INTERVIEW: Mike Walker (new album Ropes for release September 2018)

Mike Walker
Photo credit: Lieve Boussauw

Salford-born Guitarist and composer MIKE WALKER’s first album Madhouse and the Whole Thing There, released in 2008, was widely considered to be a masterpiece. He is about to release a new album Ropes, which is once again the fruit of several years' work. Sebastian found out more about this very personal project:

London Jazz News: So Ropes really is only your second album as leader?

Mike Walker: Yes, it is. When my first album came out in 2008, I toured the music for about a year whilst doing other projects. One thing I did was Tim Garland's Northern Underground Orchestra which is where I met Gwil(ym Simcock). I had the idea then to get together The Impossible Gentlemen, I think in 2009, with (Steve) Swallow and Adam Nussbaum. We were touring from 2010, and that band became my main focus, writing-wise.

LJN: But you have other projects on the go all the time…

MW: Yes, I'm involved with many things here and there. I seem to morph from one thing to another fairly seamlessly and I enjoy doing so. I've gigged and recorded with Stuart McCallum in a folky ambient guitar duo, worked with NDR Big Band in Germany in different projects, played with orchestras, Toured with Mike Gibbs, Trish Clowes, recorded and gigged with Johannes Berauer, a fine young Austrian composer, toured and recorded with Norma (Winstone) and Nikki (Iles) in the Printmakers as well as projects in Europe, etc.

Mike Walker (centre) as a member of the Impossible Gentlemen
Photo credit: © Adrian Pallant

This, along with many other projects, has sustained me creatively and allowed me to continue my love affair with expensive chocolate. I also developed a relationship with a classical, creative orchestra called Psappha. I wrote a piece for them called Autonomy and played in a piece by Steve Mackey, an American composer, called Deal. A really interesting piece. I improvise for 30 minutes to through-composed music written for about 20 musicians. That performance is on that YouTube they have now, I think.

LJN: Ropes started with a commission to compose a piece. Where and when was that original premiere?

MW: The original piece came out of a commission from Manchester Jazz Festival in 2008.
I had to wait to see if the commission was going to be accepted by funders. When it came through finally, I had six weeks to write about seven pieces and come up with a theme. I worked non-stop to get that finished before the premiere. We performed at the Royal Northern College of Music Theatre. The atmosphere was electric. It was quite an experience. The audience was part of the music. I know that's a cliche but if any of the folk reading this were there, they'll be nodding away right now and they should film themselves nodding and post it to that YouTube they have now.

LJN: More or less at the same time as Madhouse… was released, right?

MW: Indeed. Madhouse... came out right at the same time. The first copies of that album were sold at that gig.

LJN: And who was playing then?

MW: The band was Iain Dixon (saxophone), Les Chisnall (woefully under-recorded piano player) Adam Nussbaum (drums) and Steve Watts (bass). The orchestra was a bespoke body of players, hand-picked from different ensembles like the Halle, Manchester Camerata, etc.

LJN: But the music has evolved since then…

MW: It has. I've re-written some string parts mainly. I was writing for 22 strings, so more of a chamber orchestra than symphony. The weight is obviously different. It's delicate, exposed but very direct. When I originally wrote for them, I had 'symphonic' in mind for some pieces and I over-reached I think. I was thinking Mahler when I should have been thinking Mozart. Mozart wrote mainly for orchestras at the chamber size and really knew how to get the most from that sound.

It was an interesting process to be a little more modern harmonically, whilst keeping the intimacy of that sound. As you add more harmonic sophistication, you risk watering down the sound too much and losing the centre. I love the enigmatic curves of harmony, so that was a challenge. I fared better on the re-draft. I'm getting better at that, though still a ways to go.

The Psappha Ensemble in 2017
Publicity picture 

LJN: And you have other people on the album apart from the quintet and the Psappha ensemble…

MW: The Psappha ensemble came into the picture when I had a meeting with Tim Williams, Psappha's musical director. He's a tireless worker and a committed advocate of new music. I also have the Impossible Gentlemen on there.

I wanted to feature Gwil on a couple of tunes – one, Devon Bean, for his free spirit through a set of knotty changes, and the other for his comping on Madhouse And The Whole Thing There, which is a piece that was not on my first album of the same name. I love his comping on that track. In fact the band sound like they were parked dead centre of a Joni (Mitchell) album. Reminded me of Paprika Plains or something similar. And I had the luxury of improvising over that, along with the strings. My Aunty Mim would have brought out her best china for such shenanigans.

I also have the drummers and old friends, Steve Gilbert and Mikey Wilson, the drummer on the first album, and Rob Mullarkey, a fantastic bass player, playing on the second part of Ropes MII, Knots.

Mike Walker at Brecon in 2013
Photo Credit: Mick Destino

LJN: And what was the first musical idea that you had/wrote?

MW: The first idea I had for Ropes was a tricky little sea shanty I wrote which became the basis for the three movements and the album's title. I thought about the rope involved in sailing the old 18th-century ships. There was about 30 to 40km of rope required to get it sea-worthy. That got me thinking about how rope can be used in various ways. It can tow us home, pull us out of a hole or tie us up in knots. So it's about line. How it's used and over-used – how we choose or don't choose and the implications those decisions can have.

LJN: And I gather it’s not just separate tunes, there’s a unity to the album…

MW: That sea shanty snakes its way covertly and overtly, through the whole thing in one way or another. It's that idea that brings unity to the album. As with Madhouse..., my first album, it's meant to be listened to from beginning to end.That seems to be more difficult in a flip-flap-cut-to-the chase-oh-do-get-on-with-it world. But that's OK. I'm not a big fan of that. I like to take my time a little. Sink into it. Double the experience. Don't crunch the crisps in the hushed moments.

LJN: But there are track titles which will resonate with people who know your other work…

MW: Still Slippy Underfoot was on the first album but arranged for a babble of bass clarinets and synth. This time it's arranged for piano, cello, clarinet and strings, and totally revoiced.

Wallenda's Last Stand was on the first Impossible Gentlemen album. It's about a guy, tightropes, high wires and high winds so it had to go on there. I've revisited that piece with soprano and cello, violin, and peppered the orchestra throughout. When writing for this set up, loving harmony as I do, it would be so easy to fall into the trap of putting what I know, before writing what I feel, and what I want to convey as a whole. That's much more important. I could regurgitate my whole life's musical history in some form or another, so that what you hear is more of a calling card for what I've listened to and learned over the years. And of course, in many ways, it is. But, for me, that must be in the shadow of the music's intent.

LJN: Madhouse... had those unforgettable recorded spoken voices – “Diddly-Oh, Diddly Doh” and the singers. Are there studio effects here too?

MW: Nothing like that on this album. It's a very different album. Less of a guitar album I think. Though it does feature on a few of the tracks, it's more about the writing, and giving voice to the other players.

LJN: Who’s produced/enigineered? And who else needs thanking?

MW: I produced this one. My brother, Paul Allen, and I mixed. Paul also recorded it, on location and at his studio. This album is as much his at is mine.

Sarah Waterhouse did the artwork. She's also someone that really gives a shit about what she does and has a creative malleability that's just great to work with. Jo McCallum, who helped me with the crowdfunding, is the person responsible for getting me to do it in the first place. She's been brilliant throughout and is always my first port of call when projects arise. Team player through and through without the angles.

