REVIEW: Dayna Stephens at the 606 Club (2017 EFG LJF)

Dayna Stephens


Dayna Stephens
 (606 Club. 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

It seems too obvious and trite to write, but at a jazz gig the audience witnesses a unique act of creation, sees musicians discovering how things do (or might) work between them - by actually doing it. In this case an American saxophonist who has not performed in London for seventeen years met a trio of top UK players for a short rehearsal on the day of the gig, and onto the stage they went. And as the evening progressed, the familiarity and the trust built and evolved like a flower gradually opening out.

It was fascinating to hear California-born, New York-based Dayna Stephens live for the first time in this context. The opening tunes had a tendency to veer off into abstraction; it felt far more like a Vortex gig than a 606 gig. Then, as the set progressed there was an increasing ease. Stevens has a remarkably communicative face which betrays his every emotion and seems to let the audience into the secret of what he is thinking and what his shifting mood is at any moment. In Along Came Betty which closed the first set, it seemed at last to break out into a joyous smile.

 The mood of rightness and naturalness carried through the second set in which  tunes like Coltrane's Satellite and the classic Body and Soul - with an exuberant and bravura cadenza - came across with scale and heft.

Stevens  is not a player when settled reverts to vocabulary which a jazz listener will recognize, far from it. In fact he is not one ever to play a hackneyed clichéd phrase. In that sense he is a Coltrane heir, constantly finding unlikely intervals, going off exploring and seeing where his explorations will lead.

And then there is his sound. In the interview he did for us a few weeks ago he talked about the saxophone sound of his grandfather: "it was the breathy warmth of his sound that captivated me. I can still hear it even though I don’t have a recording of it." Breathines, subtone is also a feature of Stevens' own playing, whether on tenor sax or EWI. It takes a time to get used to that sound. He is about to do a recording project on EWI playing with guitarist Gilad Hekselman and it is bound to explore a very different character of that instrument from, say, Michael Brecker

Stephens had a great trio to support him. Tim Giles on drums is one of the most unobtrusive and subtle yet supportive drummers anywhere. I hadn't heard Calum Gourlay playing for several months and the authority just grows, and his contribution to settling Body and Soul was memorable. Pianist Gareth Williams' listening is so complete, there were several occasions when he would spot one of Stevens' unusually shaped phrases and do the Paul Klee thing, and  take a line for a walk.

Stephens is such an interesting player. The saxophonist has got over years of illness - kidney dialysis for six years followed by a transplant - and surely he is bound to be back soon, either playing with a UK trio as here, or possibly in his project with Hekselman. Let's hope so.


SET LISTS

First Set

Common Ancestors
U R Me Blues
New Cynic City
Emilie
Along Came Betty

Second Set

First Snow
Satellite
Body and Soul
Uncle Jr.
Encore: Best thing for you is Me

LINKS : CD Review of Gratitude (with Julian Lage, Brad Mehldau and Larry Grenadier)
Interview with Dayna Stevens

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REVIEW: Chris Ingham's Rebop at The Other Palace (2017 EFG LJF)

Chris Ingham's Rebop
L-R: Chris Ingham, Kevin Flanagan, Robert Rickenberg
Paul Higgs, Colin Watling, George Double
Photo credit: Lisa Wormsley


Chris Ingham's Rebop 
(The Other Palace. 15 November. EFG LJF. Review by Charlie Anderson)

Beginning with the Horace Silver classic Sister Sadie, this was an evening of pure Blue Note style hard bop, performed by some of Britain’s most talented hard bop devotees, fronted by pianist Chris Ingham.

With many of the arrangements from Ingham’s long-term associate, altoist Kevin Flanagan, this tight-knit ensemble also performed some of the less obvious tunes from the Blue Note repertoire, such as Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas and Donald Byrd’s Ghana. Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil gave Kevin Flanagan a chance to illustrate both his fluency on the alto sax and his hard-swinging bebop abilities.

The first set ended with a double bill of classic 1960s Herbie Hancock, with two contrasting pieces: his beautiful and complex Dolphin Dance and his simple and catchy Cantaloupe Island. Both tunes were a great illustration of Ingham’s attention to detail, duplicating Herbie’s piano voicings as well as his light touch.

The second set began immediately with the familiar call-and-response phrase of Bobby Timmons’ Moanin’, made famous by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, allowing trumpeter Paul Higgs to let rip with a bluesy and swinging solo.

The ‘odd one out’ for this Blue Note tribute was Cedar Walton’s Bolivia, from his Eastern Rebellion album, released on the Timeless label in 1976, which, as Chris Ingham explained, was a hard bop classic recorded at a time when many jazz musicians had moved on to more popular styles of music.  This tune fitted in perfectly with the latin-influenced hard bop repertoire with the signature tight arrangement of the original with fast-fingered work from bassist Robert Rickenberg.

Under-rated composer and pianist Duke Pearson’s Jeannine provided an opportunity for one of the most memorable solos of the night from Kevin Flanagan, zipping through the chord changes in a style reminiscent of Cannonball Adderley.

Donald Byrd’s Ghana, from his 1960 Blue Note album Byrd in Flight, served as an excellent feature for expressive drummer George Double and included an outstanding solo from tenor saxophonist Colin Watling.

Ingham’s Rebop ended with Joe Henderson’s rarely performed original Mamacita, giving solid bassist Robert Rickenberg another chance to shine.

Rather than playing the more obvious classics (such as The Sidewinder or Song For My Father) the focus was more on the musicians’ favourites such as Hank Mobley’s This I Dig of You and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. What came across most was that the band enjoyed re-creating the sound of these classic recordings and connecting to the tunes through their own solos.

Bandleader Chris Ingham lightened the mood throughout the evening with his dry humour, but also excelled at propelling the band and getting the best out of a group of outstanding musicians.

Ensemble 
Chris Ingham, piano
Kevin Flanagan, alto sax
Paul Higgs, trumpet
Colin Watling, tenor sax
Robert Rickenberg, double bass
George Double, drums

Set Lists

1st Set

Sister Sadie (Horace Silver)
Una Mas (Kenny Dorham)
Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)
This I Dig of You (Hank Mobley)
Dolphin Dance (Herbie Hancock)
Cantaloupe Island (Herbie Hancock)

2nd Set

Moanin’ (Bobby Timmons)
Bolivia (Cedar Walton)
Jeannine (Duke Pearson)
Ghana (Donald Byrd)
Mamacita (Joe Henderson)

Encore: Finger Poppin’ (Horace Silver)

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REVIEW: Elliot Galvin Trio at Pizza Express Dean Street (2017 EFG LJF)

Elliot Galvin Trio
L-R: Tom McCredie, Elliot Galvin, Corrie Dick


Elliot Galvin Trio
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 16 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Mike Collins)

A quietly ringing, high pitched note, insinuated itself into the hushed atmosphere at the beginning of Elliot Galvin’s set at Pizza Express Jazz Club. As was to happen often, it wasn’t immediately obvious where the sound was coming from. On this occasion it was Corrie Dick, gently rubbing the rim of a small metal bowl place on his snare drum. Spacious chiming chords from the piano circled the note and a slightly unexpected, pastoral ambience settled, an extended prelude to a stealthily infectious, dancing groove, with Galvin using a synth sound in his left hand to complement Tom McCredie’s propulsive bass hook. Unexpected was a theme of the set.

That first tune, New Model Army, was followed by Lobster Cracking which seemed to pack all the possible variants of unexpected into one piece. Dense, helter-skelter percussive sections on the piano switched suddenly to stomping, rocky riffs, then stopped in mid-stomp and switched back to the helter-skelter. For all the air of wild spontaneity, the trio moved from one to the other without blinking. This was carefully constructed music, as well as being riotously performed.

Galvin’s trio was voted European Jazz Artist of the year in 2014 just as they released their first album. A third is due in January, The Influencing Machine, from which much of the material we were hearing came. On this showing, it should further establish them as a formidable presence on the European scene. There’s Galvin’s writing. The moods, textures, grab-you-by-the-throat maelstroms, other worldly sounds and, dammit, get up and dance grooves, are woven together into seamless, sometimes white knuckle, rides. And then there’s the playing.

