NEWS: Vote now for the Parliamentary Jazz Awards 2017

An award similar to the one now attracting nominations
Reports of the death of the Parliamentary Jazz Awards are, Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon is delighted to report, greatly exaggerated.

The Parliamentary Jazz Awards are alive and well - they've just moved house. The traditional bun fight on the terrace at the Houses of Parliament is not going to happen this year, instead the great and the good of British jazz will be at the new Pizza Express in Holborn, which is where the awards will be announced on Tuesday 10 October.

Nominations close on Wednesday 16 August - that is just 16 days away! So don't delay, vote today for:

Jazz Album of the Year (released in 2016 by a UK band or musicians)

Jazz Vocalist of the Year (UK-based vocalist who impressed in 2016)
Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year (UK-based musician who impressed in 2016)
Jazz Ensemble of the Year (UK-based group who impressed in 2016)
Jazz Venue of the Year (including jazz clubs, venues, festivals and promoters)
Jazz Media Award (including broadcasters, journalists, magazines, blogs, listings and books)
Jazz Education Award (to an educator or project for raising the standard of jazz education in the UK)
Jazz Newcomer of the Year (UK-based artist, musician or group with a debut album released in 2016)
Services to Jazz Award (to a living person for their outstanding contribution to jazz in the UK) 



George Cables
Photo credit: Terrence Jennings
New York-born GEORGE CABLES is one of the great jazz pianists. A former Jazz Messenger who worked extensively with Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper in their prime, he is still at the top of his game.  After his soundcheck and before playing two sets at the Upstairs Club in Montreal during the 2017 Jazz Festival, Sebastian asked him to talk through his four most recent albums. His thoughtful nature, his good humour and a generous and optimistic spirit all shine through instantly in this short interview. Audio production by Harry Jones:


0:00 Opening music: Happiness from the album Icons and Influences (2014)

My Muse was dedicated to George Cables' late partner Helen Wray.

2: 24 Music: My Old Flame from the album My Muse (2012)

Happiness was the first song that George Cables wrote. It describes "the idealistic positive young man that I was," and has reminders of his mother's nature: "ready to see what each new day holds."

5: 38 Music:  Happiness from the album Icons and Influences (2014)

Mr Anonymouse was an unexpected room-mate in a cheap hotel room in Chicago. "He escaped before I could get his name."

10: 57 Music: Mr Anonymouse from the album In Good Company (2015)

One of Helen Wray's sisters is called Ann Marie, who is always known as Reggie. "She's a great young woman with a great sense of humour." 

15: 06 Music AKA Reggie from the album George Cables Songbook (2016)

LINKS: Review of the George Cables Trio at Upstairs
For an interview going far deeper see Ethan Iverson's... 


FESTIVAL REPORT: 2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – 29th July

2017 Manchester Jazz Festival – Saturday 29th July
(Report and photographs by Adrian Pallant)

Celebrating its 22nd year, Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf) is now under way, with artistic director Steve Mead and his team presenting a ten-day procession of increasingly diverse music from international big names and local musicians. Adrian Pallant reports on some of the first day's performances.

Manchester Jazz Festival is a cosmopolitan melting pot of shows from both new and returning artists, exciting debut appearances, the popular Northern Line showcase of 11 free gigs in 11 hours, and mjf’s all-important new commission. As ever, the festival is well served by excellent city-centre venues such as the RNCM, Stoller Hall, Band on the Wall, Matt & Phreds, St Ann’s Church; and this year, the hub’s main venue comes in the form of an elegant 1920s spiegeltent (mirror tent) – the Salon Perdu – an empathetic, oak-panelled space resplendent with drapes and encircled by cosy booths, coloured glass window lights and mirrored panels.

And so to the live music… which, year on year, is engineered so successfully on so many levels. From the eclecticism of the performances to the continuity and punctuality of the schedule; from the commitment to high-quality sound production to an obvious enthusiasm from staff and volunteers; and then the sheer thrill of original, new music from artists associated with this ever-widening genre of contemporary jazz.

Nikki Iles Quintet

A welcome return for one of jazz’s most eloquent pianists, Nikki Iles took the Salon Perdu stage with the familiar faces of bassist Steve Watts and drummer James Maddren, plus a young frontline duo of trumpeter (BBC New Generation Artist) Laura Jurd and tenor saxophonist Josh Arcoleo. In an hour’s set which included the shuffling groove of Christine Jensen’s Upper Fargo and Stan Sulzmann’s crackling tenor-and-trumpet tune You’ve Read the Book, here was a quintet who noticeably enjoyed their sparky, new-found camaraderie.

Nikki Iles’ aqueous, romantic Moontide – written to reflect the special atmospheres created by Norma Winstone and the late John Taylor – featured wistful tenor and restrained trumpet solos supported by an undulating piano figure, with Iles’ more oblique glints escaping from the pervading swell, as well as offering long, melodic lines which might easily have represented Norma Winstone’s inimitable, emotional tones. Meditation – a heartfelt tribute to Geri Allen, who recently passed away at the age of 60 – was sensitively introduced by a plaintive, folk-song melody shared between piano, trumpet and sax, before Watts and Maddren shaped it into a rhythmically ebullient celebration (perhaps echoing Allen’s work with luminaries such as Paul Motian, Charlie Haden and Ornette Coleman).

Iles commented that it was Steve Mead’s suggestion to her to put together this band especially for 2017’s mjf – as he had done, back in 2002, when that particular ensemble went on to become The Printmakers (which includes Watts and Maddren, alongside Mike Walker, Mark Lockheart and Norma Winstone). So the success of this festival clearly reached far beyond its annual ten days; and, in that vein, we may have the pleasure of seeing this new, ‘one-off’ quintet again.

Josh Arcoleo (tenor), Steve Fishwick (bass), Laura Jurd (trumpet)


Rebecca Nash’s prominence as a particularly inventive keyboardist and pianist has grown through such bands as Dee Byrne’s Entropi (who featured in 2016’s mjf). Still in its infancy, Atlas’s distinct electro-groove – courtesy of Nash’s angular, chordal voicings in tandem with the electric bass and effects of Chris Mapp, as well as Matt Fisher’s incredible drum intricacy and energy – channelled propulsive, resonant soundscapes from which popular trumpeter Nick Malcolm and band newcomer, electric guitarist Thomas Seminar Ford, took flight. In Grace, oscillating electronics, and looped guitar created a magical aura out of Chris Mapp’s Soft Machine-styled five-string-bass riff, Nash colouring it with sustained, ambient tones and Fisher as intuitive as ever at the kit in responding to Seminar Ford’s rhythms. Breezy Little Light preceded Peaceful King (written by Rebecca Nash, in memory of her father), full of harmonic textures with a rocky edge; and Dreamer introduced acoustic piano, along with dazzling, rapid-fire solo guitar. But perhaps Atlas’s most effective episode came in their closing number, Trip to Inishbofin, characterising a visit to the small Irish island (“not a smooth boat ride”) with an impressively overdriven groove featuring scratchy guitar fretwork, boiling bass and the magnificent drumming intensity of Fisher.

Rebecca Nash (keyboards, piano)


Taking to stage two years ago for an mjf ‘BBC Introducing’ session, young London-based collective Nerija won many hearts with their fresh, Afrobeat showcase. Returning for a full hour at mjf 2017, this septet – fronted by two saxes, trumpet and trombone – it was clear that they have become an incredibly assured unit, supported energetically by a rhythm section with the guitar exuberance of Shirley Tetteh at its heart. Naturally instilled with a superb sense of rhythm, and visibly feeling each others’ solos, Nerija’s original numbers were brought to life through a beautifully-phrased horn synergy whose crescendos/diminuendos, tricks and flicks made their on-stage presence so absorbing.