Bob Katz mastered. Bob is great. He did the Madhouse... album too. A sucker for detail. "The clarinet at bar 367 needs a lift so I brought it out." He cares. Surround yourself with folk that really care and care right back at them. That's really what got this album finished.

Mike Walker (second from right) with Gwilym Simcock, Steve Rodby, Iain Dixon, Adam Nussbaum
and string players from Psappha at Ropes at RNCM in 2016
Photo credit © Adrian Pallant

LJN: And if someone wants one of the first copies, how do they get one?

MW: Well, an interesting question. I decided, after talking with my old friend Mike Chadwick, to do it myself, with the help of crowdfunding (thanks all!!!!) and a few folks that supported me from the outset – Derek Hook, Jez Hall, Tom Hall, Nigel Chadwick, and many others. I'm going to sell it from a website that will sell my output in future. There's obviously the argument of distribution and labels can help with that, and I'm up for that in general. But this one just felt too personal as did my first album.

I'll sell it on gigs, of course, and I'm currently thinking about Amazon and sites like that that they have now. (props to Stewart Lee!!). I'm still open to ideas, of course. Making these decisions is never easy. But, where's the fun in easy?

Mike Walker's website
- Madhouse and the Whole Thing There is available on Bandcamp  or from Jazz CDs
- Internationally Recognised Aliens  by the Impossible Gentlemen is available from  Jazz CDs
Adrian Pallant's review of Ropes from 2016


CD REVIEW: Charles Lloyd & the Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens

Charles Lloyd & the Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens
(Blue Note 6758848. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Vanished Gardens refers to the utopia of our dreams, a garden of Eden, which, in the current political climate, is being eroded away,” saxophonist Charles Lloyd told one interviewer. This is Charles Lloyd and the Marvels’ second album, drawing again on Americana for inspiration. This recording features Grammy-winning singer Lucinda Williams on half the tracks: her emotional, dusty voice with its overtones of country blues.

Three of the instrumentals are by Lloyd. The title track opens with all the instruments tangled freely with each other in a collective improv over a subtle 6/8 groove, which gets rockier. Lloyd’s crackling sax lines are passionate; Bill Frisell’s guitar is percussive then feathery, and Greg Leisz’ pedal steel guitar creates sirens of sound. Defiant has a powerful, slow melodic theme. Lloyd’s tone is gorgeous and upfront in the mix, with a mixture of authority and delicacy. At 80 he sounds better than ever, as if he’s calling us to listen. Reuben Rogers’ bass underpins everything with potent simplicity. Leisz’ solo shimmers, while Frisell’s is bluesy and taut. His slinky Blues for Langston [Hughes] and [Evelyn] LaRue [Pitman] celebrates two Harlem Renaissance figures. Lloyd’s flute is playful in unison with guitar: a bop-phrased tune with a smile in it. There’s fine shuffly drumming from Eric Harland while Frisell’s solo harks back to early blues players.

Monk’s Mood opens with Jim Hall-esque chord melody guitar, evoking Monk’s spiky internal lines with iridescent notes. Lloyd’s phrases are as free as Evan Parker but softly strung between the notes of the tune. The Wolf/Landesman standard Ballad of The Sad Young Men had been planned as a vocal track, but ended as an instrumental. The slowly sinuous pedal steel chords wind round the guitar melody; the scales of Lloyd’s solo fly around the tune like a flock of birds.

Four of the five vocal tracks are by Williams. Dust, an emotive song about the inability to express emotion, was written after her poet father’s death, and is based on one of his poems. It has a country-rock vibe, but: “Lucinda was not turning into a jazz singer and we were not transforming our approach to become country/Americana musicians,” says Lloyd. Leisz and Frisell both play on her original 2016 recording, but Harland and Rogers bring a looser jazziness to the groove here. Ventura (‘Stand in the shower/ Clean this dirty mess’)and Unsuffer Me (‘My joy is dead/I long for bliss’) search for redemption through ordinary experiences and love. As her poet father put it: “...her songs... have dirt under the fingernails.” There’s anguish and toughness in the voice, but the music is very beautiful, especially the gilded tone of Lloyd’s outro in Ventura. Unsuffer Me’s subtly stomping, swampy New Orleans feel has a drawling solo from Leisz. Harland, often delicately restrained on this album, lets rip in powerful rolls.

The gospelly We’ve Come Too Far To Turn Around links back to the Vanished Gardens theme. (‘From the city of Atlanta/To Birmingham, Alabama… we have come too far to turn around.’) Lloyd’s sax opens with the quarter tones and trills of the Hungarian tárogató, which he’s played on other recordings. He creates an impassioned commentary on the lyrics: ‘For over four hundred years/ We've been on this trail of tears.’ Hendrix’s Angel concludes the album, an afterthought with vocals, guitar and sax after the others had left the studio. Williams’ voice is peaceful between the flickering sax notes and pared-down guitar arpeggios. It’s a reminder of Lloyd’s extraordinary history: he’s played with many rock musicians, and knew Hendrix, but never got the chance to work with him.

Bringing together jazz, Americana, gospel and blues, this is a fascinating album that you want to keep listening to. As Lloyd put it, “The deeper I dive into the ocean of sound, I find there is still deeper and further to go.”


REVIEW: Prom 46: NYJO + soloist Benjamin Grosvenor & conductors Mark Armstrong and Guy Barker

Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou
The complete set of ten official pictures is HERE

Prom 46: NYJO + soloist Benjamin Grosvenor & conductors Mark Armstrong and Guy Barker
(Royal Albert Hall. 16 August 2018. Review by Sebastian Maniura)

Celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s centenary the National Youth Jazz Orchestra returned to the proms after a six-year hiatus and, from the response of the nearly full house gathered at the late prom, they did not disappoint. Playing an ambitious programme that consisted of both old and new, the ensemble explored the diverse range of just what a big band can achieve. Whether accompanying pianist Benjamin Grosvenor on the original band version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, premiering new music by rising star and NYJO alumnus Laura Jurd or navigating Johnny Richards' devilishly hard arrangement of Stan Kenton's West Side Story, the band proved it was well up to such a monumental task. 

The UK premiere of Johnny Richard's arrangement of Stan Kenton's West Side Story was certainly a highlight of the evening. Kenton had never performed the complete suite live as it was too challenging, however it failed get the better of NYJO. From the opening of the Prologue it was clear that they were not pulling any punches, the full force of the line up really hitting home in the unison sections. Tonight and Maria showed off the band’s tonal range, with delicate piano introductions that countered the more rhythmically driven movements.

When the arrangement was originally recorded, the Kenton big band used a total of seven trumpets to tackle the demanding horn parts, the NYJO trumpet section never shied away from the challenge, playing six-strong they took them on with admirable gusto. The rhythm section, featuring added percussion, did an impressive job driving the band from one feel to the next, in movements such as Cool and Taunting Scene (The Rumble), often in quick succession. Mark Armstrong conducted with ardent vigour, making sure the band fully explored all the musical possibilities offered by the score. They took advantage of the arrangement's free solo opportunities, passing them between the virtuosic talents within their ranks, drawing woops and cheers throughout the hall.

Rhapsody in Blue was a thrilling ride, Benjamin Grosvenor playfully pulling his solo sections around and then dashing into new themes with youthful zeal. The ease with which he held the audience in awe was quite something to witness. The band accompanied sensitively with the addition of a well led violin section, never overpowering Grosvenor, but opening up when the theme was passed to them.

