FEATURE: Meg Morley (Through the Hours EP launch, 1901 Arts Club, 7 June)

Meg Morley
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska / MSJ photos

Australian-born, London-based pianist MEG MORLEY has a profile which is starting to rise. She answered these interview questions on the return journey from the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival, where here tremendous flair for interpreting and reflecting the shifting stories and moods of silent film were to the fore. She also has a new EP, highly praised by Kit Downes (quote below), about to launch...and a trio album in the making. Interview by Sebastian:  

London Jazz News: What first drew you in the direction of the piano?

Meg Morley: I was born into a musical household. My mother was a classically-trained singer and my older sister learnt piano. My mother kept a diary about me and wrote that when I was around two years old I was imitating, on the piano, a melody from a piece that my sister was learning. I started lessons soon after that, through the Suzuki method, and I've basically been playing piano ever since.

LJN: And then what - or who - drew you towards jazz?

MM: It's been a very gradual process. I had 'classical' lessons (syllabus 'pieces, scales, theory book' etc), and when I was 10 my father was given James Morrison's album Snappy Doo which I loved but didn't consider why or what was happening in the music - I just thought that only a few musicians did 'jazz', whereas I had to study 'classical' to pursue a career in music. It's narrow-minded but I didn't think enough about it and there was no other apparent way at the time. During my Masters degree a musician introduced me to Bill Evans and I fell in love. I was so inspired by the fact that Evans was classically trained yet he was this amazing 'jazz pianist'. So I auditioned for a one-year Diploma in improvisation at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in Melbourne. It was such an overwhelming year and completely different from the 'classical' institution I was used to. It took me a long time to shift my thinking. I'm still being drawn towards jazz – getting more and more inside of it - and I feel like I have a creative voice which is just starting to emerge now.

LJN: Were there teachers along the way who have really left a big impression?

MM: At the VCA definitely Tim Stevens and Andrea Keller. The VCA improvisation department was set up by Australian saxophonist Brian Brown who held the philosophy that musicians should embrace their 'individual voice' and make a contribution to music through their individual creative process. Tim and Andrea definitely carried on that wonderful philosophy. They were extremely different from one another in regards to their approach to music, but neither of them ever said 'this scale should be played over this chord' for example, which wasn't what I was used to (i.e. not being told 'this is what you do'). I found it scary at the time but it's so important. Also my university piano teacher, Wendy Lorenz, left a big impression on me. She was nurturing and always creating performance and collaborative opportunities for professionals and students. Wendy was technically fantastic but the intention behind the music was the priority for her and technique was just a tool to express that intention.

LJN: In the UK you play in unusual contexts like the ballet and the cinema, what would be the best advice you could give to a pianist tempted to follow your example and try their hand at one or both of those?

MM:I can only advise on the improvisational side of dance and silent film because that's why I was drawn to them in the first place. For dance class, a positive experience largely depends on the teacher you work with: if the teacher can demonstrate 'musical' exercises (communicating correct tempo; quality of the movement they want) and is also open-minded about the music you play then it's great.

For film it largely depends on the film you're playing for – if it's a great film then you've got so much scope (also it helps if you've seen the film before so you know what's coming!).

Dance and Film are 'systems' with their own history and accepted styles that have been set up, so my advice would be to learn about them and 'steal' as much musical material from these systems that work and that you like, then use the material to get 'inside' of things, and then experiment and you'll come up with something individual.

I loved listening to pianist Bill Laurance (Snarky Puppy) when he played for ballet class - as he completely had his own unique style. And in film, I've often studied what Neil Brand, John Sweeney and Stephen Horne (three of UK's best silent film pianists) do with improvisation and scores - all three of their approaches are so completely different but they all work.

Meg Morley at the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival
Courtesy of Yorkshire Silent Film Festival

Favourite movie you have played for? Where and when was it?

MM: I haven't been doing it long enough to have one just yet. Although I played for Hitchcock's Blackmail last night for the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival and loved it - such a great film. I'm definitely drawn to 'film noir' – there's so much scope for rich harmonies, and lots of drama. I also had a great experience at Flatpack Festival in Birmingham last year playing for some rare and random 28mm reels. I loved the thrill of, firstly the unique experience of viewing the footage but also having absolutely no idea of what I was about to see and come up with musically. There was a 5-minute reel of Russian war ships followed by a French magic trick etc. It was great!

LJN: You have just made an EP of solo piano music entitled Through the Hours - and Kit Downes has written that your pieces "start down a path that you think you know the end of, but then twisting into new and unexpected areas." Do you like telling stories when you play / giving audiences (and maybe yourself?) surprises?

MM: I like familiarity but I also want to be taken somewhere new - or perhaps just taken somewhere familiar in a new way if that makes sense. When I write I like to take slightly different turns yes, to keep it interesting for myself and hopefully for anyone who's listening. In terms of story - I think that it's one of the best ways, if not the best way, of connecting with people and communicating ideas. However there's also music I listen to where I don't think of a story at all and just feel connected to it because I'm enjoying e.g. a great groove, sound or harmonic structure etc.

LJN: Do you approach the complete freedom of solo piano with relish - some pianists say it can be fairly daunting?

MM: Initially writing the EP pieces was a bit daunting. So much has been written and recorded for solo piano, and there's so many amazing pianists, so there was a feeling of 'what could I possibly contribute'? But then I just simply focused on what I liked. I just enjoyed coming up with some ideas and melodic material and developing them in a way that I could play them - but I also tried to challenge myself a bit. I definitely want to keep writing and playing more solo piano music that challenges me but is also fun to play.

LJN: You also have a trio album under way. What's the story there ?

MM: I've been wanting to make a trio album for a while - but never felt I was ready or good enough or that the time was right etc. A number of things have happened recently that have made me realise that I'm never going to feel ready or good enough so I just need do it. I'm excited because I still don't know what the album's going to be but that's great. Richard Sadler (double bass) and Emiliano Caroselli (drums) are such great musicians and lovely people to work with, so I just feel really lucky to be doing it and I'm enjoying the whole process.

Meg Morley Trio, left to right: Emiliano Caroselli, Meg Morley, Richard Sadler
Photo Credit: Monika Jakubowska/ MSJ Photos

Have a dream / make a wish.... of a place you would like to play in or a person you would like to play with in the next 2 years?

MM: I would love to play at Ronnie Scott's at some stage with, ideally, my original music. That would definitely be pretty damn special.

LINK: Meg Morley's Website
LINK: EP Launch at the 1901 Arts Club, 7th June


REVIEW: Ivan Lins at Ronnie Scott's

Ivan Lins in 2014
Photo from artist website

Ivan Lins
(Ronnie Scott's. 29 May 2017. First night of two. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

This was a heart-warming late-career club debut at Ronnie Scott's for Ivan Lins, in front of a crowd that knew every twist and turn of his songs and was there to sing its collective (and well-in-tune) heart out.

Lins is one of the great Brazilian songwriters. Just short of the grand old age of 72, he is full of life, he stands proud and tall at the electronic keyboard, band-leading, dictating the pace of the show, facing straight out at the audience and effortlessly spreading a happy vibe. He also has a top-flight band.

