REVIEW: Guy Barker's Big Band Christmas 2017 at the Royal Albert Hall

The Guy Barker Orchestra
Photo credit: Paul Wood

Guy Barker’s Big Band Christmas
(Royal Albert Hall, 10 December 2017. Review by Andrew Cartmel)

Judging by the packed house, arranger and trumpeter Guy Barker’s Christmas Big Band show at the Royal Albert Hall is in danger of becoming an annual fixture. Setting out his stall briskly, Barker’s setting of Tidings of Comfort and Joy released descending strings which yielded to the trombones taken at a big band clip then segued into wild hot Hammond organ by Jim Watson with staccato percussion and an exultant horn section. But it was the crazy, looping chords of Watson’s Hammond that raised the roof. Martin Shaw’s trumpet solo sealed the deal.

Clare Teal
Photo credit: Paul Wood
On Jingle Bells schmaltz was kept at bay by a scorching tenor solo. This band is big but it moves like a solo entity, and it swings wildly, with Watson on the Hammond again. In support of Clare Teal’s gutsy rendition of Cool Yule, Guy Barker blew a powerful Dixie-influenced solo on his trumpet. Please Send Me Someone to Love by Percy Mayfield was introduced with sleepy, bluesy brass which supported Tony Momrelle’s soulful school-of-Sam-Cooke vocals, as the strings maintained the blues strain. The drums and the brass section came down like a hammer while the strings rose in a sweetly soulful keening. The song concluded in a Joe Williams-Count Basie tropical storm.

Mica Paris
Photo credit: Paul Wood
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town saw Guy back on trumpet, paired with Giacomo Smith’s clarinet. It’s like Christmas Carol with the ghost of Glen Miller turning up. Joe Stilgoe’s singing had a terse sophistication which — again — worked to counter the corniness of the material. Merry Christmas Baby got an agreeably raucous screech of an intro from the orchestra. Watson’s Hammond was back to reinforce the R&B flavour which fitted Mica Paris’s gritty molasses-sweet vocal to perfection. Fat, fertile chords from Al Cherry’s electric guitar rose swelling and swaggering to fill the Royal Albert Hall. Mica Paris’s singing is soaring, gospel gutbucket. Add Ray Charles to the Ghosts of Christmas Past.

Georgie Fame
Photo credit: Paul Wood
The young Guy Barker’s first letter to Father Christmas was a request for the single The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde by Georgie Fame, and he went on to work with Fame — for 27 years and counting. Fame’s Yeh Yeh is irresistibly groovy, with rapid fire, toe-tapping rhythm. Tasteful and tasty string writing added immensely to the song, as did the tumbling tenor and wild, wailing alto. It’s the essence of hip. Slinky piano and melancholy, diaphanous strings set the mood for Going to Kansas City with Fame on vocals again. The song was taken slow, with moments of suspension to savour the mood. It segued into Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid which kicked off as a piece of compact, precision swing, Fame bouncing his vocals off stabs from the brass section.

Frank Loesser’s What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve featured Clare Teal’s honeyed singing and Barker’s gift for integrating this large band to achieve a graceful, poised and focused sound was tremendously in evidence here. These orchestral forces could easily be overwhelming, but they’re anything but. The deft, concise clarinet solo was by Martin Williams.

Winter Wonderland was taken at a hell of a lick and has a badass, big city vibe, setting the scene for Giacomo Smith’s high speed clarinet. At this pace, even the straightest of jazz blowing begins to acquire a boppish urgency and compressed complexity. With Jim Watson’s Hammond adding colour and weight, this was another example of a piece where the kitsch factor had been cunningly defused. Smith’s final cry on the clarinet landed us somewhere between the land of Raymond Scott and the territory of the great blues shouters.

Joe Stilgoe
Photo credit: Paul Wood
Sleigh Ride saw Joe Stilgoe playing the piano as well as singing, and his flowing vocals entwined with Giacomo Smith’s clarinet to intoxicating effect. A radical slowing of pace and the most ethereal shimmer of strings made this an unlikely highlight of the evening. We Three Kings was given a remarkable film noir makeover and showcased Jim Watson on Hammond again, but the real hero here was Alistair White’s trombone. The band’s pleasure in these charts was palpable. For Hallelujah I Love You So Mica Paris returned and the orchestra sounded like a tight and on-the-ball R&B unit — no mean feat. While it might be the guest stars who grab the headlines, the really outstanding achievement of this evening is Barker’s big band writing and the way it avoids the seasonal scourge of saccharine. A festive treat to savour.

Nathan Bray trumpet
Pat White trumpet
Andy Greenwood trumpet
George Hogg trumpet
Martin Shaw trumpet solos
Alistair White trombone
Nichol Thomson trombone
Winston Rollins trombone
Mark Frost trombone
Graeme Blevinsalto saxophone
Sam Mayne alto saxophone
Martin Williamstenor saxophone
Alex Garnett tenor saxophone
Jessamy Holderbaritone saxophone
Jim Watson piano and organ
Peter Edwards piano
Chris Hill bass
Al Cherry guitar
Sebastian de Krom drums
Ed Richardson drums
Tom Rees Roberts bonus trumpet
Mike Lovatt bonus trumpet
Ryan Quigley bonus trumpet
Danny Marsden bonus trumpet
Clare Teal vocals
Georgie Fame vocals
Tony Momrelle vocals
Joe Stilgoe vocals and piano
Mica Paris vocals
Giacomo Smith clarinet
Guy Barker trumpet, conductor, arranger

LINKS: Preview of the 2017 concert
Review of the inaugural 2016 concert


REPORT: Hitch On Jazz Juniors International Exchange in Kraków

One of the many posters advertising the competition
seen all over Kraków.
Photo by Mary James

Hitch On Jazz Juniors International Exchange 
(Kraków, 3-6 December 2017. Report bt Mary James)

The annual Jazz Juniors International Exchange, which attracted 78 bands from around the world to audition and showcase, was won by Quantum Trio from Poland and Chile. Mary James attended for London Jazz News and here is her report:

The Hitch On Jazz Juniors International Exchange, held annually in Kraków, is not just any old competition with clear winners and losers. There were highly enjoyable concerts and at times it felt more like a festival than a competition. It is a very clear statement that mutual exchange brings short-term and long-term benefits to everyone who takes part.

There are two strands: the Juniors competition for those under 25 years, and the Showcase aspect for all the rest. The juniors were competing for a cash prize and recording opportunities. The showcase bands had the chance to play in front of festival directors and get themselves some work around the world. Each showcase entrant had to provide a “sponsor” – either a club, festival or record label – who would offer an opportunity to other entrants in exchange for their sponsored band taking part in Kraków. The juniors were also seen and heard by the sponsors which could lead to future partnerships for them too. So everyone benefited from the experience.

Jazz Juniors has been going for over 40 years, but the showcase aspect was new. The exchange showcase idea was the brainchild of pianist Pawel Kaczmarczyk, who realised that mutual exchange could overcome the financial and other barriers to stepping onto the international stage. He has since toured China and other countries, proof that the concept works. The CEO Tomasz Handzlik said he was proud to see young Polish musicians such as Mateusz Pałka step on to the world’s stage via success in competitions such as this.

The auditions and showcases took place in a very interesting part of Kraków, Dolnych Młynów, just 10 minutes walk from the main square, where disused factories have been transformed into a vibrant hub of dance schools, craft beer bars, vegan restaurants and nightclubs, including Zet Pe Te where the music happened. Over three days six predominantly Polish bands performed auditions in front of a Jury for the Juniors. And eight bands from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Russia and Poland showcased to a Programme Board comprising Festival and Club Directors from Serbia, Spain, China, Russia, Croatia, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. Bands were pre-selected by a Qualification Commission which included Dave Douglas and Lars Danielsson who had the task of listening to the submissions of the 78 entrants and creating the audition list. It was striking that we heard only one standard in 14 concerts.

At a Gala concert in Radio Kraków on 6 December 2017, the winners were announced. It was probably no surprise to those of us present at the auditions that First Prize went to Quantum Trio from Poland-Chile. The band comprises Michal Jan Ciesielski (saxophones), Kamil Zawislak (piano) and Luis Mora Matus (drums), where a rhythm section of drums and piano more than compensated for the lack of bass. In addition to a cash prize they won the opportunity to release a CD on the Italian label Emme Records and several invitations to international festivals. They were impressive from the moment they walked onto the stage. Their enthralling short set of catchy physics-inspired titles was unashamedly full-on and gutsy, with memorable hooks tightly held together. Think early Roller Trio with an Eastern inflection.