Galvin can make the piano do anything for him and it always seems to have q quirky twist or kink in it. JJ had an irresistible funky pulse over which a spiraling, acerbic, melody unfurled before a blistering, frenetic work out from Galvin. Scurrying runs, punctuated by fierce percussive episodes with the judicious use of an elbow. Bees, Dogs and Flies was all elegant counterpoint and traces of melody, but twisted by the careful placement of paper on the piano strings. It would have been easy to miss Corrie Dick’s part in all this. The whole performance seemed to float on the presence of his drums, often telepathically anticipating some switch back turn in a solo passage or providing a pin drop coda to a piece.

This was an absorbing gig; arresting music demanding attention and exhilarating playing.

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INTERVIEW: Bugge Wesseltoft (Rohey at Rich Mix - 19 Nov - 2017 EFG LJF)

Bugge Wesseltoft
Photo credit: CF Wesenberg

Norwegian band Rohey who record for the Jazzland label will present their powerful and energetic nu-soul music at Rich Mix on Saturday 18 November 2017. Jazzland label owner and creative pianist BUGGE WESSELTOFT talks about Rohey, the Jazzland label 20th anniversary and about his new album Everybody Loves Angels (ACT).  Interview by Tomasz Furmanek:

Tomasz Furmanek: Rohey are possibly unfamiliar to LondonJazz News readers. Please tell us about them.

Bugge Wesseltoft: Rohey are a very talented and hard working young group, we are super happy to have them on Jazzland label, they seem to be extremely successful wherever they go! Their music could be described as, I guess, a kind of neo-soul, and sometimes they remind me, in a way, of the early Beady Belle, so it might be something that could be interesting for Beady Belle’s fans too...

TF: Where do they come from?

BW: I believe they come from all over Norway, and even from Sweden. They all met up in Trondheim, where they studied jazz. It was my colleague Sten who booked them, and I think it’s their exceptional talent and exciting music combined with hard work and real focus on music that made us wanting to sign them. They do have a very fresh and lovely energy and it’s interesting to see how they interpret soul music in the 21st century.

TF: Jazzland recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, was there a special anniversary album released?

BW: I guess that both Jazzland20: 1996-2016 and the 20th anniversary edition of my record New Conception of Jazz were the anniversary albums. We also had quite a few very nice anniversary concerts. My initial idea, back then, was to release my own album and to do it well. At that time, there weren’t really any labels releasing the type of music I was playing. Then, after a while, other people started sending me demos, like Beate Lech, for example. She sent me a demo with her music, I liked it, and we decided to work with that... That’s how it started. We are so happy that we are still around and that what we do still seem to be relevant for the audiences!

TF: Within those 20 years Jazzland documented many of your collaborations with exceptional artist, like Sidsel Endresen for example...Would you say something about this very unique singer?

BW: She is unique, in my opinion she is one of the best living vocalists in the world. The quality of her voice in so unique, she’s just a fantastic singer – when you hear her sing a straight melody too! It blew my mind, how strong she is and how exceptionally well she could do it! She always looked for her own voice and her own energy, and I think she definitely found it! She’s a great performer too! And that’s what she teaches younger singers, to find their own level of energy, because if you try to be someone else, you will never be anything really. You just have to work with who you are! We worked together so many times, I think we are very good friends, and we still play together like every other year...

TF: Please tell us about your newest album on ACT Music Everybody Loves Angels.

BW: This album is a direct descendant of a twenty year old Christmas album It’s Snowing on My Piano which I recorded back in 1997, and which was without doubt my best selling and most popular album so far. It feels good to do a “follow up album” twenty years later – time really flies... Everybody Loves Angels is not a Christmas album but a collection of popular songs I grew up with since childhood, interpreted in the same very ambient and minimalistic way as was on the Christmas album. It was recorded on the beautiful Lofoten islands, north of Norway, and I hope that album captures and brings out the nature of the place and our care for its beauty.

Concert: Rohey + Bigyuki + Butcher Brown + DJ Harrison @ LJF 2017
Saturday 18 November 2017, 8:00pm LONDON Rich Mix  

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REVIEW: Becca Stevens at Ronnie Scott's (2017 EFG LJF)

Becca Stevens
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved


Becca Stevens
(Ronnie Scott's, 15 November 2017, first of 2-night residency. EFG LJF 2017. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Singer-songwriter Becca Stevens has a warm, engaging presence which drew the crowd on-side from the start as she announced that she'd invited some of her favourite musicians to join her and that the audience should approach the gig 'like you're in the living room with me!' adding later '… and we're just hanging out.'

She set the scene perfectly for a richly textured evening, two sets of songs, anecdotes and chats to the audience, dropping the formal barriers, joined by her long-time percussionist Jordan Perlson ('best drummer on the planet!'), down-at-roots songsmith Oli Rockberger on keyboards, and co-opted, on bass, guitarist Alicyn Yaffee, like Stevens, Brooklyn-based, whose fretboard-work, recalling that of Emily Remler, Stevens has admired for years.

Although she can turn herself formidably to the jazz songbook, as on Chris Tordini's Midnight Sun album (Newvelle), Stevens didn't dip in to the jazz canon at all, showing just how flexible musicians and audiences can be - even at Ronnie's! She started off singing solo and playing traditional 4-string ukelele (later she'd employ a 10-string model), setting out her stall with the title track of her new album, Regina, with a folk-tinged tale of loss, a void left by a relationship and more.

Stevens has a beautifully nuanced vocal style, a delicate yet strongly assured delivery rooted in an open, broad, range which is very much her own, with the mildest of echoes of one of her heroines, Joni Mitchell, that also carries through to her guitar work, and with whose Help Me she encored.

She covered tracks spanning her four albums and showcased songs by her guests. Canyon Dust had her ukelele shine with the poise of a dulcimer, Rockeberger and Perlson throwing in subtle taps and twists in support. I asked, which she's also recorded with Snarky Puppy, introduced Yaffee, adding fluid, powerful bass foundations. Tillery was the opportunity to open the doors further, as she explained how crucial the poetry of Jane Tyson Clement had been to shaping the song after a spell of songwriter's block, and whose poems she continues to set to her music.

Clements' descendants were in the house - a son, daughter-in-law and great granddaughter - and she also would connect with Yaffees relatives, and Rockberger's parents, making it not only a family atmosphere but a true family affair.

Rockberger's Don't Forget Me had an unforgetteble streak running through it. Riven with thoughtful melancholy, hints of Simon and Garfunkel, it cut through as a vocal duet, with the soulful, call-and-response repetition of the lyric leavened sweetly by a fleetingly bright piano lick. Yaffee's My Word - 'I fell in love with this song', said Stevens - got its second ever airing with Stevens adding harmonies on its poignant pathway.

Stevens brought on cellist Laura Armstrong with Ella Hohnen Ford, 'who's become like a sister to me', who took the lead vocal on the old Irish song Wild Mountain Thyme, in an arrangement flushed with atmospheric space, and then Troy Miller, producer of Regina and drummer with Laura Mvula, adding further pzazz, to duet on piano on the reflective Both Still Here which she said had taken a few years to complete with sketches stored on voice memos. The darker side of her lyrics, never that far from the surface, took centre stage on Ophelia, developed out of a fascination with Shakspeare - 'His dreams, as back as ink …'

A greatly enjoyable evening - resolutely from the heart and to warm the heart.

LINKS: 2014 Q and A with Becca Stevens
2016 live review

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REVIEW: Zara McFarlane at Rich Mix (2017 EFG LJF)

"No mere reproduction of album tracks, but proper jazz"
Zara McFarlane at Rich Mix
Photo by Peter Jones


Zara McFarlane
(Rich Mix, 15 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Peter Jones)


It’s time we had a new National Anthem, something that more truly reflects this country’s fractious state of mind. I nominate Zara McFarlane’s Fussin’ and Fightin’. Apart from the relevance of the lyrics, it’s just such a great song, although we had to wait until nearly the end of this richly satisfying gig before she played it.

