NEWS: 2018 JazzFM Award Winners

‘This award makes me want to go home and practice.’
Pat Metheny receiving the PRS Gold Award
Photo by John L Walters
The Fifth JazzFM Awards were awarded at Shoresitch Town Hall on International Jazz Day 30 April. Here is the complete list of winners and nominees: 

 FULL LIST OF 2018 WINNERS AND NOMINEES

 Breakthrough Act of the Year - Sponsored by Yamaha 

WINNER: Nubya Garcia 
Ezra Collective
Rob Luft

Soul Artist of the Year - Sponsored by RCS 

WINNER: Moonchild 
Jordan Rakei
Leroy Hutson


UK Jazz Act of the Year (Public Vote) - Sponsored by Cambridge Audio 

WINNER: Ezra Collective 

Dinosaur
Kansas Smitty’s House Band

Digital Initiative of the Year 

WINNER: Esperanza Spalding: Exposure 

Jacob Collier: I Harm U
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club: Live Streaming

Instrumentalist of the Year - Sponsored by Grange Hotels 

WINNER: Evan Parker
Theon Cross
Yazz Ahmed

Blues Artist of the Year - Sponsored by British Airways

WINNER: Robert Cray 

Lucky Peterson
Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’


Jazz Innovation of the Year - Sponsored by Mishcon De Reya

WINNER: Shabaka Hutchings
Carleen Anderson: Cage Street Memorial
Joe Armon-Jones and Maxwell Owin: Idiom


Vocalist of the Year - Sponsored by Lateralise

WINNER: Zara McFarlane 
Alice Zawadzki
Liane Carroll


International Jazz Artist of the Year - Sponsored by Oris Watches

WINNER: Cécile McLorin Salvant
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Thundercat

Album of the Year (Public Vote) - Sponsored by Arqiva
WINNER: Thundercat – Drunk  Blue Note All-Stars – Our Point of View
Cécile McLorin Salvant – Dreams and Daggers 
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Diaspora 
Denys Baptiste – The Late Trane 
Phronesis – The Behemoth 


Live Experience of the Year (Public Vote) - Sponsored by Rathbones 

WINNER: Ronnie Scott’s presents Ezra Collective – EFG London Jazz Festival at Islington Assembly Hall
A Concert for Alice and John - Pharoah Sanders Quartet, Denys Baptiste and Alina Bzhezhinska – EFG London Jazz Festival at The Barbican
An evening with Dave Holland – Ambleside Days Festival at Zeffirellis Cinema
Jazz Re:Fest at Southbank Centre
Makaya McCraven featuring Theon Cross Trio and Jaimie Branch Fly or Die Ensemble -
CHICAGOXLONDON Day 1 at Total Refreshment Centre
Randolph Matthews – Jazz in the Round at Love Supreme Festival


PPL Lifetime Achievement Award

WINNER: Dame Cleo Laine 

Impact Award

George Benson 

PRS For Music Gold Award 

WINNER: Pat Metheny 

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NEWS: Manchester Jazz Festival 2018 highlights – tickets now on sale (20-28 July)

Cross Currents Trio: Chris Potter, Zakir Hussain and Dave Holland
Publicity picture
The summer festival news is coming thick and fast. Peter Bacon tries to keep up:

The 2018 edition of the Manchester Jazz Festival (or mjf as it likes to call itself in funky lower case initials) went on sale last Wednesday and these are their highlights with their notes (as identified in their press release):

Cross Currents Trio featuring Dave Holland, Zakir Hussain, Chris Potter: Three living legends of jazz unite in a rare UK performance fusing contemporary jazz and world music virtuosity.

Trish Clowes' My Iris: Trish’s compositions, conveyed by distinctive players from the UK scene and inspired by Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell and Björk, explore rich melody and dramatic contrast, from full throttle to the most delicate and intricate whispers.

Yazz Ahmed's Electric Dreams: British-Bahraini Yazz is a distinctive and intelligent soloist and composer. Her latest project is an ongoing series of innovative live collaborations with her favourite artists using electronics, live looping and sampling to explore contemporary jazz from a personal angle.

Arun Ghosh: Arun, one of the UK’s most charismatic artists and passionate communicators, returns to profile new music from album But Where Are You Really From? which fuses his trademark South-Asian folk and jazz with elements of rock, classical, folk and ambient music.

Ashley Henry Trio: Ashley has become one of the UK’s hotly-tipped stars. From a new generation referencing J Dilla, Robert Glasper and Madlib, yet steeped in the tradition of the piano masters, he leads this relaxed but driving trio with an aesthetic and sensitivity beyond his years.

Henry Spencer and Juncture: Astonishing dynamic variety, compositional flair and a measured vigour mark out this fast-rising star of the London scene and his multi-award-winning and close-knit band. Emotive and evocative music that touches jazz, rock and minimalism and makes for an energising sound of its own.

Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing, Glauco Venier with special guest Abel Selaocoe: Descansado – Songs for Films is the trio’s fifth recording together, boasting a beguiling set of personal interpretations of these broad-ranging and often overlooked songs. Norma’s crystalline tone, vast range and open versatility have graced an astonishing international performance and recording career that stretches back over decades.

Hackney Colliery Band: Inspired by New Orleans marching bands, Balkan beats, hip-hop, sizzling Latin brass and high-octane rock, with a few unexpected covers of the likes of Goldie, The Prodigy, Kanye West and even Toto, Hackney Colliery Band bring the UK colliery brass band tradition bang up to date.

Namvula: Fusing the folk and urban traditions of her Zambian homeland with those of her Scottish roots and London’s eclectic music scene, Namvula crosses boundaries with a dancing spirit, transporting you into different worlds, yet staying firmly rooted in African soil.

We have previously reported on the The 2018 Irwin Mitchell mjf originals commission which is Esther Swift's Light Gatherer.

LINK: mjf 2018 website

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PREVIEW: Kuba Stankiewicz (London Debut) Plays the Music of Henryk Wars (Cafe Posk, 12 May)



There's an unusual evening at Cafe Posk in Ravenscourt Park when Polish pianist Kuba Stankiewicz plays the music of the Polish/Jewish composer Henryk Wars. Lesley Christiane will be producing the concert and also singing. She explained the background to Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: How did this project get started? 

Lesley Christiane: In 2017 on an open air stage on Sopot Molo I heard the great Polish pianist Kuba Stankiewicz play the music of the Polish/Jewish composer Henryk Wars. I found it so deeply moving that I made a quiet determination to bring Kuba to London. I am completely thrilled that very shortly this is happening"

LJN: The May 12 concert is a London debut for Kuba Stankiewicz.  What generation of musicians is he from? Tell us more about him?

