took the format into new territory. There are strong rhythmic hooks, contrapuntal melodies, lots of lyricism, a bit of boogaloo and some really hectic stuff too. The only ‘standards’ we really play are covers of avant-pop songs. Introducing an organ-based band requires no defence these days whereas perhaps in the past you had to issue a disclaimer if you were going to play anything but a 60s soul-jazz set. These days there are so many interesting bands out there with an organ providing the sonic palette that it would be as presumptuous as watching a piano trio walk on stage and assuming you were automatically going to hear a set of swinging standards and nothing else. I personally love the sound of this band, the organ inhabits a wide sonic spectrum but it provides a beautifully complimentary harmonic cushion for the tenor saxophone and guitar, especially in the hands (and feet) of Will Bartlett.

LJN: Some influences you'd like to mention?

JS: The influences come from a wide range of places and it’s rather hard to distill them but I suppose there’s a nod towards the heavyweight tenor/organ bands led by Michael Brecker and Seamus Blake (impossible for any self-respecting saxophonist to ignore), the playfully cyclical writing of Dave Holland, a bit of Eddie Harris boogaloo, and indirectly some of Tim Berne’s brilliant music that straddles free playing and angular grooves. There’s definitely a cohesion to the sound we make, even if the influences span some listeners’ tastes.

LJN: You don't compose at the piano or straight into Sibelius how do you work and what does that imply for the way you write?

JS: I write almost everything from my horn which means I start with melodies or bass lines first before I get obsessed with harmony and chords. It takes a little longer but it really helps me to weave a picture together, starting with the outlines before I block the colours in. That’s kind of where the name of the band came from, this idea that we were all connected by something linear.

LJN: How would you describe this stage of your life?

JS: I’m 35, it’s an age perhaps when you start looking at the world through a different lens, wondering why you’ve turned out the way you have, wondering which features you share within your family and which mark you out as an individual. It may be that my Great-aunt's artistic urges came from the same place as the creative impulses that I share with my sisters and that’s something worth exploring.

LJN: And there is going to be an album too?

JS: Yes, plans are to have something ready by the end of the autumn. Which will probably mean we should go on tour to sell a few. (pp)

Draw By Four 2017 FRAMEWORK Tour

Thu 2nd Bulls Head, Barnes, London SW13 9PY
Tue 7th The Stables, Milton Keynes MK17 8LU
Wed 8th Olivers, Greenwich, London SE10 9JL

Sat 8th Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec, Elephant & Castle, London SE11 4RN
Tue 18th Parr Jazz, Liverpool L1 9BX
Wed 19th Matt n Phreds, Manchester M4 1LW
Thu 20th Davenham Theatre, Northwich CW9 8NF
Fri 21st Bebop Club, Bristol BS8 4SF
Sun 23rd Ashburton Live, Devon TQ13 7DD
Mon 24th Clifford Arms, Devon TQ14 0DE
Tue 25th St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall TR26 2LU
Wed 26th Swing Unlimited, Bournemouth BH22 8SQ
Sun 30th Southampton Modern Jazz Club SO15 2BN

Mon 1st Pizza Express, Soho, London W1D 3RW
Wed 3rd Butterfly & Pig, Glasgow G2 4SQ
Thu 4th Blue Lamp, Aberdeen AB25 1BU
Fri 5th Jazz Bar, Edinburgh EH1 1HR
Sun 21st Herts Jazz, Welwyn AL8 6BX

Sun 25th Jazz East Felixstowe IP11 2AF
Mon 26th Bexley Jazz, Kent DA5 1AA
Fri 30th Verdict, Brighton BN2 0JB

July Mon 3rd Ronnie Scotts (Late Show), Soho, London W1D 4HD
Tues 4th Spotted Dog, Birmingham B12 0NH
Thu 6th Spin Jazz, Oxford OX1 4DFD



REVIEW: Tanita Tikaram at the Barbican

Tanita Tikaram

Tanita Tikaram
(Barbican, 24th February, Review by Rob Edgar)

A Tanita Tikaram concert is something of a rarity, and with confirmation via Twitter of a viral infection, tensions had been high in the run-up to Friday’s concert as to whether it would in fact go ahead. The relief, coupled with the fact that this was a one-off gig, meant the excitement in the hall was palpable. I overheard a couple on the way in who had come all the way from California just for this.

Tikaram has amassed an intriguing combination of musicians: towards the beginning of the set - a mixture of older classics like Twist in My Sobriety and songs from her newest release Closer to the People - we could have been listening to something from ECM’s New Series, such was the ethereal, reedy texture from accordionist Bartosz Glowacki, and saxophonist Martin Winning underpinning Tikaram’s famously husky voice.

Any expectations that Tikaram’s recent wanderings into a jazzier idiom would colour her performance of her back-catalogue proved unfounded. World Outside Your Window, from her debut album sounded much the same as it did on its release, but upped the energy levels, and was the first tune to feature the full band. The musicians have clearly been given some space to breathe and add their personal stamp however. Valentine Heart (“It’s about love, but a teenage idea of love” -Tikaram), was slightly schmaltzy and naïve, but guitarist Bryan Day - who moved to the piano - provided some biting bitonal harmonies over Tanita’s guitar. Drummer Alessandro Cinelli who is a recent addition proved himself an excellent timekeeper but with just a hint of swing to add some extra spice to Dust on My Shoes, and Winning was able to showcase some versatile sax playing on Food On my Table.

The highlight was probably painter James Mayhew who joined the band for Cathedral Song and Glass Love Train, painting pictures in real time along with the music. Mayhew seemed to follow the rhythm with his brush strokes and perfectly mirrored the music’s growing intensity on the canvas to the point where a single tear was added to the depiction of an angel at the last chord of Cathedral Song on the words “take my life”.

The paintings were later auctioned off for one of Ian Shaw’s beneficiaries, Side by Side with Refugees. Shaw joined Tikaram towards the end of the set and was typically brilliant, but a little low in the mix and - unusually for him - couldn’t quite cut through.

In fact, if I had to offer a criticism it would be that the music perhaps wasn’t suited to a venue the size of the Barbican, and would have been much more at home in a smaller venue. No one on stage seemed to be able to fully relax into the music until the first encoreI Think of You although considering the two standing ovations they received, nobody else seemed to mind.


PREVIEW: Julian Siegel Big Band Tour (March 14th -19th)

Julian Siegel. Photo credit: Maarit Kytoharju

Nottingham-born Saxophonist JULIAN SIEGEL is about to embark on a six-date big band tour, starting in Leicester on March 14th and ending in Birmingham on March 19th. He talked about the background to "one of the major highlights of this year’s jazz calendar" to Dan Paton:

There is a moment during our conversation when it suddenly seems to dawn on Julian Siegel that his Jazz Orchestra project, a colossal undertaking, is actually a reality. ‘I’m really thrilled that it’s happening. I can’t wait. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.’ Indeed, the acclaimed saxophonist and composer has been quietly planning to arrange and compose for a larger ensemble for some time. Jazz Action, Jazz North East and the Voice of the North Orchestra commissioned Siegel for a performance at The Sage in Gateshead in 2012 (sharing the concert with John Warren). Some education projects, including an event with the Guildhall Jazz Band at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2014 also afforded him some initial opportunities to try out ideas. Now, some five years on from the Gateshead project, Siegel has not only assembled his own Jazz Orchestra but is taking it out on the road for six gigs across the country in March. These include a show at Ronnie Scott’s with Nick Smart’s Black Eyed Dog as part of Jazzwise magazine’s 20th birthday celebrations and a concert for the promoters Derby Jazz (who, along with EmJazz and Arts Council England, have provided invaluable support for the Orchestra).