Including numbers from their debut EP, such as Pinkham V and Redemancy, they displayed such a sense of equilibrium that improvisational threads constantly bubbled up to the surface, seemingly without replaying ideas. In Nascence, Rose Turton’s lithe trombone also tugged at the leash, such was her searching spirit; and the band’s interpretation of Jackie McLean’s Hipnosis included a mysterious alto/trombone groove, guitar crackles, and trumpet and tenor snorts. Saxophonists Nubya Garcia and Cassie Kinoshi are already outstanding exponents of their respective tenor and alto, dazzling with their imaginative, fiery extemporisations. The Salon Perdu audience especially loved Where It Ends and Begins – drummer Lizy Exell’s direct, intuitive and clangy delivery a feast for the eyes – whilst the infectious, summery, township vibe of The Fisherman might easily have prompted an encore.

Nubya Garcia (tenor sax)

Dave Maric, Phronesis and Engines Orchestra

Commissioned jointly by Cheltenham, Manchester and London jazz festivals, this was only the second outing for Decade Zero – a fascinating concept which brings together Phronesis (Jasper Høiby, Ivo Neame, Anton Eger) with eight string and woodwind members of Engines Orchestra. Introducing the concept which came to him of expanding, in a different direction, the now world-renowned trio’s music, composer Dave Maric said, simply: “Imagine writing a piece for Phronesis x 3!”; and describing the Engines Orchestra’s suitability for such a project, conductor Phil Meadows (London-based saxophonist and alumnus of Manchester’s Chetham’s School of Music) explained his vision of setting up a community of young players who might play music outside of more traditional orchestral parameters.

Preceding Maric’s five-movement work of approximately 35 minutes, a white-clad Phronesis lit up the Stoller Hall with a handful of trio numbers from their catalogue, including propulsive 67000 MPH. Even after ten years together, they still have a breathtaking ability to own the stage; and now, despite its unfathomable complexity, the music appears to fall so easily to them as they share knowing glances and smiles – yet the acoustic electricity and immediacy is as amped-up as ever.

Without any sense of preconception, the initial response to Decade Zero was that it felt unfamiliar, more ‘contemporary classical’, even intangible. But as it proceeded, the cohesivity of Dave Maric’s thoughts were revealed; and the connection between piano, bass, drums, string quartet and woodwind was made as vivace, pizzicato orchestral sounds merged with Eger’s ‘cutlery’ percussiveness and the characteristic, resonant pliancy of Høiby’s bass. Under Meadows’ strong direction, the young ‘Engines’ were extraordinarily accomplished (in such an arena, any difficulty would surely have been tangible) – and the cinematic landscapes they lifted from Maric’s score suggested Ravel, Britten, perhaps even Milhaud. Piano joined with woodwind and strings, in the fourth movement, to create morse code effects, whilst Ivo Neame’s sustained, piano-concerto romanticism, in the fifth, segued into minimalist repetitive figures before a tumultuous, Phronesis-style closing crescendo.

The immediate response at the conclusion, having begun to understood its concept, was that a second hearing would be keenly anticipated. That opportunity will be available at this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival.

Jasper Høiby (double bass)
Phronesis, Phil Meadows, Engines Orchestra

Manchester Jazz Festival continues, daily, until Sunday 6th August.
Full programme at

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site


CD REVIEW: Rose Ellis – Like Songs Like Moons

Rose Ellis – Like Songs Like Moons 
(Zennez Records. CD Review by Jane Mann)

Like Songs Like Moons is the first album by vocalist and songwriter Rose Ellis (also known as Roos Plaatsman). After studying music in Groningen, in her home country The Netherlands, Ellis won a Scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in New York, where she recorded this record.

This is an impressive debut, not least because Ellis wrote eight of the eleven tracks herself. I am reminded of Joni Mitchell by her storytelling lyrics, and a similar approach to melody, which makes for unexpected twists and turns before the song is run. She also includes a small prologue in some of her songs, in the manner of 1940s songwriters like Cole Porter. She does this in one of my favourites from this album, Early in the Morning, which incidentally won her the ASCAP Composers Award in 2016 at the Lincoln Center. This track shows off her lovely voice, especially when she harmonises sweetly with herself, and her very fine band.

Much of her jazz inspiration “comes from jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Billie Holiday”. You can hear the influence of her heroines, certainly - she can scat brilliantly, and her range is a match for Ella’s, but it is definitely her own voice. Her technique is impressive - a fine clear voice and beautiful phrasing. One of the tracks is a previously unrecorded Billie Holiday composition Preacher Boy, which she sings appropriately poignantly, with a simple piano accompaniment.

She is well served on this record by her excellent band of musicians: American Glenn Zaleski on piano, Chilean (but currently based in Brooklyn) Pablo Menares on bass and American Ross Pederson (who is currently on tour in Europe with his other band The Manhattan Transfer) on drums.

The other standout track for me is the confident Don’t Be Afraid, which sounds like a previously unheard Bill Evans song. Zaleski, who cites Evans as one of his big influences, plays superbly, but then so do the rest – these performers play as a quartet of equals rather than singer and sidemen.
Ellis and her band are all based in New York, and play there often, but she does play in her native Groningen occasionally. Check her website for details.

LINK: Rose Ellis' website


INTERVIEW: Liam Noble (Brother Face recording on Bandcamp released)

Liam Noble

The pianist and composer Liam Noble has released a 2013 live recording by his band Brother Face, which also included Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Shabaka Hutchings (tenor, clarinet), Dave Whitford (double bass) and Dave Wickens (drums), as a download only via Bandcamp. Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon thought up the silly questions; Liam provided the sensible answers.

LondonJazz News: Brother Face. Strange name for a band. Where does it come from?

Liam Noble: Well, I like strange names because they don’t mean anything… or maybe something seems completely abstract but somehow makes you wonder if there might be more to it after all.  That meaninglessness is something I have always aspired to in music, something that is simply well made and can create an emotional reaction because of that and nothing else. Robert Creeley, whose poetry I really love, used the expression in a poem called Histoire de Florida, describing his own reflection in a mirror. I liked the way the words sounded and, as happened with my solo recording’s cover photo, I liked this idea of a kind of inner dialogue with someone or something.

LJN: This recording comes from the band’s tour in 2013. Was it a pleasurable experience, that tour? Are you happy with the recorded results?

LN: Yes, it was a pleasurable experience!  I don’t do my own projects that often, I guess I am a sideman by trade and that’s a comfortable role for me, but occasionally I feel the pull of writing some new music despite myself (unfortunately, no one else wants to write my music or get my band together…)  I knew everyone in this group really well except for Shabaka, whom I met in 2012 and felt had an approach to music that would fit right in.

So it was a bit of a mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar, doing composed music with the trio that made Brubeck, which was much more a “jazz” album, and then adding two horns and exploring a wider way of interpreting written material.  I think Alex Killpartrick’s recording really brings out the nuances of this gig; there were a lot of quiet sounds, and he makes them really jump out, but the fire is there too.

LJN: Is your composing for a group like this simply an extension of the same process you have when composing for, say, solo piano or improvising, or is it a whole different ball game? Give us a few insights into your compositional method?

LN: Composition is a weird process for me, it’s like a “boiling down”, shaping an idea to its most concise form.  I try and do something that I can’t do when I improvise, which is to edit after the fact.  For me a composition should be like a compressed, dense object that somehow “opens out” as improvisers interact with it, wheres an improvisation can somehow unfold instinctively and be more verbose. A lot of improvisers like compositions that mesh seamlessly with the improvising so that you can’t tell what is improvised and what is composed. I’ve never worked that way, I like the separation; I don’t think my improvisations sound like my compositions, although some people thought my solo piano pieces on A Room Somewhere were composed, when actually I improvised them all.