LC: Kuba Stankiewicz was born in Wroclaw Poland in December 1963. He studied at the Berkley School of music in Boston and he has had a significant international concert career since and made many notable recordings. He is a sublime artist and a wonderful human being. In the outstanding circle of musicians with which Kuba has played, we find such names as Artie Shaw, Scott Hamilton, Art Farmer (Art in Wrocław), Peter Erskine, Sheila Jordan, Harvie Swartz, Janusz Muniak, Tomasz Szukalski, Anna Maria Jopek and many more.

Kuba is also a great pedagogue and Director of Jazz studies at the highly acclaimed Karol Lipinski Academy of Music in Wroclaw.

LJN: Henryk Wars - what's the background there?

LC: Henryk Wars [Warszawski] was born in Warsaw in 1902. He won a scholarship to the Polish conservatoire in Warsaw and graduated in 1925. Recognized as a significant talent he wrote for many musical comedies, films and shows and is often called the Irving Berlin of Poland. His music defines the interwar era of Polish history and of the 150 films produced in Poland before the war, including films by the great Roman Polanski. Henryk wrote a third of them. With the onset of the Second World War he was drafted into the army and was taken as a prisoner-of-war in 1939. He somehow managed to escape from a stopped train and after being demobbed and in1947 he emigrated to the United States of America.

Life was very tough for Henryk and his wife Elizabeth but his prolific talent won through and he returned to scoring films and writing hit songs, many sung by Doris Day. Bing Crosby and Brenda Lee. He was sponsored by Ira Gershwin, was friends and worked with John Wayne, and became a popular figure amongst the Hollywood elite. He also wrote many orchestral works and arrangements, which over the last ten years have been given their first world premieres in Poland.


LJN:  What to you is the appeal of the music of Henryk Wars?

LC:  The music has a unique timeless quality that manages to express and touch the deepest parts of my soul...  It is often very ethereal and perceptive and Kuba plays it with a flawless sensitivity that makes me tingle inside.

LJN: And you’ve been learning the songs ?

LC: Yes, for past year I have been learning some of the most beautiful and entertaining pieces, they have kept me warm through the winter and I am very much looking forward to performing them at this special venue.

LJN: What will be your involvement in the concert?

LC: I will be presenting the evening and sharing some of the life and fascinating history of this very prolific and relatively unknown composer who is responsible for many of the film scores and melodies that we all know and love. Toes will be tapping... I am sure.

LJN:  And who else is playing ?

LC: Kuba Stankeivicz: piano; Kelvin Christiane: saxophone & flute; Manuel Alvarez: double bass; Asaf Sirkis: drums

Cafe Posk. Saturday 12 May. Bookings
 
There will be a second performance of this concert at Twickenham Jazz Club on Tuesday 15 May

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FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: April Jazz in Espoo, Finland

Bobo Stenson Trio

32nd April Jazz
(Various locations in Espoo, Finland 25-29 April 2018. Report by Ralf Dombrowski*)

Espoo is not far from Helsinki. The newly built suburban train line takes you there, so with musicians of the calibre of Ambrose Akinmusire or Bobo Stenson on the bill within such easy reach of the capital, there should be no concerns about raising a good audience. "It's still a challenge, though" says Matti Lappalainen, who took over the artistic direction of the April Jazz Festival from his eponymous but unrelated predecessor at the beginning of the decade.

"We naturally want to have the halls full, so I'm trying to get a mix of international musicians and artists from Finland that will interest a lot of people.” In any case, he can't complain this year. Most of the concerts he put on the programme for the 32nd edition of April Jazz were sold out. He's earned the right to sit back and even relax a little; the mixture of style, modernity, popularity and local roots which the festival offers was a success.

Laura Mvula
Photo credit: Ralf  Dombrowski
For example, the UK singer Laura Mvula came to town. She filled the large hall of the cultural centre with her minimalist, arranged version of soul. Despite her jocular announcements, it tended to take itself a bit too seriously. Pianist Iiro Rantala was there with bassist Dan Berglund, drummer Magnus Öström and the Tapiola Sinfonietta performed the dedication programme E.S.T. Symphony with much dramatic emphasis.

Guitarist Marc Ribot with Ceramic Dog deconstructed the normality of jazz rock trio playing in an efficient manner, while pianist Bobo Stenson was more relaxed than he has been in a long while, with his long-standing trio alternating between multi-layered compositions which interlocked with each other, and just the sheer enjoyment of playing. Several of the Finnish projects referenced their own jazz and pop history in terms of content, style – or both. Among them were a clangorous quintet led by guitarist Raoul Björkenheim, which oscillated between a rebellious free roar and massive guitar/saxophone onslaughts in the EMMA modern art museum. The trio of saxophonist Mikko Innanen followed in the Haltia nature museum in the style of the post-modern late eighties Finnish folklore and re-interpreted a few folk songs through the prism of some quirky improvisation.

Ambrose Akinmusire at the workshop
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
There were, however, two moments in particular when all that one could ever ask for coincided particularly well. New York trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire gave an explanation of the background of his art based on philosophical and emotional reflection in a workshop, and did more: he also presented it in concert in the small Café Louhi. His quartet, shifting between polyrhythms, the layering of sound and a remarkably controlled flow, gave an object lesson in how to present comtemporary music. Despite all the complexity in the music this group has its particular way of leaving all the intellectuality behind and giving everything to the energy of the moment.

The Imiliekki Quartet
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski
The Ilmiliekki Quartet around trumpeter Verneri Pohjola embodied the very spirit of April Jazz. This was modern chamber jazz; it struck a superb musical balanced between intensity and calm; it had its historic rootedness in the Finnish scene, but at the same time the concept was international; the band in Sellosali drew the audience in superbly.

So Matti Lappailainen can indeed be satisfied with April Jazz 2018 – as he sets to work to bring a similarly well-judged mix to Espoo next year.

(*) Ralf Dombrowski's original German text appears on the Jazzzeitung.de website

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NEWS: Glasgow Jazz Festival full programme anounced and tickets now on sale (20-24 June 2018)



Peter Bacon reports:

The full programme of the 2018 Glasgow Jazz Festival has just been announced and tickets went on sale at 12noon today, International Jazz Day.

The festival has also announced a new partnership with the Keychange Project – the initiative that encourages festivals to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022.

The festival runs from Wednesday 20 to Sunday 24 June. Joining already announced names like Mr Jukes, Georgie Fame and Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, are trumpeter Yazz Ahmed, an expanded version of violinist Seonaid Aitken’s Rose Room, DJ Rebecca Vasmant, harpist Alina Bzhezhinska, singer/songwriter Sophie Bancroft, the Bitches Brew project led by double bassist Emma Smith, vocalist Georgia Cécile and saxophonist Helena Kay.