In discussing what must be a significant and exciting new step in his career, Siegel is both admirably humble and passionately enthusiastic. Describing the project as a ‘great opportunity’ and a ‘challenge’, he also seems to consider it a natural progression from his experience playing in such ensembles: ‘I’m lucky enough to have been asked to play in some really exciting projects. The thing in those situations is to make sure you play the tenor part as well as you can! Don’t mess up! But then you start to get curious about how things are put together.’ For Siegel, writing for a larger ensemble is clearly inspiring in part because of the ‘colours and combinations of instruments you can write for’, but he also emphasises the importance of the specific group of people he has brought together.

So did he have particular musicians in mind at the outset of the process? ‘Yes definitely’, he says. ‘There’s a real history with everyone in the band.’ The band’s rhythm section features the three other members of Siegel’s quartet (pianist Liam Noble, bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo), but the other musical relationships are often longstanding too. ‘Jason Yarde, Harry Brown and I have been working in horn sections over the last few years with artists including Terri Walker, Keziah Jones and Tindersticks. I first met Gemma Moore working on Such Sweet Thunder, a project with Colin Towns and the Birmingham Royal Ballet - she’s a fantastic musician. I met Richard Henry working with NYJO and then continued working with him in Django Bates’ Delightful Precipice. I met Claus Stoetter again working with Colin Towns and the NDR Big Band and we were lucky to be able to invite Claus to come over. Especially in these times, it’s vital to keep these European connections going.’ Of the music he has written for the project, which includes re-imagining of music originally written for his quartet or for Partisans and a new commission from Derby Jazz, Siegel says ‘I’ve been writing all this with these musicians in mind - I can really hear Stan (Sulzmann), Jason (Yarde) and Henry (Lowther) on it already. I just hope the writing doesn’t get in the way too much!’

Whilst Siegel is partially joking here, it’s interesting that he should mention this. He claims never to have had formal training in composition and educators often highlight the importance of not over-writing when working with larger groups. ‘Look at the great big band writers like Ellington and Basie’, Siegel enthuses. ‘There’s so much space! It’s important to know when to stop writing.’ Without formal training as such, how did Siegel prepare himself for his own creative ventures in this field? Of course, his playing experience must have been a significant source of both information and inspiration, but Siegel is also naturally inquisitive. ‘I said I didn’t have any lessons, but I certainly asked questions.

There were some formative experiences being on the other side of the process. I worked on a project with Stan Sulzmann’s music with the Postgraduate Ensemble big band at Trinity Laban. I was doing the carving (conducting and rehearsing the band with Sulzmann as featured soloist). As well as playing Stan's lovely charts, it was great just to see the clarity of the scores. Later, I had a two hour phone conversation with Stan and he was full of great advice on things like layout; how to physically set out the page. He also advised on techniques that might support the music - like sometimes doubling a high part down an octave on another instrument for example. He never said “those notes are wrong” or anything like that, and I’ve tried to do my own thing, but it was really helpful to have someone talk over the actual writing process. I want to give the band charts that are easy to work with.’ Siegel also remembers some more demystifying advice from the great Mike Gibbs. 'I asked Mike how he writes and he said “well, I get up in the morning and have breakfast, and then I start to work” - like a job. You have to allow yourself time to write without too much pressure of the deadline. But a deadline certainly focuses the mind! ’

Indeed, Siegel must be delighted that this project has allowed him so much space and freedom. By involving Nick Smart, the head of the jazz course at the Royal Academy of Music and a highly experienced bandleader, Siegel has absolved himself of physical leadership duties on stage, and can instead be a featured performer and soloist on his own music. ‘I think it was a good move’, he says. ‘Now I can focus on the important things - like finding a reed - the eternal quest!’ Again, this is a half joke, but the opportunity to organise and write for a large ensemble whilst also being permitted the space to be ‘in the zone’ as a performing musician is exceedingly rare.

There have been commissions of individual big band pieces. Siegel is grateful for the spur from NYJO to write a piece Mama Badgers which appeared on their anniversary album 'NYJO 50' (Whirlwind ) in 2015 (SOUND LINK).

That was a step on the way, but it seems that the Derby Jazz commission provided the real spark that transformed the Julian Siegel Jazz Orchestra from being a noble creative aspiration to being a practical reality. ‘I’m massively grateful for the help Geoff Wright and Derby Jazz have given me’, Siegel says. ‘Geoff suggested the idea of going for this funding and when it happened, it was - wow, this could actually work!’ The piece that has emerged from the commission, Tales From The Jacquard, transpires to be both a fascinating investigation in to the industrial traditions of the Midlands and exceedingly personal. Siegel grew up in Nottingham, where his father, originally from Poland, settled after WW2. He found work in the thriving Nottingham lace trade lace, eventually starting his own business in the 1950's. Julian’s parents and family ran a lace manufacturing business in Nottingham’s lace market for 50 years. As part of researching this project, Siegel returned to a nearby factory. ‘There’s a friend of my sister’s, Charles Mason’, he explains. ‘He is the director of a company called Cluny Lace and I was fortunate to get a couple of day passes to the factory. This brought back a load of memories, just being around those machines - they are amazing things!’

Siegel has written a two-part blog post (PART ONE / PART TWO) exploring how the sound of the factories inspired his music. Did he actually record and transcribe the rhythms of the machines? It seems that he did. ‘The combination of them working together, and then the different patterns from the different parts of the machines. Then there’s the actual Jacquard machine itself, which is separate and has its own rhythm and groove.’ This seemed to parallel Siegel’s thoughts about the music that filled his home growing up. ‘My parents were Ellington and Basie nuts! And my mum still is to this day. Just thinking about the great tenor players in those bands - people like 'Lockjaw' Davis, who was my Dad’s favourite, he still sounds really hip! It’s like he had his own way around the changes. My Dad had also been a singer back in Poland. He would always say he wanted to conduct the machines in the factory, so he had heard a lot of music in the sound of them too.’ The Jacquard itself is apparently like a punch card, with the original freehand design first being converted to a figure sheet before being transferred to the card. ‘Without getting too technical’, Siegel says, ‘the card generated some unexpected ideas to me.’ These came not only in the form of rhythms, but also through melody. ‘Each line of the card has a value’, he explains, ‘and I started to think of them as the twelfth, or the fifteenth above the root. Then they would create chords. I tried not to get too bogged down in the maths - I wanted to use my ear too, and get a feeling of 'swing' in the music too.’ Combining social, family and musical history in this way would appear to make this an adroit, fascinating and uniquely personal endeavour. Siegel’s music, so often rhythmically intricate but also joyful, would seem like an ideal vehicle for exploring these ideas and inspirations.

