NEWS: Jazz at the 2018 BBC Proms

Jacob Collier
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska


The jazz content at this year's Proms - the programme has just been announced -  is relatively low: it is focused on just two events: a full 7.30pm Prom for Jacob Collier and the Metropole Orkest and a late night Gershwin Prom with NYJO -  plus events to mark the Leonard Bernstein centenary. 

SELECTED 2018 PROMS

19 July Prom 7 Jacob Collier and guests with the Metropole Orkest Dir. Jules Buckley

16 August Prom 46 NYJO and Benjamin Grosvenor

=========================

18 July Prom 6 Gershwin’s An American in Paris (paired with Messiaen’s Turangalila)

31 July Prom 23 Havana meets Kingston – produced by Mista Savona (aka Jake Savona) 

8 August Prom 35: New York: Story of a City with Metropole Orkest Dir. Jules Buckley, Hercules and Love Affair, serpentwithfeet and Sharon Van Etten

11 August Proms 38 and 39 West Side Story Dir. By John Wilson
Two performances
 Afternoon
 Evening

25 August Prom 57 Bernstein’s On the Town 

31 Aug Prom 65A Youssou Ndour & Le Super Étoile de Dakar 

4 Sep Prom 70 Tango Prom

Read More...

LP REVIEW: Grant Green – Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s



Grant Green – Slick! Live at Oil Can Harry’s
(Resonance Records INA HLP-9034. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


Guitarist Grant Green (1935-1979) fell from favour with the jazz critics when he began playing funk in the late 1960s. But, perversely, it was exactly this departure which triggered the resuscitation of his reputation when, starting in the 1980s, rap artists began to ransack the funk catalogue for their samples. Grant Green’s biographer, Sharony Andrews Green, points out that (along with James Brown and George Clinton) “it was the laid back funky jazz tracks that he and others like Lou Donaldson and Horace Silver recorded that hooked rappers and deejays in what became known as the ‘acid jazz’ movement.” She goes on to chart the sardonic twists of fate that led to British hip-hoppers Us3 sampling a bootleg of Grant Green’s Blue Note track, Sookie Sookie, and thereby landing their own contract with Blue Note Records. (And selling millions more records than Green ever did.)

It is largely the more funky side of Grant Green’s career which is being celebrated by Resonance Records in a wave of limited-edition vinyl releases (five LPs all told) targeted at Record Store Day this year (21 April). The three-disc set Funk in France is discussed HERESlick is only marginally less lavish, a double album recorded in Vancouver on 5 September 1975.

It opens with a cheekily swinging version of Charlie Parker’s Now’s the Time that provides Grant Green with plenty of opportunities to flaunt his bebop chops. He plays fluidly and adroitly, digging down into the tune and maintaining a bouncing tempo with the help of a tight rhythm section — Emmanuel Riggins on electric piano, Ronnie Ware bass, Greg Williams drums, Gerald Izzard percussion. Riggins in particular shines here, playing simple but effective lines that enhance the already considerable momentum of the piece. Running at just over 8 minutes, Now’s the Time makes for a short Side 1.

Side 2, by contrast, is over 26 minutes and again consists of a single track, Insensatez. This Antonio Carlos Jobim tune, which received a memorable treatment on the other Resonance album, is explored here in loving detail with Green slowly and devotedly laying out the theme. Emmanuel Riggins inventively adapts his approach on electric piano to support Green with muscular comping, then plays a delicately flickering solo. Gerald Izzard work on percussion is also particularly notable here, including use of a whistle which evokes first birds calling in the canopy of a Brazilian forest and then revellers at carnival time.

The remainder of Slick consists of two medleys, each receiving one side of an LP, Vulcan Princess/Skin Tight/Woman’s Gotta Have it and Boogie On Reggae Woman/For the Love of Money. The first medley features Riggins on a science fiction sound-effect intro before driving forward into Blaxploitation soundtrack territory. Vulcan Princess is a Stanley Clarke tune and serves as a vehicle for Ronnie Ware’s electric bass. The second medley is especially catchy, compelling and energetic with a smart intro by Ware and a blur of high speed playing from Grant Green who seems to be carving out a new guitar genre here. The entire set is very much in the electric fusion mode popularised by Creed Taylor’s CTI label. Surprisingly, Green only ever cut one record for CTI as a leader, on their sub-label Kudu. It was entitled The Main Attraction and it was virtually the last he was to record.

Grant Green’s early death certainly deprived the jazz scene of one of its great guitar figures but Resonance Records is working hard to fill in the gaps in his recording history. Like Funk in France, the vinyl here is of audiophile standard, on noise free, precision 180gram pressings mastered by Bernie Grundman and manufactured at Record Technology Incorporated (RTI). And Resonance have once again pulled out all the stops in terms of presentation. Slick comes in a particularly handsome gatefold cover with great use of photography and design and typography which continues the Blaxploitation theme (kudos to designer Burton Yount). A 12-page booklet is also included, featuring extensive notes including a memoir by DJ Gary Barclay who worked for the radio station, CHQM, which originally recorded the concert. It’s thanks to Gary Barclay that the tapes survived to create this extravagant tribute to the godfather of jazz funk. If you don’t fancy queuing on Record Store Day to obtain up a collector’s item on vinyl, you can always pick up the CD release which will follow next month.

Read More...

LP REVIEW: Grant Green – Funk in France, From Paris to Antibes (1969-1970)



Grant Green – Funk in France, From Paris to Antibes (1969-1970)
(Resonance Records INA HLP-9033. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)


Now recognised as one of the presiding prodigies of guitar jazz, Grant Green died in 1979 having narrowly missed out on the sort of bigtime success enjoyed by the likes of Wes Montgomery and, especially, George Benson — ironically Green was scheduled to play a gig at George Benson’s club in Harlem when he was finally felled by a heart attack. He was 43 years old, and his reputation was soon in eclipse. Indeed Sharony Andrews Green’s biography is subtitled Rediscovering the Forgotten Genius of Jazz Guitar.

Well, the rediscovery of Grant Green is fully under way, thanks to his music being embraced and redeployed first by Acid Jazz performers, then hip hop artists, not to mention devotees of funk. More importantly, there is a growing recognition of the true stature of his recordings such as the 1963 classic Idle Moments on Blue Note. And now Resonance Records has continued its campaign of unearthing classic lost performances with a flood of Grant Green collector’s items.

Released on vinyl as a Record Store Day special, Funk in France comes in a staggeringly lavish double gatefold cover which opens up to reveal two albums, consisting of three discs all told — The Round House comprises a single disc and you could call it both a live album and a studio album — it was recorded live, but in ideal acoustic conditions in a studio at La Maison de la Radio, the headquarters of the ORTF (the French Office of Radio and Television) in Paris on 26 October 1969. Then there is Haute Funk, a double album, also live, preserving an Antibes Jazz Festival performance on 18 July 1970.

The Paris set opens with a title that almost consumes the word count for this review: I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door I’ll Get it Myself). The fact that this is a James Brown track clearly announces Grant Green’s intention to move funk-wards. It’s dark, edgy and searching with Green playing percussively. Larry Ridley’s bass writhes and wraps around the guitar lines like ivy on a tree branch. Sonny Rollins’ tune Oleo is delivered in a hip, open, breezy rendition with Green creating colours and highlights as if he’s shearing glistening fragments off a block of ice.

But the set really begins to cook with Tom Jobim’s Insensatez, introduced by the excited stopwatch ticking of Don Lamond’s drums and underpinned by, then interwoven with, Ridley’s bass. Green’s exploration of the song is plangent and (appropriately enough) resonant. The relaxed and funky Untitled Blues is followed by another high point, Charles Trenet’s I Wish You Love, for which Barney Kessel joins the trio. The duelling guitars are an occasion for sharply clipped playing that paradoxically gives rise to a fat warm sound, with a killer sense of laidback timing, playing elastically behind the beat in a way that makes the listener feel the cares of the day simply drop away. The guitarists explore the tune almost pianistically, giving it unexpected stature and profundity.