He was born in Rio, and is perhaps the urban sophisticate among Brazilian songwriters. His songs are always harmonically fleet of foot, and go off in all kinds of unexpected directions. Last night we could witness Lins himself at close quarters, enjoying his own hand-placing for the next unusual/ exotic chord. In one particularly harmonically wayward, Randy Newmman-esque song, É Ouro Em Pó - his eyes flashed all round the room in feigned amazement as if to locate the door through which a particularly gorgeous chord sequence had just been let into the room.

Lins' songs are popular among Brazilians, but have only occasionally taken on another life and "made it" in North America. The better known ones tend to be the more spacious and romantic: Começar de Novo had some gloopy lyrics poured over it courtesy the Bergmans and became the Barbra Streisand hit The Island . Lembrança got some rather better lyrics from Paul Williams and became Love Dance - Lins doffed the hat to George Benson for making that happen. These and other popular Lins tunes, were what the Brazilian audience was expecting. And at the end of the show this audience (which definitely knew what it wanted) was insisting in no unceertain terms that  the encore should be the hit that had thus far got away: Madalena - Lins' first hit,  a success in 1970  for the great Elis Regina.

For those of us who don't speak the language, there was also much to marvel at. Lins' band includes that real deal among latin drummers Chris Wells, a native Brit now based in Portugal. a guitarist Claudio Cesar Ribeiro, and a pianist Andre Sarbib, both with an ideal sense of solo construction, and a bassist with the most nonchalantly perfect sense of placement, Nema Antunes

The support set was from a new and very promising latin project called Almanac Quartet, led from the guitar by that true Gentleman of Verona and fine guitarist Luca Boscagin, with Quentin Collins on trumpet, doing joyous explorations of Brazilian repertoire.

Ivan Lins is on again tonight at Ronnie Scott's


CD REVIEW: Lars Danielsson – Liberetto III

CD REVIEW: Lars Danielsson – Liberetto III
(ACT 9840-2. Review by Filipe Freitas)

Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson, a master of melodious lines within accessible musical textures, leads the third instalment by Liberetto, an eclectic ensemble composed of guitarist John Parricelli, percussionist Magnus Öström and pianist Grégory Privat, who replaces Tigran Hamasyan.

Danielsson’s background is rich in fruitful collaborations, including recordings with Dave Liebman, Jon Christensen and Bobo Stenson - the members of his acclaimed quartet in the 1980s and ‘90s - as well as Jack DeJohnette, John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Rick Margitza.

Liberetto III opens with a softly meditative Preludium that spreads Oriental perfumes through a composed setting formed by acoustic guitar, feathery, strummed bass and the calm horn sounds projected by the special guests, Arve Henriksen on trumpet and Björn Bohlin on oboe d’amore. The latter switches to English horn on Agnus Dei, which flows with diatonic freedom as it advances at an imperturbable moderate pace regulated by Öström’s brushed drums. Privat, who plays a vaporous Rhodes here, sticks to an ostinato while the theme is delivered simultaneously by the bandleader and muted trumpet.

If you’re looking for a pop tune that truly grooves, Lviv does it wonderfully, and with an odd time signature. The B section brings some Eastern influences, which are intensified by Danielsson’s expressive bass solo. Still tinged with Arabic colors, Taksim by Night, a song retrieved from How Long Is Now, a trio album recorded last year, flourishes with the tunefulness of the oud's sounds. Hassam Aliwat, the oud player, also appears on Sonata in Spain, a song whose passages are engraved with commercial pop melodies and wrapped in a flamenco aura.

Dawn Dreamer, a lyrical waltz drawn from classical and jazz genres, features Parricelli’s distorted guitar at the end. The guitarist shines again on Gimbri Heart, soloing with a hypnotic, rockish devotion after we have been taken to Sub-Saharan African landscapes through the enlightening rhythm that sustains Henriksen’s slinky trumpet lines.

Danielsson also prepares three prayerful tone poems, Orationi, in which he improvises before Henriksen matches his voice to the trumpet’s, leading Da Salo, another waltz worthy of a minstrel, and the instinctively Nordic Mr. Miller, which features Mathias Eick on trumpet, Sting’s guitarist Dominic Miller and Öström’s distinctive snare drumming.

Barchidda, a ballad à-la Bill Evans, closes the album in a reflective way, culminating a long journey that has encompassed Western Europe, Turkey, the Arab Middle East and Africa.

Enriched with suave melodic improvisations (except for Parricelli, who seemed far more adventurous), Liberetto III shows discipline in its structure and relaxing warm tones. It is as much recommended for travelling as for chilling at home.


PREVIEW FEATURE: "Let's make it five!" Love Supreme Festival (30 June - 2 July)

Love Supreme Festival 

"Let's make it five!" writes Dan Bergsagel. He went to the first LOVE SUPREME FESTIVAL in 2013 - it was his first summer after leaving university - and has been to every one since. He has reported on the festival for LondonJazz News and other publications. Daniel explains the vibe, and his particular fascination for the East Sussex festival, and looks forward to the 2017 edition which runs from 30 June to 2 July. He writes:

There aren't many things I do reliably each year: Birthdays, Christmas, and since 2013, Love Supreme. Its perhaps unusual to elevate a simple jazz festival to the heady heights of national holidays and anniversaries of birth, but there's something about the festival in Glynde that draws me back.

At its core Love Supreme has carved itself a successful niche – mixing the high quality international programming of a city wide jazz festival with the sun-drenched hedonism and imagery of Glastonbury. Obviously to align the two requires a bit of re-positioning, with the spiritualism of some festivals replaced with screenings and replays of classic documentaries and albums, or the hedonism of others replaced with a robust line in specially brewed locally ales. But the charm is that in creating a greenfield jazz festival, Love Supreme has to appeal to a broad demographic. And while it's hard to cater for all fans (I still sigh when I see a phalanx of deck chairs and picnic blankets in front of the main stage), it is a very welcoming and un-intimidating environment.

This commitment to cater for all types is evidently sewn through the line up each year. Charming contemporary Americans bands, progressive homegrown talent, world-famous RnB and Soul, and young and energetic brass bands all vie for attention. But it's not just the diversity, but the quality. It's a jazz Disneyland, where one ticket buys you one ride on Snarky Puppy, Gregory Porter, Hugh Masekela, Riot Jazz, and Kamasi Washington.

Patrice Quinn, Rickey Washington, Kamasi Washington at Love Supreme
Photo credit: Albert Opalko

For anything to be a regular event it needs to rely on the success of the mundane, and much of the appeal is that Love Supreme is small and remarkably relaxed. None of the stressful festival shenanigans of the larger rock-based festival siblings, where lost friends are needles in haystacks, and the walk to get from then tent to the next act is essentially a 3 mile bog snorkle. The site is cosy enough to get from end to end in a leisurely 10 minutes. If one year camping doesn't fit the bill, then Glynde is near enough to get to from Brighton or London in an hour or so that it's easy enough to commute down for Lunch.

Perhaps the most instructive thing I can share is that, while I would have to concede that I self-define fairly squarely as part of Love Supreme's target audience – a young camping-ready London-based jazz enthusiast – my partner certainly doesn't. Indeed she insists that she doesn't really like Jazz at all (pause for shocked gasps all round). Yet each year she reminds me that July is looming, and we better get ourselves sorted so we don't miss it.