Special mention must be made of the winners of the Second Prize, Vibe Quartet. They had a nervous start, possibly there was a fault in the monitors, and for a few anxious moments their set seemed to fall apart. But then the vibes player Michal Puchowski seized the moment, calmed the nerves and nailed it with a captain’s innings.

Alongside the competition there were concerts in the cosy Harris Piano Jazz Bar. I caught the album launch of violinist Mateusz Smoczyński’s solo album, Metamorphoses. Smoczyński won the Second Zbigniew Seifert Jazz Violin Competition in 2016 and this album release by the Zbigniew Seifert Foundation is further proof that lasting relationships are one of the main outcomes of Polish competitions. It was an emotional set of own compositions where Smoczyński overlaid chunky danceable pizzicato and ghostly reverb with heart-stopping improvisation. This wasn’t about technique, this was music straight from the soul and it was warmly received on a very cold night.

Next year the competition will be renamed as the Hitch On Music Exchange with many more entrants and partners.

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

Mary James attended the competition as a guest of the organisers.


Maciek Pysz and Daniele di Bonaventura Coming Home

Maciek Pysz and Daniele di Bonaventura Coming Home
(Caligola 2232. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Coming Home is a stunningly beautiful album that very nearly got my vote for best of the year. A triumph of understatement and restraint, it features the acoustic guitar of Maciek Pysz and the piano and bandoneon of Daniele di Bonaventura. The sweet melancholy of the tango is what this is all about: these are all original tunes but they sound as if they have been haunting the backstreet cafes and dusty dancehalls of Buenos Aires for decades. And the melodies of tunes like Nadir and More and More are so strong that they’re crying out for lyrics.

Having collaborated on Pysz’s A Journey in 2015, the duo premiered this new album at the London Jazz Festival a few weeks ago. Polish-born Pysz is a specialist in the music of South America. He’s been based in London since 2003, and has played all around the UK with the likes of Asaf Sirkis, Tim Garland and Ivo Neame, as well as in mainland Europe. I’d assumed Di Bonaventura was Argentinian but in fact he was born in Italy. He records for ECM and has worked all over the world, collaborating with everyone from Toots Thielemans and Lenny White to Mathias Eick.

The music on Coming Home is acoustic. The bandoneon sounds like an accordion but is played like a concertina, and one of the many pleasures of listening to it, apart from di Bonaventura’s intensely melodic improvisational gift, is the way it huffs, clacks and wheezes. You’re just not going to get that from an electronic keyboard. Pysz is a wonderfully subtle player, and likewise, whilst his runs and chords are gorgeous, you also appreciate the squeaks and creaks and scrapes of the strings. This is particularly noticeable on the slow numbers, such as Lights and Tree (no Xmas connection intended here, I’m sure).

Some electronic effects are used. On the title track, for example, one of Pysz’s compositions, both musicians appear to be using volume pedals to ‘bow in’ the notes, which are sustained through the use of plate echo.

On some tracks, such as di Bonaventura’s Tango and Pysz’s More and More and Blue Tango, di Bonaventura plays piano, giving the tunes a more stately treatment. And on both the funkish Paquito and the waltz I Gazzillori you can readily picture dancers twirling away in the background.
Anyone who likes latin music, or guitar music, or just good music in general, would surely enjoy the richness and warmth of Coming Home.


INTERVIEW/FEATURE: Mica Paris sings Ella Fitzgerald 5-date Valentine's Tour, Feb. 2018)

Mica Paris
Ahead of a five-date UK Valentine's Tour and a new album, Mica Sings Ella, AJ Dehany interviewed MICA PARIS, a major presence on the UK music scene since first emerging in 1988. He writes:

Nothing in life really compares to being called "darling" by Mica Paris.

The soul superstar’s voice and surpassing presence have made her a cherished figure over three decades in music. She’s worked with Prince, Alexander O’Neal, and Lemar, and become a fixture on TV, radio and the stage. This year she added another string to her bow with her powerful interpretations of Ella Fitzgerald. I spoke to Mica ahead of her forthcoming tour and album, taking for my "angle" that Mica Sings Ella represents "the First Lady of British Soul meets the First Lady of Jazz". To my surprise she embraced it with graceful style: “Yeah, totally! I agree, darling. Absolutely!”

Throughout 2017 the jazz community has been celebrating the centenary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth. Mica has been performing the songs made famous by the First Lady of Jazz, appearing with the Guy Barker Orchestra and her own band to equal acclaim.

“It’s been a whole year of Ella. I started in February and it’s just been building up. I didn’t expect it to go so well! We did the Love Supreme festival and had seven and a half thousand people in my tent. People go crazy for this stuff, honey! I don’t even understand what’s going on! If I knew that I would have done it earlier!”

Mica is recording the album Mica Sings Ella with the Guy Barker Orchestra, due to be released in April following a tour in February 2018. Guy Barker’s epochal arrangements and Mica Paris’s soulful delivery are a potent combination, holding their own even against Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington’s defining work together in the 1950s. “With Guy, his interpretation of Duke Ellington was so fabulous! When I’m working with Guy I feel like Guy and I are doing Duke and Ella, it feels great!”

In classic style they are recording the album live in the studio, with the whole orchestra around Mica (who is singing into the iconic C-12 valve microphone). “It’s a fabulous feeling. You feel like you’re weightless. You feel like you’re being carried by 80 musicians. It’s incredible to have that as the backdrop to your voice. It’s interesting—when I’m singing with my ten-piece band, I’m driving them. When I’m singing with the orchestra, I’m being carried by them…”

The arrangements stand up to comparison with the classic recordings but have a force and modernity all their own. “The thing is it was never about copying Ella. It was always about interpreting her in my way. She did that all the time. She would sing the Beatles, Gershwin, rock 'n' roll. She always made it her own and that’s what’s important. If you copy somebody you’re basically doing karaoke.”

Musically, both Ella and Mica come out of gospel. Ella’s parents were Methodists; Mica’s were Pentecostal. The singers almost share a birthday: Mica, April 23; Ella April 25. Mica shares and even expands on Ella’s eclecticism, bringing the full force of her own personality to bear on the material. How does she feel about the different energies of gospel, pop, soul and jazz?

“When you sing gospel it’s a very, very different energy. Gospel is about empowering and making people feel that they’re gonna get through their problems. Pop is more about emoting this feeling of love, the love vibration. Jazz is different, you have to be very open to where you’re taken because it’s the timing of jazz. Jazz is all about timing. You have to really feel what the musicians are doing and you have to work with it. No two jazz shows are the same. It’s very raw, very naked, so if you’re not a great interpreter of music you’re gonna have problems singing jazz. You’re really naked!”

The Mica Sings Ella tour in February is being styled as a ‘Valentines tour’. Is this one for the lovers?

“Yeah, which is really beautiful! One of my favourite songs is called You’re My Thrill. It emotes that feeling: you know when you’re really into someone and they just blow your friggin’ mind and you can’t actually cope? When they walk in the room and you can’t breathe. You know the universe is telling you they’re gonna be a big problem to you later on. Anyway,” she laughs, “moving swiftly on…”

Just as Ella’s life had its dark clouds, Mica has had more than her share of sadness. Since 2003 she has acted as an ambassador for anti-gun crime after her brother Jason was shot dead in South London. Her extraordinary strength as a performer comes from her resilient attitude to facing down the pain of life.

“It’s the pain that makes you able to touch people with the gift. If you didn’t have the pain you wouldn’t be able to do what you do and be effective with it. The music has always healed me. That’s what’s kept me in the game for 30 years. It’s the music: writing, and performing on stage. Cos’ when you’re on stage, darling… that’s it! There is nothing else compares to that. It’s out of body. That’s why so many artists end up taking drugs. Nothing can replace the high you get on stage. We’d like to be up there all the time, wouldn’t we?”

On that note, I asked if Mica has any favourite singers interpreting Ella. Her answer was thought-provoking.

“Everybody does Billie! You don’t really hear people do Ella much, funnily enough. Hey, it’s great. I’m doing it; maybe this is the start of something. I want her to be celebrated for what she’s done. Billie Holiday got all the press cos Billie was the face—and the media glamorize drugs. But Ella was superior vocally.”

