CD REVIEW: Jure Pukl – Doubtless

Jure Pukl – Doubtless
(Whirlwind WR4724 . CD Review by Jon Turney)

A fascinating study in modern tenor saxophone here, as New York based Slovenian Jure Pukl is joined by his wife, Chilean star Melissa Aldana. Both have a sweeping command of jazz vocabulary, and – as befits a couple – their sound and line are so compatible this could easily be a recording overdubbed by a single player.

Indeed, the first three tracks here all begin with two saxes, unaccompanied. It wasn’t necessarily planned that way – it was just how they felt on the day, in a session laid down in a Slovenian studio last year in just three hours. The two improvise freely together at the start of the title track, then share the theme as understated bass and drums kick in. On Doves, they play a perfect unison while on the lesser-known Ornette Coleman tune Intersong they stretch the characteristically sweet-sour melody elastically between them.

The two have a similar, clean tenor tone, and it is pretty much impossible to say who plays when, save for a single bass duo track, Where Are You Coming From? and one trio, where Aldana is silent. It matters not: the point is that they are inspiring each other, musical ideas building in a like-minded exchange that is a pleasure to share.

Several of the pieces were written during a spell when Pukl’s mother was gravely ill, but the mood overall is positive, even affirmative. Bassist Joe Sanders – not known to me but what a big sound – leads as well as follows, and contributes the sprightly Elioté for the quartet. Gregory Hutchinson on drums is as endlessly fluent, in his way, as the two saxophonists.

This is a touring band, still developing, and there are longer and sometimes wilder improvisational flights in their live shows (you can check them out at the Bimhuis earlier this year). But this studio session captures something special from two players who began life a continent apart but have come together through the music that continues to inspire new artistic careers of the first rank, it seems, absolutely everywhere.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter: @jonWturney 


CD REVIEW: Sugarwork – Sugarwork

Sugarwork - Sugarwork
(Harriphonic. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Hearing Sugarwork (the album) was a revelation. Comprised of four musicians I go out of my way to listen to whenever I can, a couple of years ago I saw Sugarwork (the band) at an early gig of theirs, and their music left me cold. Well, this CD disabused me of any preconceptions I had: they have recorded an album of compelling, startling music, unlike anything else on the current jazz scene in Scotland.

The nearest touchstone might be Polar Bear, crossed with the early solo work by Reid Anderson, the bassplayer with the Bad Plus: a dark, heavy sound coupled with a distinct groove and intense, melodic improvisation.

Sugarwork is the brainchild of Paul Harrison, who wrote most of the tunes, provides the keyboards and produced the record, though he seems content to let others take the limelight: his keyboard work seems mostly to be about adding texture. Much of the melody comes from the tenor sax of Phil Bancroft and guitarist Graeme Stephen, with all of the quartet providing the groove – though particularly drummer Stuart Brown. Without a bass player, it is Harrison and Stephen who add the bass parts when needed, using loops and programmes.

The result is a synthesis of electro-groove and improvisation, often in surprising combinations. After The Forest, The Sky starts with long, slow notes from Stephen, Harrison and Bancroft; then Brown explodes the serenity with fast beats, propelling the tune as of it were 1990s "drum and bass" as Bancroft's saxophone screams in the upper register. The tune closes with just saxophone and piano, an almost classical jazz combination – the sky, perhaps – itself shocking after the fury that precedes it.

Stephen's tune Goodbye Hello works in a different way, slowly building its intensity bit by bit until it is almost too much to take. Bancroft's saxophone grows more and more impassioned, wailing over Brown's loud crashing cymbals. The crescendo is followed by a gentle coda, with Stephen's treated guitar accompanying a gentler but no less inventive saxophone.

Nearly a quarter of the record is taken up with Astraglia, a long, extended piece of three sections which develops from a simple structure an almost train-like rhythm, the locomotive force of Brown's drums pushing forward the groove whilst Harrison, Brancroft and Stephens blow over the top. It ends with an eery, synthesised sci-fi dub.

This is quite a dark record, brooding in places and suffused with melancholy, which serves to emphasise the sunnier sections. It mixes jazz with electronics and a range of rhythms and beats, creating a new lively sound.

Sugarwork is released tomorrow. Available now from and other download sites. 

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


CD REVIEW: Alina Bzhezhinska – Inspiration

Alina Bzhezhinska – Inspiration
(Ubuntu UBU 0008. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Challenge yourself to come up with the names of some jazz harpists. I only managed Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby before giving up. Well, now I know of three. Ukranian-born Alina Bzhezhinska bestrides both classical and jazz traditions. Last November she appeared in a tribute to Alice Coltrane (or Swamini Turiyasangitananda, as the latter renamed herself) as part of the London Jazz Festival.

Joining Alina Bzhezhinska on this new album are Tony Kofi on soprano and tenor saxophones, Larry Bartley on bass and Joel Prime on drums. Five of the ten tracks are by either Alice or John Coltrane, the rest by Bzhezhinska herself.

Inspiration is a grower, and you have to listen to it properly rather than let it burble away in the background while you busy yourself with domestic activities. The natural register of the harp is rather otherworldly, its ripples reminiscent of movie dream sequences. Combine them with Kofi’s piping modal lines and the rhythm section’s gently relentless grooves, and you have the perfect recipe for an out-of-body experience.

The harp certainly lends itself to this idea: all of Alice’s work tended towards the spiritual, until by the end of her life the music consisted mainly of devotional chants. Dorothy Ashby was strongly influenced by the sufi tradition, on such albums as The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby. Bzhezhinska reveals her chief influence from the off: the first three tracks are all by Alice Coltrane, beginning with Wisdom Eye, a short, gorgeous piece for solo harp, followed by Blue Nile and Los Caballos. Blue Nile, with a rhythmic feel that recalls John Coltrane’s Equinox, allows Kofi to demonstrate his affinity for the spiritual Coltrane tenor, while on Bzhezhinska’s lovely ballad Spero (‘I hope’), Bartley and Prime sit out while Kofi and Bzhezhinska interplay with extraordinary sweetness and sensitivity. On Los Caballos they double the riff-based melody while Prime switches to congas.

What’s so annoying about semitones? Maybe they’re difficult on the harp – I really have no idea. Annoying Semitones doesn’t help us with the answer, but it does allow some terrific groove time for Larry Bartley. Winter Moods features an unchanging riff that may remind you of the theme to The Twilight Zone. Following a Lovely Sky Boat is a free improvisation dominated by Bartley’s bass figure, ending with some wonderfully sepulchral arco work. The more I play this album, the more I like it.

Inspiration is released on Friday 1 June 2018 with a concert at London’s Toulouse Lautrec, and an album launch on 15 June at the Vortex.


CD REVIEW: The Dissolute Society – Soldiering On

The Dissolute Society – Soldiering On
Babel Label BDV16145. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Hats off (bowler style, if you like) to trombonist Raph Clarkson and his eight-piece ensemble of musical mavericks in the creation of Soldiering On – a kaleidoscopic and often avant garde debut release from The Dissolute Society, with guests including Huw Warren (piano, accordion) and Mia Marlen Berg (vocals, effects).

Dedicated both to the late John Taylor (the album features two of his compositions alongside one of Kenny Wheeler’s) and Micaela Comberti (Raph’s late mother – a violinist and leading figure in the British Early Music revival), the album explores personal themes of family, migration, death and tragedy. But it is music, aligned to the support and love provided by fellow musicians, which the leader communicates as the overarching balm, providing strength and bringing meaning to it all. The Society membership also comprises Fini Bearman (vocals), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Naomi Burrell (violin), Zosia Jagodzinska (cello), Gustav Clarkson (viola), Phil Merriman (keys, synth bass) and Simon Roth (drums).

