ROUND-UP (1): Jazz & the City 2018, Salzburg (Andreas Schaerer solo, Ben LaMar Gay and Jasper Hoiby...)

Audience waiting for the opening concert in SZENE Theater
(venue formerly known as Republic)
Photo credit: Wildbild/ Salzburg Altstadt

Jazz & the City 2018
(Various venues in Salzburg, 17-19 October 2016. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

Some unique factors make Jazz & the City a festival like no other. The backdrop is a stunningly beautiful city which happens to be crammed with music venues of many shapes and sizes, plus many other places that can host music. There is also the fact that, for the past three years since the appointment of Tina Heine as artistic director, every single event in the festival is free-admission.

The view strolling between gigs on Friday night
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

If the locals and the tourists hadn’t fully got that message about everything being free back in 2016, the news is definitely out now. There were several gigs where there were many more people trying to get in than could be accommodated. Audiences can also get into the habit of drifting from one gig to another, which works fine in a large space like the Kollegienkirche but can be an irritation in an intimate room like the Weinarchiv in the Arthotel Blauer Gans. I was in Salzburg for part of the festival, heard a bit, missed a lot, and sometimes couldn't get into things – but I did see and hear one concert which held all its audience completely and right to the end, and is definitely on my personal shortlist for gig of the year...

There is an incredible history of Salzburg as a cultural magnet... and how. I went back to Stefan Zweig's memoirs of the inter-war years Die Welt von Gestern to be reminded of the wealth of artistic people who didn't just pass through the town but went to see him at his house. The festival team has worked with that cultural magnet idea in an interesting way. It invites quite a few of artists to make use of several different performance opportunities. So they don't just get to play in their regular formations, but also do try-outs and "blind dates". A sub-editor at the Salzburger Nachrichten, the city’s main newspaper, tried to explain this concept by topping out a round-up review mainly about Makaya McCraven with a headline that still has my mind completely boggled two days later: "Jazz-Serientäter entfesseln Kräfte" (jazz serial offenders unleash forces).

There were Americans, such as McCraven and Donny McCaslin, whom I caught briefly in an absolutely packed Markussaal. Ralph Towner was on the bill too. There were Europeans from all corners of the continent – I heard some very good reports of Marilyn Mazur's gig. There was a substantial emphasis on vocalists.

Jazz & the City is also a festival where the quality and depth of the UK scene is properly valued, understood and integrated in the offering. For example, I heard Jasper Hoiby in his "blind date" duo with the Chicago-based cornet player, singer and producer Ben LaMar Gay which proved a very well-matched duo. Their gig had been fixed up on the day, but from the outset, with Hoiby providing a slow and solid pulse, there was an impressive assuredness about the collaboration. They played mostly acoustically, yet it felt complete. LaMar Gay had such variation in timbre and attack, it reminded me of the Steve Lacy dictum about all the voices he had at his disposal: "sax can moo meow speak squeak growl...". It was not just an effect. His cornet-playing was almost vocal, and conveyed or hinted at different kinds of emotion. Both players knew exactly how to ratchet up the pace and the energy as well, and there was one particularly joyous passage with Hoiby slapping on the 2 of every bar. LaMar Gay expanded the sound and the emotional palette further with both singing and synth-produced sounds.

Ben LaMar Gay and Jasper Hoiby
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Among the other Brits I missed Ian Shaw and Liane Carroll who had a duo evening at one of Salzburg's "destination" restaurants, the Kulinarium in the Peterstift, just round the corner from the Festspielhaus. Julia Biel was in town too. I did catch two of Kit Downes' five gigs at the festival, hearing the end of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra's monumental opening set in which he was guesting on Hammond, and I also witnessed him working with Swedish (Ethiopian-born) singer Sofia Jernberg. They sent some wonderfully atmospheric sounds echoing round the baroque splendour of the 1707 Kollegienkirche.

I also heard some of the set in a very tricky venue from Yellow Bird, which combines the vocalists Lucia Cadotsch and Manon Kahle. Their work on record and on video is appealing and assured, but the setting in Salzburg made them sound rather tentative. I was also disappointed by the Horns Trio led by Thomas de Pourquery.  They had a lovely hall to work in, but their slow-paced set of three intertwining melody lines just didn't hold my attention. In the same hall a couple of hours later, the Pablo Held Trio were far more impressive and interactive, and traversed many more different moods and paces.

Andreas Schaerer acknowledging the applause
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Amid the myriad impressions of the festival, and of the city, and of a Radio Jazz Research Seminar – report to fillow – my definite highlight was a solo set by Andreas Schaerer. The venue was extraordinary. The building in the Kaigasse 33 has been showing films right back to 1905, when "Frieds Original-Elektro- Biograph" opened. After the building had been bomb-damaged in World War 2, a Roman temple was discovered, and the cinema with its lavishly OTT trompe-l'oeil murals (below) now looks like a permanent tribute to the 1953 film of Julius Caesar with Marlon Brando.

Marlon Brando as Julius Caesar (?) in the Mozartkino

The concert was a delight. Schaerer's opening Swiss folksong was so vivid, one could hear the echo of the upper Rhone valley where Schaerer grew up. There was humour, there was astonishing versatility and dexterity, there were great stories and jokes, there was an acted-out song in a nonsensical through comical nonsense-high-German, through some vocal trumpet and trombone to beat-boxing, all with his phenomenal vocal range and sense of timing and comedy. Austrian Radio were on hand to record this gig; they were holed out in the cinema's tiny projection room and I look forward to hearing the results. It was nearly midnight when it finished, but the time had flown past. Schaerer knew it had gone well, and that the experience had helped him develop his show. He thanked us for having given him the courage to rely far less on effects pedals and tech stuff generally than he has done in the past. "Next time I might leave all that at home."

For a last word about Salzburg, back to Stefan Zweig: "how rich and colorful were these (autumn) days, as art and the blessed landscape mutually enhanced each other".

Sebastian was the guest of Jazz & the City/ Altstadt Marketing. We will have a second report from Ralf Dombrowski.


Interview with Tina Heine following her appointment in 2016

Opening night round-up from 2016

Sebastian’s Round-Up of the 2016 Festival

Alison Bentley’s Round-Up of the 2017 Festival (Part One)

Alison Bentley’s Round-Up of the 2017 Festival (Part Two)


FEATURE: BopFest 2018, 19 - 25 November

Grant Stewart
Photo Credit: John Abbott

One of the many delights of the London Jazz Festival is the event-within-an-event called BopFest, which this year comprises nine concerts and features top-class musicians paying tribute to some of the greatest jazz players of the 1950s and 1960s. Martin Chilton writes:

Organisers Nat Steele and Allison Neale – who have been plotting the logistics of the festival for the past 10 months – are both also playing at a festival that focuses exclusively on bebop and straight ahead jazz. “It is very broadly the jazz that was happening in America between about 1940 and 1965,” Steele tells LondonJazz News, “small group jazz where the focus is on improvising. It is quite a wide variety of music.”

The venue is the award-winning Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club & Brasserie in Kennington, London. “There is an intimate stage with a grand piano at one end and it is the perfect room for jazz,” says vibraphonist and drummer Steele.

Among the attractions is Steele’s own concert with visiting American tenor saxophone player Grant Stewart, who has performed with a host of stars including Clark Terry, Jimmy Cobb and Louis Hayes. Steele and Neale used Arts Council England funding to bring over the talented Stewart, along with sponsorship from Rubix Cube manufacturer Seven Towns and a significant private donation from a jazz fan.

“Grant is doing his own Saturday night concert with his quartet, including Rob Barron on piano, and the following day he is performing a gig with us that is an homage to the 1950s Prestige Records album Sonny Rollins with the Modern Jazz Quartet,” explains Steele. “We’ll be playing that whole album. Grant has always been a fan of the huge tenor sound of Rollins and he has been able take an influence that was so important to him and turn it into his own special thing.”