Haute Funk is very different, It consists of four long tracks, each allocated the entire side of an LP. On Upshot (the first of two versions here) Green takes a headlong plunge into Montgomery-style soul jazz. One might expect Clarence Palmer’s organ to similarly hue close to Jimmy Smith, but on the contrary his sound is much more brooding, menacing and modernistic.

However, it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions about the supporting musicians. The crystal clarity of the Paris radio studio recording is gone here and the rest of the band often seems to be recessed behind the dominant sound of Green’s guitar. Nevertheless, the different line up, with Claude Bartee on tenor sax and Billy Wilson on drums, and the urgent driving energy of the festival performances are compelling. Hurt So Bad (a hit for Little Anthony and the Imperials) sees Claude Bartee’s tenor taking a welcome spell in the spotlight. (Bartee had previously played with Grant Green in New York and would go on to work for him for several years.) Grant Green seems to pick his way carefully and thoughtfully in a response to the sax which manages to both float and drive the tune forward

This is an almost shockingly sumptuous package, with a full size 12-page colour booklet in addition to the elaborate heavy duty sleeve. And the vinyl is top quality: 180gram pressings, mastered by Bernie Grundman. Nevertheless, it’s the original tapes which count and the Paris radio studio recordings beat the Antibes sets hands down. The Paris sessions also benefit from brevity — all of the Antibes tracks are extended workouts. On the other hand, the presence of Claude Bartee on tenor in Antibes adds a rousing additional dimension.

Producer Zev Feldman’s liner notes mention that he seriously considered not including the Paris sessions in this package at all (because they’d already escaped into the wild in the form of a video and subsequent bootleg audio recordings). Thank the jazz gods he relented. Those performances on their own are reason enough for this triple vinyl Green-fest.

Funk in France is a seriously luxuriant offering for any Grant Green aficionado or any lover of jazz guitar and it looks set to fly out the door on Record Store Day. And if annual orgies of vinyl aren’t your thing, you can pick up the deluxe double CD version.

Read More...

PREVIEW: Stan Sulzmann/Nikki Iles/Guildhall Jazz Orchesta (Milton Court Studio Theatre 2 May, Part of Guildhall Jazz Showcase)

Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles
Publicity Photo

The Guildhall Jazz Showcase takes place over three days, 2-4 May, at Milton Court Studio Theatre. There are three ticketed evening concerts. On 3 May, Julian Siegel's Quartet bring the material from their new album Vista. On 4 May Issie Barratt’s Interchange – with Brigitte Beraha, Yazz Ahmed, Helena Kay, Tori Freestone and Charlie Pyne - will be performing. There are also free-entry performances by students and Guildhall School professors during the day (full programme link below).

This interview focuses on the opening concert with the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra, and focusing on the collaboration between saxophonist STAN SULZMANN in his 70 year, and pianist NIKKI ILES. James Brady – who recently won the Eddie Harvey Prize for jazz arranging – interviewed SCOTT STROMAN, who will be directing the concert, for LondonJazz News.

LondonJazz News: The collaboration of Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles seems like a natural thing for the Guildhall School to be involved in...

Scott Stroman: Stan and Nikki over the years have been a very important part of our team at Guildhall, both as teachers and his guest artists. It's the first time we've had them together doing a gig at Guildhall, and they have a very strong relationship with each other, playing together in small groups under both of their leadership, so they already have a synergy between the two of them. It’s great for our students because they're encountering what I think is some of the most beautifully written music around today, and with major talents Stan and Nikki, they're right on defining edge of what Jazz Orchestra music is now.

Funnily enough, initially we were going to do this earlier on and we couldn’t get dates that everybody could do, so we said to them, “Look, let's just two different projects – we’ll do Stan and then we'll do Nikki at different times,” and they both said, “No, no, no. We’d rather wait, because we really want to work together and we really want to work together with the band.” So that was very nice.

LJN: They’re both known for composing and so in that in that respect what is each of them individually bringing to this particular project?

SS: Stan writes idiosyncratic tunes – I don't know anybody else writes tunes like his. They’re full of jazz history and you can hear perhaps echoes of Wayne Shorter and Kenny Wheeler, and lots of other composers. Stan’s also studied classical music and he's got a real sense for intriguing melody and narrative or rhetoric. He writes these little vignettes which seem to tell stories and I always find them incredibly intriguing.

He’s a good example for other arrangers because he knows his material intimately before he arranges it. He'll write a tune and play it for years in small groups with people like Nikki, investigating it, working things out together, making little changes and gathering information about his piece that he then writes into a big band arrangement. You have a feeling that he's breathed the music already and I have to say it is quite similar with Nikki.

Nikki’s tunes are a little bit different – they are longer form tunes, but they're also very pastoral, very rich harmonically. Both of them write very lyrical, tonal tunes. They’ve got lots of harmonic twists and turns, but they're growing very much out of a jazz tradition. Their music is a very English, very natural expression of the worlds that these two musicians come out of – they've genuinely incorporated English songs, pastoral things, the weather, even the countryside. You wouldn't hear these tunes popping up in America. They're really genuinely here.

LJN: What particular aspects or themes in the music will you be looking to bring out in this performance?

SS: The answer to that is the personality of two composers. They're both the featured soloists and they are composers who write the way that they play. They’re both very melodic and both very spacious – there's no showing off going on with these guys. Both of them have really unique individual voices, but they're so strongly versed in the tradition that they can easily go outside of those boundaries. They're looking for really good melodies and they don't feel the need to overdo anything. They’re two musicians who I find strip things down to the essence and then carry you along with them, and I think that's how their writing is as well.

LJN: This is your 35th year teaching at Guildhall, so generations of musicians have worked with you in that time. How is the current crop doing – how is the Guildhall jazz band of today?

SS: If you asked me if it were better or worse, I would say it's neither – it's different. There's a different type of musician coming through now – they're better prepared because the educational system that supports them has grown a lot. The students now come in with more fundamental things already under their belts, often with more experience.

On the other hand in the earlier days we had people coming in with fewer skills but great potential and an enormous desire to do the music and things would just explode under the bonnet. That's what I found in the first years of the course – the desire of the students was so great to play jazz, their own music, their own way – that they overcame any lack of preparation with genuine desire and inspiration; it was really hard work for them but they found their own ways through it. Many of those students are now some of the most interesting and influential musicians and teachers throughout the country and abroad.

LJN: The gig’s on Wednesday 2 May in Milton Court – but in Studio Theatre, not the main hall?

SS: It's quite a nice space really, an intimate space, which means it takes slightly fewer people and so I fear there'll be some people who won't get in, so I suggest people book tickets in advance.

LJN: And the entire programme is Stan and Nikki’s music?

SS: We're going to play one of my pieces at the beginning, just as an opener, but other than that it’s all Stan and Nikki.

Stan Sulzmann and Nikki Iles will be releasing a second album for Jellymould RecordsLush Lifewith special guest Dave Holland in late May/early June. 

LINKS: Tickets
Programme details
Full programme for Guildhall Jazz Showcase

Read More...

INTERVIEW: Fergus McCreadie (new trio album Turas and Glasgow dates)

Fergus McCreadie
Publicity picture
Young Scottish pianist Fergus McCreadie marks the release of his trio’s first album, Turas, with a four-night run at Glasgow’s new jazz club, the Blue Arrow, starting tomorrow (April 18). Rob Adams spoke to him for LondonJazz News:

Still only twenty and studying on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland jazz course, Fergus McCreadie has been making a big impression on festival audiences particularly in recent months. His trio has won standing ovations at Edinburgh, Islay and Aberdeen jazz festivals and went down a storm at Gateshead Jazz Festival earlier this month.