McFarlane’s compositions draw on the musical legacy of the Caribbean, as well as the jazz tradition. This evening was devoted to tunes culled from her recent Arise album. She had always promised to play the gig with a ten-piece band. And sure enough, it was a big, bold sound from some very fine players, most of them alarmingly young - in jazz years, at least.

Zara sings with seemingly effortless power and accuracy, and on the album her vocal harmonies are integral to these songs; so one major issue to resolve beforehand was how to approximate the recorded sound of her own multi-tracked voice. In the end she used two backing singers – Baby Sol and Keisher Downie - who, despite a couple of hesitant moments, threw themselves into the performance with such enthusiasm that their presence lifted the whole event. They were in fine exuberant form from the start, with Nora Dean’s Peace Begins Within and McFarlane’s Pride, and one of the many pleasing elements of the gig was the way the three voices blended, as if there were three Zaras.

Pride also featured a fine, mature tenor solo from young Kaidi Akinnibi. Standing next to him was trombonist Rosie Turton, who turned in terrific solos on Freedom Chain and Silhouette.

This was no mere reproduction of album tracks, but proper jazz: whilst McFarlane cued the band throughout with great authority and humour, she allowed them plenty of freedom to improvise. On Stoke the Fire, for example, Shirley Tetteh unleashed a fiery, passionate guitar solo that ignited the audience. And there were dynamics: on the Congos’ gorgeous Fisherman, one of two covers on the new album, the singers were backed only by Pete Eckford’s congas and Max Luthert’s arco double bass; similarly, on Allies and Enemies the singers had only Tetteh behind them. But for the rest of the night the groove was rock solid, thanks to Luthert and drummer Sam Jones.

It all ended with McFarlane’s unforgettable version of Police and Thieves, bolstered by a sweeping piano solo from Peter Edwards, and then Max Roach’s All Africa.

Earlier, audience cockles had been warmed by support act Thabo, who showed what could be done with nothing more than a fine soulful voice, a good pianist, a handful of nice songs, and a plus-size personality full of warmth and charisma.

LINKS: Interview with Zara McFarlane
CD Review of Arise

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REVIEW: Dee Byrne's Entropi at Pizza Express Dean Street(2017 EFG LJF)


Dee Byrne's Entropi
Photo credit: Carl Hyde


Dee Byrne's Entropi
(Pizza Express, 15 November, EFG LJF 2017. Review by Peter Slavid)


The very phrase “Lunchtime Jazz” can conjure up an image of something gentle, conventional and smooth. However, the large crowd gathered at the Pizza Express for this free lunchtime gig clearly knew better. Dee Byrne's Entropi is anything but smooth and conventional. It is in fact sharp, spiky and very exciting.

Byrne is an increasingly influential figure in the London jazz world having (with Cath Roberts), set up Lume, an organisation dedicated to experimental music, which has spawned a number of interesting bands as well as lots of gigs, a festival, a record label and a national tour.

Musically Byrne is a powerful improvising saxophonist, and a composer of interesting melodies, often with titles influenced by her interest in space and the cosmos. Sometimes there's a slightly spacey feel to the tunes too, but there's also a good share of dissonance and of free improvisation. Perhaps hyperspacey is a better description.

The majority of the music came from Entropi's recent second album Moment Frozen The tunes manage to mix ferocious collective improvisation with some catchy hooks, and even some lyrical improvising.

Trumpeter Andre Canniere has a growing reputation in his own right and his interplay with Byrne is the signature sound of this band. The set is powerfully driven along by drummer Matt Fisher and hyperactive bassist Olie Brice. Rebecca Nash on piano and keyboards plays a crucial part in holding it all together and is perfectly capable of standing up for herself in the collective sections.

This band has been together now for several years and their enjoyment at playing together comes through in their interactions, and communicates itself to the audience. A great way to have lunch.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on mixcloud.com/ukjazz and on thejazz.co.uk

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REVIEW: Naima at Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club (2017 EFG LJF)

Naima at Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club
L-R:Enrique Ruiz, Oscar Cuchillo, Luis Torregrosa
Photo credit: Ina Irens
Naima
(Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club. 12 November 2017.  EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)

It has been said (by me at least) that if you scratch a nursery rhyme you'll find a murder ballad underneath. Within the sweetest confection there is an aching darkness.

Spanish trio Naima’s fourth album Bye was released on Cuneiform last year. The liner notes state that the album was “composed at one of the most difficult moments which, unfortunately, all of us have to go through: the two biggest losses which a son, a father, and a mother can have.” The group’s history, like that of Spain itself, is a history of sadness and struggle. The cryptic dedication in the album, their personal challenges and personnel changes and the slow pace of recognition since 2004, these things burn in their music. They’re from Valencia. The word itself means “strength” or “valour”.

Naima’s music has a plangent yearning sentiment with a hard edge. Their typical dynamic is a strong but sweetly sad Jobimesque melodic piano line with rumbling darkness underneath, propelled by pianist Enrique Ruiz’s smoky Rachmaninovian romantic chords, Oscar Cuchillo’s muscular bass playing and drummer Luis Torregrosa‘s beats from dance and rock, with degrees of electronic ornamentation.

The trio played two nights at the London Jazz Festival: Saturday at experimental arts hub Iklectik, and Sunday at the brand new Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club, a beguiling basement hideaway where their darkly Scandi-esque electroacoustic sound went down so well the band said they’d like to come back and play a whole week there.

Naima would suit those who find the Bad Plus too clever-clever, or people who like Radiohead but find Thom Yorke too whiny. Their instrumental repertoire includes versions of the late beloved Elliot Smith’s Can’t Make a Sound, and the drum and bass stomp of Animal Chin by Jaga Jazzist, the acclaimed Scandinavian nu-jazz outfit whose style of catchy cinematic jazz is a clear influence. Naima opened their second set with Ana by the Pixies, the aching perfection of its melody underpinned by unsettling chords.

As composer Ryuichi Sakamoto said, a perfect melody is one where you feel you know it already, and then it throws you off. This is the mainstay of Naima’s melodic writing as well: precisely chipped, strong but vulnerable. The group is exploring new directions with a new bass player at an interesting point in their journey. “This is a really experimental one,” said drummer Luis Torregrosa, “I hope you don’t get embarrassed.” It started with bloopy electronic sounds, settling into another of the group’s stately piano melodies but with more non-chordal machine-like noise and disturbance, giving it a slightly more earnest and tormented feel to the album tracks, though not radically dissimilar to Naima’s usual darkly filmic melodicism.

Album cornerstone Future Imperfect was introduced as “another path of Naima—we've got several.” In the intimate brick arches of the tiny club it sounded cavernous: dark and driving and discordant with heavy clattering jazz-industrial rhythms, the right hand scattering discordantly melodic notes. Their live performance draws the murder ballad out from the nursery rhyme, not anguished but emotionally wrought. All at once the tension released and cleared in a moving sequence of resolving chords, implying hopefulness rescued from the edge of despair.

“We will tell you why the record is called Bye,” he said, “but we want to have a party, not sad feelings right now. We are Naima. Flamenco band from Spain.”


 Tune: Al Llegar Sabríamos Tanto Como Ella (title is some head-achey Spanish meaning roughly 'on arrival, we would know as much as she does’ (ie. she has knowledge of something because she’s already there)

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

Naima’s Bye is released on Cuneiform Records (LINK)
Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club is at 23-25 New End, Hampstead NW3 1JD (WEBSITE)

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FEATURE/ INTERVIEW : Laura Perrudin (Barbican 19 November - 2017 EFG LJF)

Laura Perrudin
Photo Credit: Nicolas Joubard

"Making music is really close to painting. It’s about many things meeting at a one point...My goal is to take very personal elements and to transform them into universal material.”

