RIP Paolo Losi (1972-2018)

Paolo Losi

Peter Jones writes:

Paolo Losi, the London-based jazz pianist, died yesterday at the age of just 46. He is believed to have suffered a heart attack.

Musicians throughout the capital have expressed their shock and dismay at the news.

Vocalist Linley Weir wrote: "This is just awful , can’t believe it , so sad. Played with this lovely man for many years. So young, so talented. In shock."

Saxophonist Tracey Mendham wrote: "So so sad, way too early. My heart goes out to his family. We will all Miss this Beautiful Man who had a heart of gold and wonderful musicianship."

Clarinettist Luca Luciano: "I have known Paolo for many years. He was a gentle soul and a very well mannered human being. He will be missed."

Losi was recognized by all who knew him as a consummate musician. One of his greatest gifts was as an accompanist to singers. Paolo possessed the rare ability to put even the most nervous vocalist at ease, and to support their performance with a rich, melodic setting that would leave them and their listeners feeling that it had been something special.

I first encountered him as the house pianist at the monthly Mill Hill Jazz Club jam night, a job he had taken over from Ted Beament in 2012. Paolo Losi displayed extraordinary sensitivity, and was famed for his kindness and generosity.

He was also a teacher of music, and an accomplished drummer, saxophonist, guitarist and electric bassist. Born in Milan to an Eritrean mother and an Italian father, Losi had lived and worked in London for many years. At the time of his death, he had been back in Italy for a month and had just completed a professional engagement in Nice. On the day he died he was with his mother, and had been driving to Holland for a gig back in London. In sadness.

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PREVIEW: Kathrine Windfeld Big Band feat. Gerard Presencer (Sounds of Denmark, Pizza Express Jazz Club, 21/22 Sep)

Kathrine Windfeld
Photo credit: Stephen Freiheit

The Sounds of Denmark mini-festival at Pizza Express in Dean Street has two gigs by the Kathrine Windfeld Big Band, making its UK debut with guest Gerard Presencer, on Friday 21 September in the evening, with a Saturday lunchtime performance on 22 September. The band (without Presencer) will also be at Watermill Jazz on 18 September and Turner Sims on 19 September. Sebastian found out more about the origins of the band and its leader:

2018 is a year when pianist, composer and bandleader Kathrine Windfeld, born in 1984 in the south of the island of Funen in Denmark, is becoming much better known. Her band’s second album, Latency (Stunt Records), recently won an award for "Danish Jazz Album Of The Year". Her band, in its four and a half years of existence, has performed in Denmark, and also made the occasional foray into the neighbouring countries, Germany and Sweden, but this London visit to Dorking and London,  their UK debut, will be the first time, she told me, that all 15 band members have got into a plane and gone further afield. She also has a prestigious engagement lined up for later in the year when she will do a rehearsal phase and concerts with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

I asked her if the idea to have her own big band to play her compositions was an idea which had grown gradually or if there had been a specific “wow” moment somewhere along the way. It was the latter. During the time she was studying musicology at the University of Copenhagen, she took an optional course in arranging. “It was hearing Bring it On by the Dave Holland Big Band,” she told me. “That hit me really forcibly.” It led her to study jazz at the Malmö Academy of Music in Sweden, and it was there that the plan really took root. “I wanted to do something else from other people. And the world is full of quartets and quintets… what I wanted to do is to make a fresh and new take on the [big band] genre... so it won’t die out.”



How did she choose the players? “I chose 15 of the best younger players in Copenhagen and Malmö. Most of them were studying at the Conservatory. Actually, I didn't know all of them personally, so it was exciting to me to getting to know them through my own band!" She searched for different characters and musical qualities. Some with a free approach, some have a splendid tone for ballads, plus some great bebop-players. “Thus, I write the charts in accordance with the specific skills of each member,” she explained.

After the band had performed its first couple of gigs in early 2014, it had a real stroke of luck. The pianist Niels Lan Doky, a major figure on the Copenhagen scene, was running a club called The Standard, and he invited the band to have a weekly night. In the course of that, the band really gelled as a unit. However, the club had to close within about a year of the residency starting. And since then? “We play around 20-25 gigs a year – it is really project-based. We get together, we rehearse, and we do small tours.” And has the band remained relatively stable? “Yes. We are almost the same 15 people as in the beginning. Only three have left during almost five years.”

The band is not quite the conventional full big band. It has five saxes/winds, and the rhythm section has four including guitar, but there are only three trumpets and three trombones. That means it is slightly more economical and can fit on smaller stages, but are there musical reasons as well? “I love to write for that combination because it gives the saxophones more space in the overall sound,” says Windfeld.

As for the music, one of Kathrine Windfeld’s main priorities is to achieve contrasts, to show the range this group is capable of, and to bring elements from very different styles of music: “I like to write heavy and punk-like rough textures. And I also am inspired by classical choirs and a linear way of writing. And there are some fragile ballads. And then I like to bring the energy and the attitude of rock music.”

American critic Doug Ramsey has written: “[Windfeld’s] work is in a league with bands like those of Maria Schneider, Darcy James Argue, Christian McBride and John Beasley's Monkestra-outfits.” At last, in September, Sounds of Denmark is going to give us in the London audience the opportunity to hear what all the buzz is about for ourselves, and at close quarters. (pp) 

PERSONNEL: 

Jakob Lundbak & Jakub Wiecek – alto sax, Roald Elm Larsen & Ida Karlsson – tenor sax, Toke Reines – baritone sax
André Bak, Rolf Thofte Sørensen, Magnus Oset – trumpets
Göran Abelli, Mikkel Aagaard, Anders Larson – trombones
Kathrine Windfeld – composer, leader & piano
Viktor Sandström – guitar
Johannes Vaht – double bass
Henrik Holst Hansen – drums

Sounds of Denmark is a cooperation between JazzDanmark, PizzaExpress Jazz Club and Sue Edwards Management with support from the Danish Embassy in London and Augustinus Fonden.

It runs from 20 September to 23 September and also features Janne Mark featuring Verneri Pohjola, Athletic Progression, Girls in Airports, Live Foyn Friis and Mathias Heise Quadrillion.

BOOKING LINKS: Watermill Jazz (18 Sep)
Turner Sims (19 Sep)
Sounds of Denmark (21 and 22 Sep)

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REVIEW: Paul Booth’s Patchwork Project featuring Jacqui Dankworth at Pizza Express Jazz Club

L-R: Paul Booth, Giorgio Serci, Jacqui Dankworth,
Daide Mantovani at Pizza Express
(out of shot: Rod Youngs and Satin Singh)
Photo supplied by Patchwork

Paul Booth’s Patchwork Project featuring Jacqui Dankworth
Pizza Express Jazz Club, 29 August 2018. Review by Sebastian Maniura)

On a rather dull evening in Soho, Paul Booth’s Patchwork Project featuring vocalist Jacqui Dankworth created a warm and welcoming atmosphere with two diverse sets in the basement at Pizza Express. This talented group seamlessly glided through jazz, reggae, Celtic folk and more, making for an integrated and compelling performance. The night consisted of songs from Booth's Patchwork Project Volume 1, released in 2015, and new material, some of which will doubtless be featured on Volume 2 when it appears... The 2015 album was a move by Booth to "explore what's out there". Taking suggestions from colleagues and fans on social media, it became something very different to anything Booth had previously released. The performance possessed the variety and vitality that the album was seeking to capture.

