TRIBUTE: Frank Holder (1925 - 2017) by Geoff Castle

Frank Holder receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award
from the Worshipful Company of Musicians
Photo credit: John Levett / Creative Commons
The great Guyanese-born British vocalist FRANK HOLDER passed away last weekend at the age of 92. Holder was a fixture on the British jazz scene ever since arriving in the UK in 1944. One important association was the Dankworth Seven, which he joined in 1952. In this tribute, Geoff Castle remembers him:

I was deeply saddened to hear last night of the passing of my dear friend, brother in music and partner in improvisation Mr Frank Holder. From the first time I played with him over 30 years ago we had a great rapport which continued to grow over the years. Frank had a beautiful, expressive voice singing ballads and he embodied the very spirit of bebop jazz in his up tempo scatting.

In the late 1990s he joined Paz as vocalist for a few years and percussionist where his superb Latin skills were heavily featured. Later I formed a trio with Frank and another sadly departed friend, tenor player Stan Robinson. Working as a trio under the name Castle Frank n Stan we toured together and played many gigs. This band was full of improvisational rapport and it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of it. Over the period I worked with him, Frank's talent continued to grow. His appearance at a total capacity Ronnie Scott's concert last year went down an absolute storm. Our regular gigs were a real delight and his latest recordings are a monument to his immense talent.

Recently I had played gigs with him with another close associate guitarist Shane Hill and long term friend bassist Val Manix. I was booked to play a quartet gig with him this Tuesday in Kent.

Frank, we will all miss you very much indeed. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the music and the inspiration. 

RIP.


This tribute originally appeared on Geoff Castle's Facebook page and is reproduced with his kind permission.

 LINKS: Review of Frank Holder's 90th birthday gig at the 2015 London Jazz Festival
Biography on Wikipedia

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REVIEW: Jazz International Rotterdam 2017

"Sublime conversations": Bobo Stenson Trio
Photo Jacky Lepage / from artist website/ Creative Commons


Jazz International Rotterdam
(LantarenVenster, Rotterdam. 27-29 October 2017. Review by Rob Adams)

Jazz International Rotterdam is an event that makes the most of that ‘A-Z’ in the middle of jazz by presenting an eclectic programme that encompasses an extraordinary range of music as well as encouraging collaborations that cross geographical borders to bring compatible musicians together.

Over an intense three days in the admirable LantarenVenster, a venue whose main auditorium, more intimate Hall 2 and socially encouraging foyer left the UK party in attendance wishing they could take it home with them, it was possible to encounter hard core electronic improvising, courtesy the UK’s tough, intricately exciting Strobes, happen across the naïve, folky charms and vocal manipulations of Belgian-Latvian quintet How Town, be impressed by the coming together of Middle Eastern songs and instruments with the big band tradition in Common Ground, and be lured into the grooving, exuberance of Afro-Latin-Funk funsters Koffie.

The addition this year of a Nordic theme only added to the eclecticism, with Norwegian bassist-singer Ellen Andrea Wang’s trio bringing a breezy pop sensibility, trumpeter Mathias Eick suggesting kinship with Neil Young’s song style and the rhythms of Americana in his depictions of the farmlands Scandinavian settlers tamed in America’s Midwest, and Danish drummer Snorre Kirk introducing some Mingus-like blood and guts into the festival finale.

Among the Nordic visitors there were the very well-known and the not quite so familiar. Young Danish composer and conductor Kathrine Windfeld had been working with the Rotterdam-based Codarts Young Talent Big Band for a week beforehand and presented work full of ambition, disciplined ensemble colour and sparky individual expression. Bassist about the Norwegian scene of the last fifteen years, Mats Eilertsen’s Rubicon – six Scandis, one Dutchman – benefited no end from the presence of saxophonist Trygve Seim’s lonesome, keening glissandi, and in a final night highlight, Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson’s trio with bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jan Fält shared a series of sublime conversations that were masterly in their sculpted concision, voluptuous tone (Jormin especially), and exquisitely timed wit.

With only one American group - trumpeter Marquis Hill’s Blacktet upholding the brisk, businesslike approach of the Chicago scene while introducing the superb young vibraphonist Justin Thomas – this was very much a celebration of European jazz, even without the Nordic element.

If some of the home-produced music and collaborations had a work-in-progress quality about them, other examples were ready to fly.

Drummer Joost Lijbaart, possibly best remembered in the UK for his work in saxophonist Yuri Honing’s pop song exploring trio, has teamed up with singer Sanne Rambags and guitarist Bram Stadhouders to create something between meditative soundscapes and trippy trance music that’s all the more impressive for its spontaneity. At times Rambags sounded for all the world as if she was calling up the spirits of some undetermined European folk tradition and used the folky fricatives’ vocal percussion possibilities brilliantly to involve the listener and interact with Stadhouders’ yearning guitar and Lijbaart’s carefully chosen, atmosphere-enhancing drum beats and bell chimes.

More pre-composed but with a marvellous air of freshness in their lithe melody-making, Amsterdam-based bass clarinettist Maarten Ornstein and Icelandic pianist Sunna Gunnlaugs played duets of superb assurance and lyrical gracefulness and when they were joined by bassist Tony Overwater, by coincidence a colleague of Lijbaart’s in the Honing trio, they formed a trio of fabulous shape and assurance that was all about quiet unshowy skill and immediately personal audience engagement.

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PREVIEW: Reviewers' pick of the EFG London Jazz Festival



The EFG London Jazz Festival (Friday 10 to Sunday 19 November) can be overwhelming in its vastness. Faced with all this choice, are you paralysed with indecision? Or perhaps just keen to see what excites other jazz lovers? Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon asked our LondonJazz News reviewers for their top three tips. Here’s a selection:

PETER BACON
Dayna Stephens - 606 Club Thursday 16 November 8.30pm
Carminho sings Jobim - Barbican Friday 17 November 8pm
Stefano Bollani - Cadogan Hall Saturday 18 November 7.30pm

ALISON BENTLEY
Tomasz Stańko - Cadogan Hall Friday 10 November 7.30pm
Laura Perrudin - Barbican FreeStage Sunday 19 November 6pm
Michael Wollny + Andreas Schaerer + Vincent Peirani + Emile Parisien and Adam Baldych with Helge Lien Trio - Cadogan Hall Saturday 11 November 7.30pm

LAUREN BUSH
Herbie Hancock - Barbican Monday/Tuesday 13/14 November 7.30pm
Trombone Shorty - O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire Monday 13 November  7.30pm
Misha Mullov-Abbado Group - South Hampstead High School Theatre Thursday 16 November 7.30pm.

MIKE COLLINS
Thelonius Monk at 100 - Cadogan Hall Sunday 19 November 2pm, 4.30pm, 7.30pm
Abdullah Ibrahim with Ekaya - Royal Festival Hall Tuesday 14 November 7.30pm
Golden Age of Steam and Ivo Neame Quartet - Con Cellar Bar Friday 17 November 9pm.