Seonaid Aitken's Rose Room
Publicity picture
Claire Martin with Jim Mullen celebrating the work of Wes Montgomery, and Nigel Clark and the Tom MacNiven Quintet will be honouring the memory of Bobby Wellins.

Guitar/vocal duo John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe, Tony Momrelle, formerly lead singer of Incognito, Laura Jurd's Dinosaur, and clarinettist Arun Ghosh are also on the bill.


A FEW FESTIVAL PICKS

One of LondonJazz News’ Scotland-based contributors, Mark McKergow, makes his pick of the festival:

• Yazz Ahmed’s Hafla Band (Sunday 24 June, 7.15, St Lukes) – Bahraini-British trumpeter brings her contemporary sounds and first-rate band to Glasgow.

• Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique ft Konrad Wiszniewski (Wednesday 20 June 7.15, St Lukes)
 Glasgow-based singer Seonaid Aitken, a top Hot Club style quartet, the Capella String Quartet and tenor titan Wiszniewski makes for a grand spectacle. One for the swing fans.

• Dinosaur (Friday 22 June, 8.30, King Tuts) – trumpet star Laura Jurd is back in Scotland with her small group and a new album Wonder Trail.

Jazz Meets Football (Saturday 23 June, 7pm, Platform, Easterhouse) The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra and German musicians corralled by the Goethe-Institute will perform as two teams alongside a live broadcast of Germany v Sweden in the World Cup. The part of the ref is taken by DJ IllVibe.  Intriguing and free.

Jill Rodger, Director of Glasgow Jazz Festival, said: “Year on year we endeavour to bring an exciting and varied line-up of big name artists alongside up-and-coming musicians to Glasgow’s audiences. We’re really excited to be announcing this eclectic line-up and we look forward to welcoming jazz fans old and new to some of Glasgow’s most iconic music venues in June.

“We have always endeavoured to celebrate the fantastic female jazz musicians that are part of our ever-evolving jazz scene, so we’re delighted to also announce that we are now part of the Keychange project - a fantastic initiative that will hopefully empower individuals to work together towards a more inclusive music industry.”

LINK: Glasgow Jazz Festival with full programme details

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CD REVIEW: Norma Winstone – Descansado: Songs for Films


Norma Winstone – Descansado: Songs for Films 
(ECM 578 6989. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This new CD is the fourth for ECM by acclaimed English vocalist Norma Winstone and her trio with Austrian Klaus Gesing on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone and Italian pianist Glauco Venier. The tunes are all new arrangements by Gesing and Venier of film music by Nino Rota, Michel Legrand, William Walton, Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone written for the films of De Sica, Fellini, Godard, Jewison, Olivier, Radford, Scorsese, Tornatore, Wenders, Wright and Zeffirelli.

The trio have been playing together since the early 2000s and there is a real sense of a shared sensibility in the intimacy of the duetting and trioing. Winstone has written some apt lyrics for six of the tunes, and vocalises wordlessly on others. All of the performances are superb, and the pared down arrangements are a joy.

Gesing is either bubbling away on his bass clarinet like a deep-voiced nightingale, or soaring above on his soprano saxophone. Venier‘s piano is wonderful, understated and yet endlessly inventive. The combination of these two musicians with Winstone’s subtle singing is fascinating, and the sensitivity of their musical interaction is a joy. They are joined on a few tracks by Norwegian percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken, whose contributions are perfect for these arrangements. Italian classical cellist Mario Brunello also puts in an appearance, notably on Rota’s What is a Youth? from Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, to which he contributes a lovely warm reiteration of the melody line beneath Winstone’s ethereal vocals.

The title track of the album, Descansado, is from the 1963 Vittorio de Sica film Ieri, Oggi, Domani [yesterday, today, tomorrow], written by Armando Trovajoli originally as a Brazilian samba. The Venier arrangement is rhythmic, but more lilting and melodic than the original, and Winstone’s lyrics are a graceful call to enjoy life while you can: “How quickly we’re swept away... So just keep the music playing/While the city lights are shining, lighting up the way/We’ll gather rosebuds if we’re lucky/and enjoy living for today.”

The CD is dedicated to the memory of John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler with whom Winstone collaborated for many years, separately and together. William Walton’s Touch Her Soft Lips And Part, originally written for Laurence Olivier’s film of Shakespeare’s Henry V, is, touchingly, a piece that Taylor used to play. Winstone’s lyrics for this piece are of love and loss, and Mario Brunello’s warm cello sound underscores the gorgeous melody.

This is a beautifully realised CD full of graceful arrangements and performances. Some of the original cinema soundtracks are to my taste somewhat overblown, even slushy, and I actively prefer some of these new arrangements to the originals, but then isn’t that one of the pleasures of jazz, to discover whole new worlds within previously trite or sentimental popular tunes. I particularly love the sense of air and breathing space that often comes with chamber jazz, and this CD is a perfect example of the form: the delicacy of the writing and the immaculate playing of the Norma Winstone Trio on Descansado is a gentle delight.

Norma Winstone – voice
Klaus Gesing – bass clarinet, soprano saxophone
Glauco Venier – piano
Helge Andreas Norbakken – percussion
Mario Brunello – violoncello, violoncello piccolo

Track listing
His Eyes, Her Eyes (The Thomas Crown Affair); What Is A Youth? (Romeo and Juliet); Descansado (Ieri, Oggi, Domani); Vivre Sa Vie; Lisbon Story; Malena; Il Postino; Amarcord; Meryton Townhall (Pride and Prejudice); Touch Her Soft Lips And Part (Henry V); So Close To Me Blues (Taxi Driver); Vivre Sa Vie.

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FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Maciek Pysz (New album: Coming Home and Spring guitar duo tour)

Maciek Pysz
Photo Credit: Lisa Miniussi
Guitarist MACIEK PYSZ is keeping intensely and productively busy musically, with a new solo CD on the horizon and an imminent tour with Gianluca Corona. Even before these, however, he’s already achieved a career highpoint with his latest album, Coming Home, recorded in collaboration with Daniele di Bonaventura. Maciek provides some background and context on his career, and the distinguished new recording, in conversation with Andrew Cartmel.

Polish guitarist and composer Maciek Pysz was never in any doubt that he would devote his life to music. Self taught on guitar, he began playing at the age of 11, getting into jazz a few years later. A London resident for many years, he now lives in Paris. A prolific recording artist drawing on a rich diversity of influences, Maciek Pysz is particularly attracted to the ECM aesthetic. Indeed, his latest CD Coming Home (Caligola Records 2232) evokes the beautifully austere and elegant ECM sound world. Hardly surprising when you realise it’s a collaboration with Daniele di Bonaventura on piano and bandoneon. Bonaventura is an ECM artist, and the album was recorded by Stefano Amerio, the renowned ECM engineer.

