CD REVIEW: Thomas Bramerie Trio (feat. guests Stéphane Belmondo, Jacky Terrasson and Éric Legnini) – Side Stories

Thomas Bramerie Trio – Side Stories
(Jazz Eleven JZE11002. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

There is an inner strength, a sense of purpose and intent, an assuredness about French bassist Thomas Bramerie's playing. The first time I remember having been struck by it was on Dee Dee Bridgewater's Grammy-nominated album Live at Yoshi's, recorded in 1998. The group stretches out on every tune, and Bramerie's less-is-more instinct, the way he helps the stories to unfold, stays in my mind as one of the joys of a fine album. That recording was made just after Bramerie had moved to New York where he lived for around a decade. Another strong calling card for his unfazed and effective playing, from a time just after his return to France (alongside illustrious colleagues Mulgrew Miller and Lewis Nash, no less!), is the album Deep in a Dream by Pierrick Pedron from 2007.

Now, in his early 50s, and with a huge roll-call of sideman credits to his name (English biography here), Bramerie has finally recorded his very first album as leader. How did it happen? The instigator of the project was manager Christophe Deghelt. As Deghelt explains on the video (below): “Thomas has always been everyone's favourite bassist. For all the top French musicians. So we scratched our heads. What could we offer him as a birthday present to celebrate his 50th? I said to him 'Your birthday present is that we are going to offer you a recording session where you can record your compositions with your friends'.”

The CD which results from that initiative brings to the fore some long-term relationships that have shaped Bramerie's career. I was interested to see that almost the only contexts in which this rare visitor to the UK has previously popped up on the LJN site (listed below) are as a member of Éric Legnini's trio, or else in trumpeter Stéphane Belmondo's Homage to Chet trio with Dutch guitarist Jesse van Ruller.

Belmondo and Bramerie certainly go back a long way. They were already playing together in bands in the South of France as teenagers. When both of them speak on the EPK video below, one can hear the same unmistakeable twang of the Midi. Belmondo makes a guest appearance on two tracks and has also produced the album. Another distinguished guest is pianist Jacky Terrasson. This web of connections is tightened by the fact that the pivotal figure of Deghelt also has Belmondo and Terrasson on his management roster. Éric Legnini is the third guest on Side Stories. 

The presence of these guests on the album demonstrates what seasoned pros and strong personalities can bring to the party. They catch the ear every time, from the very moment they start playing, Legnini is featured on Rhodes on just two tracks, but his light touch each time is mesmerizing. Terrasson's duo with Bramerie, entitled Now, is an absolute gem and for me is probably the highlight of the album. And Stéphane Belmondo puts his heart, soul and innate lyricism into the long-lined ballad Un jour tu verras (one day you will see).

However, these "invités de marque" bring an ever-present danger with them – or is it a delight? – that they can steal the show. Indeed, the pressure is on for the two younger musicians of Bramerie's trio, pianist Carl-Henri Morisset and drummer Elie Martin-Charrière. They were recommended to Bramerie by Pierrick Pedron. They are promising, proficient players, they rise to the occasion sometimes, but there are also moments – when listening to a tune like Chantez for example – when I found I just wanted more shape, more lift, more expression.

The album comes with a 36-page, two-language booklet containing a series of reflections by Bramerie. He writes in French and a good clear translation is provided. There are ruminations on the purpose of music, on the joys of fatherhood, on the fact that he never attended a conservatoire. There is a lengthy peroration on the wisdom of waiting, of appreciating and savouring light and shadow. But in the end I think I learnt more about Bramerie's deeper feelings and instincts from, say, the beautifully controlled arco introduction to Émile, or from the from his authoritative time-lord role on a track in which the young players really do find their stride for once: a slow, sensitive and sunlit reharmonisation of Elgar's Salut d'Amour.

LINKS: (Thomas Bramerie's previous sightings on LJN)  
Preview of St Emilion Festival 2016 by Naoise Murphy
Review of Inntoene 2015 by Alison Bentley
Interview with Stephane Belmondo by Sandie Safon from 2015
Review of Eric Legnini Trio by Peter Horsfall from 2010
Brecon Round-Up by Fran Hrdcastle and Sebastian from 2010 
Review of Julien Lourau/ Laurent Coq at the Vortex from 2010 

Side Stories is released on 26 May on Jazz Eleven Records


PREVIEW: 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire 25-27 May)

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Ellington Orchestra, directed by Jeremy Price
Picture supplied by RBC
Speakers, players and even AGMers converge on Birmingham City University (BCU) next week for three days of the Duke. Peter Bacon previews:

The words “conference” and “study group” are likely to have the spirits plummeting for all but the academically-minded. But preface them with the name Duke Ellington and suddenly the appeal can be imagined by many; there is a prospective tapping of the foot, the possibility of a smile on the face, that warm glow that comes with anticipation of a thoroughly rewarding good time.

The International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference - this is the 25th such gathering - is happening in Birmingham over the weekend of 25-27 May 2018. There will be themed sessions with panels of speakers, as well as performances of Ellington’s music and the conference will also take in The Duke Ellington Society UK’s AGM.

Giving the keynote addresses are Dr Harvey G Cohen of King’s College London, and Dr Katherine Williams of Plymouth University, and panels will include papers on everything from Ellington’s bassists to synaesthesia, taking in Monk and Duke, civil rights, collective composition and Ellington’s lost symphony along the way.

Among the contributors are Jack Chambers of the University of Toronto, Patrick Olsen of the University of Cambridge and Matthias Heyman of the University of Antwerp, as well as musician/scholar Frank Griffith and broadcaster Alyn Shipton (Royal Acdemy of Music) (both occasional LJN contributors).

Providing the music will be the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s marvellous young and vibrant Ellington Orchestra, under the direction of the RBC’s head of jazz, artistic director of the Eastside Jazz Club and the conference’s co-organiser, Jeremy Price.

Price said: “Duke Ellington in many respects set out the blue print for jazz composition and is still the model band leader to anyone wanting to lead diverse creative talents in their own ensemble.

“He is the boss you would love to be and the boss you would love to have; enabling creativity of all around him through benevolent trust and shining example. These are just some of the reasons why he is so deserving of much scholarly attention and why academics and aficionados alike keep returning to this rich seam of fascinating jazz activity for their inspiration.

“This conference will also stand out for integrating abundant live performances, with our Ellington Orchestra doing several shows in our very own Eastside Jazz Club.”

The conference’s other main mover is the Jazz Studies research cluster at BCU, led by Professors Nicholas Gebhardt and Tony Whyton, and Dr Nicolas Pillai (who has also contributed to this site). Although only five years old, the cluster boasts more than 40 members, including 10 jazz researchers from across Birmingham School of Media and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, eight doctoral students and leaders of the regional jazz community, as well as additional academic partners at University of Warwick, University of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and University of Music and the Performing Arts Graz (Austria).

Dr Pillai said: “This conference is a milestone for Birmingham City University in many ways. Not only is it the first academic jazz conference to be hosted in the fabulous new Conservatoire building but it has also been a wonderful opportunity for us to build collaborative links with The Duke Ellington Society UK.

“We are very lucky in Birmingham not only to have the hugely respected Jazz Department within the Conservatoire, led by Jeremy Price, but also a world-leading team of jazz researchers based in Birmingham School of Media. Events like this allow us to create exciting new connections between practice and research.

“I am looking forward to panels which will give us new insights into not just Ellington the man, but also models of collaborative creativity within his orchestra which have larger socio-cultural implications for us today. Ellington’s music was ultimately about connection and this conference will create a space for international scholars from various disciplines to discuss not just the historical but also the relevance of Ellington in the 21st century.”