Twice the winner of the Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year (Under 17s) title, he gained valuable early experience with the highly productive Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra and then with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland. He went on to play and record with saxophonist Tommy Smith’s youth jazz orchestra (the feeder for the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra) and his trio with bassist David Bowden and drummer Stephen Henderson won the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award 2016. His trio appears at the Blue Arrow on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday this week.

LondonJazz News: What attracted you to jazz in general and jazz piano in particular, and which came first?

Fergus McCreadie: For about five years before I first heard jazz properly, I’d been learning piano normally, just through classical pieces, which was really boring me. It wasn’t until I attended the Fife Summer Jazz Course that I first heard two jazz pianists in the flesh, and it was almost like a eureka moment – I went straight from not really caring about piano to having a big interest in it. From there, listening to Oscar Peterson developed into listening to Bill Evans, which developed into Chick Corea, which developed into Keith Jarrett… and the rest is history.

LJN: There’s a strong sense of Scottish landscape in your music but also a strong sense of the Scottish musical tradition; was traditional music part of your life and listening growing up or has that come from being around the scene in Glasgow?

FMcC: It’s actually slightly a combination of both. When I was quite young, I used to listen to quite a lot of bagpipe music, and I started learning the bagpipes when I was 12. I never got very good, but I always liked pipe music and I think that influence has always slightly been there. I’m maybe guilty though of having buried that for a while, as I just wanted to get good at normal jazz, but the more I was in Glasgow the more folk music I heard, and the more I rediscovered my love of folk music. Eventually it got to the point where I just accepted that I like folk music as much as jazz and classical, and that came forward in my composition.

Stephen Henderson, Fergus McCreadie and David Bowden
Publicity picture
LJN: How did you get together with David Bowden and Stephen Henderson and what made you want to work with them?

FMcC: David and Stephen are two musicians that I’ve known for a long time, pretty much since I’ve came to RCS. From the moment I played with them, I felt like there was a really good hook-up, and over the course of my first year we gigged a lot as a rhythm section in other people’s bands. Eventually, when I got offered a gig at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, I decided to ask if they wanted to start a project together, to which the answer was yes – and it’s been easy ever since. They’re both great musicians – David has a beautiful big sound on the bass and he’s always got the right thing to play at the right time, while Stephen brings a really nice easy vibe to whatever he plays, and he’s an absolutely amazing technician. However, it’s the vibe between the three of us that I like the most – it always feels really easy. They’re also well versed in folk music, which helps with what I’m trying to achieve.

LJN: The trio’s arrangements are very varied dynamically; how much of that comes with the compositional process and how much comes from rehearsing the pieces together once they’re written?

FMcC: Usually I have everything planned out before I bring a piece to the band, just to make the learning process easier. So dynamics are usually something that I’ve planned out before a rehearsal. However, I’m always open to suggestions from the others as they’re both really strong composers.

LJN: How did you come to choose Turas for your album title and what feelings and impressions would you like listeners to get from it?

FMcC: The whole album is kind of about journeys in Scotland – all of the pieces are inspired at least in some small part by places I’ve been to in Scotland, either by myself or with the trio. For example, Ardbeg is named after a gig that we played in the Ardbeg distillery, which is still one of our favourites, or Hillfoot Glen is just named after a glen near Dollar, where it’s quite a varied landscape (hence the varied landscape of that tune). So I chose journey as a concept, but that would definitely have been far too cheesy for an album title, so Turas (the gaelic equivalent) worked for me.

Perhaps one of the things I focused most on when I was conceiving the album was the order of the tracks, and how they felt as a sort of story – my favourite albums are the ones that are like stories (Brad Mehldau’s Highway Rider, Keith Jarrett’s Vienna Concert, Pat Metheny’s 80/81, etc) so that’s what was most important to me. So when someone listens to the album, I want them to listen to it in full, and I want it to be as much of a immersive journey as possible – it should almost be like a small virtual tour of the landscapes and musical images that I like. Even if someone listened to one track though, and felt they could connect that track with an image, memory, landscape, picture, place or whatever, I would have achieved what I wanted to achieve.

LINK: Fergus McCreadie's website

Read More...

REVIEW: Tamás Teszáry Quartet at Jazz Café Posk

L-R: Imre Varga, Peter Bakaja, Tamás Teszáry

Tamás Teszáry Quartet 
(Jazz Café Posk, 14 April 2018. Review by Peter Jones)

With a weakness for vibes and an admiration for Tamás Teszáry’s recent Bopcore album, I’d been looking for an opportunity to catch the band live. And thanks to a late cancellation, the chance came up at Posk last Saturday. Considering the short notice, this mostly-Hungarian outfit acquitted themselves brilliantly: it was bop-inspired music of rare quality. Both as a composer and player Teszáry has obviously bathed his brain in the sounds of Blue Note in general and Bobby Hutcherson in particular. As a band, they listened to and played off each other with great skill, freedom and enjoyment; in other words, this was jazz as it’s meant to be played.

The chemistry between pianist Imre Varga and Brazilian-born drummer Cyro Zuzi was clear for all to see, as they egged each other on, seemingly sharing little musical jokes throughout the gig. In contrast to the others, Peter Bakaja floated serenely above it all, barely moving a muscle while firing off electric bass lines of extraordinary speed and complexity. Meanwhile vibraphonist Teszáry looked on with a benevolent smile… as well he might because, excellent though the album is, the live renditions of these tunes were even better.

There was a fraternal nod to Béla Bartók in Mikrokosmos Blues (pianists will be familiar with the composer’s teaching guides of that name composed between 1926 and 1939), its deceptively simple riff carried mainly by bass and piano amid angular chords and jagged drums. Sweetness and melancholy characterizes many of these tunes, such as In Between Stations, which drifts along, beautifully conveying the sense of impermanence implied in the title.

But these gentle, melodic qualities are counter-balanced by a devotion to bebop and the Hutcherson-like riff, as in The Cycle of Life and Compass. Midnight Drive is the sort of cool swinging tune that would have accompanied a BBC2 drama of the 1960s. They encored with an original take on So What, rendering the old chestnut fresh all over again.

The Tamás Teszáry Quartet don’t seem to play that often, so I say to any promoters out there – book ‘em! You won’t regret it.

LINK: Tamás Teszáry website

Read More...

PREVIEW: New album Legacy from Pericopes+1 (launch 1 May at Pizza Express Jazz Club)

Pericopes+1
Photo credit: Chiara Esposito

“It’s a tip of the hat. Thanks for giving us this inspiration and influence,” says drummer Nick Wight, explaining the concept behind the new album Legacy, that his band, Pericopes+1, will be launching at Pizza Express Jazz Club on 1 May. He spoke to Matthew Wright for LondonJazz News.

The ten original pieces on Legacy were originally conceived when the band – Wight and Italian duo of saxophonist Emiliano Vernizzi and pianist Alessandro Sgobbio – was on the road, touring its last album, These Human Beings, during 2016, and listening to the music of so many musical titans who died during that terrible year.

Travelling the country as they heard the news of the deaths of musicians who’d played centre stage during the band’s musical coming-of-age in the 1980s, from Bobby Hutcherson to Prince and David Bowie, the trio decided that this album would be a tribute to the whole community of music-makers. “There’s definitely some Coltrane in there,” says Wight, “but there’s also a lot of hip-hop, rock, prog and metal, from Pink Floyd to Bowie to Prince. During that tour, so many people we grew up listening to were passing on, and the idea of legacy was important. This release reflects as much a prog/rock/disco influence as it does Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.”

There were personal musical reasons for a different approach on the new album, too. Although Wight, Vernizzi and Sgobbio are all steeped in the jazz tradition, “we wanted to take this release in a different direction,” Wight explains. “The first album was more acoustic, with a combination of compositional tricks and more open, modal sections. This time we wanted to concentrate on through-composed pieces, more like a prog-rock band. Composed, but still with a spontaneous, improvised sound.”

