REVIEW: Dee Byrne's Entropi album launch at Kings Place

Entropi. L-R: Olie Brice, Dee Byrne
Matt Fisher, Rebecca Nash, Andre Canniere
Photo credit Carl Hyde


Dee Byrne's Entropi album launch
(Kings Place Hall Two. 29 September 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

There are bands who can charm an audience with a carefree tune like It's Time, stick to the song-form and play jaunty solos over its deft chord sequence. And there are bands who can take on the complete liberty - which is also a severe and self-imposed constraint - of having no formal structure and keep an audience rapt with no-holds-barred anything-can happen free improvisation, where the influence of the likes of Evan Parker and John Edwards is plainly audible. And then again, there are bands who build a theme steadily and reflectively from a lonely bass figure to the point where it becomes a prog rock anthem like In The Cold Light Of Day. And then there are bands who want/need/choose not to be pigeon-holed, but to do all of those things, to do them all very well, and to enjoy the contrast of  juxtaposing them. Dee Byrne's Entropi is such a band.

And that is the interest and the fascination of hearing this group. All five players had evidently committed to learning all of the music by heart, so there was not a single sheet of manuscript paper to be seen on the stage of Kings Place Hall Two, and that sense of music which has been collectively nurtured was very strong. There is more about this important aspect in the interview which Dee Byrne did with Leah Williams.

An audience of supportive friends and musicians was there. But this is also a unit which has started to generate a buzz among a significant number of some the most inveterate and regular - and discriminating, and hard-to please! -  jazz gig-goers in London, who clearly like the variety and the quality of the band's sound. The word is starting to get out. Entropi are now ready for bigger stages.

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FEATURE / INTERVIEW: Lucia Cadotsch

Lucia Cadotsch
Photo credit: Wanja Slavin

LUCIA CADOTSCH’s Speak Low and Speak Low Renditions put her uniquely modern stamp on the standards. Lucia won the 2017 ECHO Jazz Award 2017 for best vocalist. AJ Dehany caught up with her at the Schiffbauhalle last night before tonight’s headline appearance at Match & Fuse Festival in Zürich.

Lucia Cadotsch grew up in Zürich but has been based in Berlin for fifteen years. “Almost a Berliner!” she says. I’ve been a fan since I saw her band the quartet Schneeweiss & Rosenrot at the Vortex in London in 2013. I was sad to hear they’d split up.

“We had a couple more gigs after but then it was over. We couldn’t find a theme for the fourth album, our interests were going too much apart. It was really sad. It was really a breakup for me, my first band. But afterwards it made sense because now I could kind of separate my broad interests into different visions. Before was one big mashup, which was fun, to have this weird music where everything is allowed.”

Lucia won the 2017 ECHO Jazz Award 2017 for best vocalist for her haunting reworkings of the standards on the “Speak Low” album with bass player Petter Eldh and saxophonist Otis Sandsjö. The album contains unforgettable reworkings of jazz standards including Strange Fruit, and is named after a Kurt Weill song. I mention that I’ve got a tape of Kurt Weill singing “Speak Low” accompanying himself on piano.

“Yeah that’s really beautiful. In English with the really strong accent, it’s so charming. It’s interesting because now the German accent is not connected to something so charming, but back then…” She starts singing, “When you speak low, your summer day withers away, too soon, too soon…”

“Is that an influence on the trio, the spareness, the sparseness, the spaciousness of that recording?”

“Our version is one of the dance pieces on the album!” she laughs. “Maybe the Billie Holliday version was more influential for us, but we came up with something completely different.”

“There are similarities in the sparing use of vibrato.”

“The first jazz teacher I had told me in the first lesson: don’t use vibrato on every note. It’s a colour. If you have it on every tone its so boring. I use it, but it’s not so present. I never really listened to Billie Holiday until I started making music. It feels very natural to sing along with her, which I never felt with Sarah Vaughan or Ella. I feel very connected to her way of approaching music and her time feel is very much like how I feel time.

“When I was a teenager The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the album we all listened to and I was always trying to imitate all her fast ornamentation and I could never do it. What music suits you and your voice is extreme because of the nature of your instrument: you’re born with it. But when it comes to phrasing and timing some people are always in the front and some are laid back. It comes with personality. I freak out when the tempo goes too fast. I can’t feel it any more!”

The remix-of-the-remix companion piece Speak Low Renditions was released as a tape. The Renditions album consists of electronic reconstructions and deconstructions of the Speak Low tracks.

“After I did the trio album I felt like I wanna hear how my friends hear my music, the musicians I’ve been working with or who have been part of my musical community, in London, Berlin, Switzerland, those three scenes. I asked musicians that I really admire and who have a really strong character and that’s how the album came together. I asked ten people and everyone sent a track back. I spent quite a lot of time in finding the right order. I didn’t want to make it sound like a playlist. I wanted to make an album.”

Tonight’s concert in Zurich will consist of both acoustic trio tracks and the expanded electronic format of Renditions. “Those tracks weren’t initially made to be performed,” I say, “so you’re performing the unperformable?”

“Yeah, exactly! There’s one critic who said “Lucia turns everything upside down again.” We had this really strong concept with three acoustic instruments and very reduced instrumentation, and now we do an electronic album with the standards and it’s like ‘What?’ I like to surprise people I guess. You have to kind of disappoint their expectations in a way to keep it fresh. Or just not go to the expected.

“I see the trio album itself as a remix version of the old songs. We are ‘live sampling’ small bits from the original tracks and zooming into details like a clarinet line on a Billie Holiday arrangement, we take this one bar as a bassline, transpose it down and make a loop out of that using quotes from the originals. We do it live on instruments so you can look at it as if it is a remix of the old tracks on acoustic instruments. And then the remixes are remixes of our remixes, so it’s an interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation. We’ve been playing these tunes for two and a half years now. We just kind of dig into them deeper and deeper by looking at them from these different angles. And playing remixes live was an inspiring approach to see how we can we can we take this to find a new form. We’re not gonna play it like on the remix album but make a new live version that is inspired by the remix. Just go further and develop and push the limits.”

AJ Dehany writes about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

Lucia Cadotsch Speak Low performs tonight 30 September at Match & Fuse Festival, Zürich.
LINK: Review of Speak Low Renditions

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INTERVIEW: Nigel Price (new Director, Swanage Jazz Festival)

Swanage
Photo Richard Webb/ Creative Commons

NIGEL PRICE has just been announced as the new Director of the Swanage Jazz Festival. He has also launched a kickstarter campaign to help the festival survive. Sebastian found out more about the background: 

LondonJazz News: With 2017 having been announced as the "28th and final Swanage Jazz Festival", your appointment means that it's going to continue? 

Nigel Price: Firstly, thanks for your time and running this for London Jazz News. We're going to need all the help we can get! This is indeed potentially great news if we can make it happen.

There was no announcement at the festival this year that it may survive, as the festival founder and director, Fred Lindop, didn't want to promise anything to anybody at that point.

The festival committee have called it a day, many citing advancing years and declining health.

They, and particularly Fred, have given a gift to this lovely little part of Dorset and I don't think any of them really wanted to see the curtain close. I sensed this and couldn't help but to throw a potential lifeline.

LJN: But you are faced with quite a challenge to keep it going...

NP: Let's make no bones about it: the festival will only be able to continue if we can raise the funds to make it happen. The fundamental issue is that the festival has reached the income limit that keeps it nestled just below the point at which VAT is applicable. There's not much excess and not really much left over from year to year. There was a small fund but legally the company was obliged to donate this to local children's charities as the current committee dissolved. Nobody with a beating heart could object to that. This means that there is, literally, no money available for any expansion, wage increases, upgraded creature comforts, catering, better staging, better lighting, etc. You name it, there's no money for it.

LJN: So how do you think you might solve that? By limiting it at no more than the size it is?

NP: It could of course contract but in my eyes that would be too defeatist and I just won't do it.

Bigger and better then? Ok. I'm in...

This does mean, though, that the rise in income will see the VAT being due so the festival has to expand by a considerable degree to soak up this bill, which I anticipate to be somewhere in the region of £19,000. And that needs to be addressed before any extra money is put into upgrading anything.

LJN: And what are the implications? 

NP: The upshot of this is inevitably going to be a hike in ticket prices.