LINK: Full information as well as tickets for the 25th International Duke Ellington Study Group Conference


FEATURE: Beverley Beirne's New Album: Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun

Beverley Beirne
Photo Credit: Simon Page
Bold, bright and down-right fun, jazz vocalist Beverley Beirne’s new record is a crowd pleaser. Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun takes the best of two worlds, '80s pop and jazz, and creates an unexpectedly delightful recipe for success. Pop classics are turned on their head as Beverley’s skilful and soulful voice gives them a new lease of life. The dynamic jazz arrangements and nostalgic lyrics make for easy listening with never a dull moment. London Jazz News writer Brianna McClean found out more about the album:

Beverley Beirne is an experienced and respected voice on the UK jazz scene. She is a self-confessed lover of experimentation and has always been drawn to reinterpreting songs from other genres. Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun is the culmination of her interests and abilities, with its confident reimagining of cult classics. The record rollicks, lilts and swings 12 pop songs into jazz territory. The choices may appear daring at first sight, with tracks ranging from Cindy Lauper to Adam & The Ants, but Beverly’s intelligent composition and bravado carries these songs effortlessly. Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun has been co-composed by Sam Watts and features bassist Flo Moore, percussionist Ben Brown, saxophonist and flautist Rob Hughes with guitarists Romero Lubambo and Dean Brown. This energetic group gives the album real depth and sophistication.

This album may be fun-centric but it takes its work seriously, with ingenious instrumentation and composition. Each track brings obvious inventiveness and thoughtfulness. The opening track, Come on Feel the Noize, bridges the gap between pop and jazz beautifully, with classic jazz techniques giving the well-known lyrics a new depth of meaning. Similarly, Beverley’s version of Bette Davis Eyes is an example of this album’s potential. Bette Davis Eyes includes an exceptional saxophone solo by Rob Hughes, restructuring the song and adding new textural layers. Bassist Flo Moore shines throughout Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun, her driving rhythms and tight pizzicato giving these pop tunes integrity in their new found genre. Too Shy is another ambitious composition, with Beverly effortlessly mastering the fast paced tempo. The effect of these interpretations on the song’s lyrics is worth noting. The change of tempo and tone sheds a different light to well-known but often skimmed over lyrics. For example, in Deeply Dippy, as Beverly sings, ‘deeply mad, mad for the fun we had’, this phrase is given a refreshed sensuality and soul which was never there in the original by Right Said Fred.

Beverley Beirne’s honeyed voice appears powerful and impeccably crafted throughout Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun. Her skilful use of scat, such as in Ghost Town, complements the compositions well. Hers is a classic jazz voice, richest in her lower range. Her stylistic capabilities are well flaunted through the record. While her technical abilities are evident, it is her manner which gives Beirne’s voice real strength in this record – she sings with passion and vitality.

Each track on Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun is impeccably mastered, fresh and bursting with energy. Pop Muzik with its swinging melody, scat and excellent saxophone solos, is a highlight on the record. The paraphrased title track, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, does the original justice – bringing real groove to this sing-along classic. The album holds together well as a whole, telling the story of this musically diverse decade in history. High-quality production and an exceptionally talented band make Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun a great listen.

Beverley’s zeal is obvious in this new project. She set out to create something original and fun, goals obviously accomplished in Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun. The perfect balance of boisterous and restrained, this record hits the ground running. Whether you’re an '80s pop tragic, a jazz die-hard or a bit of both, this record is unmissable.

LINK: Beverley Beirne Music


PREVIEW: Brigitte Beraha and Frank Harrison – The Way Home album launch (23 May, Kings Place)

Brigitte Beraha and Frank Harrison
Publicity photo
Pianist Frank Harrison has written in advance of the launch of his new album with Brigitte Beraha at Kings Place on 23 May: 

Brigitte wrote the lyrics for the first track on our new album The Way Home (Linus Records), having been inspired by the true story of a man who cycled from India to Sweden to be with a woman he’d fallen in love with. A lot of the papers ran the story at the time.

A couple of weeks ago she found PK (the man who cycled) on Facebook and sent him a link to our track on YouTube. Apparently he and his wife loved it. It turned out that their son was in London, so Brigitte met with him last week for a coffee. As a long-shot, she invited him and his parents to our launch concert and yesterday they emailed to say that they’re coming from Sweden especially to be there!

Quoting the Press Release:

"The Way Home is the result of a new collaboration between Frank Harrison and vocalist Brigitte Beraha. The music is melodic, romantic and understated, sometimes playful and sometimes dark but always striving for beauty. Beraha’s rich heritage is reflected in her lyrics – in English, French and Italian – and she also sings without words on three tracks. Harrison adds texture with subtle use of synthesisers and samples. The album features nine original compositions. Harrison also reprises a theme from his 2006 debut album First Light, with a solo version of Don Sebesky’s You Can’t Go Home Again."

Beraha is often compared to Norma Winstone, who has also been very much taken by the recording, and has said: “The Way Home is a truly beautiful recording.”

LINKS: The Way Home album page - with sound samples
Kings Place bookings for 23 May


CD REVIEW: Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints - Scandal

Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas Sound Prints - Scandal
(Greenleaf Music GRE-CD-1063. CD review by Mike Collins)

This Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas collaboration, dedicated to following in Wayne Shorter’s soundprints, was first spotted in action by LondonJazz at Ronnie Scott’s way back in 2012. Their first release was a live album three years later. Now comes Scandal, their first studio session, released on Douglas’ own Greenleaf label.

The inspiration they derive from Shorter, they say, is to follow his open-minded exploratory approach in a small band, rather than to emulate him directly. Douglas and Lovano have admirers a-plenty of their own, so to hear them focus their creative energies on this joint venture is thrilling. It’s also a project whose personnel have remained unchanged. Linda May Han Oh is on bass, with Lawrence Fields at the piano and Joey Baron on the drums.

This may be a studio album, but has the feel of a live performance. Douglas’ trumpet and Lovano’s saxophone chase each other, weaving in and out across every track. Their debut had two Shorter originals penned especially for them. This set has two classics, Fee Fi Fo Fum arranged by Douglas, and JuJu arranged by Lovano. The first starts with a nod at the classic riff, dissolves into a trumpet and sax joust, bursts into a fleeting piano solo over driving swing, switches to the theme, pauses for riotous, collective reflection before they’re off again. Joey Baron starts off a tumbling reflective take on JuJu, out of time for much of the piece, fragments of the tune declaimed before hectic joint exploration, then a little motific hook sparks a groove and Fields bursts out on piano. It’s exhilarating, high-wire playing.

The remainder of the 11 pieces are penned by the two leaders. Dream State is a striking opener, a stabbing melodic fragment which gradually accumulates weight and a steadily rocking groove. Full Sun swings breezily and Linda Oh stretches out with a propulsive solo. Ups and Downs conjures a wistful mood and taut exquisite solos from Douglas and then Fields.

This band set out to play their music with the same attitude as Shorter and in that they surely succeed. The co-leaders may be the marquee names, but the sound is that of collective exhalation. It’s small band acoustic jazz at its best.

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


INTERVIEW/ PREVIEW: Mishka Adams and Beto Caletti (Album Launch for Puentes Invisibiles, Pizza Express Dean Street 11 June)

Mishka Adams and Beto Caletti
Publicity photo
A new duo of singer MISHKA ADAMS and singer/guitarist BETO CALETTI perform music in which they "swim in the sea of South American music". They have made an "album full of love"  entitled Puentes Invisibiles (Invisible Bridges). There is also a workshop on Latin American music happening on 3 June. They both explained the background to their new collaboration to Sebastian: 

LJN: The name of Beto Caletti might need some explaining – can you tell us about him. I understand he's an Argentinian – but he has also a deep understanding of Brazilian music?

Mishka Adams: Here's a quick biography: "Beto, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, began as a guitarist, studying classical and folklore in the University of La Plata. He is a renowned composer, performer and educator of South American music He has published three guitar books focused on the playing, interpretation, and improvisation of South American music. In his concerts he performs candombes, zambas, chacareras, bossa nova and boleros: Songs from South America."

Beto Caletti: Argentina and Brazil are very close, not only geographically, but musically. In my case I’ve been always attracted by African-roots music (and I never liked borders) so I found it so natural to swim in the sea of South American music.

LJN: And Beto you have worked with the great Ivan Lins?

BC: I worked with his band and composed several songs with his lyric writer Celso Viáfora for my album Tess. Ivan was going to sing one of the songs but finally he couldn’t. He was very generous writing about me for that album, I feel he is one of the big masters of song writing.

LJN: And right from the outset there is some astonishing work from you, Beto, on guitar- where does that come from?