Coming Home is a great recording, with tremendous presence and a huge, warm sound. Every vibration of every guitar string shimmers through the air. The purity of sound and poised emotion of Maciek Pysz’s acoustic guitar playing, with its often melancholy grace, calls to mind the Brazilian masters of the instrument. But the rich resonance of his electric guitar reaches much further afield, expanding the musical reference points of the album, which consists entirely of original music.

While Lights, a Pysz composition, evokes classic samba, the influence of Bill Evans — and also of older musical sources, such as Bach — seems clear on pieces such as Tango, by di Bonaventura. Paquito, another di Bonaventura tune, has a lilting insistence which borders on the funky. His I Gazzillori is relaxed and joyful, a good natured dance. More & More by Pysz is delicate and pretty and searchingly melodic, its tenderness almost giving it a lullaby quality. Here, and elsewhere, it’s hard to believe there are just two players crafting this lovely music.

LondonJazz News: Listening to your new CD Coming Home I sometimes seem to hear echoes of such great guitarists as Luis Bonfa, Antonio Carlos Jobim or Bill Frisell. I wonder which guitarists are your favourite?

Maciek Pysz: Thank you. I know all of those players well and have listened and still listen to their music, but I wouldn’t say any one of them was directly an influence on my playing. My favourite guitar player is a French guitarist called Sylvain Luc. Recently I am listening to a lot of Julian Lage. I am also influenced by Bireli Lagrene and Eivind Aarset. Ralph Towner is a major influence as well as Italian guitarist Bebo Ferra, Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, and also Philip Catherine [who frequently played with Chet Baker late in Chet’s career].

LJN: Daniele plays either piano or bandoneon on the CD. I wondered how you decided which tracks would work best with either of these instruments?

MP: It sort of happened naturally. For Daniele’s compositions, he pretty much decided based on which instrument he composed the tune. For my compositions, I thought about it before the session and Daniele thought the songs matched the instrument I had in mind for him to play, so it all worked perfectly. Working with Daniele must be one of the most organic and natural collaborations I ever had, it’s just very nice, spontaneous and instinctive.

Maciek Pysz
Photo Credit: Lisa Miniussi

LJN : Can you tell us a little more about your jazz influences?

MP: I got into jazz in my late teens. I love the improvisational aspect of it and interaction between players and how they can influence each other during playing. From musicians early on it was Miles Davis, I still love his music and playing and used to listen to it a lot. I was also a big fan of Chick Corea for a long time. I still am, but just listen to him a bit less these days. There was also Michele Petrucciani, Bill Evans the pianist, Jan Garbarek, Keith Jarrett, Enrico Pieranuzzi… Pat Metheny. I am also influenced by a lot of music on the German label ECM. It would take a while to list everybody. I listen to a lot of music every day. An important influence is also French accordion player Richard Galliano.

Maciek Pysz’s new solo album is due for release later this year. Meanwhile, he is gearing up for his tour with fellow guitarist Gianluca Corona. The two musicians previously collaborated on an album of duets entitled London Stories (33Jazz262). Their tour begins at the Bulls Head in London in a couple of weeks and continues through the spring and early summer.

Tour dates:

16/05/2018 - BULL’S HEAD + Guitar Workshop- London
24/05/2018 - BONINGTON THEATRE + Meet The Artist- Arnold
25/05/2018 - HERMON CHAPEL + Meet The Artist - Oswestry
26/05/2018 - OLIVER'S JAZZ BAR - London
20/06/2018 - SWING UNLIMITED - Bournemouth
22/06/2018 - POUNDISFORD LODGE - Taunton
27/06 - SPEAKEASY - Torquay

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PHOTOS/REPORT: Algorhythm (from Gdansk) at Jazz Cafe Posk

Krzysztof Slomkowski and Piotr Checki of Algorhythm
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
Algorhythm are a young quintet from Gdansk in Poland. They performed at Jazz Café POSK on Saturday 21 April. Peter Kaczmarski (*) explains some of the background to complement Monika S. Jakubowska's photos:

Szymon Burnos and Emil Miszk of Algorhythm
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

Gdansk is a town with a brutal history and is home to the famous Gdansk shipyard which was the birthplace of the Solidarity movement. The music of Algorhythm very much reflects their home town’s past. The cycle of destruction and renewal paved the way for Emil Miszk on Trumpet and Piotr Checki on Tenor Sax to destruct, improvise and rebuild while pianist Szymon Burnos interjected with rhythm and harmonies.

Szymon kicked the evening off by firing off a multitude of electronic samples consisting of mangled percussive sounds and atmospherics setting the scene for what was to come.

The group featured tracks from their current second CD Mandala, released in March 2017 and nominated for a 2018 Frydyrik Award – the main Polish music awards – in the jazz category. The title track is a gentle number featuring drummer Slawek Koryzno. Jasmine Vines was also a more relaxed and flowing exploration between Szymon’s piano and Emil’s trumpet. Taco Taco kept Slawek busy on drums with many stops and starts with time and tempo changes. Krzysztof Slomkowski on double bass kept a solid and reliable backbone throughout the evening and would often set the scene effortlessly blending in between the energetic exchanges of the band.

Slawek Koryzno of Algorhythm
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

I ventured around the crowd during the break and received more than a few raised eyebrows after the first set which one could describe as Mathcore Jazz (a play on Metal Mathcore) as the band performed with many rhythm and tempo changes. One of our regulars expressed a great uneasiness at what he had just heard, stating that in his 50 years of listening to jazz, this was an aggressive and intense attack on the genre; however he felt compelled to stay and indulge his now somewhat fragile emotions into the second set!

The band played two solid sets of ambitious and diverse jazz with many twists, stops and turns with each performance culminating in rapturous applause, and judging by the amount of CDs signed and selfies taken after the gig, the crowd were more than happy to take a memento of their experience home. The band will be returning to the studio soon to start work on their third CD and we hope to invite them back to London in the near future.

Applause for  Algorhythm
Photo credit: Monika S Jakubowska

Peter Kaczmarski is manager of Jazz Cafe POSK

LINK: The album Mandala  is on Youtube

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CD REVIEW: John Surman with Nelson Ayres and Rob Waring - Invisible Threads


John Surman with Nelson Ayres and Rob Waring - Invisible Threads
(ECM. ECM 2588. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)


John Surman has teamed up with expat-American percussionist Rob Waring and Brazilian pianist Nelson Ayres for this trio, and the result is full of nuances and subtlety. Surman plays bass clarinet and soprano and baritone saxophones, equally eloquent on each. Waring is on marimba and vibraphone.

