CD REVIEW: Mostly Other People Do The Killing - Paint

Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Paint
(Hot Cup 171. CD review by Brian Marley)

Ever wondered what ‘romping through the changes’ sounds like? Look no further. Moppa’s Elliott’s group, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, has stripped down to a piano trio from the septet which released Loafer’s Hollow earlier this year, and they’re on fine, exuberant form. There’s lots more space in the music now the horns have been set aside, and consequently the players have more room to manoeuvre.

Moppa Elliott (double bass) composed all the tunes bar one – Duke Ellington’s Blanton-era Blue Goose. As usual with Mostly Other People Do the Killing CDs, the track titles derive from the names of towns in Elliott’s home state of Pennsylvania, though on this occasion he’s chosen only those with colour-coded names. (There is, by the way, no way to determine whether Ellington’s tune was actually named after the town of Blue Goose, but it’s possible, and Elliott likes to think so.) As Elliott had already composed a piece for this project entitled Blue Goose, he simply renamed it Whitehall. One hopes the music isn’t programmatic to any great degree, otherwise it might sow confusion among the citizens of Whitehall.

Although the compositions are mostly his, Elliott’s trio members make them just as much their own. To describe Kevin Shea (drums) and Ron Stabinsky (piano) as irrepressible would be to sell them short. This is a rambunctious but not unsubtle music that, while operating mostly within tight formal constraints, seems to erupt unpredictably like a jack-in-the-box or, on a grander scale, a volcano. Noble precursors of this approach include Misha Mengelberg’s various groups and the Clusone Trio, where playful disruption was not only permitted but actively encouraged.

Apart from their controversial note-for-note recording of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, treating it as a score to be followed faithfully, like a conductor directing classical players, Mostly Other People Do the Killing range stylistically far and wide. They merge the metronomic swing of between-the-wars dance bands with the metreless swing of The New Thing. The music is tight and loose all at once, and it cherry picks elements from every era of jazz, mixing them up to great effect. It’s seriously funny or serious without being po-faced. Call it postmodern, if you like. By setting aside the reverential element that Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center promote, in their bid to elevate jazz to classical music status, Mostly Other People Do the Killing have greater freedom of expression and just as rich a legacy to draw on.

Take Plum Run, for example. Its theme is somewhat reminiscent of Ellington, but the loosening structure as the track progresses, and the avalanching runs that Ron Stabinsky unleashes, are very much of the present day. It’s jazz, without a shadow of doubt, but not jazz-by-numbers, not hidebound in any way.


REVIEW: Sounding Tears at The Lab, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

Sound Tears: Mat Maneri, Lucian Ban and Evan Parker
Promotional photo
Sounding Tears
(The Lab, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 20 October 2017. Review by Peter Bacon)

There is a delicious irony in the fact that a lot of the time what this trio does - exquisitely - is leave breathing pauses in the music. Ironic because, unusually for a trio that has a horn player, pausing for breath is one thing it has no need of. That is because joining viola player Mat Maneri and pianist Lucian Ban in Sounding Tears is that master of the continuous soprano saxophone flow, Evan Parker.

It was with slow, sparse and thoughtfully stated phrases that Maneri and Parker began the 75-minute unbroken set - six pieces of music plus a short encore - before giving way to a solo section from Ban. This began tinged with tenuous melancholy before gradually increasing in determination with associated gravitas. Maneri responded in kind and the pair broadened the improv-meets-contemporary-composition character of the music to take in the inkling of a blues phrase (Ban) and some almost romantic lyricism (Maneri).

The material was unannounced, aside from Blessed, a piece which Maneri wrote, had previously recorded with his father, Joe, on piano, and is on the Sounding Tears album, released on the Clean Feed label earlier this year. It came early on in the set and was a thing of beauty, a slow, thoughtful viola/piano duet of elegiac mood, romantic and sensual too, though in a restrained way.
This mood is at the heart of Sounding Tears’ music (that band title is of the ‘what it says on the tin’ kind) but it’s by no means a straightjacket - the players explore all the limits, nooks and crannies of their chosen playground.

The other really striking thing one is aware of, apart from the breathing, is how strongly Maneri, Parker and Ban play with their ears. That might sound like stating the obvious - which musicians don’t listen to each other? - but rarely have I been aware just how acutely they were listening. We could almost hear them listening! And, of course, we could… in their responses to the statements, nuances, and suggestions from the other two. The audience responded with heightened attention and a kind of worshipful silence.

There were many sublime moments: Parker exploring high, whistling overtones against low, dampened, struck piano strings which resonated and reverberated out from the Steinway’s raised lid; the gradual, perfectly controlled building of an acoustic storm by all three; Maneri choosing to lay a folk-like dirge over the bustling busyness of Ban and Parker.

The performance proper ended with hints of a hymn tune or nocturne, perhaps, the saxophone floating above a gently descending line from piano and viola. It had come full circle in the most graceful and complete of ways.

Some performances don’t need encores so it was a pity that convention had to be enforced on this occasion. Sounding Tears tossed off a quick one and everyone else seemed satisfied.

This was the first event in this venue promoted by Tony Dudley-Evans in association with Fizzle, the fortnightly free/improv night held elsewhere in the city. It was an ideal space - a black box with great acoustics and nothing to distract from music which is, in a way, context-free.

LINK: Fizzle's programme


NEWS: Will Barry wins 2017 Musicians' Company Young Jazz Musician of the Year Competition

Will Barry (right) receiving the medal from Sir Roger Gifford
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Pianist WILL BARRY was the winner of The annual Musicians' Company (Worshipful Company of Musicians) Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition, held at Pizza Express Dean Street on Sunday lunchtime 22 October.

The competition was described as 'hotly contested' by Leslie East of the Company, but nevertheless with Will Barry as the 'clear winner'.

The other finalists in this year’s competition were:

James Copus trumpet
Shirley Tetteh guitar
Lluis Mather saxophone
Will Barry piano
Tim Thornton bass
David Dyson drums

Will Barry (foreground) with L-R Shirley Tetteh, Tim Thornton,
Lluis Mather, David Dysin, James Copus
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Melody McLaren reports: "I have been to three of these competitions and what impressed me most was how high the standards are, both in playing and in listening. It was very striking to me how impressively the players dovetailed professionally, having only just met."

The medal was awarded to Will Barry by the current Master of the Musicians' Company, former Lord Mayor of London Sir Roger Gifford

Guitarist Shirley Tetteh
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

LINK: Worshipful Company of Musicians website


REVIEW: Vaille Que Vivre with Juliette Binoche at the Philharmonie in Paris and Alexandre Tharaud's CD Barbara

Curtain call for Juliette Binoche and Alexandre Tharaud
at a sold-out Philharmonie in Paris

Sebastian reports from Paris on the events and activity leading up to the twentieth anniversary of the death of  Barbara:

Monique Andrée Serf (1930-1997), known by her stage name, Barbara has a particular place in French chanson and culture in general. Known as "la grande Dame en noir de la chanson française", she was never one to hold back on the moodiness and suffering. Her songs are poetic, but they also invariably bear the marks of a life full of pain and passion. The start of one radio interview sums up that persona very neatly:

Interviewer: Ça Va? (How are you?)
Barbara. Non, ça ne va pas...Quoi d'autre? (Not well. What else have you got to ask?)