I always try and aim for “moments” in music, for events, things happening. I don’t like a lot of flying around, or at least that’s never been my strength as an improviser, so I have had to build a way of working around things I like. One of those is counterpoint; I listened a lot to Gould playing Bach, and the sound of those lines colliding seeped into my practice… so now I see chords more as a snapshot of several moving lines rather than as vertical objects. That opens up the harmonic range a bit, but also makes it a bit fragile. Obscurity, for example, has a bit of Prokofiev in the mix, but also some Fats Domino; it didn’t really work as a chord sequence so we just faded it out and had the horns add a bit of “noise”.

So I think sometimes looking outside the typical jazz chordal vocabulary means you also have to change the improvisational approach.  People like Tim Berne, Bobby Previte, Wayne Horvitz and Bill Frisell have influenced me a lot in that respect, and yet they are all completely individual.  That scene around John Zorn in the eighties and after was as much a “golden age” of music for me as was the 1945-65 (or thereabouts) period that forms the basis of most jazz thinking now.  I love that stuff too.  I think if music is moving forward at all, it is the way that people mix up the huge volume of music that is now accessible for study, imitation and absorption, into a personal identity.

LJN: I remarked in a review of this band live at the mac in Birmingham on that same tour, with reference to your solos: “The lighter-hearted stuff he tends to leave to others…” Fair comment or a calumny? Do you have “intentions” when you are improvising? Or are you just “away with the fairies”?

LN: I just had to Google “calumny”, there’s another one for my thesaurus! I’m not sure how serious I want the music to sound, but certainly I’m serious about trying to make it sound good; maybe that comes across in some way. I think I do have intentions which, in a similar way to composing, are to honour the material, stay focused on the notes.

Being away with the fairies is good, as long as the fairies have good notes to offer. But definitely I’m away somewhere, that’s for sure, in the zone, whatever you might call it.  It’s a state of mind where things that would normally require a lot of thought and logic to produce just come into your head and on to your fingers. Almost like making oneself as stupid, as brainless, as possible.  If things are going well, at the end of a tune it’s like I’m waking up after a long sleep. I guess I spend a lot of time thinking about intentions in between performances, imagining things in my head, practising, all that stuff. Nothing ever comes “off the top” of anyone’s head, not really.

LJN: There are a couple of dedications in the tune titles - to Harry Beckett and to Geri Allen. Tell me about people who have influenced you: somebody who has had a direct and even obvious impact on your music; and then somebody whose influence we’d never guess.

LN: Harry was someone I played with a lot, one of those people who was a complete individual but in the tradition too. He was originally from Barbados, and that dance-like feeling always seemed to be in the music, yet he fitted right in to a jazz tradition. In the case of Geri Allen, I wrote that tune and thought parts of it sounded so much like her early music that I wanted to acknowledge that somehow; that I knew I had nicked a certain amount of it! She was a massive influence, both as composer and improviser.

There are a lot of piano players that have influenced me, but I think Duke Ellington has to be the first and strongest of those influences. Somehow his way of dropping sounds into space that make everyone else sound good, almost making the space itself groove rather than the notes… and his touch, that was the first time I heard someone really play the piano with that kind of percussive intention. I guess it’s an African thing, and whilst I hate name checking  a whole continent in such an offhand way to describe music, it seems the only way to say it. It’s music that is ongoing, continuous, a loop of infinity; and when Ellington plays you feel like he’s just tapping into it for that bit of time… there’s no sense of carving a beginning, middle and end as classical composers often do. Everything is unfinished, tunes are just something to hang the notes on so everyone can fit together... that’s the feeling I like about improvised music, and why composing is such a strange and delicate act in this music.

So that’s my (hopefully) obvious influence…one that is a little more tangential (and recent) is that of Japanese classical music. Again it’s a lot to do with the idea of sound as a structural “object”. In this music, sounds come and go and are almost unrelated, rhythm is like a sense of breathing rather than a pulse… my piece Essays In Idleness was written with that in mind, and the musicians all got it completely in the way they improvise around it. I guess it comes out more in the freer side of my playing, but I hear it in Steve Lacy’s solo playing as well as in aspects of Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.  I can’t hear any of these players as hard bop or bebop players at all, it’s like they are eating monuments of sound that stand immobile as everything else moves around them.

The image which accompanies the Brother Face album on Bandcamp

LJN: You’ve put this album out on Bandcamp. Any possibilities of a physical release? Cassette even (there’s a link to the cover picture)? Or is that all old hat in this download/streaming age? Fancy giving your two-penn’orth on the state of recorded music? Or bored/depressed by the whole subject?

LN: In practical terms, this was a recording of a particular time, now passed, that has been sitting on my hard drive and I thought it might as well sit on some other people’s hard drive too. To make it into a run of double CD would require a tour to sell them, and I don’t think that’s going to happen for various reasons. So I view it as a kind of archive release; I’m really proud of the music, and everyone plays their arse off.  I hope everyone that wants to hear it knows that it’s out there!

In terms of the general situation with recorded music, I really don’t know what to do about it or what to say about it… there are people that can make a success of their career on this kind of subscription basis, putting out lots of music on sites like Bandcamp and having a continuous stream of stuff up, almost like a musical magazine. There’s something I like about that, and if I had a nice quiet room with great microphones and a person that knew how to use them, plus a spare 50 grand for a great piano, that’s what I’d be doing. I’d quite like to do some stuff that’s more electronic-based, home produced, but… there’s a lot of people going in that direction… maybe when every single person in the world uses a streaming service (and it will have to be one and one only) there might be a pot big enough to make it sustainable for the “content providers” (I hate those words).

For now, I like looking around the room at my CDs and seeing a kind of path back to my past, how I got here, what I like. It gives me a sense of myself.  Of course, there’s definitely too much choice, everywhere in life… whoever is reading this is probably thinking they should be reading something else, just in case it might be more urgent, or there might be a video of a cat falling off the back of a bear they should attend to… we all do it!

LJN: Footballer and Forest Green captain Liam Noble pips you to the post in an internet search. Have you met him? Any grand plans to rob him of his “most famous Liam Noble” crown?

LN: Haha yes, I remember when I felt I was the only “Liam” in the world. Then there was Oasis. Now everyone is called Liam. There’s also another Liam Noble, an actor. Maybe we should organise a meet up, the three of us, and we could sit around a pub table awkwardly looking in different directions with our pints. I like the sound of that. My Facebook post would read, “Humbled and honoured to be part of this great meeting of Liam Nobles”, and two other people called Liam Noble could like it. It sounds like a really cool idea. It would, I suspect, have more likes than anything else I have ever posted!

LINKS: Brother Face's recording on Bandcamp

Liam Noble's website

Liam Noble's blog


REVIEW: Loop Collective at Frome Festival

Dave Smith (front right) and Fofoulah

Loop Collective at Frome Festival
(The Silk Mill, Frome, 13-14 July 2017. Review by Leander Hobbs)

A small town in Somerset might seem an unusual setting for a weekend of pioneering jazz and improvisation, but that’s exactly what Dave Smith and his Loop collective delivered with their debut performance at the Frome Festival.

Frome is building quite the reputation as a European hub for artists and performers exploring original music. It’s not surprising when you consider residents include saxophonist and composer Iain Ballamy, jazz pianists John Law and Jason Rebello, saxophonist Sam Crockatt and the aforementioned Dave Smith, drummer for Robert Plant (amongst others) and founder of Loop collective.

Founded in 2005, Loop is a group of musicians exploiting the opportunities of collaborative working to encourage and support new and exciting music within the jazz and improvised music genre. It currently has around 20 core groups and 17 members working across the UK and Europe at the forefront of the modern jazz scene. The group’s performance at the Frome Festival in the town’s iconic Silk Mill showcased a vast array of musical influences that included electronic-improv, hip-hop, West African jazz, drones, soundscapes and film.