Harpist/ singer / composer - and producer - LAURA PERRUDIN will be appearing on a Barbican Freestage on Sunday 19 November at 6pm. (2017 EFG LJF). Her new album, Poisons & Antidotes shows the mélange of musical and artistic influences that go to make her background. Feature/interview  by Emily Palmer:

Growing up in a musical family in Brittany, Laura Perrudin was exposed to a variety of genres from an early age: jazz; hip-hop; soul and electronica, for example. After hearing her parent’s recording of a harp festival in Belfast she decided the harp would be her instrument, a decision that hasn’t come without its difficulties. The vibration of the harp had what she describes as a ‘healthy effect’ on the speech difficulties she suffered from as a child and she went on to pursue a traditional musical education at a conservatoire. Alongside her studies she was composing and producing electronic music using her home studio. Perrudin says she has been curious about different textures since she was a child and the use of computers and technology is now something she recreates in her live performances with the help of her sound engineer Jérémy Rouault.

HARPS...

Frustrations with her instrument began to materialise when Perrudin realised it was impossible to recreate the jazz she was listening to on the Celtic or pedal harp due to their harmonic limitations. Undeterred, she started to research other instrumental systems on the harp, looking for a chromatic harp with a single row of strings that would produce a sound closer to a piano. In 2008, she met harp-marker Philippe Volant, who had already created something similar for harpist François Pernel, and asked him to build her one. Although this was a step in the right direction, difficulties still remained and in 2014 she asked Volant to make an electric version of the chromatic harp, which she has played ever since. Perrudin explains the process as both exciting and complicated, with her spending years ‘re-learning’ how to play each harp.

Perrudin sees her harp as both an orchestra and a drum kit, something which is very apparent in her live performances. It is chromatic and electronic, capable of melodic lines and rhythmic patterns as if it were a percussive instrument. The harp itself doesn’t have a natural sound, the sound it produces (which she describes as a mix between an electric guitar, an electric bass and a harp) depends on the amp and the effect pedals being used. This versatility is reflected in the music Perrudin creates. Her music has been described as ‘unclassifiable’, does she think this is a fair description?

MY MUSIC...

“I agree that my music is unclassifiable,” says Perrudin, “For me, I’m not trying to go into this or that aesthetic. I’m making music, I’m making sounds. I’m trying to paint sounds and in the same way trying to create songs. My perception of music is really linked to visual elements. For me making music is really close to painting. It’s about many things meeting at a one point.”

LYRICS...

Perrudin goes on to explain that lyrics are really important in her song-writing process and are inspired by a specific topic, emotion or something visual like movement or dance. Her compositions, in the majority of cases, begin with the lyrics. The sound then follows, shaped by the lyrics not by a yearning for a specific aesthetic. On her first album, Impressions, most of the lyrics were taken from existing poems which she then set to music. She refers to this process as a ‘school for writing’ at a time when she wasn’t confident in her own abilities. Now she says it is vital that the lyrics are her own.

“The music was easier for me to write. It’s something that I have been doing for so long, it’s much more natural and spontaneous for me. The lyrics are still a bit of a fight,” she laughs. “I have so many questions. I want my lyrics to be meaningful but they must also have a musicality in themselves. The music is less about questions, it’s more about doing, it’s more abstract.”



INFLUENCES

She touches again on the wide spectrum of influences behind her music, citing French composers like Ravel and Fauré and 20th century jazz as the main influences on the harmonic elements of her work, electronic music influencing the textures she experiments with and folk and world music shaping how she uses her voice. The influences are so vast, music from Ireland to Iran, it’s hard even for her to identify which influence is at play at certain points in her work.

SONGS...

We talk more about the use of her voice in her compositions. “The way I write my music now and what you see on stage, it’s all about songs,” Perrudin says. “It’s not instrumental music, the voice is very important.”

Until recently, singing had always been self-taught and the development of her voice was simultaneous to that of her playing, with both feeding off of each other. She spent time exploring how she could play the harp more instinctively and spontaneously – qualities that came naturally with her vocals - and searched for ways she could use her voice more like an instrument, as a source of different textures both harmonically and melodically. In her music, the harp and voice are of equal importance, she sees one as the extension of the other.

TRANSFORMING THE PERSONAL...

“My songs are all separate entities but are ultimately all part of the same picture, and that picture is me,” Perrudin says. “The songs from my latest album, Poisons & Antidotes, are really personal. They are inspired by my private life as well as the philosophical and political landscape. My goal is to take very personal elements and to transform them into universal material, to not make them my own anymore.”

How does it feel to have something so personal transformed in that way?

“It’s very liberating,” Perrudin says without hesitation. “That album for me was a process of self-healing, working on things that were a source of suffering and tension for me, like nightmares I had for example. The idea of taking something that is haunting you, to confront it and to transform it into something beautiful, it’s a way to take back the power.”




THE FUTURE

So, what does the future hold for Perrudin? She is currently working on new material for her third album, which will again focus on transforming perspectives, exploring subjects close to her heart but with the use of different characters and objects. On 19 November, she makes her London debut at the Barbican as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival 2017. What can the audience expect?

“I hope my performances destroy clichés, that audiences see me doing something they didn’t expect. Maybe it’s the subjects that my songs explore, maybe I can touch something deeper than they had imagined. I’d like less borders, I want to play more and more in different music worlds and for different kinds of audiences. For me personally, it’s not a good idea to adapt my own artistic position to meet audience expectations. I want to continue following how I feel and making music that remains instinctual, trusting that the audiences will respond spontaneously. And I have to accept that some people will be disappointed or will find my music strange or even scary. But I’m okay with that.”


LINKS: Barbican performance 19 November
Laura Perrudin's website
CD review -  Poisons and Antidotes

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REVIEW: Herbie Hancock at the Barbican (2017 EFG LJF)

His piano playing "one of the many beguiling textures"
Herbie Hancock at Bridgewater Hall
Photo credit: William Ellis

Herbie Hancock
(Barbican Centre, 13 November 2017. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Bentley)

Herbie Hancock’s music has come full circle. Multi-instrumentalist and record producer Terrace Martin recently said: "…it would be impossible to do anything I’ve ever done without a Herbie Hancock." (Martin produced Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 Grammy-winning To Pimp a Butterfly.) Hancock has repaid the compliment by getting Martin into his latest band, to take his own music in a new direction - the way Hancock’s mentor Miles Davis did with young musicians.

Martin opened with synth eddies and space age sounds, his vocals bringing to mind Hancock’s pioneering work with the vocoder in the '70s. A long funk groove was propelled from the front of the stage by James Genus on 5-string electric bass (the computer keeps correcting his name to ‘genius’, and quite rightly). At times he closed his eyes and focused totally on one note. Further back on stage, Hancock seemed to be leading from behind, especially as the piano seemed a little quiet in the mix, but soon I stopped expecting to hear the piano as the lead instrument. It became one of the many beguiling textures, bringing a sweetness to Martin’s acute-angled saxophone solo.

An exquisite solo piano interlude led us to a passing flutter of Butterfly. Hancock’s piano stayed serene, then spilled irrepressibly out into the centre of the storm created by Trevor Lawrence’s surprisingly emotive drumming. Lawrence brought an R&B feel to the gig, creating rhythmic suspense across the beat, then settling into the massive grooves of Chameleon.

In Actual Proof from 1974’s Thrust, Hancock swivelled between keyboard and piano, visually representing his two sides: the cool funkster and the lyrical, classically-influenced pianist. The piano solo built to an almost unbearable intensity, then fell into a Ligeti and Liszt-like shimmer of notes. The notes of Genus’ fine solo popped and danced among the big back beats. A sudden rush of cymbals in Lawrence’s solo was carefully framed by Hancock’s synth sounds.

Hancock has often worked with singers, from Joni Mitchell to Pink (on his Imagine Project). Tonight he sang through the vocoder himself on Come Running to Me (as he did on his 1978 Sunlight LP). The elegant melody soared in a tingling falsetto worthy of Dhafer Youssef, harmonised by Martin’s vocals. Hancock’s piano found a groove on one note then broke out into fresh, lovely phrases. He made percussive vocal noises like a jaw harp, before pushing a piano riff to its limits and over into wild runs. A darker piece with a knotty time signature had Hancock bending keyboard sounds like a Moog synth, swapping with his own piano and Martin’s distorted vocals, over a slow grungy beat. Hancock took up his great white keytar to trade free, biting licks with Martin’s hard-edged alto, pushing each other into more abstract improvisations.