What am I looking forward to this July? Yes of course I'm looking forward to Herbie Hancock, Christian Scott, Laura Mvula and The Jacksons. But more unimaginatively, I'm looking forward to more of the same. Routines are important and comforting, and a four-year routine is a rare thing. Let's make it five! (pp)

Snarky Puppy at Love Supreme

The fifth Love Supreme Festival runs from 30 June to 2 July 2017

LINK: Love Supreme Festival website


CD REVIEW: Roger Beaujolais Quartet – Sunset

Roger Beaujolais Quartet – Sunset
(Stay Tuned ST010 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

After an energetic 30 years on the scene, vibes stalwart Roger Beaujolais’ 19th album is a highly satisfying mix of originals and a few well-chosen classics performed with flair and class. Older readers may recall Beaujolais from his early jump-jive with The Chevalier Brothers and his grooving acid jazz hits. Since the turn of the millennium he has focused on acoustic jazz, and this CD is another chance to join him and revel in some top-notch vibes smoothness. 

The album contains six Beaujolais originals, starting out with Unlucky For Some, an attractive rolling lope with the walking bass of Simon Thorpe well up in the mix.  Robin Aspland (born, like Beaujolais, in Yorkshire) provides exemplary support as well as sparkling solos and incisive rhythmic drive which propels the band along.  This drive, combined with the propulsive drumming of Winston Clifford, means that the music is never in danger of losing its way. 

The straightahead feel continues with Benign Tonight which, contrary to the expectations promised by the title, offers a driving piece of modal work with Clifford backing up Beaujolais’ vibes in an Elvin Jones fashion – very pleasing, with Clifford unquestionably powerful without at all taking over the soundscape.  In contrast, And When You Smile is a delightful floating trip around the bay with some excellent vibes work sustaining the summery mood.

The first non-original is a snappy take of Cole Porter’s I Love You. Once again Beaujolais leads from the front with some smart and enjoyable dexterity with the mallets.   Other standouts include Beaujolais’ ballad In The Meantime, where he takes the chance to stretch out, and Bobby Hutcherson’s jazz waltz Little B’s Poem, a tune originally released as long ago as 1965, which sounds fresh and at home with this talented group.   Jerome Kern’s evergreen Yesterdays gives a fine close with Winston Clifford finally let loose at the drums. 

This is a terrific no-nonsense album of exciting and relaxing jazz which once again shows Roger Beaujolais to be both a fine player and an essential member of the UK jazz scene.  Long may his butterfly valves rotate.

The album launch gig is on Saturday 3 June 2017 at Jazzlive at the Crypt
St. Giles Church, Camberwell Church St, Camberwell, London, SE5 8JB.


REVIEW : Mark Morris Dance Group / Ethan Iverson - Pepperland at the Royal Court, Liverpool

Pepperland at the Royal Court in Liverpool
Photo credit: Robbie Jack 

Mark Morris Dance Group - Pepperland
(Royal Court, Liverpool - World Premiere, 25 May 2017. Review by Phil Johnson)

From Charles Lloyd tootling Here There and Everywhere to Brad Mehldau’s current concert renditions of Blackbird or And I Love Her, with Mike Westbrook’s Off Abbey Road suite in between, there’s a long if variable history to jazz versions of The Beatles. Yet Ethan Iverson’s music for this wonderful grand project commissioned by the city of Liverpool (along with a host of other international co-producers) for its Sgt Pepper at 50 festival, is - along with the production itself - a triumph. Taking five songs from the canonical album (six if we count the title track’s reprise), plus Penny Lane and six miniature interludes composed by himself, Iverson manages the extremely difficult feat of staying true to the spirit of the Lennon, McCartney and Harrison originals while adding something both new and surprising of his own and also fulfilling the principal task of providing Morris and his dancers with an inspiring and rhythmically supple score to animate choreography and movement.

As well as being the pianist from jazz trio The Bad Plus and author of the influential blog ‘Do The Math’, Iverson is a previous musical director of the Mark Morris Dance Group, a role taken since 2013 by Colin Fowler, who for this production plays organ and harpsichord, with Iverson on piano. The band, playing from the orchestra pit, is a killer Downtown NYC unit, with Jacob Garchik on trombone, Sam Newsome on saxophone, Rob Schwimmer on theremin and Vinnie Sperrazza, percussion, with baritone Clinton Curtis on vocals. The feel throughout is perhaps part Berlin cabaret, part woozy Nino Rota, with the sound of the theremin absolutely key, although Schwimmer’s virtuosity makes it closer to a second, female, vocal line to complement the deeper register of Clinton Curtis, echoing the classical recordings of Clara Rockmore - the instrument’s most celebrated exponent, and inventor Lev Theremin’s great protege - more than the usual cheapo science fiction-signifier. Curtis's clear diction and clipped, emotionally-neutral delivery also impart a very effective, rather Sondheim-ish quality that, together with the horn-men’s parps and peeps, further removes the music from a jaunty singalonga-context without losing its popular appeal.

Unsurprisingly, some tunes work better than others, and how they’d work on their own is uncertain. The title song remains exactly what you expect, and I’m not sure if anything can be done with When I’m Sixty-Four, although Iverson attempts a ragtime-ish doubling of rhythm that makes the tune slip disconcertingly in and out of time. But George Harrison’s ‘Within You Without You’ provokes the most thrilling part of the whole show, and sounds like a total masterpiece, its lyric - intoned by Curtis - more than living up to a libretto’s enhanced sense of importance. And then, after a suitably celebratory Penny Lane, there’s A Day in the Life, which is every bit as satisfying as you hope it will be, Iverson witholding the vocals of the opening verse to stretch the tension of the music even further.

But music is only a part of the overall show’s spectacle, which I found enormously life-affirming and moving: a fab and fitting tribute to the spirit of the Beatles, to the city which made them, and to the era they so transformed. When Mark Morris came on stage at the end to take his bows and to deflect the applause in the direction of the seven musicians and the fifteen dancers, you felt that he was genuinely proud - made up, you could say - of what they had achieved. Pepperland is a big, ambitious yet human-sized project that doesn’t feel like some worthy commemoration. Roll on the rest of ‘Sgt Pepper at 50’.

LINK: www.sgtpepperat50.com/


CD REVIEW: Michael Attias – Nerve Dance

Michael Attias – Nerve Dance
(Clean Feed CF411CD. Review by Olie Brice)

Alto saxophonist and composer Michael Attias has released a series of albums in the past few years showing a deeply personal and creative voice, with bands including Renku (his trio with John Hébert and Satoshi Takeishi) and Spun Tree (with Ralph Alessi, Matt Mitchell, Sean Conly and Tom Rainey). Nerve Tree is the first release from his new Quartet – featuring heavyweights Aruán Ortiz (piano), John Hébert (double bass) and Nasheet Waits (drums)- and might just be my favourite yet of Attias’ projects.

Several of the compositions on the album share a similar approach – built up from ostinatos in the bass or the piano’s bottom end, or structured using long rhythmic patterns shared out among the musicians. With nine original pieces from Attias and two contributed by Hébert, there is a definite overall vibe to the music. Written melodies are as likely to be heard from the piano, bass and drums as the sax. However, while some ostinato-led music can tend towards a non-interactive layering, this group always approach the music with freedom and inventiveness. The time is elastic, with improvisations skittering around the patterns rather than being tied down by them. Compositionally the whole album made me think of the great Andrew Hill, especially his last album Timelines. The combination of polyrhythmic complexity, freedom and mystery seems to come from a similar place.

