CONFERENCE REPORT: Le réseau des diffuseurs de jazz in Paris

A positive tone:
Alain Loiseau from the French Culture Ministry (L)
and Philippe Ochem, Chair of AJC (R). 

A conference discussing how jazz is promulgated and supported in France coincided with one of the main events in the French domestic jazz scene, the annual meeting of AJC (Association Jazzé-Croisé), and their Jazz Migration showcase. These events are a curtain-raiser for the organisation’s 25th anniversary year in 2018. Sebastian attended the conference and writes:

There was an underlying positive tone at yesterday morning's session with six presentations and a summing-up (full details below). The final speaker of the morning was Alain Loiseau, responsible for music in the French Ministry of Culture. He went out of his way to stress that the revolution started by Culture Minister Jack Lang in the early 1980s was now complete and that jazz is now part of the “genetic inheritance” of the Ministry.

He said how impressed he had been by the morning's speakers and their evidence of working for the public good in several regions of France. A sectoral study is going to start shortly, and the people who are close to the politics of the scene that I spoke to yesterday were interpreting this as meaning that jazz would, more than likely, come out of the exercise with its status and funding enhanced.

There is an interesting parallel with the situation in Germany where the Culture Minister in the last government Monika Grütters also made persistently encouraging noises about the unique features of jazz in serving as a model fot the building of cohesion and demonstrating the habits of working together.

The Director of AJC, Antoine Bos, had two phrases which summed up extremely well this sense of a model to be followed. "We are looking here at a craft (artisanat) being practised by self-standing individuals for whom it is natural to build networks.” And later: “What these actors recognize in each other is a wish to work together.”

What the work of structures like AJC does is to ensure that these networks are about action (des réseaux d’action), and that over the long term, professionalism and professionalisation can be - and have been - increased by an organisation like AJC which provides consistent and coherent support for the national scene.

Philippe Ochem, who is Director of  Jazzdor in Strasbourg and in Berlin, and is also President of AJC, stressed repeatedly that such work can only be effective if it takes the long view rather than focussing on temporary fashion (otherwise known in some more short-sighted circles as “relevance”). He produced a telling phrase: “You don’t do young just because it’s young.”

Denis Le Bas and Airelle Besson of Festival Jazz sous les Pommiers..
with an apple symbolizing the sense of cultivating and making things grow.
There had been speakers from the Jazz Sous Les Pommiers Festival, director Denis Le Bas and Artist in Residence for the past three years Airelle Besson. The pair were speaking to the theme of "helping the jazz garden grow in rural areas". They were working their agricultural metaphors hard: irrigating, disseminating, etc, and even showing off an emblematic apple (the festival's title means 'jazz under the apple trees'). That said, they also gave several solid examples of work which they had done in schools, with the disabled and in the broader community. There were two speakers from Brest who talked about how the lack of a permanent venue had forced them to develop habits of collaboration and self-reliance.

The first pair of speakers had riffed on the theme of freedom. A social scientist and author, Alexandre Pierrepont talked about the freedom struggle, and effortlessly developed a quite overwhelming sense of his conceptual authority, whereas violinist Régis Huby quietly sketched a very different sense of what freedom was all about for him. It is about the personal, about artistic choices, about avoiding “cloisonnement” (compartmentalisation) and “the liberty of a performer to say what she or he wants to say”.

After a final, virtuoso, wide-ranging and rapid-fire expatiation from Pierrepont, the moderator Christiane Louis, from the Cité de la Musique who had hosted the event, suggested to Huby that perhaps..."the musician might like to be granted the last word?"

He thought about it for a moment. His response, mezzopiano, said all that needed to be said in just two words: “Ça va.” (I’m fine.)

LINK: Conference Programme and full list of speakers - in French

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CD REVIEW: Satoko Fujii - Peace



Satoko Fujii - Peace
(Libra Records: Libra 217-039 CD review by Nick Davies)

Each new orchestral album that pianist-composer Satoko Fujii produces goes further to deepen and refine large ensemble free jazz. The album Peace is her fifth with 15-strong member Orchestra Tokyo, and her 18th as a composer for big bands.

A tribute to late guitarist Kelly Churko, the recording features special guests: drummer, Peter Orins and trumpeter, Christian Pruvost. Together they create one of the most powerful and evocative of Fujii’s big band albums.

The album consists of four tracks, entitled 2014Jasper, Peace and Beguine Nummer Eins, running to a fairly reasonable hour in its entirety. Fujii has truly defined the concept of large ensemble free jazz in both her previous and current albums.

The tune 2014 (the longest, at 32 min 45 sec) starts with Pruvost’s breathy tone on the trumpet and Orins on the drums, followed by trombonist Yasuyuki Takahashi and tenor saxophonist Masaya Kimura. The energy level of the performance suddenly surges as the drums and trumpet work together before being joined by the rest of the ensemble. The baseline beat is very funky with an improvised brass section over the top - enjoyable and, at times, thought provoking.

This format is used across the album with one of the instruments leading into and finishing the track, and the full orchestra playing in between. For example, on Jasper, soprano saxophone soloist Sachi Hayasaka improvises a haunting Middle Eastern sounding rhythm and the orchestra follows on. At this point, the orchestra is in full flow and the music transports you to another time and place. The track ends with Hayasaka’s tempo similar to that of the start. This, in my opinion, is the standout number, thanks to the different contexts contained within: one song, many themes. Fujii’s ability to transform the listener’s imagery never fails to deliver: the Middle East at one point and, later, a British concert hall!

Overall, this is an impressive album, building soundscapes for the listener. All four tracks are particularly strong; the only disappointment was that the voyage of discovery comes to an end rather too soon however, it certainly whets the appetite for the next instalment!

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PREVIEW / INTERVIEW: Jacqui Hicks (Benefit Night for John Critchinson, 606 Club, 13 December)

Jacqui Hicks and John Critchinson

Pianist JOHN CRITCHINSON (universally, fondly known as Critch) has been an integral part of the London jazz scene for four decades. He worked with Ronnie Scott from 1979 to 1995, and at the club welcomed visitors such as George Coleman, James Moody, Joe Henderson and Chet Baker. He also had a trio with Dave Cliff & Alec Dankworth. Now in his 80s, he is not in the best of health, so musician friends have got together to put on this very special night as a tribute to one of the UK’s jazz greats. 

 The organisers are Art Themen and Mornington Lockett. Also appearing in support of this worthy cause will be Jacqui Hicks, Henry Lowther, Mark Nightingale, Dave Cliff, Gareth Williams, James Pearson, John Horler, Dave Green, Andy Cleyndert, Tim Wells, Spike Wells, Trevor Tomkins, Dave Barry and more. 

Vocalist Jacqui Hicks has worked with John since 2002, and discusses her musical partnership with the great pianist. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: When did you first hear Critch, and what were the circumstances?

Jacqui Hicks: It was probably with Ronnie Scott's quintet at the club, when I first moved to London about 30 years ago.

LJN: When did you first work with him, and what were the circumstances?

JH: We started doing duo gigs together about 20 years ago - I think Steve Rubie recommended me to him - and we hit it off straight away, both musically and socially, always good fun but very rewarding for me.

LJN: You made two albums with Critch - what's the story?

JH: Critch had been working quite a lot with The Ronnie Scott Legacy Band and when Pete King asked him to do another week at Ronnie's he said he fancied doing something different, so suggested we form a quartet with Dave Green and Tristan Mailliot. We did several successful weeks at the club and all agreed it would be great to record some of the songs we played there. It was quite a natural process and something we all wanted to do.

LJN: What distinctive about his playing?

JH: John is a very instinctive player, constantly listening, reacting and throwing different things in your direction which makes you do the same and keeps you on your toes. I always feel he accompanies me like he would a horn player, takes no prisoners. I love that.

LJN: And his melodic gift?

JH: He loves a good tune and I think his improvising reflects that. His sense of melody is second to none.