Toronto-born Stewart moved to New York as a teenager and studied with masters such as Donald Byrd and Barry Harris. In a real coup, BopFest is also getting him to run a saxophone and improvisation workshop. “He has played with absolutely everyone all over the world,” says Steele, “and has got so much knowledge to transmit to jazz players, both professional and amateur.”

Steele has been cited by Clark Tracey as one of the “best vibes players this country has ever produced” and he jokes that his training started early. “Both my parents are musicians. My dad is a jazz saxophone player and I was rooted in it,” says Steele. “From a very early age I was listening to Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker and Charlie Parker. That was all fed to me even before birth; my mum used to go to jazz concerts when she was pregnant with me so I didn’t have much choice in being a jazz fan.”

The original Prestige album being celebrated includes Milt Jackson, whom Steele calls “my favourite vibraphone player.” He adds: “When I first started out, I liked Gary Burton and I’ve ended up doing the exact opposite of that, playing two mallets instead of four. Cal Tjader is another big influence on my playing. Not long after I started playing the vibes, I got into his album from 1958, Cal Tjader-Stan Getz Sextet. It’s a brilliant album and Tjader is in incredibly heavyweight company, including Billy Higgins on drums. Another vibes favourite is Victor Feldman. He was born in London and moved to America and played with Cannonball Adderley. Feldman is such a good player and very under-rated.”

Co-organiser Allison Neale, an excellent alto saxophonist and flute player, will also feature prominently in a line-up that includes 16 bands in all. Seattle-born Neale, who has released four albums as a bandleader, is featured with her fine quartet celebrating the music of Art Pepper and Bud Shank alongside compositions from tenorists Bob Cooper and Richie Kamuca, known for their work with drummer Shelly Manne.

One of the striking features about BopFest is the range of music celebrated. The cosmopolitan nine-day festival opens on Monday 19 November with German pianist Claus Raible and Austrian tenor saxophonist Herwig Gradischnig exploring the music of great bop pianist Elmo Hope, a prodigious composer who worked with Clifford Brown. Talented young guitarist Artie Zaitz leads a Hammond organ-based combo paying homage to the Blue Note recordings of Grant Green, featuring a real Hammond C3, while the festival closes with pianist Leon Greening’s tribute to some of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger's lesser known tunes from 1958 to 1964.

Because of the vivid programme, audiences tend to be enthusiastic and diverse. “We are part of the umbrella of the EFG London Jazz Festival, so we get diverse audiences at BopFest,” says Steele. “Some of them are the die-hard jazz fans and a significant minority are people we have established as our own audience. But because the LJF is such a big festival, and so well publicised, they are incredibly good at drawing in people who aren’t necessarily jazz fans but attracted by the idea of hearing high-quality music that is new to them. There are also locals who just love the venue. One of the nice things is that age-wise BopFest gets a mixed audience, with people in their teens and early twenties, as well as an older crowd. It makes for a great atmosphere.”

When Steele and Neale first came up with the idea of BopFest in 2015, it was in a mood of adventure, to “make something happen”. Now they are an established part of the London Jazz Festival, bringing wonderful musicians from all over the world to play great bebop in London. “It’s been an amazing experience and it all grew from some small gigs in Ladbroke Grove,” adds Steele.

BopFest 2018 concerts are at Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Bar in London’s Kennington (140 Newington Butts, London SE11 4RN) from 19-25 November. For the full line-up and ticket details go to BopFest


INTERVIEW: Elina Duni (latest album Partir out on ECM; UK dates, Colchester, London and Cambridge 9-20 Nov)

Multilingual vocalist and composer Elina Duni has four UK dates in November in addition to many in Europe in the closing months of 2018. She spoke to LondonJazz News Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon about what her many languages mean to her, the themes within her music, and performing as part of a group and solo.

LondonJazz News: On your latest ECM release, Partir, you sing in nine different languages. Is there a language you consider your “first”? 

Elina Duni: I speak five languages and I have a special relationship to each one: I would say Albanian is my core language, it is my humour and I feel my deepest emotions here. French is my intellect, my understanding of complexity, abstraction as well as the French sense of irony. In other words: my French is Serge Gainsbourg! However, I also feel very close to English because of all the lyrics I’ve been singing and listening to since I was 10, and I feel at home in Italian because I grew up with Rai Uno as a child in communist Albania. And finally German is for me a “castle that never surrenders”, I feel it so close and so far. The other languages on the album that I can really relate to are Portuguese, because of the French and Italian connection and because of the Mediterranean “saudade” (melancholia) and I also feel Yiddish very deeply as it’s so close to old German. And finally, I find Arabic and Armenian to be otherworldly, wonderful sounds that I try to enjoy whilst I sing in them.

LJN: Of your three recordings for ECM, the first, Matanë Malit (2012), was an homage to the country of your birth, Albania; the second, Dallëndyshe (2015), focused on exile; and this year’s Partir concerns itself with songs of parting. Do these themes reflect your own circumstances/preoccupations at the time of making them? Have they been in some respects, a way of reconciling yourself to difficult circumstances in your life?

ED: Yes, absolutely. Partir began as a reflection upon the end of a lengthy love story. It also resonated with my own personal exile from Albania when I was 10, and finally it is a nod to all refugees leaving their homes, with no belongings apart from their memories and having no choice but to trust the unknown. I always felt that departing was an essential element of life, and it encompasses varying degrees of tragedy. The way we have to subsequently reconstruct ourselves, to believe in the future, is universal. It is a journey from pain to joy, from being torn apart to feeling whole again. This is why on stage, where I read texts to accompany the songs, I talk about Kintsugi (the Japanese art of gluing broken porcelain with gold). To me, this is a metaphor of the human soul and a hymn to the cracks that finally define us more than anything else.

LJN: The South African poet Breyten Breytenbach (himself an exile for many years) talked about how one develops one’s sense of colour and of light in the first five years or so of one’s life, so living in exile (inevitably in different light and surrounded therefore by different colours) has a sense of dislocation built into it at the most immediate sensory level. Do you agree, and do you think that sense of dislocation extends to sound/music?

ED: I understand and empathise with what Breytenbach says with regards to the senses, as I also often experience the sensation of a sound or a smell directly transporting me in time, dislocating me from where I am, taking me instantly back to childhood, to a world that no longer exists.
That being said, my experience with Albanian folk music was very different. I started to work on it during my 20s and before playing it with my quartet I had no idea that this sound world was present within me; I discovered my voice through it, like a key that I unknowingly possessed, and I also experienced for the first time in my life a feeling of unity. I felt two worlds collide: Albanian fire & Swiss wisdom! 
It totally astonished me as this was happening at the same moment that I was realising it. I would therefore say I had a sense of relocation with the music we made in my quartet. It gave me the tools to know who I was and where I was going.

LJN: You made four albums and toured with your Quartet. What prompted the move to a solo album? Do you enjoy having complete control over the performance of Partir? Or is touring Partir a little more lonely? Do you miss the band?

ED: In 2016, when I conceived the idea of Partir, the future of my quartet was uncertain and I had no other projects on the go. I needed to focus on the solitude that I was somehow so afraid of. Partir started initially as a performance piece and then when Manfred Eicher said he wanted to record it I was simultaneously excited and frightened. For 18 months, from the begining of the project to the recording session, I felt like a monk practising in a monastery. It was the first time in my life that I had to deal at length with myself, to take decisions, to listen to myself, to correct the errors of my ways and to accept my own limitations. Thus, Partir was (and still is) a novel journey. It made me understand a lot about myself and it made me appreciate playing with other musicians in a group context on a higher level. At the moment, my quartet lies dormant, neither performing nor recording. I’m happy with the several other musical projects that I’m embarking upon and I’m trying to extend my musicianship as much as possible. I was so happy to play with the three amazing musicians in my quartet (Colin Vallon, Patrice Moret and Norbert Pfammatter) for over 10 years.

LJN: Your UK dates in November are a mix of solo ones and your new duo with guitarist Rob Luft. Tell us about the duo – can we expect a recording from you and Rob in the future? And do you have any themes in mind for that?