The 2017 price was £85 for a weekend pass and numbers were limited to 940 to keep within the VAT limit. As soon as we creep over that limit we're in for a £17,000 bill so we simply have to add the VAT onto the tickets. That's makes £102 but then we need to find more funds for all of those issues I mentioned earlier so we're adding £10 onto a ticket, making the 2018 price £112. There's currently an "early bird" ticket option which is £5 less than that (£107) available at http://www.wegottickets.com/event/417602. If the festival goers baulk at this then we're dead in the water before we even start, but I'm hoping that the prospect of paying what amounts to less than an extra tenner a day isn't going to put people off, especially if they know that my plans will not only mean more comfort for them, but for the musicians they love to be paid more.

As I said, the festival has remained underpriced for a very long time and this rise has been a long time coming. I would be mortified if I were to hear that anybody was suspicious of the increase which is why I have described it here in so much detail.

I don't think it's right and fair to expect just the festival goers to foot the bill.

The festival brings an estimated half a million pounds worth of business into the town. I'd be really pleased if those who stand to benefit the most recognise not just the cultural value, but the financial advantage of hosting the jazz festival through its resulting influx of tourism. Hopefully they'll be able to see the link and then lend us a hand, if not give us a fiver...

LJN: And other ways to make it stack up financially?

NP: There are rewards of advertising space in the 2018 brochure for pledges of £100 so I'm hoping this will give incentive to exactly those of whom I speak.

I'm not trying to emotionally blackmail anybody! It just seems completely logical to me that the movers and shakers in the town would want to invest in their own futures.

We'll see what happens.

The target is set at £15,000 and if this does not reach its target by 1 November then 2017 really was the last one. There are about 11,000 people resident in Swanage and if they all chipped in a couple of quid we'd smash it!

LJN: What was the process - is there a board involved - or were you Fred L's favoured candidate - how were you appointed?

NP: I think a few people threw their hats into the ring and I guess I must have seemed the most enthusiastic! I was keen to show my willingness to help and I have made the journey down there a couple of times, had many constructive, good natured meetings , conducted a lot of research and built up a rapport with many of those directly involved with the festival. They are good people and all want to see a future for jazz in Swanage.

LJN: Are the dates already fixed for the next festival?

NP: Should it happen the festival will run on 13-15 July 2018.

LJN: Is your role "Artistic Director" (or what?) and who will you be working with?

NP: At this stage I haven't even considered official job descriptions. I am merely doing my best to secure the continuation of the festival in a very "nuts and bolts" kind of way. I am sure that roles will present themselves in the days and months that follow and I am watching the situation carefully. Whilst it would be an exciting prospect to be in charge of booking I'm not sure that I could handle being inundated by cohorts of tenacious, gig-hungry jazz musicians (just like me). Talk about the shoe being on the other foot! It has to be noted too that this isn't just a faceless festival. It's a huge existing social scene and many of the audience come back year upon year to see musicians that they have formed a bond with over decades. I will be sensitive to this.

There is a large trad jazz presence, too, which is something I've never really been involved with but I will put my heart and soul into maintaining a programme that people want to experience.

That said, I think it's also very important to encourage younger and more contemporary jazz into this scene. Fred has always made good provision for this, mainly in the Methodist Church, and that is definitely something I will be continuing.

When it comes to enlisting help, the distance between London and Swanage is an issue and it would make a lot of sense to source dynamic, diligent, well meaning personalities from the local area. I am sure that the right people will step forward and make themselves known, or indeed accept or decline an invitation when the time comes. I have my eye on one or two individuals and I think they probably know it...

Believe you me, I am already absolutely up to my eyeballs in this thing. I have always been somebody who likes to shock others with the sheer amount of work I'm capable of (don't let my wife hear that) but I have learned to recognise when I'm becoming overwhelmed. I'm pretty close to that now...

LJN: Is directing a festival something you wanted to do - or have you accepted the post because of specific things about this particular festival

NP: I have never really had the specific desire to run a festival. All I've ever really wanted to do is play the guitar, but it does seem to fit in with my nature. I suppose I've always been quite community orientated. I like to try and get the best out of people and I think I do have a disarming way of doing that. Perhaps it's because I'm very friendly but at the same time look like the sort of person you wouldn't really want to mess with! Ha ha! It's only funny because it's true...

LJN: Do you have particular venues that the festival uses that you like?

NP: Swanage is not a large town and I wouldn't say that you're spoilt for choice with regard to venues. I'll be honest, I've never found the location of the two large marquees to be particularly hospitable, being out on the brow of a fairly wind-blown hill but, having spent a fair amount of time scouting out the town, I accept that there really is nowhere else without getting too far away from Swanage itself. It'll be fine though with a bit more hospitality up there.

LJN: What sort of ambitions do you have - to make it similar to the way it was/or different - in what way?

NP: I want people who come to the festival in 2018 to feel like they're coming to a proper, professional event. I would love to have two really fantastic tents out on that hill, with comfy seating. I spoke to the guy who's supplying the staging, lighting and sound equipment and we very quickly found ourselves speaking of the limitations, particularly the height restrictions, of working in the current marquees. It's impossible to get a proper lighting rig or stage in a tent that's only about 12 feet high. That's (literally) the long and short of it.

It can feel a bit bleak up there and I want to supply a variety of hot food choices, all sourced from the town, as well as the bar (of course). I have heard from many that the noise of the bars where they're currently situated - actually within the music tents - are intrusive with their noise so to move them out and amalgamate them in the middle seems like a good plan. I'll put this bar in a third tent between the two stages which will also contain nice tables and comfy chairs, basically a "chill out zone" where anybody can sit and eat/drink/chat without having to brave whatever the Dorset weather decides it's going to throw at us!

I think Fred has been doing a fabulous job within the restrictions and the only changes I really want to see are these - ultimately for the audience to be more comfortable, the conditions on the hill to be more hospitable and the musicians paid a little more. It would be lovely to get the Mowlem Theatre involved as that in itself would allow me to consider larger acts. I'm in talks with them and if all goes well it could be very exciting!

LJN: If someone gave you an unlimited budget whom would you want to invite to the festival?

NP: Alan Barnes.

LJN: Where does the festival get its money from ?

NP: The festival is not run for profit. The lion's share of income is from ticket sales and advertising revenue from the brochure; there hasn't been any real incentive to increase this revenue to avoid straying into the VAT zone and the shortfall has been made up by sponsorship from the many pubs who host the jazz throughout the town. There have in the past been successful PRS and Arts Council applications which have been invaluable and shall again be pursued this year.

LJN:  What would success be for you in this new role?

NP: If I can somehow turn this desperate situation around and witness a busy, vibrant celebration of the music we love, down by the seaside in this pretty little town in July 2018 then I will allow myself to feel a little proud....

....who am I trying to kid? If I can pull this off I will weep like a baby...

LJN: Where do people find the Kickstarter? 

NP: Here's the link

The website is HERE
Twitter @swanagejazzfest

Facebook

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REVIEW: Dave O'Higgins Quartet at Cambridge Modern Jazz

Dave O'Higgins
Photo Credit: Christine Ongsiek


Dave O'Higgins Quartet
(Hidden Rooms, Jesus Lane Cambridge. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

So the show is on the road. This was one of the very first shows of Dave O'Higgins' thirty-four date tour, and it showed what a commanding player he is. His saxophone sound is strong and focused, his technical mastery is fearsome,  he deploys what seems an effortless evenness of sound right through the instrument's range, and his improvising language is fluent and understandable.

O'Higgins set the context by talking about how heroes, predecessors have left their mark on him. So Guess I'll hang my tears out to dry was an overt homage to Dexter Gordon, One For Big G specifically remembers George Coleman, and Nothing to Lose definitely sounded in the shadow of Eddie Lockjaw Davis. In the interview he did with Dan Paton before the tour, O'Higgins talked about the dichotomy between what audiences clearly like - the familiar - and what grabs media attention - the new. When he does what he does so well, and it clearly draws appreciative audiences such as the one last night, there seems not much to quibble about.