They brought the audience back on to familiar ground with the opening chords of Cantaloupe Island, but with a hip-hop feel. Hancock’s piano was an amazing fusion of Romanticism and the old-school R&B that influenced him as a young man. Genus grinned with delight as the piano moved right away from the groove. A funky minor section slid into Watermelon Man, slinkily re-harmonized and re-grooved, unleashing Martin’s tempestuous alto solo. The encore was a reprised Chameleon, Hancock on keytar playing bluesy phrases with a taut timing that made you sit forward so as not to miss a single note. At 77, he was still leaping into the air like a rock guitarist, getting us all to sing along to his riffs.

The full house was on its feet, applauding not just this gig but the decades that Herbie Hancock has brought to jazz. He pushed attention away from himself, and on to his band. "I like to discover new rules so I can break them," he told the Guardian this week. His music is always moving forward, and this superb band is helping him do just that.

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REVIEW (2): Jazz before Jazz was Jazz at Two Temple Place (EFG LJF)

The magnificent staircase at Two Temple Place
Photo credit: Geoff Winston © 2017. All Rights Reserved  
Jazz before Jazz was Jazz
(Two Temple Place. 12 November 2017. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Daniel Bergsagel. Drawings and photographs by Geoff Winston)


(We had two writers, Geoff Winston and Dan Bergsagel, attending different parts of the day at Two Temple Place. Link to Geoff Winston's piece below)

Emphasis is more important than we think. Jazz before Jazz was Jazz could be tautology at its finest, but instead was a journey down the rabbit hole into the context that let jazz flourish into the pillar of modern music it is today. This was a long evening of seminars, concerts, and everything in between: layering knowledge, experiences and context to generate a heady atmosphere steeped in the early '20s.

Marcus Bonifanti
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved


The crowd entered to Marcus Bonfanti crying in the hall with his resonant blues voice and comfortable guitar style. But it was Dr Peter Shaw set the scholastic tone of the evening, inviting people to gather in the salon for a lecture on the birth of jazz in Britain via the early 1900s ragtime, and the demise of Music Hall on the way. Playing wax cylinder snippets and early shellac recordings there was a tangible excitement as he ploughed through a life's work in a short half-an-hour, covering the rise and fall of Mark Sheridan and Harry Champion and how they slipped from the music hall Victorian themes of food/drink/work/sex/mother-in-laws to the US and ragtime of Scott Joplin. Andrew Oliver played and provided commentary on Gottschalk pieces as the development of rags from classical influences, and Alex Bishop took us on a whirlwind tour of the development of the guitar in to the instrument of Django Reinhardt's day, with unexpected insights in to the internal structure of a guitar, and it's influence on tone.

The underlying theme of the short seminars and helpfully descriptive musicians' contributions was that jazz formed out of the melting pot of the 19th/20th century southern US - Joplin Parnell did a beautiful job of taking people through the pre-jazz story through selected records and brief explanations. The political and social context left New Orleans and around as a crossroads of African, Caribbean, European and American culture, and ragtime and dixie formed from the working songs and blues. This spread to the formation of the 'jazz guitar', developing the middle-eastern Oud into the guitar picking up styles and changes across the European Mediterranean. What was interesting in Two Temple Place was the nuanced view on how jazz affected the British music scene – as a cultural shock to the Edwardian system, cemented in place through the circumstances of WWI.

The scholarly atmosphere was partly imbued by the venue itself. Two Temple Place was built as a neo-Gothic showpiece at the end of the 19th Century, and bestowed a sense of collegiate wonder on the crowd which saw jazz more as an oddity to be studied than a visceral thing. Built at the time of the birth of jazz, Two Temple Place very much embodied the establishment jazz was overthrowing, and the juxtaposition between the wood-panelled rooms, ornate ceilings and stained glass windows somehow suited the speak-easy cocktail bars and musical stages. The Victorian soundproofing struggled to contain the strains of opera and blues from ragtime analysis.

No evening in London covering the dawn of jazz could do better than having Kansas Smitty's House Band close proceedings. They'll be at the equally historic Shoreditch Town Hall next Saturday

LINK: Geoff Winston's review

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REVIEW (1): Jazz Before Jazz Was Jazz at Two Temple Place (2017 EFG LJF)

Kansas Smitty's House Band at Two Temple Place
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved


Jazz Before Jazz Was Jazz
(Two Temple Place, 12 November 2107. Review, drawings and photos by Geoff Winston)

(We had two writers, Geoff Winston and Dan Bergsagel, attending different parts of the day at Two Temple Place. Link to Dan Bergsagel's piece below)

Jazz Before Jazz Was Jazz was an ambitious roller-coaster ride through pre-jazz and early jazz by leading exponents of the repertoire with scholarly, erudite support, ostensibly an in-depth foretaste of the exhibition, Rhythm & Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain, which inaugurates the 2018 exhibition programme at Two Temple Place in January.

Two Temple Place, owned by the Bulldog Trust, a charitable foundation, is one of London's most amazing settings, an elaborate, architectural jewel built by Viscount Astor in the 1890s and one of the hidden treasures in the city's cultural landscape. For this venture they partnered with The Arts Society to promote this exploration, by curator Catherine Tackley and the Kansas Smitty's crew, of the emergence of jazz in the USA, charting its early impact in the UK in the forthcoming exposition, which also has Arts Council support.

I concentrated on the highly engaging live performances by young musicians who have taken the era to heart, investing the songs with fresh energy and broadening its appeal. Pianist Andrew Oliver, bluesman Marcus Bonifanti and the Kansas Smitty's House Band brought to life, with inspired interpretations, the Ragtime, Tango, Dixieland and Blues of the pre-war era, while mezzo soprano Lotte Betts-Dean offered a panoramic take on the classical and popular songs of the time.

The lecture programme is covered by Dan Bergsagel - which highlights the pitfalls of parallel programming in such an interesting area - you can't be in two places at once! (link below)

Andrew Oliver, a Londoner via Portland, Oregon, gave an extra lift to the heady brew of Cuban, Tango and Folk rhymes and rhythms which crossed over with Ragtime and Stride, his deft, lively fingerwork picking out familiar melodies. Eubie Blake, noted Oliver, was a key conduit between Ragtime, Jazz and Broadway and in Blake's technically demanding Sounds of Africa (also known as Charleston Rag) Oliver's left hand crossed with his right, one hand chased the other all over the keyboard, to deliver the goods.

Andrew Oliver at Two Temple Place
Drawing by Geoff Winston © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Oliver's virtuosity took in the masters. J Bernie Barbour - also a successful music publisher, whom, Oliver pointed out was, in 1919, the first African American musician to tour the US; the Brazilian, Ernesto Nazareth, doyen of the samba-like Brazilian Tango; Scott Joplin - he included Joplin's Original Rags of 1899 and the Magnetic Rag of 1914, composed, sadly, while dying from syphilis, also Nazareth's fate. Jelly Roll Morton was 'the best' in Oliver's view. Buddy Bolden's Blues was set down firm but not without its jaunty aspect, high-up runs cemented by solid left hand. The Pearls, slower in pace yet not without its fillips, was reputedly dedicated to a waitress to whom Morton had taken a shine.

Swing, spiked with harrumphing chords, bled in to the fin de siècle flow to evoke the atmosphere of the barrooms of the era - all that was missing was fog of the fumeurs and glistening snow outside the window!

Marcus Bonfanti, Crickelwood-based (as he told the audience) guitarist and vocalist steeped in the Blues, and whose playing also greeted attendees on arrival, brought additional authenticity to his earthy renditions and meticulously picked classic blues numbers with asides about the protagonists. Who better to trace its tracks in the often bumpy history of the blues and its relation to jazz?