The twentieth anniversary of her death is producing an avalanche of tributes, leading up to the anniversary itself on 24 November. There are about a dozen new commemorative books or CDs in the shops, there is a bio-pic with Jeanne Amalric in the title role (TRAILER). Gerard Depardieu has a show which he will be reprising later in the year. A major exhibition has just opened at the Philharmonie in Paris, and there various projects which have been steered into existence by French classical pianist Alexandre Tharaud, notably a 2-CD set of songs, and whole weekend of concerts at the Philharmonie, of which I attended the final event, a 90-minute performance featuring just Tharaud and French film star Juliette Binoche.

Alexandre Tharaud - Barbara (Erato Warner 0190295 759155)

The new double CD Barbara is packed with star turns. Vanessa Paradis and Jane Birkin have a song each, as does Rokia Traoré . There is always the question hovering as to whether these versions can improve or re-invent the originals, which in many cases have left an indelible mark? I would say that it is hard to imagine that anyone could replace the original of Septembre (Quel Joli Temps), and singer Camélia Jordana's take on it doesn't anywhere near to the quiet intensity or the intuitive phasing of the original. On the other hand, when I heard Benabar's take on Y'aura du monde  - that jolly ditty about all the people who will turn up at her funeral.... BRIEF CLIP) he does it with a such conviction, verve and panache.... I have gone straight out and bought his most recent album. And Rokia Traoré's Au Bois de Saint-Amand which starts with handclaps and disappears tantalisingly into silence is a delight. Juliette Binoche speaks rather than sings on the album. Her Vienne with classy salon-style accompaniment from violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Alexandre Tharaud, whose project this album is, is very atmospheric indeed.

The second CD is of instrumental versions,  There is a fabulous accordion and bass clarinet playing from Roland Romanelli and Michel Portal on Nantes - a case of being spared the words which are an extreme caricature of Barbara's gloominess. Some of Tharaud's best playing is in a fine solo on Le Bel Âge .

"Rich in subtle autumnal shades...a triumph," wrote Clive Davis describing this set HERE (£-wall). Absolutely.

Vaille Que Vivre at the Philharmonie de Paris - 14 October 2017

Whereas this two-hander for Juliette Binoche and pianist Alexandre Tharaud would have its natural home in a small theatre, the French actor has such presence and star quality, she made the Philharmonie feel like an intimate space. She sang, acted, prowled, danced draped herself over the piano, it was an astonishing tour de force.  The piano figure which starts the song Pierre came back again as an earworm or what the French call a "rengaine," which added to the sense of obsessive circling. On a first hearing I couldn't sense much narrative development, and yet the power of the performances, clever direction and lighting, good interaction between the two participants, excellent pacing, and above all Binoche's sheer presence and virtuosity made 90 minutes pass very quickly indeed.  


REVIEW: Art Ensemble of Chicago at Cafe Oto

Art Ensemble of Chicago with Hear in Now trio at Cafe Oto.
(L-R) Mitchell, Junius, Ragin, Swift, Moye, Reid, Bolognesi.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All rights reserved.

Art Ensemble of Chicago
(17 October 2017. Final night of three-day residency at Cafe Oto. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Following their fascinating interview (LINK) the final night of Art Ensemble of Chicago's residency at Cafe Oto ended with a remarkable performance.


For their final concert of their Cafe Oto residency, the Art Ensemble of Chicago expanded to a seven-piece, augmented by the three-woman string trio, Hear In Now, formed in 2009, of Chicago-based cellist Tomeka Reid, violinist Mazz Swift from New York and string bassist Silvia Bolognesi, hailing from Siena. Mitchell referred to Reid in the interview as "second generation AACM" (the pivotal Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians, founded 1965 in Chicago).

This was one of those concerts where musical confines don't really exist but a finely-matched combination of talents and deeply ingrained intuitive responses allowed the individual musicians to work together, in this instance, around Mitchell's scored structure to create a uniquely flavoured magnum opus of around 75 minutes duration.

Setting up his reeds on stage, Roscoe Mitchell, iconoclastic saxophonist, flautist and co-founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, carried himself with a deceptive formality, in striped shirt and navy tie with diagonal stripes, college-style. Joined by his six fellow musicians they all stood and turned to face east for a minute before settling - a sign that they were about to embark on a journey of weighty import, and that all co-travellers in the house had better fasten their seatbelts.

A fleeting, fluttering passage on flute set the tone with Don Moye backing up on congas, then Swift's breathy, shuddering vocalese, the twin basses of Junius Paul and Bolognesi, and Reid's chiselling cello. All of a sudden there was a brightly textured soundscape in full play. As drones were elicited from bowed basses in tandem with percussive taps, Hugh Ragin's flugelhorn drifted in to add a carefully pitched layer, easing the pace. Switching to muted trumpet, drawn from a wide tabletop array of instruments, he crafted a lyrical thread mirrored lightly by Junius.

Roscoe Mitchell, hunched forward, left, while Hugh Ragin plays muted trumpet.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All rights reserved.

To his side, the seated Mitchell leant forward gathering his energy for an extraordinary extemporisation on soprano sax where the instrument's natural sonics were subverted and inverted to take on raw flute timbres and harmonic edges and to release soaring, whistling gusts. The basses synched in light, pointed accents while Reid scuffed on the surface to add ambiguity to the vista. Chuckling for an instant after shouting out "Silence is golden", Mitchell embarked on an extended spell of piercing, shattered outpourings sustained by continuous breathing, met with full applause after which the baton (metaphorical) was handed to Moye, who initiated an immaculately paced, flowing percussion solo.

Moye has termed himself a Sun Percussionist, "exploring the traditions of African-American percussion music", a heritage which shone through as multiple, layered rhythms were interwoven to set up a parallel solo spot for the entire string trio working breathtakingly as one. While cello and violin flew off in loose and fast flight, Bolognese held the rhythm and melodic form.

Junius took off on a solo of the utmost subtlety, near inaudible then breaking back with physical presence, mobile and articulate. Ragin, in outstandingly versatile form throughout, moved on to pocket trumpet and paved the way for a power-charged stream of improvisation from the entire crew. Everything kicked off in all directions, yet there was an invisible guiding force underlying the whole enterprise - Mitchell had seen to that. The sustained tempest suddenly dropped right down to give Ragin his voice with delicate, muted flugelhorn, then spluttery trumpet, underscored by full string drones and plucked notes.

Roscoe Mitchell at Cafe Oto.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All rights reserved.

Heartfelt applause and, to close down, a brief, swinging encore. After Mitchell name-checked the musicians he called out "The ART Ensemble of Chicago", with the emphasis firmly on Art. It certainly was - and one of the most special evenings ever at Cafe Oto.

Hear In Now are playing the Vortex on Sunday, which is also the final day of Tate Modern's Soul Nation; Art in the Age of Black Power.

LINKS: Art Ensemble of Chicago reviewed in February 2017
Vortex gig on Sunday: Hear In Now with Alexander Hawkins
Hear in Now on Rudi Records
Final Day of Tate Modern's Soul Nation; Art in the Age of Black Power


REPORT: Art Ensemble of Chicago interview at Cafe Oto

Members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago at the interview
L-R: Don Moye, Roscoe Mitchell, Hugh Ragin
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

The third and final night of Art Ensemble of Chicago's residency at Cafe Oto (17 October 2017) came with two bonuses. The first was a hastily arranged interview early in the evening, the second was the addition of the string trio, Hear In Now, to augment the quartet, resulting a remarkable performance later that evening. Geoff Winston reports:


The interview, arranged at a day's notice, was guided by broadcaster Kevin LeGendre, in conversation with the Ensemble's co-founder, Roscoe Mitchell, percussionist Don Moye and trumpeter Hugh Ragin (bass player Julius Paul wasn't present). Their captivating dialogue shone light on the Ensemble's experience and history, their music and teaching practices, and their engagement with contemporary issues. Bon mots abounded and the conversation was spun through with wisdom, humour and a pervasive sense of optimism.

