PODCAST INTERVIEW: Freddie Gavita (album Transient. CD launch 19 April Ronnie Scott's Upstairs)

Freddie Gavita.
Photo credit Carl Hyde

This LondonJazz News podcast features trumpeter / composer / bandleader FREDDIE GAVITA talking about "Transient," his debut album in his own name, with Tom Cawley, Calum Gourlay and James Maddren. Interview by Sebastian. Audio production by Harry Jones:


0:00 OPENING MUSIC - Sprezzatura

0:18 Transient / reason for the album title / Curtis Schwartz Studio / recorded in a day

1: 39 MUSIC: Strimming the Ham

Reason for this  title /  the other band members

5: 49 MUSIC Yearning

Growing up playing music in Norwich / Dave Amiss / others in Norwich: Sam Crockatt Dave Smith Mason Brothers Pat White / the "culture of competition....set me up to be versatile.”

11:24 MUSIC: Pull  Your Socks Up

Touring in February 2018 / other bands that FG plays in - Ronnie Scott's Quintet, Fletch's Brew....

15:17  MUSIC: Turneround

LINKS: Freddie Gavita's website
Album launch bookings - Ronnie Scott;s Upstairs Weds 19 April


REPORT: The 2017 Dankworth and Eddie Harvey Awards at Milton Court

L-R: Emily Dankworth, Tom Green (Eddie Harvey Award Winner),
Jacqui Dankworth
Photo credit: Kat Pfeiffer

The Dankworth and Eddie Harvey Awards 2017 Concert
(Milton Court, 23rd March 2017. Report and photos by Kat Pfeiffer)

It is ten years since the Dankworth prize was started by Art Mead, named after jazz composer and saxophonist Sir John Dankworth(1927-2010). He was originally approached with the idea of naming the award The John Dankworth Prize, but he apparently responded 'Don't call it the John Dankworth Prize, call it The Dankworth Prize, because you will get several Dankworths for the price of one'. It was a story he enjoyed telling, and which lives on: his granddaughter Emily told it on the Award night at the stage of the Guildhall Music School, preceding the announcement of the 2017 winners.

Emily (L) and Jacqui  Dankworth at the ceremony
Photo credit: Kat Pfeiffer

The ceremony at Guildhall School's Milton Court was paired up with two-yearly Eddie Harvey Prize for Jazz Arrangement. The judges of the Dankworths were Nikki Iles, Bob Mintzer and Frank Griffith. Prizes were awarded in two categories:

Small Ensemble

Runner Up was Mathew Sulzmann for Castle View
Winner; Matt Anderson for Jig Jag Jug

Big Band

Runner Up was James Brady for Hermeto's Hideaway a
Winner: Jacky Naylor for Bilbao.

The first music part of the Gala concert consisted of all the prize-winning compositions, amazingly performed by the exceptional Guildhall School Orchestra under direction of the charismatic conductor Scott Stroman.

The winner of the Eddie Harvey Prize for jazz arranging was announced after the interval. Harvey played trombone in the John Dankworth's band, wrote music for him, was his friend and worked together on many occasions.The prize recognizes arrangements of  works  written years ago, but also can be an originally written work.

L-R: Sam Gardner,  Matt Anderson, Jason Yarde, Matt Roberts

The judges Pete Hurt, Keith Williams, Mark Armstrong and Jason Yarde  awarded the prize to  trombonist Tom Green for an arrangement of his own composition Badger Cam. A performance of this piece was followed by the iconic Kenny Wheeler's beautiful suite Windmill Tilter, based on the adventures of Don Quixote,.

Wheeler wrote Windmill Tilter for the John Dankworth Orchestra over a half a century ago. Dankworth commissioned it from him during a hiatus when he couldn't play. Windmill Tilter has earned its place as a crucial work in the history of the big band arrangement.

Scott Stroman's introduction gave a good account of how the original Dankworth Orchestra instrumental line-up differed from the traditional  big band format. The groups of instruments have their contrasts brought out, and are allowed to play individually, sometimes antiphonally and contrapuntally, and sometimes letting them to play together  – all to add colour to the sound. The Guildhall Jazz Orchestra had been distributed on the stage to reflect these differences.

Saxophonist (name?) fron the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

The legendary, British jazz musician, trumpeter Henry Lowther took part in the original recording of the Windmill Tilter - which also included Dave Holland, John McLaughlin and Michael Gibbs (LINE-UP)

Henry Lowther in Windmill Tilter
Photo credit: Kat Pfeiffer

On the award night last week, according to Scott Stroman, Lowther had brought his diary from 1968 and opened up the pages for March, showing that historic note: "recording with John Dankworth Orchestra". For this listener it was a great privilege to have seen and heard him play with the Giuldhall Jazz Band on the Dankworth Award evening.

Congratulations and every success to all the amazing and super-talented winners and runners-up!


CD REVIEW: Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita - Transparent Water

Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita - Transparent Water
(World Village WVF479125. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The Cuban pianist Omar Sosa is a born collaborator and his taste in musical partners ranges far and wide. In the past he has worked most effectively with American folk/blues singer/banjo player Tim Eriksen and Italian jazz trumpeter Paolo Fresu; here he is co-leader with the Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita who is now resident in this country.

Transparent Water is full of clear, bubbling, flowing and tumbling sounds as befits its title. The two players interlace their not dissimilar instruments into a gentle ebb and flow, luxuriating in the subtle timbral variations they can get.

Those timbres are further enhanced with added electronic washes behind them and a variety of additional percussion sounds from all around the world, mainly made by Venezuelan Gustavo Ovalles but also from the Chinese sheng and bawu of Wu Tong, for example. In addition Keita sings on some tracks.

The resulting music is both serenely atmospheric, able to function as a background soundtrack to the listener’s life, yet also worthy of more active engagement with its adventurous improvisational twists and turns, and constant reinventions. It has an air of devotion, filled with a quiet and often quite restrained joy.

The potential downside of this kind of “world music fusion” is that it can sound like a mixture made for the sake of it, and a mess as a result. But the shared vision of Sosa and Keita overcomes any such risks - they may be eclectic in their influences but they are true to their own musical characters and what they want to achieve.

It’s a beautiful album from start to finish.

LINK: CD Review from 2016 -  Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa - Eros

Omar Sosa & Seckou Keita will be touring in November 2017. Dates confirmed are at the EFG London Jazz Festival (Milton Court Nov 19) and RWCMD Cardiff (Nov 14)


PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Patricia Barber (Watermill and Pizza Dean Street - Apr 11-13)

Patricia Barber. Photo credit: Valerie Booth

Chicago-based composer/songwriter,  jazz singer/pianist PATRICIA BARBER is making a rare visit to the UK in April, with three gigs to round off a European tour, appearing with her trio at the Watermill in Dorking and Pizza Dean Street. Interview by Kathryn Shackleton:

LondonJazz NewsWhat is your earliest musical memory?

Patricia Barber: My father Floyd Barber was playing the saxophone (he was an alto saxophone player who had his own band in Chicago in 1929 and also played as a sub for Glenn Miller) and I wanted to "feel" the music, so he let me put my hand inside the bell while he played.  Pretty amazing.  

LJN: Which events and people have influenced you in your musical career?

PB: There are many moments, but one artist who had an enormous influence on me is Shirley Horn. I traded sets with her 3 nights in a row at the North Sea Jazz Festival.  I sat out in the audience to listen to her instead of staying backstage. Her self-restraint was the key to her success.  The audience would let out a collective sigh if/when she bent a note.  It was a lesson I never forgot.  She was a master of control. 