Similar to the Michael Tilson Thomas 1976 recording, featuring George Gershwin's piano roll from 1925, guest conductor Guy Barker took elements of the piece at breakneck speed, letting the band show their ability through the quick fire nature of the score. The original arrangement for the Paul Whiteman Band by Ferde Grofé was a joy to experience. Despite the piece being nearly 100 years old, it felt fresh and vibrant in the hands of such a high flying young band.

The evening kicked off under the baton of Mark Armstrong with the world premiere of Laura Jurd's The Earth Keeps Spinning. It is quite a challenge for a relatively young composer to feature alongside musical titans such as Bernstein and Gershwin. However, Jurd's music certainly stands up for itself. Beginning with smatterings of cymbals, the piece had a serenity that balanced the later, more spectacular elements of the programme. The minimalistic horn writing was laid atop smooth undulating grooves, mercurially shapeshifting between timbres. Jurd’s use of the ensemble was inspired, exploring sonorities and textures that are rarely heard in big band playing.

After such a challenging programme the evening was rounded off in a playful manner with St Louis Blues, in an arrangement by Mark Armstrong, as the encore. NYJO played far beyond their years, with such confidence, panache and professionalism, despite the inclusion of "youth" in their title. The musicians were committed to showing the audience all that a great big band can do.


Laura Jurd - The Earth Keeps Spinning
World premiere
Conductor: Mark Armstrong

George Gershwin
Rhapsody in Blue (original version with jazz band, arr. Grofé)
Conductor: Guy Barker
Soloist: Benjamin Grosvenor

Leonard Bernstein
Stan Kenton's West Side Story
arr. Johnny Richards (UK Premiere)
Conductor: Mark Armstrong


Alto Saxophones
Sam Glaser
Tom Smith

Tenor Saxophones
Tom Ridout
Tom Barford

Baritone Saxophone
Claire Shaw
Baritone/Bass Saxophone
Jessamy Holder

Clarinet/Eb Clarinet
Gustavo Clayton-Marucci

Jaymee Coonjobeeharry

Trumpets :
Tom Syson
James Davison
Harry Evans
George Jefford
Alex Ridout
Luke Vice-Coles

French horns:
Jake Bagby
Diana Sheach
Anna Drysdale
Arianne Rooney
Tom Bettley

Chris Valentine
Maddie Dowdeswell
Rory Ingham
Ed Parr
Tom Dunnett
James Maund

Ollie Brooks

Joe Hill

Nick Fitch

Jack Tustin

Max Mills

Jonny Mansfield
Alex Taylor

Violins (in Gershwin):
Charlie Macclure
Ellie Consta
Annie Pullar
Charlie Brookes
Katherine Sung
Arisa Nemoto
Alice Apreda Howell
Hannah Parry

Prom 46 on BBC iPlayer
Proms website
Benjamin Grosvenor
Laura Jurd


CD REVIEW: Elina Duni – Partir

Elina Duni – Partir
(ECM 670 8641. CD Review by Jane Mann)

Partir is Albanian-born, Swiss singer/songwriter Elena Duni’s fifth album, and her third for ECM. She appears to have “gone solo” as Sandy Denny once put it. She presents us with nine heart-rending songs about lost love, unhappy departures and exile in a variety of different languages, and from a diverse set of traditions. She has previously always recorded songs in Albanian, but here she sings in Albanian, Kosovan dialect Albanian, Italian, English, Portuguese, Arabic, Armenian, Yiddish, French, and Swiss-German. She accompanies herself on guitar, piano and percussion. The result is a very intimate recording of great sadness in an astonishing array of languages and genres, not necessarily including jazz.

Some of the tunes are traditional folk songs: there are two Kosovan songs with very bleak lyrics – one about a mother losing her daughter, with a minimalist piano accompaniment and some lovely vocalising which almost tips over into mournful ululation. The other, about a woman losing her husband to exile, is exquisitely sung a cappella, with a chorus which sounds almost Hebridean to my ears.

There is a short Armenian number with oblique lyrics of moonlight and loneliness which could be a lost Leonard Cohen song but for the Balkan quarter tones in the melody. There are two Albanian songs with lyrics which speak of unbearable loss: “And I washed the road with my tears /…My heart knows I have only been weeping / Since I was a child, right through until I grew old.” The tunes, however, are beautiful, especially when Duni ornaments the melancholy melody with her supple, ethereal voice. My favourite is called Vaj Si Kenka (How) which manages to be chanson, blues and traditional Albanian all at once, with a simple guitar accompaniment.

Duni also includes actual chanson, for example Jacques Brel’s Je Ne Sais Pas, which she sings thoughtfully over a spare piano accompaniment; no melodrama, just achingly sad. There is one Duni composition, the only song in English, called Let Us Dive In, which suggests love ending, using that old metaphor the sea, which reminded me fleetingly of Nick Drake. This is a lovely, uncategorizable CD of ineffable sadness. As she says in the liner notes:

Nous sommes tous en partance, amenés un jour ou l’autre
à être arrachés de ce que l’on aime….
Tout ce qui nous reste c’est l’inconnu devant nous.

(We are all departing, bound to be torn away one day
or another, from what we love…
All we are left with is the unknown ahead of us.)

Even with this bleak outlook, I would love to hear her live. Disappointingly, I can’t make the Jacques Brel tribute show in Leuven in Belgium in which she is taking part in November, but I note that she is playing in several places in England this autumn, including the London Jazz Festival on 16 and 18 November.

LINK: Tour dates


PHOTOS: Prom 46 (NYJO/ soloist Benjamin Grosvenor / conductors Mark Armstrong & Guy Barker)

NYJO performing Laura Jurd's The Earth Keeps Spinning
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

This is the complete set of 10 official photos of last night's late night Prom from the Proms' official photographer Chris Christodolou. We will have a review to follow.

1-3 are of the premiere of Laura Jurd's piece The Earth Keeps Spinning with a substantial role for Jonny Mansfield on vibes, 4-7 are of the Ferde Grofe band version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and 8-10 are of the Johnny Richards 1961 arrangements of West Side Story for the Stan Kenton band.

The concert is available on the BBC iPlayer HERE.
All these photographs are copyright BBC and permission should be sought before reproducing them.

NYJO /Mark Armstrong
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

Laura Jurd
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

4-7: Rhapsody in Blue

Benjamin Grosvenor
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

NYJO and Benjamin Grosvenor
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

Benjamin Grosvenor
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

Guy Barker and Benjamin Grosvenor
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

NYJO/Mark Armstrong
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

Mark Armstrong
Photo credit and © BBC/ Chris Christodoulou


NEWS: RIP Aretha Franklin (1942 - 2018). Family Statement in Full

Aretha Franklin at the Obama inauguration in 2009
Photo Cecilio Ricardo, U.S. Air Force, Public Domain

Aretha Franklin's family have issued the following statement today: 

“In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins knew no bounds. We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha, and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”

Sebastian writes:

I was lucky enough to hear Aretha at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2014, and to review the concert. We will have a tribute from a major UK-based singer in the next few days.


NEWS: Bauer Media acquires JazzFM

It is announced this morning that Hamburg-based Bauer Media is to acquire JazzFM. Financial terms have not been disclosed. Here is the Bauer Media press release in full:

The Bauer Media Group has agreed to acquire Jazz FM - the UK's leading national commercial radio service for jazz, soul and blues.