They covered so much ground, a few snippets will give something of its flavour. Mitchell, at 77 years young, offered that he is 'more interested in being a student right now - more than any other time in my life.' Moye, likewise, said he was 'back to studying more than ever before.' That's in the broadest sense, not academia.

'I practice my instrument and the rest of it takes care of itself.' Mitchell went on to say it was as necessary to practice improvising as it was playing solo and with others, and alighted on to the importance of learning to listen. He urged: 'Listen to the birds, they're never wrong. … If you listen, you see what shapes you're making,' adding, 'silence is perfect,' a thought to which he returned for a disarmingly witty moment during their high-energy performance. Moye took it even further: 'Listen with your eyes and your ears.'

Mitchell related how everybody had a garden in his childhood Chicago, and nobody had to leave the neighbourhood to make a living, adding an image of buckets being put out to catch snow to make ice cream! Moye quizzed on the city's tensions, said many police officers were, off-duty, his music students, while Mitchell invoked Moor Mother's crucial plea for today: 'We want our future back.'

Ragin recounted how he made contact with the Ensemble as a student on their residency course at Woodstock at new year 1978/79 and how it was 'a dream come true sitting in Lester Bowie's seat.' There were wry smiles as they recalled rich cross-fertilisation with the Sun Ra Arkestra, and on being quizzed on the term they coined to usurp the word 'jazz', 'Great Black Music, Ancient To Future', they burst in to a wordplay listing spree … 'Jessye Norman, Leontyne Price … Hank Mobley …' with Moye declaring 'It's art … Art Blakey, Art Tatum, Art Taylor, Art-uro Sandoval!'

Talking about time in San Francisco at the height of the hippy era where they recorded with Nick Gravenites and stayed in a house owned by Big Brother and the Holding Company, Mitchell drew a comparison saying, 'This period here is almost like the '60s. Different disciplines get together. … What music does, it shakes the dust off itself … it feels like that kind of time now.' Not forgetting that, like Tower of Power, seen only two days earlier, the Art Ensemble of Chicago are about to celebrate their 50th anniversary - and, as we found later in the evening, are firing on all cylinders, and some!

This just skims the surface. There's a possibility that Cafe Oto may be able to give access to the recorded discussion through their website, which would be ideal to get the full drift of their quick fire repartee.

Review of concert performance to follow. 

LINKS:  Moor Mother review 
Art Ensemble Feb 2017 review 


CD REVIEW: Andy Fusco- Joy-Riding

Andy Fusco - Joy-Riding
(Steeplechase SCCD31381. CD review by Frank Griffith)

Veteran NYC altoist Andy Fusco returns to the Steeplechase label, and the result is Joy-Riding, a post hard bop date with a good mix of originals and classic jazz anthems. Having done long stints with the likes of drummers Buddy Rich and Steve Smith's Vital Information, Fusco has also appeared and recorded with Don Sebesky and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. His sidemen include tenorist and composer Walt Weiskopf, and his younger brother, pianist Joel Weiskopf. Louisville-born and bred  drummer Jason Tieman, and bassist Mike Karn complete the sterling rhythm section.

A first class date by all hands, indeed, with Fusco keeping the spirits of Jackie and Charles Mac (McClean and McPherson) thriving well into the millenium. Andy's rich and liquid sound is imbued with a snakelike bendy-ness in his phrasing that is unique and endearingly warm and comforting to boot. Dig his reading of Hoagy Carmichael's Skylark with his moist melodicism coupled with his biting rhythmic acuity on Walt Weiskopf's Joy-Riding, spelling out long and serpentine lines for evidence of this.

A top mod bop date indeed that will elate and please listeners from many different camps.


REVIEW: Oli Rockberger's Sovereign album launch at Pizza Express Live, Holborn

The Sovereign Album Launch
L-R: Oli Rockberger, Marijus Aleksa, Hannah Read,
Michael Janisch, Giorgio Serci

Oli Rockberger
(Pizza Express Live, Holborn. 19 October 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Musicians find different ways to settle and centre themselves on stage. Some need to get rid of volleys of fast notes, and to get them out of their system; others reach for a tune with familiar contours; what Oli Rockberger did last night was a lovely short extemporisation at the piano, allowing each chord that he struck to be savoured as it faded. "I’m definitely a 'chord guy' ", he told Peter Bacon in an interview leading up to his current tour (INTERVIEW AND TOUR DATES). That first entrance set the tone for the evening: a lot of spaciousness, of respectful listening, and perhaps above all of soulfulness.

Rockberger described the long build-up to this moment of finally launching this album in London, roughly half way through a ten-date UK tour. He recorded it in 2015 with a mostly New York band - he had lived over there for sixteen years. He then got busy here as a member of Laura Mvula's band on keyboards and voice. So this album launch felt like a belated way to mark his homecoming to the UK.

The common link between the album and the current tour is singer/ violinist Hannah Read, Scottish-raised but now based in Brooklyn, who was also one of the ten musicians on Songs of Separation, best album at the 2017 BBC Folk Awards. She leads her own projects, but in this context unfailingly blended and dovetailed and enriched melodic lines all evening. Lithuanian, London-based drummer Marijus Aleksa is a strong and forceful player - who is equally capable of disappearing into a texture. Giorgio Serci in this context showed facets of his playing, notably wailing solos on electric guitar, that I have never heard before. Michael Janisch, on upright bass is another player capable of delivering both solo bravura or presence, or the most discreet and perfectly placed time and pitch.

But the limelight was inevitably on the leader and his songs. He has declared admiration for Sting and Peter Gabriel, but I kept wondering if there was also a shade of Randy Newman. These are strong songs, and if they sound good on the album, his way of lightening them, pulling them back is masterful. There  is a good example of that after 4:38 on this video of his break-up song Justify (HERE). There was an episode like that last night, an open section, ended with a nod of the head and a deeply positive and encouraging "Here we go."

This is a sound world where nothing is ever ponderous or forced. What a great and natural way to find equilibrium. And all the spaciousness and soul you could ever wish for.

Oli Rockberger takes a piano solo


Oli Rockberger (vocal/piano)
Hannah Read (vocal/violin)
Giorgio Serci (guitars)
Michael Janisch (bass)
Marijus Aleksa (drums)


My old life
Right Through Me
Queen of Evasion
Old Habits (duo with Hannah Read) Let Go


Let's stay home
Is Anybody Out There
The Garden
I'll go mine (Duo with Hannah Read)


Don't Forget Me

LINK: EPK for Sovereign


CD REVIEW: Ella Fitzgerald - Live at Chautauqua Vol. 2

Ella Fitzgerald - Live at Chautauqua Vol. 2
Dot Time Legends SKU: DT8004 CD review by Nick Davies)

April 25th 2017 would have marked the late great Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday and, to mark this milestone in jazz history, Dot Time Records have released Ella Fitzgerald Live at Chautauqua Vol. 2. This album is a recording of the sold-out July 1968 concert and features Tee Carson and his trio (Keter Betts on bass and Joe Harris on drums).