So, beyond the Jazz Orchestra tour, what is next for Siegel? It seems that 2017 will be an eventful and hectic year. His quartet will be recording a new album imminently, planned for release on Whirlwind Recordings in the Autumn. They are also travelling to the jazzahead! conference in Bremen as a showcase act. ‘I’m really pleased about that’, Siegel says. ‘Of course the UK scene is thriving but we really have to keep our connection with the European scene’. Does he have any plans for the Jazz Orchestra to make a recording? ‘Radio 3 are going to record one of the gigs on the tour, so keep an ear out for that’, he says first. ‘In terms of going in to the studio, I’d love to do it but it wasn’t going to happen this time. I’d like it to be the next thing.’ In fact, he sounds increasingly assured and determined. ‘It will happen at some point. It’s just a question of when.’ In the meantime, this debut tour from a laudably ambitious and bold project looks set to be one of the major highlights of this year’s jazz calendar. (pp)


Tues March 14th Leicester, Leics The Venue
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £12 NUS/Under 18/DMU students/staff £5. Box office: 0116 255 1551. Address: De Montfort University, Western Boulevard. Venue phone: 0116 255 1551.

Weds March 15th Nottingham, Nottinghamshire Lakeside Arts Centre, Djanogly Theatre
Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £16.50/£14.50 Conc/£11 res view/£8 students. Box office: 0115 846 7777. Address: University Park. Venue phone: 0115 846 7777.

Thurs March 16th London Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club
Time: 8:45pm. Admission: £25-42.50. Box office: 020 7439 0747. Address: 47 Frith Street. Venue phone: 020 7439 0747. This is a double bill with Nick Smart’s Black Eyed Dog – Remembering Nick Drake as part of the Jazzwise 20th Anniversary Special week of gigs at Ronnie Scott’s.

Fri March 17th Lincoln Terry O’Toole Theatre
 Time: 8:45pm. Box office: 01522 883311. Address: North Kesteven Centre, Moor Lane, North Hykenham. Venue phone: 01522 883311.

Sat March 18th Derby Guildhall Theatre
Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £16/£11 concessions. Box office: 01332 255800. Address: 8A Market Place. Venue phone: 01332 255800.

03/19/17 Birmingham Birmingham Town Hall
Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £18. Box office: 0121 780 3333. Address: Victoria Square. Venue phone: 0121 780 3333


Saxes / Clarinets / Compositions / Arrangements: Julian Siegel

Conductor: Nick Smart

Trumpets Tom Walsh, Percy Pursglove, Henry Lowther, Claus Stoetter

Saxophones: Mike Chillingworth, Jason Yarde, Stan Sulzmann, Tori Freestone, Gemma Moore

Trombones: Mark Nightingale, Trevor Mires, Harry Brown, Richard Henry

Guitar: Mike Outram
Piano : Liam Noble
Double and Electric Bass: Oli Hayhurst
Drums: Gene Calderazzo

The tour is produced by Derby Jazz, and is supported by Arts Council England and EMJazz
Full tour details and biography of Julian Siegel at Right Tempo Agency


INTERVIEW: John Harle - Part One (New Book The Saxophone, Faber Music - published on March 15th)

JOHN HARLE is an internationally renowned saxophonist with an impressive back catalogue of projects from classical to pop. John Tavener, Michael Nyman, Gavin Bryars and Sir Harrison Birtwistle have all dedicated works to him , and he has also worked with Elvis Costello, Marc Almond, Herbie Hancock and Sir Paul McCartney. He is also the composer of over 100 film and TV scores and 50 concert works.

He is about to publish a major two-volume work about the instrument "The Saxophone" (Faber Music). In this first part of a two-part interview Sebastian asked him about the origins and the scope of this new book:

LondonJazz News: This in-depth book has clearly been a long time in the making. How did the process of writing it start?

John Harle: I’ve always taught the saxophone, but the older I get, the more ordered and methodical I’ve become. The book began by my writing a series of ‘worksheets’ on various aspects of playing for my students - embouchure, breath support, resonance, etc. These ‘worksheets’ were practical exercises with the theories behind the exercises explained. As I did more and more of those, I saw that they formed a kind of continuity, and from that I imagined a whole method for the saxophone. As the book took shape it became more complicated than that (of course) and eventually took me six years of work to complete.

At various times I took breaks from it and went back and re-wrote and re-ordered lots of it so it had more flow. If I’d really known how much work it was going to be I’m not sure I’d have ever started it! - but once it had a basic structure, the book seemed to create a momentum of its own. Even when I’d finished the final rough draft, six months of work followed that with two marvellous editors at Faber who brought a fresh perspective and challenged me to be as clear and logical as possible.

LJN: Has the process of thinking about and writing this book changed your perspective?

JH: I suppose that I feel like I’ve got to the end of a long road, but that I have hopefully done something that will be popular and help people. There isn’t much material about how to play and perform out there, and I did feel a need to lay out some principles of playing that hadn’t been articulated in the same way before, but to do it in a way that was engaging, easy to read and fun! Choosing images for the book was like an enjoyable hobby - there’s some great vintage saxophone images in there. It brings closure to an extent as well - ordering my thoughts in this way has allowed me to relax a little, but I’m not sure that it hasn’t also encouraged some of my more OCD and obsessive characteristics to flourish...

Alongside writing the book, I analysed my own playing in a a depth I’d not done before so that I could be sure everything in the book worked without question. The ethos behind it all is about being able to play with a good sound that’s absolutely in-tune whilst being as relaxed as possible - so that you can think about music as you perform, rather than struggle with the saxophone itself, and that takes a lot of analysis. In doing that, I simply encountered the universal truths about the saxophone - how the reed vibrates, where to direct your breath and how to make a powerful sound without pushing too hard - that sort of thing. And those principles are of course common to all types of players - jazz, classical or pop.

I suppose one of the tensest moments was when I sent the first completed version of the book out for comments to players whom I deeply respect, but I felt truly validated in the work on hearing back from Branford Marsalis, Claude Delangle, Tommy Smith and Snake Davis - this was a lovely moment. In a world that is quite isolationist, to have full support for your work from the people you deeply respect is satisfying and humbling.

LJN: Who is the book really aimed at?

JH: When the first sample book arrived from Faber about three weeks ago I was so thrilled by its feel and appearance I convinced myself that anyone would want to buy it! How could you not? But this is a biased opinion. The fact is that the book lays out how to play the saxophone from the very beginning to a virtuosic level, but it moves at a pace that’s probably just a bit too fast for absolute beginners. So anyone from around ABRSM Grade 3 will find something for themselves in the book and although I suggest that it’s worked through as a continuous method, I’m certain that advanced players will dip in and out of it and take what they want. So it probably works in two ways - as a full method and also as a reference book.

LJN: You have some individual concepts about [tone production/resonance/breathing] such as “The Reed Fan” and “Cathedral of Resonance”. Can you give us some clues... or do we have to buy the book?

JH: These individual concepts are my articulations of playing principles that everyone feels as they play, and I suppose what I have done is to express these principles in a new way that is as clear as possible. The titles you mention are of course my way of giving each of these principles a memorable “concept” so that they can be worked at in further depth without wondering what they actually are. So maybe the titles give these areas of work a mystique they haven’t had before, but I think that’s a good thing! The Reed Fan is a visualistion of the angles at which the reed vibrates, and The Cathedral of Resonance is about where the different registers of the saxophone vibrate in the player’s skull. If you want to see some of this in more depth I’ve put some extracts from the book on my website. (LINK)

LJN: Which other books from the past do you consider the most important in elucidating the essence of what the instrument is about?

JH: It’s interesting that there hasn’t been a full method of basic playing principles for the saxophone since Larry Teal’s The Art of Saxophone Playing in 1960.

