NEWS: Scarborough 2018 announces first names

The Gareth Lockrane Big Band
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

Scarborough Jazz Festival (28-30 September 2018) has lined up a pair of star-studded big bands to fill the Scarborough Spa Grand Hall, winner of the Jazz Venue of the Year prize in the Parliamentary Jazz Awards.

The Gareth Lockrane Big Band and the Stan Sulzmann Neon Orchestra will be providing the brass punch, and they line up alongside familiar names like Alan Barnes, Dave Newton, Tony Kofi, Nigel Price and John Etheridge
.
Visiting international artists are Leila Martial, a singer from France, and Woody Black 4, a clarinet quartet from Vienna. There will be tributes to singers Peggy Lee and Billie Holiday from Jo Harrop and Vimala Rowe, respectively.

As part of the Jazz North Introduces scheme the young experimental Manchester-based quartet Andchuck will be playing, and other artists confirmed include the all-female septet Nerija and the Matt Ridley Quartet.

Earlybird weekend tickets are now on sale (£90 until 30 June).

LINK: Scarborough Jazz Festival website

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REVIEW: Mulo Francel and Friends Mocca Swing Album Launch at A-Trane Berlin

L-R: Sven Faller, Robert Kainar, Mulo Francel, David Gazarov
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
Mulo Francel and Friends Mocca Swing Album Launch
(A-Trane, Berlin. 30 Janury 2018. Review and iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney)

“Mulo Francel and Friends.” The name might suggest a hastily assembled pick-up band. But this group, based in Munich, knows its repertoire from deep and plays it almost entirely from memory. It proved a very committed and thoroughly played-in unit.

With gentle irony they declared themselves proud to have made the journey together all the way up to the German capital. It is a group which has many ways of pleasuring the listener with melody. Band-leader Mulo Francel (tenor and soprano sax, and clarinet) talked about how they occupy the area between jazz and world music, but perhaps the most interesting thing about these four friends is that they bring such different musical heritages to this band.


David Gazarov

Possibly the most unusual heritage is that of pianist David Gazarov. He is originally from Baku in Azerbaijan. He is from the same generation of Baku-born musicians as pianist Amina Figarova and singer-pianist Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, but he is of Armenian heritage, a minority group in Azerbajjan,  and left for Moscow as a young man . He has now been a major presence on the scene in Munich for over a quarter of a century, and last night demonstrated that he is equally grounded in Chopin and in Bill Evans. He can go off into solo peregrinations from either starting-point, but is also a major asset in a band as the conversation expands and the intensity builds.

"Story-teller" is one of the most overworked metaphors in music, but Sven Faller genuinely, literally is one. He has published a personal memoir of short prose pieces entitled Night Music, which takes a wry look at some of the curious characters he met in his time playing in New York, and also explains some of the ironies, discontinuities and unexpected twists in his own family history. His narrative craft comes across well in this book, just as it does in an interview from 2014 with him that Alison Bentley did for us about his role as bassist in Elf Trio, and in the fascinating introductions he made to his own tunes. And, yes, his playing tells a story too. Robert Kainar from Salzburg is a top-flight drummer, full of creative ideas.

One of those tunes from Sven Faller, Laqueur, brought a real highlight of the evening. Mulo Francel switched from the tenor saxophone, where he mostly plays in a muscular extrovert style, but can also do an Ike Quebec-ish ballad, and from fast-flowing and fluent soprano sax to the clarinet. This was where he really shone. He has a really special sound on the instrument, with a beautifully focused tone, which – counter-intuitively – is particularly rich in the throat register. He plays all kinds of chromatic enclosures, as if inspired by the central European tárogató players.

Dave Gelly has described the "disarming" charm of the album well in his Observer review. I just wish we could have heard more of Francel on the clarinet.

Mocca Swing is released on ACT

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CD REVIEW: Mehmet Polat Trio - Ask Your Heart



Mehmet Polat Trio - Ask Your Heart
(Home Records. CD Review by Gail Tasker)

Ask Your Heart is the second album by the genre-defying Mehmet Polat Trio, consisting of Mehmet Polat on oud, Dymphi Peeters on kora and Sinan Arat on ney. Released on the Home Records label, based in Liege in Belgium, the album weaves a warm tapestry of sound that invites the listener on a spiritual jazz journey that is well worth taking.

The kora originates from West Africa; the oud dates back to medieval Persia; the ney is a vertical wooden flute from the Middle East and probably one of the oldest instruments still in use. Whilst these are traditional instruments with extensive musical histories, the group mixes modal jazz with Balkan, Middle Eastern, and African musical influences. The result is an intriguing and unique textural soundscape.

Lyrical, reflective melodies combine with intense improvisations and fast, percussive rhythms. In pieces like Untouched Stories and Dance It Out, the kora and oud join together in rhythmic counterpoint, providing a steady movement that underlays the emotive, out-of-time lines of the ney. In other numbers such as Serenity, the players join in unison on rapid passages which grow in energy and passion.

The trio’s mastery over their instruments includes some extended techniques that provide extra excitement. In Everything Is In You, for example, Polat takes an adventurous improvisatory route, using the lowest strings of the oud to create deep, bass-like vibrations. In Mardin, Peeters taps a rhythm on the body of the kora that pushes the music forward. There are even some vocals, as in Evening Prayer, where what sounds like an Islamic evening prayer is sung and answered back instrumentally by Arat.

Ask Your Heart presents an unusual blend of intimate, exploratory jazz that deserves to be heard more widely.

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CD REVIEW: Josh Nelson – The Sky Remains



Josh Nelson - The Sky Remains
(Origin Records: LC29049 CD review by Nick Davies)

The Sky Remains is pianist Josh Nelson’s tribute to his hometown Los Angeles. Each of the album’s 10 tracks is a story around a theme with references to the city. From songs like Run, which is the story of runner Mack Robinson who came second in the 200 metre dash at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, to Pacific Ocean Park about the nautical theme park located on a pier in Santa Monica. Every song is a story: lesser known and mysterious tales delivered by an excellent composer.

This release boasts a strong line-up of musicians, including Anthony Wilson on guitar and vocals, Kathleen Grace and Lillian Sengphiehl on vocals, Josh Johnson on alto sax and flute, Chris Lawrence on trumpet and flugelhorn, Brian Walh on Bb clarinet and bass clarinet, Larry Goldings on Hammond B3 organ, Alex Bonehma on bass, Dan Schnelle on drums, and percussion by Aaron Serfaty.

So, does Nelson achieve the telling of the story in a jazz setting whilst creating a sense of mystery in this ode to LA?

The first track Bridges and Tunnels is, like the other nine pieces, a standout, stellar performance. The song tells the story of Griffith J Griffith who shot his wife in a drunken paranoid rage, and to create this atmosphere Nelson uses a cinematic score. He starts on the piano, repeating the tune to build the emphasis before Nelson is joined by Grace on vocals. This deepens the mystery and draws the listener even further into Griffith’s world… a sense of paranoia. At this point, all the instruments crescendo with vocals and band intertwining; the duet between Nelson and Grace is never lost.

The Sky Remains is about the future direction of LA, looking back at its past. The live version of this will include an audio visual element. The scene for great music set in Bridges and Tunnel is not diminished here. Once again, Nelson starts on the piano with a melody that can only be described as beautiful, followed by Grace’s vocal and the other members of the band. With influences from some of the great artists Nelson has worked with in the past, like Natalie Cole, this song magically transports the listener with every genius note.

The album continues along these lines and the standard does not drop, every song is played to perfection, each as good as the last. Even the two covers are delivered incredibly well. In answer to my earlier question: yes, it certainly delivers!

The press release states that, with The Sky Remains Nelson is paying homage to his home city of LA; to me it is more of a statement. The quality of this album is up there with the best albums of the last 12 months and further develops the modern sound of jazz coming from the West Coast of America these days. Both original music and covers, like Elliot Smith’s Pitseleh, are owned by the band and seamlessly delivered. The Sky Remains is a future masterpiece.

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INTERVIEW: Marius Neset - Kings Place 3 February

Marius  Neset
Source: artist website
Norwegian saxophone virtuoso and innovative composer MARIUS NESET is one of the most prominent musicians to have emerged from Norway in recent years. He will be at Kings Place with his group on Saturday 3 February. Interview with Tomasz Furmanek:

LondonJazz News: Why does Norway have such a thriving jazz scene?