With such an experimental and free nature, these fifteen tracks (over 69 minutes) may initially come as a jolt to the senses, especially the cacophonous, shrieking and seemingly unruly episodes which are unleashed from the off. But stay with it, and the barriers come down; the dissonance is infiltrated by strangely warming beauty, melodic equilibrium, technical dexterity … and the intrigue of what might lie ahead. Clarkson’s artistic path includes various improvisatory projects, as well as jazz-punk outfit WorldService project – so his creativity knows no bounds (just listen to Mia Marlen Berg’s extreme, guttural sarcasm in I’m Sorry); and he also references the 20th century classical influence of Schoenberg, Bartok, Berio, etc.

Clarkson both bares and shares his soul through an extraordinary melange of instrumental textures, whilst also placing great emphasis on words – a brave, immersive experience rather than mainstream listening; and that’s very much the unique, artistic attraction here. For example, Grandma – a fractured landscape traversed by Bearman’s highly-charged ‘spoken singing’ – deals with his gradual understanding of his German Jewish grandparents’ experiences in the Second World War (poignantly concluded by high solo harmonics from the trombonist’s violist father, Gustav). John Taylor’s Soldiering On, with words set by Clarkson, displays a journeying, string-pizzicato and brass-fired momentum, Bearman’s colourful enunciation not dissimilar to Annette Peacock; and the trombonist narrates his own verse across varietal interludes (For JT shines a light, too, on his beautifully lyrical vibrato and intonation).

Eclecticism contributes to unpredictability – all at once, a fragrant violin and piano piece, In February – from Huw Warren and Naomi Burrell – suggests the salon music of Elgar or Bridge, albeit with jazz inflections; and the Mahlerian trombone blare announcing Hungarian Folksong leads to delightful European chamber folk/jazz, pushing on with string rhythms, prepared-piano crackle and Clarkson’s own muted improvisations. Often dark, or at least weighty, these personal experiences also give way to positivity, with Bearman in fine melodic fluidity. Kind Folk’s ska-disco-infused interpretation of Kenny Wheeler’s tune, with its dextrous vocal, could be translated into a breezy radio edit; Find the Way Through features Joshua Idehen’s rap, all underpinned by Phil Merriman’s snaking, subterranean synth bass; and in Closing (Tomorrow), Mia Marlen Berg’s carthatic yet animated chant over electronic drone segues into extended, brassy, soul-bossa-nova exuberance.

The whole panoply of the composer’s imaginings is difficult to convey in words alone. But one thing is certain. Clarkson’s ability to create challenging yet engaging music from his innermost feelings – brought to life by this ensemble’s openness and experimentation – is a sure ‘listen again’.

Soldiering On is officially launched at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham on Friday 1 June, with special guests Alexander Hawkins and Mark Lockheart.

INTERVIEW: Raph Clarkson (The Dissolute Society’s Soldiering On, album launch 1 June)
PODCAST INTERVIEW: Trombonist Raph Clarkson


PREVIEW/ FEATURE: Loz Speyer (Inner Space Touring Dates in June)

Loz Speyer's Inner Space
Photo Credit: Katie D Edwards

There is experimentation galore from the new tour by LOZ SPEYER's Inner Space, writes Martin Chilton. They are improvising new material and giving a fresh presentation of songs from their fine 2017 album Life On The Edge. All of this, admits Speyer, “keeps us on our toes”.

Life on the road again – including the delights of shared van driving and late night return journeys – was in part made possible thanks to some Arts Council England funding that required intensive form filling. The Arts Council ask for tour feedback, however, which has resulted in some positive reactions by audiences ranging from Brighton to Bristol. Loz Speyer says: “It’s hard to know what to expect at our gigs, because we can be alarming to different camps of the jazz world. But more than 50 per cent of the audience have been filling out response forms and people have described our music as ‘unusual’, ‘challenging’ and ‘different’ … but saying they mean these descriptions in a positive way.”

Speyer, who writes interesting themes and plays trumpet and flugelhorn in a fluent free-bop style, believes that the band’s interaction has deepened over the past two years and that they revel in playing freely. “We can be digging back into the traditions of swing, with three horns doing counterpoint, and then move into more free jazz, where the rhythm and structure are constantly changing.”

In one new direction for Inner Space, they are playing music that has been collectively composed by all five band members, with fragments by the various contributors pulled together on stage. Speyer explains: “It was a bit of a nightmare to rehearse but we realised we were trying to control the music too much and that it was best to leave it to improvisation on the night. So for the first part of this 2018 tour we chose from about nine or 10 pieces or parts of pieces, but did not join them until the concert. That puts us on edge, because we don’t even know whether a tune will even be played slow or fast.”

The members of Inner Space are Rachel Musson (tenor and soprano saxes); Olie Brice on the double bass; alto saxophonist and clarinet player Chris Biscoe, who has worked with numerous top jazzmen over the past three decades, including Mike Westbrook, and who has been part of Inner Space for 15 years; and drummer Gary Willcox, the newest member, who joined the band in 2015.

“We all bring different influences and we have five bandleaders in the group,” says Speyer. “Rachel is more active in improvisation, while Chris brings with him influences of past projects, such as the one celebrating Eric Dolphy. We do about one tune per set of this collective music – and are looking to do more of this during the Autumn.

The 2017 album Life On The Edge was co-produced by Speyer and Leo Records founder Leo Feigin, and Speyer’s composition Rocket Science, the second of 11 tracks on the album, is often reinvented live, with open grooves, different soloists and modulated tempos. Speyer has added another innovative element – a series of “portraits” dedicated to jazz greats such as drummer John Stevens, saxophonist Steve Lacy and pianist and composer Sun Ra.

Celebrating the work of master jazz players is something that started for Speyer with his piece Innate Ornette, honouring Ornette Coleman. Speyer explains: “I wanted to write something to evoke his spirit and what I feel about the greatness, flexibility and naturalness of his music.

“I met Sun Ra and John Stevens, and felt a personal connection to both. It’s subjective to write a portrait of someone, but I can honestly say that when I first heard Sun Ra, at a time I was about 21 in New York and going through a difficult period, it was a life-changing experience. Years later in London I met him and told him about that gig. I was in awe of him but he was a very welcoming man.

“John had a big impact on me as a youngster, especially with his ‘Search and Reflect’ guide to music workshops and then seeing his great gigs in small pubs and clubs. I had a real connection with his jazz and his links to South African music. I called my tribute Even Stevens.”

Although the tour is going well, jazz in the UK is in a mixed place at the moment, Speyer believes. “On the one hand, there is a lot of really creative music being made and played and a huge pool of talented musicians to call on. And I would also say that the barriers between different styles of jazz have been breaking down,” he remarks. “On the other hand, it is a difficult time economically. Cutting Jazz Services was a disaster in terms of funding for bands and I worry that the age group for following jazz is in the older groups. There needs to be more exposure on radio and TV for jazz and on stations that reach a younger audience.”

Life is busy for Speyer, who has also arranged music by Malcolm Jarvis for a 10-piece band for a forthcoming film about drummer Clifford Jarvis (who himself initiated this project with Speyer in 1997). But after all the work sorting out funding, travel logistics and writing and rehearsing for the tour, it is a thrill for Inner Space to be out playing gigs again, he says.