There’s been quite a disarray in the teaching of the saxophone since it started to be taught by players who were primarily clarinet players, mostly from the 1950s onwards in the post dance- band era. The connections between the clarinet and the saxophone more or less end at the fact that they’re single reed instruments, and this has caused quite a lot of confusion. Prior to this, the great period of true saxophone specialist books was from the 1900s and 1920s with Otto Langey’s Complete Method and Rudy Wiedoeft’s Secrets of Staccato, which is sadly out of print. Onwards from that the key book is really quite unknown - Kenneth Douse’s How to Double and Triple Staccato which is also out of print. Sigurd Rascher, Donald Sinta and Eugene Rousseau’s books on Voicing are also key works, but of course only cover one aspect of playing - the use of the overtone series to develop intonation and altissimo (very high) notes. It was this patchy history of methods for the saxophone that was one of my main reasons for writing my book as a full method. (pp)

LINKS: Milton Court launch event on 17th March
The Saxophone is published by Faber Music on 15th March. PRE-ORDERS HERE 
(LIST) of works dedicated to John Harle


CD REVIEW: Roberto Fonseca - Abuc

Roberto Fonseca - Abuc 
(Impulse. CD Review by John L. Walters)

Roberto Fonseca is a talented and original Cuban jazz pianist, but as a recording artist he is much more. Through the eight CDs he has made under his own name he has demonstrated an interest in making albums that are fun, melodic and accessible. Yet at the same time, these releases are musically credible and demonstrate his fine chops. He is also ‘accessible’ to jazz fans. To my mind, this puts him in a special (and rare) category of performer-record producer. There are plenty of good jazz artists out there who don’t make really coherent, produced records – often deliberately, because they want to make a ‘calling card’ recording that reflects their gigs. But for those of us who grew to love jazz through deliberately well produced classic albums – Tijuana Moods, New Orleans Suite, Have A Little Faith – the emergence of newer artists prepared to step up to this bar is a cause for celebration.

Though he first came to prominence via a world tour by Buena Vista Social Club artists, Fonseca is from a different generation. Born in 1975, he stepped into the shoes of Rubén González after the diminutive octogenarian pianist died late in 2003. On the night I first witnessed Fonseca, with Ibrahim Ferrer and co. at the Barbican Concert Hall, he brought the house down with a bravura piano solo, structured like a composition, and leading to a devastatingly virtuosic finale.

Fonseca’s debut Zamazu (2007) proved that he could embrace anything from traditional Cuban, through fusion, to authentic jazz, and that he had the hard-won technique – and the tunes – to do it with ease. His collaborations with DJs such as Gilles Peterson kora players such as Sekou Kouyaté, Baba Sissoko and Cherif Soumano have showed sides to his personality that are both empathetic and adventurous. For the new album Fonseca has collaborated with several co-producers, notably Daniel Florestano and Count (aka Mikael Eldridge), who did the superb mix.

Abuc (Cuba spelled backwards), his eighth album, is a bold, brash offering for the age of iTunes – as varied as a compilation album, but united by Fonseca’s strong personality. There’s a substantial jazz element, opening and closing with versions of Ray Bryant’s 1950s classic Cubano Chant, but Fonseca sticks his neck out beyond jazz to explore what he can do with Cuban rhythms and textures, composing some potential classics of his own en route. The extravagantly collaged Afro Mambo (on YouTube)), featuring vocalists Daymé Arocena and Carlos Calunga, is non-stop stop-go fun, while Tumbao De La Unidad (on YouTube), a collaboration with veteran guitarist / vocalist Eliades Ochoa, sounds like the hallucinated remix of a lost track from the Buena Vista Club sessions. Contradanza Del Espíritu (YouTube) revisits Fonseca’s contrapuntal, classical instincts (present since his debut album), with subtle, emotional drumming from Ramsés “Dynamite” Rodríguez. Tierra Santa is a rollicking horn-led instrumental, reprised three tracks later in a brief ‘street band’ version, Tierra Santa Santiago De Cuba. Sagrado Corazón is a stately anthem that demonstrates Fonseca’s skill in playing a simple, heartfelt theme.

The magnificent old-school organ groove of Family (featuring Rafael Lay Bravo and Roberto Espinosa Rodríguez from Orquesta Aragón) digs deep into your brain, with an engaging hook and gleeful horns. Habanera (YouTube) features a wordless vocal from an uncredited soprano, and floats over a subtle rhythm track with a resonant riff played by bassist Randy Martínez Rodríguez. The track is more than halfway through before Fonseca eases into a sublime solo that put me in mind of Ahmad Jamal, and Danilo Perez (in his calmer moments). Fonseca could make a whole, smooth-running album of this kind of intelligent lounge, but his producer’s brain sequences Abuc so that each track changes the pace. From Habanera we swing into the sneaky groove of Soul Guardians, featuring Obsesién rapper Alexey Rodríguez Mola (‘gracias por la música’), followed by the energetic Asere Monina Bonco, with prominent flute and percussion.

As the album nears its conclusion, Fonseca pulls a new from his sleeve, and it’s a heart – the gorgeous Después, co-written by Mercedes Cortes and made even more heart-tuggingly sentimental by the trumpet of Buena Vista veteran Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal. The mysterious Velas Y Flores follows, establishing yet another mood before Fonseca concludes his magnificent album with the wry calm of a solo piano Cubano Chant. Which means you are set to listen to Abuc all over again.

 LINKS: JLW review of Havana Cultura in the Guardian,  
JLW review of La Linea festival including Fonseca for London Jazz News  
JLW ‘First sight’ column about Fonseca in 2007

Roberto Fonseca will be performing at the Barbican in London on March 13 2017. (BOOKING)


FILM REVIEW: Junun (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, with Jonny Greenwood)

Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood, Nigel Godrich, and the Rajasthan Express.

(The Bertha Dochouse, showings until 2nd March. Film Review by Sorana Santos)

In a romantically conceived film that blurs the lines between documentary, music video, and ethnographic film, director Paul Thomas Anderson delicately frames Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s contribution to the realisation of Israeli composer Shye Ben Tzur’s album with the Rajastan Express band, as they record his third album, Junun, in Mahrangargh, a stunning 15th century fort donated by the Maharaja of Jodhpur for the project.

Anderson’s deep respect for the creative process underpins Junun with a dignified impartiality of a true ethnographer, and while his awareness of the demands and potential of technology are finely tuned, he cares deeply about stories, about communication, and the urgent desires of being human. Junun sees him effortlessly sculpt an alternative approach to documenting music-making, creating intrigue via a gradual reveal of moments that place you at the heart of the creative process, subtle portrayals of daily life, micro-portraits of the musicians, and aerial panoramic landscapes shot using Radiohead producer and Junun engineer Nigel Godrich’s drone.

With creative dynamics and character profiles kept to a minimum, the driving rhythms and rousing melodic lines of Shye Ben Tzur’s devotional Sufi Qawwali’s, and the Rajasthan Express’ realisation of these works are given a rightful spotlight, with moving performances of heart-stopping intimacy between the musicians and their bandleader at the fore. Shye Ben Tzur’s combination of music and languages not usually performed together (Qawwali, Manganiar court music, and a Rajasthani brass band, sung in Uddu, Hebrew, and Hindi) is one of the keys to his work, and his selection of collaborators defines who he is and what can be achieved.