Jazz FM is a respected and influential brand, with strong growth potential. The quality of the service, its distinctive personality and popular and respected presenters underpinned its great RAJAR performance with the station now reaching 672,000 people weekly.

Jazz is currently experiencing a resurgence, and Bauer plans to further enhance the specialist offering of the station which is already hugely respected, via its celebration of music of new and classic artists such as Gregory Porter, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Kamasi Washington, Ezra Collective and Nubya Garcia.

The addition of another high-quality brand, with its deep music and commercial partnerships, extends Bauer Radio's audience and its portfolio of pop, urban, and rock stations to a new music genre. Through its cross promotional ability and strong client and agency relationships Bauer Media looks forward to further developing Jazz's unique offering to advertisers and commercial partners and to growing its high quality, passionate ABC1 audience.

Paul Keenan, CEO Bauer Media commented: "Jazz FM is a much loved, respected and influential brand, with strong growth potential, we look forward to developing it further. Jazz music is seeing an unprecedented resurgence, and this extends us into an entirely new and complementary radio audience."

He continued, "Jazz's community of digitally savvy music lovers is thriving and I believe that Jazz FM's expertise combined with our knowledge and experience in digital and personalised advertising technology such as Bauer's InStream+ will propel the brand for both listeners and advertisers. We look forward to working with the team to grow the business."

Jonathan Arendt, Jazz FM CEO said, "Jazz FM is a well-established and trusted brand, curated by passionate and expert presenters and producers - and I'm delighted that it will sit within the Bauer Radio family, where they are respectful and mindful of individual formats and listener groups."

The Jazz radio business will be managed by Bauer's Steve Parkinson, Group Managing Director of National Radio.

About Bauer Media UK:

Bauer Media UK reaches over 25 million UK consumers through a portfolio of world-class, multi-platform media and entertainment brands including heat, KISS, Grazia, Empire, Magic and Absolute Radio. It creates and curates entertaining media content that audiences love whenever, wherever and however they want through a multi-channel strategy and a focus on product excellence and audience insight. The result is an exciting array of influential brands, content and talent which provide compelling and engaging advertising opportunities with valuable audiences for UK commercial partners. Bauer Media UK is part of the Bauer Media Group, one of the world's largest privately-owned media businesses with media assets all over the globe.

About Bauer Media Group:

Over 400 digital products and more than 100 radio and TV stations reach millions of people across the globe. The corporate portfolio extends to include print shops, postal, distribution and marketing services. The Bauer Media Group's global positioning underscores its passion for people and brands. The message "We think popular." illustrates the Bauer Media Group's self-perception as an organisation with a range of popular media, creating inspiration and motivation for its global workforce of some 11,000 employees in 20 countries.


CD REVIEW: Chet Baker – Live in London Volume II

Chet Baker – Live in London Volume II
(Ubuntu UBU0014.2 CDs. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Chet Baker completists need deep pockets: he recorded over 100 albums during his lifetime, and many more have been released since. A couple of years ago Ubuntu added to this long list with the first double CD set of live material from a week of London shows Baker played in late March 1983. Now here comes a second collection from the same residency. The venue was a short-lived jazz club in Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, called The Canteen – previously Blitz, headquarters of the New Romantic movement.

Given the state of Baker’s health at the time, it’s amazing he could play at all. Cocaine, cigarettes, and most of all heroin had ravaged him physically. His singing features on only two tracks, My Ideal and When I Fall in Love, and it’s frankly rather painful to listen to, sounding, as James Gavin puts it in his biography of Baker, “as pinched and nasal as a kazoo.” Yet by some miracle, his trumpet-playing had somehow survived the drug-fuelled battery of thirty years. Apart from some split notes on the opening track, Horace Silver’s Strollin’, his chops sound in great shape.

The tunes mostly unspool at an unhurried pace, each lasting around the ten-minute mark, and only Stella by Starlight and Just Friends are played at anything above mid-tempo.

As lyrical as Baker’s trumpet sounds, for me the real revelation is the piano-playing of John Horler. Bill Evans is his role model, and he shares with Evans the elusive combination of dazzling fluency, richly-layered harmony and sweetness of melodic invention. Despite also having Kenny Wheeler and John Dankworth on his CV, Horler still rates the Chet Baker gig as a highlight of his career, and rightly so.

Along with him here are Jim Richardson on bass and Tony Mann on drums, both of whom provide excellent, unshowy support. It’s Richardson we have to thank for this album: he put his Sony cassette recorder on top of his bass cabinet at the start of each gig, and pressed ‘Record’. Instead of the thin, hissy, unbalanced result we might expect, the tape has been cleaned up and enhanced to an extraordinary degree. The quality is outstanding, and in terms of human technical achievement surely ranks with landing a man on the moon.

My favourite cut is the beautiful Richie Beirach ballad Broken Wing (also caught on video below); the same composer’s Leaving appears on Volume I.

LIVE GIG: Chet Baker – Live in London Volume II receives a belated launch at the Jazz Café on 18th September. (BOOKINGS). This date features the original rhythm section, plus Quentin Collins (trumpet), Leo Richardson (saxophone) and Cherise Adams-Burnett (vocals).


NEWS: Pizza Express announces its 45-gig EFG London Jazz Fest Programme (16 to 25 November)

Sheila Jordan - who will be celebrating her 90th birthday
Photo credit: OhWeh/ Creative Commons

Pizza Express has just announced its most extensive programme ever for the EFG London Jazz Festival: forty-five gigs at its three live music venues in Central London - Dean Street, Kings Road and Holborn), all of which are now on sale: 


- Jeff 'Tain' Watts Trio with Kurt Rosenwinkel
- Dave Liebman and Marc Copland Duo
- Christian Sands Trio
- Cyrille Aimee
- Clarence Penn (with Klemens Marktl)
- Jeff Williams Trio
- A celebration in person of Sheila Jordan's 90th Birthday at the Pheasantry
- Andy Sheppard
- Logan Richardson
- ECM artist Wolfert Brederode
- Spanish harmonica player Antonio Serrano

Dean Street also has free lunchtime gigs from Monday 19 to Friday 23, including guitarist Ant Law, Swedish saxophonist Thomas Backman. There are also four midnight shows there hosted by Jay Phelps - with special guests.



Friday 16 (7pm) – Christian Sands Trio
Friday 16 (10pm) – Christian Sands Trio
Friday 16 (midnight) – Jay Phelps and Friends

Saturday 17 (1:30pm) – Harry Bolt Quartet
Saturday 17 (7pm) – Marc Copland & Dave Liebman Duo
Saturday 17 (10pm) – Marc Copland & Dave Liebman Duo
Saturday 17 (midnight) – Jay Phelps and Friends

Sunday 18 (1:30pm) – Phil Robson Quartet featuring Jed Levy
Sunday 18 (8pm) – Antonio Serrano

Monday 19 (1pm) – Ant Law Quartet featuring Scott Flanagan
Monday 19 (8:30pm) – Maria Chiara Argiro Group
Tuesday 20 (1pm) – Alyn Cosker Group
Tuesday 20 (6pm) – Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts Trio featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel
Tuesday 20 (9pm) – Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts Trio featuring Kurt Rosenwinkel