Playing flute, piano, tenor and soprano saxophones, Booth’s technical ability was striking. Songs such as Miles from Nowhere and Wye Aye saw him alternating between multiple different instruments, taking fast, intricate solos on sax and flute, then jumping onto the piano to accompany the rest of the band. He introduced the songs in an amiable manner, often explaining the background to his own compositions. Confident but unassuming, Booth made the audience relax into the evening and feel at home. Jacqui Dankworth’s voice was powerful and expressive. In There Was a Time and The Windmills of Your Mind, Dankworth explored the emotional range of the songs which, in turn, showed off her own expansive vocal ability. Guitarist Giorgio Serci, who often accompanied  Dankworth during the calmer moments in the set, used both an electric and acoustic guitar to exhibit his full tonal palette. Alternating between dramatic flamenco inspired introductions and steaming blues inflected solos, Serci encapsulated each style in which he played. Similarly, Dankworth kept her own authentic sound, always respecting and honouring the style she was singing in but never pandering to, or caricaturing, it.

Laying it down at the back of the stage on kit, Rod Youngs was supremely tight and seriously funky whilst Satin Singh added texture on percussion, never overcrowding the songs. His simple yet effective patterns on tunes like Twitterbug Waltz and Bo Joe gave space for Davide Mantovani’s ferocious runs and fills on bass, whilst keeping the groove consistent and effortless. In the more restrained songs, such as The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Red Rock, Youngs’ brush work was light and sensitive, keeping the groove sizzling below the surface. Playing both fretted and fretless bass, Mantovani locked in with Youngs perfectly on numbers like Pipe Dream. The round, warm, elastic tone of Mantovani's fretless playing on There was a Time and Lemanja lent a lovely smooth rounded bottom end to the sound.

Drawing on multiple styles and influences without appearing contrived or rootless is a difficult thing to pull off. However, the band of sensitive and inspired musicians made sure that every twist and turn the music took hit the mark, feeling authentic and true. The uplifting final number, a cover of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry, exhibited all that worked so well about the band. The joy with which they played together, the technical brilliance of the soloists and the power that such a sparse groove can have, easily made one forget the drab weather outside.

Line-Up:

Paul Booth – Soprano and Tenor Saxophones, Flute and Piano
Jacqui Dankworth – Vocals
Giorgio Serci – Guitar
Rod Youngs – Drums
Davide Mantovani – Bass
Satin Singh – Percussion

LINKS: Paul Booth's Patchwork Project Volume 1
Pizza Express Live

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FEATURE/ADVICE: Sound Reasoning Part 2 – monitoring levels and listening

Monitoring levels are important
Photo credit: © Borislav Kresojević

Mark Wingfield is a mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio. He has three DownBeat Masterpiece albums under his belt, a Jazzwise Best Release Of The Year, and over 300 rave reviews from around the world for albums he has worked on. In this series of articles Mark gives advice on how to avoid common mistakes made in the recording studio which will hold back your album from sounding great. This is the second part of his special advice series for LondonJazz News. Sound Reasoning Part 1 – the set-up is here.

Monitoring levels

In my previous article [see above] I discussed the importance of the set-up phase of a recording session where the sound of each instrument is decided upon. One important thing to understand, which helps not only in the set-up phase, but also in mixing, is monitoring levels. The term monitoring levels simply means, how loud you listen to the music in the studio control room.

The first thing you need to understand about monitoring levels is that everything sounds better when it's louder, that's a biological fact of how our auditory system is made. However loud volumes don't give you an accurate representation how your recording really sounds. Remember, something played back at loud levels always sound better, clearer, more detailed, warmer, more vibrant etc... A lacklustre, muddy recording, will sound bigger, clearer and more detailed and exciting than it actually is if it’s played back at loud volumes.  It is very important not to be fooled by this.

In the mixing industry playing back at loud volumes actually has a name – it's refer to it as "impressing the client". Be aware that some studio engineers compensate for a muddy sounding recording by playing back at loud volumes in the control room. They may do this knowing full well that playing back at loud volumes flatters the sound. Such practices when used knowingly are an attempt to fool you. Not all engineers do this to fool you however. Less experienced engineers may not even realise that playing things back louder makes things sound better than they really are. They may simply play it loud because they believe it to be an accurate representation of what's been recorded. It isn't.

Be wary when an engineer plays things back loudly.  It either means they are trying to fool you or they are fooling themselves. The only exception would be that they might turn things up monetarily in order to listen out for a problem of some sort.

In addition to things sounding more impressive when they are loud, the human ear starts to skew the high and low frequencies at higher volumes, so you end up with a skewed version of what's actually been recorded.  Playing back too quietly will also cause the low and high frequencies to sound inaccurate.  Your ears hear most accurately when the listening volume is around 76 db (spl C weighted) for loud passages in the music (more on this below).  A good engineer knows this, and should have some kind of calibration on their control room volume which will at least approximate this level.

TIP: You can get very cheap sound level meters for your phone.  Although these won’t be accurate enough for professional calibration, they will give you a close enough idea of how loud the playback volume is.  If you are sitting two to three meters from the speakers, in a small or medium sized room, the level on your meter should measure about 76 db (spl) during the louder sections of a tune.  Make sure your meter or app has the facility for C weighted type metering (most do), you’ll need that for an accurate reading.  This measurement is not sufficient for calibrating your studio speakers, but it will give you a rough idea whether you are listening too loudly or quietly.

As a rule of thumb, if you can’t easily have a conversation while the music is playing back, it's too loud. If you’re having to raise your voice or shout in the control room, it’s much too loud.

Listening during the set-up phase

The key thing for you when recording is to have the right listening volume when you are setting up and getting the sounds of each instrument. Normally what happens in a studio is that the engineer sets up the mics, say for example for the drums, then the rest of the band or the producer listens in the control room as the drummer plays. Based on how it sounds, they make comments and suggestions on how the sound could be improved. Then changes to the positions of the mics, the type of mic or the type of mic preamps are made. Once you're getting close to the sound you want, you do a short test recording so that the drummer (or who ever you are setting up for) can come in and listen as well.  From there more adjustments may be made until you are all happy with the sound of the particular instrument.

You don't want to be getting a rose-tinted version of how things sound at this crucial stage, which is why it is so important not to be listening at volumes which are too loud (or quiet). Remember, if the truth is that engineer has set things up so that your instruments sound dull and flat, if you listen too loudly, they will sound much bigger and richer than they actually are.  If this happens, you may well end up settling for a recorded sound which is not as good as it could have been. Later when you listen back in mixing studio (assuming the volume isn’t also hyped there) you’ll hear the real sound, which maybe be disappointing. Of course a good mix engineer can hugely improve a lacklustre recording.  But no engineer in the world will be able to make it sound as good as it would have done if you’d got it sounding great during the recording.

Mark Wingfield at his Heron Island Studio's desk
Likewise, if you listen too quietly, you can miss problems such as an annoying rattle on the drums, or the fact that when the bassist moves you can here a low-end rumble. These are things which can cause real problems in a mix. It’s important to listen out for this sort of detail so problems like these can be fixed before you start recording. Listening out for problems such as these is one reason a good engineer might temporarily turn up the volume to quite loud, before returning it back to a standard level. I highly recommend you listen out yourself for these sorts of problems during the set-up phase.  The engineer has a lot to think about, they might easily miss the fact that a drum mic has slipped and is rattling every time the drummer hits the crash cymbal or the floor tom. So being a second pair of ears can sometimes really save the day.

Leakage

It is perfectly possible to get a great, even world class, jazz recording in a small studio, but you have to be very careful about leakage. What leakage means is that the sound of one instrument can be heard through the microphone of another instrument. This isn’t always a bad thing, it really depends on the situation. Leakage can ruin a recording or it can enhance a recording.

If you are lucky enough to be recording in a studio with a large beautiful sounding room, where it is possible to have all the instruments playing together, then leakage can actually be a good thing if done skilfully. However, hiring a studio with great sounding large rooms is usually extremely expensive and beyond the budget of most jazz records.