Jonny Greenwood’s contributions on guitar, bass, keyboards, ondes martenot, and programming, provide a balanced and complementary addition to the group, which is at once inimitably Greenwood yet supportive to the composer’s overall direction. This highlights Greenwood’s commendable intention to create a true collaboration with Ben Tzur from the outset, and enable him to realise his compositional goals.

Greenwood’s approach is a good fit to that of long-time collaborator Anderson, and together they form lasting creative, cultural, and personal takeaways from the carefully chosen impressions and subtle deliveries of their respective crafts, all-in-all showcasing the essential listening that is Junun’s music.

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Music by: Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood, and the Rajastan Express
Running time: 54 minutes

Junun runs at The Bertha Dochouse (Curzon Bloomsbury,The Brunswick,London WC1N 1AW) until Thursday 2nd March. (DETAILS OF SCREENINGS))
The band will open for Radiohead at Dublin’s Arena, June 30th, and the Manchester Arena on the 4th and 5th July.


NEWS: First Shows announced for 25th EFG London Jazz Festival (November 10th - 19th)

The first shows in the 25th EFG London Jazz Festival (November 10th - 19th) are announced and will shortly be on sale:

JAZZ VOICE (tenth anniversary show)
Friday 10 November, Royal Festival Hall

AN EVENING WITH PAT METHENY (Quartet with Gwilym Simcock, Linda Oh, Antonio Sanchez
Friday 10 November, Barbican

AVERAGE WHITE BAND + LASHARVU (LaDonna Harley Peters, Sharlene Hector and Vula Malinga)
Saturday 11 November, Royal Festival Hall

PHRONESIS & ENGINES ORCHESTRA (new work by Dave Maric)
Sunday 12 November, Milton Court

Sunday 12 November, Royal Festival Hall

JAZZ REPERTORY COMPANY - 1957: A Jazz Jukebox,
Sunday 12 November, Cadogan Hall.

Monday 13 November, Royal Festival Hall

Tuesday 14 November, Royal Festival Hall

Friday 17 November, Royal Festival Hall

CARMINHO SINGS JOBIM (with Jaques Morelenbaum)
Friday 17 November, Barbican

Sunday 19th November, Barbican


CD REVIEW: Daniel Herskedal – The Roc

Daniel Herskedal – The Roc
(Edition Records. CD review by Henning Bolte)

A few years ago Norwegian tuba player Daniel Herskedal boarded a slow train which was to take him eastbound. And listening to his latest album Roc where he alternates between tuba and bass trumpet, one has the impression that the train is still rolling on, and that his journey on it continues. Roc, رخ (ruḵḵ), is the name of a gigantic bird from the tales of The Thousand and One Nights, a mythical figure. The roc is present in two tales involving Abd al-Rahman, and two involving Sinbad, the seafarer. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo also mentions the gigantic bird in his Book of Travels. The album can be considered as an in-depth musical travelogue wandering around places, legends, sayings, rhythms and maqamat, the Middle Eastern tonal spaces respectively melodic modes. A few names of those appear in the title of tracks 4 and 5. Herskedal does it all with a small but high profile and deeply attuned Norwegian-Swedish crew of two outstanding string players, Svante Henryson on cello and Bergmund Waalskaslien on viola, well-known pianist and label mate Eyolf Dale and percussion heavyweight Helge Andreas Norbakken, who recently joined Edition as well.

The tuba player might normally seem consigned a grounding, accompanying role. However a (growing) set of excellent European tuba players have surpassed this restricted role and have grown into a role of outstanding soloists, or even ensemble leaders. The names of Michel Godard, Oren Marshall, Michel Massot, Niels van Heertum, Kristian Tandvik come to mind,as do North American counterparts such as Howard Johnson, Joe Daly, Bob Stewart and Dave Bargeron. Daniel Herskedal is a force to be reckoned with in this context. With his oriental approach he follows in the footsteps of predecessors like 3 Mustaphas 3, L’Attirail, the Moroccan-Norwegian Siwan project of Amina Alaoui and Jon Balke and especially the music of Lebanese ûd master Rabih Abou-Khalil. In the music of Rabih Abou-Khalil which emerged in the early nineties the tuba (and serpent) of Michel Godard played a crucial role. Thus tuba plus strings and: percussion. The music of Rabih Abou-Khalil marked a turn-around and new perspective of the entanglement of elements and structures of oriental and occidental music, especially in its rhythmic foundation and the way it develops.

The lush tonal colours of The Roc, the solid interaction and the confluence of the dark brass and the strings – viola and bass trumpet, tuba and cello - within the orchestral arrangements are amazing and delicious. The second track, which gives the album its title, is already a high point coming in with a heavy deep groove, vigorous percussion and acute soloing. Through the whole album Herskedal counterbalances the dynamics in a masterful way. Wild and heavily firing pieces are followed by more legato, sparkling pieces. The Roc is followed by the long unfolding lines of the spatial and soulful Eternal Sunshine Creates A Desert. Brass and bowed strings flow together here brilliantly. Interestingly enough this is the most ‘Scandinavian sounding’ piece. Kurd, Bayat, Nahawand To Kurd, the next piece, starts with very light pizzicato on the viola and bass lines on the cello before the viola takes the lead with yearning lines. The two strings constantly switch to the unison backing lines thereby emulating the stretching and magnifying effect of oriental orchestras. Its open ending leads into two more deeply oriental pieces, Hijaz Train Station and Thurayya Railways. Hijaz Train Station starts from a mysterious bass drone permeated by blurred patches of higher tones resembling the sound of the oriental kemence fiddle. As it progresses, it evokes a deep miraculous space with an arcane shimmer on the horizon.

Thurayya Railways has both, a heavy and violently fluttering rhythm, made more effective by the piano alternating with yearning strings and brass. After that the demons are lurking in The Afrit. The Afrit or The Ifrit is a powerful winged demon of fire, born from blood. It is said to rise like a dark vapour from the blood of victims of murder. Hence the music is lugubrious here with an abrupt, sudden stop causing a silence that is broken by the rough cello intro of the next piece, There Are Three Things You Cannot Hide …. After a while it reveals as an Arabian tango. Followed by the lighter The Krøderen Line referring to a historic railway line 80 km west of Oslo at the Tyrifjord, the album concludes with the elegiac, cinematic All That Happened, Happened As Fate Willed.

The Roc is a deep and richly flavoured album that packs a punch.


CD REVIEW: Duncan Lamont Big Band featuring Kenny Wheeler – As If by Magic

Duncan Lamont Big Band featuring Kenny Wheeler – As If by Magic
(Jellymould Jazz. JM-JJ025. CD review by Andrew Cartmel)

Clare Teal’s Sunday night program on BBC Radio 2 featured an interview last autumn with Duncan Lamont, alerting listeners to the existence of the Mr Benn Big Band project, and providing some tantalising examples of their music, which had been recorded back in 2011. With the release of the material on CD this terrific venture can at last be properly appreciated.

Mr Benn& was a kids’ cartoon broadcast by the BBC in the early 1970s. It was based on the children’s books by David McKee and featured music by ‘Don Warren’ — a pseudonym for Duncan Lamont. McKee himself invited Lamont to create the score for the show, and those original sessions nearly fifty years ago employed eight musicians including Kenny Wheeler. In the intervening decades David McKee and Duncan Lamont remained friends and kept in touch. And when McKee attended one of Lamont’s big band gigs, which included a theme based on a Mr Benn cue, McKee conceived the idea of a big band album of the music from the show.