LJN: And other things that mark him out?

JH: I remember, on a duo gig years ago, someone asked us for I'm Afraid the Masquerade is Over. I didn't know it very well and Critch hadn't played it for years but we picked a key and decided to have a bash. As he played an intro he looked at me said: "This doesn't have a bridge, does it?" I laughed and said the bridge was the only bit I really knew! "Don't worry," he said, "I'll follow you!" And he did. Perfectly. A real life lesson on using your ears, the most important tool for being a musician. We've done it on every gig together since and recorded it on our first album. It might be quite a sad song but it always makes me smile.

LJN: He is also a popular and genuinely liked figure, right?

JH: He's a lovely, lovely man and very dear to me. He's always got a gag for you - no matter how rubbish it is - and he likes to inflict his repertoire on the audience! I've never done a single gig with him that has felt like work, just lots of fun with lots of laughs and always an education.

LJN: What did you learn either directly or indirectly from working with John that has served you best in your career?

JH: I've learnt so much from John, I'm not sure where to start. He's never been anything but encouraging, especially with regards to my arranging. A lot of the charts we've recorded have been mine and that's all due to Critch giving me the confidence to believe in my abilities. Through him I've been privileged to work with people like Art Themen, Bobby Wellins, Allan Ganley and, of course, Dave Green - always wonderful. Also, nobody is too old to be open to new ideas and there's no generation gap when you're playing great music.

LINKS: John Critchinson's website
John Critchinson Benefit Concert at the 606 Club

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INTERVIEW: Kit Downes (co-published with JazzAffine)

A packed house for Kit Downes' Sunday afternoon organ recital
at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin


This interview with KIT DOWNES,  for the German online magazine JazzAffine, caught him between two significant gigs at JazzFest Berlin 2017. On the evening before it he had appeared in Berlin-London Conversations at the A-Trane club, and on the day after it he would appear as solo organist at a Berlin landmark, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. We are pleased to co-publish it in English. Interview by Bettina Bohle:

Bettina Bohle: How do the two scenes––Berlin and London––compare?

Kit Downes: Berlin feels a little bit like a second home. Many English musicians have moved here recently, so links between here and London are becoming quite strong I think. I have friends in Berlin, musicians and non-musicians, so I'm here every couple of months. It’s such an interesting scene, there's always something new happening, new collaborations, people come up with really good ideas, I feel like the music is really exciting and contemporary.

I don't think about Berlin and London as being different scenes really, there is so much cross-talk between the two - I think of it as my friends and some of them happen to live in Berlin and some of them in London - all in one big scene.

BB: Richard Williams’ Berlin-London-conversations, looking from the outside, felt that it might end up a little bit stiff…

KD: It is forced though, by definition, and not in a negative way. That’s almost the point of it – you can have these scenes just running along side by side and all these people doing different things - but sometimes it is nice to get an outside influence like Richard saying “you guys all play together in different things but you’ve never done it together in this way”. It’s an interesting concept, and what’s great is that we got to pick who we played with, so we picked people that are our friends - natural collaborators. It felt like just a different grouping of a musical family in a way. We really enjoyed it. It’s important that it is described in a meaningful and honest way. I felt that this was the case here.

BB: You played pieces composed by all of you.

KD: Yes, it was very democratic. Everybody wrote something for it.

BB: And you met up before and rehearsed.

KD: A few times, yeah. We’d never done a gig together and it’s like nine new pieces of music that we’d never gigged before, we’d never tried this formation with the cello (no bass) and didn’t know what the sound would be like. Even my own music was new music to me so the whole set was quite a big ask. But that’s the fun challenge. If you’re gonna do these things where you come up with a concept and put people together, you should make it as meaningful and as exciting as you possibly can rather than just taking the easiest or most obvious option. All the tunes we wrote were all slightly different to each other, so it wasn't that we wrote a whole set that sat together as one statement, but that's the nature of the gig and you should embrace that. There is risk involved which I really like.

BB: Tell me about your solo programme on organ...

KD: I have an album of that coming out on ECM in January, which for me is very exciting, a boyhood-dream really. All the tunes came from improvisations, which I would then record and make sketches of, sometimes just the bare-bones,  and have that as a suggestion. Sometimes the piece is written around a selection of stops rather than a melody. So it's specific in different areas, it can be aesthetically or in content.

Organ was my first instrument, before I played the piano really. There are a lot of different ways I like to approach the organ. By its nature it's an accumulative instrument: when you want to play it loudly you have to pull out all the stops on top of each other. A lot of pieces use quite a lot of stops to get a fuller volume which is great to fill the room and for dramatic effects, but I like finding each individual stop and focussing on the sound of that stop, and zooming in on it and finding all the micro-variations of it and then abstracting all these different sounds, not really layering them on top of each other but putting them next to each other so you hear them up close.

Whenever I do a concert, especially on bigger organs I have to go a couple of days early, at least a day. I want to know the sound of each individual stop, so I have to find that out and then I write up a sheet for each tune that has the different stopping, and different events where I change those so it takes a little bit of work. Also, you have to learn where the sound comes from within the organ because it's such a big instrument - it's a completely different sound if the ranks of pipes are above your head or far up and ten feet to the right, the geography of it is important. If you're improvising you have to learn that before so you can instinctively play those things without being caught up in the logistics.

I did a couple of records on organs that are a little bit broken so there are all these different extended techniques that you could use.

BB: Extended techniques means you use the broken parts …

KD: They can often be ‘faults’, yeah. But also, with mechanical organs there are a few things, like if you pull a stop out a very small amount, it sends only a very small amount of air through the pipe so it doesn't reach pitch and often the sound splits into two notes, you can even get chords from it. You can manipulate the pitch as you're pulling it out, so it sounds like a pitch-bend. Again, if you hold down the note very gently, it only puts a small amount of air through the pipe. You can mess with a lot of tuning things that way.

The organs that you can really mess around with are often a little bit older, probably because they were built before everything got regulated and fixed down.

I remember playing an organ in East Anglia - this organ would just randomly play ciphers on all the different notes all the time - so it was like you were playing and the organ was playing itself, really creepy, but really cool, like a random generator.

BB: So you used that?

KT: Of course!

BB: What inspires you, musically?

KD: Lots of music, film, nature - really anything that feels explorative and transportative. I’m listening to Stian Westerhus’ most recent album, Amputation, a lot recently, I also saw some amazing music at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival last weekend. Something recent that I’ve been part of that I find inspiring is a small project that 20 of my friends run called This Is My Music which is like a monthly mixtape project: everyone writes and records a new tune every month and then we put it all on one long mixtape and we put it online. That starts in January and we do it for a year.

JazzAffine is a Berlin-based independent online magazine for jazz and improvised music based in Berlin. 

LINK: This interview, as it originally appeared in German at JazzAffine


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CD REVIEW: Subtropic Arkestra - The Reason Why Vol.3



Subtropic Arkestra - The Reason Why Vol. 3
(Headspin Recordings: Head 0242 CD review by Nick Davies)

The Reason Why Vol. 3 is the final album in a trilogy by the Subtropic Arkestra. The group did not want to become known as a ‘covers band’ and therefore decided to limit this offering to three records. Going forward, they plan on writing and releasing new material. Trumpeter Goran Kajfes states: “It has been an incredibly rewarding experience for the band’s sound and development, but now it's time to look forward and see what's next for the Subtropic Arkestra.”

As in the previous two volumes, the songs on this seven-track album are carefully selected and conveyed as the band’s own interpretation, not direct covers of the originals. Styles vary greatly, from French-influenced pieces to a score from Ethiopian keyboard player Hailu Mergia - a real eclectic mix!

Track one, the French sounding Ibakish Tarekigne, written by Mergia and reminiscent of 1960s' lounge music, is set up by the driving guitar of Robert Ostlund and taken forward by the brass section. It is an upbeat, funky piece and, although you still get that '60s feel, it has been updated to be inherently modern.