Josh White, the first African American to trade risky lyrics on tour was represented by a hollerin' Jelly Jelly, and Bonfanti covered Blues hero Sonny Boy Williamson the First with a wicked take on a nursery rhyme (Sonny Boy adapted both Polly Put The Kettle On and Rub A Dub to his blues format). The Delta Blues of Leadbelly found its way through Midnight Special, also popularised by Jimmy Smith, and apparently not about the salvation brought about through religion but about a busload of hookers who were sent to a prison once a week! Big Bill Broonzy's Country Blues made its mark with a stirring version of C C Rider.

Lotte Betts-Dean at Two Temple Place
Photo credit: Geoff Winston © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Australian opera singer Lotte Betts-Dean with accompanist Joseph Havlat (piano) added a refreshing zing to the context with beautiful renditions of a range of songs which could be heard at the time when jazz pioneers were shaping the idiom. They took in Hugo Wolff, Wagner, Fauré, Grieg and Brahms from the classical side and Ives's Down East, Gershwin and Paolo Tosti whose ideas impacted on the evolution of jazz. There was wit and sparkle in Betts-Dean's delivery and even a spot of whistling!

Betts-Dean also read an apposite extract from an essay by Brad Mehldau which had (metaphorically) struck a chord with her on the fluidity of interpretation by musicians and audiences and the nature of jazz and improvisation.

Kansas Smitty's House Band, a self-styled 'group of jazz-addicted twenty-somethings who run their own bar', impressed with their irrepressible enthusiasm and musicianship in their first set. There wasn't a score in sight, yet they were faithful to the letter and spirit of each of the landmark songs they took on, kicking off with Washington Lee Swing and revisiting Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag and Morton's The Pearls. Adrian Cox shone on clarinet with razor sharp, fast flowing runs and beautiful tone. Completing the front line were Pete Horsfall on trumpet and Giacomo Smith, another refugee from across the water, on alto, trading melodies and solos that conveyed the immediacy and enjoyment ingrained in the genre.

Between numbers Catherine Tackley offered illuminating historical insight and the key comment that the 'music exists to be played live and danced to!' In other words, it wasn't designed for the staid concert hall, accounting for the polarised reception the first jazz bands received when they hit these shores in 1919, attracting over 2,000 dancers to the Hammersmith Palais, whom Tackley said, had to find a way to dance to this music. She also introduced the idea that improvisation grew out of the boredom of playing the same arrangements each night.

And talking of heady brews, the Kansas Smitty cocktail team ensured that there was a constant supply of Prohibition Era cocktails - including their highly refreshing Mississippi God-Dram!

LINK: Dan Bergsagel's review
The exhibition The Age of Jazz opens on 27 January 2018

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REVIEW: Karin Krog and John Surman at Pizza Express (2017 EFG LJF)

"Cohesive yet exciting": Karin Krog and John Surman
Robin Francis / Michael Valentine Studio

Karin Krog and John Surman 
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 13 November 2017. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Gail Tasker)

A duo comprising of voice and horn is a rare occurrence in jazz. Keeping up the pulse, having enough rhythmic movement, and creating a harmony is a tall order for two monophonic lines. Yet long-time collaborators Karin Krog and John Surman managed it well at Soho’s Pizza Express. Surman, who rarely plays in the UK and lives in Norway, played a variety of saxophones, a bass clarinet, an extraordinarily large recorder, and also accompanied expertly on piano. The Norwegian Krog also had extensive instrumentation: a synth, electronic effects, sound samples, and small percussive instruments. Together they performed a widely eclectic double-set of tunes, ranging from American Songbook standards to traditional Scandinavian folk songs, all interpreted with a unique textural twist.

Their dynamic was relaxed and comfortable. The pair have been performing and releasing albums together since the late seventies, and this aided their sensitivity and complete synchronicity with each other. As Krog sang bare, soulful lines in her deep voice, Surman switched between playing long, low notes, and flurries of arpeggios and ascending melodic patterns. There were times when he launched into solo improvisation, often on a blues chord progression, which drew whistles from the audience. There were also moments of humour, such as when Krog riffed on the word ‘potato’ for five minutes in a Norwegian folk song, with Sermon providing fast-moving, nonsensical runs on saxophone. Contrast was further found in their decision to sing a slow, emotive song about sailors who have died at sea, with Sermon noting on their shared background of having grown up by the coast.

With the variety of voices and possible soundscapes at hand, the performance was never boring as the pair jumped between instrumentation and song-styles after each piece. Each tune was often prefaced by a brief but pertinent introduction by either Krog or Surman, which lent a context and further interest to the music. In some cases, the sparsity of the sound palette gave a heightened intensity to the performance. Tunes like In a Sentimental Mood and God Bless the Child were moving, with Krog’s voice ringing out true and driving the words home. Their performance of an Indian classical music-influenced song, complete with sound sampled drones and Surman on recorder, was memorable and definitely different. Krog’s experimentation with distorting her voice was also impressive; at one point she used two microphones at the same time, giving an otherworldy, futuristic effect.

The event was indeed a rare one, with Surman rarely venturing to the UK, and their collaborative history resulted in a rather cohesive yet exciting performance which will stay in the memory for quite some time.

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REVIEW: Lauren Bush and Ian Shaw at Pizza Pheasantry (2017 EFG LJF)

Lauren Bush and Ian Shaw
Photo credit: Kat Pfeiffer

Lauren Bush/ Liam Dunachie and Ian Shaw 
(Pizza Pheasantry, 14 November 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

"The World Needs More Canada" was the strap-line for the #Canada150 celebrations this summer. I remember seeing the slogan emblazoned on merchandise - beach towels,  thermos mugs, that kind of thing. Lauren Bush's first outing of a delightful new show gave us a clue as to what "More Canada" might actually look like.

This was a fascinating and well-researched show. And yet it was not the kind of dry research that ends up as footnotes or risk registers, quite the opposite. Lauren Bush - who is an LJN contributor -  had unearthed such surreal gems as Montreal-born Alex Kramer's 1946 surreally gallinaceous hit for Louis Jordan Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens, and Alan Mills' bleakly, existentially comic Saskatchewan . Try the lyric: "Why we stay here no-one knows...We sit and gaze across the plains...".

Lauren Bush has an easy on-stage manner and presence and carries off such novelty songs with aplomb, and wins over the audience with ease. But that is just a beginning and the main purpose of this review must be to underline her versatility and range. For me real the real surprise came with the Gino Vanelli 1978 song I Just Wanna Stop, in which Bush left the jazz and scatting and novelty singing way behind, and seemed to walk effortlessly into the role of an incredibly persuasive and powerully voiced pop/soul singer.

Canada also means Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot, and this is where Ian Shaw's contribution came into its own. But Shaw is also a supporter of Lauren Bush - he produced her debut album - and believes in her. When she shone in a quietly intense, deeply thoughtful and communicative Both Sides Now, she justified that belief - and more.

The hushed tones of Both Sides Now were also a highly effective less-is-more moment for pianist Liam Dunachie, and the range of material that was covered in this programme is also a tribute to his stylistic adaptability. He is an astonishingly versatile musician.

This gig had a complex genesis. Ian Shaw's presence was embargoed from all publicity. Lauren Bush had been prevented from entering the UK a couple of weeks ago because of visa problems and was turned back to Italy after a twelve-hour ordeal at immigration. But all's well that ends well, and a deeply-felt duet version of Oscar Peterson's Hymn To Freedom ended the programme on a strong, confident, impassioned note.

I hope this show has more airings. It was just right for the Pheasantry but these are strong performers and it could easily work just as well in a bigger venue.

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NEWS: Entire ECM catalogue to be available on streaming services by 17 November 2017



Sebastian writes:

Give William Shakespeare the credit for this one. He foresaw in As You Like It that record labels who choose to "forswear the full stream of the world, and to live in a nook merely monastic" would eventually relent. Here is the full text of yesterday's Press Release from ECM:

"Press Release
ECM and Streaming

Over the past week we have begun the process of entering the world of streaming, and from November 17th, the full ECM catalogue will be available to subscribers to services including Apple Music, Amazon, Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz. This simultaneous launch across the platforms – facilitated by a new digital distribution agreement with Universal Music – invites listeners to explore the wide range of music recorded by our artists in the course of nearly five decades of independent production.