Most jazz musicians these days, record in studios with small rooms. In these studios leakage can be a real problem. Leakage in small rooms is very unlikely to enhance the sound of the recording, but can cause real problems in the mix. Leakage can in some cases ruin a recording. Even if doesn’t ruin it, too much leakage can hold back a recording from sounding as good as it could have done. I’ll cover why this is in more detail in a later article. The point here is that it’s important to listen out for leakage during the set-up phase. In small rooms it should usually be kept to a minimum. You can check this during the set-up phase by asking to hear each instrument separately after a test recording of the whole band playing. If you can, for example, hear quite a bit of the piano coming through the bass mics, you may have a problem at mix time. If the bass needs to be EQed (which it often does) it will also affect how the piano sounds. In such a case you might have to make a choice when mixing between having a bass where the details are hard to hear, and having a piano with more added upper mids (from the EQed bass) than you really want. That’s not a choice you want to face, which is why it’s so important to listen out for too much leakage.

Continual checking

With the sorts of budgets we have to work with in jazz, there is rarely enough studio time to listen back to every take. What musicians often do is go by how the take felt when they played it. If it felt like a good take, you might decide to move on to the next tune without listening back because the clock is ticking. However I recommend that you do listen to at least half a take closely early on in the session, and at regular intervals through the session. When you listen, make it your priority to listen to the detail of the sound of each instrument, and take note of any problems you hear. That way if there is a problem you didn't notice durning set-up, (or a new one appears during the session) it can be fixed.

Here's an example of the sort of problem that can happen from a album I mixed recently. The recorded sound of each instrument was excellent and the group was extremely pleased with how the record was sounding after I mixed the first track. However, on the third track a noise appeared. There was a banging sound coming from the top snare mic, it was intermittent but happened frequently enough to be very noticeable. One of the mics or mic stands must have moved slightly during the session so that something was banging on the snare mic when the rest of the kit vibrated. This had the potential to ruin most of the recording.

In rock and pop music you could deal with problem like this by replacing the snare with a sample.  There is software which can listen to each recorded snare hit and play back a sample of a snare instead. However no software in existence can replace the intricate snare rolls which are the bread and butter of most jazz drumming, so this wasn't an option.

I did manage to fix the problem, but restoration work like this is time consuming, it can take as long as doing an entire mix, so needs to be treated as a separate job. Had the problem occurred on the overhead drum mics it might have been impossible to fix and the recording would have been ruined.  So it is very important to listen out for problems like this not just during the setup, but as the session progresses. This is a time when you might want to turn up the monitor volume loud so you can hear every tiny detail.

It's not just obvious problems like a banging drum mic that you need to listen out for. A musician might shift their position half way through the session, and this can adversely affect the sound. If, for example, the bass player or horn player moves their position a little backward, away from the mic, after lunch break, you can have a problem. That great sound you hear during set-up might not be happening on the tracks recorded after lunch. So check that each instrument is still sounding as good as it did during set-up as your session progresses.

Over this series of articles we will look at all the common problems you need to listen out for and avoid in the studio. You’ll also gain enough understanding of how the recording process works, to help you guide your engineer in achieving the sound you’re after for your recording.

In the next article we look at microphones and how choosing the right type of microphone can make or break your recording.

Mark Wingfield, Mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio
contact@heronislandstudio.co.uk
heronislandstudio.co.uk

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FESTIVAL REPORT: ZomerJazzFietstour 2018 (summer jazz bicycle tour) in Groningen The Netherlands

William Parker, Klaas Hekman and Wilbert de Joode
Hervormde Kerk, Den Ham
Photo credit: Nigel Slee
ZomerJazzFietsTour 2018
(Groningen, The Netherlands 24, 25 August 2018. Festival report by Rob Adams)

In a barn on a farm in the countryside north-west of Groningen in the northern Netherlands the audience is sitting on hay bales listening to a rigorous investigation of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time-era sturm und drang.

In the same time slot two churches and another farm building are filled with the sound of spontaneous creativity from a trio including American improvising bass titan William Parker, the bamboo flute, guitar and electronica adventures of Bitch ‘n’ Monk and an intense conversation between guitarist Marzio Scholten and bassist Ernst Glerum of the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra.

Welcome to ZomerJazzFietsTour, the annual jazz-and-fitness festival that invites people to get on their bikes – the Dutch don’t need much persuasion – and pedal round a circuit of venues, some ad hoc, others built for more spiritual worship, where a startlingly varied programme awaits.

Into the fairly conventional, melodic improvising of Penguins Too (aka saxophonist Frank Nielander and pianist Michiel Braam) you might arrive from the utterly theatrical cabaret cum Lieder cum recitation frolics of Greetje Bijma with her percussively colourful consœurs, violinist Mary Oliver and pianist Nora Mulder.

Equally, the unashamed party spirit of Surinaam-meets-New Orleans nonet De Nazaten will be permeating a marquee adjacent to the shed where, shortly afterwards, another ICP Orchestra member, saxophonist-clarinettist Tobias Delius, cornetist Eric Boeren and pianist Alexander Hawkins will turn the written motifs in front of them into gripping solo, duo and trio explorations well beyond their apparent brief.

Alexander Hawkins, Eric Boeren and Tobias Delius
Photo credit: Willem Schwertman 

The festivities began on Friday with a “proloog” in Simplon, a rock venue in Groningen itself, featuring the brilliantly articulate French cellist Vincent Courtois in a trio with twin tenors Daniel Erdmann and Robin Fincker, and Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen’s super-energetic, searching, grooving Angles 9.

Courtois’ fierce arco bite and delicate strumming were perfectly matched by Erdmann and Fincker, who doubled on clarinet, playing stabs and counter melodies as the cello sang out lines that owed as much to an electric guitar or a bagpipe chanter as to an orchestral instrument.

Robin Fincker, Vincent Courtois, Daniel Erdmann
Photo credit: Willem Schwertmann

This was invigorating and immediate music played with absolute conviction, the perfect appetiser for Angles 9, whose unerring rhythmical impetus, with vibraphone joining piano, bass and drums, sustained a five-strong frontline where interlinking folk melodies converged with fearless and dynamic two trumpets, alto, baritone and trombone improvisation. Touches such as vibraphonist Mattias Ståhl hammering a string of cowbells onto the metal bars added to the sound of surprise and although the overall effect of the ensemble is paramount in this case, hearing the great Magnus Broo’s intense, fiery trumpet playing was a special treat.

The idea for the Saturday is that cyclists follow a suggested route. The Lage – or low - Route wittily took its followers off on a tour of baritone saxophones, tubas, bass clarinets and double basses. But this is only a suggestion and once you buy a wrist band, you can go where you please around thirty-plus sessions.

"Playing with extraordinary fire at 75": Han Bennink
Photo credit: Willem Schwertmann

Many of these were heavily subscribed with queues waiting for people to leave so that they could partake of the next course, and the great free jazz drummer-consummate performance artist Han Bennink’s marvellous trio with Belgian reeds player Joachim Badenhorst and Danish pianist Simon Toldam had to be cajoled into playing an extra set to meet demand. Small wonder: at 75, Bennink is playing with extraordinary fire in a group that breathes new life into standards as much as it delivers completely spontaneous music.

It’s an event that runs with superb efficiency and an enviable amiability as farmers’ entire families get involved in serving food and drinks to cyclist and car driver alike. They even create “chandeliers” made from old cycle mudguards to acts as house lights. The carefully chosen programme, along with the wonderful organisation, is a credit to Marcel Roelofs, who initiated the festival and 32 years on oversees it with a jovial laidback approach, even when flights from Moscow are cancelled and drivers have to be dispatched to Schiphol Airport to ensure that musicians get from baggage reclaim to stage in the tightest of schedules.

As the fiery, free and exuberant Bacchanalia roared Saturday to a close with Gato Barbieri-esque overtones, Roelofs and his team could afford to reflect on a 30-second instalment whose quality and all-round good vibe will surely encourage the cyclists to keep the corresponding weekend in 2019 free for the 33rd edition.