David McKee heroically pushed this project forward and made it happen, and even funded the big band recording session in December 2011 out of his own pocket. Since then it’s taken some considerable time for the material to achieve a commercial release, but now that it’s here there is sizable cause for rejoicing. The eighteen piece band consists of four trumpets, four trombones, five saxes and Kenny Wheeler guesting on flugelhorn. The pianist is Brian Dee, Chris Laurence plays bass, Ralph Salmins is on drums and Frank Ricotti plays xylophone, vibes and percussion. All the tracks are written by Duncan Lamont (Senior — Duncan Lamont Junior is in the sax section).

The album begins with Mr Benn, a classic cartoon theme with a warm and agreeably crowded sound. Conjuring animated antecedents and in keeping with everything from The Simpsons to The Flintstones, the piece is ably underscored by Andy Wood’s melodious trombone.

As if by Magic… opens with Brian Dee’s springboard piano and Andy Panayi’s piccolo evoking a Red Indian dance. The skeleton-scampering of Frank Ricotti’s xylophone closely echoes the horn section, then breaks away from them at intervals, in a bristling, addictive, inventive arrangement that features Jimmy Hastings’s husky tenor sax and some brief but beautifully judged piano by Brian Dee. The Dragon’s Tale has a graceful and stately pace, with Martin Shaw’s trumpet leading the way into uncharted territory.

But The Balloonist may well be the loveliest interlude here. Its solemn see-sawing theme provides an elegant setting for Paul Jones’s gorgeous alto solo; Ralph Salmins’s drumming is taut and warm. Brian Dee’s articulate piano and Andy Panayi’s ethereal flute are also outstanding. On this track Frank Ricotti’s xylophone is strikingly different to his performance on As if by Magic…, fuller and richer, and Kenny Wheeler’s flugelhorn has some of the bereft lyricism of late-period Chet Baker. Particularly striking is the way the music modulates from a chamber piece with great solos to highly organised big-band playing. And then Brian Dee carries us back to the seesaw theme and the fadeout. Just wonderful.

Brian Dee’s piano next picks its way along stepping stones to the front gate of 52 Festive Road, a theme which conjures the cosy convictions of a 1950s domestic sitcom. The title is a playful reference to the road in Putney where David McKee used to live (perhaps Festing Road, near the Half Moon). And it’s Jamie Talbot turn to solo brightly on tenor.

Gently lovely, The Sea Monster, which is a feature for Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn, calls to mind the arrangements of Johnny Mandel — especially The Sandpiper, The Shining Sea and The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea… all appropriately enough.

This is one of the most delightful and pleasantly surprising releases of the year. It repays repeated listenings, enriching and deepening, with fresh discoveries to be made each time. We can only thank David McKee for his intuition and persistence and Duncan Lamont and the musicians for the excellence of their work.

LINK: The CD at Jellymould Jazz


REVIEW: Bruno Heinen / Camerata Alma Viva - Changing of the Seasons album launch at Lauderdale House

Camerata Alma Viva with Bruno Heinen ( piano) and Andrea di  Biase (bass)

Bruno Heinen / Camerata Alma Viva - Changing of the Seasons album launch
(Lauderdale house 25th February 2017. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

A lone violin searchingly plucked, quietly joined by a viola, and then a cello, as pizzicato builds and layers: the opening grand piano flourish of the first four bars of Vivaldi's Spring theme is perhaps an unsurprising opening to Bruno Heinen's re-interpretation of The Four Seasons. And yet it is to prove the last unsurprising moment of the evening, because from then on, Vivaldi's original is largely left by the wayside, and instead, the weft and warp of jazz and classical composition are woven to re-imagine the four source poems on the theme.

The strings of Camerata Alma Viva stretch out languidly in the spring air, as the piano presses on. The sweeping dynamism, and marriage between strings and the improvising lead instrument feels at times more Lars Horntveth Norwegian cross-over, then Italian Baroque. Aside from the initial pizz. pitter-patter, and the accompanying sense of slow and steady growth, Heinen has taken a much less programmatic approach to the seasons, drawing on textural palettes instead of literal allusions to convey each season.

Summer tinkles tentatively, and skittishly – the dry squeal of strings, tired and drawn out between meandering and stifled keys evokes eerie heat. Deflation and exhaustion give out with occasional moments of triumphant unison, but this is certainly a sweltering summer of “blazing sun” and “scorched pine”, with plenty of space left between the improvising piano and string chords led by Charlotte Maclet on first violin. If Disney's Fantasia were to be re-made today, Heinen's baked drought-stricken season would be a strong contender to match to the Rite of Spring when choosing music to which to set the mass dinosaur extinction.

The suppressed panic is transformed to angst and hope, Heinen waiting in silence as the strings develop the short motif of Autumn, anchored by Kay Stephen and Mathieu Foubert on viola and cello. A storm brews, with the organised string lines fraying, blown off course, losing synchronicity and splitting into separate components before uniting and swelling to a crescendo – the small group sounding much richer than the sum of their five strings and piano.

It is maybe in Winter that the overtones and language of jazz seep in to the composition most strongly. A sombre, almost fugal, start on viola leads in to dramatic long sweeping melodies, before a riff between Heinen and his long-time collaborator Andrea Di Biase on double bass; the jazz mole in the classical Camerata.

It is the final movement of Changing of the Seasons which ties in closest to the opening set of the evening, Heinen solo at the piano taking us through an ad-libbed programme of contrapuntal rolling hands and clean pauses: bright, earnest Wayne Shorter adaptations; the disturbing, nagging original piece Mr Vertigo, and a beautifully pulsing and wistful interpretation of Jimmy Rowles' cinematic The Peacocks.

Finding a new angle on the Four Seasons in such a crowded field is always a challenge, but Heinen's delicate mix of composition, and the space left between himself and the string ensemble, have left a worthy and unique contribution. This is the product of a jazz pianist with a classical training and culture coursing through him. The partnership with such an open-minded ensemble, means the five strings live can produce a vibrant sound equal to the twelve strings of the record is testament to the composition and arrangement.

P.S. It is worth noting that, with Arts funding continuing to suffer, this was an evening based solely on collective crowdfunding. It is unusual to enjoy to the re-imagining of the first ever 'concept album' nearly 300 years after it was written, in a renovated room first built more than 400 years ago, but both the production of the record, and the neat recent renovation of the 16th century Lauderdale house were achieved through the small contributions of the many. Since my last visit to LH in April 2015 when they were still fundraising for the forthcoming planned works, the building has been successfully restored. The peg holes, bent nails and working marks on the timber post-and-beams combined with the authentically messy pointing on the infill panels make you feel like you've been bricked in to some sort of Tudor musical cave. The occasional ionic capital on a column adds a baroque frisson.

LINK: Bruno Heinen previewed this concert for the Guardian


HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY TO JAZZ - born (...?) 26th February 1917

Today February 26th 2017 marks - by one contestable and contentious definition (*)  - the centenary of jazz, in that it is the anniversary of the very first jazz recording, Livery Stable Blues by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

The ODJB was described at the time as "the first sensational, musical novelty of 1917. The jazz band is the latest craze that's sweeping the nation like a musical thunderstorm, and it's given modern dancing new life and a new thrill" by the New York Times.

