PREVIEW: DJAZZ – the Durham City Jazz Festival (1-3 June 2018)

J Frisco
Publicity picture
The second DJAZZ Festival continues to ring the changes. Peter Bacon reports:

In its first year in 2017, the Durham City Jazz Festival, DJAZZ (the D is silent as in Django), achieved 30% female representation in the bands it programmed; for 2018 (1-3 June) it will be 50%, and at least a third of the players will be under 25 years old.

Artists appearing at the festival which takes in various venues around Durham include: Soweto Kinch Trio, Paul Edis, Early Nite, J Frisco, Skeltr, Jambone (Sage Gateshead youth jazz ensemble), Sloth Racket and the Riviera Quartet.

The DJAZZ press release states its aim is “to celebrates the genre in all of its forms”.

It continues: “After  attracting more than 2000 people in its first year with a mix of ticketed and free events the festival returns to excite, intrigue and entertain in equal measure. 

“The festival brings a fresh perspective to the world of jazz, celebrating it’s vast and varied nature. The focus is to bring together a number of different musical styles, groups, networks and audiences in the small but perfectly formed city of Durham.

"At only £10 for a full weekend ticket festival-goers gain access to over 30 events ranging from intimate sets in hidden locations to big names in big venues! Think cafes, bookshops and barber shops to bars, venues and stunning historic buildings. This not only has the effect of pairing up acts with a unique environment but is part of the festival’s ambition to reach new audiences and get music lovers to try something new!

“So one minute you’re watching multi-award winning alto-saxophonist and MC Soweto Kinch in the historic Durham Miners Hall, Redhills – and the next you’re in the 25 capacity Barber of Neville for an intimate set by an improv duo.”

Organiser Carlo Viglianisi said: “Jazz can be quite a loaded phrase but the truth is, jazz as a genre can be traced through almost every form of music since the 1920s. At our festival you’ll hear everything from new orleans street bands and gyspy jazz through to hip-hop and electro. You’ll definitely catch the best examples of Jazz as you think you know it, and jazz as you don’t know it.”

He added: “It’s impossible to ignore the gender imbalance within jazz and we work really hard to tackle that head on… you can see that this isn’t a jazz festival in it’s typical form.”
Given those gender and age figures, it certainly isn't.

LINK: The full DJAZZ programme is here


PREVIEW: Grand Union Orchestra at the Vortex (May to August 2018)

A montage of photos of Grand Union Orchestra's Trading Roots
Photo supplied by GUO 

"My admiration for the work of the Grand Union Orchestra and its leader Tony Haynes continues to grow," writes Duncan Heining. "I can think of few other ensembles with its sheer range, versatility and sense of the dramatic." 

The good news for Londoners is that a slimmed-down GUO can be heard at the Vortex on the first Friday through May to August. In addition, the collective will be running daytime workshops on the Saturdays after the gig and of that more later, as they say. Duncan, for LondonJazz News, caught up with Tony Haynes before looks like a healthily busy summer for the Orchestra.

This isn’t the first time GUO have played the Vortex, though inevitably it has been with smaller bands than the mighty 29-piece ensemble, as Tony explains,

“Since the London premiere there about 12 years ago of Can’t Chain Up Me Mind, commemorating the bicentenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, we’ve played there often with smaller group shows. Can’t Chain Up Me Mind was a touring show with a 10-piece largely African and Caribbean band. We’ve done a number of themed shows, largely instrumental but usually with single singer, quite informal and free but always with an eclectic mix of other GUO musicians. Like, for example, we’ve performed Bengal Tiger, Shanghai Dragon with South Asian and Chinese performers and Rag Tal and Gypsy Music with Bengali and East European performers.”

Anyone who has seen Grand Union at the Hackney Empire or Wilton’s Music Hall will associate them with large-scale, almost operatic projects. So, what are the challenges involved in working on a smaller stage?

“These cabaret-scale shows contrast very nicely with what you might call the ‘operatic’ style of the big shows for which we’re probably best known,” Tony says. “I guess, these in a sense are my forte. I made my reputation from writing powerful music for theatre. But my strongest suit is probably a lyrical gift, writing songs for a variety of singers and vocal ensembles in different languages. And, as a jazz musician, I relish the challenge of making musical decisions on the hoof and the same goes for all the other GUO musicians, all seasoned improvisers, whatever their cultural background.”

And there are advantages for the orchestra in doing these more ‘cabaret-style’ performances. They present an opportunity to focus on essentials without losing dramatic, musical or indeed political impact. These shows allow Haynes and his cohorts to experiment, to recruit and collaborate with new performers, providing compositional test-beds for future larger-scale shows.

I wondered how the Saturday workshops at the Vortex relate to the performances and to the work of the orchestra as a catalyst for young musicians. As Tony points out, this has always been a crucial part of Grand Union’s work.

“I don’t want to call it ‘music education’,” he says, “because its impulse is artistic rather than pedagogic – and, therefore potentially ‘dangerous’ or ‘subversive’! I prefer to see it as growing out of – and reflecting directly – the creative purpose of the professional orchestra, its musicians and my own compositional techniques.”

As Tony says, the orchestra and its most powerful message lies in the way it, perhaps uniquely, aims to reflect Britain's and London’s music cultures and histories. Many of GUO’s core musicians, and most of those involved in the Vortex residency, are first generation migrants.

“That has great significance socially, of course, in the present circumstances of the UK,” Tony explains, “but it also means they have unique skills to pass on to young musicians. This may resonate with their family or cultural background and it may provide them with role models. But it certainly has the capacity to inspire in them a fresh attitude towards creativity, towards their own musical development. Sadly, that isn’t something provided by, or even often understood by, most of our musical institutions and educators.”

The aim is for the Saturday morning workshops to complement the Friday night performances, to ‘demystify’, as Tony puts it, the techniques these seasoned, professional musicians use, to show how they develop the collective ensemble and their improvisations within it.

Throughout its three and a half decade history, GUO has drawn upon a wealth of musical talent in London’s East End. It does so much more than make a statement. It makes for music that is celebratory and which ignores genre boundaries. And yet, few British jazz musicians and groups seem willing to follow this fertile path.

“I have always argued that jazz is not a genre or style of music,” Tony says, “but an attitude or approach to making music. Jazz performance has the capacity to absorb, blend and put to creative use an infinite variety of styles or techniques; it allows the expression of the musical personality of the individual musicians who perform it; and it depends absolutely on improvisation, whether solo or collective. Jazz needs constantly to reinvent itself and one immediate way is to draw on the whole range of music and musicians that surround us. It’s not just the East End that provides this but London and Britain as whole – largely because of the successive waves of immigrants since the end of the Second World War. For me, this is in itself inspiring and, of course, I’m also very interested in migration itself and the history and forces behind it.”

If Grand Union did not exist – in this world of UKIPs, Brexits, a growing far-right and little Englanders crawling out of the woodwork everywhere – it would be necessary to invent it. Fortunately, Tony Haynes et al have already done that for us. It is about joy and anger, freedom and a sense of shared responsibility for our world and, most of all, about beauty and the capacity to be moved by music in our minds, souls and bodies. Despite so much in the news that depresses the spirits, Grand Union will give London much to celebrate over the next 12 months.

“In July we have What the River Brings, a participatory show bringing together performers from across the whole of East London,” Tony tells me. “Its theme is how great port cities around the world reflect the rise and fall of empires. That’s followed by our annual residential Summer School, where expert musicians from different global traditions share their skills and techniques with young people. Then in the autumn, we are devising a performance and education project across East London to complement a timely exhibition at the Hackney Museum on 'British Black Music in Hackney' – which will obviously have a strong ‘jazz’ component!”

2019 looks just as full of promise for the orchestra and its fans, many of whom are drawn from beyond the narrow confines of the usual jazz audience. There is a major project involving hundreds of children in Croydon and Merton – at the Albert Hall, no less! GUO are already planning a spring/summer programme that will take in more regional venues and festivals. And for those who, like me, delight in those grand, almost operatic shows, there is good news, as Tony explains:

“For Autumn 2019, we are planning a new large-scale participatory show – which is what really gives me the greatest pleasure as a creative artist, and which I believe Grand Union is uniquely good at producing!”