Sgobbio is the group’s main composer, and most of the new pieces on Legacy are his. “Arrangement has been his focus for every project he’s in,” says Wight. “He has a pure composing voice, and can work as a platform where we can combine all influences. He can include everything; he’s not limited by genre. When we began writing the pieces on Legacy, Alessandro had already worked on some pieces in that style, which he brought to our rehearsals. Emiliano fed off that and wrote some pieces, and occasionally I’ll write down some musical ideas too, and perhaps one will make it onto the album.”

Wight is from New York, but his fellow band members are both Italian, and have played regularly in the duo version of Pericopes since meeting at Parma Conservatory ten years ago. (Pericopes was, and is, well known as a duo in Italy, having won prizes including TopJazz and Umbria Jazz Contest, before they met Nick Wight and became Pericopes+1.) To complicate matters, saxophonist Vernizzi now lives in Paris. This diversity of experience gives the composing process an extra richness, Wight believes. “We’re all on the same page in terms of what we’re listening to, but in terms of what we’re playing in our homes cities, there’s some diversity. As an Italian living in Paris, Emiliano has even more to draw on. There are subtle ways in which international cultural differences come out and are dispersed in the music.”

With time all in the same place at a premium, they make the most of opportunities to explore new music together on the road. “We’ve had opportunities to work on new material on tour, in clubs, the morning after a gig, for example.” They also road-test their new work. “We always want some reaction from the audience,” Wight says. “A head bobbing, or foot tapping. When we don’t get that, we can tell that something’s wrong, or not developed. We can tell which sections of which pieces have worked best from how the audience responds. There’s a piece on this album, Markveien, that just wasn’t clicking with the audience when we played it in our December tour last year, and we changed the dynamics and group interaction and all of a sudden everyone’s foot was tapping.”

Some of the pieces in Legacy were trialled on their previous UK tour, in 2016, when they were also fortunate to have a period as artists in residence at Aberdeen University to workshop some of their new pieces – valuable time, when a trio is spread over three countries and two continents. The group’s road miles make it into the music in other ways, too. The new track Markveien was named after a square in Oslo, while Grossetto was inspired by an ancient Venetian currency, and also (in a slightly different spelling) a town in Tuscany.

With an unusual, bass-less line-up of saxophone, piano and drums, the band's musical dynamic encourages a quicksilver lyricism. One of the most noticeable features of these new pieces is how quickly the mood and dynamics change. Red Sand Town offers radical shifts in tempo and mood, its frenetic opening yielding to reflective pools of saxophone melody, teased by ripples of rhythm. November Tears sees the trio at its most laid-back, with delicate, floating melody on piano and sax teased by Wight’s brushwork. Zardis, meanwhile, offers bracing stacks of piano chords offset by scurrying sax and a frenetic beat.

The name of the band, easily misread by English fans, has nothing to do with submarines, but means, as Wight explains, “extraction from ancient text”, and originates from the founding of the duo, Pericopes, by Vernizzi and Sgobbio at Parma Conservatory ten years ago. Sgobbio’s project was originally concerned with building contemporary compositions around musical extracts or pericopes from old Italian folk melodies or, for example, Gregorian chant. The ability to craft new music incorporating musical quotations from such diverse traditions gives Pericopes+1 a compelling immediacy that’s postmodern but always lyrical. Wight’s experience as a drummer on the New York scene has brought an extra drive and intensity, he believes: “When we add drums we shift the focus. I bring my influence from being a musician in New York.”

There’s a palpable excitement from the band about their return to the UK, where they have big gigs in London, Birmingham, Manchester, as well as the Ribble Valley Jazz Festival and Jazz North East. Perhaps unusually for a touring band, nearly half the UK dates are in Scotland, where they had such a warm reception last time. “UK and European festivals have a greater appreciation for this type of music. We love playing in the right venues where people are open-minded about new, original music,” says Wight.

Pericopes+1 Album Launch

Read More...

CD REVIEW: Chris Bowden – Unlikely Being


Chris Bowden – Unlikely Being
(UK Vibe 25. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Alto saxophonist and composer Chris Bowden returns to the scene with this new group/project/album featuring atmospheric tunes, extended arrangements, powerful performances and good old-fashioned groove.

Listeners with longish memories may recall Bowden’s breakthrough albums Time Capsule (Soul Jazz, 1996) and Slightly Askew (Ninja Tune, 2002). Both attracted attention at the time for their ambition, power and individuality – listeners with shorter memories might enjoy checking them out.  Since then Bowden has worked with outfits such as The Herbaliser and 4Hero, as well as going through some tough-sounding times with drugs.

In an in-depth interview on his label’s website (link below) Bowden talks about this period, his time in rehab and reveals that for a time he didn’t even have a saxophone, but was writing tunes on an old borrowed keyboard. He also released a couple of small-scale recordings with Ben Markland and Neil Bullock as The Tomorrow Band some years ago.

Unlikely Being, therefore, is Bowden’s first new project in a good while. Neil Bullock is still with him on drums, and the group is completed by Jim Watson on keyboards and Chris Dodd (bass).  What we get is six tracks, around an hour of music, which definitely connects in some ways with the Bowden of old, with a smaller line-up (the quartet is augmented occasionally by Bryan Corbett’s trumpet with Tom Chapman adding percussion) and perhaps slightly more reflective yet optimistic tone.

The opening New Crobuzon references the fictitious and dangerous place created by sci-fantasy author China Miéville for books such as Perdido Street Station. A dramatic opening leads into middle-eastern modes with Bowden and Corbett doubling the extended tune. The effect of the doubled horns is eerily ambiguous – clearly not a single instrument yet so closely together in tune and tone that it had me listening hard to figure out what was happening. Bowden’s opening solo is a clear sign that he’s back in the fullest sense – the tone full and crisp, jumping from neat passages to high-altitude wailing and back again, with Bullock’s drums and bell-like cymbals in active and energetic support. Chris Dodd then weighs in with the first of several excellent bass guitar solos, spacious and imaginative, before Corbett’s trumpet arrives to up the pace once again. Jim Watson sparkles (as ever) on piano before the tune rounds off.

Several of the track feature very attractive grooves – Ridiculous Itinerary has a driving and shifting beat over which Bowden solos effectively, with Watson effervescent on Rhodes piano. We Are Alive sounds for all the world like theme for an unmade '90s American domestic sitcom (and I mean that in a good way!) before arriving in a latin groove allowing great solo space – Chris Dodd shines very brightly here, before a drum-break section that has me thinking back to the glory days of acid jazz.
The closing tune We Talked stands in contrast to all this excitement, a supremely moving and tender ballad that Bowden wrote with inspiration from a conversation with his late father. “Sometimes, words can feel inadequate,” says Bowden, “it’s really just being there for each other that’s important.” Perhaps that’s a lesson for all of us.

This attractive album is a worthy return for Chris Bowden, and I hope we will be hearing more of him and Unlikely Being in the months and years ahead.

LINKS: An extended interview with Chris Bowden on UK Vibe website
    
Preview feature for Unlikely Being CD on London Jazz News

Read More...

INTERVIEW: Kongo Dia Ntotila (Rich Mix, London, 24th May New album 360°)



Congolese jazz ensemble Kongo Dia Ntotila talked to Alison Bentley about how their music has developed, their gig at London’s Rich Mix (24 May) and their forthcoming album 360°.

Kongo Dia Ntotila describe their music as "Afro-joy", "Congolese music with a more flexible jazz sensibility". Bassist and singer Mulele Matondo grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC.) The title of the band’s forthcoming album, 360°, reflects his belief that "all music takes you full circle back to Africa".

Matondo started a course at Leeds College of Music, which jazz guitarist John Kelly was teaching on. Kelly: "By the end of the first lesson, I could tell he was a really good musician. He showed me some stuff and we taught each other for a few years – it just grew out of that really." Kelly’s background was in "bop to modern jazz"; Matondo taught him about Congolese music, and the intricate patterns of seben (or soukous) guitar. "Something happened in my brain that opened up a new door." They moved to London, and along with Matondo’s old family friend, Congolese drummer-singer David Lessie, they made their 2012 album Congo Dia Ntotila, Seben Steps to Heaven. But they felt they couldn’t reproduce their overdubbed style live.