BC: I feel the guitar as a percussion instrument, strings can be as drums in Afro-American music, and if you add the sophistication that people like Tom Jobim or Ivan Lins brought to the popular music, the guitar can really surprise you, it can be amazing. I like to follow that path.

LJN: And, Mishka, you were aware of Beto's music before you actually met him...

MA: I was! In fact, I was a huge fan and began listening to his music a whole year before we actually met – a very close mutual friend of ours, Guillermo Rozenthuler, played me some of his songs as we drove home from a gig. I was astonished. Guille turned to me and said, “Are you in love?” And I said “Yes.” From that moment I listened to Beto’s music almost every day – something about his songs, the way he played and the sound of his voice always put a smile on my face, and gave me the feeling of being in love, though I knew absolutely nothing about him! We wrote very briefly but no more contact was made until Guille brought his partner and baby home to Buenos Aires and told Beto to look me up. An online exchange began, and it turned out he loved my music too! We set up some gigs and he flew to London.

LJN: And these days you are a couple...

MA: Yes, and we are very blessed to have met each other. To get to know someone both personally and musically and to have love between you is a wonderful gift.

BC: We came from the most distant places – Argentina and The Philippines are on opposite sides of the globe. We met in London, in the middle, and we felt deeply connected from the first moment. Music was the starting point to find a lot of deep coincidences between us, so we made our road from the songs, we discovered each other and now we are telling our story though these songs. That’s why this album is full of love.

LJN: What does the album title mean?

BC: The last song we made for this recording was Puentes Invisibles and it brought the title of the album in a natural way. This Argentinean zamba talks about the invisible bridges that love weaves to cross distances. We feel those bridges in our lives and they are so alive in the album: this project itself is a bridge that connects languages, countries, music and the different cultures we come from.

MA: In a way, it also felt as though those bridges formed long before our meeting – that the connections were forming well before we were even aware of them.

LJN: And that is a theme running through the album?

BC: Yes, that’s why we found that would be the natural title, you can hear a lot of bridges in these songs, we are always crossing borders: An Argentinean chacarera in English, a Brazilian baião in Filipino… we are telling our story from different points of view, with no preconceptions for the instruments we use… I think we didn’t realized the musical bridges we were crossing while we were making it, it came so naturally!

LJN: Most people will have heard of samba. But what are chacarera and milonga? And how do those rhythms styles become part of your new songs?

BC: The chacarera is a traditional dance from Santiago del Estero, Argentina, and the milonga is a dance from Uruguay and Buenos Aires related to the tango. We play those and other styles in a free way, mixing elements from here and there.

MA: There is also Argentinian zamba on the album, which is from the north of Argentina. Many of these styles were first introduced to me by Guillermo, and playing and composing in these styles with Beto has been really fun and interesting. I’ve learned a huge amount over the past year! Each time you learn something new you are reminded of how much you don’t know, how much there is to discover.

LJN: Who is in the band on the album?

MA: On the album we have two wonderful Argentinian musicians – Nuria Martinez on flutes and Diego Alejandro on drums. Diego and Beto have worked together for many years and have a wonderful connection. We also have a wonderful piano player called Pedro Carneiro Silva from Brazil, whom I first met in Berlin through a mutual musician friend based in London. I wrote Puso Mo with him during the time that I was living there… While we were working on the album he was actually teaching at a music college in Delhi, so the piano part for that track was recorded in India!

LJN: And you have some wonderful accordion (bandoneon?) playing...

BC: It’s a melodica playing in the style of the accordion. Aside from the beautiful timbre it is a way to contrast the string instruments that dominate the arrangements.

LJN: And you both sing in... four (?) languages...  

Both: That’s one of the things people enjoy about the concerts, the mix of English, Portuguese, Spanish and Filipino make it very dynamic. These are the four languages that we speak between us. We are both great lovers of languages, and as a singer it is very exciting to explore not only the styles of music from different countries but the way different languages feel in the mouth as you sing, how each one brings out a different colour in the voice, and each one allows you to express yourself slightly differently. It’s like having an enormous palette of colours!

LJN: And La Cuerda is just so... happy!

BC: The fast melody over a simple harmony shows the happiest side of the music of Buenos Aires, this kind of milonga with no words contrasts a lot with the melancholic taste of the tango.

LJN: Where can we hear you live?

Both: We will be launching the album on 11 June at Pizza Express Jazz Club on Dean Street. We’ll be joined by the wonderful Adriano Adewale on percussion, Javier Fioramontion bass, and Guillermo Rozenthuler as special guest.

MA: For me, it is a coming together of two worlds. I’m so happy we have the opportunity to bring this music to London, and that I get to sing on stage with my favourite musicians!

BC: For me it will be a pleasure to share our music with these beautiful musicians and with the people of London, I hope you will enjoy our music as much as we do! (pp)

LINKS: Mishka Adams website
Beto Caletti website
Bookings for 11 June
Sample track for download Mil Vezes (link also has lyrics)
WORKSHOP in Latin American music on 3 June 


PREVIEW 1958: A Jazz Jamboree (Cadogan Hall, 8 June)

1958: A Jazz Jamboree
Photo credit: Nils Solberg

Come Fly with Me... Let’s Face the Music and Dance... Cheek to Cheek... all will feature in 
1958: A Jazz Jamboree, a new programme from Richard Pite's Jazz Repertory Company. The vocalists are Iain Mackenzie, Georgina Jackson, Liz Fletcher and Jeremy Sassoon with the Pete Long Orchestra and narrator/host David Hepworth. Martin Chilton investigates:

1958 was a pivotal year for Frank Sinatra. He recorded 47 songs, starred in two films and had his own television show for ABC. Two of the Capitol albums he released 60 years ago – Come Fly with Me and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely – became popular classics.

Sinatra is one of the musical giants being celebrated with 1958: A Jazz Jamboree, a concert from the Jazz Repertory Company at London’s Cadogan Hall on Friday 8 June.

Over the past decade, The Jazz Repertory Company – the brainchild of drummer and promoter Richard Pite – has staged a series of entertaining recreations of great jazz, including the bold challenge of presenting 100 Years of Jazz in 99 Minutes.

Pite explains the background to the event: “Back in 2016 when I turned 60 I decided to do a concert focussing on some of my favourite jazz of 1956… Basie, Sinatra, Ella, etc. The concert was part of the London Jazz Festival and sold out.”

A celebration of 1957 followed and now they are honouring 1958. Pite says they concentrate on big band music and will also be performing the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Ray Charles. “The presentation of our shows harks back to the old ways of presenting jazz and popular music as more of a variety show formula, but without the dog acts and comedians. We feature four singers in the 1958 show: Iain Mackenzie will sing Sinatra, Georgina Jackson sings Ella, Liz Fletcher performs Nina and Jeremy Sassoon sings Ray.”

These bright talents of British jazz will be backed by the 17-piece Pete Long Orchestra and the concert will be hosted by author and broadcaster David Hepworth, whose career includes editing Smash Hits magazine and co-presenting the BBC broadcast of Live Aid with Bob Geldof in 1985.

Hepworth has been touched by the music of Sinatra, whose Come Fly with Me was nominated for album of the year at the inaugural Grammys. Hepworth says of Sinatra’s enduring popularity, “I've always thought that the great singers sound as though they're continuing a conversation by other means. Nobody does that better than Frank Sinatra.”

Capitol’s masterpiece Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook was arranged by Paul Weston and produced by Norman Granz, and this acclaimed pair brought out the very best from a world-beating singer performing lyrics of the quality of Let’s Face the Music and Dance, Cheek to Cheek and Putting on the Ritz.

Hepworth believes the appeal of all this great 1958 music is in part down to the care taken in creating it. “I think a lot of it is the way the records were made,” he explains. “In those days you had to be able to do it in the studio or you couldn't do it at all. Therefore, the engineers were brilliant at capturing the qualities of the human voice.”

Fitzgerald’s music will be sung by jazz singer Jackson, who learned her trade as a lead trumpet player and who worked with Frank Sinatra Jr before becoming the resident singer of the Ronnie Scott’s Orchestra.