Can I get an ‘Amen’? Till then, there’s the Vortex shows. See you there!

LINKS: GUO's dates at the Vortex
 A kind of recent manifesto, explainig GUO's mission - also has sensational video clips
Latest blog post from Tony Haynes, musing on empire (re: What the River Brings)
Latest GUO Newsletter


PHOTOS: Daniel Casimir Quartet at the Spice of Life

Daniel Casimir
Photo credit : Monika S. Jakubowska
Photographer Monika S. Jakubowska went to hear the Daniel Casimir Quartet at the Spice of Life on 18 April 2018. Explanatory picture captions courtesy of Paul Pace, the promoter at the Spice:   

First-call young bassist/bandleader Dan Casimir laid solid foundations for dreamy soundscapes...

Olly Sarkar
Photo credit : Monika S. Jakubowska
Drummer Olly Sarkar maintained the groove in a contemplative manner whilst dropping accents via his kit and effects unit.

Tess Hirst
Photo credit : Monika S. Jakubowska
Full toned Tess Hirst sang her own heartfelf lyrics expressing the sentiments of today's urban issues: the whys, wherefors with a proposed 'call to action'...

Daniel Casamir (left) and  Tess Hirst
Photo credit : Monika S. Jakubowska

Though at times the music possessed political bite there was good humour between the performers and a good interaction with an attentive audience.

Tess Hirst and Tobie Carpenter
Photo credit : Monika S. Jakubowska
Guitarist Tobie Carpenter has been moving forward as a more expressive player. His focus was serious leading to spacey melodic motifs atop the rhythm.

Dan Casimir
Photo credit : Monika S. Jakubowska
Smiles and relaxed posture from Dan and Tess revealed and ease and joy of performance, taking the audience on a poignant journey as the music from Dan's latest album Escapee was exposed layer by layer following the extended Mingus opener, a political musical statement of Fable of Faubus with an uncomfortable resonance in our still currently divided world society.


REVIEW: Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes at Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampstead

Kit Downes, Aidan O'Rourke
Photo credit: Ariane Todes

Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes
(Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampstead, 24 April 2018. Review by Dominic Williams)

The origins of this project are simple, if extraordinary. Scottish author James Robertson wrote a 365-word story every day for a year and published them in a volume called 365. Scottish fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke wrote tunes inspired by the stories, one a day for a year. He enlisted Kit Downes to accompany him, mainly on harmonium, in the studio and on this tour. (As Downes subsequently wrote 52 piano pieces for right-hand only in 52 days (LINK), this kind of thing may be contagious). On some gigs Robertson also read some of the matching stories, but here they were read by the musicians and two guests.

What could a combination of stories, fiddle and harmonium possibly sound like? Ivor Cutler? John Cale? Penguin Café Orchestra’s Music for a Found Harmonium? Answer: none of the above, of course. The domestic settings of the stories do draw comparisons with Cutler’s Life in a Scotch Sitting Room (he lived in Hampstead as well). Robertson does not have Cutler’s whimsical fantasy , however, and is much more interested in the emotional ambiguity of small domestic events.

Musically, Aidan O’Rourke is a Gaelic fiddler who has constantly absorbed other influences, including jazz, in a way that erodes musical boundaries rather than tearing them down. This is not punk. He has a long list of innovative folk collaborations to his credit and has been writing for non-traditional instruments and voices as well, so this is not a one-off change of tack. As a performer, he is obviously a great talent and a pleasure to see and hear. I am just sorry I do not know enough about fiddle playing to do him full justice.

Kit Downes is best known to jazz listeners for his piano trio albums, but he arrived here fresh from two albums of organ music and a collaboration with Josienne Clarke, the folk singer. The choice of harmonium allowed him to draw on his organ playing influences – church music, folk tunes and Maurice Ravel – as well as jazz. It also filled the role in Gaelic music usually taken by bagpipes or accordion. So he could explore different styles of accompaniment – sustaining the same left hand chord for several bars to mimic a drone, doubling the melody, or ornamenting with right hand runs. In between, he added a huge range of harmonies and shading of textures and tone that took the pieces well away from a traditional interpretation. There are two YouTube versions of Do People Still Do This? featuring O’Rourke playing with Downes and with Atlantic Arc Orchestra, a more traditional line-up, that show exactly how much the accompaniment changes the piece.

A common generalisation is that in Gaelic music the melody carries the structure of the piece and the accompanists fill in, whereas in jazz the chords generally carry the structure and the soloist improvises on top. The pieces we heard were varied and inventive in approach. The players took turns to start and lay down the structure. Some of them broadly followed a folk structure, were played from memory and sounded largely traditional. Others had written charts and classical composition elements. Downes played one piece on the chapel’s battered upright Bechstein that had a strongly- marked chord progression – music for a found piano, perhaps. Overall you have to admire O’Rourke as a composer for being so prolific without resorting to repetition or minor variation. In 365 works, it is a reasonable guess he had a few off days but the pieces we heard (which were often not introduced by name) were of a consistently high standard.

The PR describes this music as “sparse” and I could use other off-putting adjectives like “esoteric” or “demanding” but I don’t want to put you off. Was it good? Yes. Did I like it? Yes. This music is new and unusual and it might take a few listens to get under its skin, but the effort will be well rewarded. The CD/book stall was doing brisk business at the interval, so it seems the rest of the audience would agree with that.


NEWS: New season of Royal Albert Hall late nights and Sunday brunchs

Rob Luft
Supplied picture
Peter Bacon reports:

Thursday late night and Sunday brunch jazz continue at the Royal Albert Hall next month with a fresh programme of six late night sessions and seven brunches between early May and early July.

Opening the late night season are vintage-jazzers The Dime Notes on 3 May, with busy-as-a-bee guitarist Rob Luft on 17 May, pianist/composer Janette Mason on 31 May, the ‘20s/‘30s sound of the Basin Street Brawlers on 7 June, Canadian-born singer Lauren Bush on 14 June and the world-jazz group Seed Ensemble on 21 June. The gigs start at 9.30pm and tickets are between £13.50 and £15.

Hetty and the Jazzatos
Supplied picture
The programme for the brunches is: 6 May Jazz Dynamos Quartet (American songbook plus); 13 May Nevada Street Four (vintage jazz and four-part harmonies); 20 May Southern Cone Quintet (South American music); 27 May Benoit Viellefon Hot Club Quartet (classic swing); 17 June The Boomtown Swingalings (Armstrong, Bechet, Ellington); 24 June The Silver Ghosts (five-piece swing); and 8 July Hetty and the Jazzatos (Anglo-Italian “la dolce vita”). The music starts after 12pm and tickets, including lunch, are £31.50 (under 12s £16).

The late nights are in the Elgar Room and the Sunday brunches are in the Verdi Italian Kitchen.

LINK: Royal Albert Hall website


CD REVIEW: John Daversa – Wobbly Dance Flower

John Daversa – Wobbly Dance Flower
(BRM Jazz: 3020624382. CD review by Nick Davies)

Wobbly Dance Flower is the latest release from California-born, Florida-based, Grammy-nominated trumpeter, John Daversa. Adept at writing for all types of band, this is his second small band release although he is better known for being one of the leaders in large jazz ensemble. On this album, Daversa embraces his delight in music of substance. In fact, at times, it is difficult to believe that it not a big band delivery because the sound is so meaty.

Daversa is joined on this album by legendary saxophonist Bob Mintzer, as well as guitarist Zane Carey, pianist and B3 player Joe Bagg, bass player Jerry Watts and drummer Gene Goye: an impressive line-up which delivers in every way.

Unlike lesser offerings, the album title is not the most interesting part of this record, every aspect of each track is intriguing, much like a good novel that is devoured in a single sitting. The title was coined by Deversa’s daughter after she heard a song that was struggling to find a title. The name seemed to stick with the melody and, from that point, the album was always going to be called Wobbly Dance Flower.