Everything changed when they were joined by trumpeter Mike Soper and alto player Will Scott, whom Kelly knew from the London jazz scene. Kelly explains: "Our idea was that the horns would play in the breaks, like in the early years of Congolese rumba. Before Sakuba Diala recently joined the band, I was the only guitarist, so they had to play a much more interactive role – we didn’t have that cushion of guitars." Trumpet and alto together seem to sound like more than just two horns. Matondo: "They’re not just playing the melody, they’re part of the rhythmic foundation of the band." They play solos, even bringing in free jazz, sometimes creating compositions out of live improvisations.

Matondo: "We don’t write music – we play by ear, 'cause this music is very complex." In the new album, he brings dance rhythms from the many African countries he’s lived in. For example, "in Zambia, I played with one of the great players, Kris Chali. of Amayenge. I even dedicated a song to him: Mbongo." The band’s name Kongo Dia Ntotila refers to the ancient Kingdom of Kongo, spanning what’s now several countries, and Matondo believes Congolese music has influences all over Africa and beyond. The track Agbwaya (aka Agbaja) has a rhythm he calls "the mother of the clave": "a typical rhythm which has moved to Cuba, with slaves who were coming from the centre of the Congo, and then west Africa." Matondo argues that the Kinshasa standard Mutwashi, with its dominant 7th chords, reveals Congolese music as the origin of the blues. "People tend to link blues to Mali, but never Congo – it was a transit point from east to west."

He wants to return to a time when Congolese music dealt with "social and political issues… Nowadays music has become more shallow." Kinshasa Makambo is about a woman who lost everything when widowed; tradition dictated that her husband’s family should take everything. One track attacks musical "faux bosses" who didn’t pay Matondo for his musical work, and even refused to credit him on recordings. The reggae track Na leli means "I cry" – for Africa.

But the mood is upbeat, led by the sweet church-influenced vocals of Lessie, which contrast with Matondo’s throatier style. Feti means "party" and Koupe dekale is full of energy. Kelly describes the grooves: "The guitars and the bass and drums play a very complex interlocking role. In traditional African music, different drums would have a different timbral and melodic role. The melody inside the rhythm is something that in modern music gets overlooked. In Congolese music, guitar, bass and drumkit play the roles of the different types of drums."

The interlocking rhythms are infectious, and Kongo Dia Ntotila want to share them. "We want everyone to come to the prelaunch party and hear it live!" (pp)

Kongo Dia Ntotila gratefully acknowledges support from the PRS Foundation 

LINKS: Band website
Next London date: Pre-launch party at Rich Mix, London, 24 May

New album 360° will be out in June.

Read More...

INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Dave Manington (Riff Raff’s new album Challenger Deep released 11 May, and touring)

Dave Manington
Photo credit: Cat Munro

There’s a gently self-deprecating edge to the name of bassist DAVE MANINGTON’s sextet, Riff Raff. It’s nowhere near a rabble and it’s certainly the opposite of trashy. Peter Bacon explores the band’s burgeoning interactive riches, as revealed on new album Challenger Deep (Loop), with its leader.

LondonJazz News: It’s five years since Riff Raff’s first album, Hullabaloo, but the band (with Brigitte Beraha on vocals, Tomas Challenger on saxophone, Ivo Neame on piano, Rob Updegraff on guitar and Tim Giles on drums) hasn’t been idle in the intervening years, has it? Does the new album Challenger Deep (released 11 May) feel like a substantial move onwards from Hullabaloo?

Dave Manington: The band has developed and tightened up as a live unit and I feel I’ve developed a lot as a writer too. Texturally this album is more electric in feel with Ivo playing Rhodes and Mellotron instead of piano and accordian. It’s also richer, with everyone contributing creatively and in subtle ways throughout. To me it feels like the music is much wider stylistically and influence-wise on this album, it’s more complicated in places, more abstract in others, and I’m very proud of how it’s turned out musically.
Dave Manington's Riff Raff
Photo credit: Cat Munro

LJN: The close understanding between the band members is clear from Challenger Deep. I understand some of you go back a really long way?

DM: One of the most important things for me is to develop a band sound and understanding, creating a unified band identity that comes from not changing personnel. Each member of the band has a lot more individual input and freedom than they might normally have. Rob, Tim and I have a great understanding as we were at school together, grew up together and have been playing together for over 20 years as a rhythm section so the creative rapport we have together is at the heart of the band. I’ve been playing with Ivo for over 10 years now, and Tom and Brigitte for nearly as long so we all have a great understanding and shared musical direction. We’ve all played together in different projects as well over the years, I’ve been in other bands with all of them so there’s a lot of shared experience and knowledge there.

LJN: This must assist you in developing the music in a certain way – I’m thinking of the freedom it gives you...

DM: Well it helps to be able to hear how the music will sound when a certain musician plays it. It also helps to be able to trust them to know how much licence they have to play around with the written music but still deliver the core material with clarity.

LJN: How do you go about tackling new material – do you run it in live and then adapt in the studio, or does the studio come first? And how much is strict composition, and how much spontaneously created?

DM: With this album I planned two years in advance, so we could rehearse and play the music in beforehand. I then organized a UK tour (spring 2017) where we played the new material every night. We went straight from the tour into the studio and recorded this album. I think you can really hear how comfortable and confident everyone sounds on every tune. Often things happen the other way around – you’ll record some new music with a band and then you’ll tour it. By the end of the tour the music is 100 times better and has developed a lot from the album versions. This time I wanted to capture the band at the end of the tour when it was really kicking off! There’s plenty of music on the album that grew as the tour progressed, especially the endings of tunes. Most of the endings are spontaneous and by the time we recorded some of the end sections had morphed into some of the best bits on the album and are nearly as long as the written material again.

LJN: Norma Winstone’s work in the Kenny Wheeler band would seem to be a direct antecedent of Brigitte Beraha’s wordless vocals in tandem with Tom Challenger’s saxophone or Rob Updegraff’s guitar. Would that assumption be correct?

DM: Norma is definitely an inspiration still for us all and there’s also lots of contemporary singers around the world doing similar things now. I’m not thinking about that music much when I write though. I’ll just write as if it’s a two-horn frontline pairing, Brigitte is so strong she can sing anything you’d write for a horn player. Other tunes were obviously more in a melodic-song style and Brigitte has written fantastic lyrics to four of my songs on this album.

LJN: What other bands or musicians – or what areas of music – have influenced you? 

DM: My influences range widely, there’s only two types of music as they say – good and bad.  I think you can hear a lot of different influences in Riff Raff’s music, some from jazz and some from classical music, various world/folk music and alternative rock/pop. Personal favourites – a long list! Here is a potted version. Jazz – Wayne Shorter, Charlie Haden, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Weather Report, Brad Mehldau, Django Bates, John Taylor. Rock/singer-songwriter – Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bjork. Classical – Vaughan-Williams, Stravinsky. I listen to a lot of folk and world music as well.

 LJN: Riff Raff is doing a quartet of gigs to tie in with the album launch. What can gig-goers expect to hear? The album in live performance? Something else entirely?

DM: On the upcoming gigs we’ll be playing mostly material from the new album, then I’ll be starting to write some new music to gradually introduce into the set over the autumn. (pp)

Challenger Deep is released on Loop Records on 11 May 2018.

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff plays the following dates:

11 May: Birmingham, Birmingham Jazz at 1000 Trades  
12 May: London, The Vortex - ALBUM LAUNCH
16 May: Sheffield, Jazz At The Lescar 
14 June: Poole, The soundcellar

LINK: Dave Manington's website

Read More...

