NEWS: Ronnie Scott's International Piano Trio Festival line-up (29 July - 5 August)

Chick Corea Akoustic Band
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

The full line-up for the fifth annual Ronnie Scott's International Piano Trio Festival has been announced. It will run in the legendary Soho club from Sunday 29 July to Sunday 5 August.

The opening two nights featuring the Rick Wakeman TrioDave Colquhoun is on guitar, Matt Pegg on bass – are already sold out. Support on Sunday 29 is Red Alert (Janette Mason) and on Monday 30 the David Swan Trio. There is a late show on Monday with the Liam Dunachie Trio.

Tuesday 31 July to Thursday 2 August is headlined by the Chick Corea Akoustic Band with John Patitucci on bass and Dave Weckl on drums. Late-show trios are Peter Edwards (Tue), Rembrandt Frerichs (Wed) and Jessica Lauren (Thu).

Friday 3 August features Snarky Puppy Bill Laurance on piano and keyboards with Jonathan Harvey on bass and Marijus Aleksa on drums. Late show is the LRK Trio.

The festival closes with two evenings of the Roberto Fonseca Trio (Yandy Martinez bass and Ruly Herrera drums) with support and a late show on Saturday from Kit Downes' Enemy with Petter Eldh and James Maddren, and support on Sunday from the John Crawford Trio.

In an additional show on Wednesday 1 August, Ronnie Scott's house pianist and artistic director, James Pearson, offers The History of Jazz Piano, 100 years in one gig.

All events bar The History of Jazz Piano are now on sale.

LINK: Ronnie Scott's website 

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CD REVIEW: Frode Haltli – Avant Folk


Frode Haltli – Avant Folk
(Hubro CD/LP 2604. Review by Peter Bacon)

The album title is pretty accurate, but the cynical might think: oh, I know what that will sound like.  After all, there are a quite a few Scandinavian bands doing what might be called “avant-folk”.
And to a certain extent the cynics would be right.

Accordionist Frode Haltli and his collaborators – among them Erlend Apneseth on Hardanger fiddles, Ståle Storløkken on harmonium, and Hans P Kjorstad on violin – move comfortably between what we journalists label genres (traditional folk, jazz, contemporary composition, improv, world music) and what musicians rightly say is “just music”.

This album doesn’t move in quite the usual way, though. For a start, they are joined by Hildegunn Øiseth on trumpet and goat horn, Rolf-Erik Nystrøm on saxophones, Juhani Silvola and Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir on guitars, Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson on double bass and Siv Øyunn Kjenstad on drums and vocals. The trumpet and saxophone bring fresh textures to the folk sound and the guitars plus added electronics stretch it further.

And while there is a fair share of traditional sounding (and even actual traditional) melody underscored by sometimes jazzy harmonies, there is also more left-field stuff. Take Kingo, based on a Faroese hymn. It starts out with accordion and harmonium grumbling over an insistent low beat, the harmonies taking on a middle-eastern tinge. Fiddles sing over the top and the beat grows into more of a groove; then an electric guitar emerges in a solo which recalls Ali Farka Toure and the West African desert blues.

Grâta’n incorporates a background of synthesized atmosphere, all dark and dripping, echoing,  underground and stretching away to blackness (has The Killing's Sarah Lund descended into another underground cavern armed with only a Scandi sweater and a dying torch?). When an achingly lovely violin tune emerges over the top it comes as a real surprise, while also sounding strangely fitting. The mood is initially continued in the closer, Neid, but it slowly unfurls over its 13 minutes to take in some extended jazz improvisations above a gradually more and more loping groove, creating along the way, as have the previous four pieces, a real depth. It coalesces into a stately repeated riff underlying an impassioned saxophone solo before dissipating into something freer and less tangible, and finally returning to avant-folk earth.

I suspect some of the credit for the range of the album should go not only to Haltli but also his co-producer, the avant-garde sound artist Maja S.K. Ratkje.

Not your average avant-folk album then. A fascinating and darkly lovely experience.

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INTERVIEW: Dana Murray – Suite Kaepernick/Negro Manifesto

Dana Murray
Publicity picture

US drummer and producer Dana Murray’s album Negro Manifesto places him in the vanguard of a wave of artists getting under the skin of contemporary America. AJ Dehany spoke to him ahead of the release of his new video Suite Kaepernick.

Dana Murray’s compelling new video Suite Kaepernick just dropped in the midst of a radical, politicised time in music. I think of it as experimental music’s counterpart to Childish Gambino’s This Is America – a track whose depiction of American gun culture and black experience has achieved the status of an instant classic, finding company with other crucial statements from key artists depicting the problems of contemporary America.

Beyoncé’s Lemonade film boldly referenced the #BlackLivesMatter movement with the explicit plea, “STOP SHOOTING US”. Vince StaplesNorf Norf video shows the rapper being detained and maltreated by the police with the refrain “I ain’t never ran from nothing but the police”. Kendrick Lamar’s Alright was sung by crowds in Ferguson, Missouri, after Trayvon Martin was murdered in cold blood by his white neighbour. In jazz, Irreversible Entanglements have renewed politicised free jazz, and the new Last Poets album Understand What Black Is mixes jazz, hip-hop and Caribbean influences with political poems that strongly speak to the present day.

I spoke to Dana Murray via Skype between London, UK, and Omaha, USA. In 2003 he moved there from New York City to raise his son and started teaching. He is now a full-time musician again and when I spoke to him he had just finished mixing the new Tarbaby album with Orrin Evans and was preparing the groundwork for his own next album, with plans to tour the USA in summer and Europe (including London) in autumn. I asked him about the background to the new video, Suite Kaepernick.




LondonJazz News: We've been following the long-running Kaepernick story concerning the NFL player who refused to stand for the National Anthem to protest police brutality. What is the latest on the story, and, for the benefit of those of us in the UK, what happened and why is it significant?

Dana Murray: Colin Kaepernick. I don’t think he was the one that started the kneeling but he definitely became the face of the kneeling during the National Anthem to protest injustices here in the United States, and his movement sort of caught on. They tried to shut it down and say that if you wanna protest just don’t come out during the National Anthem so as to not offend anyone. Which goes against all of the constitutional statutes that state everyone has freedom of speech. In the meantime Colin Kaepernick still hasn’t been able to land another job in the NFL, which speaks to the injustice a lot of people have to face when they speak up against things that aren’t right.

LJN: Kaepernick explicitly said he was doing it because he wanted to protest police brutality specifically, and then it was reinterpreted as some kind of diss about the armed services.

DM: Well, hijacked by our president. That’s a whole 'nother damn discussion. I never pull any punches when it comes to our president. He is very calculated; he is not an empathetic or compassionate human being. All the things that are necessary to bring about constructive discussion that can bring about change, or even evolution into something better than what you're in, he's not that guy. Anybody that thinks that he is really about making things better for people and not himself is a damn fool.

LJN: Suite Kaepernick starts with The Star-Spangled Banner, a reference to the Kaepernick affair, then it goes into deeper issues, with images of cotton fields, footage from archives, newly-filmed material, CCTV of police brutality, then all the machine stuff, and images of marches. It ties together in a historical view with Kaepernick as the contemporary point of focus.

DM: I wanted to start off with The Star-Spangled Banner but using the third verse, which most Americans don't even know exists. I wanted to present that verse, because anyone that said "Wait a minute! That's blasphemous! What are these words that you have over the tune?" Well, that's what Francis Scott Key wrote. If he is saying "Land of the free" and it was written in 1814 and blacks weren’t free constitutionally until 1865, then he obviously wasn't talking about me or people like me. That's obvious, right?

It goes from that into Part 2 in which there's a lot of imagery of police shooting unarmed black men, and when you see a visual of that – and I gotta tell you, it took me a while. I still don't think that I'm quite over the investigation stage of that 'cos I did a lot of poring through videos and articles to get the footage that I have chosen for the video. And that's hard, man. When you go through and you're doing a case study and really gathering information and video content it's like "Good Lord! You almost can’t believe it's real".