Attias’ own playing, like the compositions, draws heavily both on jazz history and abstraction. He has written in the past about his love of Jimmy Lyons, and shares with that genius of the alto saxophone a capacity to abstract a personal vocabulary out of an intimate knowledge of Charlie Parker. He also has a way of constantly using timbre and attack to shape every phrase, something of a lost art.

Aruán Ortiz was the least familiar to me of the musicians on this album, but I will definitely be investigating further. Cuban-born, he has worked with such magicians of the music as Andrew Cyrille, Henry Grimes and Oliver Lake. A pianist out of the Monk/Herbie Nichols/Andrew Hill school, he has a strongly resonant, dark sound and a mysterious, patient approach to developing his improvisations.

You couldn’t hope for a better rhythm section pairing than this for exploring music that is simultaneously innovative and rooted in tradition. Hébert and Waits share the ability always to be deeply swinging while taking risks and playing with complete abandon. They worked together with Andrew Hill (among many other collaborations), and this sort of material is perfectly suited to their approach.

All in all, a magical, emotionally honest and beautiful album from one of the most interesting musicians working today.

LINK: Nerve Dance trailer


CD REVIEW: Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra feat. Steve Wilson - Portraits and Places

Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra feat. Steve Wilson) - Portraits and Places
(Origin Records 82710. Review by Adrian Fry)

This CD, on the Seattle-based Origin label, is the debut recording of the New York-based big band led by trombonist/composer/arranger Scott Reeves. He has previously made albums as leader, but of smaller ensembles. The band has been in existence since 2008, the recording was made in early 2015, and the listener can hear clearly the considerable time, care and attention that has been spent rehearsing this music: the performances are as relaxed as they are accomplished. The opener, a tribute to the late pianist and educator James Williams, features Reeves on the rarely-heard alto flugelhorn and the first of several excellent piano solos from Jim Ridl. All tunes bar one are Reeves originals. 3 'n 2 demonstrates his ability to weave strong themes, rich harmony and improvisation over a seemingly unstoppable groove. The first time we hear Sara Serpa's voice is her wordless vocal on Osaka June. She floats over the ensemble adding perfectly intonated warmth and sofness. Whilst the next number Waters of March / Águas de março was composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim in 1972, Reeves has made it his own, retaining the lilting bossa feel but demonstrating his skill as an arranger in almost ten minutes of development and invention.

The centrepiece of the album is the L & T Suite which weaves themes from four twentieth century composers with Reeves' own invention, and each movement features a particular soloist. Saxophonist Steve Wilson is up first on Wants To Dance, crafting an exciting alto solo between tricky opening and closing ensemble sections. Next Matt McDonald tells A Trombonist's Tale quite beautifully. The suite closes with the exuberant Hip Kitty which once again features Ridl's pianistic artistry. Finally there's one Last Call, a soulful blues notable for solos from the bass trombone of Max Seigel and Terry Goss's baritone.

This group of fabulous musicians are continuing and developing the great tradition of big band music. In the sleeve notes Reeves thanks several well-known and respected writers who have mentored and inspired him, including Manny Albam, Mike Abene and Jim McNeely. From the evidence of this recording, it seems clear that he should be considered as being on a par with them. I can honestly say this is one of the most enjoyable albums I have heard in recent years. Lovely charts, great playing and first-class recording.

LINK: Portraits and Places at Origin Records


REVIEW: Salif Keita in the Muffathalle in Munich

Salif Keita
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Salif Keita
(Muffathalle, Muffatwerk, Munich. 24 May 2017. Review (*) by Ralf Dombrowski)

Salif Keita had to cancel last winter's tour because of ill health. As an albino in Africa, he must indeed have different health - and also cultural - problems to deal with from his compatriots. His music is a means to help create understanding. Through it he can cast aside the barriers of superstition, insecurity, and exclusion. Over the past few decades he has achieved results in building public awareness of the mistreatment and ostracising of albinos. But above all he has developed as a pivotal figure in the world of African music, and has built interest in it and awareness of it through his live performances.
Mamadou Diabaté (centre)
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

At the moment, Keita is experimenting with the combination of musical styles, and is keeping a balance between the African tradition and modern electronics. There is no bass in his band; what he does have is electronic sounds and subtly integrated loops from a laptop. Balafon and n’goni have both disappeared from the line-up, leaving a kora, along with the percussion, as the only African instrument.

The kora-payer is Mamadou Diabaté, one of the reigning monarchs of the harp-like instrument. In the Muffathalle, his instrumental sequence took the listener off into the polyrhythmic-melodic subtleties of this particular cosmos. And they were fascinating excursions: everything from bubblingly fluid cascades of notes to violent whipcracks. Apart from that, many elements are coinciding in this music: rocky elements with Afro-Funk roots, a bit of afro-beat, cycled patterns which took us right back to Keita's early days with Les Ambassadeurs, dancing episodes, volleys from the djembe....

And running right through it is Keita's singing: throaty, evocative, and in its more intense moments, completely hypnotic. Towards the end of the almost one and a half hour single set, dancers from the audience were allowed onto the stage, to join in the Afro-Party-hang. This is the moment when Salif Keita slowly and discreetly disappears from the stage and lets his musicians play on without him. Thank you and goodnight Munich - the master has moved on.

The conclusion of the Salif Keita show in the Muffathalle
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

(*) LINK: Ralf Dombrowski's original German review appeared in the Munich broadsheet - the Süddeutsche Zeitung


SIX PHOTOS: Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place

Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place (sound check)
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ msjphotos.co.uk

As a companion piece to our CONCERT REVIEW of Leszek Możdżer in Kings Place Hall One, these photos by Monika S. Jakubowska tell some of the same story. She had privileged access to the sound-check (first three pictures), she shares the same side-on view from the hall which most of the 420 spectators in the packed hall will have seen (fourth picture), she captured one his entertaining explanations (fifth picture). and witnessed him leaving the stage, with the job very well done. All pictures are copyright of MSJPhotos.

Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place (sound check)
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ msjphotos.co.uk

Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place (sound check)
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ msjphotos.co.uk

The audience view of Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ msjphotos.co.uk

Leszek Możdżer explains - at Kings Place
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ msjphotos.co.uk

Leszek Możdżer leaves the stage at Kings Place
Photo credit and copyright Monika S. Jakubowska/ msjphotos.co.uk


CD REVIEW: Polly Gibbons - Is It Me...?

Polly Gibbons – Is It Me…?
(Resonance Records RCD-1025. Review by Jeanie Barton)

Polly Gibbons is a young British lady with a shockingly mature soulful voice – perhaps only Joss Stone and Natalie Williams share her enigma. This, her second album for US label Resonance Records, charts her rise in the States. She has recently supported George Benson as well as Gladys Knight on tour, who is likely a vocal idol (they share a strikingly similar vibrato and tone.)

The band and arrangements match Polly’s output in magnitude; producer George Klabin has assembled a seven-piece horn section enhancing both her R&B and swing roots. The piano and most of the arrangements are shared by Ronnie Scott’s All Star James Pearson and Tamir Hendelman (an LA-based pianist who regularly accompanies Barbra Streisand among others.)

This album is a mixture of eclectic covers and originals, three compositions by James and Polly sit happily alongside very established songs; Midnight Prayer is enthused with gospel, Is It Me... gently swings and showcases James at the piano with a storming jazz-drenched solo, while Polly’s vocal brings to mind Al Jarreau in its playful/joyfulness. You Can’t Just… has the vibe of a '70s film theme full of attitude, like Shaft, it is great fun. As is the opening track, Patti Austin’s Ability To Swing, which starts the album with a punch - a catchy skit with a heavy nod to It Don’t Mean A Thing - it too is saturated with soul, blues and gospel.