CD REVIEW: Kirill Gerstein - The Gershwin Moment



Kirill Gerstein - The Gershwin Moment
(Myrios Classics MYR022. CD review by Mike Collins)


There are plenty of examples of jazz musicians re-interpreting the classical repertoire, exploring the overlaps and debts owed, or simply absorbing and expressing the influences in their playing. This release by Berlin-based Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein comes from the other direction.

Gerstein, a firmly established and widely lauded performer in the classical world, has a strong affinity and appreciation of jazz, having studied at Berklee as well as a succession of international conservatoires. The collection of performances, recorded live over a five year period, are Gerstein bringing that sensibility to Gershwin’s written music.

Rhapsody in Blue, the jazz band version, and Concerto in F are performed with the the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and their conductor David Robertson. Etudes, written by Earl Wild for piano render Gershwin’s Somebody Loves Me, I Got Rhythm and Embraceable You as virtuosic excursions. Summertime is a duet with songstress Storm Large and Oscar Levant’s Blame it On My Youth is another duet, this time with the legendary Gary Burton on vibes.

This all adds up to an appreciation and celebration of Gershwin’s music and an active exploration of how jazz and African-American music shaped his and other composers’ writing. Extensive accompanying notes by Joseph Horowitz observe how it is only since the 1990s that Gershwin has become part of the mainstream repertoire for American orchestras.

The duets are beautifully played. Storm Large has a rich, bluesey voice and Gerstein takes a short and well-balanced solo on Summertime. It’s the big pieces that really unleash Gerstein’s passion however. The concerto positively crackles and the candenza is his own. The Etudes produce some pyrotechnics, I Got Rhythm is a fusillade of notes with the famous theme ringing like a bell in the midst of it all.

Gerstein achieves his aim with this recording of "striking a delicate balance – not too classical, not too jazzy". If you fancy a "Gershwin moment", this is a recording too seek out.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

Read More...

CD REVIEW: Linley Hamilton – Making Other Arrangements


Linley Hamilton – Making Other Arrangements

(Teddy D Records. CD Review by Lauren Bush)

This album has been in the making for at least four years since this Northern Irelander’s last release, In Transition in 2014, but for Linley Hamilton it seems as though this collection of arrangements has been developing for much longer. Inspired by Freddie Hubbard’s large ensemble on Ride Like the Wind, his new album is a concoction of tunes that have been arranged for woodwinds, strings and a rhythm section – with Hamilton’s melodic trumpet line at the forefront.

Cian Boylan, whose arrangements have fulfilled Hamilton’s dream, begin on Here’s to Life. The lyrics are left out only to be replaced by the emotionally charged trumpet line, weaving seamlessly with the strings.

Track two nods its head to Hubbard as inspiration with Brigitte. Its classic '80s backbeat’s still there but with a bit of a modern twist and a brilliant solo that connects all the dots from inception to completion.

The sheer variety of music on this album has something for everyone; as we navigate past bebop tradition through a James Taylor staple Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight (with a wicked bass groove) and into Earth, Wind and Fire's classic After the Love Has Gone with a beautiful string treatment that makes it almost unrecognisable. Again, Hamilton’s solo has an ethereal quality that conveys the vocal line perfectly.

It’s obvious that Hamilton is attracted to a good beat, and including some of his trumpet heroes’ songs is no surprise. Dizzy’s tune Con Alma has a similar Latin feel as Brigitte did with solos from  the leader and both sax players Brendan Doyle and Ben Castle weaving through. Continuing on is a rousing rendition of Joan Capetown Flower by Abdullah Ibrahim, with an almost "take me to church" feel, the rhythm section in full sync here as they shift onto another Latin inspiration: Ivan Lins’ Love Dance.

On Louisiana Sunday Afternoon, Hamilton is joined by American singer Dana Masters. The two are good friends and the trumpeter has stepped back to let Dana shine – it momentarily feels like her stage until his solo, where he is beautifully featured over top of a bed of strings – the whole collaboration is showcased so exquisitely.

Another fabulous bass line from Dave Redmond allows for a growly, sensual rendition of Michel Legrand’s What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life? before we are brought home to the warmest, most sincere ending to this fabulous project. Carmel wraps up the whole album, as though walking down a summer street with three scoops of ice-cream in hand. Again, the whole ensemble builds in, one step at a time, enveloping Hamilton’s trumpet in a happy mood comparable to a cheery Beatles tune.

Hamilton’s vision combined with Boylan’s arrangements match each style with an exciting new take and just the right amount of nostalgia for the songs we know so well. What an amazing tapestry of music to showcase this trumpet maestro. It was a pure pleasure to listen to.

Read More...

RIP Stan Reynolds (1926-2018)

Stan Reynolds
Photo courtesy of Help Musicians UK


Sebastian writes:

UPDATE 17 April: Stan's funeral will be at Mortlake Crematorium on Thursday 3 May. For more details email - johnsergeant868 (at) btinternet.com

Sad to report the death, peacefully in Kingston Hospital, of Lincoln-born trumpeter and bandleader Stan Reynolds at around midnight on 14 April/15 April 2018 at the age of 92.

Stan told the story of his career in brief to Elizabeth Charlesworth of Help Musicians UK in 2014:

"I started playing when I was fourteen, on the road at fourteen and half probably. After the war, I joined a band called The Tommy Sampson Orchestra, which was a really up and coming band. Ted Heath was the big band in those days and that was the best, in my era. Ted rang me up and I got the job with him and stayed there three and a half years and then I left and I went with Rick Lewis to Spain. I came back and Ted offered me the job again so I re-joined his band for another three and a half/four years. And then I went with Geraldo which was the biggest radio band of the time and I did a lot of work with Gerry and freelance, including the Judy Garland show. And then at the end I ran my own band. I did six tours with Tony Bennett and all the American acts that used to come over. I used to back them with a big orchestra; we did the first half and they did their act which was good fun." 

An illustrious moment in his career was playing a trumpet solo on Martha My Dear on the Beatles' White Album.

He has directed a rehearsal band in Barnes for many years and I feel immensely privileged to have been a part of it, and to have celebrated his 90th birthday in 2016 and his 92nd birthday with him three months ago. He was still running the band just two weeks ago.  In sadness.

LINK:  Interview with Rob Pronk from 1967
Stan Reynolds' Tribute to Bobby Pratt
Report of the Tommy Sampson band reunion in 2001

Read More...

REVIEW: Thomas Gould, Kristjan Randalu, Stephan Braun Trio at Kings Place

Stephan Braun and Thomas Gould
(out of shot Kristjan Randalu)
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

Thomas Gould, Kristjan Randalu, Stephan Braun Trio
(Kings Place Hall Two, 13 April 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Definitely a premiere. The trio of English violinist Thomas Gould, Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, and German, Berlin-based cellist Stephan Braun were making their very first public appearance on the same stage in Kings Place Hall Two on Friday.

The circumstance reminded me of something Evan Parker once told me in an interview: "Music makes you ask some straightforward, unspoken questions of yourself and of others: 'What can you do? What can you bring to it?” – it's a case of thinking 'I know why I'm here, and as long as you've got some idea of why you're here...' That's the way improvising musicians can work with each other. You bump into each other, you re-connect quickly." 

At Friday night's launch of the trio I had precisely that sense that each of the musicians knew why they – and the others – were there. The vibe was one of complementarity, respect and a similar aesthetic. The whole venture gave a very strong account of itself on its first outing, but also left the feeling – or a hope at the very least – that these three musicians with their busy careers and other calls on their time might want to give this formation the time to let it develop as deserves to happen.

Kristjan Randalu
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

The piano/violin/cello trio is one of the great classical music formations, but as an improvising band is extremely rare. The first thing I clocked was, in a way, exactly what I was expecting to hear: that Thomas Gould brings total melodic fluency, a conviction and a presence in the sound which are – well – always worth hearing.