Marius Neset: There are many great music schools and conservatories in Norway, and the country has a long musical tradition. Norwegian folk music is rich and kept alive, and we have some great composers too, like Edvard Grieg, Fartein Valen, Ole Bull and more. Therefore many jazz musicians were able to incorporate the typical Norwegian music and its sounds into their way of playing jazz – like, for example, Jan Garbarek or Arild Andersen, and I think that, consequently, has influenced most of the young players nowdays too.

LJN: How different is your music from music of previous generations of Norwegian musicians?

MN: It’s a little hard for me to answer that question, but I’m not sure if I’m a “typical” Norwegian jazz musician – whatever that is! It’s not something that I think a lot about. I’m influenced by lots of music from all over the world. Lately I’m highly influenced by composers like Olivier Messiaen, Gustav Mahler and Schönberg. I love being in the mountains and I often say that silence is music as well. So, maybe being from Norway makes me feel this way!

LJN: In what direction or directions is contemporary music headed?

MN: To be honest I don’t know, as music always takes me to new places that I wasn’t prepared for! Right now I’m composing a new work for London Sinfonietta and myself, and I think it has taken a very interesting direction, especially my approach to harmonies in that work is something new in my music. I’m always listening to new music, studying music, practising, composing and performing, and all these things affect me very much when it comes to which direction to go!

LJN: Django Bates became your mentor at Copenhagen’s Rhythmic Music Academy. What was the experience of working with him like for you?

MN: It was a fantastic experience, with one of the most inspiring musicians I have ever met. He opened many doors for me in terms of both playing and composing, and I’m very inspired by his approach to composing.

LJN: Did the Danish school of jazz influence you?

MN: I think every place where I meet new musicians in some way influences me. There were many great musicians at the school. I studied together with Anton Eger, Petter Eldh, Magnus Hjorth, Morten Schantz and many more, and we learned a lot from each other all the time. It was a very creative period. To be honest I don’t know how it has influenced me, as what I learned most was from studying on my own. Of course Django Bates had a lot of influence on me. I cannot say if Danish school is much different from other schools in Europe, because I haven’t studied in other European schools. I was in Berklee when I was 17. That was a little different in the way that the Danish school gave me more freedom. The American one was based more on a programme that everyone had to follow. I think both ways of teaching were good for me.

In the end what really influences me is what I am listening to, what I am studying, who I play with – composing and being creative – and it was like that when I was in school too. The most important thing is to follow your heart and to do what you want to do, which is what I am doing now and did when I was studying. So, in terms of what style my own music is and how I play, I am not sure the school itself has influenced me very much.

LJN: What is the inspiration and idea behind  the new album Circle of Chimes ?

MN: To me, it’s the most personal album I have ever done, and maybe for the first time I have done an album where the main inspiration for the music were things that happened in my life and around me. It took me a long time to create this rhythmic circle that starts the album on tubular bells, but that was a very strong idea which became a fundamental part of at least four to five songs on that album. Perhaps it’s not always easy to hear it, but, for example, the song Life Goes On is based on that rhythmic idea – even if I have taken that pattern away from it. You know… In the end I don’t care about these concepts, it’s just a tool that can help me in creating music and gives me original ideas. I will always, at some point, go and break my own rules and let my ears decide what sounds best.

LJN: Classical cellist Andreas Brantelid seems to have quite a central role in the music too.

MN: Andreas is one of the most musical people I have ever met. His way of phrasing and the control he has over the instrument are just incredible. For example, the way he plays the intro to Prague’s Ballet! I find it very inspiring how he forms the melodies and uses dynamics in all registers, still making the music breathe with a nerve! That is hard to explain!

LJN: Downbeat magazine selected you as the only European resident for their “25 for the future” list of young musicians destined to shape the future of jazz.

MN: That was a great honour, which I totally wasn’t prepared for. There are so many great young musicians everywhere today, so I am very thankful when things like that happen. On the other hand, it’s not something that I’m thinking much about. I’m too busy with the music and I’m focused on developing my music practically all the time. But when it comes to my attention that people like it and they tell me it touches them or gives them something special, that’s a fantastic feeling.

LJN: Our writer Dan Paton said of Snowmelt with the London Sinfonietta that is has been the most successful of your works “in achieving effective contrasts and space". Does that sound reasonable?

MN: I’m very proud of that record, and the concert with LSO at St. Luke’s in 2016, it was really a highlight to me. London Sinfonietta played my music so fantastically, and I’m really happy and excited about the fact that we are going to do a new project together very soon. I’m composing it at the moment. It will be performed on the opening concert of The Kongsberg Jazz Festival in Norway this year.

LJN: We will see you very soon performing at Kings Place in London. What will you play?

MN: We will play music mainly from my new album Circle of Chimes, with a few older songs as well. I’m looking forward very much to the gigs next week and to coming back to The UK!

King’s Place , Hall One, Saturday 3 February,  8pm.

LINK: BOOKINGS

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PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: ARQ (Alison Rayner Quintet) (2018 tour dates)

Alison Rayner Quintet
Photo Credit: Jane C Reid
Bassist ALISON RAYNER has a tour coming up with her quintet, ARQ, with Deirdre Cartwright on guitar, Steve Lodder on piano, Diane McLoughlin on saxophones and Buster Birch on drums. She talked to Alison Bentley about her roles as musician, composer, bandleader and tour organiser.


LondonJazz News: You’ve recently finished a 30-date tour, and you’re about to start a new tour. Will the music be from your new album, A Magic Life?

Alison Rayner: I’m currently working on what will be our third album and these tour dates, including the Soho Pizza Express on 21 February, will feature some of this new material along with music from A Magic Life and August.

My pieces are about places, events, always personal experiences. For example, one of the pieces on A Magic Life was about being in India – the rhythms, sounds and magnificent elephants. And a new piece invokes Australia, where I was last year – the hot sun, orange earth and sounds of the bush. I love creating atmospheres and audiences often comment on the accessibility of the music – as well as its intensity and depth. I love the spontaneity of improvisation in jazz but I grew up with groove-based pop, soul and funk in the '60s and '70s, later hearing more acoustic folk, melodic world and classical themes; my pieces reflect all these influences.

Having received such great reviews for A Magic Life and really enjoying what must have been around 35 dates touring the album, I’m looking forward to developing new music and introducing ARQ to a wider audience in 2018.

I’ve never really had a plan – it’s been organic.

LJN: How do you create such a positive atmosphere at your gigs?

AR: Strangely, we’re told that a lot! We’re playing original music which is personal to me, like songs without words. There is always a story in the music, so I try to share that. I like it when musicians tell you the reason why they wrote a piece – what the feeling was behind it – it makes it more accessible. My pieces are written about things I care about and audiences say it makes them feel more engaged in the music. And as a band we’re very communicative – we are friends and this resonates. We’ve played together for a long time and this comes across when we’re playing. We have fun and it’s a bit like hosting a party where you want everyone to feel welcome and included, draw them into the music.

LJN: Has the band’s personnel influenced the way you write?

AR: I always write with them in mind and they are amazing! I am very lucky to have four inspiring players who are also extremely supportive. It’s lovely when they like a piece I have written and they often have great ideas to contribute to its development – I’m lucky.

Alison Rayner
Photo Credit: Jane C Reid

LJN: Tell me about your new tour.

AR: We’re returning to Birmingham Jazz first – lovely people there – then it’s first the time for us in Shrewsbury; we then return to the Pizza Express in Dean Street – such a great London venue. We sold out in June and I’m hoping for another capacity crowd there! Chichester Jazz Club will be a new one for us and then a return to the lovely Oxford Spin. It’s great to have a run of gigs, to build up the momentum and vibe.

LJN: Then London at the Vortex, Bromley, Poplar... and the Naturist Jazz Festival?

AR: That’s a good one! They have a great jazz and real ale festival in Orpington. Fortunately, there’s no pressure to strip off, though I guess it wouldn’t be so bad for the drummer or bass player… They have a real crowd of jazz enthusiasts there. I’m really pleased that ARQ are included in Swanage Jazz Festival in July as well – guitarist Nigel Price has organised it for the first time and it looks like a terrific line up. We have a gig in Hamburg in September, so I’m building other dates around that. When we toured in the '80s with the Guest Stars, we had some of our best audiences in Germany. European audiences are very open and appreciative so it will be fantastic to introduce ARQ to them. In November we have dates in the North, including Newcastle – and Scotland for the first time. I’m half Scots, with family there, so this has personal importance.