It’s great to hear an artist appreciate another artist for their art rather than the myths that can misrepresent them. Mica Paris takes a long view. “I wanted to resurrect Ella because she lasted longer than all of them! You know, my girl was singing in a wheelchair with no legs. And she was still killin’ it! Amazing. The story of her life is incredible. It’s not just the centenary, I’m doing a theatre show about her next year as well, and a documentary. For me it’s important to educate people about the greats. I wanted to bring back Ella so the younger generation know that this woman had a voice that transcended her race, just like Nat ‘King’ Cole. They managed to transcend race, which is a very powerful thing. I want to celebrate her because we’ve heard her all our lives but she’s in the background to everyone’s life, she’s on every damn advert you can think of.”

Jazz is a great means of rediscovery and making things new again…

“That’s right. You got it! That’s why I’m doin’ it, baby! It’s not just a centenary, she’s an unsung hero—and I wanna give Ella her props.” (pp)

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


11 February - Islington Assembly Hall, London

13 February - The Fleece, Bristol
14 February - Ruby Lounge, Manchester
15 February - The Jamhouse, Birmingham
16 February - 2funky music cafe, Leicester

Mica Paris website


CD REVIEW: Various Artists (incl Stan Sulzmann) - Live At The Spotted Dog

Stan Sulzmann/John O’Gallagher/Jonathan Silk/Ben Lee/Sean Gibbs/Various Artists - Live At The Spotted Dog
(Stoney Lane SLR1878. CD review by Mark McKergow)

This collection of new music recorded live at The Spotted Dog in Birmingham gives a fascinating and tantalising glimpse into the second city’s thriving jazz scene and its up-and-coming stars.

The Spotted Dog has been home to weekly Tuesday jazz sessions which allow the local talent, particularly those springing from the Birmingham Conservatoire, space to present new music late into the night. Founded by saxophonist Mike Fletcher with Miriam Pau and then continued by Jonathan Silk, Richard Foote, Dave Ferris, Sean Gibbs and Chris Young, the pub in a formerly industrial area off Digbeth brings an intimate connection between musicians and audience. This collection was recorded over three nights in 2016, and presents a real treasure trove of musical collaboration.

The album leads - both on the sleeve and on the disk - with three tracks from Stan Sulzmann and a big band of Birmingham Conservatoire graduates plus a few regular associates. Of course it’s all very well played, Sulzmann is on good form on tenor saxophone and there is a particularly nice solo from trumpeter Tom Walsh on the ECM-ish The Thrill Is Gone. However, this is far from the main attraction of this collection – it serves more like an hors d’oeuvre for the four outstanding smaller groups who come later.

First up is an extraordinary trio led by Scots-born drummer Andrew Bain and featuring Americans alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher and double bassist (and 2016 MOBO award nominee) Michael Janisch. Both Bain and O’Gallagher have been studying for jazz-based PhDs at the Conservatoire, and they clearly know a thing or two about how to put together top-class music making the most of this rather sparse line-up. O’Gallagher combines boppish virtuosity with bluesy, rootsy intensity and an expressive tonal palette to conjure up sustained solos on both his own Extralogical Railman and Janisch’s The JJ I Know. Janisch himself participates with huge concentration and interaction, his bass sounding warm and full even in this relatively informal live recording. Bain - allegedly the leader here but never taking more than his share of the spotlight - is right in there too, and the 20 minutes of music flies by in a heartbeat. If these three made a full CD, I’d play it till it wore out.

Jonathan Silk’s Fragment ensemble takes that unusual move of putting a string quartet - two violins, viola and cello - alongside a jazz quartet. First Light starts with the strings to the fore, before Percy Pursglove’s trumpet takes a splendidly fluid solo.

The Ben Lee Quintet takes a more energetic route, having the instrumentation of an organ trio (Dave Ferris on organ holding down the bassline, Lee on guitar and Euan Palmer on drums) combined with a juicy front line of alto sax (Chris Young) and the trombone of Richard Foote. The quintet make great use of the range of the alto/trombone combination to give some rich harmony lead lines on Beginning Of The End before Young’s full-on growling solo. Talk To You starts with a heavy Hendrixy riff which ebbs and flows through the number, giving Lee a fine opportunity to show delicacy as well as power in his soloing.

Although this is a live album, the applause at the end of the performances has mainly been edited out.  This helps with building the collection as a sustained listen and it’s easy to forget the context - until the last number starts with Sean Gibbs addressing the audience and introducing his Fervour quintet to appreciative applause. Cheer Up Old Bean gives an upbeat bouncing conclusion to the album with Andy Bunting’s Rhodes piano and Gibbs' trumpet loping along over the confident bass of Nick Jurd.

With very comprehensive sleeve notes from Tony Dudley-Evans (who has played a leading role in Birmingham’s jazz scene for well over 30 years), this is a fine showcase for both the city’s musicians and the output of the Stoney Lane label.

LINK: To the album on Stoney Lane’s website, where one track can be previewed before release of the full collection on 26 January 2018


REVIEW: Penny Rimbaud's What Passing Bells (The War Poems of Wilfred Owen) at the Vortex

REVIEW: What Passing Bells (The War Poems of Wilfred Owen) — Penny Rimbaud, Liam Noble, Kate Shortt
(The Vortex. 6 December 2017. Review by AJ Dehany)

“My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is the pity.”

11 November 2018 will mark a century since the end of the First World War—the war to end all wars. Wilfred Owen is one of the major poets of the conflagration. He was killed exactly a week—almost to the hour—before Armistice Day. His mother learned of his death just as the bells were ringing out in Shrewsbury. Owen left behind a body of poetry including unforgettable monuments to the horror of war, Dulce et Decorum est, and Anthem for Doomed Youth. These poems have become part of the language, known and recited by schoolchildren, even if not - as some have said they should be - read at the Cenotaph.

Penny Rimbaud, activist polymath and co-founder of seminal anarchist punk band Crass, last month released What Passing Bells (The War Poems of Wilfred Owen), his readings of the poems with pianist Liam Noble and cellist Kate Shortt. They have performed these on many occasions during the ongoing centenary period. It’s an important undertaking. It’s an important record. In a detailed recent interview with Patrick Clarke for The Quietus, Rimbaud explained “When the centenary of the war came round I thought ‘I’ve got to do it’. I was really worried there was going to be a horrible degree of jingoism and nationalism rising, which in a less direct way has risen. I wanted to present a counterpoint. I vowed that from 2014 to 2018 I’d perform it as often as I could, wherever I could.”

No one of the poems takes more than a few minutes to read, and Rimbaud has ordered them for thematic continuity with the sense of an overall shape, beginning with Song of Songs ("Sing me at morn but only with your laugh”) and concluding with a final reflection on memory and age, The End. The sequence is a punch to the gut for audience and performers alike. Penny Rimbaud says: “When I’m performing live, fighting back tears and fighting back explosions of real anger is unbelievably horrible. It’s not a nice piece to do.”

They used to do this as two sets but now it’s an unbroken 80 minutes, leading through the album’s programme of 27 poems with the music improvised. Penny Rimbaud says: “Every performance is completely different, it’s a golden rule in progressive jazz that you don’t repeat yourself. Just because we manage to pull something off in what we all agree works really well, that doesn’t mean we’ll ever try to replicate it. I think the three of us are just finding deeper and deeper meanings and expressions within the words."

Penny Rimbaud
Photo published by Red Bull Music Academy
without indication of copyright resttriction 
The immediacy and intimacy of their presentation of the poems does justice to their stylistic and thematic range. Penny Rimbaud’s delivery has a gravitas that underlines the timeless importance of these verbal monuments, as well as expressing their Shakespearean dramatic qualities. Rimbaud crawks the broad cockney of the soldiers in Inspection, concluding The Chances with a roar: “Jimmy’s MAAAAAD!”, capturing the bleak black comedy in The Last Laugh of “‘O Jesus Christ! I’m hit,’ he said; and died” and the patrician clip of the Doc in The Dead-Beat: "That scum you sent last night soon died. Hooray!"

The sonnet On Seeing a Piece of our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action is like Shakespeare in the original Klingon: “May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!” He sobs, he barks. Throughout, there’s a peculiar warmth to it, the humanity of the men in the no man’s land of the machine coldness the settings often express: Liam Noble hammering on the keys and pulling at the open strings of the piano, Kate Shortt’s extended cello techniques including whistling open harmonics in a cold sonic world reminiscent of the bleak microtonality of Pēteris Vasks’ cello writing. The Send-Off stresses the administrative elements of war - roads, trains, signals, journeys, tedium - which seem well served by these kinds of atonality that were coming into being at that time not just as obscure Viennese experiments but as an expression of what was happening in the world: no melodies, just numbers, numbers.