ED: The duo with Rob was born out of a series of workshops in Lausanne as part of the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation in March 2017. We met there and instantly formed a strong musical connection which slowly burgeoned into the "Songs of Love and Exile" project that we’ve been touring since October 2017. Essentiallly, this duo is an expansion of my Partir solo programme, which involves a slightly more expansive soundworld through Rob’s use of electronics & effects. Also, as we’ve been performing in the UK a little, we’ve started to include some Irish & American folk songs to further explore the world of folk music. What’s more, throughout this ongoing tour, we’ve been inviting selected special guests to join us on stage, for example we were lucky enough to have Kit Downes with us in London, Fred Thomas came to play piano and percussion in Hamburg and the great Enzo Zirilli played drums with us in Kosovo. I couldn’t possibly make any definite comments upon a recording for this duo, but having had such a wonderful year of concerts together, it would be a shame not to make a recording, in our opinion! (pp)

Elina Duni’s upcoming UK concerts:

9 Nov: Fleece Jazz, Colchester, Elina Duni & Rob Luft feat. Fred Thomas
16 Nov: Cadogan Hall, EFG London Jazz Festival, Elina Duni & Rob Luft (support for Tord Gustavsen) (almost sold out)
18 Nov: Omnibus Theatre Clapham Common, EFG London Jazz Festival, Elina Duni & Rob Luft (sold out)
20 Nov: Cambridge Jazz Festival, Elina Duni & Rob Luft

LINKS: Elina Duni's website, including full European tour dates

A recent live review of Elina Duni and Rob Luft with guest Kit Downes

Partir CD review


INTERVIEW: Dave Mowat (Bristol European Jazz Ensemble, performances in Nottingham and Bristol, Nov 2018 to Jan 2019)

Dave Mowat
Photo credit: Geoff Corris
Bristol-based trumpeter and composer DAVE MOWAT has a history of establishing intriguing collaborations and projects. Mike Collins spoke to him about his Bristol European Jazz Ensemble (BEJE) as they embark on a new series of gigs:

LondonJazz News: You’re about to get the Bristol European Jazz Ensemble (BEJE) out and about again. What’s the history of the group, tell us how it started and a bit about the music.

Dave Mowat: BEJE started when I felt ready to make my own jazz statement again. Bristol jam sessions were a mecca for musicians from all over the world like tenor player Frenchman Julien Alenda and Italian bassist Pasquale Votino. We’d all worked with Swedish-Syrian pianist Anders Olinder. Jams are where I met guitarist and now oud player Knud Stuwe and altoist Len Aruliah. Then I thought of the concept of a band of European musos based in Bristol. I count myself in with them as I’m Swiss on my mother’s side. Julien put me on to young Tony Williams-like Italian drummer Paolo Adamo, also new to Bristol six years or so ago.

I’d been writing music all along so needed an outlet. It reflected my life’s ups and downs: a walking pilgrimage’s adventures, the birth of a daughter, feelings about Palestine and the Middle East I’d visited several times, and musically it had all my influences: Miles, Masekela, Gil Scott Heron, the freeform ecstasy of Coltrane, Sun Ra and Keith Tippett for instance, but also hymns.

Our first proper gig was in the summer of 2014 at The Fringe Bristol. BEJE was busy for a couple of years, making 2 CDs. A high point was working with Dutch singer Anne Chris whom I’d met at Jazzahead in Bremen in 2015.

LJN: You’re not someone who stands still. BEJE have been quieter the last couple of years, what else have you been up to?

DM: BEJE was quiet because I’ve been focussing on my other band Chai For All. A project to combine klezmer, Arabic music (about) the Balfour Declaration of 1917 received Arts Council funding, toured, made a CD, and was immediately followed by another project looking into the relationship of Palestinians to their land (claimed by Israel). You can imagine the huge amount of effort complexity and sensitivity involved in tours, collaborations with Palestinian and Israeli musicians, visas and so on. So fun jazz was on a back burner.

LJN:  And now BEJE are back in action. I think there's a refreshed line-up? Who’s in the band now and what difference has that made?

DM: Yes, there’s a fresh line-up. The original team of Anders, Pasquale and Julien are still on some gigs. Ana Gomez, who is on piano for most forthcoming gigs is a phenomenal classical interpreter of Debussy. She listens a lot and gives space. Guillaume Ottaviani, from Paris, on bass, is joining us for some gigs. He’s (worked) with Paolo on drums (in) Afro-roots band Mankala. Len Aruliah is staying on from previous gigs and knows best where I’m coming from. I love his searing committed playing. All in all, I find the new band refreshingly open to exploring jazz that isn’t swung necessarily and that supports the spoken word. In the set is a spoken word funk-ballad about European identity ‘EURip’, based on band members’ reflections on the place that formed them most. It’s a new wine-skins for new wine kind of a band.

LJN: And what are the plans, what’s coming up?

We’re due to play at a new Nottingham jazz diner, Peggy’s Skylight on 10 November, Bristol’s BeBop Club on 23 November and Salt Café 9 December. More dates in the pipeline for next year.

LJN: I heard a whisper that you’re extending the collaboration beyond Europe next year? 

Ah yes. I met guitarist Sangyeon Park and singer-pianist Yunmi Kang in June in Bristol and we hit it off immediately. From South Korea but trained in Germany and the Netherlands, their jazz is gentle introspective and polished. We’ll create a band playing theirs and my pieces with a BEJE rhythm section of Federico Leonori on bass and Paolo Adamo.

The first tour is coming up in January 2019. And longer-term we have ambitions to create a new Korean-European hybrid jazz music telling something of the Korean story perhaps like I’ve done for Israel-Palestine, but it’s early days. In January it’ll be a straight-ahead jazz tour building our relationship first. We’ll make an album at the time.

You can hear us at The Fringe Bristol on Wednesday 23 Jan, or Peggy’s Skylight Nottingham on 25 Jan and at Taunton CIC on Saturday 26 Jan.

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

LINK: BEJE website 


REVIEW: Trench Brothers at Brighton Dome

A scene from Trench Brothers
Photo credit: Clive Barda
Trench Brothers
(Brighton Dome, 17 October 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)

As we near the centenary of Armistice Day, arts education organisation HMDT Music’s affecting music theatre work Trench Brothers raises awareness of the contribution that members of the Indian army and British West Indian Regiment (BWIR) made during the First World War. Since 2014 the touring project has involved 50 schools, 3,000 children and 20 composers. Children learn about the real life stories of Khudadad Khan, the first Muslim awarded the Victoria cross, Flight Lieutenant Hardit Singh Malik, the first Sikh fighter pilot to join the Royal Flying Corps, and the sad story of Herbert Morris, a young Jamaican with the BWIR who suffered from shell shock and was shot for desertion.

The story of Trench Brothers centres on the friendship between two ethnic minority soldiers. Operatic voice Damian Thantrey plays the fictionalised figure of Daulat Khan, serving with the 69th Scinde Rigles, and experimental jazz vocalist Cleveland Watkiss MBE plays Norman Manley, a black British soldier serving with the Royal Artillery. Promoted to Sergeant (non-Commissioned Officer), Manley met with such racism that he asked to give up his stripes and change regiment. Watkiss has played this part 45 times on tour. Using theatre, puppetry, songs, with 250 school children from local primary schools, this concluding concert expanded the piece from 30 to 75 minutes, taking place in the Brighton Dome, which was chosen because it had served as an Indian Military Hospital during the war, making the concert a homecoming of sorts.

The bulk of the music is credited to jazz-classical stalwart Julian Joseph and stage composer Richard Taylor, with other pieces by Michael Betteridge, Matthew King, James Redwood, Jenny Gould and Omar Shahryar. In Julian Joseph’s jazzy ballad Duet Of Norman And Edna, a letter exchange is arranged as a beautiful tender classic-sounding jazz ballad. Beginning “Dearest Norman, I miss you so much…” it tugs at the heartstrings. A substantial part of the evening are these "letter songs" adapted by librettist and HMDT Creative Director Tertia Sefton-Green from students’ “letters home” written in workshops. At the 1700-seater Brighton Dome, the kids were grouped in the choir seats behind the stairs and on the gallery seats on either side of the stage, with different groupings singing the letters. These have all the poignancy, humour, sadness, bitterness and gritty historical detail that you would expect, from the blackly humorous “I’m afraid of getting nits so I keep my turban on!” to the heartbreakingly bald statement “I don’t want to be here any more.”