LJN: How do you practise?

PB: I practise every day. Sometimes I play jazz, sometimes I play classical music and of course sometimes I combine that with composition and/or arranging.  I try to get in Bach's Well Tempered Clavier every day.  It is a bit of a physical and mental hardship to go on the road where I can't have the privacy I need to practice this music (which I don't play well enough to let anybody hear). 

LJN: You can fill theatres and festivals with thousands of people. What keeps you playing your regular Monday night gig at the Green Mill Club in Chicago?

PB: It is a laboratory for my composition and attendant arranging. I need to perform in front of an audience to understand what works and what doesn't.  I listen to their laughter, applause, or lack thereof and make adjustments.  It is also one of the hippest jazz clubs in the world so on many levels it is a pleasure to play at the Green Mill.  Dave, the owner, has been wonderful to me as well as the staff.  Performance can be nerve-wracking for me so it is nice to have a place to call 'home.'  Also, there is so much to be learned playing very crowded large venues but also playing smaller clubs on slow nights.  Risk-taking is often done on nights when the club is slow for one reason or another (like a snowstorm, for instance).  This risk-taking is the thing you really want to hear as an audience member and this is where I as the musician find revelation -- in this extreme risk-taking. 

LJN: Many musicians are able to take their instruments with them to gigs, but you must meet many different pianos for one-night concerts all over the world. How do you approach a new instrument and get the best out of it?

PB: We have a contract-rider that asks for a certain brand and type of piano and tuning schedule.  It is rare I run into a very bad piano these days.  I did recently in Toronto, though, and it was one of the most painful performances I have ever had to give. 

LJN: If you could put together your dream band of musicians from any era, who would be in the band?

PB: I'd love to play with some of the legends on bass and drums, of course.  So many to name.  Philly Joe Jones, Victor Lewis, Jack De Johnette, Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, John Patitucci, Terri Lyne Carrington who I run into a lot but cannot afford to hire.

 LJN : Which book, exhibition, music or other art form has made an impression on you recently?

PB: Recently, and for a couple of years now, Gabriel Fauré - both his composition for piano and his songs. Debussy and Ravel songs (harmony),  the movie Moonlight,  the book Euphoria by Lily King. The poem Making Peace by Denise Levertov - I cannot read it enough.  

LJN: What are your musical plans for the future?

PB: I will publish a book of my artsongs.  These are the songs that can be sung (and are being and have been sung) by classical singers as well as jazz singers.  I am in the process of writing piano accompaniment for the classical singers and their pianists.   And I would simply like to carry on.  

Kathryn Shackleton is programmer at the Watermill

LINKS: 5-star review from 2015 Montreal Jazz Festival
Patricia Barber website
The most recent release is Monday Night Live At The Green Mill Volume 3 (digital only)

Patricia Barber will be appearing with her trio at:

Watermill Jazz, Dorking on 11th April (BOOKINGS
Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean St., London on 12th and 13th April (BOOKINGS)


NEWS: PRS for Music Foundation report of UK artists' success at #SXSW in Austin Texas

A press release today from the PRS for Music Foundation highights the success of the UK's South by Southwest showcase:

Thirty-seven artists, the highest number yet, were supported by the International Showcase Fund to perform at SXSW, thanks to new funding partners and a joint commitment to supporting a particularly diverse line-up of UK artists to perform at this global meeting point for the industry.

British Underground and Jazz re:freshed hosted a stage takeover at SXSW featuring Gogo Penguin and Sarathy Korwar, both supported through the International Showcase Fund. The founding partner of the International Showcase Fund is Arts Council England, and they connected up Jazz Refreshed with ISF partners British Underground who have a longstanding history of showcasing artists outside the mainstream at SXSW. Web and radio platform Jazz Standard came on board as partners, with additional support from the team at SXSW.

The thirty-seven artists were:

Alice Jemima, Anna Meredith, Buggsy, Chain Of Flowers, Charlie Cunningham, Dan Bettridge, Dave, Doe, Dream Wife, Fifi Rong, Fizzy Blood, Flamingods, Frisco (Boy Better Know), GoGo Penguin, Happy Meals, L.A. Salami, Let’s Eat Grandma, Logan Sama, Meilyr Jones, Muncie Girls, PAWS, Pinact, The Pooches, Rude Kid, Safone, Sam Gellaitry, Sarathy Korwar, shame, She Drew The Gun, Spinning Coin, Sundara Karma, SuperGlu, Sweat, The Japanese House, The Sandinistas, The Spook School, WOMPS.

The PRS For Music Foundation press release highlights the following results of the showcase:

- A quarter of the New York Times ‘Notable Artists’ list are UK acts supported by PRS Foundation’s International Showcase Fund amongst other tip lists

- Artists already reporting discussions about new deals which reflect positive in-roads with industry.

- 89% of International Showcase Fund acts between 2011-16 returned from showcasing with tangible business outcomes

New York Times “Notable Acts” at SXSW

- Anna Meredith
- GoGo Penguin
- Let’s Eat Grandma


 NPR (National Public Radio) covered

- GoGo Penguin
- Let’s Eat Grandma
- Anna Meredith
- L.A. Salami
- She Drew the Gun
- Dream Wife

Austin Chronicle’s “Must See International Acts” 

- Buggsy
- Let’s Eat Grandma
- Japanese House



Vanessa Reed CEO of PRS Foundation: 
“It’s fantastic to see our talented British artists making a real splash in the US at SXSW, taking advantage of the opportunity to showcase in this important territory for business development. We’re proud to have been able to support so many artists this year through our International Showcase Fund which is backed by Department of International Trade, Arts Council England, PPL, British Underground, Musicians Union, Creative Scotland, Arts Council of Wales and Pledge Music. This year’s acts have demonstrated that even in the world’s largest and most popular showcase event, distinctive UK music cuts through, confirming the talent and originality of our songwriters and composers. I look forward to following the next chapter of their international development.”

Charlie Cunningham: 
“The International Showcase Fund support meant I was able to play my first US gigs at SXSW, which seemed to go down really well. My managers are already having follow up conversations with people who saw me play in Austin and I'm looking forward to hopefully returning to America later this year.”

Dream Wife:
 “Austin was a dream from the moment we landed til we said our goodbyes at the airport with sea shell necklaces around our necks. We had gotten a few new freckles, played quite a lot of crazy shows, made a lot of new friends, the most amazing memories, and we left with very warm hearts. In total we played 9 shows spanning over 5 days. The venues each had their own character and southern vibe to it. We had some of the most fun and sweaty shows we've ever played!! We loved the crowds in Austin and enjoyed the madness of the festival where a show was happening on every corner. This was our first trip to the USA as a band and we are forever thankful to the International Showcase funding for making this wild ride happen. We can't wait to go back!”

LINK: Impact Report of Showcase funding 2013-2016


PHOTOS: Logan Richardson's Shift at Unterfahrt in Munich

Tony Tixier and Logan Richardson at Unterfahrt Munich
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Ralf Dombrowski heard and photographed Logan Richardson's Quartet "Shift" at Unterfahrt in Munich on Friday 24th March. He writes - original German below (*) : 

A saxophonist such as Logan Richardson with his quartet demonstrate that the Kamasi Washington phenomenon is not just a one-off or an exception, but rather the expression of a whole musical generation. At the Unterfahrt in Munich, his band Shift were playing music with long intensity builds, and also extended forays into several stylistic directions. It was funky in the post-bop idiom, but could take in both the free and the contemplative as well. This was a combination which managed to be both demanding of the listener - and also fun.