Pedalling to the next gig / We moeten blijven fietsen
Photo credit: Nigel Slee


Rob Adams attended Zomer Jazz Fiets Tour as a guest of Dutch Performing Arts, a programme that promotes Dutch music, theatre and dance on the international stage. The programme is powered by the Performing Arts Fund NL.

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REVIEW: PROM 58 – The Sound of an Orchestra (RPO / Weilerstein)

PROM 58 The Sound of an Orchestra
Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou


PROM 58 – The Sound of an Orchestra
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Joshua Weilerstein
(Royal Albert Hall. 26 August 2018. Review by John L. Walters)

Orchestration, the craft of combining two or more instrumental sounds, is of vital interest to all kinds of musicians and listeners, from jazz arrangers to remix engineers. And it is an art that reaches its most nuanced and complex form in the symphony orchestra, as you can hear by downloading the BBC Recording of Prom 58  and listening from 1:32:00, the start of the second half.

The title, ‘The Sound of an Orchestra’ was taken from Leonard Bernstein’s celebrated 1965 Lincoln Center TV broadcast [LINK], and the event was part of the Bernstein centenary celebrations at the Proms this year. (Prom 6, which I reviewed (HERE) for London Jazz, was also part of this strand.) This half of the concert was a kind of live playlist, showcasing a wide range of orchestral textures. The six pieces, occasionally punctuated by spoken-word recordings, were played in roughly reverse chronology.

The sequence began with the glittering sonorities of Elizabeth Ogonek’s All These Lighted Things (first movement only), which featured multiple Burma bells in the percussion section. Then we were whisked back two generations to Leonard Bernstein’s vaudevillian Wonderful Town overture (1953) and György Ligeti’s magnificently abstract Atmosphères (1961). Conductor Joshua Weilerstein then twisted the brass dial of his time machine back another half century for the third movement of Debussy’s La Mer (1903-05). The concert came to a pleasing end via the astringent sweetness of Wagner’s Prelude to Act 1 of Lohengrin (1846-48), which led to the stomping, bracing bravado of Beethoven’s Egmont overture (1810). The RPO played Egmont with gusto and (I suspect) huge relief after this demanding and ambitious evening.

Joshua Weilerstein and th Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou


If the second half was an inspiring playlist, the first half was a dispiriting mash-up. It comprised 75 passages from famous orchestral works, sometimes as short as one chord, like selections in a sample library. These fragments were punctuated by disembodied voices that boomed imperiously across the Albert Hall, while screens displayed slow-motion clips from Bernstein’s broadcasts, composers’ portraits plus names and titles in condensed capitals. Some voice-overs were funny and/or illuminating, like magazine pull-quotes, but ultimately there was too much (over-amplified) talk, which, as Duke Ellington memorably stated, ‘stinks up the place’.

The programme note (by creative director Gerard McBurney) rather defensively stated: ‘This is not a lecture!’ as if nervous of trying to meet the high standards set by Bernstein. Yet the performance actually came to life when Weilerstein talked to the audience. He didn’t attempt to ‘do a Bernstein’, yet his explanations, such as demonstrating the way Tchaikovsky interleaved first and second violins in the Pathétique Symphony to create a composite melody – were warm and clear.

As orchestration history goes, the timeline was somewhat skewed. After Ogonek (b. 1989), the youngest of the 37 composers featured was Ligeti (1923-2006).

However I hope the first half of Prom 58 doesn’t discourage festivals such as the Proms (or orchestras such as the RPO) from trying such experiments again. Bernstein’s ‘The Sound of an Orchestra’ was daring, funny and sharp, provoking the audience to listen critically. This project needed collaborators with a similar attitude, with more spirit, certainly more of a budget. It needed thoughtful image-making, typography and sound design that matched the innate qualities of the chosen composers and of the RPO.

One can imagine a creative team with an artist and a writer (Andy Martin and Ian McMillan spring to mind) alongside an art director and a musical director. The right mix of sounds, words and images could make a mash-up as inspiring as the natural artistry and drama of a living, breathing orchestra.

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CD REVIEW: Sketchbook Quartet – When was the last time Vol I?


Sketchbook Quartet – When was the last time Vol I?
(Sessionwork records SWR108. Review by Peter Slavid)

Sketchbook Quartet is a Vienna-based group who describe themselves as post-jazz. I'm never entirely sure what that means, but what you get here is a mixture of prog-rock with chamber jazz and a set of strong rhythms that shift around. It's foot-tapping material most of the time – but you have to keep changing the speed at which you tap.

The band is: Alexander Wallner (guitar
), Leonhard Skorupa (saxophone, clarinet, synth, samples),
Daniel Moser (bass clarinet, fx
), Konstantin Kräutler (drums).

The album opens with the title track. It starts with a recording of the phrase "When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo," spoken by Donald Trump back in 2015. The music then starts with some loud skronking retro rock beats leading into a pleasant melody with some syncopated solos between the reeds. Then it shifts into a mish-mash of surfer rock, '50s cinema and squealing improv.  It's not entirely clear to me why this track is called Ashley, but some of the subsequent track titles do refer back to the album title.

The second track Die Erleuchtung (the Enlightenment) might do. It starts out as a much more intricate chamber jazz with constantly shifting rhythms over a bass pulse until it suddenly develops a rather strange creaking noise followed by another passage of shifting rhythms.

It's a lot easier to see the thematic link in the title of Chief Carrot, although the music starts out as the most conventional so far. There are melodic passages here particularly in a fine solo from Tausch.

The closing track, Moonshiner, was the stand-out track for me.  It starts with a short, twanging guitar solo which then develops into a persistent almost surfer riff which the other instruments gradually join. As with other tracks this doesn't last – it suddenly slows into a bass clarinet solo which in turn becomes the riff behind the ensemble. There's a terific sax solo over the next set of riffs which becomes more and more frantic before it all slows down and fades out.

This is not music that sits still for long. It has plenty of melody, but those melodies keep changing.  The tunes are mostly composed by Skorupa and Wallner (possibly in different rooms at the time), the time signatures shift around as well.

This is four talented young musicians having fun and delivering a most enjoyable album.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Jazz on http://thejazz.co.uk/redtrain-express/ and mixcloud.com/ukjazz

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FEATURE: Jazz in New York: The 1930s. (The Jazz Repertory Company, Cadogan Hall, Saturday 22 September)


Richard Pite
celebrates ten years of the Jazz Repertory Company at Cadogan Hall with a re-run of his sell-out concert of 2015 featuring the music of Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and more. Below Richard relates some of the artistic ups and nail-biting downs of being a jazz concert promoter for the last decade
.

For the Jazz in New York show he’s gathered together a line-up of musicians who specialise in recreating the music of the era with the utmost in excitement and authenticity. The evening will be presented by Alyn Shipton and feature:

Enrico Tomasso: trumpet/vocals
Keith Nichols: piano/vocals
Julia Biel and Joan Viskant: vocals
Matthias Seuffert and Michael McQuaid: clarinet and saxophones
Ian Bateman: trombone
Thomas “Spats” Langham: guitar and vocals
Dave Chamberlain: double bass and guitar
Anthony Kerr: vibraphone
Martin Litton: piano
Richard Pite: drums

Over to Richard:

Back in 2008 I was at the National Hall in Dublin performing in a show called “Artie Shaw with Strings”. Mark Crooks played the role of Artie and we had a big band augmented with a string section and, most remarkably of all, an audience of around 1,500 enthusiastic Dubliners.

Some of the band commented on what a shame it was that we were just doing this show once and then James Langton, the band’s director, would go back to the USA and that would be that.

So that’s how it all started. If no-one else would bring a sure fire sell-out to London then I would and the Artie Shaw with Strings show came to Cadogan Hall in September 2008 and I lost thousands as only 300 Londoners bothered to buy tickets (and I think I recognised every one of them!).