LJN: How do you organise a tour?

AR: With difficulty! Admin’s not my forte but it’s necessary and time-consuming. When I toured in the Guest Stars in the '80s, I was (just) the bass player and I don’t think I fully appreciated the work involved in the organisation. We toured extensively for five years, playing loads of international festivals, clubs such as the Blue Note in New York and were the first British band to headline Ronnie’s. Now I know it is quite a process: contacting venues and promoters, following up, negotiating dates and fees, then on to the practical arrangements such as travel and accommodation. We’re not so young now and we do like our comforts!

LJN: You don’t sleep in your car then?

AR: We certainly don’t! AirBnb has been a revelation. Hotels are expensive and if we have a few dates in a particular area it’s nice to be able to come and go, cook a meal, return to the same place each night. It also means you can have a lie-in! Touring is the most relaxing part for me and that’s when all your admin and organisation pays off. You can play! What I find most tricky is chasing after gigs. You can’t always get hold of people and they can’t always get back to you straight away. It can feel disheartening and sometimes it feels like you’ve not done enough. I try to keep a sense of perspective and keep on with what is positive – and not worry about the rest.

LJN: How important is funding?

AR: Unfortunately, it’s extremely important. Many jazz clubs are run by volunteers and exist without any support. They can find it hard to pay the sort of fees we need. The demise of Jazz Services has been awful for everybody. Their National Touring Support Scheme was great – it gave you a bit extra so you could supplement the fees, pay for flyers or hire a van. Jazz Services supported the recording and touring of my first album August in 2014. We also received Arts Council support in 2016 towards some of the recording and touring costs of A Magic Life; and additionally, our ‘Friends of ARQ’ generously sponsored the first run of CD manufacture. Funding is highly competitive and jazz is not properly supported here, unlike other European countries. There is a small pot of money – and many artists needing support. It’s a tricky business – we could all do with more money in the jazz world!

LJN: How important is social media?

AR: I’ve been dragged into it! I haven’t got into Twitter yet but I do use Facebook for the group. It seems important to be doing it, but I don’t know if it gets more bums on seats. I imagine that, at the very least, it must help to raise profile and let people know what you’re doing. Word of mouth (call me old-fashioned) is still very effective. (pp)

ARQ 2018 dates:

FEBRUARY
9 Birmingham Jazz
10 Shrewsbury The Hive
16 Chichester Jazz Club
21 London Soho Pizza Express Jazz Club
22 Oxford Spin Jazz Club

MAY
3 Jazz Coventry
10 London Vortex Jazz Club
12 Bromley YMT

JUNE
22 Naturist Jazz & Real Ale Festival
28 Poplar Union (tbc)

JULY
13 Stourbridge Bonded Warehouse
14 Swanage Jazz Festival

SEPTEMBER
19-27 Touring Germany

NOVEMBER
21 Edinburgh Jazz Bar
22 Newcastle The Globe

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CD REVIEW: Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn – Echo In The Valley



Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn - Echo In The Valley
(Rounder Records. Review by John Marley.) 

Once in a generation, a musician appears who redefines an instrument's capabilities and takes it out of its comfort zone. We are drowning in a sea of ‘fastest players’ on YouTube, gathering millions of hits on their videos. These are usually minor tremors in an instrument's established core. Some artists create a complete seismic shift in the culture of their instrument. Allan Holdsworth did it on guitar, Charlie Parker did it on the saxophone and Béla Fleck has done it on the banjo. His music with The Flecktones and performances with artists such as Chick Corea has redefined the banjo in the modern era and given the instrument new avenues of repertoire and genre.

Echo In The Valley sees Fleck join forces with fellow banjo player and vocalist Abigail Washburn. The album is the follow up to their critically acclaimed debut and the music is arranged so that it is reproducible in a live setting. Some may be questioning why a review of this album is appearing on a jazz blog. It would be difficult to categorise the music as jazz, even if Fleck does have a pedigree in the genre. However, one thing that really strikes you when listening to this album is how folk music, blues and jazz are all so closely related that when they are performed with such confidence and consistency of sound, separating them seems almost vulgar.

The two banjoists take the listener on a journey that floats down a stream of styles and moods. Contrapuntal picking brings the album to life, taking the fundamentals of bluegrass but colouring them with discordances and atmospherically distant vocals. Take Me To Harlan has a soulful groove where one banjo leaves space for a percussive beat. The melody and progression hint at Billy Taylors’ much covered classic I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free. Washburn’s vocals are a subtle middle finger to the X Factor generation. There is no belting out chorus lines or vulgar vibrato. Instead the lyrics pull at the heart strings with a beautiful delicacy, achieving a response through the sincerity of their delivery.

Much of the material on the album has a sound that is uniquely American. The distorted slides and baron feel of Don’t Let It Bring You Down immediately evokes images of rolling fields leading to a great, impenetrable vastness. But it is this sense of being uniquely American that actually makes it uniquely universal. Much of the American DNA is rooted in the people who emigrated or were brought to the country over centuries and, therefore, the music is music of the world, yet it could only have formed in the USA. Nowhere on record is this more evident, or more gracefully presented than on Echo In The Valley.

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NEWS: Jazz Winners at the 2018 Grammys

Cécile McLorin Salvant
Publicity picture
And the winners from the jazz categories of last night's 2018 Grammys are:

BEST IMPROVISED JAZZ SOLO WINNER
Miles Beyond - John McLaughlin, soloist Track From: Live @ Ronnie Scott's (John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension)

BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM WINNER
Dreams And Daggers - Cécile McLorin Salvant

BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM WINNER
Rebirth - Billy Childs

BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE ALBUM WINNER
Bringin' It - Christian McBride Big Band

BEST LATIN JAZZ ALBUM WINNER
Jazz Tango - Pablo Ziegler Trio

LINK: The full list of jazz-related nominations is HERE

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REVIEW: We Out Here Album Launch at the Total Refreshment Centre

Kokoroko at the TRC

We Out Here Album Launch
(Total Refreshment Centre, 25-26 January 2018. Review by Leah Williams)

Independent, London-based record label Brownswood Recordings, belonging to new-music champion Gilles Peterson, was founded in 2006 and has prided itself on releasing great new music with no restraints ever since. Its latest endeavour, We Out Here, is “a primer on London’s bright-burning young jazz scene” that acts as “a window into the wide-eyed future of London’s musical underground”.

Featuring nine groups, including instantly-recognisable names like Ezra Collective and Moses Boyd, the line-up is a great representation of some of the biggest names from the capital’s burgeoning underground jazz scene. And if these sold-out shows are anything to go by, then this really is just the beginning of a scene set to explode.

The We Out Here project as a whole is a showcase of the capital’s creative youth, championing inclusivity, collectiveness and collaboration, which is fully embraced during the two-night launch at east London’s Total Refreshment Centre. Alongside the music, there is film, photography, live painting, DJ sets, food and more. This is a collective of people sharing a love and passion for what they do and who want to celebrate and lift one another.

"The overall show belonged to Nubya Garcia"
Photo : Brownswood Recordings
Both nights opened with a screening of the documentary made specifically for this project, We Out Here: A London Story by filmmaker Fabrice Bourgelle. It is an illuminating and inspiring watch, especially hearing the passion, drive and gratitude from the artists themselves. It also highlights what a close-knit group this is. As Nubya Garcia says at one point, “everyone’s making different music but it’s uplifting to all be in it together”.

Although there is much discussion about what “jazz” is, its different meanings to different people, and a suggestion that “improvisation” is a more suited term to take away any associated labels or preconceptions, it is also rightly pointed out that jazz, throughout the ages, has morphed and developed with the times precisely because it is a genre of the present and of the people. And that for every sound or scene created, there has been a community of musicians working together, learning from one another and celebrating each other behind it. The young musicians involved in We Out Here are no different. They are the new generation of jazz and, like others that have come before them, they’re building a community around a sound that is shared yet unique, born from tradition yet totally fresh.