This theme continues throughout the album, fully delivering on obscurity, something only a real audio-head may have heard of. Le Monde Avait 5 Ans was originally released by French electronic musician, Bernard Fevre. Fevre, in 1977, features the synthesizer. The Subtropic Arkestra version sees Jesper Nodenstrom setting the rhythm on the keys, followed by Jesper Berthling on the bass. The bass drives the beat although the band cleverly uses loops to add emphasis and to bring the track up to date. This is not a copy of the original but a tribute to Fevre’s original work, cinematically enhanced by the use of modern technology.

The rest of the album follows a very similar pattern: eclectic rhythms transcribed and delivered in their own unique style. There is music from Panda Bear, an American experimental pop band, and Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou, a Benin-based orchestra. An exciting mix of modern and old, the common factor is that all the original tracks are not very well known. To say the album is an easy listen would be misleading as, in places, it is quite hard on the ear. What it is, however, is an offering that grows on the listener.

Overall, a great release of differing musical styles that may take a bit of getting used to but pure gold for avant-garde fans. It draws to a close this phase in the life of the Subtropic Arkestra. What comes next? Only time will tell if their original music is as good as their covers but I am sure it will be surprising and of a high standard.

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FESTIVAL REPORT: 2017 Jazztopad, Poland (Part Two)

Tomeka Reid
Photo credit: Slawek Przerwa

2017 Jazztopad Festival
(Wroclaw, Poland. 23 and 24 November. Report by Martin Longley)

Martin Longley continues his festival coverage, with the Tomeka Reid Quartet, and a first-time duo meeting from pianists Benoit Delbecq and Kris Davis…

It soon became clear that the Jazztopad festival enjoys skating along the barricades between organised composition and freedom improvisations, relishing the tensions between the two camps. On Thursday night, Chicagoan cellist Tomeka Reid united the approaches in the Red Hall, favouring tunes that frequently boasted a driving, nay swingin’, momentum, full of rootsy hooks and unison scurries, but nearly every one of these would be loaded with several strategically unshackled solos, where dynamics were subject to surprising alterations, before gracefully alighting back on the governing theme. Most of the solo swapping and galvanised melody parts came from the front-line of Reid and guitarist Mary Halvorson, the pair sharing a visible rapport in their conversations. These two are very different in their set-ups, with the cellist leader keeping it acoustic and ‘pure’, whilst the axe-woman is amplified, effects-loaded and prone to articulate pitch-shifts of the wavering mirage kind, sensitively controlled via a pair of wah-wah pedals. Meanwhile, bassist Jason Roebke and drummer Tomas Fujiwara had their own Chicago-New York dialogue operating, divided between structural bounce and individual abstraction, depending upon the section of the song.

Halvorson played the slurred and bendy blues, even using the occasional bottleneck, Reid replying with pizzicato time-slipping, then a New Orleans lilt developed, leading towards a cello-and-drums free-form introduction to the next number. All of the quartet members are interested in the percussive qualities of their instruments, with even Fujiwara searching out some less expected skin-tones. During a bass/drums improvisation, there’s an exciting moment where Fujiwara begins to unscrew the bolts that are holding the toms to his bass drum. Nearly all of the compositions were Reid originals, some well established, and a few being so new that they are not yet titled. The exception was her encore choice of sadly-departed violinist Billy Bang’s Billy’s Bounce, its bright and distinctive theme well-suited to the aura already shaped by Reid’s own numbers.

An hour before this spirited set, the veteran composer, saxophonist and flautist Charles Lloyd had been in conversation, upstairs in a foyer side-room. When asked about his soon-coming festival commission premiere, Lloyd was reticent to elaborate on its process and intention, not particularly due to caginess, but more perhaps because he wants the music to speak for itself. Lloyd’s ruminations were often rambling, or perhaps multi-avenued would be a more accurate term. Anyway, he usually arrived at the intended point, after taking multiple diversions. It was a jazz interview, of course! On the brink of being 80, Lloyd remains spiritual, natural, discerning, and a good spinner of amusing anecdotes.

Benoit Delbecq and Kris Davis
Photo credit: Slawek Przerwa

On Friday, also in the Red Hall, Kris Davis and Benoit Delbecq faced each across spooned grand pianos, both humans and instrument interiors well-prepared. These two had also been publicly interviewed an hour earlier, enlightening, interesting, humorous and each stressing the importance of spontaneity and sonic open-mindedness. They explained the unknown  ratios of compositions, and their improvisatory innards, revealing that in these works there is a significant degree of in-the-moment malleability.

Keeping things Chicagoan, one of the set’s best numbers was The Loop, one of Delbecq’s pieces, inspired by the occasion when he got lost within that city’s central circular hub, which shoots the rider out in spider-web directions. This dense excursion involved the heaviest piano preparations, Davis being liberal in her use of gaffa tape strips, resulting in some quite extreme ping-pong ball and woodblock insistence. Other pieces operated more along small parts of the pianos that hadn’t been prepared, but still shocking with sudden discoveries of an upturned gong patch, or a rattly branch shake (Delbecq enjoys collecting wood from around the world, somehow getting it all through customs). The twosome had a sharp way of communicating, holding up fingers or hands to prompt the introduction of a different section, a burst of coordinated action. Their digits (and minds) flashed together, dancing from frilly-cuffed romantic gesture to low-down rodent-scurrying escape.

There was an opening solo set by Theodosii Spassov, a Bulgarian kaval player. This is an end-blown flute that’s primarily associated with mountain shepherds, but he’s bringing it into the jazz and improvisation world. The set was unfortunately marred by his choice of heightened distortion, sounding artificial in seeking a raw-edged sound. His occasional vocal and handclapping additions weren’t so successful either, and at around 45 minutes, Spassov played a touch too long as an introductory act.

In similar fashion to a few of the players on the Tuesday and Wednesday, Spassov came across much more impressively during the jam session, not connected to his electronic gear, playing straight into a microphone, and leading the host Sundogs trio into a Balkan partying episode, where free-form reeds went to a wild wedding party. All of the Reid band members also joined the trio core at the jam session, saving their contributions for the late-hour climactic stages, with both Reid and Halvorson appearing at different stages, centrally placed in exciting improvisational surroundings. At Jazztopad, the jam sessions are closely linked to the main festival programme, and here exists a subjective universe where the Friday night partying crowd are quite happy to hear some hardcore improvising as part of their post-witching hour carouse.

LINK: Martin Longley's first report from 2017 Jazztopad

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NEWS: 2018 Grammy nominations in the Jazz Categories

Fred Hersch
Photo credit: : Martin Zeman


The nominees for the 60th Grammy Awards have just been announced. Awards cereony in New York 28 January 2018. The full list is HERE . 