Part 3 is The Machine. You go from seeing people in cotton fields to seeing how the infrastructure of railroads came about, and then you fast forward and you see New York City, so you can see the mechanism that went into building the metropolis that is the United States. I tried to portray that from very simple beginnings, the exploitation that came from slavery, that came from blacks in this country. That's how the wealth in this country was built. This happened. This is how we're here.




LJN: In Temptation on the album, there’s a drum hit that sounds like a gunshot, and in Suite Kaepernick one of the first lines is "Black names written on bullets". America’s gun problem is unforgettably depicted in Childish Gambino's video This Is America which has sparked huge debate. Suite Kaepernick was created before This Is America but it raises many of the same themes. I see it as it is experimental music’s counterpart to This Is America. What do you think of Gambino?

DM: I love Gambino, man. I love Atlanta [TV comedy series starring Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino]. I love... you know what, I just love his absolute commitment to doing art the way he wants to do it. Whether someone digs it or they don't, it's always sincere, it's always real. So, when I saw This Is America, it got me the same way. Even though I've been immersed in creating the same sort of material, you can appreciate the artist, it's like "Damn!"

In This Is America he's comin' out, he's got his shirt off, I can see some of the symbolism, the civil war pants. When that guy's playing the guitar, then all of a sudden he has the mask and it's seemingly a serene sort of environment and he pulls the gun out and shoots him, it's like "Whoa! Wait a minute". He got me. He fooled me. It was like "Ohhhhh shit, did he just go there?"



LJN: What’s behind the album title Negro Manifesto?

DM: There is a real album by the Pepsi Corporation in 1963 called Adventures in Negro History. It was a sincere effort at that time to bridge the gap between races, to show a more diverse part of our country's history and what blacks contributed. It's just that when you listen back to it a lot of things are just so... racist, you know? How they painted the picture is very different to how someone would paint it now. You can see that someone was speaking from absolute leverage and power about how someone else's plight went down.

LJN: The album uses samples from Adventures in Negro History, films and archives to express a historical sense. It is also a synthesis of your ideas about music, rhythm and groove, using elements including hip hop, industrial noise, and jazz.

DM: What I attempted to do is not come off like I wanted to stand on a soap box and bitch about how fucked up things are. I didn’t wanna be the soapbox guy but I wanted to be the guy that said "Okay, obviously this is happening". That's why there's a lot of historical context on the album. That's not my opinion: this is stuff that happened. So if we can agree that all this stuff happened then all we are really disagreeing on is the level of pain someone should still have in their life today.

Yes, it happened a while ago, but obviously there's still things from there that affect the now. And me as a black person, I feel that every day. It doesn’t have to be totally a negative energy but I know it's there. I know that things in this country are still leveraged against someone like me. Even if it is not blatant it is still woven into the fabric of what this country is. I'm also not stupid enough to think that things would have been that much better in this little time. I'm not one to say "It should be..." There's too many flaws in humanity for shit to be exactly what it should be only 50-something years after desegregation.

LJN: The album ends recalling the refrain “Through your eyes”: I took that as the necessity of empathy: knowledge and empathy. With artists raising the issues it feels like change is in the air. What is the mood like in America?

DM: Right now it's very polarised. And to be honest with you, with the election of Donald Trump, when we look back on the history of race relations 100 years, 200 years from now, this will be a cornerstone. He brought out of the woodwork a lot of stuff that people were already thinking about, ideas that they already embodied, but now they feel emboldened to bring those out to the surface. So now you can actually see way more vividly the fabric of the country. If you bring it out into the open, then you can deal with it. So looking through things through a macro lens is actually exactly what the country needed. Something so ridiculous and polarising as Donald Trump actually was exactly what the country needed.

LJN: That’s a thought-provoking statement. How do we move forward from this point?

DM: I tried to be as candid and as open in all these questions because I don't want anybody to paint the narrative for me. I'm all about trying to start the conversation, start the dialogue, to move the needle. The conversations are tough sometimes. But if everyone comes in wanting the same thing, you're gonna always find some common ground and get to something that is constructive enough to move things forward.

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

LINK: Negro Manifesto is released on Ropeadope Records

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REVIEW: Wynton Marsalis Quartet at the Barbican

Wynton Marsalis Quartet
L-R: Dan Nimmer, Wynton Marsalis,
Mark Lewandowski, Jason Marsalis 

Wynton Marsalis Quartet
(Barbican Hall. 20 June 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

“We’re going to play X. We hope y’all enjoy it.” Wynton Marsalis used a simple throwaway line, but he didn't just use it once. He kept on repeating it several times as he introduced the numbers at last night’s quartet concert at the Barbican.

The word ‘enjoy’ was chosen with care. Marsalis is a man with huge responsibilities in his role at the helm of a large organization. He also has a habit of knowingly placing himself at the eye of polemical storms. He is a bandleader and composer accustomed to piloting large ensembles, who is regularly either handing out composition commissions or fulfilling them himself. So the act of discarding all the trappings of organisational complexity, and performing as a quartet with young willing accomplices and a deeply enthusiastic audience must have seemed something of a breeze. Something, indeed, to just enjoy.

Time and again Marsalis played with wonderful clarity and lyricism, capping it all with the encore, Stardust. From the vast selection of mutes he brought on to choose from, he took a plunger mute for the playfulness of Magic Hour and a clear-tone for the fluent pyrotechnics of After You've Gone. And he chatted: he offered fond recollections of times spent with Roy Eldridge and Ornette Coleman. He also enjoyed several opportunities to roam free and do walkabouts around the audience.

Marsalis was also clearly inspired by the Headspace Ensemble which had performed an opening set. He produced a wonderfully articulate paean of praise of trumpeter Clarence Adoo, whom Marsalis had known since they were both in their 20s. Adoo was struck down by a road accident in 1995 and is paralyzed from the neck down. Marsalis praised his undimmed positivity and the light of his inspiration.

Marsalis was also clearly lifted and inspired by the other musicians in his quartet. Dan Nimmer is a ferociously equipped pianist who is eminently capable of how-many-hands-has-he-got playing à la Oscar Peterson. And yet last night he was mostly playing in an unselfish way,  leaving acres of space for the others to intervene. Bassist Mark Lewandowski making a high-profile return to London from his role in the Juilliard Jazz Artist Diploma Ensemble (the Juilliard website these days even claims him as New York-born rather than Nottingham-born!) and played solos that had astonishing clarity, presence and logic. Drummer Jason Marsalis is always lively and his rhythms have a way of sparkling. His drum feature Big Fat Hen was stunning. Looking around the audience, one could see how the sheer infectious rhythmic drive of this group was enlivening and animating people.

There was one tune which (tellingly?) wasn't introduced with the wish for enjoyment: Knozz Moe King from the 1983 album Think of One. That youthful, hyperactive, roll-with-the-punches, post-Hubbard playing with which Marsalis burst onto the scene in the early '80s provided contrast, but now seems like a very distant planet.

The standing ovation at the end said it all. We had enjoyed it too.

SET LIST

Magic Hour
Ramblin’ – Ornette Coleman 1959
Goodbye – Gordon Jenkins 1935
Big Fat Hen
After You’ve Gone – Creamer and Layton 1918
Knozz Moe King
Encore: Stardust – Hoagy Carmichael 1927

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PODCAST INTERVIEW: Chick Corea

Chick Corea at Cheltenham 2017
Photo credit and ©John Watson /jazzcamera.co.uk

Sebastian writes:

I was invited to send in some questions for Chick Corea by European broadcaster Sarah Culler and this short interview podcast is the result:


PODCAST SYNOPSIS

00:00 - 00:47 OPENING MUSIC : Extract from Amnesia by Chick Corea.