AJ DEHANY
Cleveland Watkiss / Mark Sanders / Neil Charles / Debbie Sanders / Rowland Sutherland / Robert Mitchell - Iklectic Arts Lab, Friday 17 November 8.30pm.
Pharoah Sanders Quartet + Denys Baptiste + Alina Bzhezhinska: A Concert for Alice and John Coltrane - Barbican Saturday 18 November 7.30pm
Late Junction Live - Rich Mix Tuesday 14 November 10.30pm

ROB MALLOWS
Pixel + Tori Handsley Trio - The Spice of Life Friday 10 November 8pm
Marcus Miller + Ashley Henry - Royal Festival Hall Sunday 12 November 7.30pm
Matthew Stevens ‘Preverbal’ - Ronnie Scott’s Sunday 12 November 8pm

JANE MANN
Iain Ballamy & Stian Carstensen - The Little Radio  - Green Note Saturday 18 November 8.30pm
OR
Chucho Valdes & Gonzalo Rubalcaba - Barbican Saturday 11 November 2.30pm
Carminho sings Jobim - Barbican Friday 17 November 8pm
Les Demoiselles de Rochefort - Cine Lumiere, Institute Francois Monday 13 November 7.30pm


SEBASTIAN SCOTNEY
An Evening With Pat Metheny - Barbican Friday 10 November 7.30pm
Kirk Lightsey Trio - Live at Zédel Saturday/Sunday 11/12 November 9pm
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society - King’s Place Hall One Friday 17 November 10pm

PETER SLAVID
Keith Tippett Octet with Matthew Bourne - Kings Place Hall One Friday 10 November 7.30pm
Henri Texier - Kings Place Hall One Friday 17 November 7.30pm
Led Bib + Schnellertollermeier + WorldService Project - Rich Mix Sunday 12 November 8pm

GEOFF WINSTON
The Illegal Crowns - Vortex Thursday 16 November 8.00pm
Keith Tippett Octet with Matthew Bourne - Kings Place Hall One  Friday 10 November 7.30pm
The Thing - Rich Mix Sunday 19 November 8pm

LINK: Make your own choices on the EFG London Jazz Festival website

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FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Jazz & the City in Salzburg (Part One)

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution

Jazz & the City Festival, Salzburg. 
(Round-up Part One, 25-27 October 2017. Review and photos by Alison Bentley)

Salzburg has quite a musical heritage. A five-minute stroll through the centre meandered through Mozartplatz, Herbert von Karajan Platz, and past a statue of Papageno with his Magic Flute. Where would this ‘Festival for Jazz, World and Electronic Music’ fit in, with its 100 free concerts over 5 days? "Not many jazz clubs celebrate the past and future at the same time," Robert Glasper once said, but Jazz & the City, now in its 18th year, seemed to do just that.

The Berlin-based Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra opened the Festival in the large venue Republic, its 18 musicians showcasing music from their new album Vula. Saxophonist Daniel Glatzel leads the orchestra and writes most of the extraordinarily eclectic music. From the start, swooning Debussy-isms merged into Stravinsky-esque rhythms with many of the anarchic latin grooves of Hermeto Pascoal. (They’ve worked with him, and Glatzel has arranged some of his music.) Violinist Grégoire Simon even played a few bars of Mozart before a spacey, slow bolero, with sliding strings. Another piece seemed to bring together Supertramp keyboards and Thrust-era Herbie Hancock. Mimetic sounds conjured a city scene, in the style of Ellington’s Harlem, where Fabiana Striffler’s gypsy-toned, improvised violin cadenza stood out. A quirkily complex piece in 11/8 recalled some of Django Bates’ writing, with a darkly funky bari solo from Johannes Schleiermacher. A powerful start to the festival.

Kalle Kalima and Hayden Chisholm

The ‘Open the Box’ events (Künstlerhaus) were very different. Artists’ studios were open to the public. "There will be music if it happens," said artist Peter Haas, enigmatically. Initially nervous, visitors walked into his studio to improvise - some with his array of ‘percussion’ instruments; some drawing freely. Across the river in the fictional ‘Chelsea Hotel’, the public became part of an experimental installation just by being there. People peered through the beaded curtain at the entrance to a tiny upstairs room, where Finnish guitarist Kalle Kalima and New Zealand saxophonist Hayden Chisholm were playing their original music. It was as if we were eavesdropping on their living room, the sax’s soft, wide vibrato working brilliantly with the guitar’s spiky richness.

Volker Goetze's Quintet

In the theatre of the Markussal-Yoco centre, Volker Goetze’s Quintet was engaging with a different kind of tradition. German-born trumpeter Goetze has directed a film (Griot) about Senagal-born kora player Ali Boulo Santo Cissoko, who brought his special West African sound to this jazz funk-fusion. Driven by New Yorkers Dan Pappalardo (bass subtones) and Mario Layne Fabrizio (ferocious but subtle drumming), the kora’s rippling patterns influenced trumpet, sax (Christian Torkewitz) and keyboard (Matt Malanowski) improvisation beautifully. The subterranean Mozartkino cinema dates from 1905, and has a trompe l’oeil elegance. The next day, the band, minus kora and keyboard, were there reprising Goetze’s Secret Island project. They played musical illustrations to Sam Samore’s images, photographed on Staten island, and projected onscreen behind. The writing was complex, dark, urban and thrillingly virtuosic. The horns moved in and out of focus like the close-up images of Indian statuary, or ancient fossils. (Mastodon Americanum: Giants on Staten Island.)

Three very different trios seemed to be developing their own traditions and distinctive sounds. There was a feeling at the festival of sampling different gigs; if one was full there were others in walking distance, and the programme could change unexpectedly (this time thanks to Air Berlin). It was all very jazz, but meant I only caught the end of Daniel Erdmann´s Velvet Revolution’s set in Markussal-Yoco. A Pair of Lost Kites Hurrying Towards Heaven, from their new album, opened with Théo Ceccaldi’s flamboyant reggae grooves on violin, which passed to UK vibes player Jim Hart, as Erdmann’s rich sax tone picked up the theme. The audience loved their virtuosic aural humour.

The much-lauded German-based Tingvall Trio filled the large Republic stage with their characteristic mix: classical themes and Swedish folk (pianist Martin Tingvall), heavy rock (drummer Jürgen Spiegel loves AC/DC’s drummer as much as Tony Williams), and latin jazz. (Bassist Omar Rodriguez Calvo is from Cuba). Bland Molnen (Among the Clouds) had a crescendoing rock groove, with a McCoy Tyner feel. Another piece received huge applause for the sinuous bass solo. There seemed to be more soloing than when I first heard them in London five years ago - the piano in particular was full of a Jarrett-like fluidity and powerful bluesiness. Their ‘hit’, Vagen, had a ringing intensity and dramatic dynamics.

Mario Rom's Interzone

In contrast, Vienna-based trio Mario Rom’s Interzone had no chordal instrument. Their music, mostly from their new album Truth is Simple to Consume, was rooted in the blues tradition, but incorporating more modern influences with elemental energy. From driving swing to techno and Electronic Dance Music (Herbert Pirker’s intriguing drumming in Choose Your Vision), Mario Rom’s trumpet had a wide emotional range. Sometimes it took you by surprise with its keening impact. At other times it was growly and bluesy (Hans). The strength of Lukas Kranzelbinder’s bass kept a taut groove which allowed Pinker a lot of freedom. Sometimes the jazz was free, recalling Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry. They held the audience’s attention with hooks that drew you in with their energy, and the subtlety of their reactions to each other.

Mario Rom’s Interzone are at London’s Vortex on Friday 17 November.

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REVIEW: Meilana Gillard Quartet + Nicholas Payton Trio at the Cork Jazz Festival

Meilana Gillard

Meilana Gillard Quartet and Nicholas Payton Trio
(Metropole Hotel (Gillard); The Everyman (Payton). Cork Jazz Festival, 28 October, 2017. Review by Peter Jones.)

Drummer Niall Marron has been playing Cork Jazz Festival for 38 of its 40 years. In conversation, he revealed that it all started in 1978 as a result of a cancelled bridge tournament. With the Metropole Hotel booked and nothing to fill it with, marketing manager Jim Mountjoy had the bright idea of holding a weekend jazz festival. Within a few days he managed to round up Ronnie Scott, George Melly, Kenny Ball and Louis Stewart.

Decades later, the Festival has expanded to 56 venues and hundreds of gigs, jams, talks and other events over the bank holiday weekend. On Saturday night, the streets of Cork were aswarm with festival-goers, bank holiday fun-seekers and Halloween celebrants alike. Every pub and bar was jammed: the ‘fringe’ part of the festival, centred on Oliver Plunkett Street, is now vast; music blared from every doorway, and even the hotels, restaurants and cafes that weren’t hosting live music were playing recorded jazz over their speaker systems.