A track which stands apart for me is Wild Is The Wind, made famous by Nina Simone; Polly’s delivery is understated and the depth of her tone absorbing, she strips the final note of all her rich vibrato, which is very effective - I think she could perhaps employ that simplicity more often. The accompaniment is more skeletal than other numbers too, giving Graham Dechter’s guitar solo space to shine. He also comes to the fore on Dr Feelgood, which gets the blood pumping.

Basin St. Blues is a wondrously sassy track, one could imagine it choreographed in a production like Chicago. It showcases all the horns with passing solos; also, within the arrangement, the band toy with tempo and groove bouncing between half time and double time feels, as they do within the closing Ellington number I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart (Willie Murillo’s trumpet solo on the latter is pure fire).

Polly’s innate husky tone belies the capabilities of her upper register; the final bonus track Don’t Be On The Outside is a live record during which, she somehow pulls out a top F - a third higher than my trick shot! As a singer and songwriter myself, I have every admiration for this lady and where she is going - undoubtedly towards deserved, enduring fame.

Personnel: Polly Gibbons - vocals, Tamir Henderson, James Pearson - piano, Shedrick Mitchell - hammond organ, Graham Dechter - guitar, Kevin Axt - bass, Ray Brinker - drums, Willie Murillo, Vinny Dawson - trumpet, Bob McChesney, Andy Martin - trombone, Bob Shepherd, Brian Scanlon, Keith Bishop, Tom Peterson - reeds.


REVIEW: Leszek Możdżer solo piano at Kings Place

Leszek Możdżer at the Kings Place soundcheck
Photo credit and copyright Monika S Jakubowska/ MSJ Photos

Leszek Możdżer solo piano
(Kings Place Hall One, 24 May 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

(ALSO SEE UPDATE: Six more photos of Leszek Możdżer at Kings Place )

Kings Place Hall One was completely sold out in advance of this show, and a mostly young and appreciative audience had gathered. One could sense that feeling of strong connection and excitement in the hall: I found myself sitting next to one happy adoptive Londoner from Leszek Możdżer's home town of Gdansk, who was also completely captivated by the show. At the end, there were any number of people happy to take their patient place in the long queue for CD signing and selfie. Możdżer, utterly charming, acquiesced to every request for one - or the other.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Monika S. Jakubowska's photos capture the vibe of the whole event. She was there from sound-check onwards. Mozdzer does set an interesting challenge for photographers, though: his long hair keeps his facial expressions almost completely under wraps...

....which perhaps is a way to make more people stop thinking about the pointless task of taking photos, and to concentrate on what is going on musically. The first thing one notices is the clarity of his intent, the natural desire to make the music's flow understandable. I thought of Jorge Bolet, that master of lucid playing who once said (guess what, wonderfully clearly): "It is a performer's responsibility to do what will best put across the piece he is playing."

Yes, Możdżer may hide his face, his remarks about what he does are flippant and funny, but he is a great communicator who does take that responsibility seriously. His playing always has a very strong sense of foreground and background. With his astonishing dexterity and control the first thing he does is to set up a consistent framework for the piece, so that the melodic line he wants to bring over – or at other times the ridiculously fast Art Tatum-style runs – have an understandable context. It is not pedantic, it is just helpful for the listener. The backgrounds are chosen with care: one piece had a kind of languid, Chopin-esque barcarolle feel, Libertango had an accented cross-rhythm; Polska was more rock-anthemic.

Możdżer is faced with the challenge of a number of successful European pianists, which is to make the solo piano recital into a viable offering for playing larger halls, basically to think bigger. From having heard two others relatively recently – the Belgian Jef Neve (review) and the Frenchman Baptiste Trotignon (review) it is fascinating to see how many different ways there are. Of the three, Neve leaves the essence of pianism furthest behind - he thinks orchestral - while Trotignon tries to be the most varied (I loved the jazz playing but had to wait a long time for it). But Możdżer is the one who can hold the attention best. I loved the clever irony of this aside: "I'm going to play a ballad now - you can all go to sleep."

As Możdżer played his encores, I was wondering if he had read my mind. Kings Place Hall One is bristling with electronics. The technical spec of this hall is unbelievable: tech companies with names beginning with Goo... and App... hold product launches in it. The venue also has a very good sound team. It is all there to be used, and Możdżer did deliver most of the programme through the speakers. I guess in larger halls he needs to. But Hall One was designed for classical music to be played acoustically, and for his final offering, all of the technology was switched off. We could delight in Chopin - the Revolutionary Etude delivered with a hurricane of passion - and then the serenity of Bach/ Busoni - both with the unaltered sound of the Steinway "D" coming at us from the middle of the stage. A great show that held the attention from start to finish.

SET LISTS (original compositions unless stated)


Medley: Land of Oblivion - She Said She Was A Painter
Prelude in C minor - Chopin
My Secret Love / Prelude 26 (Fain/Webster and Chopin)
Etude No.2 (Lutoslawski)


Libertango (Piazolla)
Svantetic (Krysztof Komeda)
Enjoy the Silence (Depeche Mode)
Suffering (Lars Danielsson)

Revolutionary Etude (Chopin)
Improvisation on Bach/Busoni Choral Prelude "Nun freut euch, lieben Christen" BWV 734


REVIEW: Mark Lewandowski's Waller at the Fringe Bar in Bristol.

Waller in Bristol
Photo credit:Jon Taylor
Mark Lewandowski's Waller
(Fringe Bar, Bristol. 24 May, 2017. Review by Jon Turney)

Bassist Mark Lewandowski’s Waller project has just given us a warmly received CD, recorded live at the Vortex. (Reviewed here). This Bristol date, filling the steamy back room of Bristol’s Fringe bar on the hottest day of the year, is part of a UK tour giving the rest of us the chance to hear the trio’s take on a matchless maestro.

Will Glaser is on drums tonight, in place of Paul Clarvis, and Liam Noble is subduing a slightly cranky Fender Rhodes instead of the acoustic instrument on the recording. The differences are intriguing. Waller tunes - mainly ones we all know although the leader mentions a few times that the man produced 400 compositions - cry out for a clean, emphatic bounce, and Glaser punches it out as exuberantlly as Clarvis. The drummer is obviously having a ball throughout, allowing himself a few startling detonations in the second set, as well as an extended spoons solo. Noble’s electric instrument, which he prefers to rigs that simulate an acoustic sound, doesn’t have the sparkle I associate with Waller, and that graces the CD. But he does such good things with it that one soon stops noticing. The second set opener, Martinique, with a Caribbean feel akin to Rollins’ St Thomas, sounds as if made for the Rhodes, and so does the doo-wop treatment of Let’s Pretend that There’s a Moon.

That pair show Lewandowski’s project is still developing, with tunes that don’t appear on the CD. We hear plenty that do as well: an outrageously funked up Honeysuckle Rose; Jitterbug Waltz stated then mutated appealingly in a way strongly reminiscent of Air’s early treatments of Jelly Roll Morton. The leader’s bass here even takes on a touch of the great Fred Hopkins, I fancy, just as I swear I caught hints of Dave Holland in his magisterial solo bass feature later on.