These are the nominations in the five jazz categories. We note two nominations for Fred Hersch's Open Book (reviewed here) - H/T Ann Braithwaite. There are also jazz nmes in the Composing/ Arranging categories

Best Improvised Jazz Solo

• Can't Remember Why
Sara Caswell, soloist
Track from: Whispers On The Wind (Chuck Owen And The Jazz Surge)

• Dance Of Shiva
Billy Childs, soloist
Track from: Rebirth

• Whisper Not
Fred Hersch, soloist
Track from: Open Book

• Miles Beyond
John McLaughlin, soloist
Track from: Live @ Ronnie Scott's (John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension)

• Ilimba
Chris Potter, soloist
Track from: The Dreamer Is The Dream

Best Jazz Vocal Album

• The Journey
The Baylor Project

• A Social Call
Jazzmeia Horn

• Bad Ass And Blind
Raul Midón

• Porter Plays Porter
Randy Porter Trio With Nancy King

• Dreams And Daggers
Cécile McLorin Salvant

Best Jazz Instrumental Album

• Uptown, Downtown
Bill Charlap Trio

• Rebirth
Billy Childs

• Project Freedom
Joey DeFrancesco & The People

• Open Book
Fred Hersch

• The Dreamer Is The Dream
Chris Potter

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

• MONK'estra Vol. 2
John Beasley

• Jigsaw
Alan Ferber Big Band

• Bringin' It
Christian McBride Big Band

• Homecoming
Vince Mendoza & WDR Big Band Cologne

• Whispers On The Wind
Chuck Owen And The Jazz Surge

Best Latin Jazz Album

• Hybrido - From Rio To Wayne Shorter
Antonio Adolfo

• Oddara
Jane Bunnett & Maqueque

• Outra Coisa - The Music Of Moacir Santos
Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves

• Típico
Miguel Zenón

• Jazz Tango
Pablo Ziegler Trio

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REVIEW: Ivo Neame Quartet at Lauderdale House

L-R: Ivo Neame, Tom Farmer, George Crowley, Martin France
Photo credit: Maya Sapone-Neame
Ivo Neame Quartet
(Lauderdale House. 23 November 2017. Review by Brian Blain)

A few days after playing to a full house in the Barbican's second venue with our biggest piano trio 'export', Phronesis, here was pianist/composer Ivo Neame on Thursday last, with his own Quartet in front of 50-60 people at North London's Lauderdale House; welcome to the world of suburban jazz promotion.

I couldn't help thinking of one of Alan Barnes's dry intros when he spoke of "the words that strike fear in the hearts of jazz audiences everywhere: 'and now we'd like to play an original composition'". Because that is what Neame does; write original, accessible, sometimes beautifully melodic, or truly exciting material for his terrific band to play as well as being a brilliant piano improviser himself. Not only that, on this date he also brought along a Mellotron for subtle, and occasionally, ghostly carpets of sound under George Crowley's fabulous tenor playing, and a Vintage (brand name) rig, reinvented to reproduce those glorious edgy or 'bottley' sounds of the Fender Rhodes keyboard, the classic sound of the '70s.

The set up of the band was perfect, with immense care to get the balance right in what is an an extremely 'live' room. There is great variety in Neame's music so getting the sound right, from the hectic excitement of a section of the opener Charmed Offensive to a pensive piano introduction to one of the themes of the second set, is vital. The rhythm section of bassist Tom Farmer and drummer Martin France coped with every tempo change superbly, a couple of the themes hinting at changes from regular swing but not in that old ten to ten way, to a suggestion of a three pulse: like shifting gears with no apparent change.

Farmer could easily be overlooked for there was none of that hectic scampering around the fingerboard that is invariably a crowd-pleaser: just good solid time and a lovely warm bass sound striking up a great relationship with Martin France depping for James Maddren and, for me, one of the giants of contemporary drum techniques in the UK. This isn't a tenor and rhythm band; the music demands much more interplay than that phrase implies. Nevertheless in George Crowley - my personal discovery of the year - Neame has acquired a commanding presence with a voice that is lyrical, quirky urgent and gripping,as the material requires.

The end of the show was a masterstroke, a lovely progression to a calming mood over a gently funky backbeat number, Vegetarian, with Farmer going into what I can only think of as a 'grumbly' bass line almost breaking up the beat in contrast to those thunderthumbs figures of yore. It took the crowd a few seconds to react but when they did the applause was warm and generous with even the old school doubters caught up in a great performance. Icing on the cake? An encore on one of Coltrane's favourites, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. Ronnie Scott loved playing it and I bet he would have loved this team doing it too.

Brian Blain is involved with the jazz programming at Lauderdale House

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PREVIEW: 2017 Jazz Migration Showcase bands at la Dynamo Pantin

The Jazz Migration bands and AJC representatives,
 guests of Open Jazz on France-Musique
Back Row:  Antonin Tri Hoang, Rafaelle Rinaudo, Armel Dupas, Nicolas and Remy Fox
Front Row: Tiphanie Moreau (AJC), Alex Dutilh, Antoine Bos (AJC)
Photo: Emmanuelle Lacaze

Sebastian writes: 

Tonight is a significant event in the French jazz calendar, the showcase of the four bands which have been selected for the Jazz Migration scheme. I will be attending and reporting on it.

The bands have the support of the organization AJC (Association Jazzé Croisé - it's a play on the expression chassé-croisé )and are promoted widely across the network of clubs and festivals which are members of AJC. Last year's members were able to perform a total of 79 concerts in France and abroad, thanks to the scheme, and the target this year is 80 to 90 concerts.

All four bands were the guests of Alex Dutilh on his drivetime show on French national radio last night (photo above). The entire show is availble to listen HERE.The programme elicits the fact that all of the groups have a connection back to courses the Paris Conservatoire (CNSMD)

The four bands (the links here all have sound clips) are :

Armel Dupas Trio 

In pianist Armel Dupas' piano trio, both the bassist and the drummer work with synthesizers.

Ikui Doki 

One of the most unusual instrumental combinations in jazz. Sophie Bernado is a bassoonist, Hugues Mayot plays saxophones and clarinets, and  Rafaëlle Rinaudo is a harpist. They started with the sound world of Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis - and developed from there.

Antonin Tri-Hoang's Novembre 

Versatile saxophonist Antonin Tri-Hoang, a former member of the Orchestre National de Jazz and a key participant in Eve Risser's White Desert Orchestra has ventured into the UK with a group led by Jim Hart (feature). His quartet with piano/bass/ drums. His group has been in existence for seven years. "It is music with secrets," Tri-Hoang explained on the radio. There is inspiration from free jazz, Paul Bley, and the group also does patchwork compositions based on combining elements btought by the different menbers of the group. 

-nOx. 3 & Linda Olah :

The only one of the four groups with a vocalist. Swedish singer Linda Olah also works with electronics. The members of nOx.3 are Rémi Fox, saxophones and effects, Matthieu Naulleau, piano, moog, effects, Nicolas Fox, drums et electronic pads.


LINK: Jazz Migration website

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CD REVIEW: Aki Rissanen – Another North



Aki Rissanen – Another North
(Edition Records EDN1101 – CD review by Mark McKergow)

Finnish pianist Aki Rissanen’s second album shows an interesting and very listenable collection of contemporary trio-based music taking in jazz, groove and the classical concert hall.

Following on from his strong 2016 debut Amorandom (winning the Emma Prize in Finland for Best Jazz Album), Rissanen has stuck with the same line-up of musicians for this recording. While perhaps a little less overtly jazz-influenced, this is an ambitious album featuring seven tracks which span many influences. The opening Blind Desert launches into an insistent pattern from the trio, with the drumming of Teppo Mäkynen standing out immediately, solid and always fidgeting and changing in the 2010’s style. We are not immediately aware of a head-solos-head format with the tunes turning and shifting as they evolve.

The influence of contemporary music runs through the album, most clearly appearing in a reworking of Gyorgy Ligeti’s piano work Etude 5: Arc-en-ciel. Ligeti wrote the piece having been influenced by the music of piano genius Bill Evans, and it offers fertile ground for the trio. The opening lines are taken by Antti Lötjönen’s double bass, and the rhythm section add tonal colour and texture as Rissanen takes on the piano part. Here, as in the rest of the album, the piano tone seems to take on an unusually important role, worth listening to carefully and reflectively. I was reminded of the tonality of fellow Finn Iiro Rantala’s solo piano takes on John Lennon, Working Class Hero, which I reviewed here in 2015 – this is another album for a late night listen.

Elsewhere, the trio show they are more than capable of tackling more groove-based music. New Life and Other Beginnings starts with a nicely thumping bass and drums passage before Rissanen comes along with some rich chordal textures, before the groove dissolves into a more improvised passage with a lot of communication between the players. Before The Aftermath is laden with anticipation, military style snare drumming helping the piece to build before an explosion of rolling phrases takes over. The most overtly ‘jazzy’ of the tracks is the closing Hubble Bubble, the only track credited to all three musician as composers, which hits a rolling one-in-a-bar stride with some fine playing all round.