The Metropole was hosting up to four gigs simultaneously, from a flute/guitar duo to a big band. Somewhere in between was Meilana Gillard, an American tenorist in the vein of Dexter Gordon. She has an encyclopaedic repertoire, and shares Gordon’s fondness for slow vibrato and the mellow lower register of the instrument. The room was too small for the numbers wanting to listen – people peered in from the adjacent bar and pounced upon every vacated seat. Gillard was accompanied by Niall Marron’s Trio, which included Alexander Bryson on piano and occasional vocals, and Darren McCarthy on bass. The material was often familiar – In A Sentimental Mood, This I Dig Of You – but spiced with trickier numbers like Benny Golson’s Stablemates

Nicholas Payton

The Cork Jazz Festival has a policy at its larger venues of putting on double bills of full-length shows – a lot of jazz for your money. On Saturday the Everyman played host to a mouth-watering two-fer of Nicholas Payton’s trio and the Kenny Garrett Quintet. The sound engineer seemed to have mistaken it for an Iron Maiden gig: by the time Garrett’s band hit the stage, the volume level – already too loud – had risen to ear-gougingly intolerable, driving me out of the room. But beforehand one felt privileged to witness Payton’s full-length set drawn mainly from his latest double album Afro-Caribbean Mixtape.

Blessed with genius on both trumpet and keyboards, Payton played both at once for much of the gig, often switching between his battered Fender Rhodes Suitcase and the Everyman’s grand piano. Pre-recorded spoken-word samples were used in most of the numbers, sometimes chopped-up. Jazz is a Four-Letter Word, from the new album, included a sample of Dizzy Gillespie speaking those very words. The trio was completed by Eric Wheeler on double bass and the astonishingly good Joe Dyson on drums.

The set was satisfyingly varied, and always melodic, featuring groove (the title track to Afro-Caribbean Mixtape), ballads (Relaxin’ with Nick), funk (Kimathi), even disco (Junie’s Boogie). It was also consistent in the theme of black identity, which became apparent both in the chosen samples, and in the titles of certain tunes. One of these was Othello, a reflective ballad with a few lyrics sung by Payton himself. Payton’s trumpet tone is clear and bell-like, particularly on Kimathi, with wah-wah Rhodes and a fabulous horn melody.

This festival is now so well embedded in the city’s calendar that its logo can be seen everywhere, from the poshest hotel to the grungiest bar. It was heartening to see jazz embraced so enthusiastically, and I for one will be back for more next year.

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INTERVIEW: Emma Franz (Producer/ Director of Bill Frisell: A Portrait. UK premiere screening with Q+A Sunday 5 Nov)

A still from Bill Frisell - A Portrait
Photo courtesy of Emma Franz

A new documentary film about BILL FRISELL will receive its UK premiere screening this Sunday 5 November (details and booking link below). In advance of the screening, we found out more from the film's producer and director, the award-winning independent filmmaker EMMA FRANZ.

The film has been getting good reviews. Canadian critic John Kelman: "Franz deserves recognition for capturing the guitarist so completely... It's one of the most compelling, entertaining and informative films made about a living music legend." Scroll down for a trailer. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: We understand that Bill Frisell: A Portrait was not only premiered this year at South by South West Film Festival, it also won out in an extremely competitive process to get there. How did that all work? 

Emma Franz: SXSW receive a couple of thousand applications per year, out of which a hundred or so are selected to screen, and out of that, 10 fiction and 10 non-fiction feature films are selected as candidates for the Grand Jury’s award. It was a great honour for me to have the film premiere in competition.

LJN: Tell us about yourself? 

EF: I am a musician-turned-filmmaker. I studied classical piano to concert level, then moved into playing jazz and rhythm & blues in bands as a teenager. Piano took a side-line when I started singing with pianists far more accomplished at improvisation than I, and I subsequently spent about a decade travelling with my music, but without regular access to a piano. I worked in 35 countries and after a while, film-making was beckoning me as a coming together of my life experiences and skills - my interaction and artistic collaboration with a diverse range of people and cultures, my visual arts background, communication skills one develops performing, as well as negotiating and managing international contracts, and my deep interest in people and stories. One of the first things I wanted to do was try to make films that reflected my experiences of music and music practice.

LJN: What led you to want to make a film about Bill Frisell? 

EF: It was mostly an instinctive decision, motivated by the fact that I had long been moved by Bill’s music, and had seen him play in various contexts and styles to a broad range of audiences I would inevitably witness as completely absorbed by his magic. I was curious to see if I could create a layered portrait of character, ideas, approach and of course music, that might provide cinema audiences with a sense some of the elements that result in Bill’s very unique, high level music creation and sound, and of having ‘hung out’ with a great master.

LJN: And how did you first present him with the idea? 

EF: I just asked him after the gig during which I’d received my bolt of inspiration!

LJN: And how did he respond?!

EF: He put his hand on his chest and in his usual self-effacing manner said, “Oh, me? What’s so interesting about me?” Luckily he had enjoyed my last film Intangible Asset Number 82 and so agreed to participate.

LJN: What was he like to work with? 

EF: Gently humorous, friendly, self-effacing, and sometimes non-committal or tangential when speaking about what he does - which meant that trying to capture ‘moments’ and thoughts through which to write the film and express my themes was a long process. I wanted to access things that weren’t really already available in interviews online and in print.

LJN: In his music, Bill Frisell works with slow pulse. That must have an effect on the way you edit and present the film?

EF: Ha ha… yes, in the film Jason Moran refers to it as a “well-paced shred”. I think one of the beautiful aspects of Bill’s playing is that he’s not trying to impress with speed or chops, even though he has plenty of those. He is all about sound and melody and enhancing whatever context he is in. What comes out feels so close to how I experienced his personality and way of speaking and thinking. I tried to reflect that with the ebb and flow of the editing, and how I chose to contextualise things; so that the music in the film wasn’t about impressing anyone or anything, but an extension of Bill’s personality and mind, and in the hope that the experience of watching the film could be an intimate one.





LJN: Mike Gibbs is also in the picture. What was the context? 

EF: I filmed with Bill and Mike Gibbs in London as they prepared the BBC Symphony Orchestra for a concert of Bill and Mike’s music at the Barbican (in 2009 - reviewed), with Bill and Joey Baron joining the orchestra. Mike Gibbs is another gentle giant of music, and with his recent 80th birthday, is still composing and arranging wonderful music. Mike had been Bill’s principle teacher when he studied at Berklee, and so it felt very meaningful charting this project. It was wonderful hearing a lot of the history and stories (Mike is also a marvellous raconteur) over the couple of weeks, and I felt that shoot could have been another film in itself. There were about 40 additional minutes of that project in the first rough cut, which was about four hours long!

LJN: And there is some footage of Paul Motian

EF: Yes, Paul Motian was very important in Bill’s life and musical development, and I am also a great admirer of his music, so it was very important and a great pleasure to include him in the film. I filmed the Paul Motian Trio (with Frisell and Joe Lovano) at the Village Vanguard, where they had done a fortnight residency for over 30 years. Sadly, as most will know, Paul Motian has since passed away. No one knew at the time that the performance captured in the film would be the last ever performance of that trio.

LJN: But you also want it to appeal to a general/wider rather than a music-obsessed audience? 

EF: I hope the film will resonate deeply with musicians and music lovers, but I have had very nice feedback from creatives of many mediums and backgrounds.

Link to John Kelman's full review
Bill Frisell Film Official Facebook page

DETAILS OF LONDON SCREENING

This Sunday, November 5, 3pm followed by Q&A with Emma Franz
Curzon Cinema, SOHO, as part of Doc’n’Roll Film Festival
BOOKING LINK TO DOC'N'ROLL FILM FESTIVAL

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INTERVIEW: Tessa Souter (Pizza Express Jazz Club, 18 November - EFG LJF)

Tessa Souter
Publicity picture


TESSA SOUTER, who comes to Pizza Express Jazz Club on 18 November as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, talks about the life-changing personal discoveries that led to her new album, Picture in Black and White, available only as a pre-release at present. She spoke to Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Your next album will tell the story of a discovery you made - tell us about it.

Tessa Souter: When I was 12, I was told that my father who brought me up was not my birth father and that my birth father, who had died in a plane crash before I was born, was Spanish. And that his mother had been a flamenco dancer. I guess my mum thought this was a good way to allay the teasing I was getting at school for my permanent tan. And the teasing actually did stop almost overnight. Plus this idea of being the granddaughter of a flamenco dancer was so romantic.