As that suggests, there are big helpings of strong improvisation, as the band stretch out mid-tour. But the way the trio relish Waller’s tunes, and the arrangements - bending and twisting familiar numbers in delightfully unexpected ways - is also a pleasure. It’s not all fun and games - Black and Blue, New Orleans march-style, is suitably funereal. But it is all deliciously well done.

This is a marvellous new take on an old master. It’s also one of the most enjoyable musical evenings of the year from three players who rise brilliantly to the challenge of refreshing music that was always intensely lovable but can now seem hackneyed. Not here. It just sounds as the best jazz does in the moment: simply the right way to play.

LINK: Further Tour Dates


REVIEW: Buddy Rich Big Band at Ronnie Scotts

The Buddy Rich Big Band
Image and file are copyright of Carl Hyde Photography Ltd/ carlhyde.com ©2017

Buddy Rich Big Band
(Ronnie Scotts 22 May 2017, first night of residency, first house. Review by Frank Griffith)

The centenary of Buddy Rich's birth (30 September 1917) has brought his band to Ronnie Scott's for a six-night stand until Saturday, 27 May. The band played regularly at the club regularly during the 1970s until 1986 not long before the Rich's untimely passing in April of 1987 at the age of 69. This included the recording two LPs, Rich in London (1972) and The Man From Planet Jazz (1980) the first of which featured Rich's daughter, Cathy, who hosted tonight's show. She revived That's Enough which she sang with Jon Hendricks and his two daughters all those years ago in her set. Upon entering the stage she explained how emotional it was for her to be returning to the club after so many years in her father's 100th year,  but quickly got down to business opening with The Beat Goes On which she originally recorded in the late 1960s with the band -  at the age of twelve!

The largely British band did the music and Buddy proud with a ninety minute set broken into two parts. The first part featured Cathy's husband, Gregg Potter, who got things warmed up nicely with his smooth and quite visual drumming as well as somewhat lighthearted remarks to the audience between songs. After a thirty minute setup change the renowned Dave Weckl took over to escalate the proceedings into fourth and fifth gear leading up to what was a big finish. A set that would have poleaxed a lesser band as the brass section had their work cut out for them in terms of endurance alone but prevailed heroically.

Many soloists rose to the occasion to excite and burnish the crowd with their powerful improvisations. These include trumpeter, Simon Gardner, who combined his fluid hard bop melodies with stunning flashes of high notery that impressed indeed. The powerful and sinuous trombone flightery of Mark Nightingale's solos held his own in the lower brass as did the relentlessly steaming "paid by the note" tenor sax solos of Nigel Hitchcock who for my money took top honours for the blowing Baftas of the night. Not to be outdone, the blustery and bluesy alto sax excursions of Bob Bowlby offered a welcome change to the aforementioned hard bopsters angularisms with his sound and phrasing more reminiscent of the late Gene Quill. Pianist Matt Harris brought a bit of calm and repose to the proceedings with his reflective solos allowing the temperature to cool somewhat before the next onslaught of heat crept in to beat the band.

Incidentally, Bowlby, Harris and Scotsman, baritone saxist, Jay Craig, were veterans of the last band that Buddy fielded in 1986.

Special plaudits to bassist Laurence Cottle, a fixture on the UK recording and jazz scene for his handling of the bass chair while linking up so well with not one but two drummers. UK big band fans will no doubt be aware of Cottles' stunning big band which he is also chief composer and arranger for. They have played at Ronnie's on many occasions as well. I would reckon that his intimate knowledge of the big band as a player, leader and writer allows him to bring much to the table in "driving the bus" so effortlessly.

Cathy Rich and Gregg Potter
Image &/ file are copyright of Carl Hyde Photography Ltd/ carlhyde.com ©2017

Drummer Dave Weckl's command of the idiom was spellbinding and carried off in such an effortless way, to boot. He also spoke lovingly of Rich as well as pointing out that as a young drummer, Buddy was one of his main inspirations and how honoured he was having the opportunity help carry on the legacy.

The high point for me was on the set closer Love For Sale (arranged by Brit, Pete Myers) which began with an unaccompanied drum solo. It eased into it demurely enough slowly building up to a suitable temperature for the band to enter with Cole Porter's spacious theme. This was followed by two brief but blinding solos by Bowlby (alto sax) and Gardner (trumpet) after which Weckl moved quickly over to the "right lane" and single handedly pummelled both the band and audience into bad health for the two remaining choruses. At times one was convinced that his four limbs had doubled into eight with the complexity of his multi metre fills amongst his deep dish swing that prevailed to the MGM level big climax at the chart's end. A tour de force that could only be followed by a break and long lie down for all.

A super, super night. Buddy at 100. Who could ask for more.

The entire run of shows is sold out, but cancellations/ returns are sometimes available.


CD REVIEW: Tom Haines & the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra - Live

Tom Haines & the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra - Live
(Tom Haines Music THMCD001. Review by Peter Bacon)

Composer Tom Haines who lives and works in Warwickshire, raised the money for this recording via a crowdfunding appeal and enlisted the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, started in 2014 by trumpeter Sean Gibbs, to perform five of his works before an audience at Stratford Jazz’s 30th birthday celebrations in December last year.

I was there on the night (my review on thejazzbreakfast) and was hugely impressed both by the strength and originality of Haines’ writing and by the way it was interpreted and brought to vivid life by the youthful BJO.

What sounds fine live doesn’t always pass muster when subjected to the more exacting scrutiny possible when a recording is made and turned into a CD. So I am delighted to find that in this case not only does the recording confirm my delight on the night, it actually sounds much better than the live balance could manage in what was a difficult room - circular - for amplification.

Tom Haines has, to my ears, a really fresh approach to big band writing. I get the impression he is a composer first and foremost (as opposed to a player who also composes) and he brings a broad set of influences to his writing - minimalism and contemporary as well as jazz - plus a really detailed ear and eye to the arrangements.

The opener, Yitzoid, exemplifies this approach: tight section motifs interlaced and then overlaid, a lot of jumpiness and silent spaces between the stacked-up notes. Chris Young on alto and Sean Gibbs on trumpet both get generous solo space against a rhythm section - Ben Lee on guitar, David Ferris on piano, Stuart Barker on double bass and Jonathan Silk on drums - on a rolling boil.

On the other tracks there are sterling solo efforts from Elliot Drew on soprano, Alicia Gardener-Trejo on baritone, Kieran McLeod on trombone, Ben Lee, Mike Adlington on flugelhorn, John Fleming and Vittorio Mura on tenors, David Ferris and Jonathan Silk - all of them just lovely!

Strange Utopia features a vocal from Rosie Harris that again stresses the mix of stylistic influences in the writing, her approach more classical than jazz, but here the band risks overwhelming the singer and as a composition it’s perhaps a near miss rather than a palpable hit.

In the end it’s the overall mix of great ensemble playing and strong soloing that make this such a satisfying listen - and that all goes back to having fine writing as the base metal for the band to work with. Haines, the BJO and engineer Luke Morrish-Thomas all deserve a resounding hurrah.

This album is released on 2 June.