The visual image of the two ‘Trench Brothers’ sticks in the mind. Their song Trench Brothers, with its pastiche of the cloyingly chirpy period style, shares a unifying interracial message: “Trench Brothers together/one weapon, one gun.” It works well with the two men, and especially well with all the kids when it’s reprised at the end with all its eminently singable gusto. The children’s singing is irresistibly cute throughout, in spite of the grim subject matter. The injunction in one of the letters to “Be a child while you still can” takes on a breath-shortening urgency and irony sung by 250 children in a world that seems at times only to be getting irredeemably darker.

Arts education organisation HMDT Music have form for taking on projects with big themes – their previous project dealt with the children of the holocaust – but what can we take away the war to end wars that merely became a First World War of two, and of how many more? It’s hard to find much to inspire hope. In a silent phase, in front of a banner of poppies, the children stack their hand-puppets – their bodies – on the stage. At first the moment seems like an awkward longeur, but as the silence lengthens it grows profound. Following a bleak offstage reprise of It’s A Long Way To Rawalpindi, the scene fades to black.

It’s an affecting moment. A century on, historical amnesia seems to have set in among our rulers, again. It's good that our children are learning about war – the brighter moments as well as the darker – and that they are making the kinds of connections that Trench Brothers draws attention to.

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


REPORT: Fiona Monbet Quartet and Stéphane Kerecki Quartet at Jazz Sur Seine Showcase Night in Paris

Fiona Monbet with Damien Varaillon (left)
and Laurent Derache (right)
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Fiona Monbet Quartet and Stéphane Kerecki Quartet
(Jazz Sur Seine Showcases, Sunset and Duc des Lombards, Paris, 16 October 2018. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

The Jazz sur Seine showcase night is an annual event where Paris Jazz Club, the publicly funded umbrella marketing organization for almost all the jazz clubs in the Paris region, is en fête and en gloire. All the clubs around the rue des Lombards near Les Halles are free-admission for the night, and the whole area teems and throngs with people.

Nightfall in the rue des Lombards on the showcase night
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney
Last year I had the amazing fortune to get the very best seat in the house in the Duc des Lombards for Didier Lockwood. The violinist was driving and motivating a young trio who had come up through the ranks of his music school (REVIEWED). He was on superb, dominant, unforgettable form.

But what a difference a year makes. His utterly unexpected death in February at the age of just 62 sent a shock-wave right through the French jazz community. It was somehow fitting that last night the first of the showcases in the basement club Sunset was by a quartet led by his “spiritual daughter”, the violinist Fiona Monbet.

I have heard her once before, performing with the Man Overboard quintet in rural Cambridgeshire in 2016 (REVIEWED). This was an opportunity to hear her on her own terms. She has phenomenal violin technique (Thomas Gould is a huge fan and it was he who originally made me aware of her).

Whether at the opening of the gig, or on the album's first tune Valse (waltz), the listener is dropped straight into familiar Grappelli/Lockwood territory. The tune could be a cousin of Toots Thielemans’ Bluesette, and Monbet has all the freedom, the joy, the delightfully free attack and delay, and surprise of those great players. But there is also more. What emerged last night is a deep knowledge of both Irish folk (her mother is Irish) and Middle-Eastern leanings too. There is a sense of her being stylistically free, not in the sense of searching or exploring, but that she has many different fully-formed characters to reveal.

The eclectic mix suits guitarist Sébastien Giniaux too. He is a fine player who is really capable of holding attention. And in Laurent Derache she also has as melodic sparring partner an extremely versatile accordionist capable of adding colour, sharing a melodic line, or of stepping forward as soloist. Damien Varaillon is a subtle, less-is-more, completely supportive bassist. Varaillon and Monbet herself were the only permanent elements to feature on both the CD and this showcase. And what that brought to the fore was quite how strong her musical presence is.

Things are happening. She has now been signed by an effective manager. She has just released an album Contrebande. This was a very fine gig which created a buzz, and it is not difficult to predict that Monbet’s star is about to rise, and very substantially.

A packed Duc des Lombards waiting for
Stéphane Kerecki's quartet 
I also attended another of the showcases, the quartet of bassist Stéphane Kerecki. I reviewed an album way back in 2010 (LINK) and wrote that I found his "tuning, presence and sound fabulous". He is a decisive yet sensitive bass player and that ethos ran through his band. Saxophonist Julian Lourau (on Kerecki's new album the saxophone is the more extrovert Emile Parisien) also has that ideal combination of power and delicacy. Drummer Fabrice Moreau clearly understands and complements Kerecki's powerful subtlety, leaving pianist/keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin to inhabit the anarchic/ free electron/ questioner role. Perhaps every band needs one, and Dumoulin's presence is an assurance that surprises are in store.

Coming away from an evening, I can't avoid the wish that our London scene, which has more going on, could be a little more joined up, and thereby a little more... Parisian.

Jazz sur Seine continues until 27 October


CD REVIEW: Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra – Jazz Planets

Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra – Jazz Planets: A Tribute To Gustav Holst and Duke Ellington, arranged by Peter Long
(Right Track Records 2018. CD review by Frank Griffith) 

Peter Long's latest Echoes of Ellington recording marks the centenary of Gustav Holst's premiere of his innovative The Planets suite which has proven to be enduringly  popular and highly influential. Long has reworked each planet through his "DukeBillity" lens portaying each orb with distinctive soloists from the band.

These include alto saxophonist Colin Skinner (Johnny Hodges), tenorist Mike Hall (Paul Gonsalves) and the baritone sax of Jay Craig (Harry Carney). The plunger tombone of Chris Traves (Quention Jackson) shines and sputters as does the fleet and fit trumpet of James Davidson (Clark Terry) to great effect. In addition, pianist, Colin Good, demonstrates a spirited nod to Ellington and Strayhorn on Uranus as does the leader's clarinet on his tour de force delivery on Neptune (Jimmy Hamilton).

This Ducal treatment is definitely not Lo Cal with Long's sumptious and calorie-rich harmonies infused with meaty rhythmic figures upping the stakes for all aboard. Elington's music contains a unique blend of contrast and contradictions. While visceral and elegant it also demonstrates a seamless mix of the traditional and progressive amidst plenty of shouting, bridged with intimately reflective passages. This is music that is unique and refined yet earthy and exciting.

Long explains: "Ellington and Holst share the abilty to pull off the same clever trick. Both composers use a very high amount of sohisticated harmony and rhythm but have the abilty to infuse the whole thing with a high level of humanity with their abilties as melodicists. It's this, and the extra magic ingredient of 'genius' that hooks the listener in."

Long's stable of like minded players has done an amazing job delivering this landmark achievement performing with unbridled creativity while embracing Ellingtonia at every turn. A universal truth indeed. This Gustav is Good Stuff!



NEWS: 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Award winners

Jazz Ensemble of the Year: ARQ (from left): Diane McLoughlin, Buster Birch,
 Alison Rayner, Steve Lodder and Deirdre Cartwright
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

The winners of the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards were announced last night at a special shindig at Plzza Express’s Holborn jazz club. The awards are organised by the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group (APPJAG) with the support of PizzaExpress Live.