Then when I was 28, feeling curious to find out if I had any relations, I came across my birth father's name in the London telephone directory and, to cut a long story short, eventually met him and discovered that he was black. About four years ago I had the idea to make an album featuring songs that, in my interpretations, reflect the African diaspora experience, as well as one or two for my Celtic British ancestry. I was a giant fan of Fairport Convention and Pentangle as a youth and sang all that music in my teens.

LJN: What is the title of the album?

TS: Picture in Black and White. Because it's what I am, a kind of physical snapshot of these two people. But the whole album is also about who we think we are. I had my DNA test done recently and I discovered I am quarter African. That was a relief because, after building an album on this premise, I was suddenly a little bit worried it wasn't going to be true after all - like my flamenco-dancing grandmother, even though she very much exists in my music and on this album.



LJN: Are all the songs your own?

TS: No. Only two of the songs are my own - the title track, Picture in Black and White, and a sort of flamenco version of my song You Don't Have to Believe, which I recorded on Listen Love years ago.  I wanted the songs to be sort of familiar so they can tell this unusual story but still resonate for people who may not have had this experience. I also have Wayne Shorter's Ana Maria (with my lyric), an African song, Kothbiro by Ayub Ogada, McCoy Tyner's Contemplation, renamed Ancestors with lyrics by my friend, vocalist Vicki Burns, one of Vick's originals, Siren Song, and songs by Jon Lucien (who had planned to sign me to his own label at one time), Ornette Coleman, Milton Nascimento, Bobby Scott,  a Terry Callier and U2 medley, which I've been singing for about 15 years, and a traditional folk song, Reynardine. They all mean something in particular to me.

LJN: A Taste of Honey has a particular poignancy for you.

TS: All the songs are poignant for me. This one, because of the archaic language, makes me think of slaves being kidnapped from Africa and how it was for the loves that were left behind. Interpreting the songs like this kind of adds new stories to them. But whatever I sing - whether it's a love story, or about a newborn baby, or whatever -  I am thinking about the story. I was a features journalist! Plus, I think, singing Pentangle and Fairport Convention folk music as a young woman influenced me very strongly. Those songs are literally stories with beginnings, middles and endings.

LJN: Siren Song - what is that about?

TS: For me it's about my Garifuna great great grandmother. The Garifuna are descended from two Spanish slave ships which were wrecked off the island of St Vincent in the Caribbean and the survivors married off to the local native population. I wrote a Yoruba coda to it, thanking the gods Shango and Oshun for saving my Nigerian ancestor from slavery. Vicki told me she wrote is as a hymn to the goddess of the sea, so it was already a perfect fit.

LJN: And there is a song based on a Wayne Shorter tune... 

TS: The album that turned me on to jazz was Wayne Shorter's Native Dancer. I played it every day for about 15 years, gradually winding down to a few times a week. I don't listen to it every day anymore but it is still my number one desert island disc. I wanted to sing this song so I wrote a lyric to it, and I was absolutely blessed that Wayne Shorter liked it enough, I guess, to share the writing credit. Never in my wildest dreams when I was listening to this album in my old life as a features journalist, did I dream that one day I would sing it, let alone record it, and with a shared writing credit. It's too much!

Tessa Souter in the studio with (from left): Yotam Silberstein, Yasushi Nakamura,
 Adam Platt, Billy Drummond and Dana Leong
LJN: Who are the musicians?

TS: Guitarist Yotam Silberstein, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, pianist Adam Platt, cellist Dana Leong, percussionist Keita Ogawa, and drummer Billy Drummond, who arrived back from Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a red-eye flight the day of the recording and came straight from the airport to the studio.

LJN: The album had quite a lengthy genesis - what's the story there? 

TS: I had the idea about four years ago but I had no idea how I was going to make it happen. Out of the blue, one day, a dear friend of mine gave me a money order for a grand and said, "I think you should do a fund raiser for your next album!" The fact that he's not rich and had taken this money out of his savings made it even more meaningful. That money order lay in my bedside drawer for about six months and every time I opened the drawer, the envelope was like an accusing finger wagging at me to get on with it. So, with a lot of emotional support and cheerleading from my friends and family, I put together a Kickstarter campaign and raised $20,000 in a month. People were still contributing even after we made the deadline. I think this album just wanted to be made. It was very inspiring and actually humbling. A lot of strangers came in on it, which was amazing.

Then I went in and recorded it but was terribly sick on the day. I decided to go ahead and do scratch vocals and re-sing it later, which is quite common practice. But then I kind of lost my voice for almost two years. I had a constant frog in my throat that would come up every time I tried to record and which sounded like distortion on the recording. I saw several doctors, one of whom even diagnosed a paralysed vocal cord. This was refuted a week later by a more senior laryngologist (luckily before I threw myself off a nearby bridge), and another dear friend, vocalist and technique teacher, Kate Baker (who Mark Murphy used to call "the voice doctor"), gave me these draconian exercises which seemed to kick it. I also did a crazy anti-phlegm diet which took off so much weight, people were putting their hand on my shoulder when they saw me and saying: "How are you?"  It was a real struggle and I really despaired of ever being better enough to go back into the studio. Now I wonder if a part of me felt, "Who am I to record such a giant subject?"

LJN: When will the album be officially released?

TS: I'm not sure yet. The story is so important, way beyond my personal experience, I want it to have the best start in terms of timing and everything.

LJN: But you do have some copies that you will be bringing to London?

TS: I do and I will. I made 500 limited edition copies and have a few (not many) left over.

LJN: The discovery you made and the making of the album - has the experience changed you?

TS: The discovery itself changed me, yes. But very gradually. It was like taking off a hat after wearing it all day and still feeling it on your head. But there really are no words to describe the experience. It's huge. Flipping fathers. Flipping race. It's indescribable. Thank God I am a musician. Making the album kind of synthesized a lot for me. It was like those dexterity puzzle games which you tilt to get the little balls to fall into the right places all at once. But it also made me think much more deeply about what we inherit from our ancestors, emotionally as well as physically.

My research taught me so much about the struggles they had to have endured for me to even exist. Vicki's lyric to Contemplation really speaks to that for me. This idea of our ancestors wanting and waiting for us to remember, to acknowledge and be a witness to their experiences. But also that they loved us, and wanted us to be here, even though they didn't know us.

LINK: Tessa Souter at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Tessa's website

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INTERVIEW: Sarah Gillespie ( Debut poetry/lyrics collection Queen Ithaca Blues to be launched on 18 November at Albany Deptford - EFG LJF )

Sarah Gillespie
Publicity Picture

Singer Songwriter SARAH GiLLESPIE will shortly be launching a new book, her debut collection of poetry & lyrics, Queen Ithaca Blues, as part of the London Jazz Festival. She talks here about the background. Email interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Have you always written poetry?

Sarah Gillespie: Yes since I was very little. I starting making up songs when I was three and writing them properly on a piano at around the age of eight. At the same time I would scribble down countless stories, scenarios and poems. Then, of course, I wrote loads of utterly dreadful adolescent twaddle.

LJN: What tends to be the stimulus for you to write?

SG: Writing its something of a habit for me, its the way I process being on the planet.

LJN: Who are your main influences?

SG: Great wordsmiths - Bob Dylan, Cole Porter, Tom Waits, Ntazaki Shangr, the Beat poets, Simon Armitage, my friend Caroline Bird (who just got shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize), Gerard Manley Hopkins, Anne Carson - great playwrights from Chekov to Jezz Butterworth.

LJN: What's the method/sequence - do you write loads of poems and then see how some of them work as songs

SG: Songs usually pop out with the melody and lyrics together because, for me, melody and lyric are totally dependent on each other. The sound and rhythm that the words make is as important to me as their dictionary definitions. Occasionally some of my songs start life as poems - Houdini of the Heart, Cinematic Nectar, The Beas and the Seas - but poems essentially live on the page where as songs hit the ear. They are two distinct art forms. I have always had a sense of this but compiling and editing my book recently has made me much more aware that they are very separate crafts.

LJN: Do you write about day to day things or big themes?