Kit Downes & Tom Challenger, Thursday 13 July

Downes and Challenger have been working together since 2014 exploring through the mediums of film and music, the acoustic qualities and potentialities of the organ as an instrument of improvisation and discovery. The work, part of Aldeburgh Music’s Open Space project, gave birth to an intriguing and critically acclaimed album – Vyamanikal – as well as a successful UK tour that has pushed the boundaries of traditional organ music.

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger

The packed set kicked off with extracts from the album using a two-harmonium/cello/sax set-up. The sound lingered somewhere between sweeping cinematic vista and breathy soliloquy as the pair shared the solemn, humble and at times playful capabilities of an instrument that has been much-overlooked due in part to its strong religious context.

The layering of cello over harmonium and sax gave an earthy pull to the composition, a rich, deep and at times unsettling bass line that hinted at the organ’s association with some of the more controversial religious annals. Downes and Challenger have created something historic, thought-provoking and yet surprisingly contemporary and it kicked off what was to be two-days of pure sonic exploration.

Splice, Thursday 13 July 

Fusing influences from contemporary jazz, free improvisation, punk grit and ambient music, Splice aka Alex Bonney (trumpet/electronics), Robin Fincker (sax/clarinet), Dave Smith (drums) and Pierre Alexandre Tremblay (bass/electronics) treated an unsuspecting audience to a surprising journey that turned musical form and juxtaposition on its head in what was an intensely powerful performance. Glitch solos, fragile melodies and abrasive doom metal motivations left us breathless as the audience desperately clung to anything approaching structural familiarity.  If your thing is free-jazz that expertly traverses the borderless lands between genres then this was the performance for you. Exhausting but overwhelmingly exciting.

Fofoulah Vs Ruhabi, Friday 14 July 

Afro-jazzers Outhouse Ruhabi and electronic Afro-rock group Fofoulah dialled up the heat on Friday night with a soundscape of sensational sabar drum rhythms in a partnership of two very different and distinct musical personalities. Drawing on West African song forms, the two groups contrasted and collided sci-fi synths, raw acoustic improvisation, trance-like grooves, Wolof rap and even electro-dub basslines for an ambient voyage through Ethiopia, Algeria, Senegal and back to Frome in the beat of a drum. Managing to stay the right side of both world music and jazz, the set was rich and deeply personal with a passion that translated into the frenetic movements of both audience and crew for a finale that transcended boundaries.

Vibes and rafters - Jim Hart at Frome
Photo credit: Alex Bonney

Alongside these stand-out performances were special appearances by Corner Pieces and Jim Hart with his wonderful solo vibraphone stylings.  For a festival not particularly billed as an homage to jazz music, Loop collective did well to shore up an audience of both jazz-enthusiasts and a new generation of discoverers. With the existing local jazz scene predominantly focused in Bristol and Bath, this weekend felt like something new and fresh for Frome. Long may it continue.

LINK: More about Loop collective  


CD REVIEW: Kim Cypher - Make Believe

Kim Cypher – Make Believe
(KCM001 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

Saxophonist and singer Kim Cypher breaks through onto the national stage with this beguiling and accessible collection of originals and classics, performed with great verve and style.

Cheltenham-based Cypher (who therefore sounds a little like a product of GCHQ, another of the town’s notable connections) plays the full range of saxes from soprano to baritone. Her tone on all of them is full and clear, with nods to both Andy Sheppard for richness and Pee Wee Ellis for occasional grunt. She sings too – with a delightfully mature and crisp voice that oozes confidence. The overall style of this collection might be termed ‘smooth jazz’, but that would simply not do justice to the variety on offer throughout these 13 tracks.

Cypher puts her original compositions up front, with a dramatic opening to her song Make Believe with its soaring sax line before swinging into the vocal and a nicely judged scat chorus. Cheltenham jazz festival regular/improvisation guru Alex Steele provides sensitive piano accompaniment and soloing, before the band moves into the wafting waltz original Hayley. My Big Bossa is just that, showing Cypher’s tenor sax to good effect, while It Makes No Difference and My Oh My shimmer in a late night vibe of relaxation and reflection.

The album gathers pace at the halfway point, with Cypher’s Slinky Minxy hitting the Parisian café mood with accordion accents. Next up is John Lennon’s Imagine; my heart always hits the floor seeing this noble-but-droning tune coming up, but Cypher finds an upbeat organ riff from Anders Olinder, refrains from singing and treats it as an alto sax workout in the direction of Jr. Walker with very satisfying results. Tainted Love is given a treatment going back towards its Northern Soul roots with a jaunty performance featuring some nice trumpet work from Steve Trigg, while Cole Porter’s You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To is given a reggae-ish bounce.

Cypher saves some of the best until last. An impassioned instrumental take on the Hoagy Carmichael classic Georgia On My Mind shows off both some great sax playing and the tight backing from guitarist Lee Jones, bass player Wayne Elliott and drummer (and husband) Mike Cypher which has underpinned the whole enterprise. And just when you think it’s over, along comes the final original Upper West Side Blues, a bouncing organ-grooving 12 bar to send everyone home with a spring in their step.

With a recent album launch at Pizza Express offshoot The Pheasantry on London’s Kings Road, this entertaining collection sets out Kim Cypher’s stall of accessible and classy music with a very wide appeal. If that’s your kind of thing, seek her out and enjoy.


REVIEW: Fred Hersch Trio at the Village Vanguard in New York

The Fred Hersch Trio at the Village Vanguard
Photo credit: Jacob Werth

Fred Hersch Trio
(Village Vanguard, New York, 26 July 2017, late set. Review by Jacob Werth)

Wednesday evening’s late set at the Village Vanguard was an enthralling display of understated elegance, as Fred Hersch offered a mixture of new originals alongside several reworked standards from the likes of Monk and Wheeler. Rarely does a trio, in this instance featuring bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson, deliver such a convincingly synergetic performance without this aspect of ensemble playing appearing at some point contrived. Hersch’s soft, plaintive approach commanded precisely the appropriate response from Hébert and McPherson, whose supportive efforts reflected the quiet introspection of the trio’s leader.

Hersch drew on his classical influences for the introduction to the short, sultry opener Plane Song, an alluring, rubato exploration of conventional harmonic movements, overlapping and interrupting each other while the piece ebbed and flowed in and out of time. Following this was the partially blues-inspired groove entitled The Loop, which evoked the playful spirit of Monk, particularly during highly conversational alternating bass and piano solos. Throughout the night, the lightness of Hersch’s left hand served Hébert graciously, allowing him an appropriately uncluttered sonic space in which to improvise. Hersch's deeply considered comping approach prioritised sparseness; from certain vantage points one was able to observe his hands hovering over chords, one by one, thoughtfully favouring their omission for simplicity’s sake.

Hersch’s career has suffered earlier setbacks. In 2008, he recovered fully from an AIDS-induced coma lasting 2 months. Speaking to NPR, he said his playing surpassed its prior state, as he was required to completely reconstruct his technique in a remarkable display of fortitude. He was since moved, by the sudden death of a close friend, to write La Cantante (The Singer) in which his improvisations on Wednesday night opened up boldly after a sullen solo piano introduction. His angular runs flowed, harmonically transcendent, exhibiting his superlative melodic freedom. They were punctuated by weighty two-hand rhythmic figures that further dismantled what harmonic information remained. Following this, a Kenny Wheeler classic, Everybody’s Song But My Own, underwent some mind-bending metric disfigurement from the extraordinarily lucid McPherson. His interpretation of the piece’s compound time signature shifted the pulse into at least five different places, imposing a variety of rhythmic gears upon the waltz without abandoning any time-keeping responsibilities.