There is a lot of music to enjoy here, from a lot of different angles. It will be interesting to see how it all translates into a live context. Fortunately, London listeners can do just this at the trio’s Pizza Express gig on Tuesday 28 November 2017.

LINK: Aki Rissanen at Pizza Express 28 November

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REVIEW: Pedro Martins' Spider's Egg at the 50th SWR NEWJazz Meeting in Karlsruhe

Smiles at the end of the 50th SWR New Jazz Meeting.
L-R: Genevieve Artadi, Frederico Heliodoro, Sebastian Gille,
Antonio Loureiro, Pedro Martins, David Binney


Pedro Martins' Spider’s Egg
(Tollhaus Karlsruhe. 26 November 2017. 50th SWR New Jazz Meeting. Review and iPhone snaps by Sebastian Scotney)

Last night's concert at the Tollhaus in Karlsruhe marked an important landmark. The SWR New Jazz Meeting is among the many institutions still in existence - JazzFest Berlin and the world's biggest selling jazz book das JazzBuch - that are the direct legacy of that energetic and massively influential defender and builder of jazz in Germany, Joachim Ernst Berendt (1922-2000). The Meeting started as the SWF Free Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden in 1966 and this was its 50th edition.

As Günther Huesmann, Berendt's successor in the role of Head of the Jazzredaktion of the broadcaser SWR, emphasized in his introductory remarks, the guiding principle is still very much the same. To invite a group of artists and to give them the time and space - and a studio - to develop new ideas. It was, and is to this day a "celebration of creative musical dialogue."

From the legacy of the SWR New Jazz Meeting:
Norma Winstone, Karin Krog and Don Cherry
at the SWF Free Jazz Meeting Baden Baden 1970
Photo: SWR
The picture above shows just one event from the early history of the meeting. The featured artist for this 2017 golden jubilee was Brasilia-born guitarist Pedro Martins. Martins is in fact the first South American artist to be given the role of curating SWR's annual event. Berendt had a problematic and shifting attitude towards Brazilian jazz, and the twists and turns of his self-justifying footwork are gleefully tracked by Andrew Wright Hurley in a whole chapter in his recent book The Return of Jazz. There may indeed be some poetic justice in giving Martins this role: Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell even lived in Baden-Baden for five years (which might look like a leg-pull, but it's true!), and yet he was never asked to do it.

Martins really is something special. The mandolin player Hamilton de Holanda has described him as “the kind of guy who was born ready.” He won the jazz guitar competition at the 2015 Montreux Jazz Festival, where his playing caught the ears of jury members John McLaughlin and Kurt Rosenwinkel. And he has continued to work with Rosenwinkel.

On a first hearing, Pedro Martins' playing is mesmerising. Whether he is just gently rocking back and forth between a pair of chords as the main harmony instrument in the band, or flying off into fluent and clearly thought-out soloing, or leading an insanely complex Hermeto-ish melodic line on guitar, or even providing backing vocals, there is nothing which ever jars or aggresses or feels other than completely natural in his playing. And there seems to be nothing which stands in his way expressively or technically. He has that insouciant way of getting into a zone where ideas flow. It is about beauty, it's a breeze, and I found it addictive.

And at those moments when the music has veered off into electronic abstraction (sphärisch is the German adjective du jour for this kind of thing), and when more band members seem to be clicking computer mice and tweaking effects pedals and samplers than actually playing instruments, where the pulse and harmonic anchors have been ditched, and where those of us with jazz ears are sitting and waiting to be rescued... Martins can sketch in a pulse or a chord and it instantly carries all the hope of a ship seen on the horizon,  he knows how to draw the listener back in with something particularly beautiful and shaped. In the encore, just for a change, there was no rescue, and with broad conspiratorial smiles all round, the band called our bluff and left us marooned.

For this week-long project, Martins was given free rein to invite the musicians he wanted, and the choice of a wise head from an older generation alongside him, alto saxophonist David Binney, was to prove an inspired one. The doyen of UK jazz critics John Fordham wrote of a new CD by Binney earlier this year, the he "has rarely sounded more at home, either with his materials or his partners" That was the sense he carried in this context playing with younger musicians. He stood his ground in his blue LA Dodgers cap, and delivered cascade after cascade of coherent and masterful soloing. And would then bring things to a stop. And then start again. It was commanding, and totally involving for the listener.

Genevieve Artadi (foreground)

A key member of this sextet assembled for the project was the singer / keyboard player Genevieve Artadi, who is one half of the band Knower. She has worked with David Binney before (video of Edge of the Cliff) and her powerful imprint as vocalist and composer was increasingly felt through the set. She has that capacity to do the impossibly complex and make it sound natural that seemed to be the hallmark of this band. For UK listeners it is similar to the role Brigitte Beraha has in Solstice, another composers' band not unlike this sextet, but with piano.

I had read in an Interview Artadi's remark  about Knower that "we never know how people are going to interpret anything we do. We’re so deep in it, we feel almost isolated while we’re working," but that belies the fact that she is no wallflower: Artadi has considerable stage presence and can shape lyrics in a totally convincing way which stays in the mind.

I also enjoyed the contribution of saxophonist Sebastian Gille, originally from Sachsen-Anhalt and now based in Cologne. What I found the most convincing was his working selflessly as a melodic unit in tricky lines with David Binney, reinforcing the contours of a wayward composition, and owning it in the way that players like Mark Turner and Chris Cheek do so well. When soloing, his way of showing all the effort and the work that he was putting in, all the energy and strain he was expending, stood in sharp contrast to the effortless, frictionless way the Brazilians around him were playing. But hey, opposites and dichotomies are good too.

The exremely classy young rhythm pairing of bassist Frederico Heliodoro and drummer/vocalist Antonio Loureiro added to the sense of making the new and complex sound natural, again with that air of being able to contribute to any texture, any feel, no matter how intricate.


"For the 50th time! SWR New Jazz Meeting on tour" 


What will stay in the mind from this significant celebration, however, is that Martins - and Binney and Artadi and the others -  have etched another significant chapter in the history of the SWR New Jazz Meeting.

And if the name of Pedro Martins is not yet familiar, simply give him time: born June 1993, he is just 24 years old.


SET LIST

Fuki’s Tune (Binney)
Better Now (Heliodoro)
Edge of the Cliff (Artadi)
Mad Man ( Artadi / Loureira)
Unsaid (Martins / Artadi)
Winter (Gille)
Waiting for the Blast (Artadi / Louis Cole)
Verdade (Martins)
For Us (Artadi)
Nowhere to Go (Artadi)
Encore: Now What (Artadi)

BAND - Pedro Martins' Spider’s Egg

Pedro Martins, guitar, vox
Genevieve Artadi, vox, keyboards
David Binney, alto saxophone
Sebastian Gille, tenor saxophone
Frederico Heliodoro, bass
Antonio Loureiro, drums


LINKS: More about the 2017 SWR Jazz meeting on the SWR website
The influence of Berendt. Conference report by Sebastian for Radio Jazz Research e.V.

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NEWS/PREVIEW: Southport Jazz Festival (1-4 February 2018) - tickets now on sale

Andrew McCormack's Graviton
Artists' publicity photo
Peter Bacon finds a reason to be cheerful in the gloom of early February.

There’s a jazz light that gleams off the Irish Sea in the dark days of winter - it’s the reflection from The Royal Clifton Hotel & Spa, which for four days is the home of the Southport Jazz Festival’s Jazz On A Winter’s Weekend. The 2018 edition is the 14th and runs from Thursday to Sunday, 1-4 February.