There are seven more dates on the present nationwide tour to go – including gigs in Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester – before a finale at London’s Vortez Jazz Club on 26 June. “There is a tremendous buzz about touring again,” Speyer says. “It’s been fantastic to do consecutive gigs and be a band again. We feel uplifted and, even when you are getting back at four in the morning, it is exciting. This is how life as a musician should be.” (pp)

For full tour details see


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Nutshell Norway and Nattjazz Bergen

Rune Your Day
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski

Nutshell Norway (23 to 26 May) and Nattjazz (25 May to 2 June)
(Hordaland and Bergen, Norway. Festival Round-Up by Ralf Dombrowski(*))

There are many reasons why the jazz world knows Norwegian artists so well. Reasons which might include – naturally – creativity, originality and the skill levels of the Norwegians as players. Yet on the other hand there are institutions such as Music Norway or the West Norway Jazz Centre which don't miss out on opportunities to organise major events at which artists from Norway are presented to international guests in particularly effective and memorable ways.

It is, simply put, a very different experience to hear Trygve Seim playing solo saxophone on the bow of a Viking boat sailing along a fjord, as happened last year; or to witness Erland Dahlen, this year, drumming in front of the picturesquely decorated choir of Vangskyrkja Church (image below). Or to watch indie jazz quartet Rune Your Day unfolding their sparse yet energy-filled sound at a garden party overlooking the picturesque lake in Voss. The eye listens, the brain encodes the pleasant moods which go along with the musical experience, one can feel how a spirit of openness towards this particular type of European jazz increases. It can't be only that, but taken as a whole it is a more compelling entry point into an artist's music than – for example – taking a CD out of a padded envelope.

Erland Dahlen at Vangskyrkja Church
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski
It also bears witness to the level of public esteem in which a country is prepared to hold its artists. For this reason alone, events such as the Nutshell Showcase Festival are special dates in the calendar, especially if they can be combined with another festival such as Nattjazz in Bergen, which has been bringing artists from the region to the stage of the former USF Verftet sardine factory since last Friday, and will continue to do so well into June. The stylistic direction of the young artists presented held the attention. After the phase of free, experimental playing, there was a long period when combinations with rock music, electronica or folk were the typical playing styles that could be expected from Scandinavia in general and from Norway in particular. This time, however, it was traditional ensembles with a modern approach who were in the ascendant.

Bounce Alarm
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski

The sextet Bounce Alarm, for example, with two saxophones and trumpet as its front-line, traversed in its mix of sounds between cautiously expanding the ensemble form, taking elements of the contemporary folk composition, and energetic passages of improvisation. In a similar fashion, saxophonist Hanna Paulsberg's quintet worked on modern-sounding material, but at the same time tended to be more laconic and experimental. Erland Dahlen's solo program grew in intensity into a mighty thunderstorm of drums and bells, whereas the piano trio of Dag Arensen kept within taste boundaries, its cultured playing was in the line of the modern jazz romantics.

But things could also go boldly off in other directions. The trio around pianist Håvard Wiik, for example, managed to inject a wonderful amount of humour into deconstructing the format, despite the fact that their showcase concert was very brief. And saxophonist André Roligheten was given two opportunities to reaffirm his role as an important new figure in the modern Norwegian scene: first as bandleader of his own quartet, where he set off into free playing, and also continued in the seventies tradition of unwieldy and over-long compositions. He was also one of the two saxophonists in the quartet Rune Your Day. With its mixture of tight and well-crafted arrangements and indie sound appeal, it was overall the most convincing band in the Nutshell event.

Troldhaugen Hall with Grieg' composing hut as backdrop
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski
By contrast, the stars of the opening weekend of the Nattjazz Festival were more of a walk down memory lane. So when Frode Haltli unpacked his accordion to offer atmospheric Avant folk, or when violinists like Nils Økland, Erlend Apneset or Old Kvernberg took the Hardanger fiddle in their hands to get to work on the atmosphere of the North, sometimes with more energy – and sometimes with less – it all felt rather more clichéd than the music which the younger musicians had been developing from the inventory of sounds of modern jazz.

(*) Ralf Dombrowski's original German published by the Jazzzeitung

Nutshell is sponsored jointly by the West Norway Jazz Center and the Nattjazz festival, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the city of Bergen, the county of Hordaland, the Norwegian Jazz Federation, Music Norway and the Bergen International Festival.


NEWS: Birmingham research project updates classic jazz TV for the modern age

Jazz 1080 in production
Photo credit: Ian Davies

Peter Bacon reports:

Remember Jazz 625? Well it’s been recreated as Jazz 1080 as part of a research project at Birmingham City University.

This academic reconstruction and updating, which looks ahead to the future of music television while considering its past, is described in a press release from the university:

“As well as encompassing archival research and interviews with former production staff, the study involved transforming the University’s main TV studio to simulate how a jazz programme was made. This included scrutinising the technical decisions faced by television crews and improvising musicians at each stage of producing such a broadcast.

“Following months of planning, on Tuesday 22 May, Birmingham City University’s TV Studio A was transformed to evoke the aesthetics of a 1960s BBC jazz programme. Led by director Mark Kershaw, and featuring a crew of former BBC employees and current Birmingham City University students, the team utilised cutting edge facilities in the University’s £62 million Parkside Building to precisely record the role of improvisation in the relationship between a television crew, their equipment and a contemporary working jazz group.

“In a loving homage to the legendary BBC jazz concert show, Jazz 625 – so titled because the newly launched BBC Two was broadcasting on 625-UHF lines (the HD of the time) – the Birmingham City University production has been named Jazz 1080, reflecting the technological leap in broadcasting since the 1960s. In order to realise this modern incarnation, the researchers and crew worked from original documentation sourced from the BBC Written Archive in Caversham.

“Presented by Birmingham rapper Juice Aleem, the 50-minute programme featured performances by rising stars from the West Midlands jazz scene. Xhosa Cole (tenor saxophone), Lee Griffiths (alto saxophone), James Owston (double bass), Euan Palmer (drums) and Eyituoyo Awala (piano) – known as The Xhosa Cole Quintet – treated the studio audience to classic works by renowned artists such as Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard and Dizzy Gillespie."

The ambitious project came to fruition as a result of Dr Nicolas Pillai, based in the institution’s Birmingham School of Media, securing a prestigious Early Career Research Leadership Fellowship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Dr Pillai, an occasional contributor to LondonJazz News, said the funding, worth nearly £170,000, is allowing him to look ahead to the future of music television, as well as considering its past.

He said: “Producing Jazz 1080 has changed the way I think about television. As an academic, it’s tempting to stick with what you know – documents in the archive – but this project is teaching me that you can only really understand the creative decisions of the past through reliving them. Production meetings with our ex-BBC crew have convinced me that what ends up on screen depends upon the dynamic of those working behind the camera.

“Nothing prepares you for the intensity of the production gallery during a live shoot, as your director guides the cameras around musicians in complex choreography. When you’re recording this way, as live in the manner of Jazz 625, the crew are improvising with as much dexterity and imagination as the musicians.

“For me, the most enjoyable aspect of the shoot was seeing our students leap into the unknown with such enthusiasm and energy. We asked a lot of them and they delivered with great professionalism. Our finished programme is a testament to their potential, as well as being a record of an exciting moment in the Birmingham jazz scene, personified by The Xhosa Cole Quintet.