Drummer Ryan Lee. Unterfahrt Munich
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Bassist Joe Sanders at Unterfahrt Munich
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

L-R: Joe Sanders, Tony Tixier, Ryan Lee, Logan Richardson.
Unterfahrt Munich
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Logan Richardson. Unterfahrt Munich
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

(*) Ein Saxofonist wie Logan Richardson und sein Quartett zeigen, dass das Phänomen Kamasi Washington nicht nur ein Phänomen, sondern bereits Ausdruck einer Musikgeneration ist. In der Münchner Unterfahrt jedenfalls dokumentierten Shift eine Musik der langen Steigerungen und ausgedehnten Exkurse in viele Stilrichtungen, funky und postboppend, frei und verinnerlicht. Eine zugleich herausfordernde und unterhaltsame Mischung.


CD REVIEW: Eivind Opsvik – Overseas V

Eivind Opsvik – Overseas V
(Loyal Label. CD review by Henning Bolte)

This CD is the fifth opus of Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas quintet, a well-established Brooklyn unit of the Norwegian-born bassist comprising hot guitarrero and banjo picker Brandon Seabrook, exquisite pianist Jacob Sacks, magnificent tenorist Tony Malaby and drum magician Kenny Wollesen. It is a troupe that can jump in and chase it both straight and zig zagging in ritmo grandioso, and Opsvik is a bit more than the proverbial anchor. He is a master of the ostinato and forces invoked by imperturbable repetition. His Overseas quintet normally plays a game of uncovering and hiding, up and down, slow and fast, outburst and focus. Its music might at moments enter into heartfelt enchanting melodies and a few moments later the rough and brittle side might appear with unpredictable shifts and transitions – all great dialectics and dynamics.

On this album it’s a matter of chasing along the fun to run and vice versa route. It has resulted in the most amusing, light-hearted album that crossed my ears so far this year. It’s all great pleasure with a lot of smiles. It starts with I’m Up This Step derailing grandioso at the end. Hold Everything is a moonlight pogo with all monsters gathering. The Extraterrestrial Tantrum is what it says. It’s conjuring up what never really will appear. It’s a “Telstar’ derivate with a great Oberheim drum machine. In Brraps the horses are totally free to run. It’s a kind of jazz that nearly everybody should get. Cozy Little Nightmare is a kind of bop dub, solid and firm but contorted too and all on a carpet grown with thistles. The First Challenge On The Road seems to be that it seems endless. So the group indulge in a rubato variant of some traits of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. Shoppers And Pickpockets is a minimalistic wavy affair with great breaks. IZO revives Kool & The Gang’s Celebration riff climbing its own rocks – and oh this drummer here! The finishing Katmania Duskmann, an older piece, is a nice raw outro interspersed with Brötzonia and traversed by Seabrook’s fantastico shaggy ragged guitar work. Why did I think of Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band at some moments and of The Lounge Lizards at others? Resemblances are of course, as always, purely coincidental.

The album came out on the unsung Loyal Label, a Brooklyn based musicians’ label, now in its 10th year. It has a lot to offer including a covers/packages with a basic colour and a unique clear-cut and handsome graphic design.


REVIEW: Mark Holub, Liran Donan, Tom Herbert, Chris Batchelor at the Vortex

Liran Donin in 2013
Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield

Mark Holub, Liran Donan, Tom Herbert, Chris Batchelor
Vortex, 22nd March 2017. Review by AJ Dehany)

There’s something particularly earth-shattering and primal about duelling basses: the driving, grinding, earthy experience of digging into dirt and finding treasure. With two bass-players and Led Bib bandleader Mark Holub on drums, this quartet’s debut was always going to be a groove fest. Liran Donin is the shoulder-popping neck-thwacking double-stopping badass bass-man from Led Beb, and Tom Herbert is the fulsome fearsome engine of Polar Bear. It’s an inspired pairing of bass-players, and an inspired pairing of rhythm section and lead player in trumpeter Chris Batchelor.

Batchelor lends a composer’s ear and a lot of bop to the open playing. He’s so melodic, they’re so driving. It leaves a certain onus on Batchelor, who responds with a warmly lyrical approach and a diverse selection of horns: trumpet, specialised cornets, and a horn of seven horns that looks like the eponymous throne from Game of Thrones: a beast of seven pipes attached to a man. We know the set has reached serious business when he whips it off the piano half an hour in. It blasts like a car horn.

It’s pleasing to find Chris Batchelor extemporising melodic motifs that are taken up by the other players. He settles on a good one, and Tom Herbert echoes it. There’s that great feeling when you perceive players ‘feeling each other up’ and we’re part of it, vicariously. Pervy, nerdy fun for musos, though maybe less appealing to those who prefer their music pre-prepared and ready to eat. We, however.. don’t we like to see ‘em cookin’.

Throughout the two wholly improvised sets there sounds like there must be some pre-prepared material, at least from the trumpeter. That’s the thing about free music: it’s improvised at the source, but composed in the ear and recomposed in the memory. Holub just says their rehearsal had wholly consisted of working out bass frequencies. These guys are serious groove-meisters, so it’s a bit more like a really good jam session than ‘free playing’ as we would recognize it in terms of what Stewart Lee calls “players trying to play non-idiomatically in what is now an established idiom.”

Writing about free playing isn’t like the cliché ‘dancing about architecture’. It’s more like architecture about dancing: finding the structural form among the baggy content. We do this intuitively as listeners, forming patterns and applying our own structures and references which are the basis of the sensibility we use to apprehend what Kevin LeGendre calls “the island of meaning in the ocean of music”.

It’s funny how the shape of a ‘free’ 40-minute improv still retains something of the form of a shorter structured piece - a song. The inevitable drum solo is never earlier than three quarters of the way in. This is somehow necessary. A conceptual purist would start a clock, say go, play notes at random and, when 40 minutes has elapsed, simply stop the music. Thankfully this never happens.

If ‘free’ playing can suggest the form and schedule of composed material it is especially gratifying when you can get more free of that. This is what happens in your second set: warmed up, freer. Here’s a thing about jazz generally. By the second set you’re tired, but you’re energised - it’s almost always better, but no-one knows how - it’s a mystery.


PREVIEW: Hitting the High Notes - BBC R3 Documentary on jazz, heroin, and the story of the 'Narcotic Farm (Sunday Mar 26, 6 45pm)

Jam session by patients at the Narcotic Farm
© 1951, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, NYWT&S Collection
reproduced by permission of BBC Radio 3 Publicity

BBC Radio 3 are flagging up a radio documentary this Sunday featuring interviews with Benny Golson, Hal Galper, Jerry Tolson (University of Louisville), Gary Falk (Falk Recording Studio in Louisville and a member of the band Indigo) and Professor Colin Drummond (Professor of Addiction Psychiatry at Kings College London).

In the 45-minute progamme, Dr Sally Marlow, Public Engagement Fellow at King’s College London and a specialist in addiction and mental health, explores the links between jazz and heroin addiction and tells the story of the 'Narcotic Farm' in Lexington Kentucky.