Coming up through Tomorrow’s Warriors and Jazz Re:freshed gigs together, they are a family of musicians and the crossover of line-ups within the different groups only makes this more evident. It is natural to jam with each other, share musical ideas and create together, and different groups and sounds have emerged from this.

Six of the nine groups from the album performed over the two nights. On the first night, it was keys player extraordinaire Joe Armon-Jones, the man placing the tuba centre stage Theon Cross and Afrobeat collective Kokoroko. The crossover of players was particularly fluid on this night, with guitarist Oscar Jerome, drummer Moses Boyd and saxophonist Nubya Garcia all featuring across different groups.

On the second night, we were treated to Maisha, quartet TriForce (who have a particularly standout, guitar-focused sound) and Nubya Garcia, in the headline seat this time. Again, many familiar faces were around, with Joe Armon-Jones back and some other big names, such as bassist Daniel Casimir and Ezra Collective leader and drummer Femi Koleoso.

Each group brought fresh beats, creative improvisation, on-point playing and some serious sweat to their set. These were long evenings with each set almost an hour but the audience remained captivated throughout; yet another testament to how receptive a new, younger and more diverse crowd is becoming to this music, whether you want to label it “jazz” or not.

Although the amount of talent is almost overwhelming and there are sure to be big things in the futures of all artists involved, it’s hard not to feel like the overall show belonged somewhat to composer and saxophonist Nubya Garcia, one of only four women featured alongside the three Kokoroko front women. Introduced effusively as a queen, an empress, a beast… whatever, she is simply an outstanding player whose pure sound, energy and creativity is hypnotic. She features in almost every group’s line-up, often leading the way with her rich melodic sound and creative improvisations, but it is in her final headline spot of the showcase that her full, raw talent is unleashed.

There is no doubt that everyone featured here is “one” to watch and all of us who got the chance to attend this album launch may well have just participated in quite a historic moment in the development of the jazz scene.

We Out Here is officially released on 9 February on Brownswood

ALBUM TRACK LIST:

Maisha - Inside The Acorn
Ezra Collective - Pure Shade
Moses Boyd - The Balance
Theon Cross - Brockley
Nubya Garcia - Once
Shabaka Hutchings - Black Skin, Black Masks
Triforce - Walls
Joe Armon-Jones - Go See
Kokoroko - Abusey Junction

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TRIBUTE: Hugh Masekela (1939-2018) by Gwen Ansell

Hugh Masekela, Brecon Jazz Festival 2010
Photo credit and © William Ellis

Hugh Masekela: 1939-2018 – woke griot of African jazz. A tribute by Gwen Ansell

He led an astonishing life. Even after what seems like every media outlet in the world spending the past week narrating the career of horn player Hugh Ramapolo Masekela (who died on 23 January, aged 78, following a recurrence of prostate cancer) it still astounds us. Growing up in Johannesburg’s oldest township, Alexandra (nicknamed the ‘Dark City’ for the unlit gloom and gangsterism of its streets); receiving a trumpet from Louis Armstrong via Father Trevor Huddleston; playing in the King Kong pit band; marrying Miriam Makeba; scoring, as a barely known migrant, a US Billboard Number One with Grazing In The Grass – 50 years old this year; collaborating with Fela Kuti; calling out America on apartheid and its own stereotypes of Africa – each of these, alone (and there is more) is worth a book.

What, inevitably, has been lost in this intense focus on a most remarkable individual and his music is the context that fed his creativity. It takes a village to raise a child and that’s something Masekela himself never lost sight of: again and again in his 2004 autobiography Still Grazing  he invokes the African continent as his source of spiritual nourishment.

He wasn’t, as some commentators have said, “the father of South African jazz.” Those fathers had been working since before the 1930s and took him under their wings to learn: trumpeters like Elijah Nkwanyane and Banzi Bangani of the Merrymakers band in Springs: the first outfit with which Masekela – still a schoolboy – moonlighted. Masekela’s achievement was to take that venerable music and constantly update it over six decades, so it spoke to every subsequent generation of fans. Shortly before his final hospitalisation, he was planning collaborations with South African hip-hop artists.

Like Miles Davis before him, it wasn’t technique that made his music great. He was always a fine trumpeter, and in his mature years refined his skill to even higher levels. He was equally a powerful, evocative vocalist, something critics have discussed less. His vocalese drew from a very African musical paradigm: that there is, in fact, no fixed boundary between the music of the person and of the instrument. He played arpeggios on his vocal cords and with his distinctive on-stage moves too… “Whoo, whoo” goes the coal train (Stimela), flounce and pout goes Fela’s Lady… But what he said with that technique mattered more, as he defied genre boundaries to bring hope to South Africans at home, and harsh truths about life under apartheid to the world, and especially America.

That, too, had context. Masekela was one of a veritable army of South African musicians who volunteered to spread the word: his ex-wife Miriam Makeba; Jonas Gwangwa touring with the Amandla Cultural Ensemble; Dudu Pukwana and Louis Moholo Funk-ing Dem to Erico on the European avant-garde scene; Lucky Ranku, Pinise Saul, many more. In Botswana in the early 1980s, Masekela’s band Kalahari worked alongside the music unit of the revolutionary Medu Art Ensemble, which was destroyed by a murderous South African Defence Force raid on 14 June 1985. Masekela’s creative interweaving of Africa and America spoke particularly to those “coming into awareness of the real social verities and ready to go beyond Motown, Stax and bop [and] along comes a horn… just filled with the mellow African sun. Masekela… sounded on apartheid ‘here’ and ‘there’ and we said fuck them jazz nostalgiacs,” as Pablo Guzman put it in the Village Voice.

Because Africa always remained the centre of the trumpeter’s musical universe, he never relinquished the role of woke griot, even at the end. He lambasted South Africa’s post-liberation treatment of migrants from the rest of the continent: descendants of the migrants whose journeys to build apartheid’s gold and diamond economy he had memorialised on Stimela. He was equally scathing about an establishment that neglected to nurture artists while they lived, but shed copious public tears when they died. When some South African newspapers headlined Masekela’s death ‘the day the music died’, he probably wouldn’t have appreciated the epitaph.

Relentlessly hardworking and prolific, despite battles with addiction that might have incapacitated a smaller spirit, he left more than 50 albums (including compilations and collaborations) that still tell his stories. More, his legacy lives in the work of multiple younger South African trumpeters. They do not sound like him: he had a unique voice. But they all inhaled his music as they grew up. It was everywhere: on radio; blasting from the speakers on township stoeps; at concerts; dominating family record collections. We can honour his memory by appreciating their music while they still live. Here are a few to start with: Feya Faku; Prince Lengoasa; Lwanda Gogwana; Mandla Mlangeni; Sakhile Simani – all, in richly diverse ways, his heirs.

May his great spirit rest in peace: hamba kahle

Gwen Ansell is one of South Africa's leading jazz scholars, journalists, and educators,, and the author of Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music, and Politics in South Africa (2004)

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PHOTOS: Enzo Zirilli's Italian Songbook with Jason Rebello and Dario di Lecce at the Italian Cultural Institute in London

Enzo Zirilli
Photo credit Kat Pfeiffer

Sebastian writes:

Congratulations to producer Kat Pfeiffer (who also took these photographs) and instigator Enzo Zirilli for getting this event on 25 January 2018 off the ground. There is a whole Italian songbook representing the period from the 1950s onwards, and in the right circumstances it doesn't take much to get London's Italian community singing along with it, which - I am told they were doing lustily and rather beautifully by the end of the second set (lists below.) What I heard was the first half, in which Zirilli explained how deeply these songs have affected him throughout his life.

Musically there was much in this delicate and highly melodic repertoire to grab the attention, but what took the breath away was to hear Jason Rebello's wonderful way with the Fazioli piano which I am told is a relatively recent arrival at the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square, in London. It has an incredibly fine range of dynamic, and Rebello's light touch in the early songs. Special.