Although ECM’s preferred mediums remain the CD and LP, the first priority is that the music should be heard. The physical catalogue and the original authorship are the crucial references for us: the complete ECM album with its artistic signature, best possible sound quality, sequence and dramaturgy intact, telling its story from beginning to end.

In recent years, ECM and the musicians have had to face unauthorized streaming of recordings via video sharing websites, plus piracy, bootlegs, and a proliferation of illegal download sites. It was important to make the catalogue accessible within a framework where copyrights are respected.

ECM Press Office
Munich, November 14, 2017"

RELEASE ENDS

UPDATE: Press Release from Universal Music with quote from Clemens Trautmann of Deutsche Grammophon on 17 November

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REVIEW: Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya at the Royal Festival Hall (2017 EFG LJF)

Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya in Gateshead in 2010
Photo credit Mark Savage

Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya
(Royal Festival Hall, 14 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Leah Williams)

This concert was originally programmed as a rare opportunity to see The Jazz Epistles’ two iconic figures — trumpeter Hugh Masekela and pianist Abdullah Ibrahim — together on stage. The line-up sadly had to change due to Masekela’s ill health and, instead, Ibrahim alone performing alongside his sextet Ekaya (which means “homeland”) awaited a packed out auditorium at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall.

The great South African pianist, now aged 83, had decided that the show should go on, quite rightly still keen to celebrate the landmark music that he and Masekela made together. The Jazz Epistles’ one and only album, recorded in 1960, had only 500 copies pressed but went onto become perhaps the most important jazz album in South Africa and is still revered to this day. Its rich, innovative music brought together mainstream jazz and South African sounds against a backdrop of the turbulent sociopolitical times, inextricably entwined with the struggles and horrors of apartheid. Music and messages not to be forgotten.

As the evening began, Ibrahim walked on stage unaccompanied to begin playing alone. It was a beautifully poignant and understated opening piece, the layers of which unfolded gently as first cello and flute, and then drums and horns, joined the stage. A special opener for what promised the be a memorable concert.

However, the night took a slightly unexpected focus as it became progressively apparent that we’d be hearing a lot more from Ekaya than from Ibrahim himself. After his initial solo, there was an obvious lack of involvement from the star. Although he sat in the spotlight throughout and was obviously caught up in and involved with the music, he mainly just played to open and close the pieces with some sparse involvement in between.

Indeed, the band more than filled the gaps with some fantastic playing. For last minute stand-ins they were in fact rather standout. Particular note has to go to band leader Cleave Guyton who swapped between alto sax, flute and piccolo throughout the evening with equal virtuosity. The pieces moved gently and seamlessly one to the other, which allowed for a rich sonorific tapestry to be built up. The continuously mellow tones gave plenty of room for soloing but never really accelerated to the kind of up-tempo, rhythmic, celebratory tones one would perhaps expect of South African jazz. However, it did create a very atmospheric soundscape to get lost in.

Even though the lack of interruption was what allowed for this to happen, it was still a shame there was no real interaction with the audience. At no point were either band members or tracks introduced. Considering the required reprogramming of the evening, it would have been nice to hear from Ibrahim a little on which pieces hailed from the Jazz Epistles and which were Ekaya numbers (as it was advertised there’d be a little of both) for those of us not fully in the know.

Overall, it was still a very enjoyable concert, with Ibrahim’s brilliance evident in the little glimpses we were granted. However, it would have been nice to hear a bit more from the main man himself rather than feel as though he was a guest at an Ekaya show.

BAND

Abdullah Ibrahim - Piano
Lance Bryant - Tenor sax
Andrae Murchison - Trombone / trumpet
Marshall McDonald - Baritone sax
Will Terrill - Drums
Noah Jackson - Bass / cello
Cleave E. Guyton - Alto sax / flute / clarinet

This concert was part of the EFG Excellence series

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REVIEW: Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s (2017 EFG LJF)

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet in Rotterdam
Photo from artist's Facebook page/ permission pending


Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet,
Ronnie Scott’s, 13 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Jon Turney.


Full house abuzz on a Monday night at Ronnie’s for Mark Guiliana’s third visit with his Jazz (as opposed to electronic) Quartet. It’s a beautifully integrated band with most recent addition Fabian Almazan in particular displaying a vital connection with the leader’s drums.

In fact Almazan, already the fourth Cuban keyboard virtuoso to shine at this year’s LJF, is a revelation. He’s more akin to fellow new generation star David Virelles than Rubalcaba or Valdes, joining classical and free-jazz influences to a prodigious technique.

He’s also able to caress the simplest piano figures one moment, or build an adventurous, barnstorming, solo the next. It’s a quality the whole band share. This quartet are collective masters of dynamics, none more so than the complete modern drummer who brought them together. Guiliana can keep a deep groove going with the lightest of touches at an impossibly slow tempo, or let loose a solo that evokes every great drummer from Elvin Jones to Tony Williams to Roy Haynes.

Mainly, though, he’s working with the others, colouring their contributions from a percussive palette that draws on rock, dance beats and electronica as well as the jazz greats. There’s an enormous amount to appreciate in his live work, but a simple thing I notice is that his broader study allows him to draw on a huge vocabulary of unexpected accents, while always maintaining impeccable jazz time. That’s vital when his bandmates are building a solo, and energising all the time.

Tonight’s sets were mainly drawn from the quartet’s new CD, their second, and the first set emphasised the slower, light-touch side of the band. The four-note bass figure from Chris Morrissey that opens the title track, Jersey, falls into a spellbound silence in the club before Jason Rigby’s tenor sax joins in for a smoky, ruminative improvisation, Guiliana commenting with finger-taps on the skins. The even s-l-o-w-e-r September brings out Rigby’s Coltrane influence strongly, the theme sounding starkly against the backdrop of bowed bass and rippling piano.

The second set let loose more pyrotechnics, with dazzling playing, together and solo, from all four. The improvisational power on show here went well beyond what is captured on the CD, with long excursions from sax and piano, buoyed by rising tides of percussion. Guiliana’s own solo put me in mind of Max Roach as much as the influences he more often cites, building rudiments into a towering construction that had drummers to my left and right shaking their heads in wonder.

Then a return to reined-in playing again for the closer, Bowie’s Where Are We Now? Re-worked as a threnody for the composer. And a reminder that this band’s power is, if anything, more telling when veiled. There was a fine encore at the ready, but as on the recording this tune felt like the perfect way to end the arc of the set.

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REVIEW: Paolo Conte at the RFH (2017 EFG LJF)

Paolo Conte in Pontresina, Summer 2017
Photo credit: Henry Schulz/ Festival da Jazz St Moritz


Paolo Conte
(Royal Festival Hall, 13 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Peter Jones)


A gigantic star in Europe, practically unheard of by the mainstream audience here in the UK, Paolo Conte turned 80 this year. Wherever he goes – particularly in Italy and France, he draws multitudes of adoring fans like iron filings to a magnet. Even in London, there are more than enough of them to fill the Festival Hall.

For the uninitiated, Conte is a gravel-voiced singer, pianist and composer of popular music, or rather, of music that once sounded familiar in the UK, until perhaps the early '70s. It’s the sound of Southern and sometimes Eastern Europe, of Jacques Brel and Maurice Chevalier, of lonely bars, smoke-filled cabaret clubs and Buenos Aires dancehalls. Scott Walker was also entranced by this tragi-comic mélange; Tom Waits mined it for decades.

Conte brought with him a 10-piece band, all virtuosi, clad in evening dress. The two risers on either side of him contained, stage left, four woodwind players and a violinist, and right, three guitarists, a double bassist and a drummer. Between them they played an extravagant range of additional instruments, including a marimba the size of a double-decker bus – used on just one tune – plus, at various times, accordion, bassoon, clarinet, concertina and mandolin. There were no brass instruments, and virtually nothing electric apart from a quiet bit of keyboard and electric guitar. The range and combination of acoustic instruments, such as baritone sax, flute, violin and clarinet, created some extraordinarily rich and evocative textures.