This is chamber jazz, with few up tempo numbers, the slower pieces suiting Surman's baritone and clarinet. There are points at which it sounds almost solemn – the opening of Autumn Nocturne could almost be by Bach – before the rhythmic interplay and jazz scales kick in.

Ayres' playing is very sympathetic, and the conversations between the piano and Waring's tuned percussion are rewarding, particularly on Concentric Circles. Surman's playing is exemplary whichever instrument he is playing. Even on the lower notes of the baritone he has a lightness of touch, as if he could hop one way or another. He wrote the material, all of it for this project except for Stoke Demerel.

To some of the tunes Ayres bring a slight Latin spring to the beat, giving this record a light, optimistic feel thoughout, even when Surman is playing his mournful bass clarinet or crying plaintively on soprano.

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

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REVIEW: Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet at CBSO Centre, Birmingham

Mark Guiliana at the CBSO Centre
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Mark Guiliana Jazz Quartet
(CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 27 April 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)

There is frequently a single element that distinguishes an outstanding band from a good one. I would suggest that often this key element is how strongly the fellow musicians engage with the drummer. This goes beyond the basics of accurate timing, and can even be considered separate to interplay – that is, the way each musician plays off the others’ phrases.

The engagement I’m describing is a fundamental “locking in” – creating a sense that the band is moving confidently forward as a unit rather than as a loose collection of individual musicians – and it was well in evidence in the performance of drummer Mark Guiliana’s Jazz Quartet, currently on an international tour including dates in the UK and Ireland.

The playing of New Jersey-born Guiliana has enhanced many outstanding groups, and I had heard him in concert just a few months ago when he powered saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s Quartet in Belgrade, Serbia. Guiliana’s electronic collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau (Mehliana) has been extensively praised, as has his work with his project Beat Music and such diverse artists as Avishai Cohen, Lionel Loueke, David Bowie and Dhafer Youssef.

His tour includes four UK dates: a London concert on 6 May with the Royal College of Music Big Band as part of the RCM Festival of Percussion, preceded by quartet performances at the Band On The Wall in Manchester (26 April), this CBSO Centre in Birmingham, and Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton (28 April), before flying to Ireland for a date at Sugar Club in Dublin (29 April).
Jason Rigby at the Birmingham concert
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

With tenor and soprano saxophonist Jason Rigby, bassist Chris Morrissey and pianist Fabian Almazan. the drummer presented a selection of compositions from his recent album Jersey as well as some new pieces. It was a masterly performance – a wealth of ideas, superb control of dynamics, and individual highlights.
Fabian Almazan soloing with Mark Guiliana's Jazz Quartet
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

These highlights included a richly-phrased solo on the album’s title track from Morrissey, with the leader using just his hands to gently beat the snare drum (with snare disengaged) and the deep tom-tom, and a beautifully breathy sub-tone tenor solo from Rigby set against a bowed drone on the bass. Pianist Almazan took a particularly enagaging solo, with sparkling arpeggios phrased in a twisted, surprising way, like reflections in the fragments of a broken mirror. And on Morrissey’s composition Waltz For What’s In Front Of You, Rigby launched into a grandly explorative solo on soprano, his bright tone in strong contrast to his mellow sound on tenor.

An encore showcased Guiliana’s only extended drum solo of the evening - and it was a gem, played entirely on the bass drum and the deep tom-tom, with bells resting on the skin, creating a dynamic closer to an impressive performance.
Chris Morrissey at the CBSO Centre
Photo credit: John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk

Mark Guiliana will be at the Royal College of Music Festival of Percussion on 6 May (DETAILS)

LINK: Dan Paton's feature on Mark Guiliana

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REVIEW: Alfa Mist at Ghost Notes, Peckham

Trumpeter Johnny Woodham with Alfa Mist
and bassist/vocalist Kaya Thomas-Dyke

Alfa Mist
(Ghost Notes, Peckham, 26 April 2018. Review and iPhone snaps by Leah Williams.)

Ghost Notes, a new music venue and bar that only opened late last year in Peckham, is a local affair. Aiming to draw on “the incredible network of artists, musicians and promoters who call South London home”, it has so far proven itself a fantastic new place to showcase the ever-growing London jazz scene. Its opening night was a veritable “who’s who” line up of cool London jazz musicians, featuring the likes of Sampha and Shabaka Hutchings.

Set inside Peckham Levels, the super trendy, multi-functional space occupying the old Rye Lane carpark, it is a venue indicative of the changing times in South London.

No better place, then, for local boy Alfa Mist to culminate his recent mini tour around the UK and Germany. Born, bred, and still living in Newham, Alfa comments upon opening that there’s something especially meaningful about playing in South London. His album Antiphon, which was released to serious acclaim on the scene last year, is itself pretty evocative of this area, in all its beauty and melancholy.

Wearing his trademark cap and casual in simple sweater and jeans, he couldn’t look more down-to-earth, and his minimal chat with the audience only confirms this presumption. As with a lot of today’s London artists embracing jazz and working together to create fresh sounds, it is all about the music. Obviously a pretty thoughtful guy, he explains some of the inspiration behind certain tracks, with themes including mental health, the complexity of different relationships, and getting trapped inside cycles of emotional baggage. This gives an extra understanding to the richly sonorous, layered soundscapes he has created and which are all the more soul-pervading to hear live.

From the liquid opening notes of the trumpet, played throughout with incredible skill and grit by Johnny Woodham, it’s clear that this is going to be a special experience. They predominantly played tracks from the album, alongside arrangements of Sampha’s Plastic 100°C and a J Dilla track “of many titles”. The vibe is distinctly Alfa throughout though, with the atmospheric flow and ebb between instruments, rhythms and tempos that makes his sound so exciting and so calming all at once.

From support act (and “lifelong friend”) Barney Artist through to encore tracks, the night was full of music that has personality and meaning at its core. Jamie Leeming on guitar and Pete Hill on drums both added some serious sweat and emotion to the fresh, textured sounds. A standout moment though had to be when bassist Kaya Thomas-Dyke stepped up to the mic for an extended version of Breathe. Her vocals are so pure and ethereal and, initially accompanied with just the rich harmonies of the keys, you could have heard a pin drop as her melodious lines commanded an avid attention throughout the room.

If there was one small thing that could have made the gig even better, it would have been seeing a few more smiles amongst the band. Perhaps it was a desire to appear to be taking the music as seriously as it deserves, or perhaps they were simply tired after a run of shows, but it felt like the energy levels didn’t quite match the quality of the music. That kind of contagious enthusiasm you often get with jazz music connects the musicians both together and with the audience and it was a little lacking on this occasion.