DETAILS: Sunday Feature: Hitting The High Notes
18:45-19:30 BBC Radio 3 - PROGRAMME WEBSITE


The story of jazz in the post-war era is one of revolution and rebellion, as musicians like Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk and Dizzy Gillespie re-invented the genre, giving birth to bebop. But alongside the music, something else emerged in this period: a mini-epidemic of heroin use among jazz musicians which broke out in the mid-1940s, as the drug became more freely available in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

In their attempt to understand and tackle the rising problem of drug addiction and the moral panic that ensued, the US Government targeted and arrested many jazz musicians. But instead of sending them to conventional prisons, many ended up at a Kentucky institution known as the Narcotic Farm. Part prison, part hospital, it was the first attempt anywhere in the world to simultaneously treat addiction as a health problem, whilst studying the science behind it. Though it practiced an enlightened approach to therapy, it also carried out what today would be considered highly unethical experiments on patients, which even included re-addicting them in order to study the symptoms of withdrawal.

The roll-call of jazz musicians who spent time at Lexington is astonishing: Sonny Rollins, Elvin Jones, Chet Baker, Lee Morgan, Sonny Stitt, Bennie Green, Jackie MacLean, Red Rodney… the list goes on. Rather than viewing Jazz as part of the problem, the doctors and researches instead chose to look at it as a potentially therapeutic activity. Musicians were given instruments and rooms where they could play for up to six hours a day. As a result, bands formed – jazz super groups – who performed regularly in the prison’s auditorium. The shows became so famous that one band was invited onto the Johnny Carson Show on US TV.

In this programme, Dr Sally Marlow, an addiction researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, examines the relationship between heroin and jazz in the post-war period and explores its impact on creativity, therapy and addiction science both then and now. She hears from musicians of that period, travels to Lexington and discovers that a recording of a ‘Narco’ concert, made by a member of staff in the late 1960s, has survived.


LINKS: Documentary film and book about Narcotic Farm
Dr Sally Marlow


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Tara Minton – The Tides of Love (Album Launch April 6th Elgar Room RAH)

Photo Credit: Antonella Raimondo

Australian harpist and vocalist TARA MINTON travelled halfway around the world to become established on the British music scene and is now due to release her solo album, ‘The Tides of Love’. Adrian Pallant talked with Tara ahead of her launch concert at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on 6th April.

LondonJazz News: Based in London since 2011, you’re originally from Melbourne. Can you describe your musical beginnings and how your relocation came about?

Tara Minton: I was born into a non-musical family, but begged to have piano lessons until I was big enough to sit on the stool at the age of seven. After seeing a Marx Brothers movie on tv when I was ten, I made a little harp out of a lunchbox and went around playing it until my parents realised I was serious. I played and was trained in classical harp, as well as being an amateur jazz pianist. But after I heard and watched videos of the amazing French jazz harpist Jakez Francois (who is also a director of Camac Harps), I emailed him, asking if he would listen out for my song ‘Play With Me’ on a local radio station. That resulted in me having lunch with my hero and telling him of my dreams to move to London. He agreed Europe is a much better place for me to create my music and offered to help me. That was where my relationship with Camac began. Five weeks later, I flew to London, got settled and then I drove to Paris to collect the same Big Blue harp that Jakez plays – certainly a case of ‘right place, right time’.

LJN: You’re as much at home performing Fauré and Puccini as jazz – but your new album seamlessly blends jazz, folk, country and soul with a distinctive and expressive singer/songwriter approach. What led you in this direction, and what creative opportunities does it provide you with?

TM: I love Etta James, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald – and I love words. So I decided I would learn from jazz musicians, taking my harp to pester musos in Melbourne and sitting with bass players, guitarists, drummers, saxophonists. For example, I learnt how to incorporate guitarists’ percussive damping on the strings – and because a harp’s strings are closer together than a piano’s, the range is much greater, so those lovely, open guitar voicings such as big fourths that you can’t manage across piano keys can be achieved on the harp. It takes the place of a piano in a trio, and is a kind of cross between piano and guitar – though you do have to ‘unplay’ everything you play (to stop it sounding) – and pianos aren’t able to shift into whole-tone scale mode, either.

LJN: You also belong to a high-energy gypsy jazz band, Harp Bazaar – but your original music for The Tides of Love seems personal, often emotive, and with an emphasis on lyrical, observational storytelling. What inspires you in your writing?

TM: I have an acting degree, and feel that all art is about telling a story. Whatever the medium, that’s the most important thing. It all began when my grandfather played classical records to me and would make ups stories to go along with the music. In Dvorak’s Humoresques, he would say, “Can you see the autumn leaf dancing in the wind?” – almost like Fantasia, but with his own tales. I try to compose music that supports the dramatic narrative as much as it can. It can be therapeutic, too, and works for both grief and joy. I have so much feeling that it’s almost overwhelming, but every time I play one of my songs on stage, I revisit the place I was in when I wrote it and a little more of the feeling is released – and with the happier songs, I can go back and think, ‘Ah, wasn’t that good?”

LJN: You have said on your blog that music is magic, and that everyone is transformed by it in some way or other. You’re a busy musician on the London scene – how do you witness that transformation when you perform?

TM: A lot of people, at gigs, come up to me and say how much a song meant to them, and then tell me really personal stories. So even though my songs can be very specific – about certain people and certain things – we all kinda have the same experiences; and because I’m being open and honest, it seems to allow other people are able to express that, too. The most amazing experience I ever had was in Palanga on the Baltic Sea in Lithuania. I played a concert and the audience were very generous; they really came with me. Afterwards, a woman said, “Please join me for dinner, I want to talk to you about one of the songs” (‘You Never Kill A Good Woman’). We ended up having an in depth conversation about gender politics. She explained how in Belarus, women are often highly educated, but the culture places more value on how attractive they are to men rather than who they are. Obviously I believe women and everyone’s value is inherent, so we really got stuck in – which was super interesting, coming from such different cultures. At the end of the night she said, “I have an eight-year old daughter, and I’m going to raise her to believe she can be happy with or without the love of a man”. I thought, “How cool is that?” A song – just a song – started this long conversation, and we‘re still friends. Speaking personally, I am transformed when I play with great musicians.

LJN: So tell me about a couple of the songs on the album, and what they mean to you.

TM: Clementines in the Morning Sun tells the story of a crazy night out, after going through a rough patch. The following morning, I woke up on a boat, surrounded by interesting artistic folk, and thought, “These are my people! I feel much better about life.” As it turned out, a few of us in the group had just recently ended relationships – so we sat around, eating clementines and talking about how life should be sweet… like clementines in the morning sun. When I left Australia, six years ago, my boyfriend didn’t want to move to London – but we’re still really good friends, so that’s what Tower of London is about. And the final track, On My Way To You, is a lovely story. It was written for my husband, who I met over here just a couple of weeks before I was due to play a five-week series of concerts in Australia. I bumped into an ex back home, and my friend had said to him, “Tara’s got this lovely Kiwi man – you’ve missed the boat!” Later, my husband’s response was, “He never missed the boat, Tara… you were on your way to me the whole time.”

Photo Credit: Andy Porter
LJN: You’re active in promoting the harp at festivals and workshops – including Sydney, Geneva, Rotterdam and Poland, as well as Birmingham and Cardiff in the UK. Do you sense a great spirit and enthusiasm for the harp’s musical diversity?

TM: Yes, I do. A lot of people are very excited about the harp. There are some amazing players, such as Park Stickney (for me and everyone, the harp has limits – but for Park, it doesn’t), and Edmar Castenada, the Colombian harpist who has played with Chick Corea, Marcus Miller and Herbie Hancock, is setting the world on fire right now. My mission is to get the instrument and its capabilities out of the ‘harp bubble’ and into the wider world of music.