Fortunately, I also put on the recreation of Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert a few weeks later and made back all the money I’d lost on Artie Shaw. I’m sure if Benny was still around in 2008 (he would have been 99) he would have been delighted at the news of how his music had trounced his arch rival in London 70 years after they were both superstars of swing.

So two concerts in and the profits were a nice round number (or more accurately a row of round numbers: 0.00). I was hooked and over the next two years put on four more concerts – all of which lost money. One of them – “The Blagger’s Guide to Jazz” – sold so badly that our bacon was only saved by selling the show to the BBC. Once the money had been divvied up we looked at the final spread sheet and discovered we had made £1.00 – so a major improvement on Artie and Benny the year before.

After a short break to lick our wounds we came back in 2012 and since then we’ve been putting on four or five shows a year with varying degrees of success. Back in 2015 we put on a Paul Whiteman show for the London Jazz Festival and just reached the break-even point a few hours before the matinee performance.

Over the ten years we’ve learnt a hell of a lot about marketing jazz – we certainly made some clunking mistakes along the way. We’ve tried desperately and with hardly any success to get a younger audience to come. Never mind teenagers, a few under 50s would be good. Come on, you youngsters how can you not give us a try, particularly when today’s pop music is so bloody awful. Give us a go – we may be as old as your dad (or grandad) but by crikey this music is good!

Jazz in New York – The 1930s will be the Jazz Repertory Company’s 30th concert at Cadogan Hall. We’ve had no sponsorship, no grants, no eccentric jazz-loving billionaires, so I’m pleased that we’re still hanging in there. Performing in the concerts has given me a great deal of pleasure and going from the reactions we have got and the following that we have developed over the ten years a lot of pleasure has also been dished out.

As Dick Laurie, editor of Hot Jazz News International said: "Go and hear them the next chance you get, whatever age you are. Its memory will add joyous years to your life." (pp)

For Richard Pite’s interview with Alyn Shipton for the 2015 Jazz in New York concert click here

LINK: Jazz in New York – The 1930s – more information and tickets

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NEWS: Two new bands announced for Jazz North Introduces scheme

Jasmine
Publicity picture

Peter Bacon reports:

Two Leeds-based bands, Jasmine and Slow Loris, are the latest beneficiaries of the Jazz North Introduces scheme which offers high-profile exposure at leading jazz festivals in the north of England for young, up-and-coming musicians. They also get career support and promotion.
Slow Loris
Publicity picture
Jasmine combine the influences of jazz and hip-hop, using electronics to introduce layered horn parts over a traditional saxophone led jazz quintet setup. The band is made up of Jasmine Whalley (alto saxophone), Ben Haskins (guitar), George MacDonald (piano), Owen Burns (bass) and George Hall (drums).

Slow Loris is made up of Sam Lowther (guitar), Sam Evans (guitar), Chris Sellers (bass), and Theo Goss (drums) who met while studying at Leeds College of Music. Sam Lowther says their music is “dark, intense and energetic” with rock and metal influences, alongside a love of electronic music and hip-hop, yet staying rooted in jazz. They enjoy challenging traditional genre boundaries to create fresh, original music.

Lucy Woolley, Jazz North Introduces Project Manager, said: “Every year we are impressed by the quality of the applications to the Jazz North Introduces scheme and it is always exciting to see the amazing new artists entering the scene.  By working in partnership with festivals, Jazz North Introduces will provide Jasmine and Slow Loris with the opportunity to perform throughout the region giving jazz audiences their first glimpse of the great talent that is emerging here in the north.”

Jazz North’s partners in the initiative are Durham Jazz Festival, Gateshead International Jazz Festival, Lancaster Jazz Festival, Liverpool International Jazz Festival, Manchester Jazz Festival, Marsden Jazz Festival, Scarborough Jazz Festival and Leeds College of Music.

LINK: Videos about Jasmine and Slow Loris

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PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Art Themen (Tribute to Don Weller, 606 Club, 10 September)

Don Weller
Photo credit: Nicholas de Jong Cleyndert

On Monday 10 September the 606 Club presents a night of music and celebration in honour of the great British saxophonist Don Weller. Don is now essentially retired from active performance. Saxophonist Art Themen, a contemporary, a colleague and a friend for many years, has been pivotal in putting together this tribute. He explains the background to a special night at the 606. Interview by Laura G Thorne:

Laura G Thorne: You and Don have a long history in the British jazz scene, but how did you and he first meet?

Art Themen: As Don and I are all of a similar age and similar musical backgrounds it was inevitable that we should start playing together on the London jazz scene. Both of us started on classical clarinet, Don being much more proficient, having played Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto at the Fairfield Halls in his native Croydon. In addition we both had a grounding in more traditional jazz, blues and, inevitably, a brief flirtation with the world of pop music – Don can be heard on David Bowie's and Alan Price’s recordings.

For me, therefore, the chemistry of playing in a quintet with Don seemed just right although, disappointingly, the passage of years have made it impossible for me to remember the very first time we played together! For me, playing with him was a perfect fit and the lineup of two tenors/rhythm section has always had audience appeal with its connotations of gladiatorial combat, particularly enhanced by the differences in our physical build. There was never an ego clash or cutting contest but instead a feeling of mutual respect. (Admittedly however on certain nights we would josh each other as to whether or not there had been a reversal of the result of the biblical clash between David and Goliath!)

LGT: The '60s and '70s were a burgeoning period for modern jazz. You worked with Stan Tracey a lot, and I understand that Don did as well... You and Don have played together for several decades, what would be some of the more memorable moments?

AT: We were both fortunate in having caught the attention of Stan Tracey who employed us in his various groups, notably the Octet and Big Band from the '60s onwards. Those were heady days and it’s difficult to single out any particular concert but of the highlights. I do remember the first performance of Stan’s The Bracknell Connection in Berkshire, his Queen Elizabeth Hall big band concert and many performances at Neil Ferber’s late lamented Appleby Festival. Don dragged himself back from the brink of ill health in 1995 when he was commissioned to write a suite for a big band.

The performances of his Pennine Suite were always special concerts, as well as the unfortunately infrequent performances of the Three Tenors outfit which included the wonderful Mornington Lockett. (Don was featured on the cover of the 3 Tenors CD in the guise of his doppelgänger Luciano Pavarotti).

Another high point was the Octet’s tour with the Gil Evans Orchestra when, as a result of Michael Brecker’s indisposition, Don, accepting the ultimate accolade, stepped into the great man’s chair with considerable aplomb; so much so that after the week had ended, Don toured and recorded with Gil’s trumpet player at the time – Hannibal Marvin Peterson.



LGT:  Both you and Don are saxophonists, and there will be a couple of other noted sax players at this tribute show, including Alan Barnes and Mornington Lockett. Do you have a way to explain the differences in style between the four of you? 

AT: Tackling the question of different styles of Don, Mornington, Alan and me is a tricky one. Of course we all sound different and I’m sure that, in a blindfold test, the majority of jazz fans would be able to tell us apart. Many factors involved: I’ve already mentioned that Don and I are largely self-taught whereas Alan Barnes got a first class degree at Leeds College of music and I believe Mornington was the first jazz musician to graduate from music school with the tenor saxophone as his main instrument. I’ve always maintained that a formal musical education does give you an edge, although lack of it certainly hasn’t done Don any harm! Practice also must come into it. I feel if I don’t practice to certain extent, I can’t improve, whereas Don seems to get by without practising in between gigs. I remember him telephoning me one day during my practice period. He was astounded. “Practice? That’s cheating!"

Another, probably apocryphal, story about Don’s practising, relates to his being asked how he managed to play so well when he had a few drinks, to which Don replied “I only practise when I’ve had a few drinks...”