Appearing will be: pianist Andrew McCormack and his band Graviton, the Phil Meadows Quartet, guitarist Mike Walker, keyboardist Gwilym Simcock and percussionist Asaf Sirkis, singer and pianist Ian Shaw, the Alan Barnes Octet, The Weave and Ben Crosland’s Ray Davies Songbook (2016 INTERVIEW). These are just a few of the more than 70 musicians across 12 gigs over three-and-a-half days.

Director Neil Hughes, at the helm for his second festival, said: “Once again, I have incorporated the flavours that Southport has become well known for: International artists, challenging and contemporary Jazz, some Big Band music and of course the best in British with a lovely North West smattering.”

Tricia Evy
Artist's publicity photo
The 14th Southport festival’s special international visitor will be French Caribbean singer Tricia Evy. She grew up in Guadeloupe, settled in Paris in 2006 and her first album was released in 2010. Evy will be singing in English, French and Creole, and her repertoire includes original material and traditional beguine
.
Big Band fans get two bands: Swingtime Big Band featuring ex-Syd Lawrence vocalist Matt Ford, and the Leeds College Big Band. A slice of jazz history is provided in Blakey’s Boys, with Ronnie Scott’s programmer Paul Pace as narrator, and Matt Telfer and Andy Davies in the frontline of a band telling the Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ story.

Ian Shaw will not only be entertaining the smart set at the Gala Dinner but also helping those singers who want to get their cords dirty at a vocal workshop.

For full details of the 14th Southport Jazz Festival, see the website link below. There are full weekend, day and individual concert tickets, all now on sale.

LINK: Southport Jazz Festival

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CD REVIEW: Leo Richardson Quartet - The Chase


Leo Richardson Quartet - The Chase
(Ubuntu Music UBU0005. CD Review by Jon Carvell)


One could be forgiven for thinking that sharp-suited saxophonist Leo Richardson had just emerged from a hard bop Tardis, having paid a visit to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in the late 1950s.

On his debut album The Chase, Richardson dishes up eight original compositions which draw upon the legacy of Blue Note icons such as Horace Silver and Joe Henderson. Richardson’s burnished tone and the conviction in his phrasing evoke Go-era Dexter Gordon, and on the lightning-paced title track he’s joined by Quentin Collins (trumpet) who offers shades of Clifford Brown. But whilst there’s a rich seam of history running through the disc, the end result is refreshingly contemporary and feels more like one live set than a series of takes.

The first solo on opener Blues for Joe goes to bassist Mark Lewandowski, who provides an elegantly improvised musical hors d'oeuvre before Richardson enters proceedings with a cascade of energy and his sax set to flambé. Elisha’s Song is a slow-burning ballad which could have been recorded at Ronnie Scott’s at 1am, whilst Mambo is fiery and forthright. Elsewhere, Demon E wouldn’t be out of place on a reissue of Herbie Hancock’s Takin’ Off, and Mr Skid concludes proceedings with a grand tenor sax duel featuring guest Alan Skidmore.

There is an intuitive understanding and dynamism throughout which connects Richardson with Lewandowski and his rhythm section co-conspirators Rick Simpson (piano) and Ed Richardson (drums). And it’s this which really sets Richardson’s Quartet apart: an insatiable appetite for hard-grooving swing.

TOUR DATES

Nov 26 – The Talking Heads, Southampton
Nov 30 – Matt & Phred's, Manchester
Dec 1 – Opus 4 Jazz Club, Darlington
Dec 2 – Zeffirellis, Ambleside
Dec 4 – Kenilworth Jazz Club
Dec 5 – North Wales Jazz
Dec 7 – The Blue Boar, Poole
Dec 12 – Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London

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REVIEW: Ruby Rushton at Ronnie Scott's

Ruby Rushton in an earlier line-up
Photo from band's Bandamp site
Ruby Rushton
(Ronnie Scott’s. 23 November 2017. Review by Gail Tasker)

It’s rare to hear a flautist at Ronnie’s. There has been Yusef Lateef, who incidentally had a tune dedicated to him in Thursday’s set with Prayer for Yusef. Roland Kirk, whose raw tone was felt in Edward Cawthorne’s playing. Hermeto Pascoal performed there a few years ago, and the band matched him in terms of the variety of percussion on display. In fact, the up-and-coming South London-based band Ruby Rushton showcased a variety of influences, ranging from hip hop beats to funk to spiritual modal jazz.

The beret-clad Cawthorne led the band on flute, synthesizer, and tenor saxophone. Nick Walters was also on the front line, playing trumpet and percussion. Aiden Sheperd played grand and electric piano, whilst Fergus Ireland was on electric and double bass. The rhythm section also included Eddie Hick on kit and Joe Deenmamode on congas and percussion. Together, the musicians produced a hugely varied palette of sound which went far beyond the means of a typical sextet.

The band played a mixture of songs from their most recent albums, Trudi’s Songbook Vol. One and Two, dedicated to Cawthorne’s mother who also happened to be in the audience. In fact, there was a somewhat homely vibe: a cheer went up when Cawthorne announced the tune Tilsbury Truckin', a homage to his home town. It was their first time at the venue as a band, and yet they couldn’t have been more relaxed. Although they have been growing in popularity this past year, Ruby Rushton have been around for a while, having recorded their debut quartet album in 2011. They have gone from strength to strength, signed to the hip London-based label 22a.

An interesting feature was the mix of sounds and styles that the musicians could produce in a single song. A tune might begin with a collective free improvisation, before settling into a funk-riddled bass groove. The piece Elephant and Castle had a Latin edge, complete with a clave rhythm, joy-inducing melodic riffs, and fast-moving flute solos. In contrast, Prayer for Yusef was much more spiritual in mood. Ireland maintained the same three-note riff throughout the long piece with an intensity and high level of engagement that was astounding.

Different textures were also explored with the use of electronics. Cawthorne’s saxophone playing had effects, as did Walters’ trumpet. The sounds ranged from a whole band dynamic in the free sections, to a quite but intense duet between bass and flute. At one point, there was highly developed rhythmic interplay between at least three cowbells. The musicians were not inhibited, with Cawthorne embracing extended techniques in his flute improvisation, including singing whilst playing in the style of '60s prog rock and Herbie Mann. Sheperd also didn’t hold back, muting the piano strings and playing in a more percussive manner at certain points.

The band injected a sense of life and animation into the Ronnie’s atmosphere, and I’m sure that some audience members were in agreement as Cawthorne joked that their set should have been triple-billed.

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REVIEWS: Cambridge Jazz Festival (London Vocal Project + Stan Tracey's Hexad + Waaju)

Pete Churchill directing the combined forces of the Cambridge
Jazz Festival Choir and the London Vocal Project 

London Vocal Project + Stan Tracey's Hexad + Waaju
(Cambridge Jazz Festival. 17 and 18 November 2018. Report by Sebastian Scotney, with additional  reports from Matt Pannell and Frank Griffith)

Well hasn't it grown? The Cambridge Jazz Festival has come a remarkably long way in its three years since it started in its current form. The organizers also seem to have reached out well and drawn in audiences to the events. The two events I went to were close to full, and quite a few gigs sold out well in advance - Soft Machine and Zoe Rahman for example, and the gig that Matt Pannell went to was at maximum capacity with people being turned away.

The behind-the scenes organisation involving a substantial volunteer base to help out at the venues is impressive too. It is building towards the New Gen Jazz event at the Corn Exchange this Sunday 26 November which is one of the most substantial showcases of younger generation jazz in one place anywhere in the UK this year. (preview)

The London Vocal Project's concert at the Baptist Church showed the progression, the growth and the way projects invited to the festival can start to really put down local roots. At the first Festival they were more or less a drop-in, but the LVP way of working has made a home in Cambridge, because LVP member Andi Hopgood teaches at Anglia Ruskin University and was approached by the festival to be part of their community outreach work and bring the LVP vibe to Cambridge by forming a choir to perform at the festival. So the opening set of the LVP’s concert was given by them: the Cambridge Jazz Festival Choir involves all ages, there were disabled members, and what was remarkable was to see the professional singers and soloists go back into the role of steering the much larger ship of local group and giving them a confident foundation.