(Source of this quote)



* The BBC has a series of programmes presented by Kevin Le Gendre marking the centenary, with the title Jazzed Up: How Jazz Changed Britain (LINK TO THE PROGRAMMES)

*The Jazz Promotion Network has an initiative based around the hashtag #jazz100 (DETAILS)

*2017 is a year of other jazz centenaries - Thelonious Monk, Buddy Rich later in the year. The first major one is Ella Fitzgerald on April 25th. There will presumably be more as the date approaches but two celebrations that have already got away were by Clare Teal and Alison Jiear.

(*) For a full exegesis of the racial and other issues around this, the book "Prehistory of Jazz"  by Maximilian Hendler is unfortuately so far only available in German. 


INTERVIEW/CD PREVIEW/TOUR DATES: Henry Spencer & Juncture - The Reasons Don't Change (Whirlwind)

Henry Spencer
Photo credit: Gem Hall
Trumpeter HENRY SPENCER is drawing much interest with his debut album. He spoke to LondonJazz News' Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon about songwriting, trumpeters and taking the music out on the road.

London Jazz News: I understand singers and songwriters are important to your instrumental music. How does that work?

Henry Spencer: I think the singer and songwriter side is probably most influential when it comes to my composing. From a really young age I used to spend hours sitting at the piano at home, just playing around, writing little tunes and discovering ideas. At that time I really wanted to be a singer/songwriter.

In hindsight, the songs were painfully cringe-worthy, but they were brutally sincere and my way of dealing with real experience.Now I try to approach instrumental music with as much emotive clarity as if the music had lyrics. In fact, when writing now I often still use lyrics as a way to stay connected with the original motivation behind the composition. Using lyrics as part of this process can also help strengthen the melodic or lyrical nature of the melodies. I want it to draw in the listener – provoking their interpretation so they can relate it to their own experience.

LJN: How did you meet the other players in Juncture and why did you pick them for The Reasons Don’t Change?

HS: I actually lived with Andy (Robb - double bass) for three years around the time that we both first moved to London. We got to know each other’s musical tastes through listening to each other’s records and playing together. We also went to the same music college as David (Ingamells - drums) and Nick (Costley-White - guitar). We all played together a lot in different groups and settings - Dave and Andy especially so. They also share a pretty dry and sometimes cutting sense of humour! This kind of mutual musical and personal understanding is so important for the group’s collective cohesion. I think this is particularly true for bass and drums - they’re often the band’s engine room or musical scaffolding.

At music college I played a huge amount with a pianist called Rob Brockway. He is a phenomenal musician and we played as a duo quite a bit, often freely improvising. He was in Juncture from the start. Unfortunately Rob had to move away before the album recording sessions. It was then that Matt Robinson came in and he’s played in Juncture ever since. He’s a ridiculously nice person and a ferociously good musician. He’s very tolerant too…

LJN: You’ve taken a different path from the simple “get the band into a studio and record them live in a take or two” approach common to a lot of jazz recordings. How does your path differ and how important are producer Paul Whalley and engineer Dave Darlington in this process?

HS: I’m hugely grateful to Paul for showing a huge interest in the compositions and my ideas for the album so early on. We spent too many late nights talking about the possibilities for the general musical shape and sound of the album, as well as technical approaches to recording, mixing and producing it.

During the year before the actual album sessions we recorded every track in studios around London. This meant we had the opportunity to try out and experiment with different approaches to recording and mixing the music. As a result, we’ve drawn on a range of producing techniques rarely used to make a jazz record. These techniques, often quite subtle, were used to enhance and not overwhelm each composition’s original musical intent.

I got in touch with Dave Darlington in New York because he’s worked with not only some of my favourite musicians of all time, but also in a huge range of genres. His experience and the list of people he’s worked with is just silly - Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Prince! It was really exciting and flattering to hear how much he was into the music. It was fantastic working with him.

LJN: Who are your favourite trumpeters? What have you learned from them? And are there other musicians that have influenced your playing and your composing?

HS: Miles is huge for me. His time-feel, phrasing and his simple but powerful musical statements are inspiring. Kind of Blue is an obvious example and of course massively talked about, but it’s hugely significant. When I first discovered his album Bitches Brew I became obsessed with his approach to blending genres, his compositions and his group’s collective improvisation.

There are so many different trumpet players that I love because of particular aspects in their own approach. Just a few in no particular order are Marquis Hill, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Verneri Pohjola, Clifford Brown, Terence Blanchard and Ambrose Akinmusire. I love the versatility in the instrument’s sound – from whispering, warm and vocal-like to big, dramatic and abrasive.

Art Blakey talked about it, and I’ve always been drawn to the idea of intensity - whether playing a subtle, sorrowful ballad or some full on rock-out. It’s not important at all for the audience to ‘understand’ the technical or academic approach. I want to draw in the listener with the intensity and sincerity.

LJN: You are going to be touring this music during 2017 - how do you hope it will develop in live performance?

HS: Playing live for audiences is what this is all about. Quite unusually, we’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to play this music quite a lot even before the actual album recording sessions. As a result, the group is really familiar with all the music and so freer when performing it. This gives every gig a really exciting energy. I’m really looking forward to collectively and spontaneously taking the music in unexpected directions on the gigs.

The Reasons Don't Change by Henry Spencer & Juncture is now out on Whirlwind Recordings.
Henry and the band are touring extensively in the UK from April to June 2017.

LINK: Henry Spencer's website


CD REVIEW: Matthew Stevens - Preverbal

Matthew Stevens - Preverbal
(Ropeadope Music. CD review by Rob Mallows)

Under-promise and over-deliver. It’s a business truism that's equally pertinent to the music world. If you’re going to make big claims for an album, make sure you see them through. Young U.S. guitarist Matthew Stevens’ new album promised much. And it almost delivers. But not quite.

Preverbal is a perfectly good album from a fine young "shape-shifting" guitarist and there’s plenty to enjoy in its slow-paced musings, haunting chords and solid accompaniment from Stevens and band, drummer Eric Doob and bassist Vicente Archer. But what I didn't hear on this album was evidence of the next bold evolutionary stage in guitar music that the accompanying PR up-puffery suggested.

In a week when Larry Coryell’s death reminded us of what top artists can achieve, scaling the rock face of jazz guitar to reach the summit of greatness remains a challenge for any guitarist and it’s clear that Stevens has chosen to make his ascent on one of the trickier paths. He may eventually make it, but not necessarily with this record.

That being said, Preverbal has a certain spikiness to it and, while not stunningly original, the compositions show a readiness by Stevens to look beyond much of what constitutes the usual in guitar-based jazz and jazz-rock.

Opener Picture Window is low key to the point of insipid, only given some oomph from the sound manipulation and studio craft which highlights the importance of the sound engineer to modern jazz recordings. Second track Sparkle And Fade achieves the former but is also true to form on the second - there are some interesting elements but not much in the way of visceral sounds to sustain listener interest. The opening tracks of any album should grab the listener’s ear and draw them in. These weren’t the right tracks to do that. Third track Undertow, with it’s pep and vigour, is a more obvious opener.