This nine-track album includes Ms Turkey, Donna Lee and Meet Me At The Airport, all of which showcase Daversa’s sense of humour and the fact that most of these melodies are composed by singing into a cell phone at airport lounges, a by-product of a jazz lifestyle (educating and touring, leaving little time for writing). Every spare moment is used for composing.

The first track on the album Miss Turkey is a high energy post-bop tune and got its name because it sounds like a gobbling turkey. The tune is full of bounce from the outset with Daversa’s trumpet setting the pace before the rest of the band join in. The tune follows this same pattern with each instrument having a solo. A real foot tapper, more reminiscent of a road runner at speed than a gobbling turkey and a fine start to the album.

Next is Donna Lee, the be-bop standard: originally performed and attributed to Charlie Parker, although Miles Davis also claimed it as his own. To take on this track performed by two greats was a bold decision but, once again, this band smashes it. There are overtones to the original and even to the Jaco Pastorius version, partly due to Bob Mintzer’s presence, but Daversa has certainly moulded it to his own style and, as such, it is more of a standard brought into the 21st century than an ode to the original. Soft and mellow in parts, supported by flawless horn playing, it’s a beautiful version of this song.

The rest of the album follows a similar pattern: music played to an exceptional standard, telling a story of playfulness, childhood and travel, each song taking the listener on a journey, each with a happy ending. Even the artwork cover instils a sense of fun.

Wobbly Dance Flower is a great album – one that has to be listened to from start to finish to fully appreciate the well-thought out concept. The playing is of such a high standard, it’s amazing to see how much Daversa manages to get out of the band. The stand out track, for me, is his version of Donna Lee. This resurrection of a be-bop classic, in my opinion, makes it a 21st century anthem.


INTERVIEW: Emilia Martensson (Beyond Vocal Workshops in Blackheath and Izola + forthcoming album)

Emilia Martensson in Bremen 2018
Photo credit: Knipserey, Bremen

Swedish/Slovenian vocalist/ songwriter EMILIA MARTENSSON led her group at the European showcase in Bremen last week. She has a range of interesting projects in the next few months. Interview by Sebastian:  

LondonJazz News:
How have the last few months been for you? You've normally been to some fairly exotic places!

Emilia Martensson: The last few months have been good thanks. I do spend a lot of my time in Slovenia at the moment, which is where my mother is from, but I have been mainly in London these last few months working on my new project which I am about to record in the summer and also getting ready for my showcase at Jazzahead which has just been.

I was also recently in Kosovo performing with Joe Sanders project 'Infinity'.

Congratulations on your Jazzahead showcase. What was your experience like of the conference this year?

EM: Thank you! I had a great time at Jazzahead this year! It is quite a daunting task to go there as an artist trying to 'sell yourself', but actually it is a very friendly environment! I mean it's full of great music and music loving people so of course the atmosphere is going to be wonderful! I had lots of great new meetings with lovely people and feeling excited about the future. It was great to get the opportunity to showcase my new project this year. We played on Friday afternoon at Shlachtof for a full room and a very warm audience and we had a great response afterwards so I couldn't be more happy.

And you have a new album coming out. Who is featured in this new project of yours?

EM: Yes my new album Loredana is out on Babel Label in March next year. The project features Adriano Adewale on percussion, Luca Boscagin on Guitar, Fulvio Sigurta on Trumpet and Electronics and Sam Lasserson on bass.

LJN: What are the inspirations for the songs?

EM: The album is titled after my mother Loredana and within this project I have explored the adversity of the mother-child relationship. I have asked my audiences four specific questions about their relationship to their mothers and used their answers as inspiration to write this new material. It has been an interesting and inspiring process so far with lots of open and honest answers of a wide variety. There is still time to be involved and if you would like to answer my questions and have your answers turned in to a song then you can find the questions here !

LJN: Is there a linking thread in the songs?

EM: Yes the 'Mother' theme is for sure the red thread through this project. I chose this theme because it is one we all can relate to but also because there's infinite observations to the mother-child relationship and how it shapes us throughout our lives. One of the questions I ask is 'explain your mother with one word'! The variation of words has been wild! One of the words that stood out to me though was the word 'There' which is now one of the titles for one of the songs. We also have a song called 'Born' and one about 'Mother Nature'. I am also including my own childhood memories in my songs and we have one song called 'I wake up and hear your voice downstairs' which is inspired by one of my favourite childhood memories.

LJN: What stage is the album at right now? When will it be released and when's the launch ?

EM: We are recording this July and releasing our first single in November during The London Jazz Festival. The full album will be out mid March 2019. The venue for the launch is yet to be confirmed.

LJN: And then the next thing is your courses in Slovenia?

EM: Yes! This will be the 5th year that I run my 'BEYOND VOCALS' Jazz Course in Izola, Slovenia. I have singers of a very high standard coming form all over Europe attending the course and it is always an amazing week and one of the highlights of my summer. This year I will be joined by Jamie Safir as guest tutor and piano accompanist. We run daily workshops and masterclasses in the days including work on band leading skills, interpretation of a wide range of repertoire, improvisation and performing skills amongst many other workshop titles. We also run jam sessions most nights and finish the week with a big concert by the sea together with a great rhythm section in front of a local audience.

This year I am also starting a brand new course which I call 'CREATIVITY', which will involve more focus on song writing, exploring the voice through improvisation and yoga and meditation sessions in order to boost creativity. The guest tutors will include Jamie Doe (Composer, singer and guitarist who goes under the name the Magic Lantern ) and Luca Boscagin (Guitar and Composer) and Anja Brenko, (Yoga and Meditation Instructor). I am also arranging a small festival around this course which will include Mishka Adams and Beto Caletto, The Flying Ibex, The Magic Lantern and Myself and Luca.

You can apply to the course and read about them here:

LJN: What else have you got coming up?

EM: I am collaborating with Cooknst on a new event at The Baldwin Gallery in Blackheath on 19 May. The event is called 'Who's your Mama?' and will be an evening of food, music, fine art and stories. I will also run a vocal workshop in the day as part of this event and the evening will go on to include a set from me and my quartet as well as a four course meal by the amazing Egyptian chef Mostafa Hussien inside the Baldwin Art Gallery which also has an amazing exhibition on.

LINKS: Apply for the vocal course on 19 May HERE
Who's Your Mama in Blackheath/ tickets HERE


NEWS: 39th Montreal Jazz Festival Announces Concert Hall Programme (28 June - 7 July)

The Place des Festivals in Montreal
Photo Credit: Jean-Francois Leblanc/Montreal Int Jazz Fest

The world's largest jazz festival has just announced its indoor programme. The range both in jazz and in other music, as ever, is vast and mouth-watering. 

The following list just scratches the surface. 
The full artist list is HERE. (click on a name to go through to date and venue)

- One name which has already caught the imagination is Ry Cooder (29 June Theatre Maisonneuve) - - Singers: Cecile McLorin Salvant, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Melanie de Biasio
- Dave Holland's Quartet with Trilok Gurtu, Chris Potter and Renee Rosnes
- Mike Stern and Randy Brecker
- From the UK, legends: Jethro Tull and Soft Machine
- and others: Sons of Kemet, GoGo Penguin, Zara McFarlane, Hannah Williams, Jacob Banks, Metronomy, Gwyneth Herbert
- Herbie Hancock
- The vast Centre Bell ice hockey arena will present Ludovico Einaudi
- At the Gesu arts centre there is a special residencies for John Medeski and Mark Guiliana and Dr Lonnie Smith
- Also at Gesu Keyon Harrold, Marius Neset, Gilad Hekselman, David Binney, Shai Maestro, Jamie Saft
- and Cory Henry, Snarky Puppy, Kamasi Washington
- Bela Fleck
- Carla Bley
- Archie Shepp
- Shake Stew
- Aruan Ortiz
- Sarah McKenzie
- St Germain
- Charlotte Gainsbourg
- and from the Canadian scene projects for bassist Remi-Jean Leblanc, Jordan Officer, Lucioles, Francois Bourassa...