Hébert’s rich tone was a highlight of Hersch’s tribute to Jobim, entitled Sad Poet, which opened up as a duo. It was also during this tune that Hersch’s temporal elasticity became apparent as he demonstrated a loose, relaxed relationship with the time during solos. This seemed to aid him in the full exhaustion of his ideas, as he carried seemingly endless phrases across bar lines in a smooth, stretched fashion. Later, McPherson showcased his deft, light touch, which possessed remarkable intensity for its low dynamic, during his solo over a closing rhythmic figure from the piano and bass. After Stuttering, full of chatty interchanges during a section of what appeared to be time-no-changes, the trio moved onto its rendition of the standard You’re My Everything, in which McPherson’s wide, straight swing beat sat warmly beneath Hersch’s blend of brittle, searching melodies and rich block harmony. McPherson was now on his fourth pair of brushes. I was reliably informed that each set provided a subtle textural variation noticeable by the aurally attuned.

After a brief address, the trio followed with the ballad When Your Lover Has Gone where Hersch’s left and right hand frequently seemed to be in breathless conversation with each other. A seamless transition saw them launch into a uniquely reconstructed version of Monk’s We See, in which the melody was fragmented, reharmonised and interrupted by strident, menacing bass figures. What ensued was a delightful flurry of mischievous interplay, spritely and restless in its demeanour, marking an emphatic development from the quiet introversion of the first half of the set. An even looser interpretation of the head out capped off a superbly constructed evening made by a gripping narrative.

The Fred Hersch Trio appears during the EFG London Jazz Festival at Kings Place at 7:30pm on 18 November 2017.

LINKS: Tickets for Fred Hersch at EFG London Jazz Festival

Fred Hersch's website


PREVIEW: Ambleside Days: A Festival Of Contemporary Music (31 August - 3 September 2017)

The poster image for Ambleside Days

DEREK HOOK, director of Ambleside Days, looks back 30 years to Zeffirelli's early days, and anticipates a very special four evenings coming up.

The idea for the festival came about in 2016 when Gwilym Simcock, Mike Walker and Iain Dixon played at Zeffirelli’s as part of the Lake District Summer Music Festival. They played so well together that it reminded me why I love this music so much – the harmony, space, melody, groove, and the listener’s intuitive response to both sound and silence.

It took me back nearly 30 years to the venue’s early days, when the small 160-seat cinema at Zeffirelli’s in Ambleside hosted concerts by world-class performers such as Egberto Gismonti, Dave Holland, Kenny Wheeler, Zakir Hussain, John Scofield, John Taylor, Oregon and many more. In those days I’d look out for major artists on tour, perhaps spot that there were gigs in London and Edinburgh, and not much in between, then make a call and ask if there would be any chance of a show at a convenient place in between – like Ambleside, for instance? I used to joke with John Cumming at Serious that maybe the fact that we were both born on the same day might have helped ease the processes that led to so many memorable shows.

John Taylor, to whose memory this year’s festival is dedicated, was a great supporter of the venue. In those early days we had very little money, and an old Bluthner grand piano was the best we could afford. John convinced me that we needed a great piano, so we met in London, went to Steinways together and chose the beautiful Steinway B that we have to this day.

In 1992, with assistance from Northern Arts, we commissioned a suite of music and accompanying album from John. The resultant work, Ambleside Days featuring John Surman, remains a classic, the title track itself much covered by jazz players the world over.

With John’s sad passing, there was no question what we should call the festival. All of the musicians involved have a connection with John – they either played with him or were taught by him or simply revere his work, and all are looking forward to a few great days of music-making.

Ambleside Days: a celebration of a truly great spirit in Ambleside in the beautiful English Lake District, by happy chance this month confirmed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Appearing in different configurations over the four evenings of the festival are: Dave Holland (double bass), Norma Winstone (vocals), Nikki Iles (piano), Mike Walker (guitar), Stan Sulzmann (saxeophone), Joe Locke (vibes), Gwilym Simcock (piano), Tim Garland (saxeophone), Asaf Sirkis (drums), Darryl Hall (bass), Mark Lockheart (saxophone), John Helliwell (saxophone), Steve Watts (double bass), James Maddren (drums).

LINK: Ambleside Days


CD REVIEW: Christian Balvig, Frederik Bülow, Adrian Christensen - Associated with Water

Christian Balvig, Frederik Bülow, Adrian Christensen - Associated with Water
(AMP Music & Records AT015. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

The beguiling, reflective sleeve imagery of Associated with Water – the debut album from pianist Christian Balvig, drummer Frederik Bülow and bassist Adrian Christensen – offers something of a visual prelude to music of distinction by this Nordic piano trio.

Having come together five years ago to explore (between other projects) jazz and improvisation, the ensemble's original compositions and explorations speak of emotional placidity, stimulating momentum and technical clarity, often imbued with natural, elegant rubato. Subtler passages might summon comparisons with Giovanni Guidi or Tord Gustavsen, but their approach frequently possesses the Balkan spark of, say, the Alboran Trio – an ever-present thread of unpredictability which means each relatively brief episode babbles and tumbles with fresh ideas. In fact, such succinctness in these 11 tracks (written individually by each of the three players) might have us wanting more, were it not for their carefully overarching fluidity described as “swimming in a stream of thoughts”.

The trio's faint wireframes provide tangible order, as in the percussive, Phronesis-like bustle of Disturbingly Pure; but then Balvig pianistically disperses melodic elements across the rhythm, creating an imaginative sense of aqueous suspension. Similarly, fidgety Mirror Neurons abruptly segues into a dreamlike sequence whose tempo fades into serenity; and Fictitious Conversations teems with sparkling, high-piano ostinati across its bass swell.

Together, Balvig, Bülow and Christensen surround this accessible music with intriguing, enigmatic mystery – perhaps it's the shared deftness of touch which allows their creativity to eddy and dart, only sporadically tracing the same route. In Undine, the spirits seemingly dance around and descend a whirlpool of rapid, chromatic broken piano chords and hollow drum circles; The Contortionist gracefully unfolds its themes around languid bass-and-drum cross-rhythms; and the spacial, softly-malleted source of title track Associated with Water seems to gush onwards, tributarily, gradually widening to Bülow's keen, persistent brushes.

Despite so many fluctuating rivulets, there are also memorable riffs such as jabbing, Ivo Neame-styled phrases in Bulgaria and the darker, push-pull questioning of Gerdesia; while the fervent pulse of Surfacing might easily portray the triumphal, white-water emergence of a diver. Swedish's hymn-like grandeur gently recalls e.s.t., and the bright charm of Play Big or Small holds to the light this trio's remarkable balance as bassist and drummer support a coruscating stream of Debussy-hued improvisations from Balvig's piano.

A line from the album art, referring to extracting “the pure potential out of the liquid you came from”, might metaphorically represent this coalescent artistry – a classic piano trio, yet with their own purpose, identity and sound… which is certainly worth experiencing.

Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site


REVIEW: Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70)

Singer Jarvis Cocker with Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra
Photo credit BBC/Mark Allan

REVIEW: Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70)
(Royal Albert Hall. 25 July 2017. Review by AJ Dehany. Drawing by Geoff Winston)

The “Scott Walker Prom” has been heavily trailed with a rich season of programmes, 6 Music Celebrates Scott Walker, including a vanishingly rare recent interview with the legend himself and exploratory features by Jarvis Cocker, Stuart Maconie and Max Richter.