The closing sequence, a beautifully-shaped Monk Round Midnight followed by a controlled but very fleet Broadway was my highlight. O'Higgins has completely flawless intonation on soprano sax, as he showed in the ballad. Geoff Gascoyne playing sparsely but completely supportively as the others played their solos, and giving the higher end of the compass of the bass (and some brand new Pirastro strings from Hessen) a proper work-out. The other two players were different from those on the album, but that fact only serves as a reminder of how much bench-strength there is in British jazz. In place of Sebastiaan de Krom. drummer Rod Youngs had an instinctive understanding of the right feel for each section of each number, and produced some subtle and delicate brushwork in Round Midnight. And pianist Rob Barron (replacing Graham Harvey who was on Stacey Kent duty) also negotiated the twists and turns of the arrangements, not least a brief and complete rabbit-out-of-a-hat switch to rumba feel at the end of the ballad.

O' Higgins plays approachable mainstream jazz, and the audience at the Hidden Rooms, with a wide age-range, was clearly enjoying every moment of it.

LINK: We have listed the tour dates with Dan Paton's interview

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REVIEW: Mike Gibbs 80th Birthday Celebration at the Vortex



Mike Gibbs on the first concert of this tour at Scarborough
Photo credit: John Watson / jazzcamera.co.uk

Mike Gibbs 80th Birthday Celebration
(Vortex, 25 and 27 September 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

When a big band playing his compositions is in full cry, Mike Gibbs as conductor uses a simple, expressive and telling gesture. He raises both hands to the same height in the direction of the musicians, palms down, and keeps them still. It might look like a gesture to tell the band to hold back, but it isn't. What it seems to convey is that even when feelings are at their most joyous and intense, this is also a moment for collective listening; it signifies that all that power which the band will unleash is going to be in balance.

Every single member of this hand-picked band, whom Gibbs knows and values as an individual,  understands what to do, and gives it back. What comes across is that the fascinating, ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic range of textures, harmonies and moods which is there in Mike Gibbs' music has the  palpable sense that it is a shared endeavour. Individuals have their moments to shine - and they all did (list below!) - but the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and the listener's ear is held completely rapt as each composition evolves and is allowed to tell its story.

The programme on Wednesday showed off many facets of Gibbs' oeuvre. His masteful, fluent, cogent adaptation of Gil Evans' Las Vegas Tango has a wonderful sense of being built on a solid fundament, an insistent groove from the rhythm section, and with the continuing opening up of new vistas as the textures and harmonies shift. Lost in Space is full of contrasts from the eerie loneliness of guitar effects - from the magnificent Mike Walker - to full band ecstasy.  I remember having been completely captivated by Maurizius when I heard it - and reviewed it  - at its lavish premiere in Germany, and Gibbs has continued to develop it. The complex Philip Glass/ John Adams ostinati serve their purpose in a piece that builds organically, and the admixture of Jim Rattigan's accordion is a masterstroke.

I was lucky enough to attend part of the Monday show and all of the Wednesday show at a completely packed Vortex, the room full of musicians. Most of the venues on this tour are larger venues, but the immediacy of the experience in the close confines of the Vortex will make this one of my gigs of the year.

In the interview which Peter Bacon did with Gibbs before this tour, the composer/arranger talked about where inspiration comes from. He said: "Most of ideas for pieces come to me from other musics - and the supply is endless." This is perhaps the essence of what Gibbs does. To explain what that means is definitely best left in the very capable hands of John L Walters. This extract from his reissue sleeve note from 1999 for the 1970 debut album on Deram Michael Gibbs, I think is one of the best attempts to capture Mike Gibbs' significance:

 "Gibbs's direct and indirect influences can be heard in work by Carla Bley, Palle Mikkelborg, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell and possibly a whole roster of later musicians who don't even know his name. One of Gibbs's triumphs has been to absorb the lessons of the greats - of Gil Evans and Duke Ellington and Charles Ives and the Beatles and Miles Davis - without sounding remotely like any of them. That is why Gibbs has never been in the mainstream. And that is why his music is so important, such a valuable part of our global cultural heritage." 


THERE ARE TWO MORE CONCERTS IN THIS TOUR. TONIGHT 28 SEPTEMBER AT CBSO CENTRE BIRMINGHAM AND TOMORROW 29 SEPTEMBER AT TUNER SIMS SOUTHAMPTON

SET LISTS FROM 27 SEPTEMBER

FIRST SET

1) You Go To My Head (Coots / Gillespie)
2) Throughout (Bill Frisell)
3) Las Vegas Tango (Gil Evans)
4) Meant to Be (John Scofield)
5) Lost in Space John Scofield)

SECOND SET

1) Django (John Lewis)
2) 'Tis As It Should Be (Gibbs)
3) Maurizius (Eberhard Weber)
4) And on the Third Day (Gibbs)
5) Tennis Anyone (Gibbs)

All arrangements by Mike Gibbs

BAND

Conductor : Mike Gibbs

Trumpets: Ryan Quigley, Henry Lowther, Percy Pursglove, Nick Smart
Trombones: Mark Bassey, Jeremy Price, Rory Ingham, Richard Henry (bass trombone)
Saxophones: Jason Yarde (alto/soprano), John O'Gallagher (alto), Julian Siegel (tenor/bass clarinet), Alex Garnett (tenor/baritone)
French horn & accordion: Jim Rattigan
Guitar: Mike Walker
Bass: Michael Janisch
Piano: Hans Koller
Drums: Andrew Bain

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CD REVIEW: The Free Poetics of Henrique Eisenmann



The Free Poetics of Henrique Eisenmann
(Red Piano Records rpr14599-4429. CD review by AJ Dehany)


“Why ‘Free Poetics’?” asks Henrique Eisenmann. “Well, music can be made with rules, form and technique. But in order to become art, it requires essence— an elusive soul behind a piece of art.”

That amazing album title, The Free Poetics of Henrique Eisenmann, reads like a critical study of an early 1950s Black Mountain poet, and connotes a similarly experimental and interdisciplinary philosophy. Henrique Eisenmann is a pianist and composer with Brazilian heritage in his blood and New York City in his heart. Alongside these twin influences, The Free Poetics takes inspiration from unusual fields, bringing together polyrhythms and plain chant, voices and animal noises, poetry, folklore and history, in a closely sequenced journey from the weird to the wonderful.

“D’you know those kids at school who run around like they know what they’re doing? They’re playful, confident… ” says Eisemann. “I wasn’t one of them. I was this kid in the corner carrying my bag of fears, trying to understand what my space was. And from that early age music became my language of freedom.”

On Niños Peruanos (Introduction) the pianist improvises over a recording of a six-year old Peruvian boy reciting a poem in Spanish. You might have seen this sort of thing on YouTube when a musician transcribes someone talking and then plays along with it, usually for comic effect. Eisenmann takes a free approach with a joyous relish in finding the simple melodic essence inside the spoken word.

Jeneupti
is a spirited accompaniment to another recording, of a Ghanaian girl singing, with chords derived from Charles Ives’s 1919 song Serenity and free extrapolations and lovely cadences. Dans un Fracas De Plumes (Birds) conveys observations of the similarities between birdsong and free jazz playing, unabashedly melodic at times but unmoored to traditional tonality and unafraid to launch into fanciful flights. Epilogue - Pifanos, the last of the album’s engagingly weird moments, finds a brooding march-time beneath increasingly claustrophobic sixteenth-note whistling.

Longer compositions demonstrate this quartet album’s lightness and depth, played with intensity and intent, unafraid of spiky chromaticism yet always bright and good-humored. Zurich is a sprawling work by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, ranging from nagging ostinato figures to sonorous thematic statements with moments of luminous balladry and chirruping melodic figures, with exciting left-field musical conversations between Eisenmann and soprano saxophonist Gustavo D’Amico, supported by the able polyrhythms of Peruvian-born bassist Jorge Roeder and Brazilian Rogério Boccato’s ‘creative percussion’ set including kitchen utensils, frame drums, bells and clacky things.

Anthrophagy (which means Cannibalism) is a redigestion of Charlie Parker’s Anthropology slowed down by a factor of six. It’s one of the album’s most luminously reflective moments. The piquant Sarabande No 2 grows from solo thoughts into delicately gathered group playing applying jazz expressions to an old Spanish triple-time dance form. Zumbi (named for a 17th-century Brazilian warrior who resisted slavery) has a mysterious feel with ancestral rhythms and expansive chords.

The Free Poetics is eclectic in inspiration, but unified by the distinctive, intriguing vision of Henrique Eisenmann seeking, wherever inspiration may lead, the elusive soul of art.