LINK: Tom Haines' website


PREVIEW: TW12 Jazz Festival (Richmond, Sunbury and Hampton, 2-4 June)

The Gareth Lockrane Big Band

For their fifth TW12 Festival, Terry Collie and Janet McCunn have brought in what they rightly call an “eclectic mix.” Sebastian writes:

The festival uses three venues:

In Richmond, the new Queen Charlotte Hall, and the smaller “The Link” studio space at the Adult Community College in Parkshot (Friday 2 June)

In Sunbury,  the Riverside Arts Centre (Saturday 3 June)

In Hampton Hill, the Theatre (Sunday 4 June)

The UK artists involved bring strong current projects, such as:

Brandon Allen's very assured tribute to Gene Ammons with Ross Stanley (INTERVIEW) which is the main act on Saturday in Sunbury (DETAILS).

The full splendour of the Gareth Lockrane Big Band - in Richmond on Friday (DETAILS) .

Geoffrey Keezer

On Sunday there is a full programme, culminating in an appearance by Los Angeles-based pianist Geoffrey Keezer - a major coup for this festival


As a teenager, Keezer was in the last line-up of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers
He worked for three years as a member of Ray Brown's trio
He has worked with Diana Krall , Dianne Reeves, Chris Botti, Sting, Wayne Shorter, Joe Locke, Tim Garland
Grammy Nominations
He has recorded projects in his own name for Motema and Sunnyside, Dreyfus, Telarc...

I spoke briefly to Geoffrey Keezer. His last album was for solo piano, entitled Heart of the Piano. He has just finished recording a new album, partly a trio with bassist and also sound engineer Mike Pope from Baltimore which was also where the album was recorded, and drummer Lee Pearson. The trio expands into a quartet with Toronto-born singer Gillian Margot. The repertoire is new compositions by Keezer and new songs co-written with Gillian Margot: "That wa a fun process, it's inspiring to co-write. When I was in my 20s I never thought I would ever let anyone touch my music..."

I asked Keezer about Gillian Margot's music. It turns out she studied with Oscar Peterson. There is a symmetry there, considering Keezer's role in Ray Brown's trio... And as a singer? "She reminds me of Nina Simone and Roberta Flack, that soulful alto voice," but she also has a deep knowledge of the jazz canon.

Gillian Margot and Geoffrey Keezer will be doing a workshop in Hampton on the Sunday afternoon focusing on the art of accompanying vocalists (away from the festival there is also a workshop at Brighton Jazz school).

I asked about other pianists who were currently holding his attention/admiration: "Chucho Valdes – he blows my mind." (pp)



NEWS/ INTERVIEW: Miriam Ast/ Victor Gutierrez Duo - winners at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition

Victor Gutierrez and Miriam Ast
Photo credit: Mina Sanghera

The duo of German-born singer MIRIAM AST and Spanish-born pianist VICTOR GUTIERREZ have just returned (May 2017) to their adoptive city of  London having won the Best Vocalist prize at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition. They tell the story of their win to Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Tell me more about the two of you.

Miriam Ast:  I am a German jazz singer, saxophonist and composer. I have been living in London since 2014. Last year I graduated from the Royal Academy of Music, London. In Germany, I completed a Bachelor degree in jazz saxophone and singing at the Musikhochschule Mainz and was a member of the established BuJazzO (German National Jazz Orchestra). I have been lucky to perform with some established German musicians including the Polish bassist Vitold Rek, the Echo jazz awardee Sebastian Sternal, and the German saxophonist Gerd Dudek. In London, I have started to collaborate with the saxophonist Stan Sulzmann who wrote a Big Band chart to one of my original compositions. Besides the Ast/Gutierrez Duo, I sing in the London Vocal Project and I want to record my debut album with the Miriam Ast Quintet this year. As a singer, I like to improvise like an instrument and put an emphasis on musical creativity and interaction with my band members.

Victor Gutierrez:  I am a Spanish-born pianist, arranger and composer based in London. Summa Cum Laude graduate at Berklee College of Music (Boston-USA) and scholarship recipient at the Royal Academy of Music, London for a Masters in Jazz Performance, where I have performed with the likes of Norma Winstone, Dave Liebman and Joe Locke. For the previous seven years I lived in New York City and toured the US, Europe and Japan as a member of different projects.

LJN: How long has the duo been together?

MA: Victor and I met in 2015 during our Masters at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Right from the beginning, we felt a special musical connection, so we had a few jams and since then, we organise rehearsals on a regular basis. Especially in the last few years, I have started to appreciate the art form of duo-playing very much, because it allows you the greatest freedom and creativity in interacting with each other and going to unexpected places musically. Whilst in Germany, I was lucky to play duo with one of my tutors in Mainz, the established German pianist Sebastian Sternal. Together, we played a concert in my hometown in Speyer in 2015. It was Sebastian, who inspired me to follow the duo path with Victor Gutierrez in London.

VG:  The Duo is one the hardest ensemble types to make sound properly, as there is nowhere to hide. Right after the first informal jams with Miriam I got a proper reality check of what my real level as a pianist was. She is a fantastic vocalist, with impeccable time and clarity on her lines, so I knew I had to work hard in order catch up with her level. The challenge was there, and I accepted it. I guess the challenge was mutual, as I brought also harmonies and concepts she had to get familiar with. We both also worked critically to improve aspects of each other’s playing, and the result of that mutual hard work is here now.

LJN: What made you want to enter the competition?

MA:  As already mentioned, Victor and I had been regularly rehearsing together for almost two years. Last year after my graduation, we wanted to start promoting the duo properly and get some performance experience. However, we realized that we needed more exposure and visibility on the London scene and internationally to receive promoter’s attention. That is why we applied for the Bucharest International Jazz Competition.

VG:  It was definitely a great excuse to put to test our project and get some sort of reassurance that our work goes in the right direction. And it was a great excuse to visit a city that otherwise we wouldn’t have!

LJN: Tell us about how the competition works/mechanics/judges/prize?

VG:  Basically there is a selection of 22 bands for the semi-final. Each band performs twice in different venues and 4-5 bands make it to the final, which means another two performances. There is a grand prize, best band prize and a best vocalist prize.

We shared the final with the Boston Swing Trio (USA), Soft West (Australia), Aaron Gunst Quintet (Netherlands) and the other UK-band, Samuel Eagles’ Spirit, which received an honorary special prize.

The jury was formed of two teachers from the Fullerton College in California, an Australian pianist and a Romanian professor of music.

LJN: Was anyone else from the UK there?

MA:  Yes, the other UK band was Samuel Eagles’ Spirit. The line-up was Samuel and his brother Duncan Eagles on saxophones, Dave Hamblett on drums, Sam Leak on piano and Max Luthert on double bass. I knew Sam and Dave from London (Sam and I lived in the same flat for about a year) and it was great to get to know the rest of the band in Bucharest. I really liked Samuel’s compositions and their band sound, which was very energetic and virtuoso. We also had some very nice hangs together in the old town of Bucharest and I am very glad to have met these great musicians who are also very lovely people.

LJN: How international was it?

MA:  It was extremely international. The bands came from 20 different countries around the world including Australia, USA, Japan, Nepal, Brazil, Hungary, Canada etc. There were also a few jam sessions organised during the week, which meant that we had the chance to play together and hang together.

LJN:  What about the experience/ /how long were you there for?

VG:  The competition lasted one week, from the first semi-finals to the final. I felt that the duo got stronger over the four performances to the final, and actually some of the judges praised this aspect together with the strength of our musical concept and arrangements, which was really uplifting. The best part was the great level displayed by many bands, especially the finalists. Among the lows was the absence of professional equipment/instruments available for the entire competition. We had to do all our performances on an electric piano, even in the final, which, as a duo in an international competition, really dwarfs the other lows related to the organization, payment, and treatment dispensed to the competitors, etc.