LJN: ‘The Tides of Love’ is released on 6th April, and is to be launched at the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. Will all your musicians on the album be playing?

TM: Usually I tour with the trio – Ed Babar (bass) and Tom Early (drums) – but for the launch, we wanted to recreate the album line-up as best we could. So everyone, except for the string quartet, will be there. Violinist Duncan Menzies and guitarist Filippo Dall’Asta are members of Harp Bazaar, and Tim Boniface on horns has been a musical mentor of mine for the past six years in London. Percussionist Lilia Iontcheva turned up at the studio while John Merriman, my producer, was mixing the album and declared, “It needs me!” (we’ve since become very good friends), so she will be playing. The stunning Serena Braida is singing backing vocals and Phil Merriman on keys is just a genius – I can’t believe he’s playing with me! We’ll perform all the songs from the album, along with a couple of new tunes and some standards to showcase the incredible musicians in the ensemble… and there’ll be a few surprises, too.

LJN: How does it feel, as an expression of your music, now that the album is finally going out into the world?

TM: I’m very happy with how it represents my music – it owes in incredible amount to the wonderful team of musicians and the crew at Crown Lane Studios who worked with me. I grew up and lived by the ocean my entire life, so it was important that this theme continued throughout the album. Everyone took the idea and really brought it to life in their playing. There are flowing lines, with breathing and instrumental lines which suggests waves, seagulls, a whale; and the final track returns to earlier musical references, almost as if you’re standing on the same sand, looking at the same ocean, but something’s changed. (pp)

LINK: Tara Minton's website


NEWS: Programme announced for Made in UK at Rochester #XRIJF Showcase

The line-up for the Made in UK Showcase at the Christ Church venue at thei year's Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival (June 23 – July 1 2017) is announced.

Following the untimely death of Made in UK's founder-instigator and director John Ellson, this tenth year's programme has been put in place by Sue Edwards. As the press release says: "It remains the largest presentation of British Jazz outside the UK and several of the bands will also be performing on the Canadian festival circuit this year."

Sue Edwards says: "Since the very sad loss of Made in the UK founder/director John Ellson last year, it has been an honour to carry on this important collaboration with the XRIJF, one that gives British jazz musicians the unique opportunity to perform in the USA and on the Canadian jazz Festival circuit. We look forward to celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Made in the UK series this year and dedicate it to the memory of our dear friend and colleague."


June 23 Gwilym Simcock

June 24 Neil Cowley Trio

June 25 Elliot Galvin Trio

June 26 Laura Jurd - Dinosaur

June 27 Dave O'Higgins - Atlantic Bridge Quartet

June 28 Polly Gibbons Quartet

June 29 Phronesis

June 30 Binker & Moses

July 01 Tessa Souter Quartet

There will also be a tribute to John Ellson on the last day of the festival

LINKS: Made in the UK
Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival

Tribute to John Ellson by Rob Adams


PREVIEW: Monthly Jazz Vespers @ Christ Church Highbury N5 (March 26th, 6.30pm)

Rachel Maby
Photo Credit : City Academy

New singers and congregation members are very welcome this Sunday 26th March at 6.30pm, when Christ Church Highbury will host an intimate evening of jazz and soul music at the monthly Jazz Vespers service. Leading the musical worship will be the newly established Christ Church jazz choir, directed by its Music Director, Rachel Maby. Joining them will be Liam Dunachie on piano, Greg Gottlieb on bass and Scott Chapman on drums. Rachel Maby writes:

Christ Church Highbury’s monthly Jazz Vespers service is now in its second year, having been founded by jazz trombonist and Guildhall School of Music and Drama jazz professor, Scott Stroman. Jazz Vespers is a music lead service where Christians and non-Christians are welcome alike. The service allows time to reflect and appreciate spiritual and secular musical works in an informal worship setting.

This month’s service falls on Mother’s Day and the Christ Church Jazz choir will be performing my new arrangements of ‘Mother’s Eyes’ jazz standard, ‘No one knows me like the piano’ by Sampha and Adam Morris’ arrangement of ‘Mother’s Child’ by Gregory Porter. These songs will be interspersed with congregation hymns and fellowship songs.

Christ Church Jazz Vespers has seen many well-known London jazz musicians perform, such as Norma Winstone and Pete Churchill. It’s also a great platform for young up-and-coming jazz artists to take part and play; the church has previously hosted the Guildhall School of Music and Drama Big Band and Jazz Choir.

Christ Church Jazz Vespers falls on the last Sunday of each month and offers the opportunity for members of the congregation and local community to come and sing with the jazz choir, to help lead the musical worship in the hymn and fellowship songs. We meet at 5pm on the day to rehearse with the band before the service. If you would be interested in taking part, just message me via my website: www.rachelmaby.com/contact

Christ Church is situated in the heart of Highbury and is a 5min walk from Highbury and Islington station and on the direct route of 19, 4 and 236 buses. The church address is 155 Highbury Grove, London, N5 1SA.

All are most welcome.

Scott Stroman directing Jazz Vespers at Christ Church Highbury


REVIEW: The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra - Effervescence

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra - Effervescence
(Spartacus Records. STS024. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra is the youth arm of the inestimable Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Tommy Smith, head of the jazz programme at the Royal Conservatiore of Scotland and the (grown up) driving force behind both orchestras, won the 2016 Jazz Educator of the Year at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards, in part for his work with TSYJO. There is a lot of cross fertilisation between the two bands, with members of the junior orchestra moving up to take seats in SNJO, and players from SNJO acting as mentors to the TSYJO, such as trumpeter Tom Walsh, who adds a bit of weight to the trumpet section on this disc.

"Effervescence" can mean bubbly, vivacious and enthusiastic, an apt name for this record. It contains seven standards and one tune written and arranged by trumpeter Sean Gibbs, Tam O'Shanter, part of Gibbs' collection of tunes based on poems by Robert Burns released by the Birmingham Jazz Orchestra. Gibbs' tune is perfectly at home amongst work by Woody Herman, Benny Golson, Dizzy Gillespie and Chick Corea.

Several of the tunes are arranged by Florian Ross, who is a regular collaborator with the SNJO. He adds verve to Jerome Kern's The Way You Look Tonight, Shorter's Nefertiti (credited to Miles Davis) and Corea's Humpty Dumpty. A second Corea tune, his homage Bud Powell, has been arranged by Christian Jacob, and the orchestra tackle original arrangements of Herman's Apple Honey, Golson's Blues March and Gillespie's Things To Come.

There is no doubt about the musicianship of the TSYJO. The band contains several winners and finalists from the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, including this year's winner, bassist David Bowden; the other members of the rhythm section have all been finalists, and the other sections have their fair share, too. Many members of the orchestra are bandleaders in their own right.

This would be a good disc by any band: one need make no allowances the players' age. They are well-drilled, the unison playing punchy and energetic, which pushes the soloists on, too. It is a young band in which everyone shines.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.


REVIEW: Mike Westbrook and Jonathan Gee at Pizza Express Dean Street

Jonathan Gee and Mike Westbrook
Photo credit: Roger Thomas

Mike Westbrook and Jonathan Gee
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, London. Wednesday 15th March 2017. Review by Jane Mann)

Mike Westbrook and Jonathan Gee were an interesting pairing at this year’s Steinway 2 Piano Festival 2017 at the Pizza Express.