Enzo Zirilli, Dario di Lecce and Jason Rebello
Photo credit Kat Pfeiffer


Dario di Lecce and Jason Rebello
Photo credit Kat Pfeiffer

SET LISTS


Un giorno dopo l'altro (Tenco)
Le tue mani (P.Spotti)
4/3/43 (Dalla)
Chi tene 'o mare (P.Daniele)
Morricone' medley (Poverty/Deborah's theme)
Roma nun fa la stupida stasera

E la chiamano estate (B. Martino/F.Califano)
Tu che m'hai preso il cuor
Senza fine (G.Paoli)
E penso a te (Battisti/Mogol)
Amarcord (N.Rota)
Nel blu dipinto di blu (D.Modugno)
Azzurro (P.Conte)

Enzo Zirilli, Dario di Lecce and Jason Rebello
Photo credit Kat Pfeiffer

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REVIEW: Brotherhood of Breath at the 2018 South Coast Jazz Festival

The Brotherhood of Breath
Brotherhood of Breath: The Music of Chris McGregor
(Ropetackle Arts Centre. 26 January 2018. South Coast Jazz Festival. Review and iPhone snaps by Sebastian Scotney)

The question I found I was asking myself, and ever more insistently as Friday's rather special gig by the Brotherhood of Breath Reunion Band at the South Coast Jazz Festival proceeded, was: why on earth haven't they been asked to play at any recent festivals before this one? And that question instantly gave rise to another: why isn't this band at every festival?

Brotherhood of Breath has an incredible and infectiously joyful collective spirit, a shared legacy, and an authenticity which really mark it out. The entire performance had the feel of a celebration, and as a number of band-members and others kept repeating, the very fine, unique and characterful music by Chris McGregor which forms its repertoire deserves to be heard far more widely.

Back to those questions though. One answer for the under-exposure is probably that the band hasn't actually been heard that often. In reality, it has only re-formed in recent years to mark specific occasions, of which the most recent was a memorial for the vocalist Pinise Saul. But maybe there are deeper reasons. Like the fact that it represents London-exiled South African music rather than the music of the country itself. At least part of the significance of "Breath" is that it demonstrates the very deep roots that the exiles put down here, and their seminal influence on several generations of British musicians, of which the Loose Tubes generation, well represented on stage on this night, are just part of the story. There was a running gag from saxophonist and MC Frank Williams about how the tune Sweet as Honey was/is always called Sweet as Harry, referencing a one-time band stalwart, the much-missed Harry Beckett.

The two worlds are of the exile, the adopted and the native country, are separate, and that came across when there was total and bizarre confusion in the Q&A between Marcus Wyatt's South Africa-based Blue Note Tribute Orkestra (another band definitely in need of wider acknowledgment)  and... Robert Wyatt.

At the heart of everything: Steve Arguelles with
Michael Curtis Ruiz

The infectious energy of the band seemed to come from all kinds of places, but musically at the heart of everything was the pairing of drummer Steve Arguelles with bassist Michael Curtis Ruiz. Arguelles was phenomenal throughout. Tony Coe once said the reason he liked Arguelles' playing so much is that he "doesn't drum". That's right. He doesn't ever impose himself through volume, but his playing was flawless, and constantly inspired and anchored the entire 13-piece group. Alastair Gavin, the other member of the rhythm team is also a fine player, but has that characteristic of playing what is necessary and important, even at the risk of hardly being noticed.


A special moment:
Annie Whitehead as featured soloist (and dedicatee)
of Country Cooking

There was a wonderful moment when Arguelles and bassist Ruiz set up the groove for Country Cooking, a superbly taken feature by Annie Whitehead. But before she stepped forward to play, she stepped back into the half-light by the side of the stage, let the joy and the buoyancy of the music affect her – and danced.
One way to appreciate and to understand how much this music means is to watch Claude Deppa. He had explained that in South Africa, for any occasion, "when we are born, when we die,  get married – or divorced, we sing and we dance". Deppa was leading, directing from the back of the band with an astonishing sense of all that shared joy and understanding of the music.

So this was a gig which was remembrance, party, celebration, reunion, explanation, and music which is deeply necessary all rolled in to one.

This event is also a major feather in the cap for the South Coast Festival, now in its fourth year, and, I was told, with every evening gig having sold out. 

To end there can only be one question: now that Brotherhood of Breath have brought their joy to a first festival, which festival is going to welcome them next?

A photo call afterwards for Annie Whitehead, Frank Williams, Fyass Virji
Dave Devries and Dave Bitelli

BAND

Piano: Alastair Gavin
Bass: Michael Curtis Ruiz
Drums: Steve Arguelles

Trumpets: Dave Devries, Claude Deppa, Chris Batchelor
Trombones: Annie Whitehead, Fyass Virji
Saxophones: Chris Biscoe. Dave Bitelli, Julian Nicholas, Robbie Juritz, Frank Williams.

SET LIST - All compositions by Chris McGregor unless stated

Mandisa
Sejui - Peter Tholo Segona arr. McGregor
Bakwetha - Ernest Mothle arr. McGregor
Sea Breeze

Dakar
Country Cooking
Sweet as Honey
Mayibue
Amasi

Big G - George Lee arr. McGregor

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REVIEW: The Girls From Oz at Brasserie Zédel, Crazy Coqs

The Girls From Oz
Publicity picture
The Girls From Oz
(Brasserie Zedel, Crazy Coqs, 26 January 2018. Review by Brianna McClean)

Australia Day in London usually goes by without much notice, despite the 200,000 Australians who crowd the streets of this city. However, last night at Brasserie Zédel’s Crazy Coqs, Australia Day was celebrated enthusiastically by The Girls From Oz, a lively cabaret group. For most Australians, the 26th of January is a day of pride and joy… mixed with just a touch of embarrassment. From the twinkling Southern Cross and long afternoons on the beach to over-drinking and colonisation, Australian culture has much to celebrate and mourn. Fittingly, this is the impression last night’s performance gave, a combination of jubilation and discomfort.

Walking into the Crazy Coqs lounge, it is immediate that the audience is in for an entertaining evening. The room is glamorous and intimate, a full crowd is buzzing in anticipation. Brasserie Zédel is the perfect place for a UK Australia Day celebration, in central Piccadilly and right around the corner from the Ugg store – it is the best of both worlds. Most of the audience appear to hail from Australia, as evident by shared laughter at specifically Southern Hemisphere jokes. This is testament to the multiculturalism of London and its arts scene. Brasserie Zédel is to be congratulated on its global atmosphere.

Unfortunately, The Girls From Oz were better in theory than in practice. Accompanying pianist, Gemma Hawkins, was clearly the stand-out performer, largely because she was not forced to dance or drink a can of Foster’s mid-performance. To their credit, the three singers, Natasha Veselinovic, Chloe-Rose Taylor and Melissa Gall, were undeniably spirited and managed to maintain their characters throughout the fast-paced set-list.

The evening consisted mostly of relatively forgettable (but extremely loud) Australian ‘anthems’. In their defence, When My Baby Smiles At Me was an enjoyable piece, featuring three-part harmonies which showcased the successful musical theatre careers of all three singers. Similarly, The Girls From Oz’s arrangement of Land Down Under was a welcome moment of sobriety and gentleness in the midst of a gaudy evening.

At one point, the Girls told this joke: "What is the difference between Australia and yoghurt? Yoghurt has culture." As an Australian who is proud of the thriving and diverse arts scene in Australia, it saddens me to think that anyone witnessing last night’s performance would have found that joke to be true. It is a shame that what could have been an evening of patriotic fun was undermined by mis-fired performance.

To be fair, the rest of the audience seemed engaged and entertained throughout the show. The jaunty tunes and vivacious characters appeared to please the gathered crowd. Perhaps they did not notice the disharmonies and banal production. Or, perhaps I am simply not Australian enough.

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EXHIBITION REVIEW: Rhythm & Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain at 2 Temple Place

Edward Burra The Band (1934), watercolour, 55.5 x 76cm, British Council Collection
© Estate of the Artist, courtesy of Lefevre Fine Art Ltd, London and British Council Collection
Rhythm & Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain
(Exhibition at 2 Temple Place. Review by Geoff Winston)

No two ways about it - this is an absolutely stunning exhibition! Rhythm & Reaction: The Age of Jazz in Britain describes the era of early jazz in Britain through an extraordinarily high quality selection of works in multiple media to illuminate and expand perceptions of the music and its impacts in the first decades of the 20th century. This gathering together of diverse art works, film, crafted products and ephemera, so insightfully curated by Catherine Tackley, is beautifully displayed in one of London's dazzling architectural masterpieces, 2 Temple Place, built at the end of the 19th century, coinciding with the emergent jazz age.