LINK: Montreal Jazz Festival website


PREVIEW: The Tap Pack, Peacock Theatre WC2 (1-19 May 2018)

The Tap Pack
Publicity picture

From 1 to 19 May at Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre near Aldwych, classic jazz and mesmeric tap dancing are brought together in one high-energy show. Inspired by the suave sounds and cool characters of the original Rat Pack, five performers and a four-piece live band inject new life into this timeless style. Leah Williams reports:

Sadly for us, the chances of walking into a theatre and getting to see the legendary members of the Rat Pack do their thing is, well, pretty slim to say the least. Luckily for us, though, a celebrated Australian dance group are providing the opportunity to see an all-singing, all-dancing show that encapsulates the cool, slick, enduring joy of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.

Offering a show that embraces the classic and adds a modern twist, The Tap Pack promises to be the perfect combination of song, dance and comedy entertainment. Featured songs include classics from the Rat Pack themselves such as The Lady is a Tramp, Come Fly with Me and That’s Life that will take you straight back to that golden era. At the same time, the show also fully embraces the 21st Century and adds its own special touch to modern-day hits from pop royalty such as Beyoncé, Michael Bublé and Ed Sheeran.

The show, which has previously toured Australia, Berlin and Beijing, will be landing on our capital’s doorstep at Sadler’s Wells’ Peacock Theatre next month. The first tap show to feature at the theatre for several years, this comedy tap extravaganza was invited to London after being seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2016, where it won the Spirit of the Fringe award.

A show that defies easy definition, The Tap Pack presents the type of fun, all-round entertainment the Peacock Theatre is renowned for. With swing music at its heart, it is a show full to the brim with tap dancing, singing and witty banter that reflects the cheeky, old-school coolness of its inspiration.

Sammy Davis Jr. is quoted as saying that “the success of the Rat Pack was due to the camaraderie, the three guys who work together and kid each other and love each other.” There was indeed an undeniable chemistry that has made the Rat Pack the unique and timeless collaboration that it is, loved by all from those who might have seen them live to those who listen to remastered versions online today.

The Tap Pack also embraces this essence of friendship and creative collaboration to create an indefinable energy on stage. One of the show’s creators Jordan Pollard said: "The Rat Pack were genuine pals on and off stage. So too are The Tap Pack and I think audiences may be able to feel the friendships on stage and know that they are seeing great mates who love what they do! You can definitely feel the mischief on stage – every night is a little bit different and we encourage everyone to keep it spontaneous. This has got to be the best show I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on!"

 “The Pack” is made up of five of Australia’s hottest entertainment talents: Jesse Rasmussen, Thomas J. Egan, Sean Mulligan, Max Patterson and Ben Brown, all of whom have a list of impressive credits to their name. They are joined on stage by a swinging live band led by Micky Bister on drums alongside Simon Ferris on keys, Jac Jones on saxophone and Ben Cummings on trumpet.(pp)

LINKS: Peacock Theatre - Portugal Street WC2
The Tap Pack


NEWS: New regular showcase of young talent launches on International Jazz Day (Vortex, 30 April 2018)

Aubin Vanns and Michael Shrimpling collage from the Vortex website
The recent Dave Holland/Evan Parker fund-raiser at the Vortex has spawned a fund to support young musicians. The first showcase is on Monday. Peter Bacon reports:

It started with a duo gig from two giants of the jazz world, and will ultimately benefit those climbing the first rungs on the jazz ladder. The Shape Of Jazz To Come is the title of what it is hoped will become a regular showcase of young talent.

Dave Holland explained: “Last month Evan Parker and I held a successful fund raising concert at the Vortex and I want to thank all those that came and gave their generous support to the event. As a result we have established a fund that will be used to support the presentation of special events, including evenings showcasing many of the talented young artists that are in the UK.

“The first of these will occur on International Jazz Day, April 30th, and will feature two groups, one from the Royal Academy of Music and one from Trinity College. It’s our intention to make this a regular event, giving the dedicated Vortex audience a chance to hear some of the great young musicians present their vision for the future of the music. We hope you’ll give them your support.”

Monday’s double bill features the Aubin Vanns Trio + 1 from the Royal Academy, and the Michael Shrimpling Quartet from Trinity Laban.

Aubin Vanns is a guitarist and AVT’s music is described thus: “Flashes of brightness and colourful streaks contrast with dark, brooding ambience. AVT spin their own common thread from eclectic fibres, with a typically post-modern list of influences including Richard Strauss, Jim Hall and Neil Young. Purely abstract compositions nestle with pieces written to words by Yeats and Kerouac.” Vanns, double bassist Will Sach and drummer Jay Davis will be joined by fellow Royal Academy student Alberto Palau Garcera on piano.

Michael Shrimpling is a double bassist and his quartet has Joe Elliott on tenor saxophone, George Melton on guitar and Will Cleasby on drums. According to the Vortex blurb: “With a collective passion for the free jazz tradition pioneered by Ornette Coleman, Michael and his band will present a set of music inspired by the great composers of this broad and exciting jazz lineage.”

Nick Smart, head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music, said: “The Vortex provides a vital outlet for creative and community expression, and I hope this new monthly night will pave the way for future generations to nurture their own relationship and sense of history with the club.”

Hans Koller, head of jazz at Trinity Laban, added: “I think that jazz education can only come alive and develop in the interaction of ‘the street and the school’. The Vortex plays a vital part in the process of everybody’s learning. And of course in our music we are all eternal students. Please support the Vortex, it’s the future.”

LINK: The Shape Of Jazz To Come at the Vortex


PROFILE: Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock (tour dates in England and Scotland in May)

Alex Hitchcock
Photo credit: Rob Monk

Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock has been tipped in the jazz media for great things, and marked out as “an incredible young lion of the tenor sax” by flute virtuoso, composer and bandleader Gareth Lockrane. Profile by Rob Adams

Born in London, Alex Hitchcock studied English at Cambridge, reasoning that he might enjoy the best of both worlds through gaining access to the lively local jazz scene while gaining a first class university education and still being close to London. He went on to become the director of the Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra, touring to Istanbul and collaborating with the aforementioned Gareth Lockrane, before returning to London, where he completed a postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Music in 2016.

For his final recital at the Royal Academy he formed the quintet that features on his first recording as a leader, Live at the London and Cambridge Jazz Festivals, and is currently on tour until 18 May.

A four-track EP, the recording has been made possible by the support of the City Music Foundation and documents the progress the group has made with four tracks captured a year apart. With 15 gigs in all, Hitchcock is looking forward to hearing how the group develops over a fairly intensive period of activity.

“I’m still at the early stages as a bandleader,” he says, “and it’s interesting to hear how we sounded on the two London tracks compared to the two Cambridge tracks a year on. There’s a raw energy to the music on the EP generally and I like that because some of my favourite albums – and I’m not saying my music is at the same level – are live recordings by Oscar Peterson with Wes Montgomery and Sonny Stitt. I like the honesty you get from recording live before all the post-production that goes into studio albums kicks in.”

Hitchcock began playing saxophone at the age of nine after realising quite quickly that his first choice of instrument, the violin, wasn’t really for him. He started on alto and went through a period of listening to and playing Charlie Parker tunes and bebop generally before hearing Coleman Hawkins and Joshua Redman turned him towards the tenor.

Alex Hitchcock Quintet
Photo Credit, CD Artwork: Gina Southgate

“There was definitely an old school influence involved and then I started going to the Weekend Arts College, which was always known as WAC, in Belsize Park,” he says. “The main tutor there, Ricky Mian, was a really inspirational figure in terms of developing my tenor playing and trying odd time signatures and there was such a diverse group of musicians involved. People came from all over the place and I found that really beneficial.”

At Cambridge Hitchcock threw himself into the local scene and met a lot of the musicians he works with now through gigging. As well as his own group he plays in bands including Resolution 88 and the Patchwork Jazz Orchestra. He has also performed with, amongst others, Soweto Kinch, Laurence Cottle, John Hollenbeck, Stan Sulzmann, Dennis Rollins, Nick Smart, Art Themen and Franco-Belgian duo André Charlier/Benoit Sourisse.