All of Ella’s standards are performed, along with some new songs. In honour of Dr Martin Luther King, she performed He had a Dream, especially poignant because Dr King had previously spoken at the same Amphitheatre and this show came only a few short months after his death. It is very difficult to critique the legendary Ella Fitzgerald who, with her beautiful voice, makes such extraordinary singing seem easy. Her music is classy and her scatting style is an example to any up and coming singer. The album opens with Satin Doll which sets the tone for what is to come. Ella is a master performer in every single track, transporting the listener back to the sixties, with each song delivered to an incredibly high standard. Equally, Tee Carson and his Trio’s performance with Ella is so tight, it’s easy to forget that they weren’t her permanent band.

Despite the incredible positives, sadly there are a few negatives. It is well known that, at this time, Chautauqua did not record any of its live concerts so the audio here is not an official record. Although the priest in charge of sound engineering on that day was given permission by Ella to record that particular performance, the equipment used was clearly not ideal as the sound quality throughout is very poor. Ella’s voice is frequently lost with the band drowning it out and, at other times, both the band and Ella’s voice are either very loud or too low. In Day in Day Out, Ella is barely audible but thankfully, nearer the end of the track, it is clearer. The sound reproduction is tinny and conversation with the audience sounds muffled. It’s obvious this is not a professional production.

Overall this is good release, ripe for Ella collectors. The singing and musicality is outstanding; what you would expect from an icon. On the other hand, the poor audio quality of this release would leave audio purists dissatisfied however, having said that, this concert is a historical archive and should be treated as such.


TRIBUTE: Mike Westbrook remembers Lou Gare (1939-2017)

Lou Gare
Photo credit: Unknown
Saxophonist Lou Gare died on 6 October aged 78. Mike Westbrook pays tribute:

I believe Lou Gare to have been one of the most original saxophonists of our time - one of those legendary figures little known to the general public, but a major influence on all those who knew and worked with him.

He was in my band in the early ‘60s in a sax section with Mike Osborne and John Surman.
He then spent many years on the Improvised Music scene, as a founder member of AMM, often in partnership with the drummer Eddie Prévost. This revolutionary group achieved international recognition and made a number of albums.

Eventually Lou settled in the West Country, still playing, but in relative obscurity. This is where we got together again, ten years ago, when Lou joined the big band that became The Uncommon Orchestra. As a free improviser with strong jazz roots, his playing in the context of a large ensemble, was a revelation. Lou took part in many projects and performances with the band until couple of years ago when health problems began to limit his activities.

Lou was greatly loved and respected. His funeral on 17 October in his village church in Cheriton Bishop, north of Dartmoor, was packed and attended by musicians from London and the South West. The service ended with his unaccompanied tenor saxophone in one of those limitless streams of invention, audacity and lyricism that only Lou could produce.
A master, and a great loss.

Here is an example of his recent work:


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Mônica Vasconcelos (São Paulo Tapes launches. Vortex 20 Oct, Jazz Fest Berlin 2 Nov)

Mônica Vasconcelos
Photo credit: Sergio Bondioni

“Some things happen from a need,” says Mônica Vasconcelos when she describes what brought her new  São Paulo Tapes - Brazilian Resistance Songs album into existence. The album has two launch gigs: the first is at the Vortex tonight, and the second – also involving a reunion after ten years with former close colleague Ingrid Laubrock – will be on 2 November at Jazz Fest Berlin. Sebastian writes:

Mônica Vasconcelos says she “leads a double life,” Originally from São Paulo, where she returns every year, she says is a “singer who does journalism”. Two decades in the UK and she has learnt our ways of understatement: she is an award-winning producer and presenter with the BBC World Service.

In that role in 2014 she proposed to the BBC World Service a documentary to mark the 50th anniversary of the military coup in Brazil which led to two decades of military dictatorship. There were several interconnected reasons which led to her feeling particularly, personally involved in this story. As a singer the songs of the period are particularly strong. “It was a most creative time, a high point for culture,” she says. “Composers and lyricists had to use code, use strategies to write about what was happening.” The São Paulo tapes have songs by Ivan Lins, Joao Bosco, Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque, which in their different ways – as Vasconcelos has said elsewhere - “address universal themes. Love, freedom, justice. They can be joyful or sad - but they never fail to move you.” The album has detailed explanations of this background from a real specialist, Professor David Treece of Kings College London, the author of Brazilian Jive From Samba to Bossa and Rap. And whether the message sinks in or not, some of the tunes - like the heavily coded Abre Alas - are downright catchy.

The personal resonances for Vasconcelos also go deeper. She was deeply affected by reading the book K by Bernardo Kucinski. Vasconcelos explains: “the book is political fiction. Kucinski's sister was barbarically kidnapped, tortured and murdered – all in the name of the Brazilian State. Her body was never found. Kucinski is a political scientist with clear thinking. This book sparked so many things,” she says.

Eventually when the documentary came to be made, Vasconcelos intervewed Kucinski. The whole experience also led her to explore her own family history. Her paternal grandfather was arrested, imprisoned and narrowly, miraculously escaped death in the central region of Brazil in the 1930s. He moved to the Minas Gerais region. But he had more than a sense of being jinxed: he was denounced and arrested – again - under the military dictatorship. “He had that feeling that you can never be free ; it was almost like a curse.”

The album also has an interesting genesis. Having performed the material in concert, Vasconcelos took the opportunity while in Brazil to go to Estúdio 185 with Ife Tolentino as guitarist and as backing vocalist on one track to record the songs. She then struggled to rescue the recordings from the hard drive of her computer, which was when long-term associate Steve Lodder came up with the name of the “São Paulo Tapes". And the producer? That is quite a coup. Vasconcelos had worked with Robert Wyatt on Comicopera , Wire magazine's best album of 2007, and Wyatt accepted the invitation to produce the São Paulo Tapes.

For the Berlin performance, Vasconcelos will be performing with a six-piece band, plus special guest Ingrid Laubrock. “Ingrid and I go back a long way, says Vasconcelos. “We had two bands:  Nois was a celebration, we played for many years, and then there was As Meninas which became Nois 4. It is 10 years since we played. It's a reunion.” (pp)


ANDRÉS LAFONE electric bass
YARON STAVI double bass


PREVIEW: Brigitte Beraha and John Turville at Cambridge Jazz Festival 2017

Brigitte Beraha and John Turville with the late Bobby Wellins (right),
their guest on the album Red Skies
Photo: artist website

London-based vocalist and educator Brigitte Behara is lined up to perform at Hot Numbers during the Cambridge Jazz Festival with pianist John Turville. She explains what’s in store, and why the piano/vocal duo is as strong a format as ever. Q&A by Matt Pannell.

LondonJazz News: What do you have in store for the people of Cambridge on 23 November?

Brigitte Beraha: John and I will be playing songs from our Red Skies album and much more. Expect our take on jazz and Latin standards, original material and other surprises.

LJN: Why do you like to work with John Turville?

BB: John is an incredible pianist and musician. We’ve known each other for years now and from the very first time we played together it felt really special. His playing is so lyrical and rhythmically exciting. We seem to be on the same page musically, so when we play together we really trust each other with any chosen trajectory. If we’ve gone down the right path the magic happens and it feels very special.

LJN: Your 2013 album, Red Skies, is a fabulously detailed recording. How does this music feel when it's translated from the controlled environment of the studio to a social setting like Hot Numbers in Cambridge?