The singer’s voice is a wonder, surely the result of smoking 50 a day for 50 years. Conte sounds like an old bear who’s wandered into a bar to wet his whistle after gargling with a bag of rivets, and then entertains you for the rest of the evening with tales of his numerous failed but beautiful love affairs. The lyrics (almost none of them in English) are often spoken rather than sung; lines are filled out with hmm hmm hmm hmm, or dup-ter-dup dup-ter-dup, boom je-boom boom, and so on; he emits other unexpected sounds, too, swishing with his mouth, or playing an invisible tuba, and the performance included the only unironic use of a kazoo I have ever seen.

There were songs of resignation and regret, there was solemn humour, a bit of theatrics, and the effect was wonderfully romantic and charming. Song intros were greeted with increasing rapture by the audience, and Conte was happy to sit there milking the applause, half-smiling, raising a hand and nodding benignly like the Pope.

Near the end, they played a fast western-type tune that was like a freight train careering down the track and colliding with a Balkan wedding party. An extraordinary evening – I’m not sure you’d call it jazz, but then again, I’m not sure what you’d call it at all. Whatever it was, it was terrific.

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NEWS: JazzUK (formerly Jazz Services) closes down



Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon reports on the demise of JazzUK.


The organisation which for 34 years acted as a promotional, grant-giving and information hub for jazz in the UK has finally had to throw in the towel.

A press release just issued by JazzUK chair, Dominic McGonigal, details the history of the organisation which was known for most of its life as Jazz Services and as such became an Arts Council of England National Portfolio Organisation in 2004, and - not mentioned in the release -  had that status withdrawn in 2014, following which it was run by Heulwen Philips, who sadly passed away earlier this year (tribute)

The release reads:

"JazzUK, formerly Jazz Services was, for 34 years, the voice of advocacy for Jazz in the UK. As an Arts Council of England National Portfolio Organisation, the charity targeted grant funding for touring, promoters and recording schemes since 2004 creating over 5,000 gigs, providing employment for over 15,000 musicians, and generating five times more money in revenue than grants it awarded.

"In a sector with many diverse and disparate organisations and individuals, Jazz Services was the only entity to provide authoritative comment based on objective analysis. A major Jazz Services campaign focused on issues such as the disproportionately low amount of arts funding Jazz receives when compared to other art forms – in 2018/19 opera will receive £57 million, classical music £19 million but jazz will get just £1.6 million despite the fact almost twice as many people attend- jazz concerts as classical concerts or opera.

"'...it is unlikely Jazz would receive the level of Arts Council funding it currently does were it not for the advocacy and work of Jazz Services,' said Lord Colwyn, Co-chair of APPJAG (All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group).

"Following the retirement of its long-serving Director, Chris Hodgkins, Jazz Services re-branded as JazzUK. Despite substantially diminished funds, JazzUK initiated the hugely successful #4Jazz festival in Coventry, substantially funded by corporate sponsorship matching Arts Council funding.

"Identifying the opportunity for more touring and international connections, JazzUK created a consortium of jazz musicians, promoters and agents, together with music industry bodies such as BASCA, PRS for Music and Musicians Union to promote British jazz at JazzAhead in Bremen, the foremost international forum for jazz, an unrivalled opportunity for the UK jazz scene to embrace International opportunities."


The press release continues:

“'Trustees are immensely proud of what Jazz Services, and latterly of what JazzUK has achieved, having excelled on every financial and artistic metric. However, securing funding that supports on-going operational costs for industry-wide activities that, for example, pay for salaries of suitably qualified and experienced people, has become increasingly difficult.  The cost of securing grants is now so high that Trustees of the charity were concerned whether ‘chasing grants’ was an appropriate use of charitable funds', said Chair Dominic McGonigal.

"Central to its work was the provision of information online.  The Jazz Services website was a unique and comprehensive resource covering everything from gig listings to advice for venues and promoters helping to increase jazz audiences. Its Online Music Business Resource helped musicians manage their careers with information and advice on finance, law, marketing, digital marketing, copyright tour organisation, and included information on visas, work permits, tax and advice on all the challenges that musicians face.

“'In a sense, our job has been done. As the jazz infrastructure has developed and the next generation of jazz musicians is coming through, it’s time now to ‘pass the baton on’. The JazzUK trustees are pleased to announce that the JazzUK reserves and assets, including the Online Music Business Resource, will be passed to MusicTank, a not-for-profit music industry information hub set up by the University of Westminster,' said Chairman Dominic McGonigal. 'We believe that with the resources available to MusicTank, a greater number of musicians, more educators and more promotors and venues will be able to benefit from JazzUK resources.'

"Jonathan Robinson, programme Director, MusicTank said: 'Having worked with Jazz Services to further raise the genre’s profile in public sector broadcasting, we are not only well aware of the issues affecting the genre, but also conscious of the great progress made by JazzUK and its forerunner, Jazz Services.  We are therefore delighted to be entrusted with JazzUK’s legacy, which aligns well with MusicTank’s overarching ethos of sharing information and know-how as openly as possible.  Watch this space.'"

The space to watch is MusicTank  

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REVIEW: Match & Fuse: Schnellertollermeier, Led Bib and WSP at Rich Mix (2017 EFG LJF)

WorldService Project

Photo from worldserviceproject.co.uk/

Match & Fuse: Schnellertollermeier and Led Bib plus World Service Project
Rich Mix, 12 November 2017. EFG LJF. Review by Dan Bergsagel) 

It's not unusual to see British military uniforms on Remembrance Sunday. One could almost say, Remembrance Sunday is THE day to see British military uniforms. So there is really no more fitting day for World Service Project - a quintet outfitted in military dress from many different era - to open the evening at Rich Mix for Match & Fuse's energetic rock/jazz LJF bonanza.

WSP are a high energy affair that go from zero to epic in three seconds. Nattily dressed in old military clothing their silly on-stage persona belies a more serious musical context, somewhere between Yes and Zappa. Dave Morecroft, the founder of Match & Fuse, held much of the attention of the audience with his nervous energy, political digressions and Gene Simmons-style tongue action on the keytar. But the combination of Raph Clarkson on trombone and Tim Ower on tenor, both busy distorting their sounds with an array of pedals while shredding away, provided the engaging power to the band.

Mr Giggles, WSP's horror-masked alter ego who stomps amongst the crowd and stalks the stage, gave way to the more subdued Schnellertollermeier. Or at least on the face of it more subdued. They are the definition of patience, building slowly from minimal melodies hypnotically growing into mesmerising all encompassing beats. Improvisation is not the order of the day with this trio, Manuel Troller leading from the front with neat riffs. It is hard to notice when they transition from controlled interplay to raucous rock and descending in to noise. When they started it felt like a calming intermission, but bass player Andi Schnellman's face said it all – this is intense and raw music, but all about slow progress: zero to epic in seven minutes.

Led Bib fall somewhere in between these two camps, flitting between high energy epic stomps and hypnotic sensitive progressions. As new stable mates of WSP at Rare Noise Records, their undefined genre is no surprise. They are rock, free jazz and introspective prog, and this heady mix comes together again on their new release Umbrella Weather. While the Led Bib back-line continue to power through, pinned on the endearing Mark Holub, it is still the two altos up front that provided that unique mystique. Pete Grogan and Chris Williams are playing two different instruments, but at times you'd be hard pushed to separate the instruments as they swap dominance and interweave melodies. This ponderous ambiguity coupled with the busy bass-lines from Liran Donin leave Led Bib sitting in a triumphant middle ground: going from zero to epic in a well-timed two minute stint to provide enough time to whet a jazzy appetite, but not too long to need a sit down to muster strength.

I last wrote about Match & Fuse in Autumn 2015 (HERE). Needless to say, since then much has changed; their cross-European collaborative goals have now become more important then ever. This evening was only a snippet of what M&F offers, a valuable reminder that London is a pulsating centre of contemporary jazz. But a centre that thrives off cross-pollination with Europe and beyond. However idiosyncratic and British some of this music might seem, it is deeply rooted in the music of our neighbours. I hope they keep it up.

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