Fitzgerald was 41 in 1958, when she was already an established superstar. Simone was just starting to make her mark. In that year the former classical pianist recorded her debut album Little Girl Blue. The album includes Simone’s version of My Baby Just Cares for Me, which resurfaced as a top 10 hit in 1987. Fletcher, who was influenced by 1950s stars such as Peggy Lee and Julie London, once supported Simone at a festival in Greece.

Pite says that the aim of the concerts is to transport listeners back to golden eras of jazz “by playing the music authentically and, most importantly, with the fire in its belly that it had when being played by a bunch of young punks 60 to 90 years ago”.

Among their future projects is as an event celebrating the music of 1899 to 1919, under the title of The World Gone Mad, for the 2018 London Jazz Festival.

In 1958, Ray Charles, also still in his 20s, performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and was starting to create some of his classic Atlantic Records catalogue. His scintillating version of Doc Pomus’s Lonely Avenue was for 1958’s Yes Indeed. Charles’s music, including the pulsating I Got a Woman, will be performed by Sassoon, noted for his ‘Ray Charles Project’ tribute work.

Hepworth was only eight in 1958 (he would like to have seen Blossom Dearie live back then, he says) and recalls that his own involvement with jazz began when he was a teenager. “I saw Louis Armstrong play in 1967, which makes me sound like a survivor of Waterloo,” he says. “In the mid-1970s I spent three years working at the biggest record store in the world, during which time I began to get an inkling of how much I didn't know, and I started to buy jazz and classical records alongside everything else.”

Jazz sits within the wide world of music, of course, and that is reflected in these shows. As Pite says: “We always have an encore that reflects the fact that during this period rock 'n' roll was outside the walls of jazz and banging noisily and ultimately successfully on the gates. For 1956 we finished with the music of Bill Haley and in 1957 the marvellous Earl Jackson was joined by a dozen dancers for a Chuck Berry finale. This year we'll be doing something similar but keeping it, as ever, as a surprise.”

So what made the project so appealing to Hepworth? “I like the idea of combining music with narrative,” he says. “Somebody should be doing this with rock music.” (pp)

For ticket information see:A Jazz Jamboree


REVIEW: Dave Manington’s Riff Raff – Challenger Deep album launch at the Vortex

L-R: Brigitte Beraha, Rob Updegraff. Dave Manington and Tom Challenger
Photo credit:Cat Munro

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff – Challenger Deep album launch
(The Vortex. 12 May 2018. Review by Dominic Williams)

LJN previewed this event and interviewed Dave Manington a few weeks ago. His aim, he said, was to be the composer and bandleader and to create a collaborative approach to improvisation which still resulted in accessible music. The band line-up was Brigitte Beraha: vocals, Tomas Challenger: saxophone, Ivo Neame: keyboards, Rob Updegraff: guitar, Dave Manington: double bass and Tim Giles: drums.

I enjoyed this gig, as did the three people I was sitting with. The first set had an early 1970s vibe to it, kicking off with Doctor Octopus a Joe Zawinul tribute. Ivo Neame played Mellotron and Fender Rhodes electric piano; the guitar and (wordless) vocals were heavily electronically modified and they collectively delivered tapestries of abstract textures and sounds (as well as a lot of knob-twiddling).

The title track of the album out on Loop Records, Challenger Deep, was inspired by the deepest place in the ocean, in the Marianas Trench, and was a slow moody piece underpinned by bowed bass. Tomas Challenger (no relation) opened with a solo that should easily win the award for most convincing impersonation of abyssal fish by a saxophonist in 2018. It deserved a marine wildlife documentary to go with it.

On these numbers, and Dangerpig which followed, Beraha showed off her extraordinary technical ability, singing scat solos, doubling tricky saxophone lines and abstract sounds pitched anywhere from top soprano to alto. It does also help that her voice has a gorgeous mellow tone. All the tunes bar one, Agile, were written by Manington and came from the album. As the evening progressed, the music spread in different directions and became less electronic. The first, more electronic set, however, finished with The Iliad, a less spacey number and the second set finished with Prime Numbers, an up-tempo climax featuring a rumbustious Fender Rhodes solo.

Beraha contributed lyrics to four tracks including one, Thagomiser, about the boney growths on a stegosaur’s tail. Willow Tree included a sax solo backed by soundscapes from the guitar, toms-toms and splashy cymbals that had an Andy Sheppard feel although Challenger’s sax playing is typically much faster paced. Like his sometimes collaborator Kit Downes, he has the ability to play almost any way he wants, instead of being locked into an idiosyncratic personal style.

Over the evening, Ivo Neame began in restrained fashion on electronic keyboards then gradually spent more time on the grand piano where his widely-acknowledged virtuosity could shine through. Rob Updegraff, billed as heavily influenced by John Scofield, did play loud and hard on his solos but also had a delicate touch when providing context for the other soloists. The early 1970s was the era of flamboyant electric bass but Dave Manington stuck to acoustic bass, as befits a self-effacing band leader who cites Charlie Haden as an influence. Special plaudits are due to Tim Giles for barely drawing breath all night. At times he was the only instrument accompanying the soloist, at times the rest of the band was off on a collective freak out and he seemed to be the only one looking where they were going.

In most settings, these musicians would deserve a paragraph each, not a couple of brief sentences. Here, the point of the exercise was to achieve a depth of collaborative playing so the whole was greater than the sum of the charts. It needs the players to develop more complex improvised interactions instead of settling into a groove behind the soloist of the moment. The result is music that can twist and turn, sometimes at breakneck speed, sometimes in slow evolution. Comparisons with Weather Report are warranted because of the style of the music but also because the players had the tightness of a band instead of an ad hoc collaboration.

Dave Manington can feel justly pleased for doing what he set out to achieve, not least because the audience was warmly appreciative and showed it. He showcased his composing talent and bass playing, created a band with a collaborative approach within which some very talented musicians could each express themselves and still put his own unique mark on it. This was not just any old riff raff. This was Dave Manington’s Riff Raff.

Challenger Deep is available on Bandcamp


CD REVIEW: Dinosaur – Wonder Trail

Dinosaur – Wonder Trail
(Edition. EDN1111. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)

Wonder Trail opens with a large chord; noise plays a significant role in the record with discordant electronic sounds interrupting more melodic passages. This keeps one's senses open – like Dali scribbling on the Mona Lisa – but it can also be frustrating, particularly in a relatively short album and when the music being interrupted is so fine.

Trumpeter Laura Jurd wrote all the tracks, but the music they create is very much a group effort: Elliot Galvin on synths and keyboards, Conor Chaplin on electric bass and Corrie Dick on drums create the soundscape over which Jurd's trumpet can fly. She has become more expansive with this record, perhaps more sure of her own voice.

Several of the tracks have an almost funk-like groove, propelled by Chaplin's bass and Dick's drumming, most evident on a section of the excellent Quiet Thunder, the opener Renewal, Part 1 and particularly its close sibling Renewal, Part 2 – before it is repeatedly interrupted.

Several tunes feature words from a variety of voices (uncredited on the review CD). Not songs so much as repeated refrains, the words have a folk inflection and add to a dreamlike character to the music.

There is also a solid dance-like feel to many of the numbers. Once Jurd's trumpet takes over from the words on Set Free and the bass kicks in, it is actually hard to sit still. And Still We Wonder has a similar effect, though with lighter groove. I can imagine remixes of these tracks filling dance floors.

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


REVIEW: Gwyneth Herbert, Andrea Vicari, Yazz Ahmed (Celebrating Women In Jazz) at 1000 Trades, Birmingham

Gwyneth Herbert at 1000 Trades
Photo credit: © John Watson/
Celebrating Women In Jazz (Legends Festival) 
(Birmingham Jazz at 1000 Trades, Birmingham, 12 May 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)

Singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert seems to have an endless supply of ideas for subjects and moods. It’s almost as though her mind has an infinite toy cupboard she can raid for new ideas, which she can playfully mould into her intriguing songs.

With six albums to her credit, and with a seventh to be recorded soon, Gwyneth is creating a wealth of imaginative lyrics and melodies, on subjects both light and serious, ranging from artistic inspiration, to homelessness, loneliness, education, and love. Though the subjects of her songs may sometimes be serious, the mood at her concerts always seems to be dominated by joy and optimism. She’s a very upbeat, energetic lady, and her performance at the Celebrating Women In Jazz Festival in Birmingham was a delight.