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



LINK: Video describing the project

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INTERVIEW: Dayna Stephens (First UK Appearance in 17 Years. 606 Club. 16 Nov. EFG LJF)

Dayna Stephens. Photo credit: Gulnara Khamatova

When American saxophonist, bassist & composer DAYNA STEPHENS plays at the 606 Club in Chelsea on Thursday, 16 November as part of the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival, it will be his first UK performance in 17 years.  He has just come second (to Noah Preminger) in the Downbeat Critics'  Poll for rising star of the tenor sax. He had a kidney transplant in 2015,  following a hugely supportive response from the jazz community. Here he talks about his history, both musical and otherwise, and his most recent recording, “Gratitude”. Interview by Laura Thorne:

Laura Thorne: There may be people in the UK unfamiliar with your playing. Where are you from, what is your background?

Dayna Stephens: I live in Paterson New Jersey close to NYC, but was raised in the SF Bay Area. Ive played sax since middle school and went to Berklee College of Music as well as the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. I now write perform worldwide as well as teaching at Manhattan School of Music in NYC.

LT: You have recorded your most recent album Gratitude with the ultimate kick-ass A Team of players, including Brad Mehldau, Julian Lage, Larry Grenadier, and Eric Harland. How were the sessions?

DS: The sessions were very inspiring for me. I was truly living a dream. Everything went so smoothly that we ended with quite a bit more material than anticipated. Which how this recording came about. We realized soon after recording that we had enough for two recordings. Gratitude is also somewhat of a continuation of Peace, my 2014 release.

LT: Why is it called Gratitude?

DS: My personal Gratitude come in response to the amazing generosity and empathy the jazz community has shown me since my long battle with my health began in 2009.

LT: You’ve mostly recorded songs by other musicians on this album. What's the story there?

DS: Over the years I have mostly made recording of mostly my compositions, yet so most of what I write comes from the inspiration I get from others I’ve either played with of listened to heavily. I could make at least 20 albums filled with music that fits in that category, these songs are a great representation of that list as a whole, singable melody with compelling harmonic dressings.

LT: You mentioned in earlier interviews that you were first drawn to the saxophone’s sound when hearing your grandfather play (who was a professional musician in the 1950’s). What was it about that experience that captured your imagination, and can you tell us how you developed your own sound?

DS: Well it was the breathy warmth of his sound that captivated me. I can still hear it even though I don’t have a recording of it.

LT: Were there other people or events that had a decisive or significant role in your professional development?

DS: There are so many that come to mind through various different stages in my development. Dann Zinn my sax teacher in high school who instilled in me the importance of finding and embracing ones own voice. Terence Blanchard the was also a great teacher who made me realise the importance of writing, and gave me enough food for thought to last at least 1.5 decades thus far.

LT: You attended Berklee College of Music as well as the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Is the real learning in college or on the road? Or in jam sessions? Or where?

DS: For me it was a combination of all of these things. I think its important to get mileage playing with other people as much as you can. If not with real people then through records or even play along apps as I do to just rehearse a new song. School definitely help you too better communicate your music vision with other musicians, and branching out to other aspects of making music like arranging composing engineering, sound design etc…If one has developed to a professional before they reach college age, perhaps the road is a place where they can further there skills as a leader or sideman. I’ve seen success come from all avenues.

LT: Do you think that musicians in general should think about making their music accessible to the listener, or should they just focus on being as good as they can be?

DS: They should really figure out honestly how much accessibility really means to them. If who they want to be authentically doesn’t seem to be accessible they may need to spend time discovering folks who will appreciate what they create. Luckily the planet is a very big place and it’s connectedness is kind of scary.




LT: You’ll be playing your first London date in is it..... 17 years? at the 606 Club in London as part of the 2017 London Jazz Festival. Tell us about the programme you’ll be performing.

DS: I plan on playing one or two songs from my latest recording Gratitude as well some new songs that I’ve written this year.

LT: What are you looking forward to in the coming year, musically, professionally and/or personally?

DS: I’m planning to record my EWI (electric wind instrument) project with guitarist Gilad Hekselman in the winter, as well as recording music I’ve written for sextet in late winter.

Laura G Thorne is the 606 Club’s Marketing Manager

LINKS: Bookings for 16 Nov
Artist website

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REVIEW: Binker & Moses at the Margate Jazz Festival

Moses Boyd (R) and Binker Golding
Photo credit: MJF17


REVIEW: Binker & Moses
(Olby’s Soul Cafe & Music Rooms, Margate. 23 September 2017. Margate Jazz Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)

The perfect remedy for festival burnout, this year’s Margate Jazz Festival was a bijou epic lasting just over an hour in its entirety. MOBO-award-winning drums n’ sax duo Binker & Moses, as the sole booking, were in a field of their own on a Saturday night in the basement club of irresistibly-named hang-out spot Olby’s Soul Cafe & Music Rooms.

The duo played a mixture of tough untested material and favourites from their recent double album Journey to the Mountain of Forever. Binker Golding on tenor sax brings the restless polyphonies of Coltrane and the lilt and pep of Sonny Rollins, with Moses Boyd on drums bringing the pulse of RnB, the kit-swallowing thwack of Led Zep, and a host of influences from funk to free playing.

The pair burn with energy and drive. The album sounds almost restrained by comparison with the excitement they bring to a set that rarely lets up for over an hour. You might have seen them perform Intoxication From The Jahvmonishi Leaves on Later… with Jools Holland . It’s a tightly executed funk built around a classic-sounding locked-in theme which they stretch almost to breaking point but never completely abandon. Its driving riffs and chordal suggestions are punched out and torn up at the same time.



Remember that Binker as the sole tonal voice on sax (please don’t write in if you’re a drummer reading this) has to both establish themes, spell-out chords and improvise them into oblivion at the same time. They’ve described themselves as “semi-free.” With just the two of them there’s a lot of scope for variation and feeling in the moment, perched along the straight razor of funk and freedom.

An intense set, some of the audience were relieved by Fete by the River, a bouncy melodic ballad with a Sonny Rollins calypso feel. Over the hour the pair can work dynamics, but the lighter and quieter moments still have the sense of waiting out a lit fuse. It’s virtuoso stuff. As you might expect in a crossover duo, the best-received moments attest to their melodic and highly groovin’ compositional abilities more than the strenuous Coltrane-esque extrapolations. Their talent attests to the fact they can combine the two.

Props to Binker & Moses for being an entire festival. Huge appreciation must go to ‘jazz guy and soul man’ Adam Sieff who stepped in to carry the Margate Jazz Festival over in this “fallow year” before it reignites in 2018. Sieff explains why he had wanted to book them; he has known Binker & Moses for eight years and worked with them in the jazz development programme Tomorrow’s Warriors. He says:

“There’s a whole scene in London that’s very exciting, with young jazz musicians who are embracing hip hop, grime, all the music they’re hearing, and coming up with a new voice. I don’t think anything like this has happened in British jazz for a long time. What I’d like is to keep doing gigs like this, bringing new artists to you who you may not know— young people who are really trying to do something new— to help develop a younger audience down here for jazz music. What’s happening now is so fresh it deserves an audience.”

AJ Dehany is based in London (with frequent trips to Margate) and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

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REPORT: Donald Fagen's The Nightfly at Milton Court

Giles Thornton directing The Nightfly at Milton Court

Donald Fagen's Nightfly in concert
(Milton Court. 25 September. Report by Sebastian Scotney)


To hear that upward-swooping exclamation "OOOHH MIAMI!, (at [1:20] of Walk Between Raindrops HERE) from Donald Fagen's The Nightfly, delivered by massed, mixed, mic'ed voices left a strong impression on the mind's ear.

It also served as a reminder of  how far this project has matured and grown since Thursday 24 March 2011. On that night, with the the graphite and glitter barely dry on the page, Malcolm Edmonstone's performing edition of Donald Fagen's Nightfly received its first small-band outing at the recital hall of the Guildhall in pre-Milton Court days. (Here's a report of that wonderful night. Who did wear those bright pink shoes?).

Since then the work has grown to XXXL proportions. It is now scored for full big band, with no fewer than eight guitars at one point, under expert guidance of Stuart Hall. And last night was used as a first outing for the Guildhall's Jazz Department's first-year students, cleverly giving them the opportunity to perform in front of a sizeable audience. The album performance was expertly compered by Scott Stroman, conducted by Giles Thornton, and preceded by seven instrumental combos, each outfit performing a number inspired by some aspect of the 1982 album.