The exhibits, collectively, are less of a counterpart, more a complement to the various strands of music simultaneously being embedded deep in the collective psyche of certain groups and enraging others or, as Tackley put it, inspiring both 'devotion and complete abhorrence'. Outrage and appreciation were inevitable bedfellows in a climate which exhibited polarised and ambiguous attitudes towards the African-American musicians who had migrated to the UK and Europe from the USA prior to and during the Great War, and in the inter-war period.

On entering 2 Temple Place the visitor is led in to the exhibition with an enticing view of four, wall-mounted, immaculately preserved, vintage banjos, with attendant instruction manuals, the mainstay of travelling minstrel bands at the turn of the century, with resultant popularity as a domestic musical instrument.

A fabulous range of vintage drum kits is spread across a raised area the full width of the lower gallery, including one with the Kit-Kat Dance Band insignia (complete with cat!) painted on the bass drum, along with a rarely seen, collapsible, hence portable, bass drum.

Exhibits which captured music-making in the clubs, stages, recording studios and cinemas of the time include streams of live-action and animated films and shellac platters. The film soundtracks are the only time when the music is actually heard by the visitor, artfully emphasising that the focus of the exhibition is all that surrounded and derived from the music, not the music itself. The film which really caught my imagination was Len Lye’s amazing, abstractly psychedelic Swinging The Lambeth Walk (1939), each animated frame hand scratched, painted or drawn by Lye and set to his seamless edit of various versions of the popular song, including one by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, where he ‘aimed at capturing the emotional spontaneity of good jazz’ as the British Council wrote in their 1940 Film Catalogue.

A gramophone and wireless set from the '30s sit in display cases alongside key documentation which includes early copies of Melody Maker and programmes from the Rhythm Clubs, which brought together early record collectors in these forerunners of the jazz clubs. An array of cigarette cards of bandleaders' portraits and a display of vintage postcards on the theme of jazz with a distinctly seaside tone of humour add further immediacy.

Co-operative Wholesale Society, gold and green leather Bar Shoes (1920-1925)
© courtesy of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery
Ceramics are represented by an eye-catching range of elegant vases with striking deco-style 'Jazz' designs and a richly decorated Royal Winton coffee set, while costume designs for Nijinska's ballet, Jazz (1925), by the Russian designer Alexandra Exter, who inspired the development of Constructivist art, sit alongside two of the actual costumes on dummy figures, dramatic for their bold geometric aesthetic. (Jazz was set to Stravinsky's Ragtime and premiered at the Winter Gardens in Bournemouth.) In the upper gallery, half a dozen pairs of brogues and two-tone women's court and bar shoes assert a sense of liberation which briefly pervaded the era.

Paintings and drawings are central to the narrative, notably a group of chalk and pastel sketches and a recreated painting by J B Souter of his controversial Breakdown, showing a black saxophonist and a naked white female dancer, praised when shown at the Royal Academy in 1926, yet condemned by the Colonial Office and subsequently destroyed.

William Roberts' dynamic Vorticist gem, At The Hippodrome (1921), depicting the rowdy audience in 'the gods' at what is thought to be the Camden Hippodrome near to his Mornington Crescent lodgings, and his vibrant The Dance Club (The Jazz Party) (1923), where events appear to be close to getting out of control, are contrasted with the austere constraint of Malcolm Drummond's gloomily atmospheric Hammersmith Palais de Dance (1920) and Mabel Frances Layng's portrayal of a conventional Tea Dance in muted beiges and greys.

Edward Burra, a great jazz fan, captured the sharp edges of New York street life in Harlem (1934), and the relaxed wit of the white-suited jazz musicians in The Band (1934), onstage in a Harlem theatre. His incisive brand of macabre surrealism burns through in a grisly, orgiastic party attended by The Grim Reaper in John Deth (Hommage to Conrad Aitken) (1931). Grace Golden's pencil sketches of dancers and the interior of Sherry's Dance Hall in Brighton are a minor revelation.

Maybe most revealing are the pastel portrait of a gimlet-eyed Louis Armstrong of 1937 by Jacob Kramer and a couple of uncredited photos of Fats Waller by his piano in Glasgow, portraying him in an unfamiliarly natural, unstaged pose. As another visitor commented, it's as though he'd been snapped on somebody's smartphone!

The exhibition resulted from truly collaborative efforts of the Bulldog Trust, owners of 2 Temple Place, The Arts Society, celebrating its 50th anniversary and Catherine Tackley, whose earlier PhD studies, she told us, formed the basis of the project. There was also generous assistance from The National Jazz Archive and from many lenders and institutions.

This is a remarkable exhibition and anyone with even the slightest interest in jazz and the arts is guaranteed a most rewarding experience - and it's free!

LINK: Exhibition website

RHYTHM & REACTION: The Age of Jazz in Britain
Two Temple Place, London WC2R 3BD
27 January - 22 April 2018

Free entrance

Exhibition opening times:
Monday, Thursday - Saturday: 10am - 4:30pm, Wednesday late: 10am - 9pm,
Sunday: 11am - 4:30pm,
Closed on Tuesday




LINKS : Two of our writers covered the Jazz before jazz was Jazz live shows in the run-up to this exhibition
Geoff Winston's report
Dan Bergsagel's report

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Peter Bernstein (Tour Dates London, Birmingham, Barcelona 7-10 Feb)

Peter Bernstein
Photo credit Jordi Suol
"I think what I’m going for is clarity," says a universally revered and liked figure in jazz, US guitarist PETER BERNSTEIN, ahead of two UK dates on 7 and 8 February. He told Nathan Brown, studying jazz guitar at Guildhall, in this wide-ranging interview, that he likes to concentrate on "the conversation between musicians. If you focus on that, the rest will take care of itself".

LondonJazz News: You have a four-date UK and Spain tour coming. (7-10 February) in London, Birmingham and Barcelona, with Albert Palau, Mark Hodgson and Stephen Keogh. Have you worked with these musicians before?

PB: I only know Stephen. I haven’t played with other guys before, and I don’t really know their playing. I actually met Stephen when he was playing with Louis Stewart and we’ve seen each other a little bit over the years, but it’s really been a long time. He contacted me about doing some dates and put these together. So it really worked out.

LJN: Stephen Keogh knew Louis Stewart well. Do you also have fond memories? 

PB: I remember going to see Louis Stewart a bunch when I lived in Paris for a short time. I was staying with my family who had moved there while I was in college, and I was making the rounds and sitting in everywhere, hearing as much as I could. There was a very memorable week in Paris with Louis Stewart and Stephen was playing drums. He was just a kid, you know. He was young, just as I was, but there he was playing with Louis Stewart – the Master – and we kept in touch over the years.

LJN: Your solo guitar album (Live at Smalls, recorded 2012) - What led to that? How does solo guitar playing affect/help your work in groups?

PB: I really just wanted to challenge myself. It allowed me to view every aspect of my playing on its own and made me appreciate the interaction with other musicians when I play in a group. But what I found was the ultimately it really comes down to knowing the song. When you can play a song by yourself… then you know it.

LJN: Do you look back on your Trio album Monk (2008) as significant? How has Monk influenced you? Are there other pianists whose “sparse” approach you are drawn to? 

PB: Monk, he’s a great inspiration besides from just the sound of his music. As a guitarist (especially solo, but also just in general) you have to condense everything. You can do a lot on the piano orchestration-wise that you can’t do on the guitar. The guitar is about reducing things and Monk’s whole piano style was based on not doing everything he could. Monk would play a chord with just three notes in it and let that sound ring out. I think Monk really heard the notes he was leaving out. And as a guitarist I’m like "hear those notes I’m not playing? See how it sounds better without them?" It’s all about those subtle differences.

LJN: What was it like learning with Jim Hall?

PB: He was teaching at the New School when I was there. As a teacher he would say “here’s a concept I’ve been working on” – things such as motivic development – rather than a teacher who says “here’s all the things you can play on an F7 chord”. He had complete and total empathy for you. He wanted you to sound better, but also threw new things at you. I remember feeling “wow this is the best rhythm section you could play with, right here – just Jim Hall”. He played things that were very ‘guitaristic’ (in a way such as open string voicings) yet they weren’t ‘guitaristic’, as in things everybody wanted to play. He found things that the instrument wanted to do, and sounded good in its sonority. He was all about voice leading as well. Rather than moving big chords around, he would do little two-note lines which is really what the harmony is about: movement.