00:47 You always profile yourself as a student... learning... the challenge to communicate one's ideas... telling a story...

1:56 - 3:05 Spain – the tune , the connections the influences,  Paco De Lucia, Mongo Santamaria Eddie Palmieri...

3:05 - 4:37 Is there a hierarchy of duties for a musician? "I pursue ideas that I'm interested in..."

4:37-5:48 Is your work-rate speeding up slowing down or staying the same? Finding new ways to help young musicians – workshops.

5-48 to end Pannonica by Thelonius Monk  –  Chick Corea New Trio.

Image of Chick Corea on podcast from 1992 by Roland Godefroy / Creative Commons

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INTERVIEW: Jeremy Sassoon (new album Jeremy Sassoon and Friends, launch gigs at Pizza Express Dean Street 6 and 7 July + Berlin and Manchester)

Jeremy Sassoon at Goostrey Festival, Cheshire, 2010
Photo credit: William Ellis

Singer-pianist JEREMY SASSOON has a new album out, Jeremy Sassoon and Friends. It was recorded live at Pizza Express Dean Street in 2017. He will return there for album launch gigs on 6 and 7 July, followed by performances in Berlin and Manchester. He explained the background to Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Where are you from, and where do you live now?

Jeremy Sassoon: I'm from Manchester and I still live there. In recent years however I've been increasingly gigging down in London and worked out I'd actually spent more than two months there last year.

LJN: And you are actually Dr. Sassoon, right?

JS: That's right. I went to medical school at The Middlesex Hospital in London at 18 and having qualified as a doctor, I worked in the hospital system for a further seven years, most of which was spent training as a hospital psychiatrist. An excellent training with which to enter the world of music I may add.

LJN:  Ray Charles has been quite a big deal for you... how did all that start?

JS: In 2009, I was trying to think of a new project to submit to the Manchester Jazz Festival. At the time I was just a keyboard player/MD and hadn't started singing. I was working with a great jazz and gospel singer Paul Bentley and came up with the idea of a Ray Charles project since Ray's balance of jazz, blues and soul matched exactly mine and Paul's style. I teamed up with Iain Dixon (saxophone) and put together a great 11-piece (and later a 17-piece band), which amongst other musicians featured Mike Walker on guitar. As it happens Paul soon gave up singing altogether and all of a sudden I had to either learn how to sing the show or disband it. After several deep breaths, I managed the former and have been singing and fronting gigs ever since. The show has provided me with some great moments, like headlining at Ronnie's for London 2012, playing the Jazz Cafe, Bluesfest at the O2 and headlining Manchester Jazz Festival twice. Next month, we'll be at the Wigan International Jazz Festival amongst some illustrious company...

LJN:  There is a story about a song of yours being picked on Desert Island Discs...?

JS: This was a story involving my two career worlds colliding. Whilst I've been plugging away as a gigging musician, my medical friends and colleagues that I'd qualified with had become eminent professors and consultants. One such colleague Hugh Montgomery, a professor of Intensive care (and the holder of the world record for underwater piano playing) was invited onto Desert Island Discs in 2014. He was a big fan of my music and chose my version of the song The Things We've Handed Down as his castaway's favourite. I'd never seen such a flurry of activity on my website & iTunes as I did that month and the song hit Number 1 in the iTunes vocal download chart, ironically knocking Ray Charles off his perch. And Frank Sinatra and Etta James. That was my 15 mins of fame.

LJN: And you have (professional) musician siblings... what do you attribute that to?

JS: Yes, my sister Julie Sassoon is an amazing composer and pianist based in Berlin. My other sister Lucy is a singer-pianist living in Spain and although my brother Laurence chose the "proper job" route, he was just as accomplished a musician. To what do I attribute it? Some sort of complex Sassoon chromosomal abnormality


LJN: What is the story of this album ? It was recorded live - do you record all your concerts?

JS: No, I rarely record my concerts. I just had a gut feeling about this band. I picked musicians from all different areas of my musical life, none of whom had even met each other until 48 hours before the recording. One rehearsal later and I knew I had to video it, even if just for a couple of YouTube clips. It was only when we got the footage back that we were all surprised at the quality and I decided to make an album.

LJN: And what are the songs on it?

JS: The songs weren't picked with an album in mind, but were selected as relevant for a 2017 gig. Glen Campbell and Walter Becker had died that year, so Wichita Lineman, Peg and FM chose themselves. Compared to What and Ballad of the Sad Young Men were from one of my “Top 3” albums, First Take by Roberta Flack. The  Chicken was dedicated to my drummer Michael who had the rare privilege of playing it with Jaco Pastorius for a whole European Tour in the Jaco/Bireli Lagrene Trio. Bruce Hornsby's anti-racism comment The Way It Is was chosen with Donald Trump in mind. Perhaps the most original arrangement on the whole album is a haunting version of Eleanor Rigby, which I've been regularly urged by many of my followers to record. I hope everyone likes it.

LJN: And who is in the band?

JS: The band is based around my long-standing partnership with Berlin-based drummer Michael Kersting. Michael has an incredible pedigree, having played with Chet Baker, Jaco Pastorius, Trilok Gurtu, and Richie Beirach and I really click with him.

With Michael in place, I put together the team from there. Jasper Wilkinson is a close friend and multi-instrumentalist from Manchester who plays bass (but could just as easily have done it on sax or guitar). Like Michael, he just “lays it down”, making the rhythm section so easy to play over. I've been playing with up-and-coming saxophonist Alexander Bone for 3 years now. He seems to pick up awards all over the place, but has a great soulful and melodic side to his playing too. And Richie Aikman completes the quintet on guitar. I saw him on somebody else's gig two years ago at the 606, and “poached” him. He's great, and another truly talented 22-year old.




LJN: What are you especially looking forward to with the launch?

JS: I just love the general buzz that happens around the launch of a new project, and there's something special about opening the first box of your own CDs when they first arrive. But does anyone buy CDs anymore?

LJN: And what are you dreading? 

JS: England getting into the quarter finals of the World Cup. They're being played the same nights as my launch dates.

LJN: What’s the project after that?

JS: There could be an interesting project involving my Ray Charles Project on the horizon, but if that doesn't come off I'd like to get straight into recording a new studio album. I'm getting a taste for this.

LJN: United or City?

JS: I've never heard of the second one. (pp)

LINKS: Jeremy Sassoon's website 

A new single from the album – Wichita Lineman – is out this week on Spotify and  Apple Music 

Pizza Express Bookings

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PREVIEW: 2018 Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige (29 June - 8 July)

Ben van Gelder and Reinier Baas, featured artists at the 2017 Festival
Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski

Alison Bentley writes:

This year’s UN World Happiness Report puts Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Sweden at the top of the list. The 2018 Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige is adding to the sum of human happiness by bringing more than 160 innovative jazz musicians from these countries and more, to play in imaginative venues in the mountains and towns of Suedtirol (South Tyrol.)

Gigs are grouped into four city tours to help negotiate the festival’s geography. In Suedtirol, everything is written in Italian and German, including place names: Bolzano/Bozen is the festival hub, with 31 concerts. Many are within walking distance of each other through the old streets – the surrounding mountains look down. The Festival always values musicians from different countries working together, and the opening concert (in an industrial warehouse) has the Nordic Connection countries playing with Austrians and Italians (the Euregio Collective) in an 18-piece band directed by Finnish flautist Pauli Lyytinen. Good to see bassist Ruth Goller in the list, representing GB, as well as her home town (Vahrn) in the region of Suedtirol. Scandinavian 11-piece CARLIOT - It's never too late Orchestra plays "heard and unheard music from theatre, dance…" on 5 July in the Museion art gallery. Swedish vocal/drum duo Wildbirds and Peacedrums are in the Obstmarkt on 6 July. Norway’s psychedelic jazzers Broen have two gigs at the Park Laurin Hotel on 7 July, the second a DJ set.