“Ultimately, Jazz 1080 is a tribute to a way of working within light entertainment at the BBC. My hope is that our programme will turn the spotlight back onto a wonderful period of music television, when visionary producers like Terry Henebery changed the way that this country thought about jazz.”

Jazz 1080 is one output of the larger AHRC-funded research project – ‘Jazz on BBC-TV 1960-1969’ – and is being facilitated by the Jazz Research cluster at Birmingham City University, which is led by Professors Nicholas Gebhardt and Tony Whyton, as well as Dr Pillai.


REVIEW: Gwilym Simcock Trio plus Printmakers with Norma Winstone in the 606 Club 30 Years at Lots Road Festival

Printmakers with Norma Winstone at the 606 Club
Photo credit: David Forman

Gwilym Simcock Trio and Printmakers
(606 Club 30 Years at Lots Road Festival, 23 May 2018. Review by Brian Blain)

A tremendous feat for saxist/flautist Steve Rubie, and his cheery band of assistants, to have kept the 606 Club, a classic down-the-stairs venue loaded with atmosphere, alive in Lots Road for the last 30  years. And so a celebration fortnight was called for, and with artists from Claire Martin to Jamie Cullum, who feel a strong bond with the venue, such a party was had in the past two weeks.

I was lucky to get down on the second Wednesday, when the Gwilym Simcock Trio and Norma Winstone and the Printmakers, demonstrated a part of the incredible depth and quality of the pool of musicians who operate in London, many of whom are well known far beyond our Brexit-obsessed shores

Simcock's "image" may well be more neo-classical, considered performance – remember his BBC Prom with orchestra three or four years ago? – but this time, with electric bass virtuoso Laurence Cottle and master jazz and rock sessioneer Ian Thomas, who have worked together on innumerable occasions here, he was opening the evening with his Jaco Pastorius set, probably a surprise to many in the absolutely jam-packed room. First up, Liberty City, from Jaco's Big Band Word of Mouth album, brass stabs transformed into bass/drum percussion patterns.

After the original shock waves the crowd seemed to adjust its expectation and it was obvious we were in for something special. After Three Views of a Secret, a lovely waltz and one of many Pastorius tunes (have you heard Kurt Elling's version, on his latest album? Try to catch it), we were into an incredibly fast jazz samba with Thomas's orthodox left hand grip driving the trio, allowing Laurence to weave his busy basslines with Gwilym's piano patterns, all the while on his feet, grinning with sheer delight: absolutely glorious. The set wound down with another classic, A Remark You Made, one of the most affecting ballads in the history of the music and a poignant reminder of what a loss the death of this troubled genius was in 1987 at the age of 35.

The second set of the evening, The Printmakers with Mark Lockheart (saxophones), John Parricelli (gtr), Nikki Iles (piano) Steve Watts (bass), Dave Hamblett (drums), and maybe the most important voice, along with Cleo Laine, from the '60s onwards, Norma Winstone came on to present another kind of strength and lyricism. After a light opening bossa feel giving Mark and John a chance to limber fingers, and the rhythm section to settle into a loose kind of groove, everyone delved into one of those abstract, rummaging-around sort of intros, which once seemed so daring but whose main function now is to raise tension in the audience while the they wonder what's going to happen next.

Relief soon came and the music eased into another Latin feel, O, a tune by John Taylor. This gave Parricelli a chance to stretch out with beautiful sound and long flowing lines before moving into a 6/8 passage in which Norma and Mark moved around together in perfect sync. Next, one which I always think of as "Norma's Tune" which is actually The Glide by Ralph Towner, a delightful quirky theme which was followed by Joni Mitchell's Two Grey Rooms, another fine example of Winstone's fine ear for material. And then, a contrast; after so much alternative voice material, an actual standard, a real beauty, The Night We Called It A Day. Not only did the song bring out the best in the singer's voice, rich and quite powerful, but the relative calm propelled Nikki Iles into the spotlight with characteristically elegant and thoughtful lines.

After another Towner number, Norma came over all Country with Steve Swallow's sly City Of Dallas; quite wonderful and, after The Night We Called it A Day, a masterstroke. Finally, new-ish boy Dave Hamblett got his chance to whack his drums on the encore, Kenny Wheeler's Foxy Trot; so everyone could go home happy.


REPORT: Gvido Music E-Reader London Launch at Abbey Road

Australian saxophonist Amy Dickson
using the page-turning pedals of the Gvido
at the Abbey Road launch 
Sebastian writes:

First the good news. A new sheet music e-reader from Japan called GVIDO, in homage to Guido D'Arezzo, was launched at Abbey Road last week, and was demonstrated in use by classical musicians such as saxophonist Amy Dickson (above). Here is the promotional video from manufacturer Terrada Music Score Co., Ltd.

It was first sold out of one music store in Tokyo in late 2017, and is now starting to develop a network of distributors in other countries including Trans-Cosmos UK whose site doesn't actually mention this affiliation.

A lot of thought has gone into the convenience factor in the manufacture, and a target audience  of classical musicians looking to replace sheet musi has been identified. The Gvido is based on a double-page, with screens made of flexible e-paper - rather than glass. The frame is carbon fibre, so it is claimed to be unbreakable in normal use. There is some sophisticated technology in the hinge on license from Vaio. The total weight is 660 grams. It is possible to add annotations and markings.

But thre are drawbacks. First it is based on PDF technology. One highly critical review has found the constant need to return to a menu/library page rather than e.g. being able to have menus in windows decidedly clunky. And then there is the price: a complete four-part set of the equipment (a first stylus is included with the e-reader) shown below currently sells for just under £2,500 including VAT.  

Screen capture from site
May 2018

LINK: GVIDO UK website


NEWS: Programme announced for Mas i Mas Festival in Barcelona – incorporating the GMF Summer School

Sebastian reports:

The 16th Mas I Mas Festival in Barcelona will run from 31 July to 31 August. The Festival takes in five venues: The Teatro Coliseum, Barcelona's main jazz club the Jamboree, the Tablao, Tarantos and the Moog Club, and will host nearly 70 shows, presenting an eclectic mix: jazz, blues, soul, swing, R&B and electronic music. Brewer San Miguel is lead sponsor.

The Teatro Coliseum
Photo credit: Canaan / Creative Commons


The 1700-seater Teatro Coliseum, at the intersection of Corts Catalanes and La Rambla, will present five concerts including the festival's opening and closing concerts

31 July Opening concert with New York band Lucky Chops
5 August Incognito
11 August Electro Deluxe
23 August Andrea Motis' new show "Swing Tribute"
25 August Juan Perro Sextet with "El viaje"
31 August: closing concert with the Clarence Bekker Band

Francesco Petreni directing the GMF Samba Group
Photo credit: Melody McLaren


Global Music Foundation, which has previously held its summer courses in Certaldo Alto in Italy, in Krk in Croatia, Saarwellingen in Germany, and in London, will be holding its 2018 course at the Taller de Músics and the CNAB (Club Natació Atlètic Barceloneta).

There will be five concerts at the Jamboree Club featuring members of the course faculty such as Eddie Henderson and two-time Grammy nominee Rene Marie:

Concerts at Jamboree Jazz Club Barcelona
1 August Global Music Foundation All Stars in Concert
2 August Eddie Henderson featuring Bruce Barth
3 August 2018 Blue Note Memorial featuring Perico Sambeat
4 August Bruce Barth ‘New York Stories’
5 August Rene Marie
6 August Jamboree of Ensembles and Gala Jam Session

From 2-6 August, nightly from 6.30 pm student and faculty vocalists will perform on an outdoor stage in the historic Placa Reial in the Barri Gòtic.