And the winners are:

Jazz Vocalist of the Year: Ian Shaw
Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year: Arun Ghosh
Jazz Album of the Year: Denys Baptiste – The Late Trane
Jazz Ensemble of the Year: ARQ – Alison Rayner Quintet
Jazz Newcomer of the Year: Shirley Tetteh
Jazz Venue of the Year: Jazz At The Lescar in Sheffield
Jazz Media Award: Lance Liddle – Bebop Spoken Here
Jazz Education Award: Jean Toussaint
Services to Jazz Award: Jill Rodger
Special APPJAG Award: Gary Crosby OBE

Kelvin Hopkins MP, APPJAG Co-Chairman, said: “The Parliamentary Jazz Awards are a great way for MPs and Peers of all political parties to show their support for British jazz by recognising and honouring the amazing musical talent we have in our country. From established stars to fresh new talent, the range and diversity of this year’s winners shows the vibrancy and creativity of British jazz. We are extremely grateful once again to PizzaEpress Live for supporting the Awards.”

Compére for the evening was Ross Dines of PizzaExpress Live, “This has been a really strong year for the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in terms of talent and nominations. The well deserved recipients are a veritable who’s who of names that have made a real impact on the music and helped make the UK one of the world’s leading jazz territories”.

The Parliamentary Band on the evening comprised Max Brittain, Alison Rayner, Henry Lowther, Fraser Smith and Sophie Alloway.

Full list of 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Award nominees


INTERVIEW: Jason Moran (James Reese Europe and The Absence of Ruin, UK dates plus JazzFest Berlin)

James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters
Photo credit: Underwood Archives/Getty Images
(specifically cleared for our use by promoter)

Composer, pianist and visual JASON MORAN has produced an original response to the extraordinary story of James Reese Europe (1880-1919) and the Harlem Hellfighters, and how France was introduced to the sounds of jazz in the final year of the First World War. There will be performances of the show, entitled James Reese Europe and The Absence of Ruin in the UK in late October and early November, and it is set to be one of the major events of JazzFest Berlin on November 3. Interview by Rachel Coombes:

On New Year's Day 1918 one of America’s most respected bandleaders, James Reese Europe, landed in Brittany with his military band The Harlem Hellfighters, introducing France for the first time to the sound of New York jazz, amidst the horrors of the First World War. This autumn the American jazz pianist, composer and visual artist Jason Moran has set himself the challenge of reimagining the occasion, paying homage to the momentous impact that this visionary musician and his players had on the course of jazz’s global development.

The Absence of Ruin is a musical and audiovisual story of wartime bravery, racial integration and individual heroism. Having been a darling of high society in New York from the 1910s onwards – during which time he founded and ran the highly successful Clef Club for African-American musicians – James Reese Europe swapped his established life in the U.S. for France’s frontline. Moran aims to cast much-needed light on the man, following on from similar projects he has undertaken on Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk.

“Sometimes I think that artists as multi-faceted as Fats Waller, Monk, and Europe deserve a ‘deeper-dive’”, Moran explains. “Their music is only one layer of the complexity of who they are and the era in which they lived. But more specifically, they all have a relationship to Harlem, the neighbourhood in which I’ve lived for the past 25 years; these projects are slowly painting a portrait of Harlem and its men.”

It seems curious, given his extraordinary talent and personal story, that Europe is not a name recognisable to many. This is, of course, why Moran feels that time is right to re-establish his status, during the centenary year of the conflict’s end.

“The public has paid more attention to the people that Europe influenced, such as Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake and, of course, Duke Ellington. Yet Europe caused jazz culture to really blow up; he’s comparable to, say, Jelly Roll Morton, although Morton lived longer to tell his stories himself. Europe was murdered at 39 years old, a year after returning from France. But his effect is long-lasting and that’s what we want to pay attention to with this project.”

Jason Moran
Publicity picture

It is a hard task for the modern listener to comprehend the significance of this transatlantic musical journey, and perhaps even harder to imagine the arduous circumstances under which Europe performed with his Hellfighters.

“We can definitely say that this was the first time that jazz was heard outside the US – and certainly the first time that a large ensemble like this had travelled across the water,” says Moran. “I keep thinking about these musicians who were on the frontline: they would go off and play a concert having literally just put their life on the line. The players truly got to understand, having arrived in this foreign country, what the power of their music actually was. Before this they’d been playing in front of their peers and their fans; but witnessing the audience appreciate their music across the Atlantic for the first time must have profoundly affected the way in which they felt this music could impact a community. They performed not only in standard concerts, at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées for example, but also in hospitals for the wounded. It’s hard to think of any comparable situation. It would be like Kendrick Lamar today starting a band and going into a warzone.”

Moran will perform with his own trio The Bandwagon, alongside young British players from the Tomorrow's Warriors stable. Together they will trace the jazz historical line from Europe’s performances in France to the music of later artists whom he influenced, from James P. Johnson to Mary Lou Williams. As with much of his work, Moran has turned to the visual arts to bring his thoughts to their full conception. This time he is collaborating with filmmakers John Akomfrah and Bradford Young to bring a cinematic component to the performance. “John and Bradford have so much experience in capturing images and histories of trauma. Part of what I want the audience to understand here in the show is a person’s relationship to their landscape. The project is called ‘The Absence of Ruin’ – when we think about a ‘ruin’ we conjure up images of Ancient Greece or Rome; this concert is a meditation on the ruins that James Reese Europe leaves. Because music is fleeting, it sets him in a different kind of space.”

Expanding on the way in which his forays into other disciplines have helped him see his own music’s potential, Moran explains: “Spending 14 years working with artists such as Joan Jonas [he was most recently involved in a Tate Modern collaboration with her – Geoff Winston's review for LJN] has really changed my mind about how music works, and helped define the kind of work that I’ve made. I’ve also witnessed the effect of what the music is outside of ‘jazz’ circles. I think there’s a special attraction that music has always had to people who are looking for abstraction... there’s something that music can narrate even without using text, it paints another kind of picture.”

As someone with the eye of a visual artist, Moran is acutely attuned to the ambiance of jazz’s physical performance spaces.

“About two years ago I started making sculptures and installations based on old New York jazz clubs which don’t exist anymore. I spent a summer in Rome and watched how the city continues to unearth its very complicated and sordid history – it made me feel that there was something to unearth myself in terms of thinking about where we play our music and who we play it for. Those components really make a great concert – the music, the people and the place.

"So, in the past week I was examining a photograph of James Reese Europe conducting, and I noticed that on his conductor’s stand there was a box draped with the American flag. He stands on the flag as he conducts. That’s a powerful visual statement. Rarely do I wish to go back in time, but I do wish to know why he stood on the flag – it’s complicated for him because he’s a performer who was also trying to get rid of the grey area around the portrayal of black identity on stage, for example in vaudeville shows. That’s the complex nature of a figure like Europe – and that’s what we’re going to dive into.” (pp)

The show is co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, Serious and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, with support from the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.  

Producing partners are Berliner Festspiele / Jazzfest Berlin and the Federal Agency for Civic Education, Germany and Renfrewshire Leisure.


London (Barbican, 30 October) 
Cardiff (Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, 31 October) 
Paisley (Town Hall, 4 November)
Jazzfest Berlin (3 November) 
Kennedy Center, Washington (8 December)


NEWS: George Crowley to run new Wednesday evening gigs at Empire Bar, Mare St., Hackney

George Crowley
Photo: Whirlwind Recordings

Sebastian writes: 

Saxophonist George Crowley, who runs Friday night jazz at the Con Cellar Bar, will be running a new gig at the Empire Bar, next to the Hackney Empire on Wednesdays. Here are the line-ups currently planned. Admission is free.