Wednesday 21 (1pm) – Lorraine Baker’s Eden
Wednesday 21 (8:30pm) – Wolfert Brederode Trio
Thursday 22 (1pm) – Al MacSween
Thursday 22 (8:30pm) – Klemens Marktl Four
Thursday 22 (midnight) – Mark Kavuma
Friday 23 (1pm) – Thomas Backman
Friday 23 (7pm) – Shez Raja
Friday 23 (10pm) – Shez Raja
Friday 23 (midnight) – Jay Phelps and Friends

Saturday 24 (1:30pm) – Duncan Eagles Quartet
Saturday 24 (7pm) – Andy Sheppard with Espen Erikssen
Saturday 24 (10pm) – Andy Sheppard with Espen Erikssen
Saturday 24 (midnight) – Jay Phelps and Friends

Sunday 25 (12:30pm) – Jeff Williams Trio
Sunday 25 (6pm) – Cyrille Aimee
Sunday 25 (9pm) – Cyrille Aimee


Friday 16 – Hanna Svensson
Saturday 17 – Laila Biali Trio
Sunday 18 – Sheila Jordan with Cameron Brown
Monday 19 – Sheila Jordan with Cameron Brown
Tuesday 20 –Ast /Gutierrez Duo with Tori Freestone
Wednesday 21 – Zoe Francis and Jim Mullen Trio
Thursday 22 – ISQ
Friday 23 – Julia Biel
Saturday 24 – Briežkalns Quintet featuring Kristine Praulina
Sunday 25 – Cecilia Stalin


Friday 16 – Seven Eyes + Randolph Matthews
Saturday 17 – Natacha Atlas
Sunday 18 – Omer Avital Qantar
Monday 19 – Vula
Tuesday 20 – Itamar Borochov
LINK: Pizza Express programme with booking links


CD REVIEW: Matthew Read Trio - Anecdotes Vol. II

Matthew Read Trio - Anecdotes Vol. II
(BOD: 002. CD review by Nick Davies)

Mathew Read’s music has been described as a multitude of styles: jazz, folk, country, hip hop, dance, European and ‘American Church music'. It’s difficult at times to appreciate how a musician could take all these styles and produce a great sounding album. A listener might expect confusion or a mixture of melodies but, in Mathew’s case, this is not an issue. The end product is a record of contrasting rhythms that takes you on a journey into the musical mind of Read and the result is sublime.

Anecdotes Vol. II follows on from the trio’s debut release – Read’s response when asked about the record: “I decided to write music for the trio that told stories. I felt early on that this band was one that would respond well to slightly more left-field forms of inspiration than other bands.” Read’s music has been coined as the harmonious collaboration possible only by a Kendrick Lamar and Kurt Rosenwinkel collaboration.

This album sees Read reunited with Benedict Wood on guitar and Arthur Newell on drums. Each member of the band contributes by the playing rather than the writing. This is evident on track two: Many Roads Travelled. Woods' guitar leads with Read’s bass, creating an entwining crescendo. This is then followed by a drum solo from Newell driving the beat even faster. Delivery is unusual but no less enjoyable.

Looking for an easy listen? Then I would suggest that this album is not for you. The music is complex and delivers Read’s ideas in an unfamiliar way. Most of the tracks start slow before picking up tempo. They are full of influences so, at one point, you are hearing jazz, then country, then folk; not easy on the ears but your reviewer is convinced that Read intended it to be that way… for the music connoisseur.

Case in point: track five, When She Leaves. Starting at a slow pace with the beat of Read’s bass, followed by the other instruments and maintaining that slow pace, it is the bass that dominates throughout this song. When the listener is expecting it to burst into life, it doesn’t. Instead, the track continues to mooch along, showcasing the superb, seamless interaction between all three musicians. They all have an understanding of Read’s ideas and deliver it in the way he would expect it to be heard. Music like this is rarely produced and, despite (or thanks to) its intensity, it is most enjoyable.

Overall, a really good album that pushes the boundaries. The sound is fresh and, amazingly, incorporates several ideas and genres into each of the 11 tracks. It is one of those records that takes a while to get used to but, when you do, the musical journey soon becomes a memorable one. The standard of music excellence suggests that Mathew Read will be snapped up by a discerning label in the near future. His musical genius is most deserving of that accolade.

LINK: Matthew Read interview


REVIEW: Joanna Wallfisch – The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle at The Space, Surgeon’s Hall (Edinburgh Fringe)

Joanna Wallfisch at Big Sur in 2016
Publicity picture

Joanna Wallfisch – The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle
(The Space, Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh. Festival Fringe. Review by Mark McKergow)

Joanna Wallfisch brings her beautiful voice and multi-instrumental talents to the Edinburgh fringe with her performance about cycling over a thousand miles along the west coast of America. The result is an intense, focused and reflective collection of songs, images and evocation of moments in time.

Wallfisch’s latest album Blood and Bone was also on the theme of journeying, but this show features new material alongside the jaunty song Road Trip. Using a collection of portable instruments and a looping pedal, she quickly and skilfully builds backgrounds and textures which support the songs and also provide intermission sounds. The opening When We Travel sets the scene perfectly – Wallfisch’s journeys are always mental as well as literal and she succeeds in drawing us in to her endeavour to travel from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles on her bicycle not simply to arrive but rather to travel hopefully.

Joanna Wallfisch has an outstandingly beautiful voice – pure of tone and lithe of spirit. Her songs build from patterns, often using ukulele and voice as a starting point, ebbing and flowing like the Pacific tides. Her imagery is enchanting – whales and dolphins on the coast, a moustachioed man and his son at a campsite, a lifeguard in a truck with some unusual cargo… each of these leads to a song, with some unexpected accompaniments on stage from melodica, a toy piano, whistling, and a really juicy kazoo solo on Rex The Travelling Dog.

As the 50-minute show comes towards a close with the haunting Final Flight, we all arrive together at… well, not the end. You’ll have to go see it to find out. Joanna Wallfisch’s show is a reflective, haunting and sustained performance, a very personal take on the outdoors which brings an unexpectedly quirky part of California to the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle is at The Space, Surgeon’s Hall at 12.05pm until 18 August 2018, and again at The Space Triplex at 8.35pm from 20-15 August 2018. 

LINKS: The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle at the Edinburgh Fringe website (BOOKINGS)
Review of Joanna Wallfisch’s Blood And Bone CD 
Review of Joanna Wallfisch at Sofar Sounds
Interview from 2016 after the 1147-mile bike ride


CD REVIEW: Mike Gibbs Band featuring John Scofield – Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991

Mike Gibbs Band featuring John Scofield – Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991
(Dusk Fire DUSKCD116. CD review by Peter Bacon)

Listening to this double disc of a complete concert in what was at the time the newly-built showpiece Midlands concert hall, it’s easy to succumb to rose-tinted nostalgia.

Back in ’91 the Contemporary Music Network – remember them? – was still a thing. A thing supported by the Arts Council, no less. And thanks to the CMN, a 12-piece band which included Kenny Wheeler, Steve Swallow, John Taylor, Julian Argüelles, Bill Stewart, Tony Coe and more, could get a 12-date UK tour. And it could be led by Mike Gibbs with John Scofield as the featured soloist.

Seems like another world, eh? Well, outside of London it does. But, it really happened, and here is the proof.

The tunes come from Gibbs and Scofield, more from the latter, but one Gibbs composition was new on the night: Blueprint, written for Berklee, the alma mater of both trombonist/arranger/composer and guitarist/composer, but getting its first outing in Birmingham, England.