The GMF course will have a closing concert by the beach at the Club Natació Atlètic Barceloneta (CNAB)

- Songs in Circle will present a choir directed by Guillermo Rozenthuler and Nel Begley
- The GMF Samba Group led by Francesco Petreni


Also at Jamboree on 7 August is the Joan Chamorro Young Band of San Andreu
And vocalist Sara Pi will be appearing on the closing night of the festival at Jamboree

LINKS: Mas i Mas Festival website Application for places on the GMF Course


INTERVIEW: Claudio Scolari Project – Natural Impulse

Claudio Scolari
Photo credit: Antonio Bassi

Natural Impulse (Principal Records), the third album by Italian trio Claudio Scolari, Daniele Cavalca and Simone Scolari, was released in January. AJ Dehany and Claudio Scolari took a moonlit walk through the album in Italian and English via email, discussing the group’s inspirations in musical storytelling.

LondonJazz Newa: Many of the titles – Unknown Destination, Chasing Inspiration, Uptown Night Trip – suggest a love of the journey for its own sake. Where are you journeying?

Claudio Scolari: Natural Impulse is something deep that comes from our soul which we try to communicate with music. It includes some deep ancestral sensations and emotions. Navigating without a clear destination allows us to be ourselves and yet also to reveal the stories and personal sensations of the different cultures that surround us.

1. Unknown Destination

LJN: The opening track has an exciting electro-acoustic arrangement. How do you layer the sound in the studio? Is the destination really unknown?

CS: Melody is very important in our music, always surrounded by the electronic parts that let us create space and warm sounds around the melodic material. It’s a complex mixture of influences, and it’s hard to find your own sound even though I believe, as an artist, you have to chase it.

2. American Skyscrapers

LJN: The vibraphone is a very resonating instrument but the production is quite reined in; the track is also reminiscent of a gospel-influenced style of American jazz?

CS: The vibraphone is not approached as the typical solo instrument like big names such as Mike Mainieri and Gary Burton do it. It is more connected to contemporary classical music. I originally thought about it as a Blues but Daniele and Simone found a more interesting, jazzy idea, so we went for that. It has a strong energy and the melody excites me a lot.

3. Chasing Inspiration

LJN: This seems to obey a live trio format rather than using overdubbing. How does it compare between live and studio? What inspiration are you chasing?

CS: The studio functions as a sort of laboratory where tend to experiment a lot, while in a live situation it is challenging to arrange the song simpler. Our inspiration doesn’t have a specific source. We always have in mind what the great artists have done in the past. Coltrane, Monk, Parker, Miles and today’s artists DeJohnette, Hancock, Frisell and Jarrett have created a universe of music.

4. Natural Impulse

LJN: A memorable Monk-like piano theme. Why did you opt to leave out the trumpet?

CS: We wanted to keep the song very simple just with piano and drums with just me and Daniele. Not every song follows the same instrumentation. Natural Impulse is for us an example of what we think about Thelonious Monk. He was not just a great pianist, he was Monk!

5. Moon Mood

LJN: There’s a mixture of “out there” electronic sounds with the trumpet improvisations. Is the moon another unknown destination toward inspiration?

CS: Our music has an inspiration that seems undefined after a first listening but has general influences that somebody compared to ‘world music’, which today is a mixture of many sonorities and different styles. We must always be open to new things.

6. Dear John

LJN: It feels emotionally engaged, with a very full almost Vangelis-like sound. Who is John and what are you saying to him?

CS: Dear John is a delicate moment dedicated to one of my favorite musicians, John Abercrombie: a truly versatile musician but closely linked to jazz tradition. His improvisations are very instinctive and never lack that creativity worthy of great jazz musicians.

7. Uptown Night Trip, 8. Insomnia and 9. Over The Horizon

LJN: An almost-suite like sequence with to a more exploratory feel with rich electronic textures and a memorable trumpet themes, reminiscent of In a silent way. What keeps you awake at night?

CS: There are many inspirations when you travel the night and cannot sleep, visiting strange dimensions almost separate from you and your deep self. The images become sounds and rhythms that appear quiet but at the same time restless. What keeps us awake is the thought that the world can not find the feelings and the honesty that music and art in general have in its form of respect in man and in the universe.

10. South Hemisphere

LJN: How do you view the Southern Hemisphere? Africa has a huge importance for jazz…

CS: South Hemisphere was born as a single moment, a light. The cover of the single represented a pregnant woman with the colors and the depths of creation: the will of harmony and the perfection inherent in matter. Yes, Africa has a major importance in jazz, but we were trying to think of something as far as possible. The birth of an individual is really far out.

LJN: What are your inspirations and ambitions for the trio?

CN: We all three studied classical music, then searched for our own style in the jazz world. Being in and out of the rhythm structure is a characteristic of our music, and we have tried to search for a language that blends harmony, rhythm and dissonances. The inspirations are constantly evolving. The world is full of musicians who have something to say. Music is beautiful for that reason, it’s in constant evolution. There will always be purists who never want to change their music, and also those who are open to the world.

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

LINK: Natural Impulse is available from Claudio Scolari's website


REPORT: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Music Mags panel session at BSME

The British Society of Magazine Editors (BSME) held their May 2018 Event on 23 May – a  panel discussion about music magazines, “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Music Mags”, chaired by John L Walters (JLW), at the citizenM boutique hotel at Trinity Square by the Tower of London. AJ Dehany attended. This is his report which starts by introducing the panel members in turn: 

Jo Frost was Logistics co-ordinator and general fixer for the Jazz a Vienne festival, without coming from a jazz background. She worked for Gramophone for three years and since 2002 has edited Songlines. She noted the acknowledged problems of the term “world music” but that her publishers cleave to it for familiarity and marketing. The magazine is in the Mark Allen group alongside Jazzwise and Gramophone, so the group controls three significant specialist music magazines.

Phil Hebblethwaite spoke about starting and running the Stool Pigeon in the noughties, completely independently’ they didn’t even have distribution— they drove a van around the UK to deliver it. Crack Magazine and Loud and Quiet still operate on the same free model with the same level of creative control to put whoever they want on their cover and in their pages, but he had to fold the operation up because it was so much work. They nearly merged with Vice but couldn’t work out a deal. Now he works semi-freelance five days a week for the BBC.

Richard Williams related his extraordinary career including time as the editor of Melody Maker, and noted the amount of creative freedom he has enjoyed in his career. He started The Blue Moment which he does for love and makes no money from but finds hugely rewarding as he can do what he likes!

Asked if anyone in the room represented the redoutable Q or Mojo, a senior editor (Ian Fortnam is Reviews Editor) and a senior art director (Darryl Mayhew) responded. They were there from Classic Rock — representing also Prog Magazine and Metal Hammer. The circulation of these magazines  tends to be steady; they typically serve an older audience with regular income more used to print. The circulation for genre magazines associated with younger audiences (even metal) is more fickle, but sales of these magazines tend to be flat regardless even of who is on the front cover. Regarding circulation, in the present day “flat is the new up”.

There were great contributions throughout from the floor. Jon Newey weighed in at several points, talking variously about the enduring appeal of tactile print, not just in what was a golden age of magazine publishing about 20 years ago when magazines like Q were selling hundreds of thousands of copies. He spoke about Jazzwise’s own early-to-the-game commissioning of an app. They couldn’t have afforded it but a company put it together without it necessitating the kind of £10k outlay these things usually demand.