A small detraction though from what was otherwise a truly mesmeric performance, leaving the audience humming haunting melodies that surely filtered into many a dream last night.


LINK: Gail Tasker's feature about Alfa Mist for EZH

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NEWS: Keith Tippett recovering from Heart Attack (Two Ways to Support Him)

Keith Tippett acknowledging applause at the
2015 Berlin Jazz Festival


Friends of Keith Tippett are rallying round after a heart attack and complications... 

-  Hazel Miller writes 

Dear Ogun Friends around the world, I am pleased to say our friend, Keith Tippett has survived another heart attack and pneumonia but is now able to return home. His recovery however will mean that we shall be deprived of his wonderful music for at least another few months as he will not be able to work.
.
Ogun records, to which Keith has contributed so much over the past decades has started a rescue fund to help the Tippett family over this difficult period.

Any contributions will be gratefully accepted and can be sent to: the Ogun PayPal a/c using the ogun email address: ogunrecords@googlemail.com. 

I will ensure that it will be forwarded to Keith as soon as possible, Many thanks for your help and consideration.

o - o - o - o

- Martin Archer who runs Discus Music has written:

I’ve just come off the phone from speaking to Keith Tippett. As you have probably seen elsewhere, Keith recently suffered a heart attack followed by some nasty complications He’s back home and recovering, but it will take time. You’ve probably also seen online that Keith’s friends Hazel Miller (Ogun) and Riccardo Bergerone wish to show their support for Keith via fundraising, which is fantastic news.

With Keith’s specific permission I’m adding Discus Music’s support to this initiative. Keith’s latest Octet release, "The Nine Dances Of Patrick O’Gonogon" has now covered all of its costs - which means that 100% of any sales will benefit Keith directly and regularly. A great way of showing your appreciation and solidarity with this major composer/improviser would be to support him by buying his CDs.

Nine Dances is available on CD/DL direct from me at Discus Music

MARK THE DATE: John Etheridge is organizing a benefit gig  at the Vortex on 30 June We are awaiting further details.

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Hugo Berkeley - Director of The Jazz Ambassadors (New film, screening on BBC4, PBS and Arte)

Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille pose in front of the Sphinx near Cairo, Egypt in 1961.
Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

A new film is to be screened on BBC4, PBS and Arte documenting the initiative by the US State Department under the Eisenhower administration to start sending jazz musicians abroad, promoting an inage of a racially integrated society and giving a lift to the Civil Rights movement. Interview with the film's director Hugo Berkeley by Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: What is The Jazz Ambassadors about?

Hugo Berkeley: To quote the press release: "The Cold War and Civil Rights movement collide in this remarkable story of music, diplomacy and race. In 1955, as the Soviet Union’s pervasive propaganda about the U.S. and American racism spread globally, African-American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. convinced President Eisenhower that jazz was the best way to intervene in the Cold War cultural conflict.

"For the next decade, America’s most influential jazz artists, including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck, along with their racially-integrated bands, traveled the globe to perform as cultural ambassadors. But the unrest back home forced them to face a painful moral dilemma: how could they promote the image of a tolerant America abroad when the country still practiced Jim Crow segregation and racial equality remained an unrealized dream?

"Told through striking archival film footage, photos and radio clips, with iconic performances throughout, the documentary reveals how the U.S. State Department unwittingly gave the burgeoning Civil Rights movement a major voice on the world stage just when it needed one most. Leslie Odom, Jr., narrates." (end of quote)

LJN: How, when and where did the idea of making this film first occur to you?

HB: In January 2008, I saw a NYTimes article about photographs from the Jazz Ambassadors tour, and it was particularly the image of Armstrong playing in Ghana in 1956 – where I had recently returned from – that piqued my interest. I thought the story of the U.S. government sending musicians to Africa as part of a Cold War propaganda strategy was remarkable, and wanted to know more.

LJN: What were you doing in Ghana?

HB: I went to Ghana to film the 50th anniversary of indpenedence celebrations, and produced a short video for Vanity Fair. But the real reason I went was because I wanted to find out more about the period of African independence in the late 1950s, about leaders like Dr Kwame Nkrumah, and about the musicians that played the soundtrack to those Independence years. Musicians like the great Ghanaian trumpeter E.T. Mensah, Congolese singer Joseph "Le Grand Kallé” Kabasele, and Guinean Supergroup Bembeya Jazz. Actually, at that time, I wanted to make a documentary about those musicians and their freedom struggles, but alas it never came to pass, despite a great deal of trying!

LJN: Had you made a film about music before?

HB: Yes. In 2004, I met the Senegalese super-star Youssou N’Dour and collaborated with another filmmaker on a film about Youssou’s Grammy-winning album Egypt. In the end, my colleague and I had some disagreements about how the film should be made, so I didn’t see it all the way through to the end, but I did follow Youssou for almost a year around Europe, America and Africa, touring with his band Super Etoile de Dakar and an Egyptian orchestra led by Fathy Salama. That was a wonderful experience.

Over the course of the following years, I made a number of shorter docs and behind-the-scenes films for artists like Bill Frisell, Vinicius Cantuaria and Jessica Lee Mayfield.

One of the great filming experiences of my career thus far was a week in 2010 I spent documenting a recording session called “Miles Espanol”, put together by the arranger and producer (now sadly passed on) Bob Belden. He brought great musicians of the Spanish and Latin tradition together at Sear Sound in NYC for a five-day session that was just amazing to be a part of. Artists included Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Jorge Pardo (on flute), Edmar Castaneda (on jazz harp), Cristina Pato (on jazz bagpipes!), Sammy Figueroa, Alex Acuna, Chano Dominguez – the list goes on and on. The film we made is one of the things I’m most proud of and consistently go back to watch. It was just unmitigated fun – and produced beautiful music to boot.

LJN: What led you to Mick Csaky as producer?

HB: I first met Mick while working on the Youssou N’Dour documentary, as he was putting together the extremely ambitious and wildly successful Africa Live: Roll Back Malaria concert in Dakar in 2005. I guess we were sort of polite rivals for Youssou’s affection/attention back then. But time is a balm that soothes everything, and a few years later, when I was seriously thinking about making The Jazz Ambassadors, the executive producer at WNET (the NY Public television station that has produced this film) suggested Mick and I team up to make this happen. Mick has an incredible weight of experience as a filmmaker and producer, so it was a great fit. And I think that we were able to complement each other well as a team – despite going through some very difficult moments, particularly when trying to raise the funds for the film, we never thought of giving up. We share a hard-headed optimism, which is vital in this business.

LJN: I understand the big step was an approach you made to the National Endowment for Humanities. How did that all develop?