The festival – held under the general banner Jazz Legends – is promoted by Birmingham Jazz, an organisation which has long been keen on encouraging the finest emerging talent on the scene, male and female, and which currently presents bands in the small but atmospheric setting of the 1000 Trades venue in the city’s Jewellery Quarter. Other artists to be featured next weekend (18-20 May) include Trish Clowes, Helena Kay, Kate Williams with Georgia Mancio, and Juliet Kelly.

This special celebration focussing on female musicians and singers opened with Gwyneth, backed by pianist-vocalist Ned Cartright, starting with the bitter-sweet So Worn Out, a tale of homeless characters (including one who only spoke Klingon), from her album All The Ghosts. She performed almost the whole show while standing behind a drum kit, using mainly the bass pedal for emphasis, but also at times giving gentle strokes on the cymbals, and playing at various times ukulele, French horn, a toy xylophone and using – for effect – a megaphone.

She emerged from behind the kit to sing her final songs at the front of the stage area, powerfully and yet without a microphone. Her encore song Midnight Oil, from the album Between Me And The Wardrobe, provided an impressive climax to a fine show.

Andrea Vicari at 1000 Trades
Photo credit: © John Watson/
Andrea Vicari is a pianist I’ve mainly heard in other people’s bands, and her soloing, with its Horace Silver-ish gospel tinge, has always caught the ear. Vicari, who was brought up in Birmingham, is having an impressive career: performing in her early years with American luminaries such as saxophonist Eddie Harris and  trumpeter Art Farmer, scoring musicals, touring internationally, and working as a music educator in the UK and France.

At the Birmingham festival concert she appeared with rising star trumpeter and flugelhornist Yazz Ahmed, plus Vicari’s bassist husband Dorian Lockett and her brother Scott Vicari on drums.
Playing mainly originals, the band really got into its stride with Vicari’s devlishly driving Borovets, inspired by a trip to the Bulgarian mountain of that name – a freely improvised introduction evolving into a snare-driven uptempo groove, with the spinning feel of a Balkan folk dance.

Yazz Ahmed at 1000 Trades
Photo credit: © John Watson/
Other highlights included two gorgeous original pieces by Yazz, La Saboteuse (the title track of her recent album) and The Lost Pearl, from the same disc. The burning glow of her flugelhorn playing was impressive, too, on the standard ballad You Don’t Know What Love Is, played in a gently flowing latin tempo. The structure of the theme came unfortunately adrift towards the end, but – as skilled improvisers do – the musicians overcame the discombobulation, smiled and calmly brought it back together.

Celebrating Women In Jazz continues on 18 May with concerts by singer Franki Dodwell, saxophonist Trish Clowes, saxophonist Denys Baptiste with a band including pianist Nikki Yeoh; on 19 May the festival features saxophonist Alicia Gardener-Trejo, pianist Wendy Kirkland, saxophonist Helena Kay, and pianist Kate Williams with singer Georgia Mancio; on 20 May the artists are singer Juliet Kelly, saxophonist Joey Walker with Me and 3, and Two Of A Mind with saxophonists Allison Neale and Chris Biscoe.

LINK: Full details of the Legends Festival: Celebrating Women In Jazz


INTERVIEW: Ralph Alessi (UK dates with Ravi Coltrane – Dorking 15 May, Belfast 16 May)

Ralph Alessi
Photo credit: John Rogers/ ECM

"To take responsibility for the music. Assimilate it to the point where you are almost breathing it! And then be creative at all times in order to keep the music flowing and alive," RALPH ALESSI explains here the essential message he gives to students.  

The San Francisco-born, New York-based trumpet player is on tour with ‘This and That’, featuring Ravi Coltrane, Andy Milne, John Hébert and Mark Ferber. They have two UK dates on their tour, in Dorking on Tuesday 15 May and in Belfast on 16 May. Interview with Kathryn Shackleton:

LondonJazz News: What are your earliest musical memories?

Ralph Alessi: Probably listening to my father play the trumpet and my mother sing. We had music around the house 24/7. (My brother is a classical trombonist as well). My earliest memories of music that I really liked was by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. My brother and I would dance to it. I also loved listening to Top 40 radio and especially R&B music like Stevie Wonder, and Earth Wind and Fire.

LJN: Which musicians or other influences have had the most impact on your playing?

RA: Steve Coleman had a big influence on my playing and composing. I was fortunate to play with him for about six years. I would include on that list Clifford Brown, Don Cherry, Kenny Wheeler, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Paul Smoker, Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Threadgill, Morton Feldman, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. I could go on and on but these are the ones that first come to mind.

LJN:  How did you put together your current ‘This Against That’ band?

RA: This band starting coming together around 2002 in bits and pieces. Ravi Coltrane and I have known each other for many years, first meeting at California Institute of the Arts where we were students of Charlie Haden. Andy Milne and I met at the Banff Summer Jazz camp and then played together in Steve Coleman’s band. Drew Gress [the band's bassist though John Hébert is playing the UK dates] I met playing with Uri Caine many years ago and Mark Ferber is somebody that I had heard play and really liked this playing. It was pretty organic as is often the case when bands are formed.

LJNWhat are the differences for you when you are working as a leader or as a sideman or a collaborator?

RA: Obviously as a leader I have the final say and can largely fuel the direction of the music. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I’m very dependent on my sidemen to bring forth ideas in a spontaneous fashion in order to make the music happen. And given that, when I’m a sideman I know that it is my responsibility to understand and interpret the music from a personal and expressive place. So both experiences interface with each other.

LJN:  How do you compose a new piece and how does it develop as you play it live?

RA: I usually start with something that resonates with my ears and go from there. Then I can wrestle with it for a while until I start hearing it as a piece of music. Sometimes I put things away for years until I start hearing the piece open into something else. And then when I come back to a composition, I’ll hear it in a completely different context than I did when the process started. But, yes, often times the piece evolves as we play it so on this tour I look forward to that happening. Sometimes, the tempo of the piece changes radically or the form evolves when things are added or subtracted. But, it’s music for improvisers so it’s not done until they start playing it!

LJNAs a teacher, what do you aim to impart to students?

RA: To take responsibility for the music. Assimilate it to the point where you are almost breathing it! And then be creative at all times in order to keep the music flowing and alive.

LJN:  If you had not been a musician, what career do you think you would have pursued?

RA: Being a psychologist. I love understanding how people’s minds work. Or as a professional basketball general manager. I think I’d be good at it. Then again…

LJN:  What should UK audiences expect from your forthcoming gigs?

RA: We’ll be playing new music for my next record on ECM which we will be recording at the end of the tour!

Kathryn Shackleton is programmer and booker at Watermill Jazz in Dorking

Ralph Alessi will be appearing with ‘This and That’, featuring Ravi Coltrane, Andy Milne, John Hébert and Mark Ferber 

DATES: Watermill Jazz, Dorking on Tuesday 15 May
Black Box, Belfast on Wednesday 16 May

LINK: Ralph Alessi website 
Ralph Alessi artist page at ECM Records
Jim Hart writes about Ralph Alessi from 2010


CD REVIEW: Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids – An Angel Fell

Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids – An Angel Fell
(Strut 164. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Is there really someone called Idris Ackamoor? Disappointingly, no. His real name is Bruce Baker, and he’s 67 years old. His band The Pyramids formed in 1972 in Ohio and released three albums before splitting up a few years later in San Francisco. After another 35 years, they became aware that vinyl collectors were shelling out vast sums for their spacey, groove-based jazz recordings, and decided to re-form. In 2016 they released a new album, We Be All Africans. And if you like this sort of thing, the new one, recorded in London, is every bit as good as you might hope.

The band describe themselves as cosmic jazz travellers, thus adding further energy to the growing West Coast Afro-futurist-spiritual revival: Kamasi Washington is leading the way, along with the post-Sun Ra Arkestra and veteran LA singer Dwight Trible. But this kind of music has deep roots, and branches that grow in different directions, from John Coltrane and Yusef Lateef to Parliament-Funkadelic. There is also an important political dimension to the movement’s themes of black power and the aspiration for a better world.