For an audience it was a great occasion to be reminded of the treasures in that album,and also to marvel at the astonishing standards that students now arriving at conservatoires have already reached. And props to combo-leader Gareth Lockrane who used his opportunity as an interloper at GSMD to allow a student to take the limelight: Jay Verma's piano interlude made quite a few jaws drop.

Seen through the eyes of these Guildhall first year students, whatever else the future holds, last night  seemed like "a glorious time to be free."

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INTERVIEW: Oli Rockberger (Sovereign album launch at Pizza Express, Holborn 19/20 Oct, and touring)

Oli Rockberger.

Singer, pianist and composer OLI ROCKBERGER has come home to London. He has a new album, Sovereign now released, and his debut tour coming up. He talked about his time in the States, about the new album, and about something he learnt from Steve Gadd, to LJN Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon:

LJN: This new album - your fourth - is very much informed by your move back to the UK after a long time in the U.S.

Oli Rockberger: Yes, it was 16 years in total. First I was in Boston for six years. I won a full scholarship to go to Berklee College of Music when I was 19. So I did four years at Berklee, then took two years out in Boston to work, and then I moved to New York where I lived for 10 years.
And I moved back to the UK last July, but that process started in March because I joined Laura Mvula’s band, so there was an overlap of a few months when I was in both places…

LJN: And what has the adjustment been like, moving back?


OR: Oh, I’m so pleased to be home, it’s been a really positive move for me. I loved New York and I got so much out of it, particularly musically with the richness of the scene there and the people I had the chance to work with. It was an amazing place to “grow up” in that space between leaving university and becoming a professional musician. But I thought it would be wonderful now to take what I had learned there and bring it back home, to be closer to friends and family.

And for me, being in London and then having friends and collaborators coming from the States, working with them over here, was something I had hoped could happen, and it’s started to do just that. So Becca Stevens, for example, whom I’ve worked with, coming over from the States and we’ve done some things together…

LJN: It’s all original compositions on the album. Does composing come easily to you? Do you have a method?

OR: I don’t know that there is one set method. Often I find music is a way of processing whatever I am going through at that particular time. And as this particular album was made during this transition period from living in New York to moving home, there are a lot of things to write about. About making a change, making a transition… there was a lot of good subject material there, if you like. And that is typically what happens. If there is something going on in my life, or the lives of friends of mine that I’m close to, and what they are going through, that feeds into it.

LJN: You do have a way, in your lyrics, of making the personal universal… Is that something you work at or does it come naturally?

OR: I think one of the challenges I’ve found in writing is to find that place between writing something that is personal and where there is enough openness and space in the writing, so that people will be able to bring their own experiences to it. So it’s specific enough to be evocative and paint a picture, but not so specific that it limits people from ascribing their own experiences to it. It’s a lifelong process, really, to get that balance right. Some songs I write are a little more specific in their narrative base, and others are less specific in the picture they paint but are more about emotion. So my writing tends to oscillate between the two…

LJN: Some composers lean towards certain favourite chords - there is the Steely Dan chord, for example (named Mu Major apparently!). Do you have a favourite chord?

OR: I’m not sure I have a favourite chord, but I’m definitely a “chord guy” - I came up listening to Steely Dan, and Anita Baker and Pat Metheny, loving chords and loving harmony, and one of my challenges - and I think many people who have been to music conservatories can relate to this - is to strip away what you know and use fewer chords, write less! To try to be more instinctive about your writing and be less intellectual… so I hope there is a richness in the music but I’m trying to move away from the “jazz student” way of thinking.

LJN: And how would you describe the music on Sovereign?

OR: It falls into two categories. There is this more ambient, reflective side, like My Old Life, Is Anybody Out There?, The Garden and Let Go. And then there is this bluesy, more New Orleans, Randy Newman, Dr John, Ray Charles thing - in Justify, Ridiculous, Burned… These two very distinct colours. And there is always that challenge with a record - to make it feel cohesive, particularly when you’ve got varied stylistic things going on. My co-producer, Chris Abell, and I were particularly concerned to get this right, and I think you get it by having a consistency of players - they include Jordan Perlson, Jordan Scanella, Zach Danzinger, Owen Biddle, and having it recorded in a way that is consistent.






LJN: You clearly enjoy playing live in front of an audience, and I wondered how you recreate that energy in the studio?

OR: Yes, they are very different things in some ways - the studio environment and the live one, and I really love both because they offer different challenges. One of the things I wanted to do with Sovereign, which I don’t think I have done in the past, was to try and have a live feeling in terms of the kind of underpinning of the performances. So my previous record, Old Habits, followed the more classic studio process. With Sovereign, eight of the tracks were done live so far as the bass, drums, keys and vocals were concerned, and then we obviously added overdubs and produced them.

So I’m really proud of this record in its own way because it reflects a real live feel.

LJN: And now you are taking it on the road…

OR: Yes, and I’m not just gearing up for my first UK tour, it’s my first ever tour! With my own music. Obviously I’ve done a lot of festivals under my own name, and venues, and good clubs and spot dates… I’ve toured quite extensively as a sideman, but a tour with my own stuff is a totally new experience. And I’m enjoying the challenge of re-imagining the music for this particular ensemble, adjusting the arrangements so they suit these particular players. So it’s an extension of the album but the live date is also something special.

LJN: Are they the same players as on the album?

OR: No, they’re not. The album was recorded in New York with my musical family from there, a small group of musicians who became my close-knit circle of collaborators while I was there. But for the tour, it’s more UK-based and makes a lot of sense for where I’m at now. So the bass player is Michael Janisch, whose label, Whirlwind, is putting out the record. Hannah Read (vocals/fiddle) is coming over from the States and she is on the record too. The young drummer is Marijus Alexa who has a wonderful groove, and a guitar player called Giorgio Serci, who is very tasteful, evocative in his use of pedals, and a great improviser. When you are choosing musicians it’s not only the level of musicianship, for touring it’s people you feel you have a bond with, people who “have your back”.
And I’m really excited about going on the road with all of them.

LJN: You have played with some great names in music. What’s the most valuable lesson you have learned from them?

OR: I think one really good example that I had was working with Steve Gadd. The thing that was so apparent with Gadd - I mean when I met him it was probably the most star-struck I’ve been, because he’s such a legend to me for the albums he’s played on, the Paul Simon albums, the James Taylor albums, with Brecker - but he was so warm and giving, and had a very gentle spirit, so welcoming. So on a personal level it’s a real lesson when you meet someone who is so gifted and successful as that and they are so supportive, it puts a lot of thing into perspective. You realise there is no excuse not to be that way yourself. (pp)

Sovereign is released on Whirlwind Recordings.

Oli Rockberger and band will be playing the following dates:

11 Oct: The Brook, Southampton. 

12 Oct: Soundcellar, Poole.

13 Oct: Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham.

15 Oct: JATA, Bristol.

18 Oct: TheJazz Bar, Edinburgh.

19/20 Oct: Pizza Express, Holborn) - Album launch.

22 Oct: Alexander's Live, Chester.

23 Oct: Ropetackle Arts, Shoreham.

14 Nov: EFG London Jazz Festival, Pizza Express Jazz Club, London.

= = = = = 
LINKS: Oli Rockberger's website

Whirlwind Recordings

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REVIEW: Stan Sulzmann Neon Orchestra at Karamel N22

Stan Sulzmann (left) and Neon Orchestra at Karamel
Photo credit: Billy Marrows


Stan Sulzmann's Neon Orchestra 
(Karamel N22. 21 September 2017. Review by Brian Blain)

What a magnificent night , last Thursday, at Wood Green's Karamel Club when Stan Sulzmann's 19/20 piece Neon Orchestra gave a much-needed boost to drummer Stu Butterfield's weekly presentations.

It was almost certain that there were one or two deputies in the band's ranks, but from the spine-tingling brass flares on the opening theme leading into into complex writing with lines and counter lines locking in, sometimes sweet sometimes dissonant harmonies....such is the astonishingly high standard of the much younger players that the composer/saxophonist leader surrounds himself with, that if there was an occasional glitch it went completely undetected. Indeed, if the opening dramatic phrases were like the shock of being plunged into a cold, icy stream on a hot summer's day as the evening progressed and that necessary loose feeling crept into the music more and more we really began to feel that we were in Big Band -sorry, Orchestral - heaven.