HB: Yes, raising the funds was very hard. There’s just not a load of money in television music docs any more, and we knew that the music and footage licensing costs would be steep. So we had to find a way of bringing outside money into the film. WNET (the NY-based production company) suggested that we apply for an NEH grant, and blithely I agreed. Then, they emailed me the application and I understood what it entailed! The application is massive, and essentially requires you to write the film before you make it. So, I did a two-week research trip to the U.S., talking with many of the experts who would end up being in the film. And we convened a panel of university professors who advised on developing drafts of the grant application and lend their credibility to the proejct. And finally, after writing almost 100 pages of stuff, we finished the application. Once we’d submitted it, we waited for 18 months, very certain that if we got the grant, we’d make the film, but that if we didn’t, we almost certianly would have to go back to basics and re-think the whole thing. So, it was nerve-racking to say the least. But thankfully, in March 2015, an email dropped into my inbox saying that we’d been awarded $500,000. Phew. I drank a lot of vodka that night! And that was really the impetus to finalize the funding (which still took another 18 months to wrap up) and make the film. The NEH support has been invaluable to our work.

LJN: When did you actually start making the film?

HB: We began filming in earnest on 8 February 2017. But as I say, the prep work had all been done years before, including much of the archival research. So the film did not take that long to shoot; about 10 days of interviews in total and a day for the reconstructions.

LJN: Were you able to find footage from the period?

HB: My goal in making the film was to try to insert the viewer into the time period at the beginning of the film, and then let them follow the chronology in a present-tense way as the film unfolded. That meant finding really good pieces of footage that could move the story forward at crucial moments. And, while audiences will have to judge for themselves whether we achieved this, when I stand back and survey the footage that we were able to dig up, I am amazed by how much we found. We did archive research in Russia, Poland, Sweden, Belgium, France, America, the UK – really all over the world – in public and commercial archives, university libraries and private collections. It was a massive effort, and Shari Chertok, our archive producer, who led the search, was absolutely brilliant and totally dedicated. She was amazing throughout the making of the film.

LJN: When it came to the music score what kind of brief did you give Michel McEvoy ?

HB: The brief to Mike was to write something that could stitch the disparate styles of the film together. As we were editing the film, it became clear that the different musical styles of all the different protagonists – Armstrong, Ellington, Brubeck, Gillespie, etc – had a tendency to make the film feel too chapterized. We needed something to unify it. And so we asked Mike to find his own way of borrowing from the period, but not being a slave to it, of memorializing important events in the film (like the Civil Rights protests, the African Indpendence struggles) but also updating the sound for a contemporary ear. And I think that Mike did a phenomenal job. The soundtrack is meditative, but also very musical. And he worked wonderfully with brass to create a sound that doubles both as ambassadorial and diplomatic, while at the same time sliding into the blues and mournfulness. I’d never realized how close those vibes could be, and I think Mike plays with that duality beautifully in the soundtrack.

The London band at the recording session (names below)
Photo courtesy of Hugo Berkeley
LJN: And where/when was the recording and who was involved?

HB:  The soundtrack was music-supervised by Maggie Rodford, who is one of London’s leading soundtrack supervisors (Darkest Hour & Paddington2 being recently examples). She runs Air-Edel studios in central London, so we recorded there. Nick Taylor produced the session, and Mike got some of London’s finest musicians to sit in for the two-day session: Paul Booth (saxophone, clarinet), Patrick Clahar (saxophone), Dennis Rollins (tenor trombone), Karl Rasheed Abel (bass), Mark Mondesir (drums), Fayyaz Virji (bass trombone), Kevin Robinson (trumpet), Freddie Gavita (trumpet, flugelhorn), Tom Walsh (trumpet), Graeme Blevins (sax), and Jane Fenton (cello). Often times, filmmaking can be a struggle, with lots of logistics and bashing your head against a wall. But from my persepctive, those two days in the recording studio are among the most relaxing and purely creative moments of the whole process. So when producers tell me (as they often do) that I can save money by getting library music for my films, I look at them with horror and move swiftly on to the next line item to be cut.

LJN: Tell us about some interviewees ...Charlie Persip?

HB: The interviews were wonderful for this film. I had so many great discussions – some of them three-plus hours – where we’d lose ourselves in the details of the events, and only resurface when the camera had run out of batteries or a light-bulb had blown. That’s one of the good parts of spending nine years preparing to make a film – you really know the subject by the end.

Charlie, unfortunately, was not in the best of health when he came to our studio for the interview. He said that he’d lost his sight a few days earlier and was still struggling to get around. But despite his trying physical circumstances, his enormous charm and humour shone through. He made us all laugh and cry with his poignant, emotional stories of life on the road with Dizzy – both when the going was good and, in the American south, when it turned violent and bad. The most difficult aspect of the entire interview was getting Charlie out of the building. Somehow the elevator (one of those manually operated New York freight lifts that you see in gangster movies) had “gone missing”, and Charile was in no state to walk down two steep flights of stairs. He calmly waited for at least an hour while we tried to locate the elevator. Having given up hope, a consortium of six men were assembled to carry him down the stairs, but just then, deus ex machina, someone shouted that the elevator had been found. We all breathed a sgh of relief, as Charlie descended safely to the ground floor.

LJN: And Darius Brubeck as a boy kept a diary of touring with his dad?!

HB: Darius is a special person, and i feel very lucky to have got to know him and his wife Cathy over the course of this film. He’s a very thoughful, sensitive person, and you imagine that he could have been successful at so many different walks of life. That he chose to focus on music and channel his father’s legacy through his work is even more poignant for anyone who loves the work of Dave Brubeck. I particularly loved Darius’ perspecitve on the tours, which he experienced as an 11-year-old boy traveling with his father in Poland. Many of us have special childhood memories of our family life – maybe car trips or holidays, or just haning out – and it struck me that, while interviewing Darius, I was getting to re-live one of the most cherished events from his childhood.

In fact, almost everyone I spoke with for this film remembered their part in the Jazz Ambassador story as among the most important of their lives – whether as audience members, jam session partners or participants in the tours themselves. It’s always rewarding talking with people about their most treasured memories, and that was definitely the case with this film. It was a refreshing contrast to the last film I made, which was about the investigation into a horrific murder.


Director Hugo Berkeley and Bass Player Bill Crow in New York, February 2017
Photo Credit: Henry Adebonojo
LJN: And who was Bill Crow?

HB: Bill Crow is a storied bass player, who travelled with Benny Goodman to the USSR in 1962. He’s also a great writer and blogger, and a well-known raconteur in jazz circles. What i didn’t know is what a beautiful voice Bill has. When interviewing him, and then editing the interview, I was struck by how mellifluous Bill’s tone is; a kind of honey-dipped baritone that, with its patience and kindness, recalls a time when life was more gentle and strangers said hello.