An Angel Fell embraces a number of musical styles, including dub reggae (Land of Ra), Afro-Cuban (Sunset), psychedelic rock (Warrior Dance) and free-form jazz (Soliloquy for Michael Brown). But perhaps their most characteristic sound is the sort of repetitive chanting that Sun Ra specialized in: everyone in the band sings, notably on the title track and on Message to My People. The groove is maintained throughout by Skyler Stover on double bass, Bradie Speller on congas and Johann Polzer on drums. Guitarist David Molina plays mostly rhythm, with occasional outbursts of cosmic soloing, but the main melodic duties fall to Ackamoor on saxophone and violinist Sandra Poindexter.

If you would like to see Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids live, you should start making your way to Ulcinj in Montenegro, where they will be appearing between 29 June and 2 July at the Southern Soul Festival.

LINK: Live performance from 2017 


REVIEW: Snowpoet Thought You Knew album launch at Kings Place

Snowpoet at Kings Place
iPhone picture: Leah Williams
Snowpoet Thought You Knew album launch
(Kings Place, 11 May 2018. Review by Leah Williams)

Snowpoet’s hotly anticipated new album Thought You Knew, which was released in February on Edition Records, comes only two years after their eponymous debut album, although it has felt like a longer wait.

Hall Two at Kings Place is the perfect venue choice for its acoustics and the way it manages to fit a fair amount of people in whilst safeguarding an intimacy that is really needed for the softly commanding and mesmeric music of this album.

The original sextet with Lauren Kinsella (vocals), Chris Hyson (bass/piano), Nicholas Costley-White (acoustic guitar), Matthew Robinson (piano), Dave Hamblett (drums) and Josh Arcoleo (sax) have been joined by violinist Alice Zawadzki and cellist Francesca Ter-Berg for this album. These additions provide an extra layer of dreamy qualities to the already rather ethereal sounds the band is so adept at producing.

Not least down to the distinctive vocals of Lauren Kinsella, which are somehow both gently pure and intensely heart-piercing at the same time. One of the few voices that, once you’ve heard live, seems almost constrained by the recording medium, which – try as it might – simply can’t capture all its resonance, emotion and harmonics.

Still, there is no difficulty allowing her voice to be absorbed into the larger soundscape. It is one of the wondrous things about Snowpoet that each instrument is inextricably part of the tapestry, to the extent that sometimes you’re not even sure what it is you’re hearing individually but are happy to simply let the mix wash over you.

There was little talking and no introduction or explanation of song titles or any themes or inspiration behind the new album, but the music of this indefinable band tells a thousand stories all by itself. It does feel appropriate when caught up in the atmospheric world of Snowpoet not to have any real interruption to the flow, allowing the audience to become more and more seduced into the silvery spiderweb of sound.

The new album certainly doesn’t disappoint and captures all the originality and beauty by which Snowpoet made its name, whilst also moving forwards. There’s less use of electronics and an even more introspective and personal feel to the tracks that leaves a real space for the listener to step inside.

One audience member behind me said: “it’s like a beautiful stream-of-consciousness”. The uniqueness of the lyrics, which manage to be both poetic and conversational at the same time, is one of the defining aspects of Snowpoet’s music and is delivered throughout. In Pixel, the opening line of “the end was in the beginning but yet we went on” is the perfect example of this, where the lyrics and Lauren’s incredible ability to speak-sing so magically immediately reel you in then take you on an emotive and cathartic journey you didn’t even know you needed.

Alongside new tracks, they also included a couple of favourites from their first album, such as Mermaid and If I Miss a Star. The latter induces sighs and smiles from audience and band members alike, feeling in its recognition and delicacy like a coming home of sorts. This then leads into one of the highlights of the evening, where they transition seamlessly into two further songs – from the new album – played through without stopping to create a wave that the audience happily rides. Firstly The Therapist, which although not technically the title track (as there is none) feels a little like one as the first single released and with quite a few lyrical nods towards the album title. This track, with its cyclical nature made up of intricately woven layers that build up almost imperceptibly, is a thing of beauty. This is then followed by a move into the stripped back cover of Gillian Welch’s Dear Someone, a song of tender longing performed by Lauren alone with a polyphonic vocal effect sensitively applied by Matt Robinson.

“It’s a privilege and a pleasure to sing about love,” Lauren said towards the end. Love is certainly a theme that everyone will have taken away last night, be that of the highs, heartbreaks or simply the love for this thought-provoking and generous music.

LINKS: The new album can be purchased from Edition Records

LJN album review


BOOK REVIEW: Music of Initiative: Julian Joseph on Jazz

Music of Initiative: Julian Joseph on Jazz
(Omnibus Press. 160 pages. £19.99. Book Review by Simon Purcell)

I really enjoyed reading this book, I really did.

When there are so many jazz “methods” available in book form and online, it was a relief and a pleasure to engage with the reflections of a wise artist who is able to convey many of the core concepts and values of jazz in an inviting, unfussy and affectionate way.

This not a jazz history book, compendium of licks, or analyses of famous jazz solos. Although all these things are mentioned, Julian Joseph invites the reader to be interested in the essence of jazz and enter a relationship with its values of social learning, humanity and expressive potential for individuals and groups alike. More than anything, for me at least, this is a book about art and advice as to how to go about becoming an artist.

Julian stresses that learning is through doing, through listening and in particular through taking initiative. Although much musical wisdom resides within the “jazz canon”, it is personal investigation, curiosity, persistence and the blend of focussed individual practice (including listening) and collective performance that is stressed repeatedly, alongside a collective and inclusive ethic that should always characterise the communal characteristic of this artform. The reader is constantly encouraged to take personal responsibility and to possess an opinion, to consider the work of the great artists but also to take risks.

Julian’s insights, invitations, nudges and provocations provide a philosophical and aesthetic counterpoint/balance to the information-heavy, pedagogical materials that dominate jazz education today and are presented in a natural and readable progression. I also found the experience surprisingly sensual as the text is set within beautiful artwork and design by (variously) Polly Rockberger, Ruth Keating, Raissa Pardini and Parastou Khiaban. I felt in no hurry to absorb information and understand minute detail or historical data as I read. Instead, the feel of the book in my hands and the couching of deep ideas within beautiful looking pages was literally a pleasure.

Some might argue that the subjects covered require more thorough investigation. Sure enough, one can delve further within The Inner Game of Music or Hal Crook’s How to Improvise (both excellent and under-used resources). However, I doubt that is the intention here. Instead this book is an invitation to engage with some core attitudes and intentions (states of mind). Others might take issue with suggestions about matters of jazz style. For me any such concerns are at the level of nuance and would misunderstand the invitational intention of the book.

In the greatest sense the content of this book is not difficult to grasp and Music of Initiative will be immensely useful to interested or curious young musicians and jazz learners of any age. It will also inform parents and teachers in cultivating useful attitudes within their pupils and families. Experienced players and teachers might also enjoy these friendly reminders, I did…

As I said, I really enjoyed reading this book.

LINK: Music of Initiative at Omnibus Press


CD REVIEW: Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard – Perfectly Unhappy

Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard – Perfectly Unhappy
(Rune Grammofon RCD 2199. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The sound of surprise – that’s what jazz is supposed to give us. But what happens when everyone is constantly surprising us with a new rhythm change, the new use of a scale, a new mash-up of styles. Is there not a point when the previously unsurprising becomes, once more, the unexpected.

There are melodies on this album of original compositions by Norwegian pianist Espen Eriksen which you can sing along to on first hearing, because you know where they are going, how they will resolve. And it’s that ability to predict which becomes a new surprise. These are melodies with the rock-solidity of folk tunes.

The trio – Lars Tormod Jenset is on double bass, Andreas Bye on drums and they have been with Eriksen since 2007 – does a lot with the obvious, and their guest UK saxophonist buys in fully to that melodic and harmonic and rhythmic logic.