Weds 7 November: Bruno Heinen Quintet
w/ Rachael Cohen (alto), James Copus (trumpet), Andrea Di Biase (bass), Jon Scott (drums)

Weds 14 November: Details from the Empire Bar website

Weds 21 November: Hannes Riepler Trio w/ Dave Whitford (bass), Jason Brown (drums)

Weds 28 November: Total Vibration
Laura Jurd (trumpet), Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Tom Herbert (bass), Corrie Dick (drums)

Weds 5 December: Steve Buckley Trio
w/ Steve Watts (bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums)

Weds 12 December : Jeff Williams Trio
w/ Josh Arcoleo (tenor), Sam Lasserson (bass)

Weds 19 December: Tom Farmer Quartet
w/ Nathaniel Facey (alto), Lewis Wright (vibes), Shaney Forbes (drums)

Meanwhile, at the Con Cellar Bar, gigs are set for the following dates:

Fri 9 Nov: Dee Byrne's Entropi + Jonathan Silk's FORJ

Fri 16 Nov: EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL GIG: Olie Brice Quartet + Challenger / Stillman / Herbert (BOOKINGS)

Fri 7 Dec: Chris Batchelor / Steve Buckley Quintet + Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet

LINK: The Empire Bar lists the current month's gigs HERE 


REPORT: Jazzèbre Festival in Perpignan, France

Jazzèbre's mascot
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans

Jazzèbre Festival
(Perpignan, France, 12-14 October 2018. Report and pictures by Tony Dudley-Evans)

I have come to regard the French jazz scene as one of the most interesting and varied in Europe, so I was delighted to receive an invitation to the Jazzèbre Festival in Perpignan, which is right down in the South East of France near the Spanish border. It's so close, in fact, that I flew into and was picked up in Girona in Catalunya.

Jazzèbre was this year celebrating its 30th anniversary; it runs for a whole month, this year from 22 September to 21 October with mostly weekend concerts all programmed by the festival's very astute artistic director Yann Causse. The name is taken from the zebra and the main stage has on it a model of a zebra. I did not find out why!

Artistic director Yann Causse
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans
My highlights were two bands with something of a regional focus. The Florent Pujuila Quartet is led by Florent Pujuila, mostly on bass clarinet, but also soprano saxophone and clarinet. He's from the region and is probably best known as a classical player, but he is also a fine jazz composer and soloist. The rest of the quartet has three members of the current Orchestre National de Jazz: trumpeter Fabrice Martinez, bass player Bruno Chevillon and drummer Eric Echampard. I enjoyed Pujuila's intricate and varied compositions, and, in particular, the interestingly complex writing for the rhythm instruments. Solos from Pujuila and Martinez were engaging, and this, plus the writing, made for an absorbing and stimulating set.

The second group to impress was the oddly named Ostaar Klake Quintet. Their set moved between atmospheric pieces full of interesting textures and more energetic tunes that seemed to draw inspiration from the work of Pharoah Sanders and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The players are all based in the South East, particularly in Toulouse, and are led by the bass player Lina Lamont, but the main inspiration seems to be baritone saxophonist Marc Demereau, a veteran of the Toulouse scene. I particularly enjoyed the passages with a double baritone sax frontline when Demereau was joined by fellow saxophonist Florian Nastorg (he also played alto); this resulted in a very special and distinctive sound. I was also impressed by the way the quintet was happy to focus in the quieter tunes on the sounds and textures of the music rather than having to build up to a climax. There were, however, plenty of climaxes on the full-on pieces and lots of drama.

Louis Sclavis played from his Characters On A Wall material, with each piece inspired by a particular artwork which Sclavis described in words before playing the piece. The writing is very beautiful, but somehow the quartet with Benjamin Moussay on piano, Sarah Murcia on bass and Christophe Lavergne on drums seemed rather subdued for much of the set, only coming to life on the last three numbers.

Papanosh were there with their project involving New Yorker Roy Nathanson and beat boxer Napoleon Maddox. There was lots of humour and fun in the music, but the set did not really cohere.  It moved constantly from one focus to another and never settled. I suspect the band found the formality of the large hall and the lack of response from the audience a bit daunting.

Artist-in-residence Christophe Monniot
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans
Alto saxophonist Christophe Monniot has been artist-in-residence this year, working on a repeat performance of his major commission, the Jericho Sinfonia. The piece is inspired by the Bible story of the collapse of the walls of Jericho as a result of the playing of trumpets round the walls, and the piece includes extensive use of recordings of experts and others discussing the story and the possibility that it could be true. I found this very difficult to follow in French and even those who could follow it agreed that these sections made the whole piece rather disjointed and certainly very long. Nonetheless, the writing for the 11-piece ensemble was strong and dramatic, and the integration of the very strong solos from most members of the group into the writing was very effective.  Monniot's own solos on alto sax were particularly strong and dramatic.

Monniot had also worked with a group of students from the jazz course in the city's conservatoire, and they played one of the sections of the commissioned piece. They did this with great conviction and impressive soloing.

André Invielle played a solo set based on song, percussion and a limited use of electronic sounds.  His performance is based largely on word play and from the reaction of the audience it is clearly very witty. I'm afraid my French again was not up to it.

Sadly the jazz picnic scheduled for the Sunday had to be cancelled because of heavy rain.


INTERVIEW: Charlie Wood (New Album Tomorrow Night, Release Date 12 November)

Charlie Wood
Photo credit: John Need

"10% head, 45% heart and 45% gut" is how singer-pianist CHARLIE WOOD describes his new album Tomorrow Night which is his seventh studio album. It will be launched on 12 November on Perdido Records and features 12 songs which bring him closer to his Memphis roots. Interview by Emily Palmer: 

LondonJazz News: What’s the story behind the new album?

Charlie Wood: It’s been a long time in the making! The record is based on the premise of returning to my musical roots. I grew up in Memphis listening to R&B and blues, music that had a profound effect on me. I suppose every record I do is informed by that, but this one explicitly references my musical heritage. It’s a combination of some original material and songs by other people that I really love.

LJN: What sort of sound can listeners expect from the album?

CW: I didn’t want the material to sound dated. I wanted to do more contemporary music that had an emphasis on the grooves, vocal delivery and lyrical content that I grew up listening to. For me the record is 10% head, 45% heart and 45% gut and I hope the listeners feel that too. Music is like food; most people don’t need to get too far down the road with it before they decide whether they like it or not. I want people to like the record, and I don’t want people to have to think about it for very long either!

LJN: Can you tell us a bit about the musicians you worked with?

CW: This kind of music is heavily reliant on the nuances of individual players and the tension that exists between a combination of players. London has such a wealth of fantastic musicians and I was fortunate enough to have some of the best in the recording studio with me. The rhythm section (Chris Allard on guitar, Dudley Phillips on bass and Nic France on drums) are all well-educated, groove players that I have worked with for a long time. With this type of record the horns don’t normally get much of a look in, it’s more about how they play together, but on the title track they really had a chance to have some fun. It’s Mark Nightingale on the trombone, an effortless player that I can’t be without, Brandon Allen who is a monster of a saxophonist and the brilliant Ryan Quigley on trumpet. And listeners will hear a familiar voice on backing vocals – my wife, Jacqui Dankworth!

LJN: The album features songs that are self-penned, how would you describe your writing process?

CW: For this record, I already knew that I wanted visceral, blues melodies so I concentrated on the music first. But typically, I’m sat the piano and the lyrics and melody occur to me simultaneously. A phrase has a certain melody and pitch to it, it’s just about elaborating on that innate musicality. I care a lot about the meaning of the lyrics, more and more so as I get older. I want the lyrics to have a complexity but at the same time to be succinct. Less is more, and I have learnt that through experience.

LJN: Is there one track on the album that stands out for you?

CW: It will be the one that is the least listened to – as is often the case – an original, You Can’t Have My Blues. It’s about someone that is down and out and has had everything taken from him apart from the one thing that can’t be taken away. The melody would feel at home with a Gospel R&B treatment to it; it’s soulful and it feels good. It’s kind of a reharmonized melody which I like. I write a melody with one idea for the harmony and then I disturb it. It’s a chance for it to be genuinely interesting to you, the writer, because you have the chance to see what else can come from it, something that you didn’t think of when you first wrote it. You can pique your own curiosity and I find that really fun and rewarding. This song is the most overt expression of putting a more contemporary harmony behind something with an unmistakably R&B feel. It goes in unexpected places, it’s got a nice spirit to it.

LJN: How did you pick which covers you wanted to record?