Merano/Meran has 21 gigs; if you missed a gig in Bolzano it’s likely the bands will be playing here too. Swedish-Finnish trio Elifantree bring their "acoustic jazz pop sound experiments" to Thermenplatz on 4 Juy, while you can hear ECM pianist Giovanni Guidi with US/Italian trio DRIVE! at the Wolkenstein Viertel on 6 July.

Bressanone/Brixen has 18 gigs. 7-piece Norwegian-Swedish Megalodon Collective combines "free jazz, fusion, film music, noise, classical and medieval music" in the Fortress Fortezza on 6 July. On 30 June electro-jazz sextet Klabbes Bank are on the rooftop of the Tourism Cooperative Association –  not the bank. Many gigs are outside, and on 30 June, the SJ Street Band will be stomping through the streets of Brunico/Bruneck (17 gigs.) Nearby, Anni Elif Egecioglu, Amanda Blomqvist and Verneri Pohjola are on vocals, drums and trumpet in San Vigilio di Marebbe on 8 July.

The festival’s motto is "fresh sounds, new perspectives", and many gigs are in spectacular and beautiful venues. Some are in mountain refuges among dramatic scenery: on 8 July, a two-hour walk along a mountain trail ("easy", it says) takes you to Finnish singer Stina Koistinen and Icelandic guitarist Sigurdur Rögnvaldsson in a duo created especially for the festival. Trio Nils Berg Cinemascope (2 July) will be competing with the stunning mountain backdrop of Bolzano/Bozen’s Parco Semirurali. That morning, Finnish pianist Tuomas A. Turunen (aka The Wine Composer) ‘"translates wines' aromas and tastes into music" in the Weingut Pacher Hof, flanked by vineyards- and you get to taste the wine too.

Is there a collective noun for singers? The Nordic Voices theme refers to the individual styles of around 17 bands featuring vocalists. To highlight a few: Norwegian duo Lars Andreas Haug and Camilla Susann Haug’s Messing with Voice is in Bozen/Bolzano’s Hotel Greif on 2 July. Bjork-like Mari Kvien Brunvoll sings in Norwegian dialect with her trio Building Instrument on 30 June in Renon/Ritten’s Hotel Weihrerhof. The Swedish/Finnish quartet led by Hannah Tolf bring their experimental jazz to Bolzano/Bozen’s Batzen Sudwerk on 6 July.

The festival is an organisational miracle. A 20€ Jazzpass allows you to book seats on the shuttle buses between venues. It also gives ticket reductions and reservations (though many concerts are free) and food and wine discounts. There’s extensive info on the festival website about the plentiful public transport. A flight to Verona, an hour’s train ride to Bolzano – then expect to be transported.

LINK: Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige website

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INTERVIEW: Peter Tregear (Barry Humphries Weimar Cabaret - Barbican,11-29 July)

Barry Humphries and Meow Meow in
Weimar Cabaret in Edinburgh in 2016
Photo supplied by EMG Media

"Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret" will be at the Barbican from 11 to 29 July. Melbourne-based musicologist Peter Tregear was in the small team who put the original show together in collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra. He tells the story of how the show came into being here, and – hopefully without spoilers – gives a guide to what Barbican audiences can expect. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: If I understand right this idea got going because Barry Humphries had done some other projects with the ACO and those had worked well?

Peter Tregear: Yes, that's right. Barry had toured with the ACO a few years earlier (performing, among other works, Walton's Facade) and it had been a great commercial and critical success, and I understand both parties were keen to explore further collaborations.

LJN: And how did the original idea of a Weimar cabaret show start?

PT: Barry has had a near life-long fascination for the musical culture of Weimar Germany, and has also been a strong advocate for many of its most significant composers. This interest arose because he had encountered traces of Weimar culture that had travelled to the Melbourne of his childhood in the luggage of Jewish immigrants escaping Nazi persecution and had fallen in madly love with it. I suspect he was also quick to recognize that here was a cultural world that could help provide inspiration for the directions his own creative work was soon to take, not least in seeking to shock a complacent Australia out of its post-War contented slumber. Barry was a precociously frustrated artist and intellectual, and Weimar Germany provided a soundtrack for an altogether fresh attitude to life that he now yearned for.

More simply, I think he just fell for the music. It was an obvious place for the ACO and Barry to look to create a new show together.

Peter Tregear
Photo Credit: Peter Hislop
LJN: You were brought in to help? How did that work?

PT: I was brought in to provide research assistance and programming advice. One of the challenges we faced was sourcing much of the music. Another, of course, was working out how to make the kinds of repertoire choices that could result in a coherent, compelling, concert experience.

LJN: Were your enthusiasms similar to Barry Humphries’ or did you complement each other?

PT: I had worked with both Barry and the ACO separately in the past, and also had a close interest in Weimar musical culture myself as a researcher and performer.

LJN: What were the first song choices?

PT: Knowing that we wished to create a fully narrated concert, and not just a concert with occasional narration, we began by exploring works that exemplified four themes common to much Weimar art: Money, Love, Sex, and Death. We were also interested, of course, to involve works that had particular resonance for Barry himself. That was easy because he as an encyclopaedic knowledge of the repertoire. That led us to composers such as Ernst Schulhoff, Friedrich Hollaender, and Mischa Spoliansky.

LJN: Are Threepenny Opera and Mahagonny somewhere in the mix?

PT: We were also keen to draw the audience in by working from the familiar to the more unfamiliar, so of course we wanted to include works by Weill and Brecht that are well known today. This had the added bonus of playing to a particular strength of Barry's co-performer in this show, Melissa Madden Gray – best known by her stage name 'Meow Meow'. Also hailing from Melbourne, Gray has a global reputation as a cabaret artist and is certainly one of the finest living exponents of Weill's music.

LJN: I was interested to see the name of Ernst Krenek. What’s the story there?

PT: The music of Austrian-born composer Ernst Krenek (1900–1991), and specifically a 78 recording of excerpts from his so-called 'Jazz Opera', Jonny spielt auf (1926) holds particular significance for Barry because it was some of the first Weimar music he had heard as a child and which had got him 'hooked'.

LJN: Was a lot of arrangement required to adapt the repertoire for chamber orchestra?

PT: Much of the music being performed was already conceived with chamber forces in mind – reflecting its origins in the cabaret halls, theatres, and radio studios of the day. Many of the songs, however, survived only as piano scores rather than as orchestrations, making arrangement a practical necessity.

LJN: Is it a concert, a revue? 

PT: It is hard to know how best to categorize the event; sure there is a script and there is even some set and costumes, but the music still holds centre-stage (and most of the stage time). A guided concert, perhaps? Whatever the case, one of the particular strengths of the format that has emerged is is that it feeds the mind as well as the ear, while always being entertaining to-boot.

LJN: What historic period is the music drawn from (earliest and latest compositions)?

PT: The music is drawn, as one might expect, almost entirely from the period of the Weimar Republic itself (1919–1933). We close the concert, however, with a work from 1948, Friedrich Hollaender's song for Marlene Dietrich from Billy Wilder's film A Foreign Affair, The Ruins of Berlin. We thought it was a good way both to directly acknowledge the catastrophe that followed the fall of the Republic but also express a message of hope too: 'A brand new spring is to begin / Out of the ruins of Berlin!'.

LJN: What are your memories of the premiere (where?)

PT: I remember being quite moved when the first performance happened in Australia because much of the music was being performed and heard in Australia for the first time. I felt performers and audience alike were partaking in an act of restorative justice for those composers whose lives foreshortened by the rise of Nazism. We were also being reminded that we too had been impoverished by that calamity by having been denied an opportunity for so long to get to know this music better.

LJN: Presumably Barry Humphries ad libs and creases the audience up with laughter?