LJN:  Was there a time in your musical life before you played with Larry Goldings?

PB: Not too long, actually. I met him when I was about 15 or 16 and I had only been playing jazz for about a year. I had been playing music for longer, but he is my oldest musical friend and he was really musically mature at quite a young age. He sounded professional, and I didn’t… [laughs] But yeah, he had the composure and maturity very early on. Or that’s how it seemed to me.

LJN: Can you talk about the importance of learning standards?

PB: I think they’re important to learn – it teaches you about how things work. You can learn all the theory you want but the standards show you it works and fits together. As an improviser you have to learn great melodies to know how to take an idea and how to take it through a form.

LJN: What is your philosophy on transcription? There seems to be a debate among those who believe transcription is the most important part of growing as a musician and finding your sound whereas others believe too much can make you sound generic and voiceless?

PB: I think if all you do is transcribe other people’s things, then maybe you will sound voiceless. But you definitely have to do it. I just think you need to transcribe different things and not even entire solos or entire choruses – just eight bars. Take eight bars, look at what it is and what you can take from it, now it’s up to you to make something musical that’s your own from it. It’s about truly digesting something.

LJN: (These remaining questions are from guitarist friends of LJN) The jazz guitar world seems to be filling up with players who have incredible, lightning fast technique, some of which would not sound out of place in the rock world, yet you have remained tasteful and always do the right thing for the music. Do you ever feel pressure from being surrounded by these players? Is your more economical, laid back approach a conscious decision?

PB: I think what I’m going for is clarity. I don’t want to go faster than I can annunciate. And also – are those phrases and words necessary to the idea? I’m trying to get my technique better but I have my limitations. I think guitar is a funny instrument as you can set it up many different ways that make it easier to play fast, but then you need to think: do the notes have meaning?

LJN: You once said that your John Zeidler guitar from 1981 is your “only guitar”. Is that still true?

PB: Yeah! I only have my Gibson ES-175 and my Zeidler, but I haven’t played the Gibson in about 18 years.

LJN: And when you fly with it do you insist it travels in the cabin with you/do you have to book an extra seat to be absolutely sure that you can? How does all that work and is it getting worse?

PB: I try to get it in with me but sometimes on small flights you can’t and you need those really reinforced rubber cases. I would never let it go through a connection without me though. Some guys aren’t really too worried, but when you get there you have to play that guitar and that’s not fun.

LJN: And finally. On stage you come across as totally professional and unflappable. Is there something... anything... in gigs or indeed elsewhere in life which makes you see the “red mist”?

PB: All the time. Of course you want to project some composure but you also don’t want to be too relaxed. You want to be on that edge where you try to play things that are cohesive and coherent, but you don’t want to fall into an automaton. I’m more concerned with the conversation between musicians. If you focus on that, the rest will take care of itself.

There are four European dates for the quartet of Peter Bernstein, Albert Palau, Mark Hodgson, and Stephen Keogh.

7 February Pizza Express Dean Street
8 February Pizza Express Birmingham 

9/10 February Jamboree Jazz Club, Barcelona

LINK: Peter Bernstein's website

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Robbie Ellison of Jessop Jessop Jessop (Pizza Express Dean Street, 31 Jan)

Jessop Jessop Jessop. L-R: Daniel McConkey,
Robbie Ellison, Joe Fenning, Joe Lee, Jake Werth, Ewan Gilchrist
The music of JESSOP JESSOP JESSOP "falls within the realms of hard-bop repertoire" and  is aiming to "swing hard, and to sound true to the heritage of this music, whilst still looking forward and taking risks", says drummer Robert Ellison. The band is now a year old, has gigged extensively in the UK, and will be at Pizza Express Dean Street on Wednesday 31 January. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Tell us about your group – and why it is called Jessop Jessop Jessop...

Robert Ellison: Well there are a lot of bands on the scene – especially young bands – with very serious names, often ending in 'x', laboriously conceived to emit maximum hipness. We all found the idea of having a name that was if nothing else just quite difficult to say, really funny. Shatner’s Bassoon was already taken by a function band somewhere up north, so we ended up with Jessop Jessop Jessop. Both are quotes from a show called Brass Eye by Chris Morris, which the band unanimously endorses and recommends.

We get lots of questions about the name, to which we usually paraphrase Louis Armstrong’s quote when asked what jazz is – "If you have to ask, you’ll never know" – which is intended to whip up the same sort of media frenzy that leads to Susan Boyle’s dramatic rise to fame during Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, only this one would be fuelled by a shroud of mystery, rather than a novelty TV personality. So far we’ve had mixed success with this branch of our assault on the Top 40.

LJN: Did you all choose the name together ?

RE: It took some persuading initially, but now it just feels like an old pair of jeans.

LJN:  Who’s in it? How many of you?

RE: Ewan Gilchrist, Daniel McConkeyJoe Fenning, Jacob Alexander Werth, Joe Lee, Robbie Ellison.

LJN: Is there a bandleader in the business/hustle sense?

RE: Well, we aren’t the most business-orientated of groups, we’d rather spend as much time as possible focusing on the music, but we all pitch in with booking gigs and the rest of it. Some are better than others at the admin side of things though, but they’re thankfully willing to help out the less organised when necessary. So just like with the music the important stuff is all decided as a group. The only exception is that I’m given a bit of free rein with the Facebook page. In fact one of the reasons I got into the music industry was for the glamour social media pours into the jazz world, and also I’m working on getting a commission out of Jessops camera shops for furthering their brand outreach. As I keep reminding them, seeing a word three times makes it three times more memorable.

LJN: And in the musical sense ?

RE: There’s a clear vision for playing bebop, hard-bop and post-bop material in a way that’s true to the tradition and legacy but is in no means a pastiche, to which everyone’s fully committed. This is cool because it gives us a focused sense of direction but leaves scope for everyone’s musical personality and taste, both when they solo and in the ensemble playing. Normally whoever arranged the chart will have a bit to say when they bring it in to rehearsal, but after a while it becomes a free-for-all in terms of suggestions, alterations and improvements – it’s all a group process.

LJN: Have some of you known each other for ever?

RE: I was at school with Jake Werth, which was unfortunate, so we’ve known each other for a while. Everyone else met at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and with Jake being at The Royal Academy of Music we’d all known each other for around two years from just being in London. When Joe Fenning and I started chatting about getting a band together to play some Art Blakey and Cannonball Adderley stuff about 18 months ago, we roped in Daniel McConkey, Joe Lee and Ewan Gilchrist along with Jake, who we thought would work well together in that setting and then went from there.

We agreed at the start that if we didn't mention our differing views on Napoleon we could keep rows and scuffles to a minimum, and get along fine. As a strategy that's worked out pretty well.




LJN:  What’s the instrumentation?

RE:  Trumpet (Gilchrist), tenor saxophone (McConkey), trombone (Fenning), piano (Werth), bass (Lee) and drums (Ellison). We styled the line up in the vein of Art Blakey’s band in the early '60s, with the three horns – Freddie Hubbard, Curtis Fuller and Wayne Shorter – which is quite a lot for a band playing material out of the hard-bop idiom, especially when it can be quite heavily arranged in places. But there’s just something about the sound of the horn section in those Blakey records that really adds another dimension; it’s really fat and brassy with vats of grease, and normally in bands of that kind there’s only one or two horns, that might even split the head and then solo individually, so you never really get that fuller, section sound. We wanted to try and get that same kind of fat horn sound and then bring in the music of other composers, from around that era, before and after, write some of our own arrangements and then try and make the whole thing swing as hard as possible. It’s such enjoyable music to play and there’s not a huge amount of bands on the scene with the same format.

LJN: How many gigs have there been?

RE: We've been gigging together for just over a year now and we play pretty regularly which is cool because there aren't as many opportunities for that sort of regular thing with bands these days. We have two monthly residencies, in Brixton and Leytonstone, the details of which are on our Facebook page. We've played the Pizza Express – where we're back next week – we play at Toulouse Lautrec, Leadenhall Market and all sorts of varied venues around London. But not just London, we did the Aldeburgh Festival last summer, we play quite regularly at a few venues in Kent and just all around really, we enjoy the away days.