At times Liam Noble seems to be playing a demented inversion of the jaunty piano music accompanying the silent cinema, which would have been accompanied by newsreel footage from the war. Apologia Pro Poemate Meo (“in defence of my poetry”) has a relevance that has grown as news media has permeated our lives and gone on to not just report but to foment history. The poem criticises "you" at home for whom war propaganda and images are entertainment, "These men are worth/Your tears. You are not worth their merriment.”

Wilfred Owen enlisted in 1915 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment in 1916. He suffered significant trauma. He was blown up by a trench mortar and lay unconscious for several days on an embankment surrounded by the remains of his fellow officers. Diagnosed with shell shock he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, where he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon (as documented in Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration) under whose influence he moved away from the patriotic modes of earlier war poets like Rupert Brooke, coming to write haunting evocations of the horror of war that have echoed through history ever since.

Yet Wilfred Owen was not a pacifist. He was an officer, with a professional attitude to leading his men into battle. Initially he even wrote with contempt for the "loutish behaviour" of the troops, calling them “expressionless lumps.” After Craiglockhart, he came back to fight, and he died for it. He is sometimes viewed retrospectively as possessing a wholly negative attitude to war, but in fact he is nuanced and complex and ambivalent—to an extent that disturbs us today.

Owen’s use of mythic parallels both upholds and undermines notions of heroism. Owen reduces the opening of the Aeneid from “Arms and the man I sing” to the title Arms and the Boy. There’s no Ovidian transformation of man into a murderous minotaur, just a boy with his bayonet blade. The Parable of the Old Man and the Young is a bitter reverse parable of Abraham slaying his son “And half the seed of Europe, one by one.”

Anthem For Doomed Youth remembers the fallen as individuals rather than numbers. Dulce et Decorum est sets a detailed account of a gas attack against the abstractions of nationhood and patriotism. These are two of the most famous and important poems in the language. Rimbaud, Noble and Shortt avoid actorly chewiness in favour of simplicity, pacing and space. Strange Meeting is given a minimal treatment to foreground the slower storytelling and atmosphere of the poem. This one in particular is the key to Penny Rimbaud’s conception of the poems. “In my late teens I was introduced to the poetry of Wilfred Owen and from one line in his Strange Meeting I was awoken to an entirely new way of being - “I am the enemy you killed, my friend” - no malice, no terrible vengeance, only love; a true expression of human possibility.”

The performance of the whole sequence began with an utterance from the draft of Wilfred Owen’s Preface: “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is the pity.” The document continues “Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.” Did they offer consolation to that next generation who went on to live and die in the Second World War? Did they offer consolation to those who died in Vietnam, and subsequent and current wars? They can’t console, they are current. They are not a warning from history, but a description of the present. That’s what’s so chilling. We cleave to hope, but the word ‘cleave’ means both to split and to hold dear. For Penny Rimbaud activism is a role of the avant garde (The Guardian 29 November 2017): “Essentially, the avant garde is about changing the world. It must be, otherwise it wouldn’t exist.” But how can the avant garde change the world if even the deaths of 18 million people couldn’t prevent all that has happened since?

Rather than concluding on an “expression of human possibility”, Rimbaud, Noble and Shortt close on an ambivalent note with one of Owen’s bleakest statements, The End. “Shall Life renew these bodies” he asks… but he finds no solace in religion, no hope or ardent glory in either victory or defeat: “It is death./Mine ancient scars shall not be glorified/Nor my titanic tears the seas be dried."

A single piano note, repeating, ebbing away...

Then silence.

There was silence for a long time.

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

LINK: What Passing Bells (The War Poems of Wilfred Owen) is released on One Little Indian


CD REVIEW: Glen Manby - Homecoming

Glen Manby - Homecoming
(Mainstem MSTCD 0059. Review by Frank Griffith)

This finely integrated quintet speaks hard bop fluently while embracing other modern jazz idioms in a forward-thinking fashion. Glen Manby, a Cardiff-based altoist, is joined by a top London band with Steve Waterman, trumpet; Leon Greening, piano; Adam King, bass; and drummer Matt Home. They all fully rise to the occasion, with both cohesion and a familiarity with the elegant and clean arrangements.

Manby has contributed seven distinguished themes, all with an incisive and quirky hard bop edge that drives this collection relentlessy throughout. The inclusion of Wayne Shorter's Yes or No, Kenny Dorham's Una Mas, and Quincy Jones' Quintessence all provide variety and changes of mood.

Waterman's shimmering trumpet is in cracking form throughout and is followed closely in the solo stakes by Leon Greening's piano. His free-flowing lyricism provides an inspired foil to the horn's outings. Bassist King is surely one of the finest of the younger players to have emerged for years. He scores highly alongside Home's drums on Skippy with their eloquent "theme rumble" over the repeated closing melodic statement.

Manby is a graduate of the Jazz and Contempary Music Programme at The New School in NYC and went on to earn his MA in Jazz at the Royal Welsh School of Music and Drama in Cardiff. He was also awarded an Arts Council of Wales Research and Development grant to study with the late saxophonist George Robert (1960-2016), founder and director of the Jazz Department of the Lausanne Conservatory (HEMU) in Switzerland.

Homecoming was funded by an Arts Council of Wales Project Grant and what a great investment this turned out to be. More of this please as this sort of funding is clearly lacking for jazz projects in recent times. A promising debut and one hopes that this band will have the oppportunity to tour. Hard bop lives and is in no better hands than the Glen Manby Quintet.


INTERVIEW: Trish Clowes talks about British Composer Award-winner Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian

Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian with her award
Photo credit: Mark Allan

At the British Composer Awards (BASCA) ceremony at the British Museum on Wednesday, CEVANNE HORROCKS-HOPAYIAN was named 2017 winner in the Contemporary Jazz Composition category for her piece Muted Lines, recorded by Trish Clowes. Trish talked to us about the composer.

LondonJazz News: How did you first get to know Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian?

Trish Clowes: I think we met through Chris Montague in the first instance. They had both been part of Serious’ Take Five scheme at the same time. Cevanne then came to a Tangent quartet concert at Wigmore Hall in 2013.

We’ve kept in touch since then, and there have been subsequent connections too. Cevanne had worked with or alongside friends/colleagues of mine such as Kerry Andrew and Consortium 5. Juice, Kerry's vocal ensemble with Anna Snow and Sarah Dacey, performed at Emulsion III at the Village Underground in 2014.

Cevanne’s project exploring the Renaissance tradition of ‘Eye Music’ also included Chris and Calum Gourlay.

LJN: What is the origin of this composition and can you explain the theme of forced migration?

TC: I could hear something in Cevanne’s work that I felt could really complement my way of working. Cevanne and I had been talking about some form of collaborative project for a while when a discussion about the migration and refugee crisis prompted Cevanne to think about events and ideas she had long wanted to explore in music. We decided we would write ‘sister’ compositions that both explored the theme of forced migration. This had particular resonance for Cevanne because 100 years ago, her family were forced from their ancestral homes in eastern Turkey during the genocide which murdered 1.5 million Armenians. Initially, all Cevanne could think about in response to events of such magnitude was silence – the generations silenced either by political pressure or by horror and trauma.

Eventually, Cevanne decided to respond using a reductive exercise. She experimented with one line written by the sixteenth century Armenian poet Nahapat Kuchak, gradually removing words and reducing the text. Whilst much of the meaning was lost, Cevanne found that the feeling remained, and that setting this text to music allowed the silence to be filled with new meaning. With Cevanne’s piece emerging as a darker sounding approach to the subject, we decided my response piece would be more celebratory, looking at the birth of the drum set and celebrating the innovators who established what we now know as jazz.

LJN: Once you had commissioned Cevanne, what happened? Where was ‘Muted Lines’ first performed?

TC: Fortunately, PRSF generously supported the commission and we recorded Muted Lines for the My Iris album, which came out in early 2017 on Basho Records. The piece was first performed by the band at the 2016 EFG London Jazz Festival, and a larger scale version was performed by the Emulsion Sinfonietta at the Emulsion V event at mac Birmingham as part of the My Iris album launch tour. Muted Lines has been part of a broader and ongoing process of commissioning and developing new music through Emulsion. Since 2012, we have now commissioned 14 pieces of new music

LJN: How did it feel performing the piece for the first time?