These two very different pianists took to the stage together and played by turns solos and duets. Mike Westbrook played several excerpts from his recent solo piano album Paris (2016) over the evening. He began with Sonnet for Stephen, an extended blues full of sadness and anger featuring his trademark massive chords and plenty of Debussy twinkling in the upper register. Propositions, a loud almost cubist improvisation, full of dissonance and conflict followed. The notes to the Paris album say that this tune “conjures up a vision of the Universe and the boundless possibilities, for good and ill, of the Web”. Jonathan Gee joined in, and the two men clearly relished the joint improvisation, and the sheer noise of these two powerful pianos. Out of this turmoil, the strains of Strayhorn’s A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing emerged, and harmony and melody returned.

Then it was Gee’s turn. He started with three compositions from his 2011 CD Dragonfly. The first was about a Cicada, and the next a mythical beast the Tortadilla. Both were lively with complicated South American rhythms, with tiny hints of Ravel, Gee singing along as he played. Then came the Barnes wetlands-inspired pastoral Dragonfly. I began to hear Westbrook influences, similarly expansive chords, and a penchant for modulating up towards the end of a tune, to cheering effect.

They then played some Ellington songs together which clearly delighted them both as well as the audience, with Gee bursting into song when they got to Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.

In Gee’s next solo set he played the Westbrook tune Brazilian Love Songs from the 2013 album three into wonderfull, sympathetically and beautifully, then his deconstructed reworking of the Beatles’ Michelle. Gee, who has spent years working on various Monk projects, both in jazz and contemporary classical music, finished his set with an effortless Crepuscule with Nelly and a pretty Light Blue.

Westbrook then explored some love songs from the Paris CD: tantalising glimpses of the Beatles’ Because, the beautiful 1974 Stylistics tune You Make Me Feel Brand New, finishing with a minimalist and touching interpretation of She Loves You. The final duets were two more Westbrook compositions. The first was D.T.T.M. – a piece in memory of two band members and friends. This was a blues but full of unexpected chords, played with sensitivity and vigour. Next came a riotous Rooster Rabelais, the pair grinning at each other as they traded big chords and extravagant trills. As an encore: Gaudy Bar, a Mingus tinged bar-room blues from Paintbox Jane, Westbrook providing a thunderous rolling blues undercurrent and Gee scat singing, and energetically decorating the melody. This tune, though new, felt like a jazz standard, and was an exciting way to end the evening.

-  Jonathan Gee is off touring the West Country for most of March and will be back in London at The Archduke, Waterloo on the 31st. He will also be performing at Ronnie Scott’s on the 24th April 2017. 

- Mike Westbrook is touring his masterpiece The Westbrook Blake, and then he will be back in London with Westbrook & Company, for performances of the new show Paintbox Jane at Vout-O-Reenees, Prescot Street, E1 on 28th and 29th April 2017.


NEWS: cELLAbration to mark Ella Fitzgerald's centenary (Institute of Jazz Studies Rutgers-Newark, Newark NJ, 24th-25th March)

A free two day celebration of  ELLA FITZGERALD will be held at 15 Washington Street, Newark, March 24th-25th. The event  brings together musicians, historians, authors, record producers, critics, and fans, and will feature performances by vocalists Alexis Morrast and Carrie Jackson. From the world of jazz studies are distinguished archivist Dan Morgenstern, and Norman Granz's biographer Tad Hershorn, who has had a major hand in shaping the event. Eminent journalist and critic Will Friedwald will be showcasing rare footage, and musical demonstration will be provided by Mike Wofford and Richard Wyands, both of whom worked with Ella Fitzgerald.

LINK: Full program and link for registration.


Dr. Judith Tick, whose biography Becoming Ella: The Jazz Genius Who Transformed American Song, will be published by W.W. Norton in 2018

Jim Blackman, Ella's road manager at the end of her career

Lewis Porter, Grammy-nominated jazz educator, author and pianist on Ella's extraordinary approach to improvisation; Dan Morgenstern, Grammy Award-winner, author, former editor of Down Beat, historian and IJS director for 36 years and Sheila Anderson, author and WBGO host, on where Ella fits in the tradition of jazz singing

Vincent Pelote from IJS on the decades-long interactions between Ella and Benny Carter

Tad Hershorn, IJS archivist and author of Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice, on the historic relationship between Ella and Norman Granz, her longtime manager and record producer

Mike Wofford, Fitzgerald's pianist for the final three years of Ella's career and Richard Wyands, her musical director in 1956, will discuss her approach to singing and play examples of how they accompanied her

Phil Schaap, independent record producer, broadcaster and historian; Harry Weinger, vice president of A&R and product development at Universal Music; and Scott Wenzel, producer, Mosaic Records, will discuss getting historic Ella records out of the vaults and on their way to successful releases

Rhonda Hamilton, WBGO host, will play and discuss favorite recordings by Ella

Will Friedwald, Wall Street Journal columnist and producer of Clip Joint, will show rare film and video clips of Ella


LondonJazz review of Tad Hershorn's biography of Norman Granz

BBC Radio 2 Celebration of Ella Fitzgerald featuring BBC Concert Orchestra, starring Clare Teal, April 11th.


NEWS: Crazy Coqs Announce Line-up For Week Long Jazz Festival (Apr 2-8)

Pianist Joe Webb
Photo: Jesaja Hizkia Hutubessy

Live at Zedel is announcing a week of jazz events between April 2nd - 8th. 

One of the most intriguing of the gigs is JOE WEBB's tribute (photo above) to piano greats Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson on Monday April 3rd. It is his first ever solo show. Joe was born in Basingstoke, grew up in Neath and studied at RWCMD in Cardiff. His stylistic breadth is impressive. As well as mainstream jazz, and being a member of the Kansas Smitty's House Band, and Corrie Dick's Little Lions...he also plays stride piano and has recorded with folk, reggae, hip-hop and pop bands. In addition to piano he also plays other keyboards: organ, Wurlitzer and harmonium.

Sunday April 2nd

9.15pm : Ian Shaw

Monday April 3rd

7pm : Joe Webb
9.15pm : The Night

Tuesday April 4th

7pm : Emilia Martensson
9pm : Chris Read

Wednesday April 5th

7pm: Pete Horsfall

Thursday April 6th

7pm: Zoe Rahman Trio
9pm: Hailey Tuck

Friday April 7th

7pm: Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione
9pm: Joni & Me: Joanna Eden

Saturday April 8th

7pm: Sarah Jane Morris & Antonio Forcione
9pm: Emma Smith & Jamie Safir


CD REVIEW: Matt Mitchell – Matt Mitchell plays Tim Berne: førage

Matt Mitchell – Matt Mitchell plays Tim Berne: førage
(Screwgun Records. CD review by Henning Bolte)

Pianist Matt Mitchell has a broad, deep range of contemporary music at his fingertips, and is a musician who has intertwined its constructive possibilities at a high creative level. He decided to dive still deeper in the music of one of his closest fellow musicians and inspirer Tim Berne and sculpt something relevant out of it. Berne is one of those jazz musician in whose music a strong and stringent compositional strategy is at work. Its gestalt rises from contrasting and countering shifts lurking in the compositional core. Its own recurrent systematics are not discernible in a linear way or on the surface. Mitchell, who was engaged in Berne’s music and started to work in Berne’s Snakeoil unit some eight years ago, has gained deep knowledge of and insight into Berne’s way of working and his aesthetics, which stems back to 2009, when Mitchell, impressed Berne massively with an opening solo set for a Berne appearance with solely Berne pieces which he had re-conceived for piano.