Track five Reservoir has a trippy drum rhythm and loping bass from Archer which create a pleasingly simple sound, more base metal than complex alloy. Sixth track Knowhow is the album’s most discordant and irregular one which sounds at first more experimental sound-scaping than jazz, but explodes into a rather charming repeated pattern from Stevens which develops into a stimulating track.

The credit for Esperanza Spalding on final track Our Reunion will attract attention and is no doubt a well-deserved thank you to Stevens for his role in directing the sound of her most recent album. This track is the most distinctive on the album with some sweet chord shifts over which la Spalding provides a gossamer thin, whispy and eerily atmospheric vocal as a prelude to a distinctly rocky second half.

This album is likely a grower. It doesn’t immediately offer up a wow factor, but further listens confirm there’s good stuff in there.


CD REVIEW: Led Bib - Umbrella Weather

Led Bib - Umbrella Weather
(RareNoiseRecords. RNR071. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The latest CD from Led Bib is an attractive mixture, but it's hard to classify. Founder and drummer Mark Holub and his band members create lively, dynamic music with a hint of dance beats nestling amongst quirkier rhythms. This CD goes a long way to capturing the energy and excitement of their live shows.

Holub is credited with composing all the tracks, although he has said they are created in the studio through improvisation. The double sax frontline, both Chris Williams and Pete Grogan playing alto, provides the melodic and harmonic impetus. At times they play in unison, at others they weave in and out of each other. But often their paths diverge as they improvise away from the riffs.

Holub's drumming is sometimes rock-steady, sometimes frenetic. Keeping it all together is bassist Liran Donin, the rhythmic centre of the band. Keyboard player Toby McLaren adds texture and atmosphere to create what can be a very full sound.

The music could clearly be classified “jazz rock”, but it's a fusion of a large number of eclectic influences. The saxes necessarily evoke Prime Time Ornette Coleman – how could two improvising altos not? There's a bit of motorik beat, a large hint of prog rock, all laced with modern improvisation that provides a. Some of the tunes are almost anthemic - the second half of the opener Lobster Terror, or the end of Marching Orders.

Fields of Forgetfulness, Skeleton Key to the City and Goodbye, the aptly named piece which closes the CD, demonstrate a gentle lyricism, building in emotional power as they progress. Other pieces sound almost manic, such as At the Shopping Centre - shopping was never that traumatic.

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


CD REVIEW: Modern Jazz Quartet Live at Monterey

Modern Jazz Quartet Live at Monterey
(Douglas AD-07. CD Review by Peter Jones)

If, in retrospect, there is a jazz combo that looks less fashionable than the Dave Brubeck Quartet, it is probably the Modern Jazz Quartet. Both were massively popular and successful over roughly the same time period. Both had a restrained, rather professorial image, conservatively dressed, with a reputation for playing polite jazz music for white people; objects of scorn, in other words, for those who preferred their musicians to look like they had to scuffle harder.

MJQ certainly had a smooth sound, honed from being in the same group together for so long (nine years by the time this live recording was made at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival). But that smoothness was deliberate policy on the part of the group and its musical director, pianist John Lewis. The discipline they had all learned from playing formal charts as the rhythm section for Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band was maintained in this small unit. They wanted to be taken seriously, as if they were a string quartet playing classical repertoire. And therein lies the problem (if it is a problem): MJQ were a bit conservative, lacking the wildness and unpredictability inherent in other styles of jazz. They did not go out on a limb. They did not hit the odd bum note while reaching for something extraordinary. In other words, one does not get the sense that anything very exciting is going to happen. One critic accused them of ‘relentless tastefulness’, partly due to the ‘saccharine’ tonal combination of Lewis’s piano and the vibraphone of Milt ‘Bags’ Jackson. How could you play blues tunes like this? Where was the edge?

But I would suggest there are still reasons to listen to them. To begin with, they were all master musicians, as well as brilliant improvisers. The over-smoothness complained of could be attributed to the perfection of their playing. Secondly, they embodied the spirit of the cool school. Sure, maybe there was nothing to get too worked up about, but who said jazz always has to be thrilling? Sometimes there is pleasure in restraint, as we hear in Lewis’s composition In A Crowd, with its subtle modulations and chirpy piano and vibes solos.

One can also enjoy the formal structure of a tune like Winter Tale, a mini-suite in two distinct repeated sections. It begins like the accompaniment to a dramatic silent movie, all rippling piano and arco double bass, before settling into a sort of manouche section played accelerando, which morphs into a brisk upswing. The elusive time count on the intro to The Sheriff showcases the murderous accuracy of Connie Kay on drums and Percy Heath on bass, before the band sets off on another tasteful upswing excursion. The more I play this CD, the more I like it. Let’s give MJQ a chance!


LP REVIEW: Kenny Wheeler – Deer Wan

Kenny Wheeler – Deer Wan
(ECM 1102. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

The great Canadian trumpeter, flugelhorn player and mischievous pun-meister Kenny Wheeler recorded Deer Wan in 1977 and it was released on Manfred Eicher’s ECM label the following year. Now as part of ECM’s vinyl revival it’s back in print in this format, and is one of the catalogue’s outstanding reissues, showing Wheeler’s skill as a writer and performer in the context of an emphatically talented group.

Peace For Five opens with Jan Garbarek’s searching, sighing, rhapsodic tenor until Wheeler steps in to solo and exchange comments with John Abercrombie’s electric guitar. Then an extended, sinewy solo by Dave Holland on upright bass explores the structure of the piece before suddenly accelerating the pace so the combo can jump back on the tune, like bank robbers leaping into a getaway car. Emerging from the fraught and meticulously interlocking ensemble, Abercrombie plays an at first beautifully piercing, then fatly sonorous, bell-like solo. Garbarek concludes with long, serpentine lines and Holland’s bass becomes a heartbeat, clearing the way for a characteristically complex excursion by Jack DeJohnette on drums, sounding like a whole ensemble on his own until the actual ensemble reasserts itself and shows what they can do.

The brief and haunting 3/4 in the Afternoon has a bittersweet quality with Ralph Towner’s 12 string guitar deftly fashioning the mood and in some ways anticipating the approach of Bill Frisell, who would also become a mainstay of ECM, starting in 1983. Both Garbarek and Wheeler fit in beautifully with Towner’s sound here.

At eleven minutes and twenty two seconds, Sumother Song is actually two pieces, at first emerging out of a skeletal, steady, measured beat to develop into something thoughtfully and passionately sculpted by Garbarek before undergoing a complete metamorphosis — becoming pacey and breezy, with a Latin feel. Wheeler plays with great openness, letting fresh air into the piece, John Abercrombie covering his back all the way. The guitarist then moves forward to play a moving and meditative conclusion that tends towards, and eventually arrives at, silence. Finally Wheeler and Garbarek state and restate a signature phrase, at first in competition, then agreement.

Deer Wan sees Wheeler and Garbarek in close cahoots again, adding section after section to a rising tower of sound, accompanied by the delicate patter of cymbal effects from DeJohnette. Changing from the vertical to the horizontal, Wheeler and Garbarek essay a languid chase in a sort of postmodern reinterpretation of the West Coast sound, DeJohnette playing strong and articulate support, Abercrombie and Holland covering their flanks.

This is a 180 gram piece of vinyl mastered from the original analog master tapes, which are audibly in good condition. It scores highly as an audiophile artefact, but more importantly as excellent music. The album thoughtfully includes a download code, so your digital needs are also attended to.

LINK: Product Link at Proper Music