TC: It was really interesting to play someone else’s music! Touring and discussing the sister compositions has been a new experience for me, as it has been the first time I have addressed major political and social themes in my work. I have since explored the refugee crisis more directly in my new work for the BBC Concert Orchestra. Performing Muted Lines was also the first time I have used singing in my performances and I have continued to write more compositions that incorporate the voice. Working with another composer for the first time has been an enjoyable process in many different ways – our influences overlap but it brings a different and fresh perspective to creating music.

At the Ceremony:
Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian (L) and Trish Clowes (R)


CD REVIEW: Dial and Oatts/RichDeRosa/ The WDR Big Band - Rediscovered Ellington

Dial and Oatts/RichDerosa/ The WDR Big Band - Rediscovered Ellington - New Takes on Duke's rare and unheard Music
(Zoho ZM 201707. CD Review by Frank Griffith)

Rediscovered Ellington is a collection of mostly unheard music of Duke Ellington giving a glimmering yet pensive sound and production. The musical triumvirate of pianist Gary Dial, saxophonist/flautist Dick Oatts and arranger, Rich Derosa unearthed these compositions from obscurity, shaping them with colourful, immaculate and refreshing arrangements rendering Ellington anew. They commented: " continue his legacy, we resurrected his pieces with our perspective through personalised arrangements." Most of these renditions showcase how great music can transform into something modern and forward-looking while maintaining the original essence of its composer.

Dial and Oatts contribute potent and original solos throughout all the nine pieces. Oatts' alto saxophone brims with soulfulness on Let The Zoomers Roll as does his lyrical and richly-toned flute outing on Just A Gentle Word From You Will Do. Pianist, Dial shines with his elegant but blues-drenched opening choruses before the melody of Kiki enters. Similarly, John Marshall's trumpet solo on the same tune scores with his full bodied, burnished sound bringing a majestic ardour to the piece that it richly deserves. Not to be outdone, bassist John Goldsby demonstrates his Paul Chambers-like melodicism on his solo sandwiched by by a swinging ensemble shout ensemble and a saxophone soli.

The Cologne-based WDR Big Band is precise, dynamically expansive and capable of negotiating through the most complex charts with ease. The CD opens with Hey Baby which was also recorded in 1956 with Rosemary Clooney on the Blue Rose album. Oatts is "first outta the blocks" with a riveting solo, followed by tenorist Paul Heller then the alto of John Horlen both of whom give the veteran Oatts a run for his money.

The WDR band's largest contribution is largely down to DeRosa's arrangements and direction. These result in a compelling interaction between the three forces present here. This interaction is a crucial component in music which is symphonic to some extent in shape and stucture, fully responsive to the subtleties of the soloists' phrasing throughout these timeless pieces.

DeRosa, who also arranged and conducted bassist Ron Carter's 2015 CD, My Personal Songbook for the WDR Big Band (REVIEWED HERE), is no stranger to this role. He also arranged two previous recordings for Dial and Oatts in 1990 and 1993 as well as had two charts recorded by the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in 1985 (Dearly Beloved and Alone Together). This clearly demonstrates his versatility, vision and craft in large ensemble writing. He believes that Rediscoverd Ellington "should be shared with all college students in a workshop and concert settings. This project shows what can be done with seemingly 'old' music. It will have a professional life but it can also continue to inspire our newest upcoming professional musicians."

Plaudits and kudos should go to Dial, Oatts, DeRosa and The WDR big band for their passion, rigour and originality devoted to this remarkable project.

Frank Griffith will be director/soloist with the Rebel Yell Jazz Orchestra, Spice of Life, 17 January.


REVIEW: Kenny Werner at Pizza Express Dean Street (Album launch tour for Animal Crackers)

Kenny Werner Trio at Pizza Express
L-R: Kenny Werner, Johannes Weidenmuller, Ari Hoenig
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Kenny Werner Trio
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 6 December 2017. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Thelonious Monk's Trinkle Tinkle is a tune that was just made for Kenny Werner. With his bright sound, it feels like shiny, sharp-edged and mis-shapen pieces of glass. And when they fall on the ground they break into even more, even odder asymmetrical shapes. The mischievous way Werner deconstructs it, interjects, remembers and then shows off one curious glistening fragment after another is not a dry exercise. It's a game, a series of tricks. It's magical.

There have been some remarkable pianists dropping off in London as part of European tours in the past few weeks (Bill Charlap from on month ago is another who comes to mind). These are musicians with all the resources, individuality, unlimited wells of inspiration that come from decades of playing in this context. In Werner's case it was also a rare opportunity to hear him with his regular trio, a unit that has been together for 15 years, and which has just made its second album for the Pirouet label - yet another jazz label from Munich. As Werner said last night: "We have developed a voice together."

In both the live gig situation and on the album, the listener can enjoy experiencing at close quarters how a group in which the members know each other well can give themselves and each other the freedom to roam and to explore. On the album that expresses itself in one completely unexpected track, Breathing Torso, the fifth track of nine, so at the heart of the album, in which the sustaining power and the orchestral possibilities of the synthesizer are exploited to the full, producing a curious amalgam of electronic eeriness and Brucknerian slowness. On the live gig it went in the direction of injecting the odd rest into Charlie Parker's Anthropology, and testing the rhythmic instability and unpredictability that results from it.

In both the album and the live gig, we are also treated to Werner's way with the standards. On the album there is a thoroughly satisfying reading of If I Should Lose You, last night we were treated to Rodgers and Hart's With a Song in My Heart and Horace Silver's Peace - both had all the lightness and the poetry that one could ever wish for.

In these quieter moments, Werner's trio achieves poise, balance and frictionlessness. And yet once their rhythmic games and explorations really get going, they can also dig in. What both drummer Ari Hoenig and bassist Johannes Weidenmuller bring to the ensemble is total assuredness and positivity, and an ability to really land with force. That sense of the definitive, the anchored, the reliable is badly needed, and maybe not just in music....

LINK: Album trailer for Animal Crackers


NEWS: Quantum Trio win at the Hitch On Jazz Juniors International Exchange in Kraków

The winners' cheque.
Mary James reports:

The winner of the Hitch On Jazz Juniors International Exchange, 3 to 6 December 2017, has just been announced at a gala concert at Radio Kraków. Several awards comprising recording sessions, album releases and festival appearances were also made.

The winner of the First Prize is Quantum Trio (Poland); Second Prize was awarded to Vibe Quartet(Poland)

The competition, held annually in Kraków, attracted 78 bands from around the world for the competition and showcases. The competition was produced by the Fundacja Muzyki Filmowej i Jazzowej.

Mary James attended the competition for London Jazz News and her full report will follow.

LINK: Hitch On Music/ Competition  Website 


INTERVIEW: Film-maker Barry J. Gibb (New short film: Carol Grimes The Singer’s Tale)

Film-maker Barry J. Gibb has just made public a short film about singer CAROL GRIMES, entitled The Singer’s Tale. Gibb has written about the film: 

"The Singer’s Tale takes us on an emotionally powerful journey through Carol’s life. Beginning amidst the bombs of World War II, Carol’s life has been a tempestuous journey, from emotional abandonment and mutism to one of love and singing. The Singer’s Tale explores this journey, peeling away the layers of a hugely creative soul as she confronts the struggle we will all face one day – to remain relevant in the world as one’s youth fades." 

Sebastian interviewed the film-maker by email:

LondonJazz News: What is your film-making background?

Barry J Gibb: I’m a self-taught filmmaker. My first career was as a research scientist (neuroscience) but I fell in love with filmmaking and resigned from science to make films full time. I read books about film directors, like David Lynch and Darren Aronovsky, went to film festivals and soaked up as much as I could about the craft from documentary greats, like Albert Maysles or John Grierson. The closest thing I had to film school was making a series of 3 Minute Wonders for Channel 4 and Mosaic Films (Life After Coma), under the steady gaze of producer, Andy Glynne.

That was quickly followed by making a series of short films featuring comedian, Katherine Ryan, for an award-winning project called Routes. For several years after that I worked at Wellcome, a charitable foundation that funds research, making films to help breathe life into the science it supports. When I wasn’t filmmaking, I was writing and wrote The Rough Guide to the Brain. Now I’m freelance.

LJN: What are the origins of this project and how did you get to know each other?