Apps and other digital resources were a big theme. Who knew that the entire archive of the NME has been digitized? It’s not available because of licensing issues for both images and text; the text is mostly written by staff rather than by freelancers, but the images pose a seemingly insurmountable problem. There are also issues of titles changing hands and any number of other legal rights issues with online content archives, not just with the NME. Several staff of the Strad spoke about their archive, which is offered as a subscriber perk but only goes back within living memory. The full archive back to 1891 has not been completed, which has irked subscribers but logistically hasn’t been viable; the full-time digitalisation of the Strad and the NME wouldn’t and doesn’t have a budget at present. Rock’s Back Pages (RBP) is an archival publication, or really a resource, with an ongoing remit for this kind of work. Note subscriptions to RBP are at a premium rate because its primary clients are intentionally libraries and organisations rather than individuals (NB this last bit is not from this event but from talking to someone from RBP a few weeks ago).

In the context of subscriptions, distribution issues were touched on, what with the fees absorbed by Newsstand. In a predictable irony, very few in the room professed to having subscriptions to actual print magazines. Marketing is a complex matter in the streaming age with unresolved issues.

JLW asked “Phil, are we doomed?” Phil broadened the discussion into the wider one of changes in the wider music industry itself. Clearly the streaming revolution has happened, with the mp3 format as one of the shortest-lived in history. He noted that vinyl sales, while acclaimed as a booming blooming good news story, still only account for less than 1% of overall sales. This was intended as a note of realism regarding physical formats and nostalgia that was wildly or even stubbornly misinterpreted by Jon Newey who agreed to disagree with Phil about his beloved vinyl format, whose importance to Jon cannot be understated but whose importance to everyone else is negligible; let’s face it, it’s fun but bollocks.

Nobody really thinks print mags are doomed, needless to say. Furthermore, with regard to music magazines in particular, and with a consumer guide in streaming, JLW was also very optimistic about the future, noting: “Niche can work.”

British Society of Magazine Editors website
With thanks to Rhone Wines


LP REVIEW: Steve Cardenas – Charlie & Paul

Steve Cardenas – Charlie & Paul
(Newvelle Records NV013LP. LP review by Geoff Winston)

"This was not the street and its endless, hurried footsteps, the mayhem of broken lines, but instead the gracefulness of gliding, the beauty of flow." This phrase, from French author, Ingrid Astier, sums up the spirit and ambience of Charlie & Paul, the exquisitely crafted, Steve Cardenas-led tribute to bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian, the first album in the latest set of LPs from Newvelle Records.

Each of Newvelle Records' third season of limited edition, niche vinyl albums – pressed on clear vinyl, beautifully recorded, exquisitely packaged – is accompanied by a short story by Astier, printed in full on the inner sleeve, and this line is from is the The Heart is a Whirling Dervish, the story coupled with Charlie & Paul.

Guitarist Cardenas, who had been a major part of Motian's and Haden's groups over fourteen and ten years, respectively, assembled his quartet with accomplished musicians who had also spent time with one or other of these two great masters. Bassist Thomas Morgan was with Motian for the greater part of an early ten-year period, and Loren Stillman, on tenor sax, put in time with both, while drummer Matt Wilson has said of Haden, "He has always made me feel incredibly welcome." To further emphasise these bonds, Cardenas, Stillman and Wilson were recently seen together in the Liberation Music Orchestra, with Carla Bley at Cadogan Hall.

Of the compositions on the album five are by Motian, three of which were never previously released, and four are by Haden. The interpretations are of nuanced understatement and delicacy, but not without serious backbone. One senses the deepest appreciation born out of each musician's individual experiences and the insights gained through their unique and sustained engagements with two such significant figures.

As such, Charlie & Paul is in many ways a musician's album, one for the sophisticated ear, which can pick out the references, the subtle touches and the gently inspired interweaving of the melodic and improvised threads. There's something of the humility of Haden and the assertiveness of Motion running all the way through. Whilst the playing doesn't go off-course, as befits the album's position as heartfelt homage, it also avoids the predictable. Haden's short, sharp In the Moment runs on percussive energy, while, from the opening notes of Motian's Kalypso and Riff Raff the presence of Ornette's guiding hand is unmistakably in evidence in angular accents and deceptively simple, synchronised passages, with Wilson driving pulsating, African-derived rhythms to define the momentum. Morgan is given space for a majestic solo spot in Haden's Pocket Full of Cherry, after a hectic Stillman solo and Cardenas, with head below the parapet for much of the outing, picks his moments to inject grainy, grazed textures and deftly crafted harmonics, and ambles in to Frisell and Cooder territory in Motian's Mex-country flavoured Prarie Avenue Cowboy, heels-a-clicking!

It's neat, tight and virtuosic all the way through, but with a warm, relaxed tone that is down to the  special understanding that each of the quartet brings to the mix. Talking of which, as with the recordings in Newvelle's first two series, Marc Uselli adds a magic touch in the analogue mix, to capture to perfection the essence of each musician's contribution.

LINK: Newvelle Records website


PROFILE: Bassist John Goldsby Part Two

John Goldsby
Photo credit: Julia Goldsby

John Goldsby is many things: bass player, jazz writer, educator, and teacher. He has written a definitive book on jazz bass, The Jazz Bass Book: Technique and Tradition. In this second part of Sebastian Maniura's profile for LondonJazz News, he looks at his John's teaching and writing.

“We have to imitate but by imitating we develop our own sound”
–  John Goldsby

John Goldsby’s credo as a teacher, writer and player is firmly rooted in his own experience as a bassist. He believes that the past connects to the present and creates the future. By studying and imitating the great players of the past, a young player will gradually discover their own sound and forge their own personal musical identity.

In 1990, John released his first book, Jazz Bowing Techniques for the Improvising Bassist, aiming to demonstrate how to play with the bow in a similar manner to the great ambassadors of that style, such as Paul Chambers. The editor of Bass Player Magazine gave the book a favourable review and asked him to write an article for the next month’s magazine. John still writes articles for the magazine: “I just write articles about what I’m interested in at the moment, fortunately they keep accepting the articles.”

His writing, in both article and book form, is grounded in historical research and personal experience.
The best example of this is his book Jazz Bass: Technique and Tradition, inspired by his interest in different styles of music and how they relate to one another.

He "fell into" the traditional scene in New York, playing with greats such as Bob Wilber. Through playing with people mindful of the music’s history, John began to listen and learn from the jazz that had gone before him. From his articles for Bass Player Magazine John had built up an extensive collection of jazz bass profiles which he used as a starting point to compile a chronological history of jazz bass and its techniques.

Talking to John, it is clear he feels there needs to be a thread, a story, throughout a book, even a technical manual. Having never attended university he has always enjoyed collecting books by fellow jazz musicians as he feels a book reveals a lot about the author and how they played. It shows what the author wants to say and what is important enough to them to put in a book, “for instance, the Ray Brown book, on one hand is not very interesting but on the other hand you see specific things that you can hear in his records. To me that’s worth the price of a book”.

John is currently planning the release of a six-book series, the idea is to introduce jazz bass to non-bass players and beginners. It answers the question, “if you were starting from scratch, what would you need to play jazz bass?” It’ll include scale patterns and exercises, gradually moving to “hip” passages. The series will offer in depth profiles of seminal jazz bassists that were important to John. The way that he structures his books, and how he writes, tells John’s own story and aims to inspire people to practise, listen and imitate bassists they admire. In his mind, that’s how one really learns to play and avoids the many pitfalls that lie ahead for today’s aspiring bassists.