LJN: And you got to hang out with Quincy Jones too..?

HB: Unfortunately, I did not actually get to hang our with Qunicy Jones. His daughter was in the middle of making a documentary about him, and they had their own film crew on hand. So they asked me to submit questions and then mailed me the footage. It was great that he could make time to participate in the film, and his answers are wonderful, but... I would have loved to put my questions to him in person. Meeting Quincy remains un-crossed-off on the list of things to do in life.

LJN: Where can people see it and what dates should we be putting in the diary?

HB: The broadcasts are:

• BBC4 (UK) - Friday 4 May at 9pm
• PBS (USA) - Friday 4 May at 10pm
• ZDF/Arte (France/Germany) - Sunday 20 May at 10:10pm

Also, we've got a few pre-broadcast festival screenings:

Washington DC - Monday 30 April, 6:30pm at the Warner Bros Theater as part of the History Film Forum: https://historyfilmforum.si.edu/
Newport Beach CA - Monday 30 April (7:45pm) and Wednesday 2 May (12pm) in the Newport Beach Film Festival: https://newportbeachfilmfest.com/event/the-jazz-ambassadors/
Harlem, NY - Friday 4 May, 6:45pm in the Harlem International Film Festival: http://harlemfilmfestival.org/

Beyond that, there will be a DVD release, and home video/streaming options, TBD. We also hope that the film will participate in more film festival and jazz festival screenings over the coming months. Please check the website (thejazzambassadors.com - see below for link) for more updates.

LJN: And what next for the film after that?

HB: Beyond the above, my hope is that the broadcast of the film is going to be a beginning, rather than an ending of this story. It's such an incredible tale, and I think it is so pertinent to what is happening in the world today, that I hope audiences will sieze on the film and use it how they see fit – whether that’s in an educational setting, as a launchpad for telling more stories from The Jazz Ambassadors initiative and cultural exchange more generally (there are plenty more to tell) or as a pure entertainment. I’m excited for the film to get out there and carve out its own next steps.

LINKS: Trailer for The Jazz Ambassadors
Video: Intro to the USIA and Anti-Propaganda Efforts
Video: Adam Clayton Powell's Role and Team-Up with Dizzy Gillespie

The Jazz Ambassadors press page

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PHOTOS/REVIEW: Anton Eger at the Vortex


Anton Eger
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
Anton Eger
(Vortex, 25 April 2018. Photos by Monika S. Jakubowska. Words by AJ Dehany)

Drummer Anton Eger is one third of the mighty Phronesis with Jasper Høiby and Ivo Neame. Neame has been an active bandleader for years with his own trio, quartet, quintet and octet. Now Anton Eger has stepped forward with his own quartet and a set of compositions reflecting an eclectic sense of the contemporary scene rather than oldskool jazz.

The group is like a less proggy Shobaleader One or a proggier Robert Glasper Experiment, often reminiscent of Radiohead and the textural-timbral interest of post-rock. Eger’s compositional structures create a satisfying development without the sometimes over-hurried impulse to crash about between time signatures that some listeners to this kind of music can find disorienting.

Anton Eger
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
Anton Eger himself describes the music as “an eclectic genre-defying mix of electronica, hardcore contemporary beats and retro musical guilty pleasures.”

The group’s first set of Eger originals set out the band’s stall compositionally and sonically. Her and Sultans of… introduced an involved electronic sound dominated by Dan Nicholl’s Wurlitzer. Monolith was a highlight, very fast, driven by chiming guitars and Eger’s tireless straight rock playing; I think there was intended to be a soaring modulated closing section that didn’t quite come off on the night but should be tremendous if they nail it on the record. If Only Every Day Was Like This One typifies the mixture of melodicism and angularity in Eger’s writing, both pretty and unsettling. Girl M.I.P. is a deep k-hole dub with hypnotic trance chords and glitch rhythms, taking in some cheeky, cheesy rave anthem moments and the dark throbbing sub-bass of trap.

The second set stretched out into more open forms exploring sound and atmosphere. Never Not reworks the shifting suspended chords of Radiohead’s Everything In Its Right Place with an electronic pulse and Anton in a more supporting role, before drilling into proggier group riffing. Consciousness Distraction takes us even further from the more defined structures of the first set. Franska Låten (Swedish for French Song) has Anton filling in between a super minimal drum machine pattern at the slowest of tempos; a low-key slow-tempo rock ballad building to epic post-rock. LA Spring brings a sonic abstraction focusing on rhythm and delay-fx, creating an eerie spaciousness reminiscent of Hello Skinny. Oxford Supernova showcases the band’s range with angular playing, looser feels, odd time signatures, lighter and then harder sections, with a satisfying compositional shape and sense of movement and completion.

Anton Eger has a natural flamboyance that draws you into his intense style of playing, with the varied rhythmic detail of jazz brought to rhythms more associated with rock and dance music. On this first outing as a band leader, he said: “I’m not a good stand-up comedian. I’ve never stood up with a mike in my hand before. That’s why we’re gonna play some more music instead.”

Dan Nicholls
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
Dan Nicholls (Squarepusher, Goldie, Arve Henriksen, Strobes) brings a huge sound from a Wurlitzer and Roland A-49 MIDI keyboard controller and a rack of pedals and processing, bringing a rich multi-dimensional sonic spectrum to colour, timbrally and harmonically, Eger’s angular melodic themes.

Matt Calvert
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
Matt Calvert (Three Trapped Tigers, Heritage Orchestra, MD for Goldie's live band) on guitar brings a sparkle and shimmer that cuts through the upper registers of the group’s dense sound, with responsive and diverse rhythm-playing and soloing.

Rob Mullarkey
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
Robin Mullarkey (Jacob Collier, Eska, Zero 7) playing Duesenberg and Yamaha basses has played with Anton Eger as a heavy rhythm section for Andrew McCormack’s Graviton, where they similarly displayed a shared rhythmic tightness allied to an expansive cosmic sense.

Anton Eger's band
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
The constellation of talents in this band seemed so well-suited that it was remarkable to hear, on this, the Wednesday evening at the Vortex, that “Before Monday we had never played before, ever.”

The group’s as-yet-unrecorded album is scheduled for release in February 2019. The debut gig packed out the Vortex with a young audience drawn from beyond mainstream jazz. Anton Eger said, “I thought we were just gonna play a little gig in London before we recorded our album next month. It was bigger than I thought!”

Reflections at the Vortex
Photo Credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

SET LISTS

1. HER
2. Sultans of Beat
3. Monolith
4. If Only Every Day Was Like This One
5. Girl M.I.P.

1. Never Not
2. Conciseness/Distraction
3. Franska Låten
4. Le Sphinx
5. Oxford Supernova


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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

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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

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