The BBC Proms tend to celebrate great pop and rock composers only after they’re dead: Michael Jackson and David Bowie have each been saluted. Last year’s bloody G.R.R. Martin-esque cull of our most beloved pop icons had me bleeding my knuckles while praying for Scott Walker to be spared. It’s gratifying to know he was backstage at his own tribute. He deserves it. As Brian Eno says, Walker “took music to a place it hasn’t been since.”

Masterminded by Bella Union label boss Simon Raymonde and journalist Dick Hovenga, the Prom focused on the late '60s period of the four classic orchestral pop albums Scott (1967), Scott 2 (1968), Scott 3 (1969) and Scott 4 (1969) plus ‘Til The Band Comes In (1970) - the same selection of records that Julian Cope drew on for the compilation Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker, which reignited interest in Walker in 1981.

Scott Walker never performed these songs live. The Albert Hall concert was a one-off event, possibly the only chance we’ll ever get to hear them realized at scale. The Heritage Orchestra with conductor Jules Buckley and the London Contemporary Voices choir brought the lush arrangements from the albums to life with great gusto and aplomb, though at the same time it was all rather tasteful and faithful, in an atmosphere of stiff reverence. The four vocalists, Jarvis Cocker, John Grant, Susanne Sundfør and Richard Hawley, were in varying degrees visibly and audibly nervous. Scott Walker’s voice is a wonder of the world: vulnerable, tender, bracing and bombastic all at once. Each of the them possessed some but not all of his qualities.

Richard Hawley at the Scott Walker Prom
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved

Richard Hawley is a wonderfully rich singer but just couldn’t step into Scott Walker’s lungs in the colossal choruses of Montague Terrace (In Blue). He seemed to be hiding behind his guitar during It’s Raining Today, Two Ragged Soldiers and The Old Man’s Back Again, all beloved songs that seemed destined for bigger vocal cords. Jarvis Cocker gave nervous readings of Boy Child, Plastic Palace People, The War Is Over, and Little Things. He might have been better employed on The Amorous Humphrey Plugg. This second album cut was a prize fit for Susanne Sundfør, the star of the hour, who managed to belt it out in a way the others didn’t quite dare. Closest in expressive range to Walker, her Plugg was full Shirley Bassey with John Barry Big Band; raunchy then smooth, delicate and crystalline throughout On Your Own Again, Angels of Ashes, and Hero of the War. Her TV performance of On Your Own Again with just piano is exquisite and devastating.

John Grant has some pipes too and is no stranger to big orchestras, having recently toured his breakthrough album Pale Green Ghosts with the BBC Philharmonic. The Greatest MF was in fine voice for Rosemary, The World’s Strongest Man, and he was perfection in a commanding reading of Walker’s retelling of Bergman, The Seventh Seal, a widescreen epic with Mariachi horns and no mean feat to pull off. John Grant told 6music before the concert that Walker’s songs are “not easy to perform: sometimes very loose, sometimes very specific. Things don’t go where you expect. The words are challenging. I’m a little bit shocked”.

Susanne Sundfør, Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra
Photo credit BBC/Mark Allan

It’s true, it’s challenging material. We can be distracted from this by what he did later. Proper musos tend to celebrate the albums from 1981’s Climate of Hunter onwards: Tilt (1995), The Drift (2006), and Bish Bosch (2012): dark modern classical sound worlds with an industrial impact. On these albums the use of the orchestra is somewhat different, more akin to musique concrète: “there are no arrangements [on The Drift],” says Walker, “it’s big blocks of sound; the orchestra’s there but it’s noises and big blocks of sound, it’s even come down to that.”

Scott Walker famously warned Evan Parker when he turned up for work, “This is not a funk session,” which is no understatement. But how we thrill to the lopping melodic bass on The Old Man’s Back Again on Scott 4. Jarvis Cocker in his 6music interview asked Walker the question we have been asking forever: who played the bass on that song? And the answer was... he can’t remember... “but it would have been a very fine bass player.” Do you think he means himself?

Now acclaimed as a masterpiece and a summation of his art, in 1969 Scott 4 was summarily deleted. 1970’s 'Til The Band Comes In should have been Scott 5 and is sometimes called 'Scott 4 1/2': a decent short suite of originals followed by some derisory company-demanded covers. Subsequent albums from the early 1970s contained no original material at all, and have been suppressed: silent documents of “lost years”.

Regarding the failure of his solo career Walker notes that the third album is “practically all written in 3/4: you can’t dance to it — unless you wanted to waltz all night. Before, I’d given something people could hang onto. People started to drift away. I became a kind of leper. People didn’t wanna touch me commercially... and after that I don’t know what happened. A whole lot of drinking.”

The belated appeal of the songs on these four albums is not because they were ahead of their time or because they were sombre and melancholic in a way that mirrors our times. Pop contains multitudes of visionaries and depressing bastards, and it’s patronising to suggest pop is just about bubblegum and Ed Sheeran’s face. These albums failed for the same reason they are great: they straddle two very different worlds that aren’t always permitted to meet.

The greatness of those albums is their inbetween-ness. They have many of the same ‘weird’ elements of the later albums - unlikely textural combinations (at the concert we spotted a contrabass flute), lyrics so loaded with meaning they might appear meaningless (is The Old Man’s Back Again about Stalin or something? Following the concert, Walker’s response to hearing his songs for the first time in 50 years was “Just basically I wondered what was I going on about!?”), and dissonant clusters of shrill cicada-like tones that drone throughout It’s Raining Today from Scott 3: if you listened to just the right channel you’d hear a guitarist singing a pretty song, just the left channel and you’d think it was John Cage’s Two4.

The tension between the more traditional songwriting and the avant garde underbelly is what makes these records so satisfying. Anyone can be weird — though admittedly Walker has made a weirdness distinctively his own. At the Barbican in 2008 the concert Tilting and Drifting: The Songs of Scott Walker presented the more recent work, with Walker himself at the mixing desk. To give you a flavour of what that evening was like, during a song about the hanging of Mussolini an opera singer lay across the stage with his legs tied up while a boxer punched a dead pig. It’s on YouTube.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

Prom 15: The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70) was broadcast simultaneously on BBC Radio 3 and BBC 6music and will be screened on Friday 28 July at 10pm on BBC Four.


PREVIEW: Sounds Of Denmark (13-17 September, Pizza Express Jazz Club)


Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon enjoys a Danish selection with his morning coffee.

The impossible is going to be attempted in mid-September: squeezing a whole country into a jazz club. Well, not exactly a whole city, but a representative number of musicians from that country. It's not the first time it's been tried - last year's Sounds Of Denmark was clearly a resounding success.

The jazz roots go deep in Denmark, back to when Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon lived there, back to when Albert Ayler and Cecil Tayor recorded there, and back before then, to when Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Palle Mikkelborg and John Tchicai were born...

But Sounds Of Denmark is about what is happening in the country today, and the diversity of the Danish jazz scene is one of its hallmarks. It's difficult to reflect that diversity in eight bands, but the programmers of this year's festival have had a good crack at it.

Mads Mathias

The Firebirds take their name from Stravinsky and their repertoire from classical composers including Igor himself that saxophonist Anders Banke, drummer Stefan Pasborg and Anders Filipsen on keyboards then improvise upon.

The Makiko Hirabayashi Trio highlights how a city like Copenhagen is a magnet for creative artists from around the world. The Japanese pianist/composer who has made here home there has the celebrated Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur in her band along with bassist Klavs Hovman.

The six-piece KutiMangoes take their inspiration from Fela Kuti, Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman and forge a new sound from these eclectic sources. Their last album was recorded in Burkina Faso and Mali. There will be dancing.

The music of West Africa has also had a strong impact on the electronic trio plus drums of Kalaha. DJ Gilles Peterson is a big fan.

Jacob Anderskov's Resonance, led by the award-winning composer and pianist, revives the Third Stream concept forged by Gunther Schuller back in the 1950s, with a string trio interacting with Anderskov's piano and the drums of Peter Bruun.