The excitement level on the night must have been high because, nearly 27 years later, it fairly crackles from the speakers. Scofield was riding high on the success of his Blue Note quartet albums – the first two pieces, here in Gibbs arrangements, were from his Meant To Be album released earlier in 1991. The guitarist is given (overly?) generous solo room throughout the programme and is on blistering form, ever inventive, uniformly absolutely committed.

But, if Sco’ dominates, he’s not the only reason to check out this release. The other main attractions include: the solos of pianist John Taylor, always pushing that envelope, always intriguing the ears, often amazing them too; the driving groove and support of electric bassist Steve Swallow, offering so much harmonic richness and lyrical counter melody in addition to that faultless time; the swagger of tenor saxophonist Tony Coe, especially in dialogue with Scofield on Gibbs’ Roses Are Red; and the soaring squeeze and release in the sublime solos of Kenny Wheeler – the trumpeter/flugelhorn player really is on spectacular form here.

And then, of course, there is the composing and arranging of Mike Gibbs. His wide experience of writing for film brings wide-screen scope to this music, heard to most dramatic effect, possibly, on Scofield’s Science And Religion, but seemingly effortlessly melding jazz sophistication with rock fusion power all through the evening. Gibbs is also part of the ‘bone section along with Chris Pyne and Dave Stewart. The gruff low brass and bass riffing behind the guitar solo on Gill B643, then expanding to take in the trumpets and French horns, is just one of my favourite moments, and a touch that is just so-Mike Gibbs.

There have been other memorable jazz gigs in the grand surroundings of Symphony Hall – Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, DeJohnette, Branford Marsalis all come to mind – but, the Maria Schneider Orchestra aside, they are all a long time back. Will we ever see such times again, the nostalgic muses.


TRIBUTES to Ken Pickering (1952-2018), Co-Founder and Director of the Vancouver Jazz Festival

Ken Pickering
Photo from @coastaljazz

The TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival @coastaljazz put out this sad message on Saturday 11 August on its Twitter account:

"Today is the worst, saddest day. After a short battle with cancer, founding artistic director @ken_pickering passed away peacefully early this AM. We will miss him terribly."

Since then there have been tributes from far and wide, testifying to the high regard in which Ken was held.

Darcy James Argue described him as "a passionate, knowledgable, and tireless advocate for creative music, and one of the kindest, most generous, most genuine individuals I have ever encountered." Philippe Ochem, director of Jazzdor in Strasbourg wrote in praise of "my dear colleague and friend". Pianist Alexander Hawkins wrote: "...not sure what to add, except that I’m sure all of us fortunate enough to have a gig this evening will be playing for you."

 A broader selection of these tributes has been collected by Peter Hum in a piece for the Ottawa Citizen.

 At LJN we will remember him as someone who was a pleasure to meet, supportive of what we do and an avid reader of our newsletter, often thanking us for bringing things to his attention.

Two friends from the Canadian scene, pianist/composer Marianne Trudel and Heidi Fleming of Fam Group remember him in tributes. First, Marianne Trudel writes (*):

Ken Pickering

Kindness personified

A genuine love of music as the theme that ran through everything he did

A sincere and lasting commitment to those who make it

A dynamo, a beacon, a pillar, a point of reference:

For both the Canadian and the international music scenes

A smile, a sparkle, someone always reliable and always delightful.

Ken Pickering: an example of human nature at its best.

His irreplaceable contribution has been precious and unique:

For musicians, for the public, and for music.

For the survival, for the life of the Music he loved so much.

Thank you so much

We will miss you


Ken was one of the first Canadian broadcasters who gave me the chance to present my music outside Quebec,

A man whose craftsmanship has shaped the whole scene, and whose passion, integrity and commitment were immediately palpable,

A man who recognized and encouraged my work as a pianist and composer for over ten years,

He played an important role in my development.

I'll be forever grateful.

Goodbye Ken.

For the love of music, then, now and forever...

Marianne Trudel

(*) Marianne Trudel's tribute was originally written in French:

Ken Pickering 

La bonté sur 2 pattes

Un réel amour de la musique comme leitmotiv

Un engagement sincère et durable envers ses artisans

Un moteur, un phare, un pilier, une référence:

tant pour la scène musicale canadienne qu’internationale

Un sourire, une étincelle, une présence fiable et agréable

Ken Pickering: un exemple de la nature humaine à son meilleur

Son apport incontournable est précieux, unique:

tant pour les musiciens, le public, et la Musique

Pour la survie et la vie de cette Musique qu’il aimait tant.

Merci milles fois

Tu nous manqueras


Ken est un des premiers diffuseurs canadiens à m’avoir donné la chance de présenter ma musique hors Québec,

un artisan important de la scène dont j’ai immédiatement senti la passion, l’intégrité, l’engagement,

un homme qui a reconnu et encouragé mon travail comme pianiste et compositrice pendant plus de 10 ans,

Il a joué un rôle important dans mon essor.

Je lui en serai reconnaissante à jamais.

Au revoir Ken.

Pour l’amour de la musique, toujours et encore…

Marianne Trudel

A remembrance, by Heidi Fleming:

As I scroll though the various social media posts about Ken I realize (no surprise there) that he was as loved in the jazz and improvised/creative music world all over – especially in Europe – as in Canada. He had many friends, both artists and colleagues, in Holland, Norway, Germany, the UK, France and Sweden, as well as across North America and even beyond.

Ken was always the first one you wanted to convince when you wanted to bring an artist on tour here: if he was in, that would often lead the way for his colleagues to buy in as well, thankfully. Ken was the conscience, in a way, of the group. One could accept a decision made by Ken, as it was understood to have been made in all honesty and with the music ultimately in mind. Over the years I was lucky that several bands I proposed were indeed chosen and thus were able to establish footholds or even become celebrated in North America.

Ken loved not only music and musicians, but he loved a good prank, had a wicked sense of humour, and was just a great down-to-earth guy. Ken, you are gone too soon and you will be missed tremendously: you were the glue that held us together! I am just sad that we won't be following your exploits anymore... reading your informative and informed yet anything-but-dry posts and seeing your smile.

Rest well, you have left us in good hands. Your work here is done.

LINKS: Obituary from the Vancouver Sun
A tribute by Alexander Varty in the Georgia Straight


NEWS: Andrew Robb wins First Prize in the jazz bass competition at BASS2018 LUCCA

Congratulations to Andrew Robb, originally from Edinburgh, who has just won first prize in the jazz bass competition at BASS2018 LUCCA, the sixth European Bass Congress. All the events of this year's congress took place within the medieval walls "Le Mura" of the city of Lucca.

Andrew Robb had previously come second in the 2016 competition in Prague, at which the winner was another Brit, Freddy Jensen. The full results of the 2018 competition were as follows

1st Prize: Andrew Robb, United Kingdom
2nd Prize: Grzegorz Wlodarczyk, Poland
3rd Prize: Dario Piccioni, Italy
Award - Remarkable Originality: Pau Lligadas, Spain

The jury comprised of Adam Booker, (USA) Wayne Darling (USA/Austria) and Furio Di Castri (Italy).

Andrew Robb was born and grew up in Edinburgh, where he attended George Heriot’s School and St Mary’s Music School. He led the double bass section of the (classical) National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. He did a Bmus in Jazz at The Guildhall School. He won the BBC Radio Scotland Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2009. He is a member of (fellow St Mary's former pupil) Alan Benzie’s piano Trio - (their CD Little Mysteries won album of the year at the Scottish Jazz Awards this year), of Henry Spencer’s Juncture, and Renato D’Aiello’s Quartet. He also has a short tour of Scotland coming up next month with Norwegian guitarist Bjørn Solli.