So much to take in , and so many new faces to admire. Trumpeter Freddie Gavita was one, although if you get out much at all he is becoming one of the in demand brass players around and you are very likely to have caught him leading his own small group. Totally fresh to me and right in that modern/mainstream pocket with a lightish tone that made me think of Zoot Sims, was tenor Alex Hitchcock who was right in my comfort zone on a lazy, laid back gospel bluesy piece, Westerly which sounded almost traditional compared with most of Sulzmann's material. Another surprise: on the penultimate piece, Chu Chu, ayoung alto player put down a strong marker for the future. His name? Matt Sulzmann. How tremendous it must feel to know that someone so talented is following in Dad's footsteps.

The almost classically elegant piano of Nikki Iles produced soothing balm sandwiched between the two fiery complementary sections of alonger piece , Up and Down. Vignettes abounded from established players such as Henry Lowther (up for a Parliamentary Award-vote), Martin Hathaway and Pete Hurt, tenor pillar of many a band but it was especially good to see a grey head leading the trombone section the great Gordon Campbell veteran of a thousand BBC Big Band and freelance studio sessions.The really good guys never lose their taste for a challenge and so much of Sulzmann's material does just that. There was a nice tribute to the late and really great arranger Steve Gray, when the saxophone playing leader called Bacharach's You'll Never Get To Heaven, and as with all Burt's stuff, a lovely melody, just right as we could feel the evening drawing towards its close.

In the rhythm section along with Ms Iles, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Tim Giles frequently produced gentle Latin influenced grooves that were both subtle-eschewing familiar jazz bossa and samba beats-and propulsive enough to power this amazing Orchestra. And just one last accolade; for the MD Nick Smart who held the whole thing together with his dynamic conducting, thus allowing the main man to get on with what he does so brilliantly, playing his saxophone alongside the section. There will be another outing in November at the 606; keep your eyes peeled.

SAXOPHONES : Martin Hathaway, Matt Sulzmann, Alex Hitchcock, Pete Hurt, James Allsopp
TRUMPETS : Tom Walsh , Reuben Fowler, Henry Lowther , Freddie Gavita
TROMBONES : Ollie Martin, Gordon Campbell, Robbie Harvey, Sarah Williams
PIANO-- Nikki Iles
VIBES-- Ralph Wyld
GUITAR-- Nicholas Costley-White
BASS -- Conor Chaplin
DRUMS --Tim Giles
CONDUCTOR: Nick Smart

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CD REVIEW: Cécile McLorin Salvant - Dreams and Daggers



Cécile McLorin Salvant - Dreams and Daggers
(Mack Avenue MAC1120. CD Review by Peter Jones)


Singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, still only 28, swims against the modern tide. Where others may combine jazz with other genres, she prefers it straight; older songs greatly outnumber new ones; outbreaks of melisma and other fashionable vocal embellishments are avoided. There is no scatting. For the most part, the classically-trained Cécile favours restraint.

But lyrics are of paramount importance to her, because her great forté is the reinterpretation of a repertoire which seems, on the face of it, old-fashioned. However her often dark and contrary readings of these songs are imbued with very modern gender and racial politics. And although she looks and sounds American, and was indeed born and raised in Miami, it was to a Haitian father and a French mother, and France is where she learned about jazz. Her waspishness and wit, her dry delivery, feels distinctly European.

Most of this terrific double CD consists of material recorded live with her regular trio - Aaron Diehl (piano), Paul Sikivie (bass), and Lawrence Leathers (drums) - at New York’s Village Vanguard about a year ago. Scattered among the live recordings are a few short but intriguing studio tracks of new material recorded with a string quartet, some of it written or arranged by Sikivie.

The arrangements are often as unsettling as the vocals, for example on Mad About The Boy, where the already dark, ambivalent lyric is accompanied by Aaron Diehl’s prowling, semi-classical piano figure. After his solo Cécile returns with a sudden, bleated ‘Mad!’ and the audience titters nervously. When Noel Coward wrote the song he too must have been aware of the range of meanings conveyed by that word – passionate, certainly, but also insane, and used in the American sense, angry.

Cécile does comedy too: she’s unearthed an ancient Bessie Smith tune, Sam Jones’s Blues, in which Sam returns home to his wife after a year of ‘steppin’ around’ to be greeted with ‘You ain’t talkin’ to Mrs Jones, you speakin’ to Mizz Wilson now!’ Another lesser-known song, Jule Styne and Bob Merill’s If A Girl Isn’t Pretty, from Funny Girl, contains the painful lyric, ‘If a girl isn’t pretty like a Miss Atlantic City / She’s a real Miss Nobody USA.’ Ouch.

Much as Cécile sounds at times like Sarah Vaughan or Nina Simone, one also hears strong echoes of Blossom Dearie in this selection of tunes, with their mixture of sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavours. And once in a while the theatrical mask slips: after singing another Bessie Smith number, the astonishingly filthy You’ve Got To Give Me Some, she giggles and thanks her mother for coming to the Vanguard for eight nights in a row.

Cécile McLorin Salvant begins her next European tour at Ronnie Scott’s on 11th and 12th October, followed by dates around the continent until 3rd November.

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REVIEW: Arild Andersen (solo) plus Clive Bell + Mark Wastell at Cafe Oto

Arild Andersen
Photo from artist website


Arild Andersen (solo) plus Clive Bell + Mark Wastell
(Cafe Oto. 23 September 2017. Review by Sarah Chaplin)


Anyone who made their way down to Dalston last Saturday night was in for a rare treat. At the invitation of British percussionist Mark Wastell, Norway’s master bass player Arild Andersen was in town for one night only, performing with the aid of a loop station and an array of pedals, a set of entrancing folk tunes, the odd Keith Jarrett number, and some of Andersen’s originals, culminating with Hyperborean, an intoxicating yet mellow landscape of sustained bowed notes and lyrical interjections. Andersen proved that it’s possible to achieve a state of ‘interplay’ all by himself, channelling the spirit of his illustrious collaborators past and present, his animated body language as much a part of the improvisation as the commandingly rich sound of his acoustic bass.

Earlier in the day, I had the opportunity to interview Andersen, asking him to reflect on a career which now spans over half a century. Proudly self-taught, he regards the occasions when he played with the likes of Don Cherry, Sonny Rollins and Stan Getz as part of the fortuitous journey of a European session player, and seems to see his status as one of our most highly regarded composers and recording artists as circumstantial rather than a product of his own making.

Dismissing the moniker of ‘nordic jazz’ as a journalistic cliché, Andersen believes that the real Scandinavian contribution to jazz probably lies in the region’s commitment to democratic principles, which come through in the music as a genuine desire for all musicians to have an equal footing on stage. The outcome of de-emphasising the front man in Andersen’s case is a prolific and engaging back catalogue of albums, not only the ethereal and austere variety for the likes of ECM, but many of what Andersen calls ‘Friday night’ music (aka energetic live dates), where jazz personalities are entirely and appropriately sublimated by their wonderful material.

Pairing Arild Anderson’s solo set with a duo set from Clive Bell and Mark Wastell was an equally inspired move on Wastell’s part, as the hypnotic manoeuvrings of Bell’s various shakuhachis, with their soft bamboo tones and aeolian riffs, combined with Wastell’s armoury of toms, gongs and Tibetan bowls, produced a non-verbal conversation that would have arrested even the most hardened of souls.

At times, Cafe Oto’s location in one of London’s newest nightspots lent a rhythmic background thud to the proceedings, but it all added to the attraction of listening to music that is timeless and served to remind us that tempo and pulse isn’t everything.

A link to Sarah Chaplin's  interview with Arild Andersen will follow once it the interview is pubished.

Arild Andersen returns to the UK on 26th October: Blue Lamp in Aberdeen featuring Kirsten Bråten Berg.

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REVIEW: Rob Luft - Riser album launch at King’s Place

The Riser album launch
L-R: Joe Webb, Rob Luft, Joe Wright, Tom McRedie, Corrie Dick
Photo: Anthony Ogoe

Rob Luft Riser album launch
(King’s Place. 23 September 2017. Review by Leah Williams.)