LJN: What did you perform in the competition?

VG:  A selection of arrangements of standards we love from the Great American Songbook (The Song Is You, Alone Together, Round Midnight…) and also a bunch of originals we have been working on. As for the arrangements, Miriam was always very creative about forms and sections whereas I brought harmonic ideas and grooves. It was truly a teamwork.

LJN: Did you expect to win? :)

MA: Our goal was to reach the final. We were very happy about that achievement and did not expect to receive a prize in the final. We focused on enjoying the experience of performing on an international stage so we sang and played our hearts out on the final night. Obviously, we were very honoured about the Best Vocalist prize for our duo.

LJN: Who else were you impressed by?

MA:  In the finals, in which five bands competed, I extremely enjoyed listening to the band Soft West from Australia. The band consisted of some high-level Australian jazz musicians who had a very tight and fusion-like band sound. Very impressive! They came all the way from Australia and I really appreciated their effort and commitment to come all the way to Europe. I also very much enjoyed listening to Samuel Eagles’ Spirit who played beautifully and are all very accomplished and experienced British jazz musicians.

VG: I also thought that the Australians and Sam Eagles' band had the strongest original material and probably the strongest musicians. It is no accident that Sam has a record deal with Whirlwind Recordings. The winners of the other prizes displayed a style more rooted in tradition with no original compositions, but still good energy and swing. A music competition is really a bizarre place, and the criteria to give prizes away may completely differ as the jury changes from one year to the other.

The Official Certificate 

LINKS: Victor Gutierrez' website
Miriam Ast's website


IN SADNESS: Manchester in mourning

The MEN Arena in 2006
Photo: public domain

Manchester-born singer-pianist Jeremy Sassoon shares an initial reaction to the atrocities at the MEN Arena last night:

Manchester. Our city. Our vibrant music city. Another 21,000 sell-out night at the largest indoor arena in the UK. Most of us have watched gigs there, been through the foyer, traversed that walkway, a walkway that encapsulates the typically bizarre Mancunian relationship between an incongruous 1844 railway station and a 20-year-old sports and concert arena. Industrial revolution meets post-Madchester in one classic cameo.

It’s the morning after the night before. I’ve slept on and off through the night with the radio on. “Fatalities” at 11pm became “19 fatalities” at 1am (this one was too difficult to stomach) and has now become 22. I know a few people who were at the gig, but safely made it out. Some people are still looking for their kids. The local Holiday Inn housed 50 children who attended the gig unaccompanied by their parents, and is seeking to unite them. I saw people offering their city centre rooms on Facebook for people at the MEN Arena to take shelter overnight. Good people. Very good people.

As I reflect on last night, I’m haunted by that surreal experience of watching events unfold on TV, knowing nothing for sure, yet being certain that history was being written in front of my eyes.

At first it reminded me of the 1996 IRA bomb exploding in Manchester (I heard that from 10 miles away). And yet not one person was killed by that IRA bomb. That wasn’t luck. Back in those days, terrorists placed a phone call before detonating anything. It doesn’t bear thinking of that, the whole MEN arena would have been totally cleared had that been the case last night. No, these perpetrators are truly bastards. But far worse. I don’t wish to talk much about them.

My point is that this event feels very different. This assault has nothing to do with bricks and mortar, shopping centres and the businesses within, it’s about life and death. This is not our 1996, this is our 9/11. It cuts far deeper.

On a personal level, it’s sharply brought out the Mancunian in me. Nothing galvanised New Yorkers more than 9/11 and as I write this, every Mancunian is feeling it too. And we’re a strong bunch and a very proud city. Every friend who works in the city centre has gone into work today. Manchester will look exactly the same, but feel very, very different.

Enter Andy Burnham. Talk about an initiation from hell. He was elected Mayor of Manchester only a fortnight ago, and now finds himself saddled with the task of guiding this great city through this disaster and out the other side. I spent a few minutes last night Googling Andy Burnham, and I like what I read. He’s born on Merseyside and represented Leigh as MP, so what he lacks in mayoral experience, he makes up for in good Northern stock. He’s a man who decided to donate 15% of his mayoral salary to mental health charities. As an ex-psychiatrist, I take my hat off to a man like that. Unfortunately, demands on these services will be even higher in the aftermath of what has just happened, so he may want to review that figure, but I trust him.

I don’t know how our emotions will develop over the coming days or weeks. It’s only 14 hours old and the wounds are still very fresh. We’re reminded by the police we’re still not out of the woods as regards repeat attacks, yet we should go about our usual business. For many of us, tomorrow’s business will be supporting Manchester United in the Europa League Final. Not only will there be a minute’s silence for the victims of this atrocity, every fan will be singing their heart out for the city of Manchester and its beloved children tragically lost only a few hours ago.

LINK: Appeal / fund to support the families of the MEN Arena victims


PHOTOS/REVIEW: JQ Legends Festival, Birmingham

Alina Bzhezhinska paying tribute to Alice Coltrane
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

John Watson captured some of the action at the 2017 JQ Legends Festival (19-21 May 2017), presented by Birmingham Jazz in various venues around Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Reports jointly by Peter Bacon and Ben Daniels.

How do you bring together the jazz audience that loves the music’s heritage with the listeners who thrive on the surprise of the new? Birmingham Jazz has come up with an ingenious solution in its Legends Festival, now in its third year. It gets contemporary players to celebrate the legends of the past but in their own contemporary manner.

Chris Bowden (unusually on tenor) and Legend guest curator Bryan Corbett
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Peter Bacon writes: 

This year’s loose theme was the Blue Note label and the players who recorded for it. Guest curator Bryan Corbett, a trumpeter who has been very much wedded to that idea of reinventing the past since his work in Us3 led four different bands over the three days, including one with powerful saxophonist Chris Bowden, himself something of a Birmingham legend. Meanwhile another good friend of Birmingham Jazz, saxophonist Tony Kofi, featured in tributes to John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman.

Tony Kofi playing Coltrane
Photo credit: © John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk
The Ornette gig was my highlight. Kofi has a bona fide Coleman link - he played with him on a Jamaaladeen Tacuma recording session - and he, Byron Wallen on trumpet, Larry Bartley on double bass and Rod Youngs on drums made sure that they not only played true to themselves on a selection of Ornette tunes, they communicated their own brand of that visceral excitement stirred up by the Coleman Quartet at the turn of the ‘60s.

I also enjoyed two young bands, the David Ferris Trio playing the music of Jimmy Smith and the Nick Dewhurst Quintet playing Kenny Doreham tunes, both free entry gigs in Jewellery Quarter coffee bars.

Ben Daniels writes:

Two outstanding performances came from the brilliant harpist Alina Bzhezhinska, in a tribute to the work of Alice Coltrane, and from bassist Alec Dankworth's Spanish Accents.

Alec Dankworth adding the crucial flamenco rhythm
Photo credit: © John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk
Emily Dankworth in Spanish mood
Photo credit: © John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Alina, with saxophonist Tony Kofi, bassist Larry Bartley and drummer Joel Prime, demonstrated that the harp can be a tremendously expressive jazz instrument, while Alec's group strongly evoked the power of flamenco in a dazzling show, with superb singing from his daughter Emily Dankworth.