LINKS: Full results of all three competitions at BassEurope 2018 in Lucca
BassEurope 2018 website
Background to the European bass congresses


NEWS: Third Drayton Court Jazz Festival Programme Announced (17-19 August. London W13, free admission)

The Drayton Court Festival ad Dusk
Photo credit: John Ross Photography

Dick Esmond, who for many years ran the Ealing Jazz Festival, and Andrew Butcher have announced the programme for the third Drayton Court Jazz Festival, which this year runs for three days from Friday 17 August until Sunday 19 August 2018. Admission to all events is free. The organizers describe it as "more than a Jazz Festival: an outdoor party with a wide range of ales, hog roast etc."

Their release states:

"Following on from the success of last year’s Jazz Festival at the Drayton Court in Ealing, the line-up for this year’s extended three-day event features many of the UK’s best jazz musicians.

The Drayton Court Festival is a now hugely anticipated jazz event for West London: accessible and popular jazz from well-known bands with local connections, and FREE admission.

Dick Esmond who was the co-founder and artistic director of the Ealing Jazz Festival for 30 years says “the line-up for this third year is as strong as ever, bringing locally led bands to a key local event without parallel in the borough”.

The Festival was established in response to overwhelming demand from local fans and musicians following widely expressed disappointment at the removal in 2016 of popular local musicians from the council-run Ealing Jazz Festival. Now, in the attractive setting of the pub’s spacious garden, the unique community spirit has been restored. In addition to the main stage bands that run through each day, there are performances between sets by a series of jazz duos in the bar area, making for a music filled vibrant weekend of Ealing Jazz at its festive best.”



6.00pm Ken McCarthy Duo
7.15pm Chris Hodgkins Quintet
8.15pm Ken McCarthy Duo
9.00pm Matt Wates Sextet


1.00pm Alan Berry Duo 2.00pm Pete Cook Quintet
3.00pm Alan Berry Duo
3.45pm Frank Griffith Quintet
4.45pm Max Brittain & John Coverdale
5.30pm Nick Mills` Blue Note Project
6.30pm Max Brittain & John Coverdale
7.15pm Gill Cook Quintet
8.15pm Max Brittain & John Coverdale
9.00pm Jack Honeyborne & Company


12.00pm Jon Taylor`s JT4tet 1.00pm Jack Honeyborne Duo
2.00pm Ken McCarthy Quintet
3.00pm Jack Honeyborne Duo
3.45pm Winston Morson`s Off The Cuff
4.45pm Nigel Fox Duo
5.30pm Andrew Butcher & Butcher`s Brew
6.30pm Nigel Fox Duo
7.30pm Dick Esmond`s Sound of 17 Big Band

The festival is at Drayton Court Hotel, The Avenue, West Ealing, London, W13 8PH


CD REVIEW: New York All-Stars (featuring Eric Alexander and Harold Mabern) – Burnin’ In London

New York All-Stars (featuring Eric Alexander and Harold Mabern) – Burnin’ In London
(Ubuntu UBU0012. CD review by Mark McKergow)

This hard-hitting quartet led by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and piano master Harold Mabern produce a full-throttle set of virtuosic mainstream jazz recorded live at London’s Pizza Express club in November 2017.

Eric Alexander is a frequent visitor to these shores from America, sometimes in tandem with British musicians such as Dave O’Higgins. A prolific recording artist, he has worked for many years with pianist Harold Mabern, a genuine legend in his own right (anyone referenced alongside Duke Ellington and Jay McShann in Ben Sidran’s superb tribute song Piano Players must be worth a listen!). Lately they have teamed up with French-domiciled American bassist Darryl Hall and Austrian drummer Bernd Reiter as the New York All-Stars. This CD emerged from a conversation while the band were playing a short residency in London – a chat one night became a recording the next!

As we might expect, this is very much a live performance from a ring-ready band whose chops are clearly well-exercised and who have found a groove together. Alexander leads into the opening Almost Like Being In Love at tremendous pace, with Mabern providing a full backing style with a fair amount of sustain pedal evident. I Could Have Danced All Night is tackled at an even faster tempo,  with interestingly ambiguous rhythmic shifts which have the listener reaching for support and Alexander’s tenor sax gaining fluency and clarity though the performance.

Mabern leads into his own Nightlife In Tokyo with a nice piano introduction before the straight-eights tune and bass ostinato arrives. Hall and Reiter provide solid backing here as elsewhere, and Mabern takes the chance to introduce an extended quote from Steely Dan’s Do It Again using his ten-fingered full-on style. With six tracks of around 10 minutes apiece, there is space to stretch out and Hall gets a nicely-judged solo here. It’s Magic provides a welcome breather as the band moves into ballad territory with Mabern again quoting liberally from a range of sources including a classically-rooted coda with Alexander.

This is a lively collection of witty and high octane jazz recorded live by practitioners at the top of their craft.

You can hear them for yourself on their forthcoming European tour including September dates at Manchester’s Band On The Wall and the Guildhall School, and three nights' return to the Pizza Express in Soho (17-19 September 2018) as well as shows in Italy, Germany, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and France.  


CD REVIEW: Nat Steele – Portrait Of The Modern Jazz Quartet

Nat Steele – Portrait Of The Modern Jazz Quartet
(Trio Records TR598. CD review by Simon Scott)

The sleeve note for this album advises that the musicians recorded most of the tracks in one day, after a Late Late Show gig at Ronnie Scott’s. Without that information, the listener would have no clue to the circumstances that were involved in putting together this hugely enjoyable collection. There is not a hint of tiredness or apathy from the first note to the last. The sprightly bop rhythms are convincingly underpinned by Steve Brown’s unobtrusive but utterly sublime drumming. Mingled in with the equally vital but understated double bass playing from Dario Di Lecce, the two provide a musical bed for Nat Steele’s vibraphone and Gabriel Latchin’s piano to lie on and luxuriate in comfort.

By the time the band hit the La Ronde Suite, it sounds as though everyone is firing on all six, possibly seven or eight cylinders, judging by the awesome dexterity demonstrated by each musician as they weave in and out of the melodies.

There are two ways to listen to this album. The first is simply to enjoy the wonderfully melodic joyfulness which the band bring to their selections. It is an uplifting sound, each track underlining the pleasure of the last, and then building more pleasure as the record unfolds. The second way to enjoy it is to play it again and concentrate on each individual musician’s contribution – the interaction that sounds so effortless and simple but, as experienced jazz fans will know, indicates that it is actually anything but. Each player gets to step out from the ensemble format and showcase his own unique abilities, but it is never done with any sense of ego or grandstanding; these musicians are far too aware of their individual and collective abilities to need to play in a way that ever approaches showing off. They play with ease, verve, and skill, but they constantly serve the melody and sharp bop timing that runs through this album like gold thread through a colourful tapestry.

The vibes-playing on the deliciously swinging Django provides a sense of musical mischief that the maestro would have appreciated, and the following Bags Groove, Milt Jackson’s classic, once again showcases the way the players interact as though by instinct, which it probably is, and by experience and pleasure of playing, which it certainly is.

If this album sends new converts out to explore the MJQ’s catalogue, and brings new fans to this wonderful combination of joy and skill, then it will have done its job. If it stands alone as a classy piece of ensemble playing on its own merits, then that’s just fine too.