SG: Well, I'm pretty allergic to any writing that consciously attempts to be 'deep'; the 'life is journey' fluff that is ubiquitous these days. Many songs I hear sound like a bunch of self-help slogans strung together. I have songs and poems about all manner of themes from extraordinary rendition to romantic jealousy in the age of smart phones (Signal Failure). In my book there are poems that deal with losing my mother and then suddenly finding myself a mother. There's a poem about a Persian astronomer whose insights are credited to Copernicus. There's all manner of love poems.

LJN: Are you in a songwriting partnership - how do poems become songs?

SG: I generally write songs alone but my band often help me arrange them. Poems become songs if they have that particular life force in them. When I wrote a song called Glory Days about my mother's life, it struck me that grief is not a linear process that has 'stages of acceptance'. It’s the opposite of that. It is an eruption of feelings, wishes and memories that interpret each other at random and then fade and then ambush you again. In the light of that, the lyrics for this song came out in short staccato-like images, almost like a list poem. "You were young then/your lipstick was frantic/your shadows were athletes/your heart was elastic".

I have other poems that could never work as songs and songs that (I recently realised) simply don't work on the page at all because their meanings rely so heavily on the groove and melody.

LJN: What gigs are coming up?

SG: Saturday 18 November at the the Albany in Deptford. It’s one of my favourite venues, a beautiful space and amazing sound engineers. I'm very lucky to be there with Frank Harrison on piano, Enzo Zirilli on drums (Enzo also played on my last two records) Ruth Goller on bass and Emma Divine on vocals. We will be exploring the bond between jazz and beat poetry, lots of improvisation, I'm very excited!

I'm playing Belgium in the New Year and new dates will be announced very soon around the UK.

LJN: Which musicians are you currently working with?

SG: My band line up is Kit Downes - piano, Ruth Goller - bass and James Maddren - drums. I'm working closely with Kit on my new material. He and I are going to co-produce my next album.

LJN: Where are you in the album cycle? When's the next one?

SG: Next album is out in autumn 2018. Right now I'm finishing the songs and we will record them in the spring, probably at Eastcote Studio where I recorded my other three records. I wanted to let this next album incubate a while as it will be a whole new sound for me and some of the issues I’m writing about are complex. For instance there's a tune nearly 15 minutes long about the North Dakota Pipe Line told from the point of view of an engineer.

LJN: Does a small child give balance to life or throw it into confusion?

SG: If you are an artist who needs solitude to work, looking after a toddler every day can be extremely challenging. However the flip side is that the world is suddenly spring-loaded with joy. For instance I used to sit in bed with my morning coffee reading the international news. Now I am in my garden playing hide and seek behind the trees and blowing bubbles. It's an endless cycle of tantrums and laughter.

LJN: Or does it make you think - if I only had more time to myself I would... what exactly?!

SG: Yes for sure, I would paint, write, read and tour more. I will again when my daughter is eligible for more nursery time. Meanwhile I'm enjoying her and her dad, and working whenever I can.

Queen Ithaca Blues is published by Oxford-based Albion Beatnik Press. 
The book will be launched at the Albany Theatre in Deptford on Saturday 18 November. This gig is part of the EFG London Jazz Festival .

www.sarahgillespie.com

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REVIEW: Sarah McKenzie + Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop at the 2017 Cork Jazz Festival,

Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie / Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue with Gary Crosby’s Nu Troop
(Cork Jazz Festival, The Everyman, 27 October, 2017. Review by Peter Jones.)

This was an intriguing chalk-and-cheese double bill, illustrating two wildly opposed approaches to jazz.

Australian singer and pianist Sarah McKenzie is an easy-on-the-ear mainstream entertainer in the style of Diana Krall. Berklee-educated, at the age of 28 she is already four albums into her career, has secured a recording contract with Impulse, and is currently on a lengthy European tour. She has developed a cool, professional stage show that isn’t so much polished as French-polished: the band’s delivery is so slick that even the solos sound rehearsed.

McKenzie sprinkles her own compositions among the standards, the latter including Paris in the Rain from her newest eponymously-titled album, and One Jealous Moon. There’s a bit of Latin (her own De Nada, Jobim’s Triste), a bit of blues (I’ve Got The Blues Tonight) and a clutch of tastefully-presented chestnuts – I Won’t Dance, I’m Old Fashioned, Day In Day Out. The well-drilled band consisted of Jo Caleb on guitar, Tom Farmer on bass and Marco Valeri on drums. It was more enjoyable when they relaxed a little and let rip, as on One Jealous Moon.




Gary Crosby (introduced, to general merriment, as Gary Numan) is one of the founders of London’s Tomorrow’s Warriors organization that has done so much to bring on new talent in recent years (and won the education category of the recent Parliamentary Jazz Awards). With Crosby on this occasion were a clutch of young turks and one old stager – collectively named the Nu Troop. The old stager was fiery tenorman Denys Baptiste, and the idea was to perform Kind Of Blue – a canny populist move with this first-night audience, many of whom looked as if they were dipping a cautious toe into the swirling waters of jazz. For the musicians, Kind of Blue the challenge was of a different kind: how to perform such an iconic suite in a respectful manner without merely reproducing the original? The inevitable, unwelcome result of such an attempt would be to invite direct comparison.

The younger members of the Nu Troop were tentative at the start, nerves betrayed by a ragged ending to So What. But Baptiste’s experience and class steadied the ship: he had no interest in cloning Coltrane, and pianist Alex Ho likewise came up with a sweet, jagged solo that was very much post-Bill Evans. On Freddie Freeloader alto saxophonist Alexandra Topczewska aimed for Cannonball’s cool lyricism, while Mark Kavuma on trumpet was likewise looking to approximate Miles’s sparseness, particularly on All Blues. Drummer Sam Jones, who hadn’t even had the chance to rehearse with the band, was presented with the thankless task of responding to Jimmy Cobb’s minimalism, and found the solution sometimes by laying out altogether, and sometimes by just ticking his way around the cymbals.

Blue in Green was brief and gorgeous. By the time they reached Flamenco Sketches (the other track from the album that, according to Crosby, nobody plays live) Topczewska was showing her true colours with a lyrical, breathy solo that floated serenely above the tune’s elusive structure. They ended with Milestones – a good choice of closer, since the band could finally rock out, and it featured a great Binker-and-Moses type interlude from Baptiste and Jones.

The enthusiastic audience response was proof (if needed) that the Nu Troop’s performance was real jazz, the rough with the smooth, a tightrope act of genuine improvisation which thrilled, because we knew it could all have plummeted to earth at any moment.

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INTERVIEW: Susanne Moed (Going Dutch - a celebration of Jazz in the Netherlands / in the UK until end-2018)

The Dutch band Kapok will be touring the UK from late November
Photo courtesy of Dutch Performing Arts


Over the next 14 months, Dutch jazz musicians will be appearing at festivals and on tour in the UK, as part of an initiative instigated by Dutch Performing Arts (Fonds Podiumkunsten). Susanne Moed, Programme Manager, spoke to Rob Adams about what will be happening:

Rob Adams: What is Going Dutch?

Susanne Moed: It’s the biggest-ever celebration of jazz from the Netherlands in the UK and Ireland and it features a range of musicians appearing in festivals and on tour, from earlier this year to the end of 2018.

RA: What are its aims?

SM: We want to create opportunities for audiences to experience a wide range of the musicians who are making the jazz scene in the Netherlands currently a very vibrant and creative place right now. There’s also an historical perspective in having the Instant Composers Pool (ICP) Orchestra on the next tour as the ICP has been in existence for 50 years – it celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and yet is still at the forefront of the Dutch and European scenes.

Susanne Moed


RA: How did Going Dutch come about?

SM: Dutch Performing Arts is always looking for ways to help Dutch artists export their work and we met representatives from the Jazz Promotion Network, which is a relatively new but very active body comprised of broadcasters and journalists as well as promoters and festival programmers. From that first meeting we arranged for a series of visits by Jazz Promotion Network members to festivals and events in the Netherlands to see Dutch musicians at work. It was important for both organisations that programmers, especially, experienced musicians playing live to audiences to get a feel for what each musician and group brings to the stage.

The ICP with Han Bennink (left)
Photo courtesy of Dutch Performing Arts

RA: How is Going Dutch funded?