The opener, Above The Horizon, has a distinctive folk music feel, and Andy Sheppard brings a gently Celtic skirl to his phrasing. The title track has him blowing so gently that we get a breathy gust from the serpentine tube of the tenor with little actual reed note. Suburban Folk Song has Bye using his hands, I think, on the drums for a gently motoring bass-and-drums groove, and again Sheppard is in lilting mood. Sheppard's and Erksen's interacting lines on Naked Trees are simply lovely.

The trio take a lot of their inspiration – it sounds to these ears anyway – from the likes of fellow travellers like Tord Gustavsen and from e.s.t. Eriksen uses some subtle electronics to sometimes double his piano lines with a muted marimba echo, but in the main the acoustic sound is sufficient.

As a unit of four this band is completely “in the zone” throughout the eight tracks that make up this delightful, slightly melancholy but ultimately thoroughly contented album. The album title fits a treat.

I suppose the remaining surprise is that such a thoroughly un-avant-garde album is on the usually adventurous Rune Grammofon label. Or maybe this is the new “out there”.


CD REVIEW: Tom Arthurs Trio – One Year

Tom Arthurs Trio – One Year
(Ozella. CD Review by Peter Slavid)

It's been clear that Tom Arthurs was going to be one of the outstanding trumpeters of his generation since his early days in London with the F-IRE collective. He became one of the first BBC New Generation Artists for jazz in 2008, and was a participant in the Serious career development schemes ‘Take Five’ and ‘Take Five Europe'.

After moving to Berlin and becoming embedded in the innovative jazz scene there, and then getting his PhD, Tom has recently been appointed as artistic leader of the Jazz and Contemporary Music department at Hochschule der Künste, Bern

This new CD, One Year, features long-time collaborator Richard Fairhurst on piano and Finnish percussionist Markku Ounaskari. In style it expands from the duo album with Fairhurst, Postcards from Pushkin. This is delicate chamber jazz, very intimate and intricate.

The music is slow but compelling. It builds from delicate sounds that suck you in, before short, sharp explosions appear much louder and faster than they really are. In some ways this isn't conventional jazz at all, rhythms and harmonies are constantly shifting but always subtle. This could easily be a classical composition, and yet it clearly is jazz in the degree of improvisation, the way the artists interact and play off each other, not to mention the sound of Arthur's trumpet which gets more like Kenny Wheeler every year.

The title track is a good example. The first two minutes comprise a series of individual notes and chords played slowly with long gaps between them as they are allowed to fade to silence. These eventually resolve into a more conventional trio sound with the trumpet improvisation soaring over the piano and drums. By the end of the track a delightful melody has emerged which slows to a conclusion.

This is definitely music that grows on you. It benefits from a second and third listening by which time you'll be hooked. What may start out seeming too delicate, gradually seeps into the brain and the subtle shifts become more prominent and absorbing, and let you fully appreciate the exquisite playing.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Modern Jazz on and


CD REVIEW: Esbjörn Svensson Trio - e.s.t. live in London

Esbjörn Svensson Trio - e.s.t. live in London
(ACT 9042-2. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

For many, e.s.t. (the Esbjörn Svensson Trio) were a truly seminal force in music. Translating the relative simplicity of a piano trio into an outfit which could energize the pulse or melt the heart with dewdrop tenderness, they spawned and influenced a generation of bands which followed. The Swedish friends broke down the barriers of genre with such conviction that non-jazzers were also drawn to their arguably unique synthesis of jazz, rock and classical sounds. So when pianist Esbjörn Svensson tragically died on 14 June 2008, there was profound grief – on an international scale.

Bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström slowly began to pick up the shattered pieces, establishing new projects; and, because e.s.t. eschewed the status quo when it came to their albums releases and thrilling live shows, fans wondered what might still lie "on the cutting room floor" or, more likely, have been lovingly archived by ACT Music’s boss Siggi Loch and sound engineer Åke Linton. Two completely improvised studio albums, Leucocyte and 301 (released after Svensson’s untimely death), offered a glimpse of where the trio were heading next, and the recent E.S.T. Symphony project realised the influential pianist’s orchestral vision for their compositions. Eleven studio recordings provide an astonishing legacy (interesting to revisit and recall just how revolutionary they sounded through the ‘90s into the ‘noughties’) and concerts were special, drawing huge, attentive crowds. Their early E.S.T. Live ’95 and especially 2007’s acclaimed double album E.S.T. Live in Hamburg captured something of that essence, particularly how they intuitively developed improvisation beyond usual studio-album confines.

Now, poignantly coinciding with the centenary of Esbjörn’s passing, e.s.t. live in London is unveiled, garnered from their sell-out 2005 gig at London’s Barbican Centre. It’s a 106-minute immersion into their Strange Place for Snow (2002), Seven Days of Falling (2003) and Viaticum (2005) period – when the world outside of Scandinavia also began to take note of this rising phenomenon; and significantly, for enthusiasts, only one of these ten tracks has appeared on the previous live issues. Even with an expectation of the alchemy between Svensson, Berglund and Öström, the spine-tingling magic is still apparent, particularly under close scrutiny.

Touring the Viaticum material at this point (five of its tracks fill most of the first of two CDs), a rapturous welcome heralds Tide of Trepidation, its ominously-building groove falling away to spotlight Svensson’s incredible focus at the grand piano – easy to imagine him hunched low over the keyboard, rocking as he sensitively summons and crafts each new idea. Eighty-Eight Days in My Veins’ memorable, pulsating melodies (driven by Berglund’s electrified arco bass and Östrom’s distinctive percussive rhythms) inspire babbling high-wire piano, contrasted by Viaticum’s lachrymose poise and the charming lounge-jazz ‘easy’ of In the Tail of Her Eye. Both Mingle in the Mincing-Machine and The Unstable Table & the Infamous Fable (Öström was reportedly the main creative on titles) stretch out to display the whole panoply of e.s.t.’s mercurial character.

The 17-minute Behind the Yashmak is complemented by the simple, reverential beauty of Believe, Beleft, Below – a favourite, whose original also had an alternative version with lyric, which Svensson interprets here as if discovering for the very first time. This second CD is bookended by popular showstoppers: the Bachian wonder of When God Created the Coffeebreak, with its breathtakingly rapid, extended ground bass shared by Svensson and Berglund; and the delicious exuberance of the bluesy, piano-rag-like Spunky Sprawl clearly delights the audience (throughout this album, there’s just enough ambience to share in the live experience).

It’s not unheard of for jazz piano trios to lack progression or originality, ploughing a similar furrow year on year. But with e.s.t., there was always the sense of leaping ahead over conventional boundaries, each new release or gig intoducing engaging sonic blends, all delivered with enthralling technical prowess. For aficionado or newcomer, e.s.t. live in London has it all, in glorious technicolor.

Released this Friday, 11 May, from ACT Music.


CD REVIEW : Kenny Barron Quintet – Concentric Circles

Kenny Barron Quintet – Concentric Circles
(Impulse Records XXX. Review by Peter Vacher)

Pianist Kenny Barron, now 74 and an NEA Jazz Master, is at the commanding heights of the music these days. He tours internationally, teaches widely and is a coveted recording companion. Concentric Circles marks the debut of his new quintet, this set to be his touring line-up for the coming months. Featuring the conventional format of trumpet (Mike Rodriguez) and tenor-saxophone (Dayna Stephens) with a rhythm team of bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Johnathan Blake, it unfurls a number of previously-unheard Barron originals alongside several compositions by other renowned writers.

The opener, DPW, named for Barron’s Brooklyn neighbourhood, Ditmas Park West, is a spirited hard bop outing, with Blake’s energy and drive the standout. The title track follows and is in ¾ time, the harmonies more subtle as the melody ebbs and flows, with piano uppermost, and the horn men easing into their solos. If anything Rodriquez is the more interesting soloist, the widely-experienced Stephens tending to the discursive in his improvisation before bassist Kitagawa has his go.

Blue Waters is rather more vibrant, Stephens sinuous, almost Getz-ian in his sonority, Barron’s impeccable keyboard precision and bluesy touch noteworthy. The Veloso-Mendes composition Aquele Frevo Axe induces the pianist’s more lyrical side, his affection for Brazilian music at its centre. The vastly more urgent Von Hangman with its zigzag movement proves both challenging to play and rewarding to hear, Stephens more potent and Rodriguez clearly relishing his chance even if again it’s Barron’s boppish figures that really score.