BJG: Every now and again, I look for a project that’s entirely my own, free from a commissioner and a brief - mostly to try and push myself as a filmmaker. One day I was working with the actress Pip Mayo and she mentioned her ‘amazing friend’, Carol Grimes. Documentary filmmakers are always looking for incredible characters and the more Pip spoke about Carol - her jazz singing, amazing past and involvement with a choir for people with a range of neurological conditions - I just thought, "yep, I need to make a film about this person".

LJN: How did you first approach Carol to make this film?

BJG: I wrote to Carol, in an attempt to explain who I was. That I was interested in making a film about her, that I love to make poetic films about people, hope and life. Essentially I tried not to scare her off! Next, we spoke on the phone, chatted through what I thought we might be able to do and, importantly for me, helped Carol understand that these films are a collaboration, rather than something that was going to be done to her.

Next, I went to see Carol play at the Vortex Jazz Club - I needed to see her, hear her. And I was not disappointed! I came away from Carol’s show knowing that her Singer’s Tale would be the heart of the film - a story of her life.

LJN: Where is it shot?

BJG: It features The Quarterhouse venue in Folkestone along with its wonderful beach and also Deptford, London, where we took a trip through Carol’s memory lane and former lodgings as we made our way towards the bank of the Thames.

LJN: And over what period ?

BJG: The film was shot over a period of about three months with five shoots.

LJN: Have you worked in archive footage? Where did that come from?

BJG: Carol was incredibly generous with her archive photography - a real gift that helped me build a picture of her personality across the various phases of her life.

LJN: Any interesting/memorable locations ?

BJG: I especially loved filming Carol by the Thames. The fact that she’d said she imagined having her ashes left there made the place feel emotionally powerful. And, as she sat by the edge of the water, Carol opened up in a way I hadn’t expected - touching on her life as a woman, the downsides of ageing in a youth-obsessed world and the profound need for creativity in her life. It was an incredibly moving moment.

LJN: Has your view of/respect for Carol developed as the film has progressed

BJG: Absolutely. In the beginning, I knew Carol was amazing but only from another person’s perspective. By the time we’d finished filming, I saw Carol in this amazing light - as a woman who had consistently championed women’s rights and fought racism for decades, as an incredible talent in the singing world, as a remarkably funny and dynamic person and, finally, as one of the most driven, creative people I’d ever had the fortune to meet.

LJN: How long is the film in minutes ?

BJG: 13 minutes.

LJN: What ideally will happen to the film ?

BJG: The film did well on the festival circuit and now I’m doing my best to get it out there, to bring Carol’s infectious and fun way of seeing the world to as may people as possible. It’s also a calling card, a means of highlighting the type of film I love to make - observational films with fascinating people at the heart of them, films with humour and sensitivity.

LJN: In the meantime where can people see it either complete or as trailer/excerpt?

BJG: People can either see the complete film on my website,  or directly by following the Vimeo link HERE.

For the one minute trailer, people can see it here:

LINK: Review of the first performance of the autobiographical show which has become The Singer's Tale


CD REVIEW: Django Bates' Belovèd - The Study of Touch

Django Bates' Belovèd - The Study of Touch
(ECM 5732663. CD Review by Jon Turney)

A dozen years playing together gives Django Bates and his trio partners bassist Petter Eldh and drummer Peter Bruun the special understanding it’s hard to develop any other way. It shines through this set, their third CD and first major label release.

Bates delights in being a man of many projects, as he related recently in this magazine feature article. But the Belovèd trio seems established now as near the core of his musical vision. The Study of Touch reinforces that impression by moving on further from the Charlie Parker repertoire the trio began with - there’s a single Parker tune here, a characteristically playful treatment of Passport. All the other pieces, save one by Iain Ballamy, are Bates compositions.

Five of the leader’s pieces repeat from the trio’s 2012 release, Confirmation. The treatments here aren’t radically different. The general tendency as the group lives with the music seems to be for it to become a little lighter, a touch more spacious. There’s more than a soupcon of Bill Evans, as well as clear expressions of his fondness for Keith Jarrett. The four new Bates pieces (Little Petherick recorded by Delightful Precipice in the '90s but new to the trio) point in similar directions, too, although the two longer ones - the title piece and the sometimes rumbustious Slippage Street - go through a wider range of moods and styles. Overall, the drums, especially, lean toward the reticence of cymbal ticks and lightly brushed skins over much of this set, and the bass playing supports the piano more discreetly.

That doesn’t mean the set lacks variety. Bates’ mastery of shifting textures and unexpected turns of phrase ensures there is always something of interest happening. It does lend the whole a unity that hasn’t attended all his more orchestral projects, which sometimes jumble disparate episodes, or flirt with the boundary where quirkiness slips into whimsy. Here his prodigious flow of ideas is channeled into richly considered music, nicely pointed up by the complementary opener, Sadness All the Way Down, and new closer, Happiness all the Way Up.

This is one of those sets that immediately seems destined to go down as an ECM classic. You could listen to it by pulling up tracks on Spotify or Apple Music, but ever so much better to enjoy the whole programme in the order given. It manages to be full of spontaneity, while also sounding carefully worked out so that the varied parts fit together, and each one alchemically enhances the others.

 Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter: @jonWturney 


REVIEW: Barford/Stoneman Organ Quintet at Hot Numbers, Cambridge (2017 Cambridge Jazz Festival)

Barford Stoneman Organ Quintet
Photo credit: Matt Pannell
Barford/Stoneman Organ Quintet 
(Hot Numbers, Cambridge, 25 November. Review by by Matt Pannell)

It was the penultimate night of the Cambridge Jazz Festival and the city was throbbing with musical temptations. There were vibraphones in a dance hall, a big band in a theatre, some wild synthesizers in the cellars of Clare College and lots more besides. It’s said that you can test the quality of a festival programme by starting near the bottom of the page, so we ducked into Hot Numbers Coffee Shop, for the little-known Barford/Stoneman Organ Quintet. It’s not a snappy name for a band, and they don’t claim to be ‘pushing boundaries’. They’re into the hard-bop music of the late 1950s. Hank Mobley’s This I Dig of You explains what being ‘into the music’ really means to these players. They very obviously love it. Harry Greene’s tenor saxophone framed the song; warm, deliberate and confident, it marked out a playground for Alex Ridout’s frisky trumpet.

Vincent Herring’s Eddie Harris stepped things up. Bandleaders Joel Barford (drums) and Noah Stoneman (organ) made a restless and fizzy pair, meshing rhythm and melody without ‘propelling’ or ‘driving’ anyone. It’s Miles Mindlin’s guitar that made a mark, here. Without fuss – there’s barely any physical movement, even – intricate, elegant solos were built up in layers. There’s blurring pace but no frantic shredding and no dead ends. Instead, the ideas unfolded with pin-sharp resolution. Heads turned, chatter dried up, and the three who’ve been standing at the bar quickly glanced at one another and took the last seats.

We moved through some Lee Morgan and more Hank Mobley. The players’ fondness for this era makes sense. If an instrumentalist wants to stretch out a little, these charts offer pace and space, wrapped in friendly tunes. The front line, shoulder to shoulder, were dividing out the solos as they went, with little shrugs and nods. Christian McBride’s Tangerine was a rocket launch platform for the trumpet: explosive acceleration followed by crisp and agile flying along a perfect trajectory.

The players are young, but this felt like a normal and natural use of their Saturday evening, rather than some forced academic exercise. Their skills were being shared, rather than ‘showcased’. Noah Stoneman, in particular, wasn’t making heavy-handed statements. Those quiet organ gestures that comfort the bleak and lonely saxophone in Dexter Gordon’s Laura were tender, gentle, private. He had also written one of the two originals played tonight, outstanding by not standing out in a set-list featuring so many masters.

They romped into I’ll Remember April. Even through some ferocious trades with the organ, Joel Barford’s loose-limbed rhythmic flow remained detailed and precise. This goes a little beyond ‘fluid, sensitive and agile’.  This is music’s answer to the laminar-flow aircraft wing. It’s free of drag, pretty much. It simply flies. Is it reasonable to say that Elvin Jones can be heard in the playing of a British 20-year-old? Yes.

When a festival programme’s this strong, it doesn’t matter how far down the page you are. The night was also a reminder that this music was born in small rooms. It’s at home in this packed and cosy place with no tickets or seat numbers, cheered along by an audience clapping like they mean it. The band’s sound was huge, their commitment is total and the windows were steamed up. This is social music at its purest and most exhilarating. We all know someone who likes to talk about the ‘death of jazz music’. Not here, not on this night.