The big star of the weekend is singer, saxophonist and songwriter Mads Mathias, a familiar and much loved performer in the UK. Brian Blain, on this site, has called him "a truly gifted artist". He has a new album to promote but will also be singing songs from his award-winning debut disc Free Falling.

Søren Bebe Trio

Fitting neatly into the Scandinavian piano trio tradition is the Søren Bebe Trio, Bebe's compositions taking a leaf out of the Bill Evans book of harmony and applying it sometimes to folk-influenced melodies. With Kasper Tagel on bass and Anders Mogensen on drums, the new record is called Home.

Winding up the five days is the Snorre Kirk Quintet, with a classic line-up of two horns, piano, bass and drums, the subtle twist coming in the fact that Tobias Wiklund plays cornet. Also with Kirk, leading from the drums, are Jan Harbeck on tenor, Magnus Hjorth on piano and Lasse Mørck on double bass.

The full timetable of these bands at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street, London, is on the link below.

LINK: Sounds Of Denmark at Pizza Express Jazz Club


CD REVIEW: John Coltrane – European Tour 1961

John Coltrane – European Tour 1961
(Le Chant du Monde 574274551- 3149024274558 . CD review by Nick Davies) 

To mark the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane’s passing on 17 July 1967, a box set of the 1961 European Tour by French label Le Chant du Mont has been released. This is the first time the material has been available, other than as a bootleg copy, and serves as a historical record even if the audio quality is not perfect.

It includes music from Coltrane’s Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Stockholm shows, as well as unexpected treasures from his Stuttgart and Berlin gigs and a bonus set from Coltrane’s first European visit in March 1960 (Dusseldorf) as part of the Miles Davies Quintet. The 1961 tour featured the quintet of John Coltrane (tenor & soprano saxophones), Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet and flute), McCoy Tyner (piano), Reggie Workman (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).

Critiquing classic songs like Blue Train is difficult, particularly when trying to avoid repeating previous reviews. However, in a live setting these little gems showcase Coltrane as a master improviser, each song played in a unique way across the concert series. For example, on My Favourite Things, the tune is instantly recognisable despite being delivered differently in the each show. This impressive collection boasts live recordings of the following tracks: Impressions, I Want To Talk About You, Blue Train, My Favourite Things, Delilah, Every Time We Say Goodbye, Naima, On Green Dolphin Street, Walkin’, The Theme, Autumn Leaves, What's New, Moonlight In Vermont and Hackensack.

Brilliant interplay between all the band’s musicians is an indication of a terrific rhythm section. Although Tyner and Dolphy, at times, rival Coltrane’s first-rate playing, no one musician outshines the other; instead it highlights the tightness of the band.≈

Overall, this inspired collection takes the listener back in time to one of the great tours of the 1960s. Featuring several of the same tunes, the set brings the 57-year-old concert series into the modern age, enabling the listener to make comparisons and to experience much celebrated improvisation. This release is an excellent introduction to Coltrane’s music, but it's also guaranteed to hook even the hesitant enthusiast.


REVIEW: 28th 'and final' Swanage Jazz Festival

Tina May in 2013
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Swanage Jazz Festival 2017
(Swanage, 14-16 July 2017. Round-up review by Brian Blain)

Towards the end of the '28th and Final' SwanageJazz Festival, in the last Sunday afternoon slot, with the sun shining on the big marquee, I got the feeling that I was part of a remake of the classic documentary Jazz On a Summer's Day - the part where Anita O Day takes the place by storm. I have never seen Tina May so 'up'; we were certainly not in for one of her subdued sub-Winstone moods or her Edith Piaf show - both of which she does so well.

Here was a great rhythm section, John Donaldson (piano), Simon Thorpe (bass) and Winston Clifford, the listening drummer, with the great tenor saxophonist Art Themen waiting in the wings. Indeed there he was, hand-claps, claves in hand, second tune in No More Blues, whacking out that classic 3/2 pattern with Winston egging on the crowd with his overhead hand claps; demagogic rhythm paradise!

From Monk's Well You Needn't to the Ella tribute Every Time we Say Goodbye, this was a glorious heartwarming show, not just a singer with jazz rhythm section, but five full-on musicians interacting together magnificently.

Coincidentally this followed another set which rocked a full house: the Arun Ghosh Quintet. The Swanage crowd have really taken these guys to their hearts so let's have an end to snideries about token multi culturalism. Ghosh is a super brilliant clarinettist, with one of the most engaging personalities to be seen anywhere - humorous and genuine - and the mix of Indian sub-continent rhythms and melody with the rockish grooves of bassist Liran Donan and drummer Dave Walsh is totally captivating.

Overcoming all my prejudices about the newer generation of technically perfect but somewhat cold musicians, I made my way up the hill to the Methodist Church to be totally captivated by elegant Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame and by bassist Matt Ridley. A beautifully elegant long note from saxophonist Jason Yarde even reconciled me to the sound of the soprano saxophone, my aversion to which is only exceeded by the bagpipes: he was stunning. So was James Maddren. Indeed his opening slow burn groover with the big warm sounding tenor of George Crowley shook all my preconceptions out of the window, his mastery of the tricky acoustics of the room being a measure of his superlative technique and sensitive ears. Maximum marks to both new wave-ish bands and especially to the writing of both leaders, as well as the brilliant John Turville, pianist with Matt Ridley, who is quite a writer himself.

Sunday lunch in the church started none too promisingly with a thin house for Roger Beaujolais' band with Donaldson, Thorpe and Clifford. The sardonically humorous title of one of Damon Brown's new albums, Sorry, It's Just Jazz, was just made for this set with its melodic Beaujolais originals, understated grooves, and fine soloing from pianist Donaldson, and the band's vibes-playing leader, By the end the venue was full, nobody left and a healthy queue was waiting to buy the band's latest CD; people were talking to me about this set for the rest of the day.

Apologies to all those left out; there was so much great music by the likes of Darius Brubeck, Dave O'Higgins, Alex Garnett, Nigel Price, Keith Nichols, Joan Viskant, Liz Fletcher, TJ Johnson and others I couldn't catch.

Above all, thanks to Fred Lindop and his wonderful team of helpers: there will be a big hole in the heart of the British jazz scene.

LINK: Our news piece about the Festival


PREVIEW INTERVIEW: Tom Syson (Conscia Jazz Festival: Snowpoet/ Joe Stilgoe/ BJO ft. Trish Clowes, Bedford, 1-3 Sept 2017)

Tom Syson
Photo Credit: Emily Dove

Trumpet player and Bedford resident TOM SYSON has taken it upon himself to bring a festival of high-quality jazz to the town. Now in its third year, the Conscia Jazz Festival (previously Bedford Jazz Festival) will be showcasing a range of national and local jazz musicians at the Quarry Theatre in Bedford for 3 days from 1 to 3 September. Leah Williams talked to Syson about the development of the festival, and this year's impressive line-up:

LondonJazz News: How did the Conscia Jazz Festival get started?

Tom Syson: Well, I’ve always been interested in promoting jazz outside of the main UK cities, especially in Bedford where I’m from. For my final year project at Birmingham Conservatoire, I decided to run a small festival in Bedford and Milton Keynes to see how it was received. It went really well and each year it has just grown in size.

LJN: So what’s different about this year’s festival?

TS: It’s bigger and longer again, running over three days with an opening night performance on the Friday from the amazing Snowpoet and then other great headline gigs from Joe Stilgoe on the Saturday and the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra with Trish Clowes to close on Sunday evening. It’s also all concentrated in the one location this year.

LJN: Is that the Quarry Theatre again?