If Gould be so melodically persuasive, how completely right it is that he should have invited Randalu, a composer with a European-jazz ethos and a superb melodic gift who has grown massively in assurance and stature since I last heard him in this same hall in 2011. (review) His tunes suit Gould's melodic sense like  a glove, and although his evening at the piano was mostly a model of pedal-less restraint and superbly balanced chamber playing, it was also great to hear him have the opportunity to build the great solo he played on his own alluring tune with its light and dark, named after an Italian town mostly known for its wines, Rignana.


Stephan Braun
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

The least familiar name on stage on Friday was that of cellist Stephan Braun. Mary James has already covered him for this site. She returned from hearing him compete in the Seifert competition in  Krakow in 2016 (REPORT) in a combination of shock and rapture. He won a special award. And he turned heads on Friday too. In fact, probably the most-repeated remark after the concert was "where are all the cellists?" Braun's armoury of sounds, techniques, modes of attack and the sheer extent of his technical possibilities on the instrument are extraordinary. In his tune The Raid the cello bow is more or less completely re-invented. I did discover that this was not in fact Braun's very first visit to London. He has been here before – of all the least likely places – as a member of Melody Gardot's band (see this video).

Thomas Gould
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
Monika Jakubowska's pictures have caught the happy spirit of the occasion. This is a group which could walk straight into Artesuono, Rainbow Studio in Oslo, Studio 2 of RSI Lugano, Flagey in Brussels, Odradek in Montesilvano, or the old Sendesaal in Bremen tomorrow, and make a memorable album, which will hopefully be the first of a series.

Applause for Kristjan Randalu, Stephan Braun and Thomas Gould
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

Read More...

CD REVIEW: Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile



Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile
(Impulse! SKU: 100568 CD review by Dan Bergsagel)

It's increasingly rare that music tackles politics at all, let alone tackles politics well. It's even rarer for the genre to be jazz. Your Queen Is A Reptile draws from Gil Scott Heron and Max Roach to distil a strong jazz statement. Sons of Kemet have a new approach to the protest song: positive, motivated, and energetic. Shabaka Hutchings' compositions are focused, and overwhelming at times; and as effective as instrumental pieces as they are with lyrics.

My Queen is Ada Eastman is a spritely, pushing opener. Tumbling drums and a repetitive rumbling tuba hook leave space for lyrical tenor melodies, before the introduction of Joshua Idehen changes the track: the rumble swaps for a sinister bass line, and spinning loose grime lyrics full of London Pride and angry sentiments.

This energy is drawn through the album, My Queen Is Angela Davis sees interrogative, synchronised horns running together over crashing drums, before splitting and combining with some baroque interplay. The tuba and drums channel Rage Against The Machine fervour, beneath a clambering tenor line.

My Queen is Albertina Sisulu showcases the impressive range and speed of Theon Cross' tuba; My Queen is Nanny of the Maroons leaves the drum pair, so often the discreet facilitators, at centre-stage with a delicate beat.

While still built around the core of Hutchings, Cross and Tom Skinner on drums, Sons of Kemet have opened the doors to the studio for this album. There are junglist vocals and dripping dub echos from Congo Natty, and Pete Wareham joins Hutchings for an introspective saxophone duet, but it is Seb Rochford who is the guiltiest repeat offender of four guest drummers featuring.

With so many Polar Bear band members popping up, it is interesting that My Queen is Yaa Asantewaa is where the neat double saxophone work is perhaps the most Polar Bear-esque, Hutchings playing with a tender Mark Lockheart lyricism in tandem with Nubya Garcia, stringing long melodies and raw improvisation over a narrative marching story.

My Queen is Harriet Tubman is perhaps the stand out track – all vibrant interplay between tenor and tuba, and three drummers producing a fantastically organised percussive wash. Intense and coordinated, with nimble transitions and insistent rising choruses, this is a pared back brass line-up producing blustering energy to rival posses like hypnotic brass ensemble.

Your Queen is A Reptile has bite. The record's liner notes and book-end tracks are penned by Idehen who eloquently and fervently makes a case for rephrasing history, and redressing the hereditary power imbalances we're still burdened with. It's playfully confrontational – any reference to David Icke and our shape-shifting lizard overlords must be – but there is real feeling which seeps through via returned-to refrains “Your Queen Is Not Our Queen. She Does not see us as human”, and a dynamism which boils through the musical tone. And however you feel about the monarchy, the accusatory title makes you start, and consider historic responsibility.

What's refreshing is that the titular rejection of one Queen leaves much space for positive replacements. This album is about role models – each song a story of someone who strived and redressed imbalances and injustices. If you're as ignorant as me, the track list is also an education in inspirational women, from Jamaican National Heroes, US psychologists, Civil Rights leaders, and great grandmothers.

Your Queen... isn't about symbolic republicanism, it's about having a representative society with a modern humanity; it's about calling for a refresh of our society and politics. We shouldn't be surprised: Shabaka has penned 'a note to the new government' in 2014, and another of his projects Shabaka and the Ancestors produced a stirring political call-to-arms at Love Supreme last year.

Approaching the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell's “Rivers of Blood” speech, Your Queen Is A Reptile is the perfect rebuttal to that race-based fear: a positive original political piece showcasing cultures and integration, and demanding better. It is celebratory evidence produced by the very populations he was vilifying. And it's also just a cracking album.

Read More...

REVIEW: Irreversible Entanglements and Pat Thomas at Cafe Oto

Pat Thomas at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Irreversible Entanglements and Pat Thomas
(Cafe Oto, 5 April 2018. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


Irreversible Entanglements, making their UK debut at Cafe Oto, delivered an unremittingly powerful combination of jazz and radical poetry, and with pianist Pat Thomas kicking off the evening, it doesn't get much more intense!

Thomas's solo performance set the benchmark. He poured himself in to the piano with richly inventive improvisation where bell-like sounds were countered with dense, dark chords and supercharged Nancarrow complexity, his large hands scampering over the keyboards like running crustaceans.

Irreversible Entanglements is the quintet brought together in 2015 by Camae Ayewa (aka Moor Mother), the Philadelphia-based radical poet, musician, activist and educator with saxophonist, Kier Neuringer, also Philly-based after spells in Cracow and The Hague, and bass player, Luke Stewart from DC, adding the New York-based duo of drummer Tcheser Holmes and Panamanian trumpeter, Aquiles Navarro. They first played together at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event.

Their eponymous first album sings out with energy, drive and passion (nominated as my recorded highlight of 2017, along with Moor Mother's The Motionless Present) and the flame of their burning vision gained even more power in the flesh. It's a relentless, tense fire, and it's primarily, and surprisingly, acoustic.

Onstage, the immediate, unexpected impression is of being transported in to the cauldron of the '60s in the presence of a radical, expressive jazz and poetry collective. These are musicians of quality and so focussed. Stewart, with his quietly haunted look, bears an uncanny resemblance to the young bass player of the day, Henry Grimes and Neuringer blows with the unquenchable dynamism of Albert Ayler or Peter Brötzmann. Navarro has something of the look of Clifford Jordan, while the undiluted concentration of Holmes and Ayewa brings to mind Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln. The heritage is there at ground level but Irreversible Entanglements have their feet firmly embedded in century twenty-one, although it's only Ayewa who messes with today's technology with a shot of self-sampling.

There's the hint of confrontation in the ensemble's power surges and dips. Stewart's grinding bass and soft, spikey phrasing again recalls Grimes. Neuringer's stream-of-consciousness flow momentarily hit a North African groove contrasting with Navarro's forceful restraint while Holmes, tough and tight, went for it.

Irreversible Entanglements at Cafe Oto: Aquiles Navarro and Luke Stewart
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Enter Camae Ayewa. Grounded in the Black American experience, with horrors descending from outside and from within, hers is a cry for humanity. There's hope deep down there, but she pulls no punches. It's visceral. Live, with the ensemble, she puts flesh on the poetry from her book, Fetish Bones. Blended in to the densely wrought musical textures her words emerge, stalking the listener then pouncing in sound bites. Fireworks is extended, becomes a full musical movement. 'I'm interested in what makes you give a shit.' Repeated, it becomes a mantra. Navarro presses his trumpet tight to his mike. Blasts. 'you see the fireworks last night?' … 'we are post world war 3' … 'one thing for sure is people are dying'.