PT: Oh yes, Barry is nothing if not a creature of the stage! There are certainly many funny moments, and a good many of them are not scripted...

LJN: Critics... Did the Pfennig drop with any critics either at the Australian performances or at Cadogan Hall or in Edinburgh – i.e. is there a quote from a review that really “gets it” and what the show is about?

PT: Yes, I think Tim Ashley does. Putting it simply, "It’s a mesmerising, touching, deeply humane evening." (FULL REVIEW HERE)

With thanks to John Harte and Yung-Yee Chen of Aurora Orchestra for their help in setting up this feature. Aurora Orchestra will be performing the Barbican shows, led by Satu Vänskä.

FULL DETAILS OF BARRY HUMPHRIES' WEIMAR CABARET - with Aurora Orchestra - FROM THE BARBICAN WEBSITE
Video trailer for Barbican shows
Peter Tregear

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NEWS: Vibraphonist Jonny Mansfield wins 2018 Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize

Jonny Mansfield
Photo credit: Royal Academy of Music

Peter Bacon reports:

This year’s Kenny Wheeler Jazz Prize, its eighth annual award for a graduating jazz musician at the Royal Academy of Music who demonstrates excellence in performance and composition, has been won by Jonny Mansfield, the RAM and Edition Records announced today.

Mansfield (22), a vibraphonist and composer based in London, wins the opportunity to release his proposed album on the Edition Records label – it will come out in 2019.

The press release continues:

“Mansfield follows in the footsteps of the highly-acclaimed previous winners; saxophonist Josh Arcoleo (2011), trumpeter Reuben Fowler (2012), vocalist Lauren Kinsella (2013), bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado (2014), vibraphonist Ralph Wyld (2015), guitarist Rob Luft (2016), and saxophonist Tom Barford (2017) whose album is released on 31 August 2018.

“The judging panel – Dave Stapleton: Edition Records Founder and Producer, Nick Smart: the Academy’s Head of Jazz and Evan Parker: saxophonist and lifelong collaborator of the late Wheeler – met in June to decide the winner.

“Evan Parker said: ‘This prize honours the life and work of a musician who was distinguished not simply as a magnificently gifted improvising instrumentalist, but also as a composer and arranger. In awarding the prize to Jonny Mansfield this year we have chosen a young musician who has already shown himself to be remarkably talented in all three disciplines, and seems to have a musical vision beyond his years.’

“Edition Records boss Dave Stapleton commented: ‘As the music industry continues to evolve and change at an unprecedented rate, it’s hugely rewarding for us to have an opportunity to help develop and guide these young, talented and vital artists of the future. Jonny Mansfield is a musician of real depth and maturity, both as an instrumentalist and composer. Jonny also has the ability to recognise the wider challenges facing him and appro
ach them with drive and determination to pursue a career in this music. To succeed in the 21st Century music industry requires all-round skill and talent, which Jonny has in abundance.’

“Kenny’s son, Mark Wheeler, said: ‘I have enjoyed hearing Jonny a few times at Academy events and also online, and I know my Dad would have loved his playing and his wonderful writing. It’s exciting to see how these young musicians flourish and it remains a source of joy for all the family that Dad’s name and legacy lives on through this fantastic prize.’”

LINK: LJN interview with Jonny Mansfield from 2017

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PREVIEW: 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival (10-12 August)

Adam Glasser (third from left) with his South African Jazz Sextet
Publicity picture
Festivals rise and festivals fall but Brecon just keeps on going. Peter Bacon previews the programme for the 35th in its unbroken run. 

Yes, it’s had its ups and downs, every bit as dramatic as the Beacons which rise above it, but the Brecon Jazz Festival has learned some tough survival skills as a result. This year’s festival (10-12 August) puts the accent on jazz from many countries as well as that celebratory and indefinable “Spirit of the Festival”.

Among the players performing are Adam Glasser, Byron Wallen, Josephine Davies, Rob Luft, Corrie Dick, Jim Hart, Elaine Delmar and Ian Shaw.

John Anderson, from the festival’s coordinating group, the Brecon Jazz Music Trust, told me:

“As we all know jazz, outside the bigger cities, often struggles to attract the audiences it deserves.  For example Fleece Jazz on the rural Suffolk/Essex borders recently sent out an impassioned appeal for more bums on seats as after 25 years they are finding it especially tough.

“Jazz festivals, too, need superhuman efforts to keep going. Ask Nigel Price about his 'adventures' keeping Swanage afloat. It is particularly galling, in this context, to continually hear of the demise of Brecon Jazz Festival. Galling, unhelpful and just plain wrong. Underfunded and less sprawling than at some times in its long history, but, as so frequently is the case, rumours of its death are exaggerated. Perhaps a little exposure from LJN can reverse this error.”

John continued: “A small band of volunteers, based around the monthly Brecon Jazz Club, has worked diligently to produce an excellent line-up for the 35th Brecon Jazz Festival which runs as usual in early August …“Friday (10 August) evening begins with a fundraising concert for Side by Side: Humanitarian Aid to Refugees by the amazingly talented and endlessly entertaining Ian Shaw, and is followed by a specially-commissioned Festival Big Band, 16-piece no less!

“Highlight of the weekend will no doubt be the tribute to Hugh Masekela directed by Adam Glasser and featuring Byron Wallen, Josephine Davies and Rob Luft and Corrie Dick.  Saturday (11 August) also boasts Manchester Jazz Collection, Tom Smith Septet and Sounds of Cuba led by Maite Hontele, backed by the Eliane Correa Afro-Cuban Sextet.

"Sunday is not too shabby either! Josephine Davies' Trio Satori, the Elaine Delmar Quintet and concluding with Jim Hart's Cloudmakers."

Tickets are now on sale – there is an all-encompassing All Weekend Pass, and also discounts for booking multiple events.

LINK: 2018 Brecon Jazz Festival programme

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REPORT: Jazz Promotion 2018 Look Out Conference at Turner Sims, Southampton

Opening keynote speaker at Look Out Rebecca Root
Photo courtesy of Kim Macari

The "Look Out" Jazz Promotion Network Conference was held at Turner Sims at the University of Southampton on 13 and 14 June 2018. As founder of the London East Jazz Network, Mark Kass attended the conference, and reports. These are his personal views: 


Superbly organised by the JPN Board in partnership with Jazz South, the new Turner Sims/Arts Council-led regional jazz development network, the conference was a networking and learning opportunity for experienced and newbies alike (and I fall into the latter category!). I joined workshops for some truly insightful discussions on diverse programming, career building, cross-border working and, probably the most significant, what can the jazz world learn from other industries. Thoroughly enjoyable, with really valuable networking, "Look Out" was definitely worth schlepping down to the South Coast. I attend far too many conferences but it was a real pleasure to attend an industry "thing" that had a genuinely positive feel about its future! For me, the main take-aways were:

  • We need to recognise diversity across the industry, changing the perception of jazz that demonstrates the vast range of genres jazz encompasses, not just the huge single genre everything gets lumped under, and reflects the world we live in.
  • We need to recognise that technology has a big impact on listening, composing and buying of music/video... we should stop just referring to "my new CD is out now" and revert to my new album is a available to download, buy on vinyl, watch on You Tube as well as buy on CD.

  • Big emphasis on inclusion, equalities and sexual harrassment issues. Need to change the perception of female jazzers and showcase more female musicians, promoters, event managers, label owners, not just as singers!