The damaging effect the YouTube viral video can have on how musician’s approach playing is one that John is well aware of, saying it can lead to young musicians playing flashy impressive sounding music that doesn’t have any real musicality or grounding in the music’s history. An obsession with equipment can also lead nowhere: “just because you have the same bass and strings as Marcus Miller doesn’t mean you can play like that”.

However, the internet has also opened up the world scene, making a huge range of music and some great teaching widely available. In some ways, says John, the internet has “set the bar even higher and higher for players”. He thinks of it as a melting pot where everyone is being influenced by everyone else, meaning it’s even harder to stand out. But, the function of the bass hasn’t changed, “the bass is the anchor of the band”. The challenge is to fulfil that role within the music currently being played. John’s argument is that “Wellman Braud’s playing is performing much the same job as Marcus Miller’s”, the context has changed but the bass is still the beating heart of the band.

Today, John is in an almost unique position, having had a successful career in the States and Europe and currently holding the bass chair of one of the great radio big bands. In terms of the future of radio big bands, such as the WDR, he believes their unique selling point is that they can offer, and budget for, super high-quality productions and arrangements whilst working with some of the best jazz musicians in the world. They don’t compete with the YouTube sensation, they offer something more professional, “we really have to stay on our game and produce high quality projects”.

Talking to John Goldsby, his love for and enormous knowledge of the bass constantly shines through. It’s no surprise that he’s such an inspiring teacher and writer. Sure, he sees the current scene as challenging and a "survival of the fittest" situation but with his historian's perspective you sense he knows that, in many ways, it’s always been like that. His way of spring-boarding from the greats of the past to help develop future players’ sounds and styles is a pretty positive response.

LINKS: Part One of this profile

John Goldsby Official website

WDR Big Band website

WDR Big Band and Bill Laurance

Sligo Jazz Summer School official website


NEWS: Turner Sims Southampton reveals its Autumn/Winter 2018 programme

Rymden. L-R:Dan Berglund, Bugge Wesseltoft, Magnus Öström
Publicity photo

Turner Sims Southampton's programme for the latter part of the year has Peter Bacon planning his route south:

If you're looking for an exciting programme of European jazz with some UK artists and some from further afield without venturing into central London, the South Coast would seem to be the place to head for. Turner Sims, the concert hall with fine acoustics that is part of the University of Southampton, has some choice Scandinavian, German and Swiss visitors headlining its Autumn programme.

Likely to draw the most attention is the new supergroup piano trio Rymden (Friday 23 November), which brings together the creator of the New Conception of Jazz, keyboardist Bugge Wesseltoft with Magnus Öström and Dan Berglund, formerly, with Esbjörn Svensson, the much celebrated, and much missed, e.s.t. Also from Scandinavia is the 15-piece Kathrine Windfeld Big Band which opens the Autumn jazz programme (Wednesday 19 September), and Turner Sims favourites Tord Gustavsen Trio (Friday 2 November).

From Germany comes the Julia Hülsmann Trio (Friday 5 October), and from Switzerland Nik Bärtsch's Ronin (Friday 9 November). Both are first-time visitors to Turner Sims.

The home team includes Laura Jurd's Dinosaur (Friday 12 October), and a double bill of saxophonist Tom Barford and guitarist Rob Luft (Saturday 26 January). These concerts are collaborations between Turner Sims and its "associate label", Edition Records. Also from the UK is the Buck Clayton Legacy Band (which has broadcaster Alyn Shipton on bass) with vocalist Julia Biel (Friday 19 October) – they are doing a programme celebrating the partnership between Buck Clayton and Billie Holiday.

From further afield are Mexican pianist Alex Mercado (Friday 26 October), making his UK debut, and, in the new year, from the U.S. (via Paris) comes singer China Moses (Saturday 12 January).

LINK: What's On at Turner Sims Southampton


REVIEW/PHOTOS: Brigitte Beraha and Frank Harrison The Way Home album launch at Kings Place

Brigitte Beraha and Frank Harrison
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska

Brigitte Beraha and Frank Harrison - The Way Home album launch
(Kings Place Hall Two, 23 May 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

There was a substantial and supportive turn-out for this Kings Place album launch by vocalist Brigitte Beraha and pianist Frank Harrison. Beraha is increasingly a pivotal figure on the London scene, in the same way that Sienna Dahlen is in Montreal. As a singer she is first-call for many composers, in the certainty that she will be able to bring sense and sensitivity to more or less any vocal line... at the opposite extreme from last night, I find that a memory of all the anger and angularity in Martin Hathaway's The Silent Assassins springs to mind. And as a singing teacher for jazz students there may be no more influential figure in London.

Frank Harrison
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska

Beraha's highly effective partnership with Frank Harrison is, on balance and in the main, more unashamedly lyrical, than, say her collaborations with Barry Green and John Turville. The duo with Harrison goes back around five years, and is a continuing, living thing. The material on the album The Way Home (Linus Records) was all recorded more than two years ago, and last night's concert demonstrated that the partnership has evolved and taken on new life since then, in particular with a commission from Oxford Contemporary music to set poems by David Attwell (the OCM website seems to have no information about it). The new songs dealt with a whole range of quirky subjects, such as the emotional hold of email communication and the unpredictability of (electronic) spam, a song which effetively brought to the fore Beraha's jazz inflections. The most surreal of these was Message for an Agnostic Angel ("We sail upstream / and miles inland.")

Brigitte Beraha
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska

One highlight was a setting of a poem in French by Maud Hart, and the poet had made a special trip from the Alsace to witness the performance. There was also a family from Sweden present, whose heart-warming story was chronicled in our preview of the gig. 

Brigitte Beraha and Frank Harrison
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska

The most abiding memory of the gig was the ease with which Beraha's voice and Harrison's right hand at the piano seamlessly kept a melodic line going, and of how naturally Beraha moves from singing words to singing wordlessly, and how both complement each other. Monika Jakubowska's pictures from the soundcheck have really caught the  the many-splendoured joys of this tender, intimate, warm-hearted and inspiring gig.

The Way Home is available from Frank Harrison's website


INTERVIEW: Raph Clarkson (The Dissolute Society’s Soldiering On, album launch 1 June)

Raph Clarkson
Photo credit: Jake Walker

Composer, trombonist and band leader RAPH CLARKSON has a fascinating story to tell, a story which draws on his family history and, in a new album, presents a complex self-portrait – expressing, as he says, “what makes me me”. Raph spoke to Peter Bacon.

LondonJazz News: The new album from your band The Dissolute Society, Soldiering On, is very much centred on people. At so many levels. Tell me first about your family and its place in the album.

Raph Clarkson: I, like my parents, was born and bred in London – go further back however, to the generation of my grandparents, and one encounters a fascinating picture of pre- and post- WW2 European migration. My maternal grandparents were both German Jews (one was half-Italian) – my grandmother escaped north Germany, travelling to Palestine by boat in 1934 aged only 10; and my grandfather left his hometown of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) to live with his Italian mother in Florence; his jewish surname Köhn (Cohen) was disguised by combining it with his mother's Berti, to form Comberti. The two met in London in 1948.