I’m a little uncertain about this but in view of his formidable technique I think it likely that Mornington practises a lot, but despite this solitary woodshedding he never for an instant sounds glib or facile. I’m also unsure of Alan Barnes’ modus operandi but he’s such a natural musician that he is always instantly recognisable. We all have different heroes from whom we have picked up different aspects of their playing, all of which contributes to the subtle variations in our approach to the music. Another factor responsible for us all sounding so different is the legacy of dear Adolphe Sax. He created an instrument that is so idiosyncratic that, although it was never his intention, it lends itself to jazz more than any other horn.

I can never quite analyse what happens on stage. There’s always a magical chemistry about jazz so that, if you’re playing with another saxophone player, something inevitably rubs off with the result that the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.




LGT: Don founded the innovative jazz/rock outfit Major Surgery in the '70s. (CD review). Rock music was clearly on the ascent during that time and I'm wondering what its influence was on jazz music (for good or ill)!

AT: We all have had flirtations with other genres of music and Don is no exception. Major surgery did have a more commercial appeal but its material was pretty much jazz based. Don’s natural integrity does not allow him to compromise and, whether not he is belting out a no-holds-barred blues solo or some complicated Coltrane-type chord progression, it’s still his own voice that we are hearing. I don’t believe the that music can be pigeonholed; some of us may stick to one particular genre but Alan Barnes, for example, has the ability and versatility to encompass many styles of music without compromising his jazz credentials.

There’s a true story about our own Henry Lowther, the trumpet-player who, after appearing at the Woodstock festival – yes THE Woodstock festival – with the Keef Hartley (rock) band, went on to do a gig on the West Coast of America. At the time Miles Davis was playing to a half-empty jazz club down the street. Miles came into Hartley’s gig and enquired of Henry how come he had managed to pull such a large audience. Henry gently explained “It’s the blues man” or words to that effect. Miles went away, changed his stage persona, added a few electronic instruments and the rest is history.

I think we all help each other...

LGT: What inspired you to organise this event at this particular time?

AT: Any credit for organising this tribute should go to Steve Rubie who, modestly as ever, has agreed to host this event. Also the original idea was Andrew Cleyndert’s. In the words of the late Peter King, the business brain behind Ronnie Scotts Club, “We are all a family.” Making a few phone calls was all that was needed to organise this event. Don being such a well-loved figure, everyone was more than willing to give their services.

LGT: If you had to briefly sum up how you regard Don as a musician, colleague and friend, what would you say?

AT: Don is unquestionably my favourite British saxophone player. I can do no better than to quote the words of The Observer’s Dave Gelly reproduced in the 606 Club’s programme for September: “Tenor saxophonist Don Weller was, and is, among the true originals of British jazz with his cavernous sound and utterly unpredictable turn of phrase.”

It is an understatement to say that Don is well loved. He is a man of few words with an idiosyncratic vocabulary. As a mark of the esteem in which he is held we have all tried to imitate his characteristic and untranslatable expression of “Oooowheeeee” which has passed into common jazz parlance. Don was devoted to his wife Di, and, during her long terminal illness he would, without fail, make the journey across town involving four bus journeys to visit her daily. Anyone who has listened to the rendition of his composition Di’s Waltz cannot fail to be deeply moved. I regard him as a true friend and incomparable musical compadre.

Laura G Thorne is the 606 Club's Marketing Manager

LINK: Tribute to Don Weller at the 606 Club

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NEWS: Moss Freed has a new large band, and more…

Union Division
Publicity collage

Peter Bacon reports:

It seems that guitarist and composer Moss Freed has been a busy man in the past few months. His latest e-newsletter has landed so if you don’t subscribe to that, let me update you.

Firstly, there’s a new band, called Union Division. Mr Freed writes: “I have formed a new ensemble! It’s big. Between 7 – 18 improvisers at any point, and I’ve developed an approach over the last year that breaks open enshrined ideas of musical power dynamics and allows individual players to coordinate each other and to structure pieces in real time. It’s a kind of hive-mind composing that seems to have not been done before quite like this. I’m really excited that it’s finally ready to launch.”

Playing with Moss Freed (guitar) will be Elliot Galvin (piano), Otto Willberg (double bass), Rachel Musson (tenor sax), Chris Williams (alto sax), Sam Eastmond (trumpet), Laura Jurd (trumpet), Rosanna Ter-Berg (flutes), PA Tremblay (electronics), Tullis Rennie (trombone), Brice Catherin (cello), James Maddren (drums) and Will Glaser (drums).

Here is a taster:



The leader says: “That’s a line up that makes me very happy.”

And where can we hear this many-splendored thing in the flesh?

“We debut at City, University of London on 11 September 2018 at 7pm. It’s FREE (I do love universities…) but you’ll need to reserve seats.”

And, in other Moss Freed news:

The Book Beriah:  “A huge moment for me in recent weeks was seeing my name in the credits on the back of the new John Zorn vinyl, alongside Bill Frisell. The record is a kind of ‘best of’ Masada Book 3, the final instalment of Zorn’s 25-year Masada project, and features one track from each of the records that comprise this third book, including our Spike Orchestra contribution, Binah. Apparently the Beriah box set is now ready so you can order all 11 records. Check out the PledgeMusic page and hear some sample tracks (including Levushim from our record).”

Let Spin: “The new record is in the very final stages of mixing now and is sounding massive. We recorded this at the University of Hull and have been working closely with engineer/mixer/producer Alex Killpartrick throughout the process. We all took more risks with the writing, challenging habits and taking the group sound to new territory. A couple of dates for your diaries - Lancaster Jazz Festival on 15 September and the Vortex in London on 16 September, both with Liran Donin on bass.”

LINK: Moss Freed’s website

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LP REVIEW: Erroll Garner – Nightconcert


Erroll Garner – Nightconcert
(Mack Avenue MAC1142LP. LP Review by Peter Jones)


Let us now praise Gretchen Carhartt Valade, boss of the Carhartt workwear company and founder nearly 20 years ago of Detroit’s Mack Avenue record label. Mack Avenue has become the home for such important artists as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Kenny Garrett, Stanley Jordan, Christian McBride and the Yellowjackets. They have also released music from jazz deities like George Shearing and now, with this largely unheard live concert recording, the mighty Erroll Garner. (Eight of the recordings were previously released outside the USA, but shorn of Garner’s inventive introductory statements, about which more below.)

Nightconcert is a lavish project: it consists of a double LP housed in a beautifully designed gatefold sleeve, with a thoughtfully-written and handsomely illustrated booklet, and including a reproduction of the programme notes in their original typewritten form. Not so much was known about what the great man was going to play on the night: the full description reads: "PROGRAM – First Group of Improvisations. Intermission. Second Group."

No matter. Just before midnight on 7 November, 1964, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Garner took the stage with his collaborators of the last decade, bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. One of the things that becomes immediately apparent is the sheer range of Garner’s playing, from the slick upswing of Where Or When and On Green Dolphin Street to the syncopated latin rhythms of Night And Day to the gorgeous, rippling balladry of Over The Rainbow. And genius though he was, like Oscar Peterson, Garner was also a crowd-pleaser. Not for him the hunched introspection of Bill Evans or the academic time signatures of Brubeck. The mood is warm and inclusive. Yes, the repertoire is a little hackneyed by today’s standards, but this was more than half a century ago. And the standards are interspersed with a couple of his own compositions – Theme From A New Kind of Love, Amsterdam Swing and No More Shadows.

Garner never learned to read music, but had a phenomenal memory for what he heard – the essential quality for an ‘ear-player’. His signature dragging of the right-hand while the left keeps more regular time is less in evidence here than on some of his earlier recordings, although you can hear it on A New Kind Of Love. He often invents intros that disguise what is to follow, teasing the audience and inviting bursts of applause once the familiar tune emerges. This is particularly notable on My Funny Valentine: following a strange intro sequence of big thumping chords, he gives the tune a rich, sweet, bluesy treatment.