Riser is a completely apt album title given that guitarist Rob Luft is something of a young rising star himself. At only 23 years old he already has a Kenny Wheeler Music Prize and a place in the final at the Montreux Jazz Guitar Competition to his name, and has appeared on stage and on recordings alongside stars - Marcus Miller for example. No surprise then that his first album was both hotly anticipated and very well received when it was officially released at the end of July. (CD REVIEW). The sold-out audience at King’s Place on Saturday was just another testament to the buzz surrounding a very promising career.

When Rob arrived on stage accompanied by the band with whom he recorded the album – bassist Tom McCredie, drummer Corrie Dick, tenor saxophonist Joe Wright and keys player Joe Webb – their youth and enjoyment of the situation was clear. In fact, they could be a group of mates who have simply gathered in their mum’s garage to jam on the weekend (the fact that one of the songs is later introduced as actually having been written by Rob, Tom and Corrie in one of their mum’s garages is a funny irony!).

It is precisely this lack of any ceremony that made the evening all the more enjoyable. When Luft took to the mic, he was entirely himself with unprepared introductions and dry humour complete. This night isn’t about looking good or pretending to be anything, it’s entirely about the music, the quality of which speaks for itself.

From the opening notes of the album’s first track Night Songs, you know you’re about to be treated to the joyous, unique sound that pervades Luft’s writing and playing. His effortless and virtuosic playing draws you in straight away and fills you with both excitement and a little bit of awe.It’s also immediately evident that this isn’t just a showcase for his own talent though; Luft’s compositions make full use of his fellow bandmates with all instruments being given ample opportunity to shine. Melodies, rhythms and solos wove seamlessly between them in complete synergy, resulting in a constantly rich and varied soundscape. Particular props did need to be given to saxophonist Joe Wright for his incredibly versatile playing throughout, which explored the whole range of the saxophone’s sound capabilities for some very impressive and special moments.

The majority of songs were naturally from the album with Rob joking “I’m afraid if you didn’t like that [opening number] then you’re going to have a terrible time,” but also included some of his own songs which aren’t on the album as well as a beautifully wistful cover of Jakob Bro’s Heroines and a cover of Bill Frisell’s Verona as an encore simply and exquisitely played as a duet with Luft and Webb on piano.

Highlights from the album’s songs included Slow Potion and Dust Settles, which were played together and complemented one another beautifully, with a natural slow build that held the entire audience captive right until the final, slowly fading notes. The title track Riser was another standout number, inspired by Luft’s love of Zimbabwean music and the way some current artists are bringing the rhythms and sounds of traditional music to contemporary pop instruments. It is an uplifting and rhythmic number that deserves its place as the title track, perfectly representing the fresh and exciting sound of the album overall.

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CD REVIEW: Laura Perrudin - Poisons & Antidotes



Laura Perrudin - Poisons & Antidotes
(Volatine. CD Review by Alison Bentley)


‘Some poisons are antidotes,’ intones French singer/harpist/composer Laura Perrudin in the first track on her new album. It’s a theme of opposites that runs throughout the whole album, both musically and lyrically.

Inks opens with an Arabic-infuenced vocal theme, electronically-enhanced harp (all the album’s sounds come from her voice and harp alone) and a deliciously angelic grunge that recurs through the songs: ‘…some brandy in the shaman’s face to set him free.’ The impressionistic lyrics are mostly her own, and four songs are in French. (Lyrics on the CD cover or a web page would have been good- sometimes they get lost in the electronica, and they sound too interesting to miss.)

Le Poison has clicks, breaths and ethereal vocal backing behind the delicate chords of her specially-made chromatic Celtic harp. The voice tips into distant reverb, Cocteau Twins-style. The Ceiling’s Maze owes a lot to 90s Erykah Badu, with its laid-back R&B feel; loose multitracked vocal harmonies embellish the beautifully complex melody. The harp often sounds like a guitar teasing out jazz chords. The Trap has a two-chord flamenco feel with distorted bells, crackles and an irresistible hook line. ‘Write a song with this poison and maybe it will save you from madness.’

Perrudin can sound a little like Gretchen Parlato, her delicate breathy voice making tricky melodies sound natural and relaxed. Diurnal Fireflies and Ghosts have restless, unresolved chord sequences placed off-beat. They recall Robert Glasper’s arrangements for Parlato, but the harp sounds like Lionel Loueke’s guitar at times. Ghosts has a gentle drum and bass groove, and delicate counterpointed vocals over thundering percussive sounds. The harsh reverb brilliantly counteracts the delicacy of the voice. The Loueke feel continues in Train, where the vocal harmonies have an African feel.

Mesopelagic and The Falling Swans are dreamy, the first evoking the ocean bed with washes of vocal harmony. The second is a jazz-inflected melodic ballad, drawing the trailing electronic clouds of the harp arpeggios. Heliotopie is almost whispered, like a simple nursery rhyme against the portentous accompaniment of mysterious organ-like sounds. The sinuous vocal lines of Pavane de la patte d’oie radiate out like the paths (‘patte d’oie) idiomatically described in the title. Gentle polyphonic vocals are interwoven with harp harmonies.

Perrudin’s first album Impressions set a number of English poems; this album has two by Blake. A few lines from Auguries of Innocence swoop between drifting vocals, a trip hoppy backbeat, and gorgeous harmonies. The Sick Rose has always been a gift to composers. Blake’s subtitle for his Songs of Innocence and Experience- ‘the Contrary States of the Human Soul’- could equally describe Perrudin’s album. Her singing style is more folky here (she has also played Celtic music and comes from Rennes in Brittany.) The melody is haunting, with Debussy-esque harmonies and glittering harp arpeggios.

Björk is clearly an influence, and the album’s been mastered in Iceland by Björk’s producer Valgeir Sigurðsson- but Perrudin sounds like herself. This beautiful album brings together classical, folk, hip hop, rock, and above all, jazz: it’s a personal, original and highly musical vision.

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CD REVIEW: The Mica Bethea Big Band - Stage ‘N Studio 



The Mica Bethea Big Band - Stage ‘N Studio 
(Self-released. CD review by Nick Davies)
 

The fact that Mica Bethea produces and writes music is remarkable given that he is a quadriplegic. Undaunted by this disability, he has successfully completed both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees and developed a strong musical career.

Mica composes and arranges charts for big bands, work which tends to be complex and hard to categorise, but which has received plaudits from the musicians such as Geoffrey Keezer and Joel Frahm (link) .

Stage ‘N Studio is his second release as band leader where he records the music twice: once in the studio and then as a live performance at the University of Florida in Jacksonville. This is an experimental and brave project. The listener provided the opportunity to hear each piece twice and judge whether the live or studio sound is best. The album runs to 16 tracks written by artists the likes of Herbie Hancock and George Gershwin, as well as four arrangements composed by Mica himself which more than hold their own. Adapting songs by artists such as Gershwin to big band is no mean feat however, Mica does well, staying true to the original whilst adding another exciting element.

Hang Up Your Hang Ups by Hancock is the first track on both discs, starting with a guitar introduction and followed by the rest of the band. The music is performed to a high standard and there is great interplay between the musicians throughout, with the guitar rhythm bordering on funk at times.

As one would expect from the studio version, it is very clean and polished, compared to the live version which has a certain rawness to it, without losing the funky beat: a great interpretation which comes across stronger than its studio counterpart. Equally, Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay receives similar treatment with a superb vocal by Linda Cole. Once again, the live version stands out. This appears to be the running theme throughout the album.

These tunes were made to be played live and that, in my opinion, is the best setting for them. Overall, it is a good release however, the combination of a studio and live album is a risky choice; it might have been better received as two independent releases. This said, Mica Bethea is a rising star in the world of big band compositions so watch this space.

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CD REVIEW: Thelonious Monk - The Centennial Edition Paris 1954



Thelonious Monk - The Centennial Edition Paris 1954
(Swing/Sony Music 88985472342. CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)

Marking Thelonious Sphere Monk’s centenary, an album of two halves, one live, the other studio, taped in 1954 in Paris. The city is hosting its third Salon du Jazz, an extravagant fête featuring multiple schools of jazz, movies and the Salle Pleyel interior transformed into a New Orleans thoroughfare. Monk, invited to star, embarks on his first trip abroad, but arrives sans rhythm section. Barely an afternoon exists to rehearse a local bassist and drummer, neither of whom are au fait with Monk’s music. The rhythm section’s inexperience and Monk’s temperament (c.f.: Mrs Nellie Monk’s comment: “every day with Thelonious is a new chemical experience”) form a combustible mixture which flares in the second chorus of Well, You Needn’t (live version).