CW: I wanted to do under-recorded songs by people that I love. I had to do an Otis Redding song, a BB King song and absolutely had to do a song by Bobby Bland. Upon reflection, there’s a lot of heartbreak in this kind of music! I recorded Bland’s Members Only, it’s a song that I’ve always loved and is very rarely recorded. The lyrics are simple but really direct. It’s such a great song!

LJN: How do you approach songs that have already been recorded by such iconic musicians?

CW: You can’t really better them. I don’t want my versions to sound like a tribute act, but that’s something you can’t really get around. A blues song can be stretched out, the basic succinct format allows for it to be taken in a whole new direction. That’s just not the case with an R&B song; if the arrangement is altered it’s simply not the same song anymore and doesn’t have the same emotional content. We’re not at liberty to disturb arrangements like that. I can’t really change the material, but I can make it my own simply by living through it.

LJN: How do you want the record to make listeners feel?

CW: The music I grew up listening to has got so much heart, it’s sincere and has a real emotional effect on people. I wanted this record to have all of that and I hope it moves the listeners. (pp)

LINKS: Tomorrow Night is released on Perdido Records on 12 November. 
Charlie Wood (website) is launching the album at Ronnie Scott's on 2 December.
He will also be participating in the Jazz Voice opening night Gala Concert of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival on 16 November.  


REVIEW: Tina May at the 606 Club

Tina May with Steve Brown
Photo: Peter Jones
Tina May
(606 Club, 14 October 2018. Review and picture by Peter Jones)

“Everything is about Mark tonight,” explained Tina May at the start of this gig. She was referring, of course, to the late Mark Murphy, who has been her guiding light in jazz singing for many years. And she didn’t just mean the repertoire for the evening, although there was indeed a connection to the great man in every song. To name-check Murphy is to declare an attitude to jazz singing that distinguishes it from lesser forms of singing, and for Ms May that means doing a great deal more than merely bookending the band’s solos.

She began with a song from Leonard Bernstein’s musical On The Town, Lucky To Be Me, which Murphy recorded in New York shortly after the 9/11 attacks. In the musical, this tune is usually performed in a rather brash, over-the-top manner, as you might expect from an American sailor on 24-hour shore leave. But in May’s hands it became very relaxed indeed, almost languid, a hip, mid-tempo swinger that beautifully reflected the song’s lyrical content, a celebration of new love. Out Of This World followed (from Murphy’s Rah album), arranged in Afro-Cuban style by the Munich-based pianist Andy Lutter.

In fact, Lutter had been part of the original plan for this gig: the idea was for them to perform their recent album Café Paranoia. It turned out he had prior commitments; thankfully, her long-time friend and accompanist Nikki Iles was available, even though some of Lutter’s charts weren’t.

After a classy rendition of Murphy’s signature tune, Stolen Moments, they arrived at a song called Dance Slowly.

Murphy himself never recorded or performed this tune. But for years he used to send snatches of poetry to Andy Lutter, many of them being what he called his ‘jazz haikus’ – not in the strict 17-syllable Japanese verse form, but much looser, while preserving the spirit of the haiku: odd thoughts and meditations, and usually quite short. Whenever he had time, Lutter would write music for them, with the object of eventually recording them with Murphy. But the singer became ill, and it never happened. Last year, Lutter and May released their own version of Mark Murphy’s jazz haikus on Café Paranoia. Not only was it one of the best albums of the year, it also sounded fiendishly difficult from a singer’s point of view. I confess one of my reasons for attending this gig was to see how it was even possible to render such challenging material live.

There was no need to worry: May, Iles, bassist Nick Pugh and drummer Steve Brown had it all under their fingers. After the delicate Dance Slowly came the haunting one-minute ballad Tundraness. What on earth is it about? It didn’t matter. Before singing the Café Paranoia title track, written as a sort of Weimar nightclub tune, May told the audience that Humphrey Lyttelton had once handed her a clarinet and told her to play it because they only had three and they needed four. She then produced said instrument and played it on this tune, quite well. It was that kind of gig.

May’s personal warmth and humour are an essential part of her appeal as a performer. She is also a fearless improviser, and does it all without apparent effort; she has a huge vocal range, sings across the bar-lines, misses words out, adds extra ones, and there are lots of slurs and subtle melodic variations, giving the impression of complete spontaneity.

Perhaps the best thing of the night was a smouldering I’m Through With Love, although a final Mark Murphy haiku – the sweet, mournful Less And Less – ran it a close second.

Peter Jones’s This is Hip: The Life of Mark Murphy is published by Equinox.

LINK: Review of Café Paranoia CD  


CD REVIEW: Metamorphic – The Two Fridas

Metamorphic – The Two Fridas
(DISCUS 65CD. CD review by AJ Dehany)

When she was six, the painter Frida Kahlo contracted polio. Confined to bed for a month, she made up an imaginary friend who accompanied her for the rest of her life. In her diary she recalled the experience as being the origin of one of her most important paintings The Two Fridas. That double portrait of Frida Kahlo is transformed into a double portrait of composer and pianist Laura Cole in the new double album by her octet Metamorphic. Part spoken word, part sound art, part improvisation, part composition, as a double album it has an almost overwhelming emotional and intellectual heft. The album is, she says, “an attempt to express intimate emotions and thoughts through the creative – and recording – process”. It's an attempt that places significant demands on the listener.

A double album poses significant problems for attention and pacing. They’re often patchworks or sketchbooks (like the Beatles' white album which is currently celebrating its 50th birthday). The Two Fridas seems conceptually coherent, with shape and development, but it does take its time to emerge. Overall it’s a slow, atmospheric listen, sparingly melodic. Many of the tracks start with an atmospheric sense before settling into a theme or groove. The concision of one of the album’s highlights, Senken, coming in at under five minutes, makes for a more satisfying and visceral conception – though in additon to his rapport with bassist Seth Bennett, I’d love to hear more of drummer Johnny Hunter and bassist Ruth Goller together; there’s a real punch when they lock together.

Laura Cole is not only a bandleader, composer and pianist, but a poet. The spoken word elements form the connecting tissue of a journey into an exploration of self-knowledge and overcoming, reflecting her fascination with symmetry and “the double-sidedness of things, maybe as a Gemini”. The title track is the clearest outline of the concerns of the album: “I am the person I know best; it will be better in the knowing.” It also demonstrates some of the characteristics of Laura Cole’s writing, with many tracks using short repeating thematic sections or units.

The long track The Mountains, The Sea / The Island is an opportunity to hear her singular piano inventions. For a full picture you have to hear her recent double album Enough, which comprises a disc of arrangements of others’, and another of originals and improvisations. Her piano playing is lustrous and a touch eldritch, with a distinctive classical sense and a richly developed harmonic sensibility.

Naturally the album has not one but two centrepieces: the title track and the 17-minute suite Digging For Memories, which presents an unfolding of dignified and controlled emotion. Charcole I & II also obey the Gemini tendency, recorded back to back; essentially presenting two sides of the same improvisation. In Little Woman, Lonely Wing Cole weaves together Ornette Coleman and Jimi Hendrix compositions in a way that sounds uniquely her own. As a bandleader Laura Cole is light-handed but inspires discipline in the ensemble. Recorded at Real World, the clear dynamic sound impresses on you individual contributions and the individuality of the contributions.

John Martin specialises in extended techniques on the tenor sax and brings a dash of that grit to forge a strong responsive trio together with Chris Williams from Led Bib on alto sax and Ollie Dover on bass clarinet. Johnny Hunter’s command of pace and dynamics is valuable in these extended structures that start quiet and abstract, and move inexorably toward a groove or vocal ostinato. Vocalist Kerry Andrew always feels embedded in the group rather than leading, whether singing wordlessly or uttering glossolia, whether whispering or reading the poems.

Surprisingly for an album of this length, this double portrait of deep selfhood raises more questions than it answers. The inspirational work of Frida Kahlo similarly involves a negotiation of the private meanings of public utterances, and there is always some mystery in the most detailed portrait. At their hottest moments of interplay the octet, called Metamorphic, submit the protolithic strata of Laura Cole’s personal experience to the heat and stress of group connection, transforming raw material into fine art.