My mother, Micaela Comberti, became a baroque violinist and a key member of the so-called early music revival in the 1970s. Her untimely death at the age of 50, in 2003, was the most significant moment of my childhood – I was 15 – and I suppose it was inevitable that I would go on to explore my grief, and my understanding of my mother and the generations before her, in my creative endeavours as an adult.

I think after many years of trying to work out what I wanted to do creatively as a musician/artist, I realised that expressing what makes me me made the most sense – that is, it just felt like the right path to take – it was and is the most authentic thing I could/can offer. So, an exploration of my family, and my experience of knowing my grandmother and of bereavement especially, sparked the words and music that you hear in the first third or so of the album.

LJN: And the “elders” who inspire your music?

RC: The album has a two-fold dedication; to my mother, but also to the late, great, John Taylor, who taught me while I was at the University of York. While she died when I was relatively young, she was an enormously inspiring musical presence in my life, and so it was with John; and almost by proxy, Kenny Wheeler, whose music John championed at York. My mum, John, Kenny, and Keith and Julie Tippetts – who gave me my very first experiences of jazz and free improvisation at the Dartington International Summer School, when I was only eight – all these elders, mentors, guides, inspirational musicians gave me the gift of music, and of loving it, and of being able to be healed by it, allowing me to experience musical joys that will stay with me forever.

Again, they are all fundamental to my own personal story, and therefore an exploration of what they represent to me, and indeed their music, absolutely had to be part of this album! This is why you hear two of John's pieces, and one of Kenny's – Kind Folk is my all-time favourite tune! – but they also help to tell the overall narrative of the album; that, through and after childhood, and in and around difficult, painful experiences, it is these 'Kind Folk', these mentors and guides, who give you the gift of support, love and compassion, which for me was embodied by their musical offerings.

The Dissolute Society
Photo credit: Daniel Martin
LJN: And the people who help you make this music – The Dissolute Society?

RC: The band line-up is no coincidence... it is full of 'Kind Folk', many of whom connect to the narratives and themes of the album.

Phil Merriman and Simon Roth form a rhythm section partnership forged long ago at York; theirs is a special musical bond, and I love making music with them.

One of my biggest musical regrets is not making more music with my mum; and so it is my great joy to make music with my dad (Gustav Clarkson), who plays viola on this album. He's joined in the strings by my partner Zosia Jagodzinska on cello, whom I've known since the age of 16, and who brings a unique way of improvising to the ensemble, drawing on her love of 20th Century classical music, along with Naomi Burrell, herself a baroque violinist (amongst many other styles). Their distinctive, cross-genre creative approach represents a drawing together of my interests in jazz and groove-based music, and the western classical music history that is so deeply connected to my mother and my European background.

I've always loved Laura Jurd's playing, and again, her strong connection to British jazz and its history, as well as her distinctive, almost folkloric sound, seemed a natural and exciting fit for this ensemble. I met Laura playing in some of her earlier large ensemble projects, and I sat next to Mike Soper, and knew that I'd love to make more music with him. Laura and Mike's trumpet duet in the final track is an album highlight for me and in some ways feels like things coming full circle.

Fini Bearman is one person that I didn't know well before putting the band together, but as soon as we tried stuff out, I knew she was an utterly perfect fit. There is such a rich, varied range of vocal approaches in her performance on this album, and she committed herself to telling essentially my personal stories, my words, with such passion and care.

Indeed, words dominate this album and tie the narrative threads together across quite a variety of musical approaches; so, I wanted to have a range of voices heard, as well as mine and Fini's – so, the incredible Mia Marlen Berg's vocal fireworks feature, as do Joshua Idehen's fiery original words in response to/within my tune Find the Way Through.

John Taylor was originally going to guest on this record, before his untimely passing; Huw Warren, whose style and approach bear so many connections to John's, joined The Dissolute Society to pay tribute to John quite beautifully at one of our earliest gigs; and it made complete sense, after that, to dedicate the album to John and have Huw as our guest pianist for the record.

And I should also mention Liran Donin, the producer of the album; it was his encouragement that led me to commit to making the record in the first place. We first started talking about making it when he saw me working on 'Grandma', and we discovered our shared jewish heritage. Thereafter he embodied all the wonderful qualities in the elders, mentors and musicians around me in the ensemble, that I wanted to celebrate on the album.

LJN: Great band name – where did that come from? And why did you choose it?

RC: One of the earliest iterations of The Dissolute Society was a sort of early-music/folk/contemporary jazz crossover ensemble I put together. One piece we played was Heinrich Biber's Battaglia, written in 1673. This is a suite of pieces for strings that represents battle and its surrounding experiences; one movement of the piece describes a group of drunk soldiers marching home, each singing a separate song in a different key, such that in combination they clash chaotically. This movement is called Die liederliche Gesellschaft von allerley Humor, or, The Dissolute Society of all sorts. It is well worth hearing – remarkable that something so dissonant and progressive was written in 1673!

That idea of organised chaos, of a fragmented, loose and yet connected group, band or 'society', really appeals to me; for me, it gets to the heart of the sort of joyously unbridled improv set against groove and insistent rhythm and ostinato, that you hear in legendary bands like those led by Mingus, or Loose Tubes, or the Brotherhood of Breath.

Also, coming from a piece (and a way of using the piece) that suggests cross-genre approaches, and links between different periods of musical history, the band title seems like a perfect frame within which to explore the disparate styles that we do.

LJN: And what does the music sound like? What are its stylistic sources?

RC: Given the personal narrative of the album, it seemed to make sense to me to celebrate all the musical things that I love and bring me joy!

So as well as the contemporary European jazz of John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler, there is a nod to 20th century classical music writing and sounds; Fini's sprechstimme, or 'spoken singing' as exemplified by Arnold Schönberg, is a good example of that at many points of the album, and I suppose the work of Bartok, Stravinsky, Berio and Kurtag is there in the background somewhere; at the heart of the album there is an improvised version of a Hungarian folksong used by Bartok in one of his piano pieces.

I also absolutely love the joy and passion of gospel-jazz grooves and harmony (Marvin Sapp, Kirk Franklin as well as Jill Scott, Take 6, and indeed the gospel chops of band member Phil Merriman), and these sounds are hinted at at points throughout the album; it is this sound world that draws the album to a close, narratively pointing towards a hopeful future.

There is of course a variety of freely improvised musical approaches that help to tie together these elements and the many words that run through the album; these are heavily inspired by the work of Keith and Julie Tippetts.

LJN: The album deals with some difficult subjects. Was it hard to write? And, in some sense, did writing it help you to deal with the difficulty of the subject matter?

RC: Surprisingly perhaps, I don't think it was hard to write; not in the sense of emotionally hard or painful. This inner-world had been swirling and looking for expression for a long time, and a lot of it came out very quickly; the difficult part was working out how to put all the pieces together in a way that made sense to me.

Again, discussing these subjects felt (and feels) like the most authentic creative thing that I can offer as an artist, and once I realised that, all these thoughts, experiences, emotions, had an outlet with a clear sense of purpose. So in that sense, yes, writing the album helped me to deal with the subject matter – making this has certainly been cathartic. Although of course, once you share it with the world, you do expose these vulnerable parts of the self to the world; for me, doing that, and performing the music, is much harder than the creating (although, ultimately no less rewarding).

LJN: Where can we hear the band in performance?

RC: You can hear the full ensemble officially launch the album at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham on Friday 1 June, with special guests Alexander Hawkins and Mark Lockheart. (pp)

LINK: Raph Clarkson podcast with LondonJazz News