This is angry, harrowing, revealing – and, indirectly, celebrating the positive power of the possible. Shrieking sax. From Ayewa's Out of Order Punk, 'They are actively erasing your memory' … '… at the dinner table of our own genocide' … 'right now right now right now'. Ayewa shakes her head, dreadlocks flailing. Echoes of Archie Shepp's Scag ('There's the stinge of rotting blood on dry Philadelphia clay… dope is death'). From 3D Bones, Ayewa yells in to the bell of Neuringer's sax, 'no longer human no longer human'. Quoting Amiri Baraka's Dope, Ayewa declaims, 'must be the devil…'.

Ayewa asks the questions. 'Did you vote for corruption?' 'They control the music. Who are you so-called artists?' All the while the quartet drive on with Ayewa, relentlessly, never taking the foot off the accelerator. Committed, top-drawer, they don't let the house relax. It's absolutely riveting. Joined by Thomas towards the end of the set, his experience and dynamism bring a special touch to their finale.

Irreversible Entanglements
Camae Ayewa aka Moor Mother: vocals
Kier Neuringer: alto saxophone
Luke Stewart: double bass
Aquiles Navarro: trumpet
Tcheser Holmes: drums

Pat Thomas: piano

LINKS: Review of Moor Mother and Pat Thomas / Orphy Robinson
Review of Moor Mother with Elaine Mitchener

Read More...

REVIEW: Bergamo Jazz 2018

Maceo Parker (with Bruno Speight) in Bergamo
Photo credit: Gianfranco Rota

Bergamo Jazz 2018
(Bergamo, Various Venues, 22-25 March 2018. Review by Andy Hamilton)

"Did I see the word 'jazz' somewhere?" Maceo Parker looks round and "notices" the huge illuminated onstage logo, "Bergamo Jazz 2018". So he concedes: "We're going to play some jazz – music that we do not [normally] play". It turns out to be just one chorus of Satin Doll, played very fast.

This was very slick entertainment indeed – the band even has a professional "introducer" who comes on at the start and end. Their long set was a highlight of the stellar programme created by festival director Dave Douglas. This 40th edition of the Bergamo Jazz Festival was fully up to the standard of previous years, but I don't think the others on the bill would dispute that the greatest entertainer among them is Maceo Parker, with his tribute band to James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and George Clinton.

At first Parker seemed to show his age a little – he's 75 – or maybe he just needed time to warm up. Soon he's totally sharp and fully choreographed, in what is a truly remarkable and ageless performance – the first number ends with the band members in an amazing extended "freeze". I imagine that the set list stays fairly constant. Parker describes his music as "two percent jazz and 98 percent funky stuff" and though that's an exaggeration – the jazz element is higher – underlying it is the aesthetics of perfection, honed and crafted, of a consummate entertainer. Dennis Rollins on trombone is a key figure, together with Rodney "Skee" Curtis on bass, an old colleague of Parker’s in the P-Funk All Stars, and keyboardist Will Boulware. Guitarist Bruno Speight and drummer Nikki Glaspie, a recent member of Beyonce's touring band, complete the line-up. Parker’s cousin, Darliene Parker, is the vocalist, featured on Ben E. King's hit Stand By Me, with the leader on flute.

The motto was "It's All About Love". The set included James Brown's Make It Funky, a vocal medley including Some Enchanted Evening, and a Marvin Gaye medley. Rollins and Boulware duet on When I Fall In Love, provoking more reminders from the leader that the show is "All About Love". The encore was Pass The Peas, a blues, and the coda was Over The Rainbow.

Logan Richardson at Bergamo
Photo credit: Gianfranco Rota

Maceo Parker aimed to please the audience, offering classic entertainment. That aim wasn't a priority for Logan Richardson, whose quartet of saxophone, electric guitar, electric bass and drums opened the festival in the Teatro Sociale. This was a more challenging aesthetic by a quartet with attitude, addressing more contemporary forms of African-American music. The leader began by complaining at length about an onstage microphone that couldn't be turned off – which turned out to be an irrelevance, given the volume levels when they finally started. The bass drum sliced through the wall of sound, cutting the ears to the quick. The saxophonist's recent work with Pat Metheny and Nasheet Waits has been much-praised, and clearly these guys can play. But this material was mediocre.

Richardson was the only serious disappointment of the festival. On the Saturday afternoon, in-demand bassist Linda May Han Oh – an Australian born in Malaysia – led her own group featuring tenor saxophonist Greg Ward, guitarist Matt Stephens and drummer Arthur Hnatek. These are clearly remarkable improvisers, and Linda Oh has been a wonderful bassist with Lee Konitz and others. Though her compositions don't immediately pull the listener in, one that did is Speech Impediment, with a stuttering drum opening.

A delight of Bergamo is the variety of historic buildings explored as venues. Trumpeter Jeremy Pelt delivered an exhilarating set in the medieval space of Sala All Porta di S. Agostino, part of the old town wall. The band featured Victor Gould (piano); Richard Good (bass), standing in for Vincent Archer; Jonathan Barker (drums) and Jacqueline Acevedo (percussion). Pelt, born in California in 1976, belongs to the post-modal mainstream. His set suggested the kind of music that Woody Shaw would be playing today – obviously indebted to Miles Davis, in a lineage going back to Louis Armstrong, but strong and individual. Compositions included Black Love Stories, a mid-tempo/ballad, and the Milesian uptempo Sir Carter, composed by pianist Victor Gould for Ron Carter. The material is perhaps more conservative than Linda Oh, but somehow more involving. It's a sign of the richness of American jazz that Jeremy Pelt is still a talent deserving wider recognition.

Louis Sclavis and Vincent Courtois played an intimate set in the thoroughly appropriate context of a gallery of the Academia Carrara, the city's wonderful main art gallery. I've not been a huge fan of Sclavis's band projects, but this performance brought out his virtues as a improviser, in which he switched between clarinet and bass clarinet. The opening piece, which featured bass clarinet, was rather baroque; the one that followed involved more pointillist free exploration, eventually turning into a jaunty 6/8 dance.


Dave Douglas and Enrico Rava in Bergamo
Photo Credit: Gianfranco Rota

The closing concert featured the band of Dave Douglas and Uri Caine, featuring a three-trumpet frontline of some of my favourite trumpeters – with Douglas were Paolo Fresu and Enrico Rava, both of the latter on flugelhorn. The line-up was also remarkable for including four directors of Bergamo Jazz – Caine, Fresu, Rava and Douglas in chronological order. "What did you say your name was, son?" Douglas asked Rava, his senior, when introducing them.

Linda Oh was on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Most compositions were by Douglas. The opening number was his rock-rhythm Invocation, in which the leader blasted a solo. Demigods was written for Carla Bley and Steve Swallow, and featured special guest – Jeremy Pelt. Finally, on JFK – The Airport, a saxophonist joined the band – Greg Ward. Tenorist Tino Tracanna joined for Paolo Fresu's Un Tema Per Roma – a fine composition, dark, driving and rather monochrome, and the highlight of the set. In a minor key, a little reminiscent of Ellington's Koko in its misterioso mood, it's from his new album, Carpe Diem on Tuk.

In a press conference on the final night, we learned that the audience for the main concerts was 1000 for Maceo Parker, 900 for a Latin Jazz night, and 1200 for Dave Douglas-Uri Caine – these are remarkable given the temporary change of venue to Teatro Creberg, due to the renovation of the Teatro Donizetti. When the other concerts are added in, it's clear that the festival is thriving.

Bergamo Jazz Festival website
Review of Bergamo 2017
Review of Bergamo 2016

Read More...