LJN: Who’s the newest member and how is he finding it?

RE: Well we all got together at the same time, although Ewan Gilchrist joined a week or so later than the others. He once told me that he finds me both tedious and odious, but I think he's found his stride somewhat since then.

LJN: Who’s the best looking ?

RE: Well when we started out we actually were meant to be a boy band, but that very question kept rearing its head and causing so much infighting that we opted for jazz instead. Jake Werth can run without moving his head up or down, which is a bloody convincing argument. But then again Dan McConkey has a remarkably strong neck, Joe Lee is Truro’s third most convincing Guy Fawkes lookalike, Ewan Gilchrist hoovers his garden, Joe Fenning owns the largest collection of authentic OJ Simpson memorabilia in the Turnpike Lane area, and I played the oboe at school. I guess people find different things attractive.

LJN: What’s the repertoire?

RE: It’s mainly arrangements we’ve done of compositions by people like Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, Horace Silver, Bill Evans, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Cannonball Adderley and lots of others. A lot of it falls within the realms of hard-bop repertoire, and is all aiming to swing hard and sound true to the heritage of the music, whilst still looking forward and taking risks.

LJN: If the equation is “if you like x  = you will like Jessop Jessop Jessop” then what would x be?

RE:  The Imperial War Museum

Rosie Bullen
Photo from rosinabullen.com 
LJN:  And we're hearing a rumour of a guest vocalist ?

RE:  Our dear friend and fabulous vocalist Rosie Bullen, who sung with us last time we played at the Pizza Express will be joing us for a few tunes in the second set. It’s always so great playing with Rosie because her musicality brings a whole new aspect to the music

LJN: One more thing: when's the gig and can you point us where to go to book?

RE: It's on Wednesday 31 Jan at Pizza Express Dean Street - and ... HERE

Jake Werth is a contributor to various publications including LondonJazz News 

LINK: Pizza Express Bookings for 31 Jan

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PREVIEW: WDR3 Jazzfest 2018 (1-3 February, Gütersloh and Bielefeld, Germany)


Theater Gütersloh - the main venue for the 2018 festival
Photo credit: WDR3 Jazz Fest
The WDR3 Jazzfest takes place this year over three evenings 1-3 February. The Festival's Director, and head of the Jazzredaktion (editorial team) at WDR3, Dr. Bernd Hoffmann, spoke to Sebastian about some of the concepts behind this year's programme, and the long-term way in which the broadcaster supports the cohort of WDR Jazz Prize winners:

WDR, the Cologne-based broadcaster serving the Northwestern region of Germany, has a festival each year of which the ceremonial, celebratory centrepiece is the WDR Jazz Prize Concert. And what is always worth celebrating is the fact that the broadcaster doesn't just hand out these prizes and walk away. It gets involved with its the cohort of prize-winners for the long term, and that support is a decisive factor in helping these musicians to become visible on the national and international stage. WDR supports jazz by taking the longer view of jazz musicians' careers. It is hard to think of any organization in the world which does this better than WDR.

Last year, previous prize-winners such as Pablo Held and Steffen Schorn were given opportunities to develop new projects, this year it is Florian Weber, for example, whose work with trumpeter Markus Stockhausen has flourished into an ECM duo album, who will be there with a larger project. Also pianist Sebastian Sternal. Other prize winners, Hubert Nuss and Jürgen Friedrich, will be presenting work at the club in Bielefeld.

We (LJN) will be covering the WDR Jazz Prize Concert separately, but one of the prize winners, saxophonist Roger Hanschel, is worth mentioning as an important figure on the Cologne Scene. He will perform as a duo with the Music Cultures prize-winner, the Chennai-born percussionist Ramesh Shotam. The talented bassist and composer Hendrika Entzian has been mentored by Vince Mendoza who champions her work.

The Festival's logo
Dr. Bernd Hoffmann was also relishing the fact that the jazz piano is a major theme this year.

Michael Wollny and his fellow trio members are bringing a wholly new project with the Norwegian Wind Ensemble for its only appearance in Germany – there is an album involving this combination for release later this year but this is wholly new music.

Alan Pasqua
His work will feature in a trio with Peter Erskine
and in newly commissoned big band arrangements by Vince Mendoza
Photo: artist website
Alan Pasqua will be there in two contexts: re-joined by Peter Erskine in a trio with John Goldsby, and also performing the premiere of completely new arrangements of his compositions by Vince Mendoza for Big Band. It was Peter Erskine who originally brought Vince Mendoza together with the WDR Big Band for what has proved to be a highly successful long-term collaboration, and this renewal of friendships will be a celebration.

Hoffmann also talked through the innovations and the technical challenges involved in 2018. "This year, alongside the two stages at the main theatre we have a club involved. And the viewer on the internet will be able to follow the action from one stage to another and experience almost the whole festival live from one concert to another. While one stage is being re-set the viewer will be at a concert somewhere else. Three concerts on Thursday, three on Friday and five on Saturday."

There will be a huge selection to watch – links below – even if the Prize Concert itself is not being streamed.

LINKS TO LIVE-STREAM

The stream on Friday will not have the Prize Concert but deferred relays of  CCJO and Jean-Paul Bourelly.

The stream will be live on Thursday from 20:00 until about 23:30, on Friday from 20:00 until about 23:30 and on Saturday from 20:00 until about 01:00 on Sunday morning.

Thursday 

Friday

Saturday

Lena Jeckel of the award-winning club Bunker Ulmenwall in Bielefeld
Concerts from the club will form a part of the festival for the first time
Photo courtesy of WDR

FULL PROGRAMME:

Thursday 1 February

18:30 - Theater Gütersloh, Theatersaal

Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra
Marko Lackner - composer

20:00 - Theater Gütersloh, Theatersaal

Alan Pasqua Trio
Alan Pasqua - p; Peter Erskine - dr; John Goldsby - b

21:00 - Bunker Ulmenwall - Bielefeld

Jürgen Friedrich "Nautilus"
Jürgen Friedrich - p; Hayden Chisholm - sax; Robert Lucaciu - b; Philipp Scholz - dr

22:00 - Theater Gütersloh, Theatersaal

Alan Pasqua with the WDR Big Band
Vince Mendoza - dir; Alan Pasqua - piano

24:00 - Theater Gütersloh, Studiobühne

Jean-Paul Bourelly "Kiss The Sky"
Jean-Paul Bourelly - guitar, vocals Kenny Martin - drums; Daryl Taylor - bass

Friday, 2 February 

14th WDR Jazz Prize Concert 8pm Theater Gütersloh

Composition Prize-: Hendrika Entzian (bass)
Improvisation: Roger Hanschel
Music cultures: Ramesh Shotham
Youth: Young 7Teen Jazz Orchestra
Prize of Honour: Bunker Ulmenwall

LINK: Full Details of all five 2018 Prize Winners (in German)

21.00 - Bunker Ulmenwall - Bielefeld

Sternal Trio Sebastian Sternal - p; Larry Grenadier - b; Jonas Burgwinkel - dr

Saturday, 3 February

18:30 - Theater Gütersloh, Theatersaal

Andreas Heuser Trio
Andreas Heuser - guit; Claudio Puntin - cl; Markku Ounaskari - dr, perc

20:00  - Theater Gütersloh, Theatersaal

Timo Lassy Band Timo Lassy - ts; Georgios Kontrafouris - p; Antti Lötjönen - b; Teppo Mäkynen - dr; Abdissa Assefa - perc

21:00  - Bunker Ulmenwall - Bielefeld

Hubert & Ludwig Nuss Hubert Nuss - p; Ludwig Nuss - tb

22.00  - Theater Gütersloh, Theatersaal

Michael Wollny Trio
Norwegian Wind Ensemble

24:00 - Theater Gütersloh, Studiobühne

Wild Life
Simon Stockhausen - keyb, electronics, sax; Florian Weber - p; Jörg Brinkmann - vc, electronics; Michelangelo Flammia - eb; Christian Thomé - dr, electronics; Bodek Janke - perc; Markus Stockhausen - tp, flh, electronics, direction.

Sebastian will be reporting from the Festival as the guest of WDR

LINK: The WDR Jazzfest 2018 on the WDR website

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