The album presenting this work comes with cover artwork and package by Steven Byram on Berne’s own Screwgun label. It is a Nine Donkey Production with Daniel Goodwin’s engineer work, Sonic Föraging by Bavîd Torñ all dedicated för Sârāh, a labour of love embodied by remarkable sounds, shapes and materiality.

The opening piece of the album, Pænë, is one of almost hushed, rare beauty. Being an expression of humbly devoting passion, it could easily serve as a concluding piece. The real last piece, Sîiñ, is quite similar to this first piece, which means it could also be the opening piece. These two pieces of great clearness, depth, which wafting in the music of an equinoctial breeze, bookend the whole sequence of seven pieces. In between a lot of temperatures and temperaments can be heard, from jumbling staccato to serenity, from surging waves, slipping stone avalanches to ballad qualities shining through. None of the seven pieces is clearly and easily attributable to a single original piece by Berne. Certain elements of Berne’s work are used as plug-in or as torch. They appear in different light and drive new shoots etc.. Consequently they are established as new units in their own right (in first instance) under Mitchell’s hands.

In Trāçeś the pianist's two hands act independently in a way that it can be perceived as intricate real duo performance. It starts with highly abstracted Monk staccato, after which repetitive runs of agitated lines take over. The real fun starts when Mitchell starts to jumble the ideas, without them ever colliding. It then divides in high register part and a low register part serving each other and finding common ground. The piece finishes with ad infinitum runs.

Àäš, the longest piece (running almost a quarter of on hour), is a miracle of beauty without exit. There are a lot of varied movements and none is leading out of that wondrous, shining oasis. Räåy is the surf piece of the album with its surging waves rolling and the subsequent Œrbs could associate with the sound of a permanently slipping stone avalanche. Cløùdé then with its ballad qualities, exquisite beauty and rich subtle dynamics is thundering, draining and dripping at the end.

Listening to the pieces you could be torn between following the mountain stream and wanting to discern familiar elements, lines, shapes and architecture. The best approach is to abandon search for the familiar, and to immerse oneself as deeply as possible in the movements of the music first and finally getting satisfied by an apprehension of the gestalt that crystallizes in that kind of rewarding interaction. It is facilitated then by the clear articulation, flow and conclusiveness of the music.


FEATURE: Birmingham's free jazz/improvised music scene (Surge In Spring at mac, 8th April)

Mark Sanders
Photo credit: Andrew Putler

Jazz freedom is alive and well at England's centre. Tony Dudley-Evans, programme adviser to both Birmingham's Jazzlines and Cheltenham Jazz Festival and himself a free jazz promoter, looks back - and forwards:

Birmingham has always had a free jazz/improvised music scene with its own venues and its own followers. The voluntary promoters Fizzle have been at the forefront of this scene with regular Tuesday night sessions, originally at the Old Moseley Arms pub, but for many years now at the wonderful Lamp Tavern pub off the Pershore Road. Fizzle has really built up its audiences in the last few years under the enterprising leadership of musician Andy Woodhead and with the support of TDE Promotions/Fizzle co-promotions in the Hexagon Theatre at mac.

At the heart of the free scene have been a number of key players who have been based in Birmingham or the surrounding area. The late Tony Levin lived in Birmingham most of his life before moving out to nearby Shropshire, Steve Tromans has mostly been based here apart from a few years abroad in Mongolia and elsewhere, Paul Dunmall has been based nearby in Worcestershire since 1979 and, more recently, Mark Sanders has made his base in Bearwood, which is effectively in Birmingham, but technically just outside.

These players have international reputations and tour widely in continental Europe, and occasionally to the USA, but will also appear in Birmingham. For example, Paul Dunmall recently played at mac with a fabulous quintet built around the Chicagoan drummer Hamid Drake as part of a three-date UK tour that also featured trumpeter Percy Pursglove and Steve Tromans. A few years ago Paul played in a trio with Henry Grimes and Andrew Cyrille, initially at the Vision Festival in New York and then on a UK tour.

Here’s a short example of their music with Paul playing bagpipes.

Percy Pursglove is one of the younger players who can play in a free jazz context with as much confidence as in a more mainstream situation. He often plays with Evan Parker as well as playing in the trumpet sections of big bands and leading his own projects. In this he is perhaps typical of an openness of the free scene in Birmingham. It is not isolated or keeping itself separate from the more straight-ahead jazz scene; players and audiences overlap.

All the players mentioned above play or have played very successfully in more mainstream bands. Tony Levin played of course in one of Tubby Hayes’ later and most successful groups, Paul Dunmall played for years with Spirit Level and with Danny Thompson. Moreover, many young graduates from the Conservatoire find it natural to play free as well as in more structured settings: as well as Percy Pursglove, saxophonist Lee Griffiths, trombonist David Sear and pianist Ollie Chalk come to mind.
Of course, much contemporary jazz will incorporate elements of free playing in a more structured setting, and it could be argued – which I think I have often done in the past! – that the ‘mainstream’ of jazz is now an approach that moves from written passages and solos to freely improvised sections, or ‘in and out of tunes’ as it is sometimes called.

One thinks of bands such as Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear, or Tim Berne’s Snakeoil. Very much in this tradition is Sid Peacock’s Surge whose music moves seamlessly from Sid’s compositions into often frenetic free passages and whose personnel includes Steve Tromans, Mark Sanders and trumpeter Aaron Diaz. Surge’s concerts always feature a conduction led by Sid, in which he guides the improvisation through signals and gestures.

Surge are at the heart of the forthcoming Surge In Spring one-day festival at mac on Saturday 8 April. 

This is all-day event running in the main theatre, the small and intimate Hexagon Theatre and the bar area, and running through from 1pm to late in the evening.  The day features Ray Prince’s Gospel Revisited Project, John Mayer’s Indo-Jazz Fusions, and a final full set from the 21-piece Surge Orchestra. There will be sessions in the bar and improvised sessions in the Hexagon Theatre. But in the context of this article, the most exciting event promises to be the Free Jazz Improv set that will feature the first coming together of Paul Dunmall and John O’Gallagher.

John O’Gallagher is an American alto saxophonist who is highly regarded on the New York scene, playing there with Jeff Williams as well as leading his own groups. He is currently based in Birmingham studying at Birmingham City University and writing a doctoral thesis on the late work of John Coltrane, especially the Interstellar Space album.

Since starting his research here, John has been to hear Paul play and Paul has been listening to John’s albums. They are keen to play together and this is finally happening! They will play in small groups with members of the Surge band - notably Steve Tromans, Mark Sanders and Simon King - and will also be joined by vibraphone player Corey Mwamba. There will also be a large scale improvisation conducted by Sid.

LINKS: Fizzle
Surge In Spring


ROUND-UP REVIEW: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival 2017

Local heroes Dakhla Brass
Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival
(March 17-19th 2017, Round-Up Review by Jon Turney)

300 or more singers on stage, led by the London Community Gospel Choir, and the Colston Hall audience joining in on Sunday lunchtime, the night after a triple-bill swing dance session in the same space: the Bristol festival’s trademark audience involvement was well up to the mark this year.

Now in its fifth edition, the Festival is too large to review in its entirely - I didn’t witness either of the above: I rely on video evidence of the singers and a daughter who danced. But I can affirm that Bristol’s long weekend continues to combine the genuinely international with a distinctive homebrew flavour as it grows.