Chris Eldred on piano was hugely impressive, there was a solo spot for saxophonist/singer Pat Bamber who also proved a charismatic and effective soloist on both voice and instrument in Rolling Around Heaven All Day. A definite high point was Sophie Smith as soloist in Steve Swallow's City of Dallas. There is an ease, a confidence and a deep passion about the way LVP go about things, and it is a joy to witness.

Festival Director Ros Russill is an instinctive bridge-builder and the decision to invite Cadenza, Cambridge University's ’s "premier a capella group”, was a way to bring people together, for town to invite gown, and to see what happened. Cadenza, in existence since 1997, have the benefit of skilled and versatile singer/arranger/composer Harry Castle as a current member of the group His technically demanding arrangements provided a  a contrast with the LVP, in which Pete Churchill's method makes things grow organically - and seemingly effortlessly.  Cadenza are able to dazzle technically. They could easily have scarpered after their performance, but they chose to stick around to watch and listen to LVP - and that was good to see.

And how do jazz festival attenders deal with the fact that the Baptists operate a strict no-alcohol policy? The words Picturehouse and bar, arranged into a phrase provided an ideal solution.


Waaju
Photo credit: Trevor Lee

Waaju, Hot Numbers Coffee. 17 November. By Matt Pannell


Half an hour before the band was due to begin and it was standing room only - usually a good sign.  Drummer Ben Brown’s original compositions are inspired by the sounds of West Africa and the grooves, languid and sweaty, flowed right from the start, drums hardwired into Joe Downard's electric bass and Ernesto Marichales’ percussion. Guitar patterns were carefully woven by Tal Janes, and with no jostling for room in the front line of the band, Ronan Perrett made the most of the space. His alto saxophone solos, well-rooted in the rhythm and feel of every song, were exuberant. He blows life and colour through the instrument, which is no bad thing in November.
Sean Payne, Alex Ridout and Nadim Teimoori with (partly hidden) Andy Cleyndert. 
Clark Tracey's quintet in the boomy acoustic of the Unitarian Church in Emmanuel Road presented an experienced rhythm trio of Steve Melling, Andy Cleyndert and Clark, and three rising stars of British jazz, Nadim Teimoori on tenor saxophone, Alex Ridout on trumpet and Sean Payne on alto saxophone. They played tunes by Stan Tracey, mostly from the 1970s and 80s. It is heartening to witness Clark Tracey becoming the Art Blakey of British jazz, and placing these young musicians in the context of a working band and seeing them prosper and grow. 

Frank Griffith writes: One of the unique and memorable aspects of Stan Tracey's Hexad programme is the fluid and seamless intermingling of ensemble writing and improvisation throughout the entire piece. This makes a welcome change from brief statements of the melody at the beginning and end with an overabundance of improvisation in between. This offers the listener a better balance of the two and a sometimes unpredictable journey through what could be a conventional sequence of events.

Cambridge Jazz Festival continues until 26 November

LINK: Cambridge Jazz Festival

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CD REVIEW: Stacey Kent - I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions



Stacey Kent - I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions
(Okeh 88985462882. CD Review by Peter Jones)

As cool and sophisticated as crushed ice in a cocktail, as wispy and untroubled as a passing cloud, singer Stacey Kent has carved out a distinctive persona for herself, and stuck with it. Here, she presents the 14th album she has made under her own name - 15th if you count The Lyric, released under the name of husband Jim Tomlinson. I Know I Dream was recorded with an orchestra arranged by Tommy Laurence and conducted by Tomlinson, who also produced. And who wouldn’t love to be able to write sleeve notes as follows: “Thanks to my lyricist Kazuo Ishiguro…” (she mentions a couple of other people as well, but still…)

Throughout all 12 tracks the mood never varies. The dreamy strings are perfect for a voice so light and honeyed that it sounds as if it’s been strained through muslin and perfumed with roses tended by nuns. Kent is almost hallucinogenically calm. You feel that the roof could cave in, and she would merely offer up a seraphic smile and carry on sipping her sencha green tea.

And I have to say, I love it. There is a place for music like this, and it isn’t just when you want music to soothe your hangover, or to take the place of Valium. True, it works as better as background than foreground. But you don’t always want the vibe to be angsty or shouty. Example: Make It Up – "I love you and you love me… with you it’s all so easy... so let’s just keep on flying with our heads up in the clouds." Hear hear! Let’s forget Trump and Kim Jong-Un, let’s forget Brexit and Boris Johnson. As Ishiguro puts it in The Changing Lights: "We laughed about the hopelessness of so many people’s lives…" More champagne, please, waiter.

Some of the song lyrics are in French or Portuguese, and my linguistic skills aren’t quite up to translating them. But they sound just as serene as the ones in English. Particular favourites include the openers Jobim’s Double Rainbow and Photograph. The title track is great too.

If I had one tiny reservation, it would be about the sheer prolixity of some of the lyrics. True, we want to hear Stacey sing, but it’s hard to understand why there are just so many words. Bullet Train is perhaps the most egregious example: they’re on this train, you see, and typically, Stacey has no idea where they are or where they’re going, but on they go, and on, and on, like a dream you can’t wake up from.

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FESTIVAL REPORT:2017 Jazztopad, Poland (Part One)

They "pointedly subverted audience expectations": Maciej Kądziela Quartet
Photo credit: Joanna Stoga/NFM

Jazztopad 2017
(Wroclaw, Poland. 21 and 22 November 2017. Report by Martin Longley)

Martin Longley has just landed in Wroclaw, Poland, for the 14th Jazztopad festival. Here’s the first of  his reports, covering  his first two nights in town…

Jazztopad is primarily housed in the impressive National Forum Of Music, a large concert hall with a pair of smaller, subterranean theatres, the Red and the Black. It opened only recently, in 2015, immediately providing a new home for Jazztopad. Unlike many festivals, this one mostly concentrates on a single delicacy for each of its 10 evenings, so that the audience has time to absorb the music, and digest its special properties. If a more swingin’ extension is desired, punters can step down into the basement of Mleczarnia, for the nightly free-entrance jam session, starting up soon after the main concert has finished, and running well past midnight.

Tuesday night provided a subtle introduction to the proceedings, with the album release gig of Sundogs, a locally reared trio of clarinet, bass and drums. Bathed in nothing (there was zero stage lighting, initially), the concentration centred entirely around our ears, as Sundogs incrementally emerged from silence, taking their time with this sensitive process. The sonic spread was quite thin, leaving plenty of space between the bass clarinet, barely stroked bass and light littering of the drumkit. The trio could be improvising, but as the development was linear, they might also have decided in advance on the crawling route ahead. There was a distinctly decisive predilection for subtlety, sparseness and gradual establishment of a sombre mood. Ultimately, there might not have been enough raw material to fully arouse, or captivate, the audience. Minimalism often holds a magnetic attraction, but there has to be an authoritative sonic charisma. Not quite reaching 50 minutes, the Sundogs set eventually exhausted its resources.

It was remarkable that Sundogs clarinetist Mateusz Rybicki drew on completely different zones later in the night, across the way at the jam session. Here, his playing involved rapid-fire precision, with perfectly attacking high notes, alongside pianist Artur Tuźnik, guitarist Michal Sember and the French duo Watchdog (clarinetist Pierre Horckmans and pianist Anne Quillier), as well as a sequence of visiting horn players. Rybicki has been involved in running the jam session for most of Jazztopad’s history, working together with his steady bandmates.

As Rybicki played riffs in tandem with Horckmans, this was an exciting opportunity for a twin clarinet assault, united in joyous severity. It must be strongly stated that here in Wroclaw, ‘jam session’ doesn’t indicate bebop or Broadway standards, it denotes ‘on-edge free jazz and improvisation, laced with amped-up rock moves’, the latter notably via Sember’s strafing and cutting electric guitar interjections. The special energies crackled and flashed all night.

