ROUND-UP: Festival Jazz International Rotterdam 2018

Theo Croker at Jazz International Rotterdam
Photo credit: Nigel Slee

Festival Jazz International Rotterdam
(Lantarenvenster venue. October 2018. Round-up review by Rob Adams)

It seems appropriate that two young musicians who want to be included in festival and events programming due to their quality, rather than to do with matters regarding gender quotients, should be among the highlights of the latest instalment of Festival Jazz International in Rotterdam.

Romanian vocalist Suzana Lașcu opened the festival on Friday with an exhilaratingly fearless set that was designed to take a political position yet also give the listener a comforting feeling. She succeeded in both ambitions with edgy songwriting that suggested something of a continuation of the chanson and cabaret traditions and tone production that occasionally reminded your reviewer of Annette Peacock at her most persuasive, although this is undoubtedly an artist who is charting her own course.

Lașcu was helped no end in her endeavours by a trio who shaped the songs with assurance and in guitarist Jorrit Westerhof’s case, showed both tremendous poise and exciting, going-for-it invention.

Saxophonist Kika Sprangers’ contribution came at the other end of the festival, towards the end of Sunday’s programme. Playing specially written music with a bespoke line-up of poetry, piano, bass and drums enfolding her alto and soprano, Sprangers revealed real improvising nous and a sound on both saxophones that was strong, sweet and expressive. The directness of her communication was particularly ear-catching and added to her compositions’ innate sense of purpose.

The theme of the festival this year was The Voice and as well as Suzana Lașcu I caught song-based sets from Donny McCaslin’s Blow band, French harpist and loop pedals artist Laura Perrudin and Norwegian pop-soul-jazz trio Gurls, and some vocal sorcery from Switzerland’s Andreas Schaerer.

Gurls were great fun, managing to make even the songs that were not about boys into mischievous digs at boys and packaging them in tightly structured arrangements for maximum impact. Andreas Schaerer showed both his intimate side, in a series of brilliantly fluent duets with guitarist Anton Goudsmit, and his ability to project and soar mightily in a big band, although the very fine New Rotterdam Jazz Orchestra is not your standard big band, with its rhythm section of guitar, bass, drums and accordion. Schaerer’s tone production is a marvel and when he does slip into the beat boxing that seems inevitable from someone whose vocalising is from, but not exclusively of, the Bobby McFerrin school, it’s done with attention to the sound of his instrument rather than the slamming volume you hear elsewhere.

Also showing great attention to the sounds of the instruments at hand was this year’s recipient of the festival’s Pack Project commission, Rotterdam saxophonist Wietse Voermans. A second saxophone (doubling on clarinet), double bass, drums and tuba was Voermans’ choice of colours and his music, often quite staccato and witty as well as warm-toned, grew in impact as the set progressed.

Finally, there were two contributions – one scheduled, one spontaneous from members of trumpeter Theo Croker’s quintet. As with their appearance at Glasgow Jazz Festival, Croker’s team embodied jazz that absolutely knows where it’s come from and where it’s heading. This is tradition in transition indeed, as might be expected of the grandson of Dixieland through swing trumpeter Doc Cheatham, and its freshness-infused character, wedded to great playing all-round made for immensely satisfying music.

Minutes after delivering a master class in solo building in the main auditorium, Croker’s alto saxophonist, Irwin Hall took over from the indisposed Turkish trombonist Efe Erdem to lead a jam session in the foyer that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the main stage and even featured Croker’s brilliant pianist-Hammond Organist, Mike King as an unshowy, quietly grooving drummer.


FEATURE: The World Gone Mad 1899-1919: The Jazz Repertory Company (Cadogan Hall, 24 Nov)

The Jazz Repertory Company’s EFG London Jazz Festival concert goes back to the very earliest days of jazz.. The World Gone Mad features a fascinating selection of the sounds emanating from America alongside the music of British composers and bands responding to the new musical influences coming from over the Atlantic. The programme will include At The Jazz Band Ball, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Everybody’s Doing It, That Ragtime Suffragette, Heliotrope Bouquet and Dear Old Shepherds Bush.