  • Recognition of needs of audiences beyond music... eg venue access for the disabled.
  • There is a huge and perhaps unbalanced reliance on Arts Council Funding... are we a business or are we an arts organisation? Answer: A sensible mix of both but we need to be more entrepreneurial and commercial as ACE funding gets tougher to draw down.
  • There should be a greater emphasis on employability skills and post-graduation support for new entrants to musical career.
  • There should be a non-creative support network that helps musicians and businesses with the boring stuff, e.g. bookkeeping, admin, etc, including perhaps the development of a co-working hub for musicians outside of a university/conservatoire environment.
  • Support mechanisms should extend to venues, promoters, labels, event managers, etc.
  • Can we create a formal local/regional business support programme that practitioners can sign up to? How would we fund that? Is that linked to a festival/major jazz event?
  • We need to promote the fab work of Help Musicians UK's Mental Health support programme aimed at ALL stakeholders... not just musicians.
  • The industry needs to learn more from other industries. Should there be a formally recognised trade body for jazz funded by the industry itself and one that represents the collective voice of the sector when lobbying, negotiating, educating, etc? What would that look like?

L-R: Jason Rebello, Yuri Goloubev, Tim Garland
Photo by Mark Kass
  • Three totally fab music sets on the Wednesday night from Camilla George Quartet, Nikki Yeoh piano solo, and the amazing Tim Garland Weather Walker Trio ft Jason Rebello on keys.
  • Networking from an amazingly open, friendly, transparent (and sober!) bunch of like-minded industry professionals.
  • Note: I missed the AGM as I had to get back to London

Mark Kass is a part-time jazz promoter, a jazz broadcaster on East London Radio, and a volunteer trustee for the National Jazz Archive. In his "day job" he works as a management consultant for new and fledgling entrepreneurs, and designs and operates co-working/serviced office accommodation for start-ups.  

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NEWS: Band On The Wall gets £1.65m from Arts Council England

Band On The Wall of the future
Supplied picture

Peter Bacon reports:

It started as The George and Dragon pub where the musicians played on a stage half way up the back wall, but the Band On The Wall has developed into a major national concert promoter. The announcement today of a £1.65m grant of stage two Capital funding from Arts Council England means it can develop the venue considerably.

Band On The Wall is owned and operated by Inner City Music, which has charitable status. The press release explains:

"The Capital funding will allow Band on the Wall to significantly enhance its facilities for learning and participation activity and performance, and the expanded building will be a space for the public to experience both music from around the world, and participate in programmes that explore and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the local area.”

"The expansion plans see the main venue capacity increase from 350 to 500, significantly improved facilities for education and community engagement programmes, and the Picturehouse Bar remodeled with external terrace space increased and a new small second venue for emerging artists.

"The planned learning complex will include a rooftop A/V suite, allowing young people and education participants to create new work by engaging with international touring artists.

"The new learning spaces will be home to Band on the Wall’s improved archive facilities, enabling the organisation to better catalogue its rich library of historical content. Selected archive materials will continue to be exhibited throughout the venue.

"The Cocozza building is one of only a few remaining structures from the days of the Victorian Smithfield Market. Inner City Music is in the final stages of negotiating the purchase of the building and, subject to funding, the building façade will be saved and fully restored."

LINK: Band On The Wall

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REVIEW: Phronesis - Walking Dark at Pizza Express Jazz Club

Jasper Hoiby at Dean Street, June 2018
Photo credit and © Mochles Simawi

REVIEW: Phronesis - Walking Dark
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, 15 June 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)

Phronesis’s 2012 album Walking Dark was a watershed moment for the trio. A powerful sequence named after a series of concerts played in complete darkness after bassist Jasper Høiby’s sister went blind, it brought a new emotional impetus to their work. Significantly extending the scope of the group, it defined the elements of their chemistry and catalysed their future reactions, crystallising their transition into one of the most formidable power trios in contemporary jazz.

As part of a celebration of Edition Records' 10th Anniversary, Phronesis played a ‘Déjà Vu’ residency of five concerts over three days at Pizza Express.

Walking Dark was at the mid-point of the series and the second show of the evening at 10.44pm on a Friday night in Soho, down in the basement among the smell of tomato and cracked black pepper. The audience was young and enthusiastic, breaking into applause and even stomping and whooping at points. One couple had flown over from Hamburg especially to attend all five concerts. Another guy professed to have seen Phronesis 25 times, which the Hamburgers said made them feel a bit less crazy.

“This is one of the most intense things I’ve ever done,” admitted Jasper Høiby, “an out-of-body experience for me personally. Five albums, back to back, note for note, no improvising – we don’t like improvising. If you hear of anybody improvising, yeah, send them out…” It’s a good joke, but Walking Dark is rife with tight unison passages and a significant portion of the title track must be played pretty much note for note. This underlines the unity of the trio. Even the solos are played as a trio. The bass punches up the neck, the drums are in your face. No swing, no straight-ahead, angular as hell, driven and intense. Høiby’s chordal articulation on the double bass gives the others enhanced space for harmonic and rhythmic freedom that lets the group sound both stridently angular and warmly melodic at the same time.

Anton Eger at Dean Street, June 2018
Photo credit and © Mochles Simawi
It’s worth remembering that when Walking Dark was released in 2012 bassist Jasper Høiby was still seen as the ‘leader’ of the seven-year old group. Pianist Ivo Neame hadn’t joined until the second album in 2009 (replacing Magnus Hjorth), and drummer Anton Eger wasn’t on the 2010 live album (when Mark Guiliana stepped in). Walking Dark was the first time they had split the writing credits, Høiby with six tunes and Neame and Eger with three each. Since then it’s pretty much evened out three ways. I should note that they were playing these albums in their entirety with no charts and no printed set lists – shaming us mortals who can barely remember at what point Madame George comes on Astral Weeks.

Ivo Neame at Dean Street, June 2018
Photo credit and © Mochles Simawi

Ivo Neame’s compositions Passing Clouds and Charm Defensive are among the most abstract and darkly scintillating selections on the album. In six years they’ve taken some of the blue notes out of the studio versions, with a bit more classically-tinged harmony but still a typically jazz flavour. Ninth up, Anton Eger’s tune Zieding is a Phronesis fan favourite and a highlight of the album, euphoric and accessible with an infectious joie de vivre. More than ever, the trio looked like they were enjoying playing together, with Anton grabbing a tambourine and whacking the kit with it while head-banging.

As midnight approached, credit card devices started to go round and drinks began to drain as the concert entered the closing stretch of the album. After the excitement of Zieding, it was a little weird to carry on and play out with these darker textures. Beautiful, but Høiby acknowledged it was a journey, laconically commenting on the difference between album sequencing and live sets. Tongue-in-cheek, with a verbal shrug, he reflected, “an album is a body of work, typically ten songs. When you play a gig you often make a set list according to what works. It’s different. I don’t know! It’s just different…”

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

LINKS: CD Review of Walking Dark by Chris Parker
Jasper Hoiby previews Phronesis' first dark gig at Brecon in 2011
Phronesis preview the 2018 Deja Vu series

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INTERVIEW: Coen Molenaar (Dutch band Tristan, UK Tour Dates Jul-Sep 2018)

Tristan - with Evelyn Kallansee, vocalist, and keyboards player Coen Molenaar far right.
Publicity photo

Jazz-funksters Tristan are the latest band to visit the UK through the Going Dutch project, organised by the Jazz Promotion Network with support from Dutch Performing Arts. (UK tour dates below). The band has released three albums and has already made quite an impression on UK audiences on previous visits with its energetic sound that draws on classic Acid Jazz and features singer Evelyn Kallansee. Rob Adams asked Tristan’s keyboards player, Coen Molenaar, to explain more about the band – which takes its name from drummer, Sebastiaan Cornelissen’s son’s middle name; it was the first thing that came to Cornelissen’s mind when he was put on the spot by a promoter.

LondonJazz News: Tristan has been around in some form since 2003 but took some time to get to its current form; can you give us the background to this?

Coen Molenaar: The idea for the band started in 2003 when the drummer, Sebastiaan Cornelissen met Frans Vollink, who plays the bass, and myself. We were in a recording studio to play on the album release of a guitar player from Luxembourg. It instantly felt as if we had been playing together for ages! But it took until 2014 for the band to find the right singer: Evelyn. That same year the first album, Full Power, was released.