Barford/Stoneman Organ Quintet:
Joel Barford - drums
Noah Stoneman – organ
Harry Greene – tenor saxophone
Miles Mindlin – guitar
Alex Ridout – trumpet


NEWS/ INTERVIEW: French guitarist Tom Ibarra wins inaugural 2017 LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award

Tom Ibarra - First ever winner of the LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award
Photo credit: Alain Pelletier /Ibanez Guitars

It has just been announced that 18-year-old French guitarist TOM IBARRA has been selected out of a total of 270 applicants as winner of the first ever LetterOne RISING STARS Jazz Award. More details of the prize and what it brings are below. 

In anticipation of this announcement, Sebastian interviewed Ibarra by email:

LondonJazz News: Congrats on the award! Where are you from and where do you live now?

Tom Ibarra: I was born in Hyères Les Palmiers, a little town of the south (near Saint-Tropez), but the last area where I lived is the South West of France. Currently I’m studying music at the Music Centre of Didier Lockwood (CMDL) near Paris; this is my second year living here!

LJN: We understand it was your grandfather who first instilled a passion for music in you. What music did he introduvce you to?

TI: Exactly! Initially, my grandfather really loves the blues and jazz but I was not very comfortable with that kind of music at the age of 6. I was listening to Joe Satriani or Jimi Hendrix! I turned to jazz when I was 9/10 when I heard Wes Montgomery for the first time.

LJN: Your biography describes you as self-taught. Have there also been phases when you were taught?

TI: Yes my grandfather was my first music teacher. But when I was 11, he had some troubles with his hands but still giving me advice. Then I learnt by myself before to go to the Music Centre of Didier Lockwood at the age of 16.

LJN: How old were you when you first played in public?

TI: I think I was 7 or 8! I played in a pub of the city I lived in.

LJN: Is there a guitarist for you who stands above the others like a God?

TI: Not really, I’m not a huge fan of guitar players even if I love Scott Henderson, Pat Metheny, Julian Lage... I prefer piano players such as Keith Jarrett, or Bill Evans who really inspires me. But I think my biggest jazz hero is Miles Davis!

LJN: And your musical heroes in general?

TI: I like a lot of kinds of music but I mostly listen to classical music (Bach, Ravel, Chopin, Fauré, etc...). In my opinion Bach is the greatest!

LJN: How old were you when you first won a prize? 

TI: I’m not really sure about that but I think the first prize I got was a SACEM price in 2013 (I was 13) at the Saint-Ouen Jazz Musette Festival near Paris. Then I won a second SACEM price in 2014 and in 2015...

LJN:  What do you think of as the biggest gig of your life to date?

TI: Maybe with Marcus Miller and his band in Saint-Emilion Jazz Festival in 2016, but I can also say Andernos Jazz Festival because there were about 2000 people! And I can't forget Jazz in Marciac festival in 2017...

LJN: What age were you when you started composing. We understand you don't read/write music. Is that true?

TI: I always wanted to play my own music since I started music but I composed my first proper pieces at the age of 11. It's right that before I didn't write my compositions, I just recorded them playing every instruments (piano, bass, drums). But since I started to study at the CMDL last year, I began to learn music theory, and it's easier to understand what I compose, even if I still don't read the music correctly!

LJN: You made your first album at the age of 15. Has your band remained stable since that time?

TI: Yes,  on which I played guitars and keyboards. I was with the same band until this summer, but for my new project, it is a new group now!

LJN: And what will be your next album to be released?

TI: We recorded Sparkling last August with drums, keaboards, bass, saxophone - and I play the guitar fortunately! All of tracks are some compositions of mine with two big guests on two tracks! I produce and drive that new album which is coming out in January 2018. We all are very excited! We included a lot of influences in my music but I won’t say more for the moment...

LJN: How did you meet Marcus Miller?

TI: I met Marcus at the Saint-Emilion Jazz festival in July 2016. I was playing there too and the festival’s director wanted to see me playing with him, and he did it! I really thank him...

LJN: What projects do you have in the next 12 months?

TI: We are focused on the new album, its promotion, the tour and more. However I have some video projects with guests for social networks.

LJN: What are your other interests away from music

TI: I like to play tennis, to read and a lot of other things!


THE PRIZE: As winner, Tom Ibarra will be appearing at 2018 festivals such as Nice, JazzOpen in Stuttgart, Umbria, Heineken Jazzaldia in San Sebastian , Kongsberg, Cheltenham and Leopolis in Lviv/Ukraine. He will also receive a full year of PR and marketing support.

JUDGES: The final round judges were US record producer Brian Bacchus, Jamie Cullum, Karen Frivik, Sebastien Vidal and Mikhail Fridman (Chair).

SPONSOR: The backer of the LetterOne ‘RISING STARS’ Jazz Award is Mikhail Fridman, businessman, philanthropist and huge jazz fan. Press release: "Besides being a frequent visitor of Jazz festivals around the world, Fridman is also the founder of the Leopolis Jazz Festival (formerly known as Alfa Jazz) in Lviv."

PRODUCER: LetterOne ‘RISING STARS’ Jazz Award is produced by Air Artist Agency Ltd in London, director Burkhard Hopper.

LINK: LetterOne Rising Stars Jazz Awards website


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Eric Vloeimans (Pizza Express Dean Street 13 December)

Eric Vloeimans
Photo from artist website

Dutch trumpeter ERIC VLOEIMANS returns to the UK to play a one-off gig at Pizza Express in Dean Street on Wednesday 13 December as part of the Going Dutch project. 

A musician with a busy diary but who still found time to deputise for Italian trumpet master Enrico Rava at one hour’s notice a couple of weeks ago, Vloeimans works across the spectrum of music.

He studied classical music at the Rotterdam Academy of Music and jazz in New York with Donald Byrd and counts the time he spent with the late John Taylor among his most cherished musical experiences. He recently won the Netherlands’ oldest and most prestigious music prize, the Edison Classic Audience Award, for the sixth time, this one for the album Carrousel, recorded with the ensemble Holland Baroque.

His quartet features fellow Dutch musician, bassist Jeroen Vierdag, and London-based players, pianist Steve Lodder and drummer Martin France. Rob Adams caught up with him ahead of his visit:

LondonJazz News: Was trumpet your first instrument?

EV: Yes, my first love, and I have stayed true…

LJN: What attracted you to it; was there any particular person or musician who made you want to play?

EV: There was a TV show in my youth where a famous folksinger sang about a trumpet in the king’s army and it was a beautiful shiny silver trumpet and I was mesmerized. From that moment on I was totally sold on the trumpet. I must have been seven or eight.

LJN: When you went to the academy was it your intention to become a classical soloist?

EV: At that time, I didn’t know. I went to the conservatory because I wanted to play trumpet, but I really didn’t think that far ahead.

LJN: How did you become interested in jazz?

EV: At music school - before the conservatory – my teacher was already improvising. And when I arrived at the conservatory, during my classical studies, I met Cees Smal, who ran the jazz department and the big band. When I saw what was happening in the jazz department, I was really taken with it and switched from classical to jazz.

I also met Niko Langenhuyssen, bass player, pianist and composer. He had his own orchestra, Vaalbleek, which means something like pale bleach. It was the orchestra of the community garbage department. And it was a reaction to all the conventional big band music of that time. It had something nice and dirty. The music from that world tugged even harder on me than the music at the conservatory.

LJN: You spent time in New York, studying with Donald Byrd and playing with Frank Foster and Mercer Ellington; what were some of your favourite experiences?

EV: Meeting all the people, going to all the concerts, playing all the gigs, just LIVING! Six months in a city like that is very exciting for a young trumpet player.

LJN: You worked with John Taylor and enjoyed a special musical relationship with him; tell us about that.

EV: I felt that I could, in a musical way, say anything to John Taylor, and that he would hear every detail that I played.

Until the moment I met John Taylor I had never performed with anyone that could incorporate so much minutiae in his work. He was a very important influence in my musical life, and I regret deeply that he is not with us anymore.

LJN: You work across a wide range of music from chamber music to free improvisation to electric grooves; do you have a style you particularly enjoy or do you prefer to keep a variety of options open?

EV: I do try to keep all the options open, because in the not-knowing is the almighty truth. For the rest, I try to be Eric Vloeimans at the fullest.

LJN: Are there any instruments other than the trumpet that have that have influenced your sound and phrasing?