For his quintet he chose musicians he felt he could write for and whose playing he was familiar with. He and pianist Will Barry have known each other for ten years now. Bassist Joe Downard and drummer Jay Davis are more recent acquaintances and trumpeter James Copus, he says, is everyone’s favourite player right now.

“I like the idea of everyone bringing their own thing to the music,” he says. “I’ll scope the pieces out to begin with and they might develop into a feature for a particular band member. I’m still developing as a composer and trying to become the sort of person who can get up every morning and write something but I think developing a style of writing is like developing a style of playing: you take little bits of everyone you like and adapt and combine it until you have your own signature.”

Having grown up listening to American players including Ambrose Akinmusire and Jason Moran, he has taken their influence on board and finds inspiration in the diversity of the UK and European scenes.

“It’s a really exciting time at the moment,” he says. “Between what Laura Jurd is doing with Dinosaur, what Jasper Høiby is doing with Phronesis and what Sons of Kemet are doing, just to name a few, there’s an incredible richness available. With the quintet I’d be happy if people heard some of all of those influences. It can be quite raucous and sometimes it feels like there’s a bit of chaos under the surface but I like that. There’s room for subtlety and dynamic contrast but I like that it also has a bit of edge to it.” (pp)

Tour dates:
Sun 6 May: Colchester Arts Centre
Fri 11 May: The Verdict, Brighton
Sat 12 May: The Hive, Shrewsbury
Mon 14 May: Pizza Express Jazz Club, London
Wed 16 May: The Jazz Bar, Edinburgh
​Thu 17 May: The Jazz Cafe, Newcastle
Fri 18 May: Sheffield Jazz


REVIEWED IN BRIEF: Showcase Reactions from jazzahead! 2018

Jazzmeia Horn – chosen by Dominic Reilly
Photo Credit: Kat Pfeiffer

Sebastian writes:

The 39 bands which played at the showcases (rather than the full 40 - Anna-Lena Schnabel's Quartet had to withdraw) are selected from a total of roughly 600 entrants. There is so much else going on at jazzahead!, very few people – and I am no exception – get to see all the showcases. So I asked a few people to write in brief about their favourite bands from the showcases. Please add more! 

I really enjoyed Philip Clemo's set – he's doing interesting things with visuals and I loved the unusual instrumentation (Mary James – artist management, UK)

Jazzmeia Horn has an amazingly versatile voice and a strong backing band (Dominic Reilly – promoter, Dublin, Ireland)

Hermia/Darrifourcq/Ceccaldi in Hall 7.1 on Friday were outstanding, and had my full attention throughout their set, drawing me in with high-energy group interaction. Valentin Ceccaldi on cello laid down a strong interweaving rhythmic foundation in partnership with drummer Sylvain Darrifourcq, allowing saxophonist Manuel Hermia to ride the waves with his compelling and adventurous improvising. A treat indeed. (Dee Byrne – saxophonist, UK)

It was astonishing how the visual artist in the Australian group Mn'JAM Experiment was able to lead and direct the improvisation – especially on the last tune with a series of faces. As a way of interpreting a graphic score this was something wholly new to me. (VIDEO from 8:23:40)(Lukas Niggli – drummer, Uster, Switzerland)

Shake Stew, an allstar-group comprised of the most versatile young players in Vienna, blew the roof off of the Schlachthof on Friday night. Astonishing interplay between two drummers and two bassists respectively, plus a terrific horn section made for a hypnotic sound somewhere between North African trance, Afro-Beat and Souljazz. (VIDEO) (Jan Paersch – journalist, Hamburg)

I was made aware of Aly Keita's concert by his agent. Exiting my meeting next to the hall, I caught the 2nd half of the show. The combination of balafon, clarinet or saxophone and bass drum melded well - and Keita is a real master on his instrument. (Tobi Kirsch - publicist, Berlin)

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution - chosen by Tom Hewson

I was lucky to see Janette Mason’s Red Alert Clubnight for Dot Time Records which was a mixture of Mason’s arrangements and originals with her piano trio featuring Tom Mason on bass and Chris Morris on drums. Her tunes were engaging and exciting and demonstrate Mason’s depth of creativity and complete passion for jazz. Thoroughly enjoyable. (Lauren Bush - vocalist - London)

Daniel Erdmann's Velvet Revolution really stood out for me – I was captivated by the viola and violin playing of Théo Ceccaldi, and it was a treat to hear Jim Hart in such detail and sonic space. VIDEO from 1:20:30 (Tom Hewson – pianist, UK)

Acá Seca Trio in Hall 7.1 was the perfect finale for Jazzahead! 2018. The combination of piano, Spanish guitar, percussion and three voices transported me to Argentina. The trio ended the show singing a capella from the middle of the audience. Their beautiful harmonies and emotional phrasing got them a standing ovation. (Nora Jorba – booker/agency, London, UK)

What I really enjoyed about the set from Gregory Privat's trio was how they could sound very poetic and soft, and also dynamic and surprising at the same time. A very fluent way of traversing through music, telling stories that seemed deeply personal. Picturesque, authentic, I just loved it and afterwards it felt as if I had been taken on a trip to Martinique! (Kat Pfeiffer - photographer, London)

I appreciated Piotr Damasciewicz/Power of the Horns most. They were the last group of the Polish night on Thursday: Good group interplay and especially a tasteful and interesting drum solo from a drummer (Samuel Hall) with total independence of both hands. (Constantin Sieg – radio presenter, Marburg, Germany)


REVIEW: SNJO, dir. Tommy Smith, feat. Laura Jurd, Irini Arabatzi, Brian Kellock at Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

The poster for the concert.

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, directed by Tommy Smith, featuring Laura Jurd, Irini Arabatzi and Brian Kellock
(Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 22 April 2018. Concert review by Mark McKergow)

This superlative performance from the SNJO was definitively a ‘concert of two halves’ – both overflowing with outstanding ensemble and solo work from two very different eras of jazz music – from pre-war swing to ECM and free improvisation.

Kenny Wheeler’s Sweet Sister Suite was originally commissioned by Tommy Smith in 1997, the early days of the SNJO. It was premiered in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall with Wheeler himself and Norma Winstone as featured soloists. Twenty years on, the work is revived in the same venue with Laura Jurd taking Wheeler’s seat on flugelhorn and Greek vocalist Irini Arabatzi tackling the Winstone vocal parts. The suite’s eight movements are played as a continuous whole, and the result was so entrancing that my pint remained untouched for the entire hour.

The opening set Jurd’s flugelhorn in a short and atmospheric duet with Peter Johnstone’s piano and the atmosphere was electric within seconds. Kevin McKenzie’s guitar then sparred with Jurd, before the first of several magnificent flugelhorn solos; Jurd’s tone can be mellow, and also hit a fine brightness in the blink of an eye. Wheeler’s writing style often interposed ensemble passages between solos, and the SNJO played this with fine precision and intonation, with changes to the pace and rhythms flowing naturally and flawlessly.

Irina Arabatzi came more to the fore in the second movement, Keeper Of The Light, warming to her role of voice-as-instrument and adding occasional sung words. Her solo here following leader Tommy Smith’s typically powerful tenor turn showed a great musicality and flair. Other outstanding moments during this breathtaking performance included Chris Greive’s trombone alongside Arabatzi in Worlds Apart, the movement culminating in an accelerando passage performed without conductor in total unison. Paul Towndrow put in an excellent alto sax solo on Her Love Is An Endless Stream, leading to another glorious ensemble passage before Laura Jurd showed her power and fluidity once again.

Jurd stood aside to allow Sean Gibbs to come forward for a trumpet solo on Wondering Dream, and was plainly as appreciative as the audience for his bright sound and energy. The penultimate movement, Twilight Chant, saw a latin riff build up into another Tommy Smith tenor explosion with the band playing at 100mph and the soloists flying free into group improvisations. The closing moments, Utopian Recital, were by contrast short, majestic and conclusive. Word is that there will be a CD release of this suite in June 2018 which should be a real treat – look out for it.