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PREVIEW: Joey DeFrancesco Quartet at Herts Jazz Festival (6 October - only UK appearance in 2018)

Joey DeFrancesco
Picture from the artist's website joeydefrancesco.com

Sebastian writes: 

This year's Herts Jazz Festival has quite a coup on its hands with its Saturday 6 October headliner, one of the world greats of the Hammond organ – reviews refer to him as a “master” or “giant” or even “titan” of the instrument – Joey DeFrancesco, four-time Grammy nominee, and an alumnus (eg) of bands led by Miles Davis (who took De Franceso into his band at the age of 17), John McLaughlin and of a trio with Larry Coryell and Jimmy Cobb.

DeFrancesco will be appearing with his regular quartet, the Herts gig being the quartet’s only UK appearance this year. I interviewed him briefly last week in anticipation of it.

The quartet who will appear at the Herts Jazz Fest: DeFrancesco on keyboards, trumpet, vocals, organ, with Troy Roberts  (saxophones), Dan Wilson (guitar) and Michael Ode (drums), is in fact exactly the same group who made the album with Van Morrison You’re Driving Me Crazy, released earlier this year. The original invitation to make that album came from Van Morrison. Morrison was asked about Joey DeFrancesco and his group by the New York Times and responded: “These guys are such brilliant soloists. And Joey’s kind of like a genius in his own right.”

Press play for the title track below:



DeFrancesco was born in Springfield Pennsylvania,in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the son of an organist. Who knows if there was music in the water (there probably was), but there was certainly music in his high school class: it included bassist Christian McBride, percussionist Questlove and also the members of the vocal group Boyz to Men.

There is a Christian McBride link in the current band. The bassist became aware of guitarist Dan Wilson, from Akron, Ohio, through his work with DeFrancesco, and took him on as a member of his hard-swinging Tipp City Trio. I was captivated by their gig in Montreal and wrote in my review that I came away full of admiration for Dan Wilson’s artistry and, in particular, his “urge to play melodically and to propose all kinds of counter-melodies with ease, shape and balance. Wonderful player.”

Looking at Joey DeFrancesco’s career, the striking thing is the varied contexts in which he has appeared, and the evidence that he is entirely comfortable in harmonic contexts which are both conventional and more adventurous. In the 1990s he was in a trio with John McLaughlin: “You had to up the ante harmonically,” he remembers.

When we spoke briefly last week he came up with two short sentences which explain how and why he is so comfortable in such a wide range of idioms. Firstly his attitude is clearly one of openness: “I love all genres of music.” And when I tried to ask him about specific influences – McCoy Tyner's piano playing has been mentioned for example – he stressed that above all he listens widely: “I’m like a big sponge,” he explained.

And is there a direction of travel in his playing currently? “I find myself going in a freer direction,” he says. He enjoys the idea of the possibilities becoming ever more limitless. And will the Herts Jazz Festival audience hear a pre-determined set list? Certainly not. It will be a mixture of standards and originals, but the choices are made spontaneously on the night. And what instrument does he play? He is supplied with one of own “Legend” signature models, made by Italian manufacturer Viscount (website) .

The word "Legend" is there in raised lettering on the instrument. It also describes the player. (pp)

DETAILS: Broadway Theater, Eastcheap, Letchworth Garden City, SG6 3DD
6 October at 8pm

LINK: Bookings for Joey DeFrancesco at Herts Jazz Festival

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FEATURE: Gwilym Simcock with Joe Locke and Johannes Berauer’s Hourglass (Kings Place, 5 Sept)

Joe Locke and Gwilym Simcock
Photo credit: Monika S Jakubowska

A special concert coming up gives us the opportunity to see two exciting but contrasting groups, both featuring pianist Gwilym Simcock. For the first set, he is joined in a duo with U.S.  vibraphonist Joe Locke; for the second he is part of Austrian composer Johannes Berauer’s Hourglass ensemble. Peter Bacon looks forward to an enthralling evening...

Gwilym Simcock, pianist, composer, band leader, and sometime Impossible Gentleman, is currently touring with US jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny. He remains one of the most imaginative and acclaimed musicians and composers in the UK and he has become renowned for his solo piano performances. Joe Locke is widely considered to be one of the major voices of his instrument and has released over 30 albums as a band leader. He has received multiple awards including the Jazz Journalists’ Association ‘Mallet Instrumentalist of the Year’ award and the Hot House NYC Jazz Award for Best Vibes player.

Simcock describes the experience of working in this duo with Locke as being particularly rewarding.

“Joe is someone I’ve known for a long time but we’ve only fairly recently got to play together,” Gwilym explains. “Joe has been a regular collaborator with Tim Garland and I’ve been listening to his music for maybe 15 years. When we started playing together it really did feel like we had already been doing it for years. There are a lot of influences that we share.”

Describing Locke’s qualities as a musician, Simcock says: “It’s clear how much love and passion he puts in to what he plays. It’s not affected in any way – it’s genuine love for playing music. Putting ourselves on the line like that is really the best we can do as musicians. Working with Joe has been a great lesson in how to do this”.

Describing the resulting duo, LJN's editor/publisher Sebastian Scotney wrote in a review: “They both have the imperative to play with unbelievable rapid-fire percussiveness, to go for the adrenalin thrill, where the listener can no longer hear which bit of the texture is coming from which player". And Michael Cragg, writing in The Guardian, talks about how the pair "... balance graceful sophistication, blazing improv and tight grooves, and the musical games they play are gleefully irresistible."

The duo will play from a repertoire of original compositions and well-known standards. Joe Locke’s new album, Subtle Disguise, will be released in November, with advance copies available for purchase at the Kings Place concert.

For the second set, Simcock will return as part of award-winning, Berklee trained Austrian composer Johannes Berauer’s Hourglass ensemble, celebrating the release of the album of the same name on Basho Records.

Hourglass is Berauer’s first project for a small jazz ensemble although he considers himself to be, in essence, a jazz musician. Berauer’s previous project Vienna Chamber Diaries also featured Simcock, alongside the talents of guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel and reeds player Klaus Gesing, and he has worked as an arranger and musical director for ECM artist and oud master Anouar Brahem.

Berauer has also collaborated with British Sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta. Together they composed the music for the silent movie project King of Ghosts, originally for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, then the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. An album of this music performed by the City of London Sinfonia has just been released by Shakespeare’s Globe.

Johannes Berauer is interested in exploring the development of themes, rich and colourful harmony and the emotional effect of form. Berauer has been strongly influenced by classical composers like Bach, Messiaen or Shostakovitch. Key inspirations for the music explored with Hourglass include Indian music and the impossible illusions of MC Escher.

Berauer Hourglass
Photo Credit: Basho Music

“Although Johannes is not a performing improviser, he is really interested in the areas between composition and improvisation. In this context, you do feel a different responsibility in terms of conveying the composer’s ideas through your own playing, but there is always space for the musicians to contribute and express themselves,” Simcock explains.

The line-up of the band, whilst unique, does also draw on a longstanding musical association, with guitarist Mike Walker having collaborated extensively with Simcock as part of The Impossible Gentlemen. The ensemble also features star violinist Thomas Gould (director of the Britten Sinfonia). Drummer Bernard Schimpelsberger has developed a strong specialism in Indian music and has designed some of his own instruments. Electric bassist Martin Berauer (Johannes’ brother), now based in Paris, is a specialist in North African music.