EV: It’s hard to answer this specifically because I listen to music in its entirety, and the instrument is always subservient to the person. I’ve always felt the trumpet in a muted manner – Chet Baker gave me the inspiration for my ‘airy’ sound, and when I continued that way, I discovered Jon Hassel, and instruments like the shakuhache, clarinet, duduk and they gave me the challenge to bring a wooden tone to a brass instrument.

LJN: You’re working with Steve Lodder and Martin France alongside Dutch bass player Jeroen Vierdag, at the Pizza Express, how did you meet Steve and Martin?

EV: I met Steve Lodder at Dartington in August 2016, and Martin France through Django Bates – with whom I played at the Pizza Express before, I think it was 2010.

LJN: What feelings and memories would you like audiences to take away from your concerts?

EV: Music can do so much with the human soul and I can just hope that every time I play, people go home happier than when they arrived.

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

LINK: Eric Vloeimans at Pizza Express Dean Street


INTERVIEW: (Steve Coxshall, Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club, Hampstead)

The trio Naima at the Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club
AJ Dehany visited the Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club and spoke to owner Steve Coxshall about his aspirations to make the venue the “home of Jazz in North London”.

“It’s a big, big risk changing a 300-year old pub into a jazz venue,” says Steve Coxshall, owner and director of the new Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club. In 2008 he took early retirement from finance and managing pop acts and in 2010 he bought the Duke of Hamilton pub in Hampstead. Since 2012 the Rabbit Hole venue has hosted regular jazz with a house band led by pianist Will Bartlett, championing some familiar names including singers Emilia Mårtensson, Sara Mitra and Kate Mullins. In May this year there was a flood, and Steve decided "Why not let’s make it into a proper jazz club and have a lounge bar upstairs”.

In the first week of the new venture I spoke with Steve among the French-inspired opulence of the beautifully refurbished lounge bar. “It’s brought a really young audience for jazz,” he said, “and that’s really surprised me! It’s amazing how a word can change perception. By calling it a lounge bar, people have a different view to calling it a pub. We changed the chairs and put in chandeliers and gave it a sexy feel and a relaxed vibe. That seemed to help; we got younger people in and couples and you can see that in our wine sales—the whole dynamic of the business has changed. 40% of our business was ale sales, now 10% is ale. Jazz changes the dynamics.”

Inspired by New York City, the 50-capacity basement club, with its blue brickwork and twisting low arches, has a special intimacy and atmosphere such as you find in London hideaway the Camberwell Crypt. Steve made a deliberate decision not to put in tables but to face the seats out so as to highlight the intimacy of the connection with the musicians and the audience. “The musicians respect that. They love coming back because they’ve connected. I want people to touch their souls through music. I can’t express how much that happens here. Because the energy is so great from the music and the atmosphere, people open up with emotions of happiness. To do that the bar’s very important because it funds the downstairs but literally any door proceeds all go back to the artists.”

The response has been less enthusiastic from certain members of the local community. “I’ve had people hate on me. I’ve had abuse. I’ve had people try to hit me. In the last four months they’ve gone mental: ‘You’ve ruined this pub!’ They never even came to the pub before! It’s still a great pub! You try and do something good and some people want to shoot you down. This is good for Hampstead! I had one guy come in on Saturday, old boy, must have been 60, he said ‘You’ve ruined this pub! Where’s the dartboard?’”

Steve aspires to develop the Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club into "the home of jazz in North London". “I’m pretty committed to jazz,” he says. “I take a lot of shit for it… I can only do my best! I’ve put a lot of money into the place, hopefully I’ll pay it back. I’ll pay it back in happiness. If I can make people happy from an experience in the very negative world we live in today, I’ll feel like I’ve given something back to people, and in helping young talent. We haven’t had anything easy. It’s gonna be a hard slog, but hard work didn’t kill me so far…”

He is driven by his passion for the music and its power to connect people. “I’ve got to be careful not to let the passion overrule the business! It is a business, that’s why every time I stand up I thank people and say ‘You’re keeping an industry alive.’ Elton John, Sting, they’ve all said it, if you want to  hear the great talent go to pubs and you can find them before they’re famous. So that’s my vision and I’d love to become recognized as the most intimate, focused jazz venue in London.”

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

Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club is at 23-25 New End, Hampstead NW3 1JD with live jazz Wednesday to Saturday. Website

LINK: Review of Naima trio during London Jazz Festival 


FESTIVAL REPORT: 2017 Jazztopad, Poland (Part Three - Charles Lloyd & Herbie Hancock)

Charles Lloyd (foreground) with drummer Kendrick Scott
Photo credit: Slawek Przerwa

Charles Lloyd & Herbie Hancock
(Jazztopad, Wroclaw, Poland. 25 and 26 November. Report by Martin Longley)

Martin Longley concludes his festival coverage, with climactic concerts by Charles Lloyd and Herbie Hancock…

The second weekend of Jazztopad climaxed with a pair of major performances in the main hall of the National Forum Of Music. On Saturday 25th, the US composer, saxophonist and flautist Charles Lloyd premiered Red Waters, Black Sky, commissioned by the festival, and featuring his quintet, right at its heart, flanked by the Lutoslawski Quartet and the NFM Choir. This extended work primarily reflects on Lloyd’s partly Cherokee heritage, and despite its mournful title, the suite is dominated by a spiritually uplifting, reflectively calming aura for most of its duration. Lloyd is fast approaching his 80th birthday, and is still playing with strength, control, sensitivity and authority. So much so that many of the best sections of this new work revolved around his actual solos on tenor saxophone.

The addition of the singers in particular, and to a certain extent the string quartet (as arranged by Mike Gibbs), often sounded like they were attached as separate entities rather than woven into the general musical spread. The choir parts had the feel of a late 1960s flower power movie soundtrack, but without the benefit of an exotica kitsch style. There were times when I was simply yearning for a straight quintet gig, as it was these core combo stretches that provided the most affecting musical moments. It’s not clear whether the sporadic blandness was down to a problematic relationship with the vocal interpretations, or whether the mood of sweeping Hollywood drama was intended as a more positive evocation of this unavoidably tragic history.

There was one section, with the quintet alone, that revealed a more turbulent nature, effectively backdropped just by minimalist footage of rippling blue waters, potently incongruous when partnered with the distressed sonic spread unfurling in front of the screen. “We are driven from our home, we have no more land,” the choir sang, but without the required dark character and melancholy weight. The other strongly individual soloist was Greg Leisz, on pedal steel, firstly forming an odd contrast with the choir and string section, and secondly, creating an unusual floating cowboy resonance to meld with this narrative, partnered by the mellower solos of guitarist Bill Frisell.

Contrastingly, the final night of the festival found Herbie Hancock delivering a set with no particular concept other than to reflect his past funkier side, mainly concentrating on material from the 1970s albums. Again, this was a controversial set, as post-show canvassing of opinions between fellow critics and musicians revealed your scribe to be in a distinct minority, having considered the performance to be a reasonably strong offering from our veteran keyboardist. The main obstacle to contend with was an overly loud mix that swallowed up the bass frequencies, and spat them out as deep gruel. Fortunately this didn’t hamper the frequencies mostly preferred by Hancock and multi-instrumentalist sideman Terrace Martin.

This being the third occasion that I have witnessed the Herbie band since July, it’s remarkable to note that the current tour-that-never-ends is already undergoing heavy evolution. The band line-up is now cut back to a quartet, guitarist Lionel Loueke having departed (thereby markedly reducing the wash of electronic effects) and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta now replaced by hip-hop sessioneer Trevor Lawrence Jr., who brings a more straightforward beat to the proceedings.

The flowing funkiness has been honed and directed in streamlined fashion. Yes, there’s a vocoder obsession, with Hancock and Martin infesting nearly every number with their weebly vocalising, but the bandleader’s own solos were particularly vigorous, involving extended explorations with complex escalations, and a remarkably percussive attack. Martin was at his most striking when playing saxophone, and Hancock was also in an outgoing, humorous shape, as he nonchalantly quizzed bassman James Genus about his new footwear. How many times have we ever heard that kind of banter, in our history of gig-going? Hancock’s bond with the crowd was strong, his energy levels high, and by the time of the Rockit encore, he was strutting to the front with his keytar strapped on, and actually jogged offstage twice, in a grand show of 77-year-old denial.

LINKS: 2017 Jazztopad report Part One
2017 Jazztopad Report Part Two