TS: Yes. We had several gigs there at the previous festival but this time decided it would work best to hold everything there and create a really great buzz and atmosphere around the festival in one central spot. The main stage will be in the theatre and then the community stage will be outside in the garden so people will be able to get a taste of the full festival no matter which bit they’re attending.

LJN: What’s going to be happening on the community stage?

TS: It’s mainly a platform for local musicians to showcase what they can do. I really think it’s equally important to both bring national and international musicians into Bedford and also to give local musicians a chance to perform, meet and get involved. The community stage will be free so anyone can come along and have a listen, even if they don’t want to buy a ticket for one of the main stage performances.

LJN: Is there a big jazz community in Bedford?

TS: There are some incredible musicians and local nights here, yes. I’m hoping that the wider interest and appreciation will also continue to grow off the back of the festival. Jazz is such a diverse genre and I often find that many people who say they don’t like jazz haven’t actually had the chance to hear really good live music. After the festival last year, lots of people came up and shared how great they had found the experience, whether they were locals who previously had to travel into London to hear big jazz names or people who hadn’t really had any experience of the genre before.

LJN: What would be your recommended gig this year for people who might be experiencing jazz for the first time?

TS: Well, all our headliners and main stage acts are really top class and all of them will be incredible to see live but I guess I’d probably say the closing gig with Birmingham Jazz Orchestra and Trish Clowes. A lot of people I talk to have this preconception that jazz is “boring” and that gig is bound to be anything but! It’s also the biggest ensemble of the festival so will be quite an impressive show.

LJN: Is there anything else people should know about?

TS: This year, we’re planning two education events which will take place on Saturday and Sunday morning at the Quarry Theatre. Details of these will be released on the website shortly. There will also be a couple of fringe events taking place on the John Bunyan Boat, one each lunchtime on both the Saturday and the Sunday.

LJN: How can people book?

TS: All tickets can be booked on the Conscia Jazz Festival website - - and, for the first time, we’re offering both day and weekend tickets as well as for individual gigs so that people can have the opportunity to see as much music as they want for a great price.

Prices: Weekend Ticket - £99 (£90 conc) Saturday Ticket - £55 (£50 conc) Sunday Ticket - £55 (£50 conc)

LJN: Finally, will you be playing at all during the festival?

TS: I will for the first time this year, actually. I’m going to be opening the main stage on the Saturday with Berlin-based pianist Mark Pringle. I also play lead trumpet in the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra so will be on stage for that gig too. (pp)

Conscia Jazz Festival


CD REVIEW: Liane Carroll - The Right to Love

Liane Carroll - The Right to Love
(Quietmoney QMR0004. CD Review by Charlie Anderson)

Following the success of their last collaboration, Seaside, in 2015, Liane Carroll and producer James McMillan have struck gold once again with an impressive album of ten tracks with a range of guest musicians.

Nobody adds emotion to a song in quite the way that Liane Carroll manages to, particularly in live performance, and, not surprisingly on an album with the theme of love, this raw emotion is here in abundance.

Her ability to make a tune her own is something that Liane Carroll is already well known for, and this is illustrated perfectly in her interpretation of the title track, Gene Lees and Lalo Schifrin’s The Right to Love.

The album opens with a silky jazz rendition of Skylark with saxophonist Kirk Whalum, and also includes varied interpretations of jazz standards such as You Don’t Know What Love Is, which features some beautiful playing from guitarist Mark Jaimes.

Georgia, a duo of voice and the guitar of Mark Jaimes, includes one of the best scat solos on the album, reminiscent of her fluid and soulful scat soloing on Almost Like Being In Love from the  Seaside album.

The Right to Love features everything from delicate, heartfelt yearning to impassioned pleas, combined with unique interpretations that showcase the impressive artistry and musicianship of all involved.

The London launch gigs for The Right to Love at Pizza Express Dean Street on 1 & 2 Aug are sold out.

LINK: Liane Carroll's website


CD REVIEW: Ferenc Snétberger, Eric Bibb, Mulatu Astatke and other CDs in brief

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

Ferenc Snétberger - Titok
(ECM 574 0670)

The Hungarian acoustic guitarist Ferenc Snétberger’s last album (also on ECM) was a solo affair recorded in concert. This time he is in the Rainbow Studio in Oslo with Anders Jormin on double bass and Joey Baron on drums. All the music is written by Snétberger and all 13 tracks are fairly concise. Some, like the delightfully melodic Kék Kerék, sound like folk songs, others have a chamber-jazz feel with the leader’s instrument inevitably reminding of the classical guitar repertoire, and some even sound like standards. Snétberger has a precise touch, flowing improvisational mind, and imparts each piece with a generous heart, a grace fully embraced by his sensitive fellows.

Steel Sheep - Trucker’s Tan

Steel Sheep is a trio comprising Slovenian/American violinist  Bela Horvat, Spanish acoustic guitarist Virxilio Da Silva and American double bassist Matt Adomeit. They are based in Amsterdam. They are highly skilled and have more new ideas per minute than most people have over a couple of months. This means the 13 original compositions on this album never become boring. What they do become is exhausting. Well, with the odd exception. Departures is remarkable for its adherence to one theme and overall atmosphere over its modest duration. It’s natural in the land of jigs and reels to flit from one thing to another, but Steel Sheep’s desire to cram in all they know, from folk music to swing jazz to modern classical harmony, gets very close to chronic ADD. Bluegrass for boys who like clever computer games.

Claudio Jr De Rosa Jazz 4et - Groovin’ Up
(Incipit Records ING233)

De Rosa is an Italian tenor and soprano saxophonist and his 4et has Xavi Torres Vicente on piano, Kimon Karoutzos on double bass and Augustus Baronas on drums. Vivienne ChuLiao steps in on piano for one track. The tunes are all his bar the closer which is the standard I Hear A Rhapsody - they are strongly structured with some catchy hooks and pretty melodies. As a player the leader does just that from the start, opening with an unaccompanied work-out over the whole range of the tenor which reminded my a little of Joshua Redman or a less acrobatic Marius Neset.
He has a particularly lovely - and typically light, sunny Italian - tone on soprano, heard to fine effect on The Case. It’s nicely recorded, too.

Eric Bibb - Migration Blues
(Dixiefrog Records DFGCD 8795)

Blues singer/guitarist Eric Bibb might be a little smooth-sounding for the hardcore heritage blues fan but he is slowly building a strong body of work, and this album, with its theme of strife-driven movement, could be his best yet. On first listen, you’d swear these were old songs from dustbowl times and earlier, but just as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings do in a country context, Bibb and his co-writers compose with a penchant for an old-time turn of phrase. While most are new originals, Bibb also covers Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land, Bob Dylan’s Masters Of War and the traditional Mornin’ Train. A bit like a blues record version of the BBC Radio 4 programme The Long View, Migration Blues reminds us that refugees and migrants have always been with us, and a sense of history can foster our help and understanding.

Mulatu Astatke - Mulatu Of Ethiopia
(Strut Records Strut 129CD)

Strut Records claim this is the first official release of a landmark recording in the Ethiopian composer and multi-instrumentalist’s career. It was recorded in 1972 in New York and is filled with Mulatu Astatke’s characteristic sliding plates of bass and percussion, wah-wah funk guitar and riffy woodwinds, all overlaid with grit-rasped tenor saxophone, flute or vibes solos, using that swooning slightly disconcerting five-tone scale. The single CD version I have contains tunes that Astatke would return to again and again in live shows - Dewel, Kulunmanqueleshi and Kasalefku-Hulu among them - in both stereo and mono versions. For the real nerds here is a three-LP, six-panel gatefold sleeve album which contains the stereo master album, a pre-mix mono master and a selection of out-takes, plus rare photos and an interview with the man himself.