LJN: You toured with Randy Brecker in the early days; what effect did working with him have on your music?

CM: As you can hear in quite a few of our songs, we all love the musical era that produced the Brecker Brothers and were already influenced by them when our rhythm section played with Randy. We did a couple of small tours here in Europe with him, and he's also a guest soloist on a couple of songs. Randy is very supportive and enthusiastic about our music and that helps us feel that we’re on the right track.

LJN: What is the group’s musical philosophy?

CM: We love to give the albums a live vibe so, the philosophy is: just play! Drums, bass and keys are recorded in the studio together, in one take, to keep it vibrant and direct. Also during a live performance it is the same philosophy: just play! No fooling around, giving all your energy and inspire the audience. (That's actually why the first CD is entitled Full Power).

LJN: Who composes the tunes and songs and how do they come together?

CM: Lucky band we are! Frans, Coen and Sebastiaan all write songs. They all write separately, then Evelyn, our vocalist gets the songs in her e-mail from all the guys and writes lyrics. Once in a while, a guest singer writes stuff too. It’s nice to have this variety of composers in one band.

LJN: Steve Lukather, of Toto, has been very generous in his praise for Tristan, describing your music as the best of the 1970s brought into the current age. How did you make the connection with him?

CM: Sebastiaan, the drummer, was a big Toto fan when he was young. He got in contact with their drummer, Jeff Porcaro, who thought Sebastiaan was very talented. Jeff was going to give him some lessons, but unfortunately Jeff died. This was a big blow for the band. Ever since then, Sebastiaan has sent Steve Lukather all the music he recorded and when Steve heard Tristan he was so enthusiastic and wrote Sebastiaan a long e-mail… we are sooo very proud and grateful about what he said. We’ll never forget that moment!

LJN: Do you have plans for a new album?

CM: After making an album a year for four years we needed a little break, but album five will be released spring 2019.

LJN: What would you like the audience to take away from the gig (aside from CDs)?

CM: We want the audience to leave our concerts feeling charged with positive energy, inspired and longing for more!

Rob Adams has been working with JPN and Dutch Prforming Arts (PodiumkunsteNL) to help promote the Going Dutch bands. Going Dutch is set to continue into 2019

Tour dates:

1 July: Colchester Arts Centre Jazz Club
2 July: Pizza Express, Holborn, London
6 July: Harrogate Festival
13 July: Tall Ships Stage, Sunderland
29 September: The Brook, Southampton
30 September: Wall2Wall, Abergavenny


LINK: Tristan's website

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REVIEW: David Byrne - American Utopia at New Theatre Oxford

David Byrne onstage at New Theatre, Oxford, 2018
Drawing © Geoff Winston 2018. All Rights Reserved

David Byrne, American Utopia
(New Theatre Oxford, 14 June 2018. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

In the cosy setting of Oxford's old-style, proscenium arch New Theatre the opening concert of David Byrne's UK tour of American Utopia was impressive. Impressive for its staging, its ambitious concept integrating complex choreography with live musical execution, achieved because all the musicians are wireless hence completely mobile onstage, and for the excellence of Byrne's material, focused on the recent album (from which the tour takes its name) and also dipping in generously to the Talking Heads songbook.

While American Utopia expresses that oblique slant on the everyday and on the political which defined Talking Heads' unique position in the alternative scene of the late '70s and '80s, Byrne has moved on ambitiously in the way he has thought about presentation and this is what gives this live show – and it is a show, rather than a gig – its character. The opening moments, when the walls on three sides of the stage were mechanically raised from ground level to form a floor-to-ceiling chain mail curtain around the stage, were a statement of sophisticated intent. A low spot picked out Byrne sitting at a simple, black-topped table on the stark stage, disconcertingly holding a model brain, as he set the dramatic tone with Here.

Byrne was joined first by his two singers and then by the full band of musicians – six percussionists, bass and lead guitar – all dressed in light grey Kenzo suits throughout the performance. Annie B Parson's exuberant choreography was imposed with military precision, simultaneously offering the contradictions of freedom and discipline to the free-to-roam musicians. Circular and rectangular formation patterns coalesced and dissolved in ever-changing groupings, echoing the traditions of the old-time military bands.

Dramatic theatrical devices were utilised. During a joyous rendition of Once in a Lifetime – one of several Talking Heads favourites which delighted the audience – only hands and limbs were extended surreally through the chain mail walling, recalling the Can Do Dance Company's staging of And Who Shall Go To The Ball? (with its score by Scott Walker).

Lighting was employed with exemplary restraint to maximum effect, with all performers forming a line across the width of the stage and, bathed in red light, slowly moved forward to enhance the uncomfortable political observation lurking in Dog's Mind. In Blind, giant shadows of Byrne and his band were thrown on to the stage's back wall. During Bullet, an eerily nonchalant, yet painstaking reflection on the course of a bullet into its victim (it brings to mind Kennedy's assassination, amongst others), Byrne was alone on stage next to a bare-bulbed standard lamp.

Byrne's voice is, if not the same, certainly as good as it ever was – crisp, emphatic, quirkily idiosyncratic, and his co-musicians rose to the challenge of infusing each song with dynamic, percussive energy. Byrne's songwriting is also as strong as it ever was, with new repertoire sitting comfortably in tandem with classics. The non-stop medley was the vehicle for a melting pot of gleeful virtuosity and passionate projection, with each musician given full rein as they broke out for solo bursts. Byrne, too, briefly took up guitar – a red acoustic for Burning Down The House.

Byrne describes his American Utopia project as a coming-to-terms with the successes and failures of the historic and future American Dream, and the live American Utopia experience is a coming to terms with the possibilities of presenting cultural challenge through the medium of a song and dance-theatrical proposition, at the same time capable of throwing the cards up in the air and just enjoying the possibilities – reasons not only to be cheerful (Byrne's tribute to Ian Dury's song is a side project), but for the ecstatic audience to bring the ensemble back for three explosive songs, including Dancing Together, with lyrics entirely from the mouth of disco fanatic, Imelda Marcos, and Janelle Monaé's Hell You Talmbout with its list of names linked to the Black Lives Matter campaign and rallies.

Giant shadows cast on stage wall during Blind; David Byrne, Oxford, 2018
Drawing © Geoff Winston 2018. All Rights Reserved

Musicians

David Byrne – vocals and guitar
Chris Giarmo and Tendayi Kuumba – vocals
Gustavo Di Dalva, Daniel Freedman, Aaron Johnston, Tim Keiper, Mauro Refosco, Davi Vieira – percussion
Karl Mansfield – portable keyboards
Angela Johnson-Swan – guitar
Bobby Wooten – bass guitar

Set list (via Setlist.fm)

Here
Lazy
I Zimbra
Slippery People
I Should Watch TV
Dog's Mind
Everybody's Coming to My House
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
Once in a Lifetime
Doing the Right Thing
Toe Jam
Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)
I Dance Like This
Bullet
Every Day Is a Miracle
Like Humans Do
Blind
Burning Down the House
Encore 1
Dancing Together
The Great Curve
Encore 2
Hell You Talmbout

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PREVIEW: Nik Bärtsch's Ronin (new album Awase and appearances at Love Supreme, Turner Sims and the EFG London Jazz Festival

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin
Photo credit: Jonas Holthaus/ ECM

Nik Bärtsch's new album Awase (ECM) is the first with his Ronin group in six years, and Ronin’s first with a new bass player in a new quartet formation. AJ Dehany, for LondonJazz News, caught up with the Swiss pianist and composer via Skype to discuss his distinctive ‘ritual groove music’.   

LondonJazz News: What has changed since the last Ronin album? There’s a continuation musically and personally but in that time a lot has changed in the world politically...  