“This is a special group with a lovely, honest energy”, Simcock says. “We’ve never all played together before this project and this is a one-off combination of players that audiences will hopefully enjoy.” (pp)



LINKS: Gwilym Simcock/Joe Locke and Johannes Berauer's Hourglass at Kings Place
Johannes Berauer's Hourglass at Basho Records

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CD REVIEW: Tony Kofi and The Organisation – Point Blank



Tony Kofi and The Organisation – Point Blank
(The Last Music Company LMCD2019. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

The sight of Tony Kofi picking up baritone sax never fails to produce a tremor of excitement – and on Point Blank, he and The Organisation fervently explore the post-bop jazz repertoire through ten choice numbers from ten artists/composers, including Wes Montgomery, McCoy Tyner, Henry Mancini and Jimmy Smith.

The Organisation – guitarist Simon Fernsby, organist Pete Whittaker and drummer Peter Cater – began life as a London-based organ trio, over a decade ago; and it was only a fortuitous depping opportunity in 2010 which brought Kofi into the mix (shortly after he had recorded in the US with Ornette Coleman), establishing this fine and peppy quartet line-up.

Indeed, it’s an eager and spirited reading of Duke Pearson’s Minor League which heralds these 55 minutes of feel-good, Kofi’s deeply growled tones combining with Fernsby’s lithe guitar, buoyed by Whittaker’s bass-bouncing organ tremolo and Cater’s cymbal-shimmering drums. Closely-matched chordal timbres from guitar and organ provide an effective exchange and mingling of textures throughout, Pepper Adams’ sprightly Bossallegro showcasing the organ trio as Kofi’s breezy melodies sail across; and his smoother baritone expressions glide over an attractive promenading groove in Dr Lonnie Smith’s LS Blues. The sumptuous orchestral romance of Henry Mancini’s Theme from Mr Lucky is exchanged for joyous swing (those gruff bari resonances so visceral), while one of McCoy Tyner’s richest compositions, Search for Peace, though perhaps less lush here than in piano-supported arrangements, possesses a pleasing jazz-club immediacy.

Guitarists Pat Martino and Wes Montgomery are represented in Cisco and Full House respectively – two confidently bustling, about-town blazers which prompt unbridled soloing – and Kofi’s fluency in the lower register is a delight. Woody Shaw’s Moontrane preens itself in true organ-trio character in the central section, with Whittaker’s pedals obviously mobile below his rippling chords and melodies. Summer in Central Park paints Horace Silver’s tune in warmer, afterglow-evoked atmospheres; and it takes something special to improve on a Jimmy Smith original, yet Ready And Able’s breathless, all-out boisterousness becomes irresistible here.

The nod to classic ‘60s jazz album covers hints at this quartet’s experienced approach. Recorded in a single day’s studio session, Kofi, Fernsby, Whittaker and Cater maintain the tradition’s relevance with impeccable focus – and, most importantly, it’s a darned good listen.

Point Blank is released this Friday 31 August.

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REVIEW: Prom 57 – Leonard Bernstein: On the Town

On the Town at the BBC Proms
Photo credit: BBC/Mark Allan

BBC Prom 57: Leonard Bernstein, On the Town
(Royal Albert Hall, 25 August 2018. Review by Leah Williams.)


On what would have been Bernstein’s 100th birthday, and as the armistice also approaches its centenary, what better way to mark this than with his first ever full-length musical On the Town? Created in 1944 in collaboration with friends – and then-unknown greats – Jerome Robbins, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, it was a musical made to delight against a backdrop of difficult times. And indeed it is light-hearted and uplifting, but it is also filled with a rich tapestry of genius moments that reveal what a pool of talent this group represented.

Doing it considerable justice, every moment of this BBC Proms concert version was infused with charisma, laughter and faultless performances. With fantastically forward-thinking writing, the plot follows three sailors in the Big Apple for one day of shore leave who find their subsequent time “on the town” dominated by strong, driven and hilarious women. With some overt role reversals, the unsuspecting men are seduced, led from nightclub to nightclub and then kissed and waved off by their new love interests.

Each character, from the lead roles through to the more peripheral figures, is full of nuance and memorable – if slightly farcical – detail. And all were displayed with comedic skill by yesterday’s cast, who threw themselves into the story whole-heartedly, embracing the slapstick and the serious equally. Similarly, every comedic motif was used to great effect, from the poor duped fiancé Pitkin’s timely entrances to the snivelling Lucy Schmeeler’s sneezes. One liners such as “sex and art don’t mix; if they did I’d have made it straight to the top” from Madame Dilly gained deserved big laughs.

Chip (Fra Free) and Hildy (Louise Dearman)
On the Town at the BBC Proms
Photo credit: BBC/ Mark Allan
  

Stage Director Martin Duncan is to be applauded for the brilliantly evocative yet minimal staging that whisked us away on the gang’s 24-hour adventure. Whether it’s Hildy’s comic use of a simple chair while effectively kidnapping the innocent Chip in her ‘taxi’ (above) or the projection of a dinosaur skeleton that later gets ‘knocked over’ in the throes of passion, the story was brought to colourful life with minimal fuss. If anything, tonight’s performers showed us that this musical is so sharply written that it barely requires any staging to allow the audience to suspend all reality and climb aboard.

John Wilson conducting On the Town
Photo credit : BBC/ Mark Allan

Who better to showcase the many dimensions of this super fun musical than conductor John Wilson, who is rightly lauded in the programme “for the vivid nature of his interpretations and the rich and colourful sounds he draws from orchestras”? The man for this job indeed. Under his expert baton, the ever-wonderful London Symphony Orchestra shone. Bernstein’s compositions play with the jazzy undertones that infused a lot of the music of the time, with beautiful, muted trumpet solos and whimsical turns of phrase creating a sound that defies being boxed into the ‘musical’ category too readily. A chance for the orchestra’s versatility to be fully showcased, with every section embodying the distinct energy of Bernstein’s music as it moved from jaunty and playful to lush and sweeping. The percussion section in particular played their roles as ‘foley artists’ excellently, really adding to the evocation of the era.

While there were many Proms debuts tonight, all the lead cast members are highly experienced across stage and screen – and it showed. Nathaniel Hackmann playing Gabey was especially seductive, with dulcet tones that transported us back to the golden Kelly and Sinatra era; the evening’s first ballad Lonely Town captivating all 6,000 members of the full-to-capacity audience.

A thoroughly enjoyable and impressive performance, On the Town kicked off the BBC Proms “bank-holiday Bernstein weekend” in serious style.

LINK: On the Town from the BBC Proms on iPlayer

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PHOTOS: Louise Balkwill Quintet – debut at the 606 Club

Louise Balkwill and Lewis Taylor
Photo credit: Trevor Clifford

Sebastian writes:

Vocalist Louise Balkwill, originally from Leicestershire, almost filled the 606 for her quintet's debut on Wednesday 22 August. For a gig in the quietest month of the year, that is an impressive achievement in itself.

She has a regular duo with Serbian-born, Cyprus-raised guitarist Stefan Melovski, and I found their two duo numbers Guess Who I Saw Today and Lush Life the most satisfying of the set I heard. Video here by Jason Brooks.



Melovski has that Tal Farlow-ish way of stretching his hands to find the most tasty and tasteful of chords, and in the duo format their balance and their timing, both musical and dramatic, were to be marvelled at. For the quintet, they were joined by the eloquent trumpet of Lewis Taylor, the fleet bass playing of Pete Komor and the cheerfully supportive drumming of Rod Oughton.

These photos are by Trevor Clifford. They capture the spirit of this well-attended debut. And if the 606 seems miraculously and unusually flooded with light in these pictures, then that must be something to do the combination of Trevor Clifford's artistry as a photographer... and Louise Balkwill's character.


Stefan Melovski
Photo credit: Trevor Clifford

Rod Oughton
Photo credit: Trevor Clifford

Lewis Taylor
Photo credit: Trevor Clifford

Pete Komor
Photo credit: Trevor Clifford

Louise Balkwill
Photo credit: Trevor Clifford

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