BB: Ah, thank you! Well, we decided to record Red Skies as a direct consequence of playing together in a duo live setting. Even though we recorded in a ‘controlled environment’ we wanted to keep the same spontaneity we had playing live, so we went into the studio wanting to recreate that. A lot of what we recorded had no pre-conceived idea or complicated arrangements; we just wanted to ‘play’ and improvise the way we did live all those years. So playing at Hot Numbers is basically going back to the source, which is exciting for us.

LJN: You teach at several highly-regarded music schools. Do you find teaching a help or a hindrance, when you’re also developing and performing your own material?

BB: I love it. Teaching at conservatoire level keeps me on my toes and I couldn’t imagine one without the other now. I am lucky that I get to teach incredibly talented students who are basically the next generation of vocalists, so I learn a lot from them too. It’s important for me to keep growing and working on my own development in parallel to the teaching so I can always try to bring something fresh to the table when needed, and their excitement also feeds mine! It's also a reminder that we're all constantly learning at different stages of our musical journey. I just have to make sure that I manage my time properly in order to find the right balance between my own artistic pursuits and teaching. I'm lucky that it feels just about right at the moment.

LJN: How do you like to approach teaching? Is there a natural overlap (or not!) between the characteristics of good jazz musicians and good teachers?

BB: There are essential foundations to pass on to students which they expect to receive at music college, but to be a good teacher I think one also needs to cater for the students' individual needs and for that to happen there must be good communication. Similarly, to be a good jazz musician not only does one have to be in control of the instrument and the idiom, but it’s also important to be able to communicate and listen to each other. Often, to create something special, embracing the unknown and searching together is part of the fun, and this applies to teaching and learning, and playing jazz.

LJN: Cambridge Jazz Festival is relatively new, yet has attracted some interesting names from London and further afield. What do you make of this?

BB: I think that's brilliant! Looking at the programme it's great to see established and new names, artists of all ages and stylistically very diverse… a little bit for everyone.

LJN: The festival programme reflects our mixed-up musical world of hip-hop jazz fusion and the rest, but here we are discussing a piano/vocal duo. What is it about this instrumentation that gives it such strong and enduring appeal?

BB: I love the intimacy of that line-up, and, depending on the players, it allows plenty of interplay and space. Plus, of course, I'm sure the appeal also lies in it usually being a cheaper band to book than a ten-piece!

LJN: How do you gauge the health of jazz music in the UK? There seems to be a good supply of ‘emerging talent’ but is enough attention paid to developing new audiences, too?

BB: I think the jazz UK scene is stronger than it's ever been at the moment; there is so much talent bursting from every pore, it's so brilliant to see this happening and to be part of it. As for the development of new audiences, I think that's a constant struggle but people are trying to find new ways. I may not be the best person to talk about this, but my feeling is that it seems younger people are more into jazz these days than they were before, as hopefully the word 'jazz' is starting to lose some of its sometimes negative connotations. There seem to be new ways of making jazz accessible to them via things like 'pop-ups' and new schemes connected to companies like Airbnb, that offer something 'new' and 'different' for the general public to try out as a new sensory experience. The real challenge is for that audience to want to keep coming back after that one-off taster. People seem to be finding new ideas all the time, which is great. I'll leave that side of things to the good promoter who's job it is to make these things happen, and last!

LJN: Thinking specifically about vocal jazz, are there singers - present or past - that you feel are overlooked, whose work we ought to be paying more attention to?

BB: Anita Wardell and Christine Tobin instantly pop into my head. These are two of our contemporary vocalists who are really incredible at what they do. You and I - and hopefully most of the UK jazz scene - will know about them by now, though I am surprised that when I mention their names so many people still don't know who they are. In my view they deserve much wider recognition.

LJN: What got you into music?

BB: My dad first got me into music. He used to play piano for a famous Turkish pop star in the '60s and always entertained us at home with his 'variety' songs and his raucous voice. I used to sit at the piano and try to re-create what I'd heard, through the songs of The Beatles, Dire Straits or Elton John. Then fell in love with classical music and opera, and loved trying to sing every single part from beginning to end. (Verdi's Traviata was a firm favourite, not to the rest of my family, though!) Discovering jazz and falling in love with it didn't come till much later, when I first bumped into Coltrane - not literally though it felt like that, as it was a bit of a shock to the system to start with.

LJN: What are you listening to these days, and how does it make you feel?

BB: I seem to have gone back to listening to a lot of classical and contemporary music lately - especially Bach's organ works, which are extremely powerful (try Cochereau's versions - not for the faint-hearted). I don't think I will ever tire of them - nor the more barren Arvo Pärt. The same goes for what I see as a mixture of jazz and contemporary classical, so things like Kit Downes/Tom Challenger's Wedding Music and Vyamanikal, or Matthew Bourne's Moogmemory, which I can't stop listening to. I'm currently also obsessed with Ches Smith's The Bells, with Craig Taborn on piano and Matt Maneri on viola. All this music makes me feel the way I felt when I heard music for the first time. It makes me really inspired and excited about what's to come.

Brigitte Beraha and John Turville’s performance will take place at 7:30pm on 23 November, at Hot Numbers Coffee Shop, Gwydir St, Cambridge.

LINK: Cambridge Jazz Festival


REVIEW: Rachael Cohen at the Devonshire Club, EC2

Rachael Cohen (centre) with (L-R) Sam Watts, Joe Downard, Shane Forbes

Rachael Cohen
(Devonshire Club. 17 October 2017. Review by Leah Williams)

The Devonshire Club, a private members’ club in Devonshire Square EC2, offers up a whole host of cultural events within its exclusive walls. The most recent of which is a monthly live jazz residency hosted by Ronnie Scott's and featuring some of the city’s hottest jazz talent.

Last night was the first of these intimate gigs and featured up-and-coming saxophonist, composer and improviser Rachael Cohen. Originally hailing from the Shetland Islands, Cohen is now London-based and has been lighting up stages and making a name for herself in the capital, with her debut album Halftime being highly praised. (Review by Chris Parker)

Last night’s line up also included Sam Watts on piano, Joe Downard on bass and Shane Forbes on drums, and the quartet filled the cosy lounge space with a variety of jazz ranging from ballads to latin to blues, all of them sharing the same smooth and seamless sound.

Rachael introduced the band and commented on how beautiful the space was to play in. The luxurious and comfortable setting was indeed the perfect place to relax and listen attentively to the soft, dulcet tones of Cohen’s playing.

During the two 45-minute sets, Cohen moved between soft and atmospheric to precision virtuosity with ease. Some classic tunes such as One-Note Samba and Lover Man were given a modern and exciting makeover. The band’s interplay was exciting and natural, all musicians showing off their soloing talents to very convincing effect.

The gig ended with two Thelonious Monk tunes, in honour of his recent would-have-been 100th birthday. Watts on piano especially shone in the first In Walked Bud, and the charm and relaxed beauty of Reflections was the perfect way to close the evening.

LINK: Member events at the Devonshire


REVIEW: Mélanie de Biasio at Scala

Mélanie de Biasio
(Scala, 16 October 2017. Review by Peter Jones)

Monday’s eerie pink and orange skies made people feel simultaneously excited and uneasy, so it was an entirely appropriate day for Belgian chanteuse Mélanie de Biasio to choose for this rare London appearance: her songs evoke similar reactions.

The music is unclassifiable, unless you want to use phrases like psychedelic post-apocalyptic electro-jazz minimalism, which I really don’t. She’s all about mood, and a quite specific mood at that, albeit one that’s very difficult to describe. Even to characterize her singing style as bleak and world-weary, à la (pardon my French) Jacques Brel of Ne Me Quitte Pas or Le Plat Pays, fails to capture the profound strangeness of it all.