Abruptly, Monk vacates the piano stool and points an accusatory finger at Jean-Louis Viale, the hapless drummer. Seeking counsel, the horrified Viale glances at the bassist who, unhelpfully, offers only a Gallic shrug and ceases to pluck. Silence. Mystified audience. But Monk’s finger remains pointing. Reduced to insensate panic, Viale blunders into a haphazard solo, probably not Monk’s intention. As the ill-advised racket subsides, Monk returns to the keyboard to complete the tune, but more banana peels lurk (including the sleeve-note proof-reader permitting ‘segue’ to be spelled as ‘segway’). At a subsequent concert (the second incomplete ’Round Midnight), further disasters are averted by replacing Viale with Gerard Pochonet. No surprise the live tracks have remained unreleased for over sixty years.

However, in the studio half of the album, anxiety gives way to joy in the shape of nine glorious unaccompanied tracks, eight Monk originals plus Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (more detail of previous releases of this material here). For the first time, Monk’s potential as a solo artist is recognised and, stripped of support, fully exposed, his genius is clearly revealed. The idiosyncratic melodies, oblique dissonances, percussive attack, unpredictable twists (channelling Jimmy Yancey?) and deft rhythmic shifts amount to more than a ‘style’, they’re an entirely new musical language. On these remarkable tracks, it sounds freshly-minted (fortunately, because, during a tech crew strike, studio microphones are positioned by amateurs). While the engineering is O.K., the fee isn’t. Yet that doesn’t prevent Monk from blowing the lot on genuine French berets (bopper haute couture) to feed his lifelong headgear fetish. Moreover, during this eventful week, Monk has his initial encounter with Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswater (nee Rothschild), destined to become his guardian angel, notably during a nearly catastrophic drug bust and, later, his long, tragic mental decline. Acquire this historical document and marvel.

Evidence; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; Hackensack; ’Round Midnight; Eronel; Off Minor; Well, You Needn’t; Portrait of an Ermite (Reflections); Manganese (We See) plus previously unreleased concert tracks: Well, You Needn’t; ’Round Midnight; Off Minor; Hackensack/Epistrophy; ’Round Midnight (incomplete)

Main tracks: Thelonious Monk, piano, June 4, 1954. Bonus tracks: add Jean-Marie Ingrand, bass; Jean-Louis Viale, drums, live at Salle-Pleyel, June 1, 1954. On final track, Gerard “Dave” Pochonet, drums replaces Viale, Salle Pleyel, June 3, 1954.

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CD REVIEW: Sietske - Leaving Traces



Sietske – Leaving Traces
(Berthold Records LC 27984. CD review by Mary James)


“Let the rain come, drops of silent silver sorrow.” What a beautiful image, one of many in Leaving Traces, the second album from Sietske Roscam Abbing, a Dutch vocalist and lyricist who has studied in the United States and taught in India. What strikes you immediately about this album is its clarity. It’s not just about the recording quality (which is flawless), or the packaging (striking and beautiful), it’s the vision, the words and emotions expressed. Her enunciation is so perfect so you can savour the lyrics without having to resort to the insert for the words. The lyrics are poems in themselves, expressed with perfect phrasing, emotional depth and confidence.

The titles are a feast for the senses – Chasin’ Rainbows, Let The Rain Come, Two Feet on Shore. There is an arc to the album – it opens in sunlight, washes through rain to the dark time of the year at winter solstice, then the irresistible pull towards summer, each experience leaving a trace, an impression, either physically or mentally.

Let the Rain Come is based on a Yiddish folk song called In the Darkness, but Sietske was not familiar with its title or lyrics. Instead, from her own listening, she captured its sadness and yearning and turned it into a love song. Herein lies her skills as a lyricist and singer, her ability to express her thoughts simply yet deeply and render them unforgettable with her beautiful gentle voice.

Most of the compositions are by pianist Dirk Balthaus, the remainder are by Balthaus and Siestke, and all the lyrics are by Sietske Roscam Abbing. Her band supports her very ably and responsively. Take the song Solstice where traces of shooting stars are imagined in electronic guitar washes from expressive guitarist Eran Har Even. A sensitive accompanist, Balthaus contributes a melancholy grounding to the songs.

This album will certainly leave traces in your heart for a long time for its entrancing atmosphere, deep wisdom and great beauty. Highly recommended.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, is a jazz promoter working with John Law and others. Twitter @maryleamington

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TRIBUTE: Mike Carr (1937-2017) by Wally Houser

Mike Carr

MIKE CARR, the younger brother of the late trumpeter Ian Carr, has passed away on Friday 22 September at the age of 79. The news came from Lance Liddle's Bebop Spoken Here site (LINK). Mike Carr's organ playing was a regular fixture at Ronnie Scott's. This tribute is from Walter Houser, who acted as legal counsel to Ronnie Scott's club for several decades. Wally writes:

Mike and I were friends for more than 50 years.

His jazz career is well known.

He was born in South Shields and moved to London in the early 1960s His first major jazz group in the north east was the MC5 with his brother Ian on trumpet, Gary Cox on tenor. Malcolm Cecil on bass and Ronnie Stephenson on drums. They were hard boppers and the band was outstanding

After he moved to London Mike took up the organ - Hammond B3 to be precise. He ultimately owned a large number of them.

He became for me (and for others) simply the best jazz organist in the world. His solos were always note perfect compositions more informed by Hank Mobley or Blue Mitchell than Jimmy Smith. He also exploited all the possibilities of the instrument. Including the bass pedals which he really made swing.

For a while he was part of the Ronnie Scott Trio. He also had a duo with Tony Crombie and later a trio with Peter King and Bobby Gien on drums who was replaced by Kenny Clare. My fondest memory of Mike at his imperious best was when this trio played Sax No End. It was a big band piece re-arranged for trio by Peter King . Superb.

Mike was part of or led many groups. Too many to list

His personal life became rather sad after the desertion by and subsequent death of his wife left him to care for a son and a disabled daughter . In fact he gave up the possibility of a glittering international career to care for his daughter helped greatly by his son Robert

Mike was a keen tennis player and in the seventies he and I would play two or three times a month. He always beat me

In 2011 came the first signs of dementia. He and I spoke on the phone until about 2014 when that horrible condition made it impossible. He was a really good man with endless infectious enthusiasm for music.

Mike Rest in peace

Wally Houser



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CD REVIEW: Zara McFarlane - Arise



Zara McFarlane - Arise
(Brownswood BWOOD0162CD. CD Review by Peter Jones)


With this new album, her third, singer-composer Zara McFarlane approaches the portals of greatness. She has honed a very individual style from the musical materials she has been surrounded by: first of all, the strong Caribbean influence - essentially reggae – that she absorbed from her parents; second, her subsequent immersion in a vibrant and diverse London jazz scene; and third, her recent researches into her Jamaican heritage, pre-reggae, all the way back to its cultural and religious roots in Africa.

More important, McFarlane has the ability to write songs of great maturity, subtlety and power which are also maddeningly catchy – particularly Fussin’ and Fightin’ and the brilliantly oxymoronic Freedom Chain. Her light, sweet, effortless voice is what first brought her to the attention of the UK music industry. Here on Arise, she has multi-layered these vocals to stunning effect. And speaking of oxymorons, the overall mood is simultaneously calm but troubled and moody, a gathering storm that never completely breaks.

Friends and fellow alumni of Tomorrow’s Warriors provide admirable support: principally drummer and producer Moses Boyd, bassist Max Luthert, pianist Peter Edwards, tenorman Binker Golding and trombonist Nathaniel Cross. And Shabaka Hutchings makes a guest appearance on bass clarinet on the tracks Pride and Silhouette, contributing a langorous, melancholy solo to the latter. Elsewhere McFarlane is content to rely on almost no one but herself, as on Allies or Enemies, where she is backed by nothing more than a simple acoustic guitar and a bit of percussion. All the vocal arrangements, and some of the horn arrangements, are her own.

The two non-original songs on the album both come from 1970s reggae: Nora Dean’s Peace Begins Within, and Fisherman, by vocal group The Congos. The album is bookended by McFarlane’s wordless African chants Ode to Kumina and Ode to Cyril.

Zara McFarlane appears at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green on 15 November as part of the London Jazz festival, with dates around Europe before and after.

Link: Interview with Zara McFarlane

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