SM: Promoters presenting these artists in the UK and Ireland pay the musicians’ fees and all concert costs and may have their own varied sources of funding for their programmes – but Dutch Performing Arts has provided the Jazz Promotion Network with support for Dutch artists’ travel and accommodation costs, a PR programme and administration for the project. Our colleagues in Jazz Promotion Network also have ideas about raising funds in the British Isles in future for collaborative projects between Dutch musicians and your own artists.

RA: What can audiences expect to hear?

SM: We’ve already instigated visits by some musicians. The first outing was in Newcastle, for Jazz NorthEast, who featured a whole weekend programme of leading Dutch improvisers plus English collaborators such as Alexander Hawkins. The pianist Kaja Draksler, for example, made a big impression at Glasgow and Manchester Jazz Festivals this summer and she, the trumpeter Eric Vloeimans and Tin Men and the Telephone, a piano trio that has brought the smart phone into the jazz tradition, will be back for more extensive visits in 2018.

Also, as well as the ICP Orchestra, which is a once seen never forgotten experience and tours from late October, there will be Kapok, who have a very unusual line-up of French horn, guitar and drums and are really causing a lot of excitement among indie rock as well as jazz audiences in the Netherlands and across Europe. They’re touring in England from November 26. In 2018 we also plan to tour, amongst others, the brilliant viola-tablas-guitar trio NordaniansEstafest, four improvising musicians who have to be seen to be believed; and the pianist Dominic J Marshall, who is actually British but whose trio is among the rising stars of the Dutch scene.”

RA: Where are the tours going?

SM: The next tour – ICP Orchestra – will be going to venues in Nottingham, Southampton, Bath, Belfast, Derry, Dublin and Cork, and Kapok will be playing in Wigan, Altrincham, Bath, Newcastle and Sheffield.

We’re still working on dates for 2018 but the intention is to tour the music as widely as possible, so we hope to include London, Scotland and Wales (as well as Ireland and England again, of course) in the next set of tours. (pp)

Rob Adams is a freelance journalist based in Edinburgh. He is working with Podiumkunste NL on PR for the Going Dutch project

 LINKS: Going Dutch at Dutch Performing Arts / Fonds Podiumkunsten
Going Dutch at the Jazz Promotion Network website

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CD REVIEW: Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan – Golden Earrings



Sam Braysher with Michael Kanan – Golden Earrings
(Fresh Sound New Talent FSNT 1007. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This album from Barcelona-based record company Fresh Sound New Talent is the debut recording of young English alto saxophonist Sam Braysher. He has teamed up with a sensational New York pianist Michael Kanan, a famous accompanist and arranger to starry singers like Jane Monheit.

Together Braysher and Kanan play some old favourites and some of the less well-known tunes from the Great American Songbook and there is one original Braysher tune too.

Their approach to these old tunes is to go back to early recordings and the original sheet music. They consider what was actually written, and study what was actually intended by the composers, rather than later interpretations. As Braysher explains:

"Like most jazz musicians of my generation, I have been introduced to this type of repertoire through listening to and playing jazz, rather than growing up with it as pop music in the way that, say Sonny Rollins would have done…..I have tried to access the “composers’ intention” – something that Michael Kanan, an expert in this area, talks about. We tried to use this as our starting point for interpretation and improvisation, rather than existing jazz versions." (see also our interview - link below)

The result is fresh, melodic and entertaining. They play as a duo rather than soloist and accompanist. They play harmoniously together, listening and responding with an evident rapport. The music feels collaborative, the tunes are stated sensitively, and the arrangements are inventive. Every tune has a satisfying if sometimes unexpected resolution.

I was lucky to hear them play on the album launch tour. They performed in the lovely Tudor recital room at the Anteros Arts Foundation in Braysher’s home town of Norwich. It’s an intimate space with a very nice antique Steinway baby grand, no amplification necessary, and they went down a storm. The pair appeared completely at ease, had no fixed play list, and decided which tune and in which key to play before each song. They performed some of the tunes from the album, but gave the impression that their repertoire was vast. It seemed that they could have continued with new interpretations of great tunes by the likes of Rodgers and Hart, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Nat King Cole and even Charlie Parker indefinitely.

The combination of Braysher’s airy sweet tone, and Kanan’s rhythmic elegance makes for a lovely, unhurried and yet swinging set. They both play with precision and there were passages of intricate counterpoint, which I particularly enjoyed. The CD captures this freshness of approach and something of the energy and empathy which flows between these two great artists.

Track listing:

Dancing in the Dark; Cardboard; Irving Berlin Waltz Medley: What'll I Do – Always – Remember; BSP (Braysher); All Too Soon; In Love in Vain; The Scene Is Clean; Beautiful Moons Ago; Golden Earrings; Way Down Yonder in New Orleans

Sam Braysher is playing with Kansas Smitty’s and the John Warren Nonet as part of the EFG London Jazz festival in November, and with Barry Green in December.

LINKS:

Interview with Sam Braysher
Sam Braysher's website and tour dates
Michael Kanan's website

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INTERVIEW: Django Bates - new album on ECM The Study of Touch (co-publication with Jazzthetik)

Django Bates' Beloved Bird Trio in 2011
Photo credit: Roger Thomas  


DJANGO BATES has a new CD out: The Study of Touch, with his Beloved Trio of Petter Eldh and Peter Bruun is due out on ECM for release on 3 November and marks his debut as leader on the label. Sebastian interviewed him about it. 

(This is the English version of a feature in German in the November/December edition of JAZZTHETIK magazine which is out today. We are co-publishing with them):

How did it happen, I asked Django Bates? What was the story that led to him making his first album as bandleader for ECM?

The recent history is straightforward. It begins in a car in the early days of January 2015. Django and his manager Jeremy Farnell were travelling on the A96 motorway towards Munich. Jeremy had a spur of the moment whim: realising they would have time to spare in the Munich area, he suggested they could ring ahead and see if by any chance Manfred Eicher was at his office and free to see them. Luck was on their side, he was. And after a short discussion Django remembers Eicher floating a suggestion to him: Aha. So you are ready to record a trio then? “I just heard myself saying, yeah,” Bates remembers. “That was it. Completely unplanned. A commitment. To record a trio” And that set the creative wheels on motion. “I thought that this is the moment to take the next step from the Charlie Parker arrangements and focus on my own music with this trio. I don’t know why, the two things went together. We started to put a playlist together. We had a piece called Sadness All The Way Down. And I had plan to include Happiness all the way up. And we started to think - what kind of musical journey do we want in between. And when you are recording for a producer you respect… I like that.”

That is the recent history. But as often tends to be the case with this this uniquely versatile and chameleon-like musician, this eternal Wunderkind - there are more complex and involved chains of circumstances, connections and imperatives too. For example, one can turn the clock back roughly thirty years to Bates’ first experience of recording for ECM. In the mid -1980s he was a member of First House, the group led by saxophonist Ken Stubbs. Evan Parker had recommended the band to Eicher. Bates vividly remembers his first meeting with Manfred Eicher in Oslo after a long journey by ferry and land. His first two recordings on the label as pianist were Eréndira (recorded 1986) and Cantilena (1989). “It was all so unlikely. We were all so young.” And Bates also has happy memories of two albums from the 1990s, with a particular quiet and intense aesthetic that he made with Sidsel Endresen, Jon Christensen and Nils Petter Molvaer. So I Write and Exile .“Through that process I was able to show myself to Manfred as a composer as well as as a piano player.”

And then there is an even earlier time in the past. Django Bates also talked about his admiration and respect for what ECM stands for: “People like Iain Ballamy and I had sat around listening to albums like Belonging and My Song (Jarrett), 80/81 (Metheny) and Gnu High (Kenny Wheeler). The first ECM track I heard was Questar from My Song. As soon as I heard it, I felt that a that at last the dots had been joined up between the jazz music I had grown up with at home and the classical music that I had encountered when I tried to learn about music.”