Maybe there’s a bit of Marianne Faithfull or Nico somewhere in Melanie’s deep repertoire of bruised emotions, but she doesn’t even sing that much; likewise, although her flute-playing is beautiful, reminiscent of Yusef Lateef, she limits it to snatches and brief repeated phrases. The songs contain few, if any, changes: Afro Blue, the one non-original number of the night, was played pretty much on one chord. And while steady, the time is not emphasized, even on a 5/4 tune like I’m Gonna Leave You. The dynamics are likewise minimal: de Biasio and her band establish the vibe, and thereafter it’s largely a matter of small variations until they subside to an often rather indeterminate close. At times this gig felt like a late Sixties ‘happening’, but muted, as if Pink Floyd or the Soft Machine had ingested a whole bunch of downers.

So how can music like this possibly be any good? As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about mood: the songs unfurl slowly, like coils of smoke. The packed Scala audience of middle-aged Radio 6 fans listened with rapt attention. In contrast to many concert crowds these days, they didn’t chat and laugh all the way through the gig. In fact, so quiet were they that you could actually hear the dry ice puffing out of the machine above the stage. Nobody wanted to break the spell.

De Biasio achieves this reverential atmosphere by acting as a sort of high priestess: with her boyish haircut, and dressed in a plain white shirt and black tights, she looks rather like Hamlet. Her face is shrouded in darkness most of the time, and she doesn’t address the audience at all until the end of the show, instead striking a series of theatrical poses.

Her long-time band consists of Pascal Mohy on Fender Rhodes, Pascal Paulus on synthesizers and guitar, and Dre Pallemaerts on drums. Their approach to the whole enterprise is to play very quietly, and then only when absolutely necessary. The silences and fades are wonderful. Pallemaerts in particular is a master of subtlety and soft power, preferring beaters to sticks, while Paulus teases out velvety tone colours on an array of vintage synths. Mohy and Paulus work around each other with terrific empathy, each sketching in a phrase or a couple of notes here and there as required.

Most of all, there is de Biasio herself, the composer of this music, a dark, introverted figure utterly absorbed in the strange worlds she creates.

Anyone unfamiliar with Mélanie de Biasio is recommended to follow this link to a live appearance from 2014.


REPORT: Soirée Showcases at Jazz sur Seine 2017 in Paris

Volunteered Slaves at the Duc Des Lombards

Sebastian writes:

That's how to do it: twenty-three venues which present jazz all over the Paris region have an umbrella marketing organisation callled Paris Jazz Club with a handful of permanent staff. Paris Jazz Club is supported by the region of Ile de France, and others. It produces publications including a good clear twenty-four page guide to alll the activity in the memberclubs and more. PJC builds visibility for the clubs throughout the year, and is currently promoting a festival including 180 concerts (for which they borrow two extra venues). Londoners can just dream...if only.

The heart of the action is in the area around the rue des Lombards in the 1st arrondissement, and that is where the plan for Paris Jazz Club started, but these days the association includes a club as far away as the idyllic tranquillity (as painted by Van Gogh) of Auvers-sur-Oise. There are the Paris equivalents of the Vortex in hip areas: la Dynamo in Pantin and the Triton in Les Lilas A curious absence is the Caveau de la Huchette, recently immortalized by La La Land...but there is bound to be a reason.....

Last night was showcase night. Eighteen bands in six venues. Official start times for the three sets in each of the venues were 8pm, 9pm and 10pm, but we very quickly drifted into jazz time and I saw the beginning of a 10pm set ...which was getting under way at 10 45pm.     

Didier Lockwood (centre) with Auxane Cartigny and Fhima

For me the most rewarding and interesting set (I also somehow managed to snag the best seat in the house in the Duc des Lombards!) was the trio of 21-year old pianist Auxane Cartigny with bassist Samuel Fhima and  drummer Tiss Rodriguez.  They are all current students at the Centre Des Musiques Didier Lockwood (known as CMDL) based just outside Melun. Cartigny has absorbed all the melodic persuasiveness of Keith Jarrett and, mercifully, not a single one of the mannerisms. He is a musical rather than a flashy player, and he is clearly putting the work in to establishing a trio that can prove durable. Two of the eminences at the CMDL are pianist Benoît Sourisse piano and drummer André Charlier and one senses the experience, particularly of accompanying of finding and progressing contrasting levels of volume and intensity, of mood and dramaturgy in music being ingrained into these highly talented young players.

The eponymous founder of the school Didier Lockwood came on as star guest. He played Some Day My Prince Will Come as an opener, dealing with recalcitrant pegs on his instrument, but nevertheless producing that lightness and all the half-shade and delays and glanced notes and total flexibility he does so well, but then ramped up the intensity to eleven - and fixed it there - for an anthemic original composition. The young trio knew exactly what was expected and matched his mood. Lockwood also announced that after a ten year gap he has a new album on Sony on its way in November. In the meantime I shall go back to his masterful Grappelli tribute from 2000, the essential Les Valseuses.

Revisiting Grappelli
L-R Mathias Lévy, Jean-Philippe Viret, Sébastien Giniaux

Another set I witnessed was a Grappelli tribute by violinist Mathias Lévy, guitarist / cellist Sébastien Giniaux, and bassist Jean-Philippe Viret. Viret worked with Grappelli towards the end of his life, Lévy was able to borrow a Grappelli violin to make the recording, so the project has a direct lineage. Lévy's instinct is to go further into classical territory, finding comfort in a more or less straight rendition of the Bach double concerto.

Makaya McCraven (far left) with Antoine Berjeaut and Julien Lourau

The contrast to the next band in the same room could not have been greater. The "Scientific Beat" project of life-force drummer Makaya McCraven with that very inventive trumpeter/composer Antoine Berjeaut with saxophonist Julien Lourau was producing astonishing music (more please), but in the tiny confines of the upstairs room of the Baiser Salé, they were ear-shatteringly loud.

I was also able to catch the early skirmishes of an infectiously charismatic band Volunteered Slaves with a lively Chicago slam poet called Allonymous out front, and a lot of experience deep in the engine room from veteran bassist Akim Bournane. A great end to the evening.


CD REVIEW: Shannon Barnett Quartet - Hype

Shannon Barnett Quartet - Hype
(Double Moon Records DMCHR71191. Review by Jon Carvell)

Australian trombonist Shannon Barnett’s formidable technique and fearless solos took her from Melbourne, via New York, to a seat in Cologne’s WDR Big Band, and since her arrival in 2014 she’s been immersed in the city’s flourishing jazz scene.

Barnett’s new quartet album Hype features Stefan Karl Schmid (tenor), David Helm (bass) and Fabian Arends (drums) – all three hotly-tipped emerging German jazzers. But does Hype live up to the, er, hype?

The album’s title track unfolds like a piece of clockwork and gears up to a heady lick, but gratifying as the quirky central hook is, it’s Barnett’s sense of line in the moment and her risk taking in improvisation that steal the show. She cascades through semiquavers and dispatches licks with her infectious confidence and no-nonsense tone.

The best moments come from these unfiltered phrases. As Lembing closes, Barnett circles the final riff with melodies that are carefully crafted yet naturally vocal, as if whistled carefree.

Over the insistent tonic pedal of Speaking in Tongues or deep in the glitchy reggae groove of Chasing the Second, Barnett is at once virtuosic, lyrical and bolshy. She inhabits the contrasting facets of the instrument, seemingly able to flit between the erudition of Nils Wogram, the charisma of Dennis Rollins or the class of Jack Teagarden.