Wednesday was more crowded with sets than is customary for Jazztopad, as travel logistics forced a Scandinavian Day double bill to move from its original Tuesday booking. The evening began at 7pm with Vancouver combo Pugs & Crows, and their guesting guitarist Tony Wilson. This six-piece could be described as ‘prog jazz’, with their twin electric guitars, violin, piano, upright bass and drums line-up. The Pug/Crow compositions were rooted in jazz of a pastoral, lyrical inclination, but their angular detailing derived from rock, and their pianist Catherine Toren also inched towards a flamboyant classicism. Ultimately, the tunes weren’t particularly distinctive, either melodically or stylistically, and it seemed surprising that the two guitarists shared a fairly similar sound. Even so, the highlights included a well-constructed Wilson guitar solo on the final number, the title track of their Everyone Knows Everyone album, and a bout of sparse improvisation, opening up one of the earlier pieces. Once again, it was the jam session that revealed some of the band’s finer qualities, as Toren filled one of the improvisations with a softly chiming, cloud-billowing, Messiaen-style construction that acted like a near-constant solo voice. Then Wilson closed out the night, sitting cross-legged on the edge of the basement stage, opening up to a much more abrasive tone, shooting out spiky abstractions.

The Scandinavian Day didn’t actually involve many Scandinavian band members within the two primarily Polish groupings. Much of the double bill’s concept was to present Polish students who have been studying in Denmark, sending down shoots into this new home. The Maciej Kądziela Kwartet used Coltrane stylings as a foundation, but frequently flicked in a surprising twist, their leader’s brutally hard-toned alto saxophone at the vanguard, spouting a copious rush of forceful solos. At one point he was left for an a capella escalation, contorting with speed and complexity, then at another juncture, he ceased his flow, for the remaining trio to continue, led by versatile pianist Artur Tuźnik, but with a shocking section of sparse freedom rather than the expected McCoy Tyner-ed interlude. Even though they mostly kept inside a straight modern jazz template, the quartet pointedly subverted audience expectations with a sequence of unpredictable gestures and textures.

The Radek Wośko Atlantic Quartet (led by their drummer) drew from a more recent style blueprint, decorated their driving tunes with sample snatches and effects box tweaking. The most impressive playing came courtesy of bassist Mariusz Praśniewski, whose dexterity was quite astounding, and not at the expense of digit-power, as all of his nimble lines were negotiated with full percussive emphasis. Conversely, the guitarist Brian Massaka was often employed as colouration, possessing a somewhat ethereal quality. There was a lot of music on Wednesday, with the Kądziela combo playing quite a lengthy (almost 75-minute) set, probably resulting in the Wośko crew delivering a shorter-than-planned performance, and a goodly chunk of the audience heading homewards. The knock-on effect was that the jam session began later than usual, and continued until around 2.30am, but we mostly made it through, in the end..!

Jazztopad continues until Sunday 26th November…

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INTERVIEW: Morris Kliphuis of Kapok (UK Tour Dates 26-29 November)

Kapok
L-R Remco Menting, Timon Koomen, Morris Kliphuis

The unusually configured French horn/guitar/drums trio Kapok become the second group to tour for Going Dutch, the project initiated by the Jazz Promotion Network and Dutch Performing Arts to introduce the Netherlands’ vibrant jazz scene to audiences in the UK, this weekend coming. The band made waves across Europe when it won the European Jazz Competition Award in 2013. Rob Adams interviewed the group’s French horn player, Morris Kliphuis:

LondonJazzNews: What attracted you to the French horn?

Morris Kliphuis: My mother, who comes from Leicester and studied recorder before moving to Holland and becoming a choir conductor and having a million things going on musically, took me to a concert in Utrecht when I was seven. I’m not sure if this is the way it happened or the way I later wished it had happened but I have this memory of seeing four or five of these shiny instruments in a row and being struck by the sound they made. I thought, this is what I want to do, play one of these, and about a year later I started taking lessons.

LJN: Did you study classical music at college?

MK: Actually, no, I didn’t. I began taking classical lessons like my older brother, Tim, did on the violin and I played the classical repertoire in youth orchestras as a teenager but I’d always improvised and was always making up my own tunes. So when I left school I thought, I’m going to study improvisation. I wasn’t sure if this was possible for a classical horn player and I thought, if I can’t study improvisation, I’ll do biology. And that was my plan B all along. I went to college in Amsterdam and I thought, if this doesn’t work out, I can take the biology option but I never had to do that because along came Kapok.

LJN: Did you check out other French horn players - Tom Varner, for instance?

MK: Yes, and in fact Tom has been really helpful. He teaches in Seattle now but he gave me lots of advice and tips and I was able to check out what the French horn did in Gil Evans’ music, that sort of thing. I’ve also learned a lot from John Clark, who played with Jaco Pastorius as well as playing with a whole list of other people, but I really wanted to find my own direction as well and I think I’ve succeeded in some way.

LJN: How did Kapok come about?

MK:  Completely by accident: I was playing in a trio with Remco [Menting, the drummer in Kapok] and a guitarist and we had a studio booked for two weeks, just to try things out. Then the guitarist backed out and rather than cancel the studio time, we asked Timon [Kooman] to come along. We pretty much jammed for two weeks with no preconceived ideas and out of that came the first Kapok album, Flatlands.

LJN: Were you surprised by the popular response your music attracted?

MK: Absolutely. I mean, horn, guitar and drums doesn’t seem a likely recipe for success but in those two weeks in the studio we hit upon a way of writing songs that people seemed to like but also allowed us to stretch out on gigs. So we had a kind of indie pop-rock thing going on as well as playing at all the jazz places people might know, like the Bimhuis and Jazz International Rotterdam. Then after three albums we felt we’d exhausted the possibilities that the instrumentation offered.

LJN:  You stuck with the trio, though; was there a particular reason for that?

MK: Yes, we felt that the chemistry between the three of us was strong and maybe the instrumentation could be added to rather than the personnel. We were frustrated by the guitar being the only chordal instrument and the horns not being able to produce longer notes – I have to breathe, after all - so Remco added vibraphone to his custom-assembled drum kit. I got a synthesiser and Timon brought in a baritone guitar – an electric one – and putting all these things together with what we had already gave us this kind of orchestral palette.

LJN: Then you underwent a further change; tell us about that.

MK: We’d developed this songwriting style and when we put that together with the orchestral approach to sound it didn’t really satisfy us. We always make decisions together, being a musical democracy, and if one person isn’t happy about something we talk things through and we decided that it would be more exciting for everyone – the audience as well as ourselves – if we put all these new sounds we had at our disposal into creating something completely spontaneous. So that’s the approach we take now – freewheeling, totally improvised sounds that still communicate with listeners.

LJN: You’ve played London Jazz Festival in the past but have you been to other parts of the UK before?

MK: No, just London (review link below), although I’ve been to Glencoe as a tourist several times and would love to tour Scotland with Kapok. We’re really looking forward to playing in the north of England, and Bath, and seeing how audiences in Wigan, Altrincham, Newcastle and Sheffield respond to our music. I have relatives in Lincolnshire, so I’m hoping they’ll be able to get to one of the gigs. (pp)

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

LINKS: Kapok webiste
Report Dutch Meeting Showcase 2012 
Review of London Jazz Festival performance 2013 

 Tour dates:

Sunday 26 November - lunchtime - WIGAN - WHELLEY EX-SERVICEMENS’ CLUB
Sunday 26 November - evening - ALTRINCHAM - THE CINNAMON CLUB
Monday 27 November - BATH - WIDCOMBE SOCIAL CLUB
Tuesday 28 November - NEWCASTLE - JAZZ CAFE
Wednesday 29 November - SHEFFIELD - THE LESCAR HOTEL

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