And then there is another story - how the trio with bassist Petter Eldh, originally from Gothenburg in Sweden and Peter Bruun, from Aarhus in the west of Denmark came into being. It goes back to the time in the 2000s when Bates had a teaching post at the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen. He remembers the intense practice ethic of some of the players - “the guys and women who came from other places, because they didn’t have a cosy home to go to at the end of the day, they just went to a practice room and continued.” Bates remembers listening from the corridor. The bassist was “playing like a mad punk but with all the jazz training. And the drummer was equally intense, but at a volume where the bass can really sing.” And whereas until that point Bates had tended to rule out the idea of forming a trio, the encounter with Eldh and Bruun made him change his mind.

The three met more or less every week for a year to play. It was free rehearsing with no music, just experimenting with ideas and set-ups. Then came the opportunity do do a homage to Charlie Parker. “After all that work, it was easy.”

The release of The Study of Touch is an important milestone, but for Bates, who has been described as a musical maximalist, what is important is that it is just one of many facets of his creativity: “For me it’s been perfect to have Saluting Sgt. Pepper, the Belovèd album, and a new project with Anouar Brahem all appear in the same year. In fact, I would have liked it they’d all come out on the same day because there’s a message behind the madness. The message is: I refuse to be pigeon-holed, and (even as the music business becomes more challenging), I will insist on finding a way to continue putting music “out there” for consideration, enjoyment, and criticism.”

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CD REVIEW: Tyshawn Sorey - Verisimilitude



Tyshawn Sorey – Verisimilitude
(Pi Recordings pi70. CD review by Brian Marley)


What kind of music is this? At first glance its instrumentation, a piano trio, would suggest jazz. But although the players – Tyshawn Sorey (drums, percussion), Chris Tordini (bass), and Cory Smythe (piano, toy piano, electronics) – are steeped in that idiom, Verisimilitude owes as much to Morton Feldman (check out the tolling two-chord repetition in Flowers for Prashant) as it does to Bill Evans, though to be fair it doesn’t sound like the music of either of them. To call it jazz is to sell it short.

Sorey isn’t just a drummer who also happens to compose. His ambition and gifts are greater than that. He’s an apt successor to Anthony Braxton (composer for multiple orchestras both here and on other planets) as professor of music on the master’s program at Wesleyan University. And there’s the MacArthur Fellowship he was awarded in October this year, which acknowledged not only his musicianship as a sideman on dozens of recordings, and the hard-to-pigeonhole CDs issued under his own name, but also his potential as a music maker for whom composition and improvisation are indivisible, part and parcel of the same continuum. I would, for example, defy you to tell me whether the electronics interlude during the first part of Obsidian, and touches reminiscent of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) during its concluding phase, are composed or improvised.

But try Contemplating Tranquility if you want to hear a true genre-buster. The lengthy introduction features Sorey on gongs, slow strokes, deep tones, long resonance, creating a meditative atmosphere redolent of the music on his album Koan (482 Music, 2009). He’s a subtle colourist and he knows how to move the music forward with the gentlest of nudges. Eventually he’s joined by Smythe, at first with single high-register notes, then with deep rumbles out of which mid-range flourishes and stark chords emerge. Tordini doesn’t make his presence felt until the final third, where his arco lines are like ghostly whispers. The music builds in intensity, with Sorey switching to drums and Tordini to pizzicato, and it concludes with slow gong strokes, bringing it back to where it began.

What’s particularly striking about Verisimilitude – something that’s also true of Alloy (Pi Recordings, 2014), the previous CD by this trio – is how the players improvise compositionally. There’s no ego-flexing in this music, no foregrounded solos. This is especially noticeable in the long, suitelike pieces such as Algid November, here, and Alloy's A Love Song, both of which top the 30-minute mark. The transitional stages in these pieces occur almost subliminally; you suddenly find yourself in a different phase of the music without quite knowing how you got there.

Sorey will be appearing with his trio and participating in other instrumental configurations, at this November’s Berliner Festspiele – at which he’s the artist in residence, the first they’ve had in the festival’s 54-year history. Quite an accolade! Those lucky enough to attend will have a chance to find out how the compositions on Verisimilitude stand up to being warped into new shapes, given that the material, composed and improvised, can, as indicated by Sorey’s conductions, be played backwards or modified in various other ways.

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REVIEW: Christine Tobin at Lauderdale House (first night of a UK tour)

Christine Tobin
Photo credit: © 2014 Christine Tobin

Christine Tobin

(Lauderdale House, London, 26 October 2017. Review by Gigi Williams)

The  recently refurbished Lauderdale House has become the host of a Thursday night jazz series with an impressive line-up of musicians, including Irish vocalist Christine Tobin with her partner Phil Robson on guitar and Dave Whitford on bass on the first night of her UK tour.

This tour represents retrospective work from her 11 albums. The trio presented an eclectic mix of standards, originals and Leonard Cohen songs linked together by Tobin’s mastery of the English language.

For me, a standout moment in the evening for several reasons was her performance of the standard Detour Ahead. Tobin paid homage to Billie Holiday’s recording, which she says she always thinks of when hearing the song. However, the performance was far from a torch-song tribute. Tobin and co. presented the ballad in an original way without resorting to gimmicky metric modulations to make it their own. A still serene atmosphere was conjured from her shaping of the words. It was quietly powerful.

This delicacy contrasted with some of the pure soul that resonated from some of the other songs, including Tower of Song by Leonard Cohen, especially when Tobin reached those low chesty notes which seemed to reverberate throughout the whole room. As Tobin herself said, the music was “a three-way conversation” between herself  Robson, and Whitford. It was clear that for these three playing together was a joy, and a few spontaneous solos made the performance feel cohesive and natural.

It is no wonder that Tobin’s affinity for poetry - particularly Yeats and more recently the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon - makes her extremely suited to singing folk songs, which also shows in her modal and primordial solos.

In her original composition Ritual her solo featured her voice not as an imitation of an instrument, as so many singers do these days, but as a tool in its own right, exploring the colours and timbres she could get on one held note rather than shredding changes, which she left to Robson.

Christine will also begin her tour of her most recent album 'Pelt' on the 25th of January 2018

LINK: Christine Tobin's UK tour dates

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INTERVIEW: Tony Dudley-Evans (2017 Parliamentary Award Winner for Services To Jazz)

Tony Dudley-Evans

TONY DUDLEY-EVANS - TDE as he’s affectionately known - has been a driving force in British jazz for more than 40 years. Having built up Birmingham Jazz to be the major jazz promoter in the West Midlands, he later took it under the umbrella of Performances Birmingham as Jazzlines. Meanwhile he was also artistic director of the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. He’s still involved in both as a programme advisor, and has fingers in more than a few other jazz pies. He even finds time occasionally to write for LondonJazz News. As a result he fully deserved the 2017 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Services To Jazz, awarded at a ceremony at Pizza Express Live in Holborn earlier this month. LJN Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon asked the questions:

LondonJazz News: Having programmed both Jazzlines (and before that Birmingham Jazz) and Cheltenham Jazz Festival, in recent years you have stepped back a little. What are your current roles a Jazzlines and Cheltenham and what do they mean in practice?

Tony Dudley-Evans: In both Jazzlines and Cheltenham my role is as programme adviser and I put ideas to my colleagues, Phil Woods and Mary Wakelam Sloan in Jazzlines, and Emily Jones and Ian George in Cheltenham.  Jazzlines Phil and I (Mary is on maternity leave) discuss the whole programme, while with Cheltenham I focus on the programme in the Parabola Arts Centre and the jazz bookings for The Arena and Town Hall. I have welcomed the current arrangements in which I concentrate on the music and leave the actual booking and general gig admin to my colleagues. I enjoy working with others in this way, and the jazz teams in both Birmingham and Cheltenham get on well. I think it is very important that older promoters bring on younger people rather than just go on doing everything. But, of course, I still love being involved.  

LJN: This is by no means all you do - what are the other organisations you are involved with, both in this country and in Europe?

TDE: I am heavily involved with Fizzle and TDE promotions, more on that in Q3.  I was until the summer Chair of the Jazz Promotion Network, but handed over to Emily Jones at the end of the JPN conference. I attend Europe Jazz Network meetings. I also participate in the Performance Platform sessions at Birmingham Conservatoire, giving feedback to 3rd and 4th Year jazz students on their performances, both on the music and on the general  presentation including announcements. It's a role that I enjoy immensely. I am also a member of the Jazz Research Group in the Media Dept at Birmingham City University.