Nik Bärtsch: I always found what you do is political in a sense. Even when you’re not ‘political’, what you do is always political because you do it in the community. The way we work to really create a community was always my statement of not being forced by the music industry to just follow the usual schedule of rehearsal-tour-album-tour. We took our time, played a lot in my club Exil in Zürich where we perform every Monday. We made fine tunings for the new social organism that Ronin is musically. Some of the new pieces are kind of complex to play and to feel neutrally free in the overlapping of the rhythmic and harmonic cycles.

LJN: Are you still calling it ‘ritual groove music’?  

NB:  It’s not so much a style than an attitude and a certain musical strategy. You find these ways of combining grooves, patterns, modular ways of playing but also this kind of urban flair of merging influences in all sorts of music, from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring to David Byrne’s and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. This is for me ritual groove music too. It is not an invention by me, it’s just a way how to hear and to look at music and music production. It has a lot to do with a certain ritualistic and tribal energy but also with a way of combining rhythms, patterns, and groove phenomena, groove as a collective ownership, as composer Heiner Goebbels once said.

LJN: There are paradoxes in the live approach mixing improvisation and composition to create ‘ritual’ music. How do you concentrate in the moment?  

NB: It’s a mixture of having strong training but then letting everything go and really listening. The structure gives us a lot of possibilities for micro-phrasing, ghost notes, little changes, inventions, dramaturgies that are spiralling up through the pickups. It needs a lot of group focus and training to finally just let it happen naturally. You cannot force these dramaturgies, they need to grow out of the band and the musical flow.

LJNIs this why you went for a live album format previously?  

NB: Exactly. The band has a certain live character and as we know bands need to play if they want to develop and they want to have a band sound. You really need to play a lot to expose yourself to an audience on several places. In the studio of course we have a specific sound that shows maybe a bit more purity in the compositions but the band is a live band and we wanted to show this aspect. I think that’s very important. It’s not a project, it’s a band.

LJN: You can hear on this album producer Manfred Eicher's characteristic live way of recording things: the articulation on the clarinet, the frets on the bass, and of course your vocal shouts. What are you indicating at those moments…to go to the next bit?  

NB: I’m just screaming because that’s just the simplest way; people don’t have to constantly look. Wherever they are in their trance playing their instrument we find the next curve to go into the next part. Sometimes you want that part a bit longer or sometimes something is developing very nicely and then you need a clear sign. That’s the idea of this modular music. You really have the possibility to change things, to stretch them or to shorten them, very much dramaturgically. I like it when you hear that. There’s nothing to hide: it should be real, and straight!

LJN: The new album’s title Awase - moving together - is a term from aikido. Is that still as important as ever to you in your practice?  

NB: Very much. We can change the view on musical physical interaction that we often learn in the music schools: from the interpreter embodiment to the improviser embodiment. Invent the music together by playing it naturally without scores although you maybe learned it with scores. You need to kick the ladder away that helped you to climb up the stairs of understanding the music mentally and physically. Then you get free in playing. You play the composition like and improvisation. That was the basic idea, so that in a way the band organism is the star and not an individual player.

LJN: To what extent do the other musicians follow those rituals outside of just the musical expression of those rituals?  

NB: We are in a very open community so it’s not ideologically fixed! We are not a commune but a musical tribe. We have our Monday session where we play together, we eat together, we have monthly meetings where we talk about things that are socio-musically important for the band. As you know, it’s difficult to keep a band together more than ten years! So this is actually very important for us to talk about all the needs and wishes and the goals and perspectives we have together, then finally you can hear in the music this trust between each other.

LJN: How the important was the departure of bass player Björn Meyer? Does this affect the choices that you make compositionally?  

NB: I like Björn very much. We still sometimes perform with him as a guest and he did his solo shows in my own club in Zürich. He’s still a very good friend but in that time because of a private situation we changed and Thomy Jordi and him were also there already good friends. Thomy plays completely differently from Björn. He likes a more reduced pop/rock way of really playing the pattern while Björn brought a lot of ghost notes and notes in a certain way of subdivision. It’s a fundamental change in the basics of the whole music.

LJN: Does the notion of ‘rhythmic games’ that you’ve played with in the past have a different approach to your own are you writing specifically with the musicians in mind or do you have an idea and then try and fit it to the musicians?   

NB: The drummer Kaspar Rast and I have played together since we are kids. I learn a lot from him. I know how he is playing things and I try to challenge him constantly. I know the band very well and know what the players can do. For example, with the bass clarinet, not a lot of players can do what Sha does; it’s a specific percussive technique, beatboxing on the clarinet. The pieces are composed and should be coherent and formally clear without the band in the sense that the content of the composition should be strong enough but we also want to have the band as an organism that has a certain character and a certain freedom to develop the pieces.

LJN: There is an academic called Holger Hennig, who has mathematically proven how when two or more players improvise whatever they play will affect everything that happens elsewhere in the improvisation. He’s mathematically proven how a decision early on will affect something later on.  

NB: That’s what I admired in some really interesting people who were composing, improvising and also creating band sounds. For example, Miles Davis always had this consciousness for the detail, the precision, but always in the context of the whole concert. In a Miles concert usually there was a huge dramaturgy so it was not like piece by piece, talking-next piece-talking-medium piece-talking-fast piece-talking-ballad. It was kind of a trip, and the trip could change but you knew there was a beat where you go to where you’d have strong and sensual direction for the whole concert that captures the audience. (pp)

Nik Bärtsch in 2016
Photo credit: Christian Senti/ ECM

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

Awase is released on ECM. Ronin will be playing at Love Supreme on 1 July, at Turner Sims Southampton on 9 November, and at Ronnie Scott’s during the EFG London Jazz Festival on 19 November.  

LINK: Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin

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NEWS: 2018 Ed Renshaw Music Award – applications invited

Ed Renshaw

Peter Bacon reports:

The 2018 Ed Renshaw Music Award, the bi-annual award in memory of the young musician whose guitar talents were acclaimed and who died far too young, is being offered for the third time and applications are needed in the next fortnight.

Set up in memory of Renshaw by his family and friends in 2012, the award is intended to help young musicians in South East London to achieve their potential. The Albany performing arts centre in Deptford, together with Peter Conway Management and, for the first time this year, Youth Music, are behind the award.

PREVIOUS WINNERS

The first winners in 2014 were drummer David Dyson and singer/songwriter Lucy Cait. In 2016 there were three winners: singer/songwriter/guitarist Jay Johnson, DJ/producer Blinkz Virgo and singer/songwriter Megan Tuck.

BACKGROUND

The press release gives the background: “Ed Renshaw was a gifted musician. He was born in Greenwich in 1981 and went to Thomas Tallis School. At the age of 10 he discovered the guitar, decided that music was to be his life, and worked at it with total commitment. He had a rare talent for the instrument, equally fluent in classical, jazz and other styles. But he also struggled bravely against bouts of depression until tragically one ended his life in 2011.”

Winners of the award not only receive cash prizes of between £1,000 and £3,000 to help fund their careers, but also mentoring and industry support from Peter Conway Management, and space to practise and perform at the Albany, as well as artist development support.

Winners will also be a part of four ‘Evenings for Ed’: charity gig events at the Albany, taking place from Wednesday 31 October to Saturday 3 November with headline acts to be announced later this year.

The award is for young musicians, whether they be solo artists or in a group, between the ages of 16 and 25 who live in South East London. The judging panel is made up of representatives from the Albany, Peter Conway Management and Ed’s family and friends. They are looking for artists who not only display musical talent and performance skills, but also original music, savvy business plans and a passion to forge a successful musical career.

HOW TO APPLY

Application forms can be found on The Albany website. Applications close on Thursday 28 June. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by the awards panel on Saturday 14 July.

LINKS: 

The announcement of the award

Ed Renshaw R.I.P.

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