REVIEW: Prom 35: New York: Sound of a City

Nitty Scott
Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

BBC Proms 35: New York: Sound of a City
(Royal Albert Hall, 8 August 2018. Late night Prom. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

It was clearly an intriguing premise: a full orchestra accompanying hip hop, dance and singer-songwriters. At 21h00 around the Royal Albert Hall the traditional suited elderly Prom cohort morph into a more eclectic younger group to see what the Heritage Orchestra has been cooking up. It's an excitingly unusual range of experiences for the audience, and it's also clearly a very different experience for the performers themselves.

Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

serpentwithfeet (Josiah Wise) walks on stage with conductor Jules Buckley, and after a brief confusion over who stands where, is brought in by conductor and then let loose to sing, with musings on names and an engaging bless ur heart. Alone upfront looking around the cavernous space imploringly for a connection, Wise comes across as a story-teller who might thrive off more casual and intimate scenarios than the formality of the RAH.

He is one of a pair for the opening brace of songs, alternating between two tender and earnest singers. Sharon Van Etten swaps in with tinges of melancholy with a clean Americana vibe on Skeeter Davis's The End of The World, and occasional angst on Memorial Day. Accompanied by restrained arrangements with regulation string sweeps and held horns, her songs were pinned on the drumbeat and small traditional format rhythm section, with Van Etten herself looking a little lost without a guitar to clutch centre stage.

Sharon van Etten with Jules Buckley and the Heritage Otchestra
Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

The Heritage Orchestra are meticulous and accomplished, but the pared back songwriting lent itself to pared back arrangements. It was only when Nitty Scott arrived that the tone of the orchestration changed.

Joyous and natural, Scott is seemingly comfortable on any stage, and the percussion and arrangement that accompanied her on Flower Child gave a hip hop kick to the atmosphere. She addressed the crowd with defiant honest messages on Still I Rise, and called for participation on La Diaspora. With these songs there was real meat for Buckley to arrange – whether the first violin playing the opening lick loop, the muted trumpet high lines, or carefully layered percussion.

Andy Butler instead opted to blend into the orchestra and hide at his keys, but from comparative anonymity he contributed a genre-crossing Hercules & Love Affair mini dance set of his own with Krystle Warren, Van Etten or the three backing singers taking on vocal duties. Referencing Prince, Madonna and shoegaze, in this format they delivered the richest moment of the evening with Hercules Theme, a romping '70s dance funk theme to make Quincy Jones and Isaac Hayes proud.

It takes a bold enterprise to claim to be able to distill the sound of such a melting pot of a world city. And while the diverse genres and featured collaborators could claim to represent much of New York, the Heritage Orchestra probably cannot claim to represent a diverse London.

Singers Vula Malinga, Brendan Reilly, Sam White
Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

But the Heritage Orchestra aren't masquerading as such. Indeed they're not masquerading as anything except a contemporary experimentation outfit with talent and depth in numbers, and an aim to bring different music together. It is partly up to the audience to decide how to react.

In the RAH, cowed by the environment, it started as a respectful hush with an occasional well behaved heckle/declaration of love. With the arrival or return of each performer, there was nearly as much polite clapping as for your improvisation-heavy jazz quintet. But by the end of the set musical barriers were broken, and the crossover between a classical orchestral format and any contemporary popular music available to hand had won over a crowd. It's exciting variety-show stuff – and I hope continues to be a Sound of the Future.

Prom 35 is available for 28 days on BBC iPlayer


CD REVIEW: Mimika Orchestra – Divinities Of The Earth And The Waters

Mimika Orchestra Divinities of the Earth and the Waters
(PDV029. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Think of them as the Art Ensemble of Zagreb. Mimika are far more than a conventional big band; the territory they inhabit is closer to Sun Ra’s Arkestra, with a large and constantly shifting membership, a devotion to science fiction, fantasy and folklore, strange theatrical make-up and costumes. Often sounding more like jazz-inflected 20th century ‘classical’ than pure jazz (previous reviewers have mentioned Stravinsky and Bartok), the tracks mostly clock in at over ten minutes, each developing into mysterious mini-epics.

Mimika is a vehicle for the fertile imagination and music of the prolific composer and saxophonist Mak Murtic. Since its foundation in London eight years ago, the Anglo-Croatian outfit have received plenty of attention, winning Jazz FM’s Discovery competition and appearing at the Love Supreme festival, which is where I first saw them, and was blown away by the excitement and power of their live show.

The music of this new album, their fourth, was premiered in London in 2016, and the recording features no fewer than 30 musicians. So original is their sound that one struggles to describe it: in fact, no words come close to encompassing the sheer scale of Murtic’s musical ambition. Mimika’s rhythms and musical scales are rarely straightforward, from a Western European perspective: this is the sound of the Balkans, after all, as on the whirling folk-dance sections of Song of Sorrow.

The instrumentation varies – tuba, sousaphone, guitar and electronics augment the usual big band line-up, as well as the Cretan lyra (a three-stringed violin-like instrument) and Croatian tamburitza (a long-necked lute). Mimika is fronted by singer Maja Rivic, alongside one or more others (I seem to recall there were at least four at Love Supreme). At times the voices come to the fore, as on Pantheon, although God alone knows what they’re singing or chanting about. On this track, the impression is of someone having an extraordinarily vivid dream, shading into nightmare by the end. According to the sleeve, the album as a whole is a psychedelic funeral ceremony dedicated to former band member Oberon King, who died in 2015.

Avant-garde and strident though it often sounds, Divinities of the Earth and the Waters is often highly melodic too, particularly Colonnade Beneath the World. As with most large ensembles, the strangeness of Mimika is best experienced live. In the meantime, this album paints a wonderful picture in sound.


CD REVIEW: John Bailey – Oneiric Sounds

John Bailey - Oneiric Sounds
(Outhøuse Records Outhouse 03. CD review by Patrick Hadfield)

Oneiric Sounds is the latest record by guitarist John Bailey, comprising two suites – one featuring bassist Arild Andersen, the other saxophonist Julian Argüelles playing soprano. Interspersed between tracks of both suites is a series of four improvisations, Oneiric I - IV, featuring Bailey and Argüelles.

Bailey takes inspiration from both the natural world and artists who observe it, such as Dürer, Turner and Bruegel. Several tracks have a bucolic feel. "Oneiric" means "relating to dreams and dreaming", and Bailey explains that some of the tunes were influenced by dreams; these two strands come together in Durer's Vision, a piece that is based on Dürer's painting "Dream Vision".

This may sound cerebral, but the tunes are accessible, warm and engaging. Despite using different musicians on the two suites – notably Garry Jackson (bass) and Eryl Roberts (drums) on those tracks featuring Argüelles, and Richard Kass (drums) on those with Andersen – the record has coherence, achieved in part by Bailey's effective scoring for a small string section of violin (Simon Chalk), viola (Mark Chivers) and cello (Nick Stringfellow).

Richard Iles plays flugelhorn and Tim France tenor saxophone on many tracks, also contributing to a consistent sound as well as providing fitting solos. Andersen and Argüelles understandably make the most significant contributions. Andersen's bass brings depth and richness to the tracks on which he appears, whilst Argüelles' soprano is light and playful.

As a whole Oneiric Sounds has an open, luminous quality, perhaps fitting to a record that takes paintings and dreams as a starting point.

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