Bobby Shew
Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

The homebrew is quality stuff, with special projects like Andy Sheppard’s new score for Metropolis (reviewed separately) and Bobby Shew’s centenary tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. The latter featured the regular big-band co-led by festival artistic director Denny Ilett and trumpeter Johnny Bruce. Less expectedly, most of the arrangements were not from Shew’s ample book, but were based on new transcriptions by Ilett. Manteca, Groovin’ High, Emanon, Tin Tin Deo and Good Bait were brought to sparkling life, with Shew on fine form and band soloists like Jake “Get the Blessing” McMurchie showing their command of the tradition.

Macy Gray
Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Other shows in the main hall that packed them in included Mud Morganfield on Saturday , delivering powerful, authentic Chicago blues in a voice that really gets the attention. Macy Gray, late on Sunday, was less compelling, trying the patience of a full house in party mood by keeping them waiting 40 minutes. The jazz leanings of her latest CD have made little impression on her stage show, but her efficient band kept her raucous, declamatory vocals in some semblance of order.

Alec Dankworth's Spanish Accents
Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

The big ticket shows were backed up by an adventurous programme in the smaller of Colston Hall’s two venues, the Lantern. Alec Dankworth’s Spanish Accents felt a little tentative on Friday evening, on the first outing for a new line-up, with Josephine Davies replacing Mark Lockheart on sax and John Crawford on piano substituting for Phil Robson’s much-missed guitar. Chris Garrick’s violin dazzled with equal facility on jazzy excursions, dancing folk themes and even a bagpipe drone part.

There was more dazzle from Jason Rebello on Saturday, offering solo piano with virtuosity, and real depth: sly Monkish touches on Garner’s Play, Piano, Play were a beautiful reminder how musical modernism connects with tradition.The day’s closer in the Lantern from the acclaimed Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur offered a different look back. Leader Jurd is bursting with talent, but her current preoccupation with the electric keyboard sounds of the 1970s does create a flattening of textures compared with her previous bands. The trumpet is very welcome when it comes, but horn contributions were a little sparse here for some.

Pee Wee Ellis
Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Sunday in the Lantern saw sets from Bristol patron and tireless performer Pee Wee Ellis, supported by the excellent French drummer Roger Biwandu’s trio. Ellis retains a magisterial sound on tenor, and can bring off playing a succession of numbers that evoke Sonny Rollins (St Thomas, Sonnymoon for Two, Isn’t She Lovely), without breaking sweat. Yazz Ahmed’s beautifully balanced seven-piece band, deliciously combining George Crowley’s bass clarinet with Ralph Wyld’s vibes, was a fine vehicle for exploring Middle Eastern rhythms and melodies’ affinity with jazz. Best of all, Jasper Hoiby’s Fellow Creatures, with plenty of trumpet from Laura Jurd this time, presented a joyful 80-minutes of musical exuberance that allowed all five players room to shine. Mark Lockheart and Jurd spent much of the set in counterpoint, pianist Will Barry and drummer Corrie Dick raised the trio portions to near Phronesis-like intensity at times, and leader and composer Hoiby’s memorably sonorous bass figures were a marvel throughout.

Jasper Hoiby's Fellow Creatures
Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Fellow Creatures made a superb debut CD, but live the music has an even stronger feeling of organisation-as-liberating. The recipe for success in making something fresh of jazz has to be: compose carefully, then play with abandon. Jurd and Ahmed’s bands are aiming for that, I think, and it comes off some of the time. Hoiby’s new crew did it from first second to last.

Jasper Hoiby
Photo copyright John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

All that left little time to sample the packed schedule in the foyer, but Jim Blomfield’s fine piano trio, with a set of new music soon to be recorded, caught the ear of the enthusiastic crowd who listen for free.

Special mention, too, for the Bristol players who keep so many varied ensembles going that the free programme hardly ever repeats. It’s a collaborative spirit epitomised this year by hearing the always mood-brightening Dakhla Brass, playing new tunes in the Lantern early on Friday evening. By the time the second half of that gig - by guitar wizard Remi Harris - was over, Dakhla’s baritone sax anchor and principal composer Charlotte Ostafew was already set up on the foyer stage with another of her bands, the swing trio Bartoune. Tight scheduling, but rewarding for all concerned.

LINK: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Vula Viel (First time in new Trio format - Pizza Express 22nd Mar)

The new Vula Viel: Jim Hart, Ruth Goller and Bex Burch

Vula Viel have just announced a new trio line-up, and new material with Bex Burch on gyil joined by Ruth Goller on bass and Jim Hart, Dave Smith or Zands Duggan on drums. They are playing for the first time as a trio on Wednesday 22 March at Pizza Express (For a special discount for LJN readers, see end).  Here, newly joined band member RUTH GOLLER gets to know BEX BURCH.

Ruth Goller: Where does the name Vula Viel come from and what does it mean?

Bex Burch: Vula Viel is my name in Dagaare, given to me by the family elders when I passed out of my (xylophone making) apprenticeship in the village of Guo, Upper West Ghana. It means Good is Good. In the Dagaare tradition the first five years you own your name and after that the name owns you. I feel like Good is Good challenges me everyday to make something good, to be good to myself and my loved ones. I turned five in 2013 when I gave the name to this band. So next year the name will own the band too!

RG: What do you do if you need inspiration to write new music?

BB: The first album was a product of my years in Ghana and was my workings of all the amazing powerful music there. Once that was recorded, I found all this space in my head / creativity to start writing my own tunes. I'm learning that when I am feeling moody or melancholy, I feel the music cooking in me, and if I make the time to go create, I write.

I have written much of the album at a childhood friend's house in Swaledale, Yorkshire, and some at another dear friend's home in Godmersham, Kent. So definitely being in nature is a huge help in that stage. Being alone is also important for me.

RG: What is happening on Wednesday?

BB: The first outing for this new trio line-up, playing mostly new material! It's at Pizza Express, 10 Dean Street, music starts at 8.30pm. In this special time before the album is recorded, the music isn't set in vinyl so anything could happen!

RG: Where can LJN readers listen to your music online?

BB: Vula Viel are on itunes, bandcamp, even spotify and they can find these and more links at www.vulaviel.com. But if they really want to know what's going on, they have to come to see us play.

RG: What are the plans for the band this year?

BB: Developing this album, recording in the autumn and building our profile at home and abroad.

RG: What are your favourite bands in the world?

BB: Vula Viel! and Konono No.1. Pauline Mbuka Nsiala is my hero! I went to one of their Cafe OTO gigs a few years back and basically danced with her all night. Amazing musician and performer.

RG: Are there any musical rules or concepts in the band?

BB: Yes! The fundamentals of this music are asymmetry, space, and chaos. Each band member has rules for the patterns to play which inter-cross and create the sum of the parts. But listeners probably can't hear them. I feel that the constructs are like the science behind how and why this music grooves, but like a good engine, the music and listener can just enjoy the ride.

RG: Do you play any other instruments?

BB: Percussion, but other than that very basic... bit of piano, guitar and bass guitar... and I've just had a few violin lessons to help train my ear from the fantastic Laurel Pardue at Queen Mary University of London - she has invented and built an augmented violin to help beginners play in tune.

RG: Finally, if you were an animal what would it be?

BB: This has caused a heated discussion. The sheep because, Yorkshire / walks / hair style.

But my dad always called me his monkey. Cue The Beatles: Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me And My…

Photo credit: Strongp/ creative commons


Vula Viel at Pizza Express Jazz Club - LJN readers can use the code "Ghana" to get £5 off bookings (Box office 020 7439 4962 / in person).

Vula Viel reviewed