Lenny White’s L’S Bop is the most pleasing track on the album by far with trumpet and tenor at their vibrant best, the full potential of the quintet underpinned by Blake’s hard-swinging cross-rhythms and the strong bass work of Kitigawa. For now, it’s enough to say that Barron himself is in often sublime form on the album, viz his nicely-jagged solo reading of Monk’s Reflections with which it ends even if the session’s overall air is one of mostly careful deliberation rather than all out intensity. I suspect that there’s plenty more to come from this group once they’ve settled in and got the measure of the material in live performance.

Peter Vacher's book 'Swingin' on Central Avenue' won the 2016 ARSC Best History in Jazz Music Award


CD REVIEW: Trio HLK with Steve Lehman and Dame Evelyn Glennie – Standard Time


Trio HLK – Standard Time
(Ubuntu Music UBU0006. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

A markedly atypical debut trio album with a disciplined and almost industrial approach to rhythm, Trio HLK’s Standard Time declares a mission to ‘deconstruct classic tunes and rework them using contemporary classical compositional techniques’. The acronym stems from the surnames of pianist/keyboardist Richard Harrold, 8-string guitarist Ant Law and drummer Richard Kass; and this Scottish ensemble’s intense originality was clearly sufficient to attract the involvement of two distinguished guest artists, alto saxophonist Steve Lehman and percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie.

Breaking into this visceral sound world can be intriguing – even challenging – as its metronomic, mechanically-suggested and then spacial ambiences become strangely entrancing. Kass’s percussive steam is pivotal, drumming with a precision which might suggest it was electronically-generated were it not for the array of rhythmic tricks and ever-changing timbres; yet both Law and Harrold are just as involved in this undulating momentum as they weave their harmonic and melodic textures with invention.

Half of the album’s ten original tracks are subtly developed from fragments of jazz standards, the idea being that ‘the listener is led into distant territory by a familiar thread’. Perhaps most conspicuous are the familiar climbing and falling phrases of Jerome Kern’s ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ which inspire the flowing guitar and piano improv of trip-up, dubstep-like excursion Twilt (try spotting the sub-identity of the other four). But that’s where ‘standard’, as a concept, ends because Trio HLK pursue sinuous contemporary paths, their perceived unpredictability waymarked by unbelievably complex, pre-planned metrical switches and co-ordinated phrases.

Having Law on board – who usually mesmerises with his perfect fourth tuning across a six-stringed fretboard, let alone having eight – can infuse their work with a rockiness, as in gritty, wah-wahed Chewy; there’s also an Allan Holdsworthian rapidity to his deft improvisations in effervescent, angular Stabvest. Harrold’s meticulous flamboyance at the piano frequently appears Latinesque, especially when marking-out dazzling, octaved motifs in Dux; and in the expanses of both painS and Smalls, Lehman’s dry, hard-edged alto attack reinforces the jazz connection as he effortlessly interlaces or sails across the trio’s busyness (guitar and prepared piano combine, in the latter, to create superbly automated stop-start muted effects). Stealthy Extra Sensory Perception features Evelyn Glennie’s star-bejewelled vibraphone, then clanging marimba, as it excitedly fidgets and fights – even Glennie describes this as “a venture out of my comfort zone”; and it would be fascinating to learn which shred from one of J S Bach’s Cello Suites became transformed into the post-apocalyptic rock frenzy of The Jig.

Across its 67 minutes, Standard Time is urgent, elegant, dizzying, serene … and maybe unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Released this Friday, 11 May, from Ubuntu Music.


CD REVIEW: Edward Simon – Sorrows & Triumphs

Edward Simon – Sorrows & Triumphs
(SSC1511. CD review by Rob Adams)

Venezuelan-born pianist Edward Simon marshals the combined forces of his Afinidad quartet (featuring alto saxophonist David Binney, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade), the Imani Winds chamber quintet and special guests, vocalist Gretchen Parlato, guitarist Adam Rogers and two percussionists, with a superbly light touch on this album that captures the titular sorrows and triumphs with subtlety, nuance and beautiful textures.

The eight tracks are drawn from two suites, shuffled into a new order with the opening Incessant Desires to form a work that has its own narrative beginning with bright optimism borne on Blade’s lightly propulsive drumming and closing with the quiet, hymn-like Rebirth with Parlato’s yearning taken up by Colley’s excellent soloing.

In between, Simon gives his soloists room to express themselves over and through carefully plotted ensemble passages and dynamically varied rhythms. Rogers and Binney both play with terrific fluency and articulation and Parlato’s confiding tone on the wordless Equanimity and the gently pulsing Chant makes both pieces quickly memorable.

A bassoon-led wind section figure and jagged piano chords introduce Venezuela Unida’s tumbling ensemble which gives way to Simon’s strong soloing over locomotive-like rhythm and repetition, a device that calls to mind Steve Reich, as does Triumphs with its itchy piano and train whistle effect.

All in all, a very accessible, enjoyable album whose transfer onto the concert stage would, I’m sure, be a very interesting experience, if one that might require a small financial miracle on this side of the pond.


REVIEW: Kamasi Washington at the 2018 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Kamasi Washington at Cheltenham
Photo credit: © John Watson/

Kamasi Washington
(Big Top, 6 May 2018, Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Jones)

"The biggest name in jazz" is a hell of a billing to live up to, but that’s how the compère introduced saxophone colossus Kamasi Washington’s Cheltenham debut under a sweltering Big Top, late on Sunday afternoon. By the end of the gig we knew exactly how he has earned that accolade.

His eight-piece ensemble makes a joyous, assertive noise, with that wonderful huge, rackety, slightly ragged sound perfected by Mingus and Sun Ra. LA-based Washington is big in every sense of the word: not only was his first album a three-disc blockbuster called The Epic, but his band makes a monumental sound, and his own physical presence dwarfs even hefty characters like keyboardist Bandon Coleman. The Cheltenham lineup also featured the leader’s father Rickey Washington on flute and soprano saxophone, Ryan Porter on trombone, Patrice Quinn on vocals, Miles Mosley on double bass, and two drummers – Tony Austin (stage left) and Robert Miller (stage right).

From the start, they produced music on a massive, take-no-prisoners scale: after an intro and a squalling cadenza, Coleman began the main assault from behind his towering castle keep of keyboards. It was fast, furious and full-on, Kamasi taking the next solo himself, then Miller. The tune was from the forthcoming Heaven and Earth album (amazingly only Washington’s second), and it was quickly followed by Fist of Fury, the theme tune from Bruce Lee’s 1973 martial arts epic.

For those who had never seen Kamasi Washington before, it was at this point that the whole project came into focus. The music and culture of the 1970s have had a profound effect on Washington’s entire approach to music, which has been described – amongst its other qualities – as filmic. In the UK the '70s was the era of kung-fu on the big screen, but in the US it was also the time of blaxploitation – black action movies with a theme of black power. Quinn made its modern relevance explicit: "Our time as victims is over. We will not ask for justice. Instead we will take our retribution," she intoned repeatedly. There followed a lengthy flute excursion by Rickey Washington.

"No one else plays the bass like Miles Mosley," Kamasi had informed us at the start, and now we understood what he meant, as Mosley attacked his instrument, sawing furiously at it with the bow, effects units making it scream and howl like tortured heavy metal.

There was now some respite, as the bandleader introduced the next tune by explaining how he spent most of his childhood in a dreamworld of his own. In illustration, The Space Traveller’s Lullaby, in a swingy 6/8, was the perfect foil to what we’d heard up to now, sounding rather like the theme to the Star Trek TV series. Quinn joined the front-line players in stating the song’s unearthly melody, with a solo from Porter’s trombone and another sweet outing from Coleman.

Truth consisted of five different melodies played at once, an idea inspired by Washington’s celebration of human and cultural diversity. A gorgeous vocoder-like theme on the keys (think Herbie Hancock’s I Thought It Was You), was taken up afterwards by Quinn, who when not singing kept up a lithe, sinuous dance routine at the edge of the stage throughout. The roaring standing ovation at the end was the only possible reaction to an unforgettable gig.