Back in the engine room, Helm and Arends zig when you expect them to zag, and have a careful eye on energy levels, ready to take off at a moment’s notice. Schmid meanwhile shows himself to be no slouch on his daring forays into the Latin vibes of Ok Compupid or the edgy Red-Bellied Stickleback.

There is energy, musicality and humour in Shannon Barnett's playing; I hope UK audiences are given the opportunity to hear her playing live.

LINK: Shannon Barnett interview/profile for International Women's Day 2017


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Sam Rapley (Kickstarter for Fabled's debut album, Short Stories)

Sam Rapley
Photo credit: Dave Hamblett

Fabled is the band saxophonist/clarinettist Sam Rapley started four years ago. Now the band's debut album, Short Stories, is recorded and nearly ready for release. But the process has not been without its dramatic moments, especially when Sam broke both his elbows. He's back playing now but he needs some assistance to get Short Stories across that finishing line, and he has instigated Kickstarter in order to attract your support. The fund-raising period ends in ten days' time. Peter Bacon urges you all: let's make this happen!

Fabled brings Sam Rapley together with four other excellent young musicians who also just happen to be his close friends. Matt Robinson is the pianist, Alex Munk is on guitar, Conor Chaplin on double bass and Will Glaser on drums.

They made an EP of music back in 2015, and for their first full-length album, Sam has looked to literature for inspiration. Here is a brief Q&A:

LondonJazz News: The music on your debut album has strong literary sources - what is it about a particular story or piece of writing that inspires you to write music?

Sam Rapley: I suppose for me it’s about trying to recreate the experience that I had when I read that book. Wanting the listener to be immersed, captivated and fully present for that period of time. The books that I love, and indeed any art that I love, all has that same effect on me and that’s what I want to create with this album. The longer forms allowed by literature have also been a huge inspiration - your experience of reading a book happens over several days, weeks or months, whereas when you listen to a piece of music, it only lasts a few minutes. So I wanted to find my own way of portraying these longer forms, but within the framework of a piece of music.

LJN: Is improvising a solo like telling a story?

SR: Absolutely. That’s something I was taught right from the beginning. I first got into jazz through a summer school in Manchester run by Mike Walker, Iain Dixon, Les Chsinall and Andy Schofield, who are all big advocates of having a narrative throughout a solo - something that is proved time and time again in their own playing. They were a huge influence on the way I play having an arc/shape to an improvisation is still something I alway strive for.

Photo credit: Dave Hamblett

It’s been interesting striking the balance on this album between improvisation and composition. The tunes are more composed than our previous EP so in a way, a lot of the drama and narrative is written into the music, but with such creative improvisers on board, I wanted to make sure that they were allowed to tell their own stories. I definitely feel that we’ve managed to find that balance and hopefully we’ve ended up with the best of both worlds.

LJN: Your own personal story has contained some drama recently… Tell us about your elbows.

SR: It has indeed! At the beginning of July, I rather unfortunately fell off a bike whilst riding down a mountain in Switzerland and broke both of my elbows. In hindsight, cycling down a mountain possibly wasn’t the wisest decision when you need your arms for your living, but you live and learn. Once I got over the first month which was pretty terrible (and which I only got through thanks to my girlfriend Helena, who was absolutely amazing!) I’ve actually enjoyed having some time off. I’ve been able to put it to good use and it’s made me appreciate making music more than ever.

LJN: Your three favourite saxophonists… and your three favourite writers?

SR: Now this is a hard one. My original favourite has to be Stan Getz - he’s the reason that I started playing the saxophone and I still spend most of my time trying to sound like him. Benny Golson is another one that I got into fairly early on and still love listening to. And someone that I’ve been checking out more recently is Shabaka Hutchings, he has an amazing way of building a story throughout a solo, which I love.

Writers-wise, Ian McEwan is an absolute favourite, especially his short stories First Love, Last Rites which influenced one of the tunes on the album. I loved reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, I learnt so much from the way she shapes the story and develops the characters throughout the book. And finally, Kate Tempest, who is a performer as well as a writer - she’s just released a new album Let Them Eat Chaos which is incredible - but I first got into her through her piece, Brand New Ancients. She just has such a unique way of making stories relatable that I love reading and listening to.

For the rest of what you need to know about Fabled, Sam Rapley and Short Stories, see below.

LINKS: Fabled's Kickstarter

Sam Rapley's website


CD REVIEW: Chris Speed Trio – Platinum on Tap

Chris Speed Trio – Platinum on Tap
(Intakt 294. CD review by Brian Marley)

I’ve had the good fortune to be able to listen to Platinum on Tap half a dozen times before having to write anything about it. Just as well. I confess, on first listen I wasn’t greatly impressed – the music seemed curiously restrained and limited in scope. But sometimes first impressions don’t count, and on subsequent listenings, as the compositions began to hit home, I could see how well they functioned as vehicles for improvisation. On even further listenings the quality of the musicianship shone through – and by quality I mean superb.

Why should I have been surprised? Chris Speed isn’t given to grandstanding or showiness of any kind. He rarely employs the ecstatic shrieks of post-Ayler players such as David S. Ware or the extensive false upper-register soliloquies of David Murray. Mostly he works directly off the potential of the theme, creating rhythmic and melodic complexity but always with an Ariadne thread that leads back to the source. In many respects his approach is not dissimilar to that of Lee Konitz, a ‘pure’ improviser who avoids not only repetition but, above all, cliché. If jazz is the sound of surprise (according to Whitney Balliett), then Konitz has always sought to surprise not only the audience and his fellow musicians but also himself, and Speed seems inclined that way too.

He is, of course, well known and respected as a sideman, in particular because of his role in Tim Berne’s much-lauded Bloodcount. But in recent years his own ensembles have grown in strength and importance. Although the range of his music is eclectic, often incorporating elements of chamber music and alternative rock, it’s gradually become more jazzlike, more ‘in the tradition’ than had previously been the case with the groups Pachora, Human Feel and Endangered Blood. This line of development was most noticeable when Speed on tenor saxophone, Chris Tordini double bass, and Bad Plus drummer Dave King issued Really OK (Skirl, 2014). The trio seemed much more interested in rhythm and melody than in the potential for complex harmony, and the music sweated jazz through every pore. That’s true also of Platinum on Tap, which may well be the best thing Speed has recorded under his own name.

As springboards for melodic improvisation, the compositions matter greatly. Eight of the ten on Platinum on Tap are by Speed, the others being Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, which is given a lovely reading, and Albert Ayler’s Spirits. All are deliberately spare, sinewy and sinuous, sometimes laconic (Red Hook Nights), sometimes lively (Spirits and Arrival High). They’re catchy, too. Speed mostly sticks to short phrases, building on melodic fragments, and even when Tordini and King are busily pushing and pulling the music around in interesting ways, he delivers his improvisations with wry insouciance in a style reminiscent at times of Lester Young. Surely you can’t get more jazzlike than that.


REVIEW: Tower of Power at the Roundhouse

Tower of Power at the Roundhouse
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Tower of Power
(The Roundhouse, 15 October, 2017. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

"Tower of Power brass, this is the pièce de résistance … but Tower of Power runs on this world-class rhythm section," confided Emilio Castilio, as he ran through the credentials of each band member, spotlighting bassist Rocca Prestia and drummer David Garibaldi (incidentally making his first appearances after a bizarre railroad accident in January), both founder members of the band along with Castilio and baritone sax maestro, Stephen 'Doc' Kupka.