This performance would have made an outstanding concert on its own. However, after just 20 minutes the SNJO were back on the stand with a completely new project featuring the music of Mary Lou Williams, pianist, composer and arranger whose output ranged from the 1930s era of Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington through the bebop period with Dizzy Gillespie into the 1960s and 1970s.

Williams is one of those ‘hidden figures’ of jazz, working at the very top for decades without becoming a leading star, and the SNJO did justice to this range of output. Edinburgh favourite Brian Kellock took up the piano seat and showed his versatility throughout. The opening Mary’s Idea and Camel Hop really caught the dance hall smoky mood, with top-class dynamics from the ensemble and bright clarinet interjections from Martin Kershaw.  From the other end of Williams’ career, Aries Mood from 1968, composed for the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra as a tribute to Ben Webster, had space for multiple reed solos.

Irini Arabatzi returned to the stage for a sultry rendition of What Your Story, Morning Glory? (no Gallaghers here, of course) and a successful run at a feminised take on In The Land of OO-BLA-DEE, written for Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra in 1949: full of bebop phrases, flattened 5ths and space for Kellock to stretch his fingers. The evening concluded after close on three hours with Jump Caprice, a hugely swinging 12-bar blues which allowed tenor player Konrad Wiszniewski to finally emerge from the shadows and channel his inner Paul Gonsalves at the microphone.

To experience either of these sets would have made for a fine show.  To hear them both on the same evening from musicians overflowing in all directions with creativity and collective endeavour was an unforgettable privilege.  If there was a finer evening of jazz on this planet on 22 April 2018, I don’t know where I’d look for it.

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra:
Reeds: Tommy Smith, Martin Keshaw,  Paul Towndrow, Konrad Wieszniewski, Bill Fleming
Trumpets: Jim Davison, Sean Gibbs, Tom MacNiven, Lorne Cowieson
Trombones: Chris Greive, Liam Shorthall, Kevin Garrity, Michael Owers
Rhythm: Peter Johnstone (piano), Kevin McKenzie (guitars), Calum Gourlay (double bass), Sebastiaan de Krom (drums, sitting in for regular drummer Alyn Cosker)

LINK Video of SNJO, Laura Jurd and Irini Arabatzi in rehearsal for these performances.


CD REVIEW: SkyDive Trio – Sun Sparkle

SkyDive Trio – Sun Sparkle
Hubro. CD review by Rob Mallows

Norway is a pulsing hotbed of jazz creativity and invention and a source of much that’s good in cutting-edge European jazz at the moment. Sun Sparkle, the second album by SkyDive Trio, reinforces that perception.

This new ‘supergroup’ power trio brings together Nowegian bassist Mats Eilertsen and compatriot, composer and guitarist Thomas T. Dahl, with Finnish percussionist Olavi Louhivuori. Norway and Finland both border the Arctic Circle and this album has a sort of hypnotic, fluid sensibility that dazzles and mesmerises like a musical Northern Lights.

This album has a strong jazz-rock vibe to it on some tracks (what came into my mind at one point was the US band Tool) and tracks like Apollo, with its simple eighth-note bass rhythms and four-to-the-floor drumming, reinforce that idea. Their press release says the band “counters jazz subtlety with rock attack”, and that is a pretty accurate description. There’s enough improvisation, creativity and musical fluidity to please the jazz fan, but you also get chunks of pure rock granite.

The risk is, of course, that this duality pleases neither the jazz fan, the rock fan, or indeed the jazz-rock fan. But Dahl, Eilertsen and Louhivuori offer up enough in the ten original songs on this album, and multiple moods and sensibilities to ensure that it’s a mixture that, on the whole, works well.

Fourth track Engine Rest brings the chill of the fjörd to the album, all quiet introspection and muted, acoustic bass, which leads into Descending, which is all falling guitar arpeggios and bass triplets, sparse but cool, with Dahl’s guitar having at times a country music-like twang that elevates the track out of the ordinary. This Nordic sensibility is also audible on a track like Spruce, where a basic acoustic arpeggio from Dahl is contrasted with bowed bass from Eilertsen that has a calming effect which creates the most beautiful, but also simple, track on an album that, up to this point, is chock full of musical ‘stuff’.

The title track, Sun Sparkle is aptly named. On it, the trio recreates the feel of a sunrise over quiet, snow-capped mountains, the combination of brilliant musical light and a fresh harmonic atmosphere uplifting the soul. Dahl’s guitar work has a transcendent, lyrical quality that you can just luxuriate in. His work on this album offers positive comparison with another recent guitar genre-bending album, Matthew Stevens’ Preverbal (REVIEW HERE)

Norway is, Wikipedia tells me, the 213th least densely populated planet on the planet. Sun Sparkle too feels full of space and uncluttered and a great place in which to lose oneself for an hour.


CD REVIEW: Joachim Kühn New Trio – Love & Peace

Joachim Kühn New Trio – Love & Peace
(ACT Music 9861-2. CD review by Brian Marley)

Joachim Kühn’s earlier trio with J-F Jenny-Clark (double bass) and Daniel Humair (drums) was one of the great undersung groups of the 1980s and ‘90s. They mixed lyrical free-flowing improvisation with memorable compositions (mostly penned by Kühn) and a smattering of standards, to which they always brought something fresh and worthwhile. Albums such as From Time to Time Free and Live 1989 (both on CMP) were benchmark recordings in terms of strong group interaction and a well-balanced programme of material.

Initially that trio brought a high degree of edginess and urgency to its music that became, in later recordings, less hard driven, more measured, but no less accomplished. Although it wasn’t formed until 2015, the New Trio, with Chris Jennings (bass) and Eric Schaefer (drums) follows on naturally from the later Kühn/Jenny-Clark/Humair recordings.

Love & Peace, their second album, follows the critically acclaimed Beauty & Truth (ACT Music, 2016). The music on both recordings is organic in nature and deeply felt. It’s also deeply satisfying. Tracks are fairly brief – only three of the 11 top the five-minute mark – and, as one would imagine, the solos are also brief, brief but not insubstantial. Greater emphasis is put on group interplay, mood and atmosphere, things the trio does supremely well.

On Beauty & Truth, they covered two tracks by The Doors (Riders on the Storm and The End), and on the new album there’s a beautifully limpid reading of The Crystal Ship. These tunes lend themselves well to Schaefer’s less orthodox rhythmic approach, drawing inspiration as much from rock as jazz. Even though he doesn’t always play what you expect to hear in a jazz piano trio, it’s always the right thing. Consider, for example, the tribal thump that underpins Kühn’s New Pharoah. When the track begins, what Shaefer does seems anomalous until the theme slides into place and it suddenly makes sense.

The trio also tackle one of Ornette Coleman’s lesser-known compositions, Night Plans, which Kühn originally recorded in duo with Coleman on the album Colors: Live from Leipzig (Harmolodic/Verve, 1997). The rich harmonic material that Kühn draws out of Coleman’s fairly straightforward melody is really something special. Like everything else on Love & Peace, repeated listening is required to fully appreciate the subtle complexity of this trio’s music, but it’s well worth the effort.


NEWS: "Love & Protest is the last album to be released on Two Rivers Records"

The Two Rivers Records logo

Peter Bacon reports:

Founder of Two Rivers Records, Alya Al-Sultani, has announced on Facebook the cessation of new releases on the label, the aim being to concentrate on her own creative activity.

She writes: “Collective X's Love & Protest is the last album to be released on Two Rivers Records.

"I feel that four years and 25 (mostly debut) releases later, I have done my bit and now need to fully focus on myself as an artist and producer.

“I love running labels but also love producing and so I will be focussing on Black Wave and SLSA where I can do both. I am blessed with ears and I want to use them for more than deciding whether or not to release a mastered record. The process matters to me as much as the outcome.