In the past I was on the Arts Council's Music and Touring panels, the Contemporary Music Network committee and Jazz Services' touring panel, but these no longer exist!

LJN: You started TDE Promotions a year or two back. Tell us about how this began, how it works and how you decide which bands/musicians you would like to work with.

TDE: A few years ago I started attending regularly the gigs run by Fizzle. I was impressed by the way that Andrew Woodhead had built up the audience for Fizzle's ambitious programme. I could see that in a bigger venue the programme could become even more ambitious and put on a more international programme. So, in association with Fizzle, I began to put some events in the Hexagon Theatre at mac. This room works well for improvised music and we have had good audiences there.  As at Cheltenham and Jazzlines, I am working with Andy and mentoring him.

The main aim of TDE Promotions is to put on higher profile bands in the free jazz/improvised music areas, such as Sounding Tears last week, the band with Paul Dunmall featuring Hamid Drake, also local heroes Gonimoblast, in a suitable venue and to build up audiences for more experimental music.
The Fizzle sessions at The Lamp Tavern focus on less well-known, more experimental bands. Andy books these and I book the TDE Promotions. The nice thing about having a small Grants for the Arts Award is that we can pay everyone a decent fee as opposed to the situation where bands playing for Fizzle at The Lamp Tavern played for door money.

How do I select bands? I am lucky enough to be invited to a lot of international festivals and showcases, so I get ideas there. I also enjoy working with Midlands-based improvisers such as Paul Dunmall, Mark Sanders, Chris Mapp and many others.    

LJN: A recent, modest grant from ACE means you have been able to be a little more ambitious in future TDE Promotions events. Tell us about what’s coming up.

TDE: Till the end of the year TDE Promotions/Fizzle have: 8 November at mac: Black Top with Orphy Robinson, Pat Thomas with special guest Jean Paul Bourelly who played guitar on Miles Davis' Amandla, one of the albums which Marcus Miller produced. Then on 22 November at the Hare & Hounds in association with Jazzlines we have the Scandinavian power trio The Thing. In December at mac a double bill of Article XI  and Favourite Animals (5 December) and a quartet led by Andrew Bain on drums with Peter Evans, John  O'Gallagher and Alex Bonney (14 December). In the New Year I'm really looking forward to a short tour in January with Paul Dunmall, John O'Gallagher, John  Edwards and  Mark Sanders. We put Paul and John together at this year's Surge festival and it was very powerful. In April I'm setting up a nonet for Mark Sanders and Rachel Musson.

TDE presenting Jazzlines
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

LJN: You have a more comprehensive understanding than most of the current state of UK jazz. How healthy is it? And where does it need to develop/improve?

TDE: I think the festival scene is very healthy and there are a number of festivals that reflect the diversity of both the UK and the international scenes. The year-round scene is more patchy; the Birmingham scene is healthy with good gigs on virtually every night of the week in a wide range of venues; London is good, of course, but other cities have smaller scenes and a lot of promoters struggle to cope with small or no grants.

There is so much talent around, both in UK but also round Europe, but it is a struggle to find enough gigs to make it all viable for these talented musicians. The Arts Council seem to be focussing rather more on the musicians than on the promoters, but I'd like to see more support for promoters. With funding promoters can make things happen. I'd also like to see the development of one major UK festival that concentrated entirely on the best of the contemporary jazz scene with bands from UK, Europe and the USA. A "British Moers Festival" - as Moers was till last year.

LJN: The number of live jazz events you attend - not only as promoter but also as punter - would exhaust a 25-year-old. Where do you find that energy, and what is it about live jazz that keeps you going?

TDE: I love the expectation and the surprises of going to good live gigs. I also think it's important for promoters and advisers to catch bands live, and I love discovering new bands and trying to find the right context to put them in.

LJN: I understand that you have wide and eclectic tastes, but if you could narrow it down in true Desert Island Discs fashion, please give us your eight favourite pieces of music. And if you could save just one from the waves?

TDE: This is very hard as my choices will probably vary from week to week. For example, I am currently loving Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, but next week I'll be moving on elsewhere. I would want:

1. Something by John Coltrane, possibly A Love Supreme, possibly Transitions

2. Kind Of Blue, Miles of course

3. Something by Gil Evans: Out of the Cool?

4. Something by Mike Gibbs: The Only Chrome Waterfall Orchestra

5. Any Loose Tubes album

6. A Tim Berne Snakeoil album

7. Bobby Previte's Miro album

8. Any Paul Dunmall album

Just one? Very difficult. I'll go for a Loose Tubes album as they were so important in my involvement in the 1980s and again two years ago at Cheltenham.

LJN: A couple of tips for 2018 - who should we keep an ear out for?

TDE: Look out for Chris Mapp's new "quiet" band: Stillefelt with Percy Pursglove and Tom Seminar Ford. Also Lucia Cadotsch, a singer who played at mac (Birmingham) last year whose interpretations of classic songs such as Moon River are stunning. If I can be allowed a third, I was impressed by the sax-bass-drums trio led by Josephine Davies.


LINK: The current Fizzle/TDE Promotions programme

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REVIEW: Segundo Stanley Hammond Organ Duo (album launch gig) at Kansas Smitty's

Segundo Stanley Hammond Organ Duo at Kansas Smitty's

Segundo Stanley Hammond Organ Duo
(Kansas Smitty’s, 25 October 2017. Review by Gigi Williams)

Two of the most in-demand sidemen at the moment came together to celebrate the release of their new organ duo album. Drummer Pedro Segundo and Hammond organist Ross Stanley performed two completely sold-out shows at Kansas Smitty's. The lively atmosphere and appreciative audience provided a perfect backdrop for what was a world-class performance demonstrating why these two musicians are at the top of their game. It was made clear as I squeezed my way to a table right at the front, that the venue choice was particularly noteworthy because, in the words of the organiser, the duo was  "born in 2015 out of a jam session” in the intimate candlelit setting.

I wondered why Stanley and Segundo had decided to release a duo album, not least because of how busy they must be, but also given the success of the Velocity Trio, their band with trombonist Dennis Rollins, which released its most recent album in 2015. However, as soon as the set started it was clear we were in for something very special.

The pair started with the standard I’m Hip (and hip it certainly was) with cool, clear, phrasing from Stanley in his first solo of the night wonderfully complemented by Segundo’s tight yet lyrical swing. They lowered the audience in gently into the hour long set which swung hard.

Next, a piece which particularly demonstrated how well the two work together, accurately called Symbiosis. The combination of an unstoppable left-hand walking bass from Stanley and slick aggressive hits from Segundo really drove this hard bop swinger along at a ridiculously fast pace. This is the eponymous track of their most recent album with Rollins, but the jam session atmosphere made the piece feel more instinctive and visceral than the album. It felt as though the rhythmic hits were at once instinctive and precisely planned. It also gave them much more freedom to extend and stretch out.

It is so rare to hear silence being used effectively, but it was an impressive feature of the set, particularly in Senhor Do Cais where Segundo made sure the audience were giving them the attention they deserved.

Towards the end there was a vocal interlude from singer/songwriter Judith Owen, whom Segundo has toured with in the past. Sultry, smoky vocals packed a punch on her original song Cool Life, which the audience enjoyed very much.

What most struck me about the duo, was their ability to craft and shape their pieces with such care and precision. An exquisite encore rendition of God Only Knows started with elongated and a sparsely accompanied melody from both musicians, but by the climax of the song had transformed into something that was almost orchestral, as Stanley literally pulled out all the stops, and the release of tension was all the more satisfying for it.

They defied convention and came back for a second encore, which they needed after the sublimely beautiful and slow Beach Boys’ number. Segundo’s own tune I See The Joy Now closed the set with an epic New Orleans second-line groove that had a substantial number of the audience on their feet. The set ended on a high for sure, and I left excited to hear the next instalment from them.

It is no wonder why these two musicians are so in-demand. Their playing showed not only immense technical ability, but also huge craftsmanship in engaging with both each other and the audience.

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