In a band whose exceptional personnel have remained pretty well constant for several years, Castilio also focussed on their most recent recruit, vocalist, Marcus Scott - "one of the best vocalists we've ever had!" How right he was. Scott is not only a great vocalist with an extraordinary range, drawing on his Memphis soul roots, but he is a showman, too, who makes an essential, and rare, connection with musicians and audience alike. Somehow his presence has galvanised the band to get into another gear with arrangements sharper than ever, and a rich, brassy sound that gave added zest to best-known songs from their repertoire.

There's something in the band's DNA that makes the toughest, tightest arrangements flow with deceptive ease - the synchronisation is impeccable; their feel for the soul and funk traditions is continually refreshed and revitalised. The emphasis on 'Power' was the keynote with their supercharged interpretations of their classic numbers through a weighty sound system that settled well after a couple of numbers in the Roundhouse's not-always-kind acoustics.

Guitarist Jerry Cortez and lead tenor Tom Politzer stretched out with artfully controlled abandon in several solo spots. The twin trumpets of Adolfo Acosta and Sal Cracciolo played tag with the three saxes to firmly put the stamp on Tower of Power's trademark brass signature, underpinned throughout with great subtlety by Roger Smith's elegant keyboard work. Not forgetting great backing vocals and harmonies supplied from all round the stage - true versatility.

Scott really got down with the audience, spending several minutes singing from the front rows with false endings and a gospel feel to passages in Don't Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream), segueing in to This Time It's Real which had Kupka turning on dance steps to the delight of the house.

In over an hour and a half they covered the full gamut, from Ain't Nothin' Stoppin' Us Now - which is what they set out to show as they approach their 50th anniversary next year in rude musical health - to a slow, soulful You're Still a Young Man, right through to an awesomely tight Very Hard to Know, the anthemic What Is Hip? and their encore, Soul with a Capital S, which had the audience chanting along with them, not for the first time in the evening.

In his closing remarks Castilio also announced that the band has just signed a deal with the classy Mack Avenue label, a real endorsement, and have many new numbers in the bag in time for that special anniversary which will be celebrated on their home turf, Oakland, California!

In support, Cymande, originally formed in the early '70s and reunited recently, put in a finely balanced set of lightly-toned funk - catchy tunes and riffs with a hint of Frankie Beverley's Maze in their loose yet tight approach. Keen organ licks from Adrian Reid, neat, precise drumming from Sam Kelly, complemented by Pablo Gonzales' percussion were just part of a well-paced presentation from this seasoned ten-piece which set up the main act very nicely.

LINKS: Review of Tower of Power at Ronnie Scott's
Review of Tower of Power at the Shepherd's Bush Empire


REVIEW: Cécile McLorin Salvant at Ronnie Scott's

Cécile McLorin Salvant
Photo credit: ataelw/ Creative Commons

Cécile McLorin Salvant
(Ronnie Scott's, 11 October 2017. Review by Jade Lauren)

Four years ago, when I was working at Ronnie’s, Cécile McLorin Salvant played there for the first time. I was so bowled over I took to consoling my shaken self with heavy slogs of good gin and embarked on a rambling crusade of a Facebook post about how, after so many years, I’d just seen an actual Jazz singer. (Published here at LondonJazz News)

This week I was sent back with a view to rambling once more. In this industry it’s somewhat of a stretch to find a decent singer who isn’t wearing fishnets and a trilby hat and who happens to be dating the bass player of (insert band here). There are some and they know who they are, fewer still know who they really are, but we’ll get there. But this isn’t about them, it’s about this woman.

There’s a great episode of The West Wing where a group of high ranking good men in the government converse for a moment amidst the absolute absurdity of their busy lives and look around at a staff party. What bowls them over the most is ‘these women’ around them. They describe one with the vigour and charm of a '50s movie star, another with the fight and gumption of an army general who’s just won a political battle but is in it to win the war, another who lost both of her sons to an actual war and has remained so quiet and resolute on not only the issue but her duty of care to others that for 14 years she had not missed a day of work. I found myself thinking about this scene as I sat watching a woman effortlessly tear herself apart to channel so many tragedies and triumphs of the human spirit with nothing but her voice and vibe. She was all of those women and more.

I sat with two women watching the show: one a former colleague who had booked the night off from work to… be at work (I know from enough experience a good gig will warrant that from time to time); the other the wife of a former colleague and a friend of mine who’s new son I had just met outside the club. She couldn’t stay long but for the relatively short time she did she managed to catch two songs and before the end of the first I was acutely aware of the fact that she kept melting. We held each other both in wonderment and to remind her that it’s not good practice to pass out in a jazz club sober.

Since last I saw Salvant she has gone from a quietly confident loudmouth to stalking around the stage like a predator. She spent an entire song after the break giving new meanings to vowels, sans words and it still managed to communicate every gumption and swell of the heart-breaking message she put forth. What’s truly terrifying is her mastery; her sense of sonic awareness is somewhat otherworldly. It’s almost perverse and voyeuristic watching these musicians do what they do. It’s a terrible and captivatingly curious fascination you get when peering into the darker sides of humanity. There’s a reason films and documentaries about murder and madness sell, but to see raw madness up close and let it climb up inside you is another story. Most don’t live to tell the tale, but if you do, chances are you’ll end up as one of those strange and mysterious characters you find hiding in jazz clubs. It’s disconcerting until you realise they’re playing you just as they’re playing with each other.

Her band are a very special assortment of guys. She has a blood-pact of unspoken knowing with Aaron Diehl on her piano, bassist Paul Sikivie swells a melody then punctuates a verse with the odd bow to the strings and he might as well be slicing you up with the bloody thing. As for the drummer, Kyle Poole, a former colleague said it best when she remarked in hushed whispering tones: "Jesus, I can’t get over it, it sounds like he’s tapdancing on the drums for Christ sakes!” He had the Gene Kelly grin, to boot.

Another interesting titbit about this motley crew was this; you can tell the measure of some headliners in their capacity as musicians and members of that community by how they treat the support and late bands. By this measure Salvant and her crew are a class act; they sat quietly and agreeably on the front bar clapping and clicking along to the support until they took the stage and their seats were replaced with stenographers. They went on to spend quite some time hanging and jamming with the late crew to a room that was full of wonderful British talent after having Leo Richardson’s album launch at the Spice of Life kick out and turn up en-masse to join the party.

When asking what people thought of the show the running thread theme was something to the effect of “I can’t actually get over that”. Enough can happen throughout one’s life that will stick with you for better or worse. If you find yourself frequenting jazz clubs enough then it might be because you’ve had one too many hard shots of the worst! We congregate in these clubs as if they were churches for the soul. There is an incestuous community of people from every walk of life, but with the same fortuitous mistake in common: life itself. And now there is another brilliant and terrifying high priestess.

I had remarked before that no one had quite managed to capture what it was like to be in a room like that listening to her. Naturally I wasn't the only one with that observation and so thankfully her latest album, Dreams And Daggers (reviewed here) was recorded in a different church, and an older one at that: The Village Vanguard. In part it reminds me of that great old rendition of the Zawinul tune Mercy Mercy Mercy by Cannonball, it's live and in it you can hear the crowd whooping and cheering. I think it's high time we had a bit more of that in jazz clubs, and with more musicians like Cecile and her players, there's every reason to.