“The label model I always wanted to develop was one where the label takes a leading role in artist development, nurtures a collective mentality and shares opportunities. The set up of Two Rivers Records did not allow this and it became too similar to other independent jazz labels who do a great job and I don't want to crowd an already under-pressure market.

“The TRR bandcamp will stay exactly where it is and we will continue to communicate regularly with our wonderful supporters. The legal entity also remains so artists are unaffected from this point of view and publishing efforts continue.

“I've been happy to see artists who released debuts with TRR flourish and take their careers forward. I've learnt a lot about the music industry and I am taking these lessons forward into Black Wave and SLSA with a fantastic team.

“Yes, I still love jazz in all its many forms. But I'll be focussing on doing it, rather than releasing it.”

The label had released a wide stylistic range of music from artists including Fini Bearman, Alex Bonney, Darwish, Snowpoet, Calum Gourlay, Emilia Martensson and Nuvorrian. All albums will still be available on the Two Rivers Records bandcamp page.

LINK TO ALL TRR ALBUMS: Two Rivers Records Bandcamp


CD REVIEW: Spirit Fingers – Spirit Fingers

Spirit Fingers – Spirit Fingers
(Shanachie Records. CD review by Rob Mallows)

When an album liner notes helpfully lists the time signatures for each track (and each solo within each track), you know you’re in for a jazz-fusion adventure. So it proves with the polyrhythmic groove of Spirit Fingers, the new vehicle for US keyboardist and composer Greg Spero, where every track on this eponymous album is as challenging as a puzzle of an Antarctic snow scene.

Spero is a new artist to me, but if you judge a man by the company he keeps, then he is – as Vince Wilburn Jr of the great Miles Davis Electric Band says in the press release for this album – “the real deal”. He was mentored by Herbie Hancock and has played in the Buddy Rich Big Band as well as worked with saxophonists Frank Catalano, and Kamasi Washington and drummer Thundercat.

The 32-year-old Spero has fingers in a number of musical pies including jazz, hip-hop, modern classical and pop. This creative outburst arose, his notes say, from sitting around on the tour bus during a tour with singer-songwriter Halsey. Rebelling against the simplicity of the music Spero was playing night after night, he went to the other extreme and sought solace in overlapping time signatures and the myriad possibilities they offer a composer.

The results of his rhythmic epiphany are clear on this album. Opening track inside (12/8 time) - has a visceral intensity and propulsive quality that makes for challenging listening as there are few easy melodic hooks to grab the listener. As Spero himself says in the notes: “My music can be hard to immediately dive into.” It will, therefore, challenge jazz fans looking for hummable melodies or uplifting chord changes. This is hard music to concentrate on at times, as there’s so much going on. But, with persistence, it rewards.

Helping him create his musical vision are bassist Hadrien Feraud, drummer Mike Mitchell and guitarist Dario Chiazzolino. Together, they bring to mind the spirit and intensity of a Weckl-backed Chick Corea Elektric Band – lots o' notes – with the virtuosity and boundless imagination of Mahavishnu-era John McLaughlin, or the funk-fuelled jazz rock of Weather Report and maybe even Spyro Gyra.

Fourth track for (17/8) starts off straight-forwardly enough with a simple piano arpeggio, but grows in complexity as Mitchell’s cymbal work hints at more to come, after which Chiazzolino’s guitar solo breaks out and generates momentum as it grows in intensity.

There is a delicious relentlessness to everything on this album. The band rarely gives the listener the chance to breathe and take stock. Fifth track find (13/16) right off the bat is intense high-hat, pulsing bass and repetitive, evolving arpeggios from Spero under which Mitchell’s drums whirl and gyrate, at times matching the tonal complexity of someone like Magnus Öström in what he can do with one set of drums.

Each successive track provides a new – in Spero’s words – “jagged rhythmic landscape”. This album is the musical equivalent of listening to the Andes – high peaks, deep troughs, huge ranges of temperature and atmosphere. It’s not for the average jazz Sunday stroller.

But it’s not all just about the complexity and the speed – there is a lot of delightful harmonic colour. Spero’s keyboard playing brings to mind players like Gary Husband and Jeff Lorber.

There is also simplicity. Like a strand of DNA running through eleventh track, the pop-jazz-infused you, there’s a simple chord progression used in hundreds of everyday pop tracks which Spero modulates out of all recognition to create a rather lovely composition that, finally, gives the listener a chance to rest.

There’s a lot to reward a good, intense listen of this album. At times it can – as jazz-fusion is prone to do – just get too complicated, but for most tracks Spero and band stay on the right, listenable side of complexity and propulsiveness.

All the track titles, for some reason, have no capital letters and feel a little uninspired. It’s as if Spero, after the tremendous energy spent on both composing and record these tracks, gave all of five minutes to naming them. A shame, as a great track name can tell you so much about what the composer is aiming to say.


CD REVIEW: Pablo Held Trio – Investigations

Pablo Held Trio – Investigations
(Edition Records. EDN1109. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The Pablo Held Trio have been together for more than 12 years, and this is the band's tenth CD together. On it they demonstrate the depth of understanding gained through recording and performing as a unit. Whilst pianist Pablo Held wrote all the tracks, it is as if they play as one.

On the liner notes Held explains how many of the pieces refer to specific people, particularly his family; April Sonne, dedicated to his wife, is a slow, contemplative tune, reminiscent of John Taylor's trio work such as Rosslyn. I'll Dream of Flowers is similarly gentle, Jonas Burgwinkel's sparse brush work on the drums quietly adding greatly to the piece. Robert Landferman work on bass is also integral to the feel off the record. Whilst he can play walking bass lines, as on Yearning, during which the trio get into almost straight-ahead swing, elsewhere it's almost as if his bass hints at the piece; on Stubborn, he heads off on a tangent, almost daring Held and Burgwinkel to follow; Held's phrasing of the tune has the angular, stabbing quality of Monk, although on his solo it's as if he is squeezing notes in to see where they will take him.

Haiku Kit, dedicated to Held's friend and fellow pianist Kit Downes, is another slow, open, reflective piece. As well as piano, bass and drums, there are organ chords provided by Hubert Nuss backing the trio which set the mood. Held's solo increases the tension before he returns to the theme.

The CD opens with Investigations, the title track, which sums up the shared musical language between the trio. It is exploratory, loud in places and quiet in others; energetic and and emphatic.

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


CD REVIEW: Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette - After The Fall

Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette - After The Fall
(ECM 6716506. CD review by Mike Collins)

The Standards Trio, Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, last performed in 2014 and the end of their 30-year collaboration was confirmed the following year. There had been 18 albums, most of them live recordings, an exhaustive oeuvre that it’s hard not to reference acoustic piano trios against, and so distinctive, a few notes is usually all it takes to identify them. Now here is a 19th with a title, After the Fall, to conjure with and two CDs' worth of the trio to relish.

The live recording is from November 1998. It was a very particular moment in the trio’s story and Jarrett’s career. He had not performed publicly for two years having suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This gig was, by his account, an experiment at a venue close to his home, testing his readiness to return.

The Melody At Night With You, a set of solo renditions of mainly standards was recorded in this period, nearly 12 months before this concert and released in 1999. That is almost unbearable in its balance of intimacy, fragility and expressiveness, untypically Jarrett in its lack of discursiveness. This return to public performance is a triumph also, but now bursting with fresh invention on the most familiar of material. It stands alongside the best of the released recordings, crackling with the energy that comes from the three minds moving as a unit through the music.

The repertoire is striking. Of course standards, but drawn from some of the most loved and bebop-flavoured jazz standards. Scrapple from the Apple, Bouncin with BudDoxy, Autumn Leaves. Moment’s Notice even gets a thorough examination. It’s a turn that pays dividends on this recording. There’s a focus and economy to themes. The opener, The Masquerade is Over, gets an intro, but thereafter it's straight down to business and the focus seems to unlock something. Scrapple fizzes, the bebop language weaving around a long melodic arc and the stream of ideas fuse together. Standards Trio habits emerge, but are never formulaic. After another dizzying excursion on Autumn Leaves they find a hypnotic vamp and take off in a new direction. The blues One for Majid is a reminder of Jarrett’s capacity for a seemingly unstoppable flow of invention on the most basic of forms. They produce one of their viscerally infectious, country-cum-gospel grooves to re-cast Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and then close out the set with a tender reading of the trio perennial When I Fall In Love.