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

LINK: Metamorphic website


INTERVIEW: Abraham Brody (new album Crossings and EFG LJF concert 18 Nov)

Abraham Brody
Publicity picture

US-Lithuanian singer/composer ABRAHAM BRODY’s second album, Crossings, comes out on 16 November with an appearance at the London Jazz Festival on 18 November collaborating with innovative string quartet Wooden Elephant, who will also be performing their acoustic reworking of Radiohead’s album Kid A. Based in Iceland, he spoke to AJ Dehany in London about music as a transformational process.

The title of Abraham Brody’s new album, Crossings, encapsulates his personality and practice. He is a composer, artist, and multi-instrumentalist with Lithuanian roots who grew up in the US. He has lived in London, Lithuania, and now lives in Iceland. He originally studied classical music, then became involved in folk music. His first album From The Rich Dark Earth (2017) reworked Lithuanian folk traditions, but he has found himself evolving a more personal style.

“All the songs are very autobiographical. They're about our society, on how people interact now –  relationships, childhood. A lot of the songs are kind of abstract, about certain things that I see or that other people see that are not necessarily real – they're kind of imagined.”

His new video In The Dream, directed by Lithuanian artist MIST, was created for an international audience but comments directly on social issues in Lithuania.

“I love Lithuania. My previous album is a dedication to Lithuanian culture, but there are a lot of problems – with homophobia and racism. In The Dream is about all the diverse types of people that live there and trying to show their love in a beautiful way. Everyone is dreaming and sleeping and we all have the same kind of desires. We all search for love and to be loved – so it's kind of like asking for acceptance.”

The album Crossings is rich and atmospheric, with a strange, ancient, ritual sense allied to contemporary energies and concerns. The album title represents the different influences that cross over in his music, with his classical background intersecting with the influence of folk traditions and now electronic and contemporary directions. There is also the importance of travel and movement to his artistic development, and more mysterious metaphorical crossings.

“The songs are kind of crossing between reality and imagined reality, and putting people in a kind of mythological role.”

I had read that Abraham Brody is pursuing a “mystical vision” and has an interest in Buryat Shamanism. He says, “I started being really interested in these things because for me it is really important that music is not entertainment. It's a transformational process. A few years ago I went to Siberia and I made some films and a multimedia exhibition that I showed in Moscow that was about these rituals of shamans and how they use music to enter a trance. For me it's important that I'm not creating music just as entertainment. I want to transform myself. I think that's why it's so important that people still go to live concerts. That transformation doesn't really take place in a recorded form. It's in the live space, it's what the performer can transmit and the audience can give back.”

In 2013 he came to wider notice working with Marina Abramovic on a recreation of her piece The Artist Is Present using sound (The Violinist Is Present).

“That was when I first started going my own way. I was really really focused on this interaction with an audience. It wouldn't be just passive entertainment, it would be a really direct contact. I would look in people's eyes and I would improvise what I see.”

The concert at the London Jazz Festival is taking place at Village Underground, which is a large industrial space more associated with dance parties, an unusual choice to situate the intimacy and intensity of Brody’s music and approach.

“I wanted to create this special environment,” he says; there will be a light show, and videos made for each song by Latvian artist Zane Zelmene."

The concert will present his collaboration with the innovative string quartet Wooden Elephant, who will also present their acoustic reworking of Radiohead’s album Kid A. It will conclude with a collaboration with Icelandic electronic artist Áslaug Magnusdottir from the group Samaris.

Brody has a longstanding interest in exploring interactions between performer and audience, but, he says, “I actually think now I'm more interested in larger audiences. It’s more about the focus and the interaction, and what you can communicate non-verbally. I really look for that shared connection.”

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

Crossings is released on 16 November.

LINKS: Abraham Brody's website

Abraham Brody and Wooden Elephant play the EFG London Jazz Festival on Sunday 18 November


CD REVIEW: Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs

Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs
(ECM 675 1580. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The singular title track of this album, Helsinki Song, has a four-note ostinato line from double bassist Mats Eilertsen complemented by slowly building snare and cymbals from Markku Ounaskari and overlain with a compelling, singing melody from Trygve Seim’s tenor and Kristjan Randalu’s piano in tandem.

It rises and falls beautifully and Seim and Randalu lay down astutely-judged and deeply-felt solos. Meanwhile Eilertsen just keeps on and on with that line, saying such a lot with so little, so that when he varies it slightly – to take it higher behind the piano solo and then through a set of changes before returning with the rest of the band to the theme – one almost holds one’s breath.

And breath is significant here – as a friend noted when he heard this, the song really breathes. And so it does! Maybe that’s how it goes straight to the listener’s heart. It’s a quality, simultaneously both spiritual and visceral, that is found running right through this album.

Trygve Seim has found, with this quartet, what feels to me like an ideal balance. In the Estonian Randalu, especially, he has the perfect complementary soloist; the piano improvisations throughout this album have had me smiling with pleasure.

There are references here to Seim’s admiration for Jimmy Webb – Morning Song is, I understand, a kind of coda to one of Webb’s tunes, and that makes sense: there is very much a songlike feeling to most of the tracks on the album. Stravinsky is referenced in Katya’s Dream, inspired by a film about the composer.

The saxophonist’s playing is very special indeed. His soprano sounds almost like the Armenian duduk at times, such is his tone-bending skill, while his tenor tone, once perhaps a little too strongly in thrall to Jan Garbarek, is now unmistakably his and his alone.

This album keeps on giving. I felt I had had my money’s worth even before I had reached the sublime stateliness of Sorrow March – and that’s just track six of 11. In a list of 2018’s most beautiful new music, Helsinki Songs must surely rank very highly indeed.


CD REVIEW: Gabrielle Ducomble – Across the Bridge

Gabrielle Ducomble – Across the Bridge
(MGP CD020. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Blessed with a light, accurate, affectless voice rather in the mode of Stacey Kent, Belgian-born Gabrielle Ducomble has done very well professionally since nearly winning the French version of Pop Idol in 2003. Her musical métier is a mixture of chansons and tangos, her style sophisticated and nostalgic. Backed by a formidable band, her live appearances are justifiably popular.

But despite all the Parisian-style gaiety, is everything sweetness and light? Let us not forget that Belgium also gave birth to angst-tortured Jacques Brel, for whom life often seemed a grim struggle. In more recent years it has seen the emergence of the formidable Mélanie De Biasio, the queen of bleak urban soundscapes. And despite her sunny persona, you get the feeling that Gabrielle Ducomble would have been happier in the sunlit world of the 1960s, as the lyrics of this self-penned album suggest: “Ma vie semble bien vide, dans mon grand monde sans couleurs / La distance est ma douleur…” (Les Terrasses de Riz de Jatiluwih) and “I long to find somewhere to hide / In stone or glass, forget about the past” (Where is Home). For me, it’s this underlying sadness that gives the music a certain edge, where it might otherwise be a little bland.

Ducomble has been astute in her choice of musicians, including the awesomely talented Nicolas Meier on guitar. Here he is somewhat under-used, most of the solos going to violinist Richard Jones, who imbues everything he plays with fire and energy and great depth of feeling. Like a Bridge Across Your Heart gives his dramatic flair full reign.

The album also features Nick Kaçal on bass and Saleem Raman on drums, with guest appearances from Fausto Beccalossi (accordion) and Bill Mudge (keys).

With perhaps a couple of exceptions (Tell Me Today, Is This It?) the quality of the songwriting is impressive. Ducomble’s compositions are reminiscent of the '70s folk-rock groups Renaissance and Fairport Convention. I suspect they will sound more gutsy live than they do on record. We may judge for ourselves as Ducomble continues her lengthy UK tour, the next leg of which begins at the Watermill, Dorking (16 October) and ends at The Stables, Milton Keynes (18 November).

LINKS: Full Tour Details on Gabrielle Ducomble's website
Interview with Gabrielle Ducomble
Review of album launch