For devotees, this will all be pleasurably familiar, it never ‘gets old’ however. Their two-year hiatus proved to be mid-way through the eventual span of the trio, so this gig marks a significant moment and it’s magnificent.

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


CD REVIEW: Draw by Four – Framework

Draw by Four – Framework
(Jellymould JM-JJ029. CD Review by Peter Jones)

You could call Draw by Four an organ trio with added sax, but that description would not do justice to the band’s richly integrated sound. They are captained by South London saxophonist Jon Shenoy, and this sparky new album evokes both past and present, in keeping with all good jazz. Ignore the uninspiring title – it’s a sophisticated collection of melodic pieces, most of them written by Shenoy himself, sometimes in dazzlingly difficult time signatures.

Framework is full of musical nods and references, and the arrangements have been creatively thought through. Take their version of Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on my Shoulder), one of the most gorgeous tunes on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Although in this case it slightly outstays its welcome, it’s a good example of everything I’ve just mentioned. It may not be a new tune, but the choice is refreshing. After a sort of upsidedown cadenza from Hammond organist Will Bartlett, very free and wistful in keeping with the original, there’s a full statement of the intro melody from Shenoy’s tenor, after which Chris Draper sidles in with the brushes and guitarist Sam Dunn sketches in a few gentle fills. Draper and Dunn then lay out again for the second A section, after which the bridge tickles your ears with what sounds like a brace of harmonized flutes (although it’s more likely one flute plus the Hammond’s flute setting), whilst the guitar plays a beautiful counter-melody, leading back into the main theme over which Dunn now solos. It’s not flashy, but it is tasteful and well organized.

Shenoy is hip enough both to acknowledge the funk/groove tradition of the organ trio and to subvert it too, as in the labyrinthine Tomorrow’s Worriers (sic) which succeeds in maintaining its groove despite being in 11/8 (as far as I can tell). Pretty fiendish to solo over, but the band achieves it with little apparent effort. Dunn’s guitar is crunchy with sustain, and the tune stops on a dime. The sweet ballad My Horizon is a duo excursion for tenor and guitar, after which the intro to the impressionistic Breakers features wave sounds, guitar-generated seagulls and gently bobbing tom-toms.

The album closes with a couple of spirited swingers – Marriage is for Old Folks, a total obscurity by Leon Carr and Earl Shuman (who also penned Hey There Lonely Girl) and Arthur Schwartz’s You and the Night and the Music, the latter bookended with a newly-minted riff. It’s all good stuff, and dense enough to reward repeated plays.


LP REVIEW: Quincy Jones and His Orchestra – The Quintessence/Big Band Bossa Nova

Quincy Jones and His Orchestra – The Quintessence/Big Band Bossa Nova
(Vinyl Passion VP 80780. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)

There is no shortage of jazz being reissued on vinyl. Almost all of it consists of digital transfers of public domain material. That is also true of a new series of LPs from Vinyl Passion. However, a couple of things make these releases stand out from the pack. For a start, despite being pressed on good quality 180gram vinyl, they’re reasonably priced. More importantly, the records are rather lovingly curated by some people who seem to know what they’re doing, and care about it.

This double album consists of two albums by Quincy Jones. The first is The Quintessence, originally released on the Impulse label (Impulse AS-11) in 1961 and a superb modern big band set. The compositions include a couple of standards, Straight, No Chaser by Thelonious Monk and Invitation by Bronislau Kaper, but otherwise consist of originals by Jones himself, Billy Byers or Benny Golson. It should be noted that all three of these men were top arrangers — Billy Byers in particular is an unsung hero in jazz. One reason Byers is less known than he should be is that he was happy to remain anonymous, ghost writing for Quincy Jones among others. When the journalist Gene Lees asked Billy Byers why he was content with this situation, Byers replied, “Quincy’s good at the politics and business part of it. I just want to do my writing.”

In any case, The Quintessence is a showcase for excellent composing and dynamic arrangements. And the roster of soloists is phenomenal. The sax section includes Oliver Nelson, Jerome Richardson and Phil Woods. On trumpet we have Clark Terry, Thad Jones and Freddie Hubbard, and Curtis Fuller is among the trombones. Woods is wonderful on the title track, providing a rhapsodic, unfurling introduction. And Freddie Hubbard and Oliver Nelson distinguish themselves in the contemporary urban strut of Robot Portrait, a Billy Byers composition. Nelson’s solo here is majestic, towering and endlessly articulate. And Hubbard responds with a sharp, chattering, masterfully judged flow of trumpet.

However, if The Quintessence is unadulterated, top shelf, mainstream jazz, Big Band Bossa Nova would seem to have rather more suspect credentials. Originally released by Mercury in 1962, when Quincy Jones was still head of A&R for that label, it’s not only part of the bossa nova craze, it’s very much in the space-age-bachelor-pad, lounge music genre — a status firmly cemented by the use of a track from the record, Soul Bossa Nova, in the Austin Powers movies. So it would be understandable if a jazz purist came out in hives just reading the catalogue number of this album (SR 60751). But dig a little deeper and you’ll find some amazing soloists, including the breathtaking presence of Roland Kirk, along with plenty more very tasty playing. Other instrumentalists include Phil Woods and Jerome Richardson back again, with the addition of Paul Gonsalves to the sax section. Clark Terry is back, too, Jim Hall plays guitar, and the authenticity of the album’s Latin American heritage is reinforced by the presence of Lalo Schifrin as pianist and composer. His tune, the loping Lalo Bossa Nova is outstanding, with a great sax solo. And one only has to listen to the sincere and elegant and lovely Serenata to realise this is not just meretricious bossa-craze cash-in, nor exotica ephemera.

Where the exotica ephemera does make an appearance is in the two bonus tracks appended to The Quintessence. Sadly they aren’t alternate takes or passed-over selections from the original Impulse sessions. Instead they’re taken from another Quincy Jones Mercury album, Around the World (PPS 6014). The culprits are Hot Sake and Baia. The faux-japonais of Hot Sake is hard to take, or at least hard to take seriously. Baia is better, but then most things are.

By contrast, the bonus tracks for Big Band Bossa Nova are terrific. A Taste of Honey and Shagnasty were two sides of a 7 inch single released in 1962 on Mercury (72012). As far as I can tell this is their only other appearance on vinyl since that day. A very nifty little addition, which makes this set suddenly of interest to collectors and Quincy Jones completists. That and the shocking purple vinyl, of course.

Just for the hell of it I put this reissue up against an original Impulse pressing of The Quintessence from my library, mastered by Rudy Van Gelder. This 1961 copy has greater scope, more detail and superior dynamics and generates considerably more excitement. To make a synaesthetic comparison, the original Impulse was a little like seeing a movie at the cinema, while the Vinyl Pleasure reissue was like watching it at home, albeit on a decent sized TV screen. The Vinyl Pleasure pressings are almost certainly digitally sourced, but they are nice clean, noise-free pressings and afford a great deal of enjoyment to the listener. And did I mention that they’re purple?

My only real beef with this very agreeable release is that it has been entirely stripped of the original liner notes and therefore there are no musician credits. I understand that a bare-bones presentation enables a pleasantly low price tag, but it wouldn’t have cost much to include an insert with some details of the personnel. Even a repurposed version of the press release would have been helpful. Enough moaning. To anyone less of a vinyl snob than yours truly, this is an ideal way to acquire some immensely enjoyable jazz.

Some final thoughts… Despite some excellent use of typography, the cover design of this album is rudimentary, to say the least. There are so many talented designers out there that it should be possible to do something really distinctive and attractive for a marginal cost. And Vinyl Pleasure might also consider giving this budget series a strong brand identity, so each release is clearly part of it. If they do this, then instead of just reissuing the collector’s items of yesterday they could be creating the collector’s items of tomorrow.