Back in 2017 Richard Pite saw Martin Wheatley present a selection of mostly pre-World War 1 music at the Whitley Bay Jazz Party, got to know this largely unfamiliar music, and forged the plan to bring this music to London – not least because it stands in such contrast to the contemporary adventures in jazz found elsewhere at the Jazz Festival. Interview with Martin Wheatley by Richard Pite for LondonJazz News:

LondonJazz News: Can you tell us how you set about assembling the musical programme of The World Gone Mad?

Martin Wheatley: A lot of research and a lot of listening! We have ragtime but also other popular music of the time; we have early jazz but also the music that bridged the gap between ragtime and jazz, which has been overlooked until recently; we have some downright odd British attempts at jazz from the time when the word was known but the music wasn’t. I have tried to compile a programme that contains all of these elements, gives a snapshot of British musical life during this convulsive period but is, above all, entertaining.

LJN: What made you start the story in 1899?

MW: 1899 is often taken as the start of the ragtime era, when Scott Joplin wrote Maple Leaf Rag, and it gives us a foothold in the 19th Century, which is the origin of all of this music.

LJN: I know you have copious knowledge of this era of music but did you discover any new gems when researching the show?

MW: Oh yes! I found a wonderfully mad number called The Jazz Nightmare from 1917 which is a sort of riotous premonition of the musical world to come; a song called That Ragtime Suffragette, which is self-explanatory; the first vocal recording of St Louis Blues recorded in London in 1917 and the tune that was, probably, what the orchestra on the Titanic was playing as the ship sank – a beautiful piece by an English composer, Songe d’Automne.

LJN: Were there any colourful characters amongst the musicians, composers and entrepreneurs in the UK during the period of the music we feature?

MW: Plenty of those! One for example: W.H. Myddleton, also known as Count Safroni, who wrote Down South, was bandmaster of the Carl Rosa Opera Company but also found time to write novels, poems and travel guides and explore Borneo and Papua New Guinea. He now rests in West Norwood cemetery.

LJN: I know that you, like me, are a stickler for authenticity in reproducing early jazz. What are the main differences between popular music of the type featured in your show and that of the more familiar 1920s?

MW: One big difference is that it was far less well defined. It was all so new that the rules had not been formulated. A lot of interesting music is born of ignorance. Musicians at the time here didn’t really know how this new music was supposed to sound and there was nobody on hand to tell them how not to do it.

LJN: Was it your study of the banjo that led you to this music – is it well documented on recordings?

MW: In part, yes. I think the banjo was more important than the piano in the development of ragtime. The banjo is very well represented on early recordings largely because it recorded well on the equipment of the day. You’ll find lots of xylophone solos for the same reason!

LJN: We have invited pianist and vintage jazz expert Keith Nichols to be a guest in your show. Tell us a little about what he’ll be contributing?

MW: Keith will be covering the arrival of jazz from America. It makes sense to separate that from the music being made here prior to that and there is nobody better qualified to do that.

LJN: Finally, can you tell the readers of LondonJazz News why they should stump up for a ticket to The World Gone Mad – considering the embarrassment of riches on display on this particular evening of the London Jazz Festival?

MW: I’d be surprised to find another show on offer that is more varied, more of a revelation or more fun. (pp)

The Jazz Repertory Company Orchestra

Martin Wheatley: banjos/musical director
Keith Nichols: piano/musical director
Matt Redman: banjo
Andrew Oliver: piano
James Davison: cornet
Tom Dennis: cornet
Andy Flaxman: trombone
Sylvia Pullen: Eb horn
Andy Findon: flute/piccolo
Thomas “Spats” Langham: vocals/banjo
Richard Pite: tuba
David Horniblow: reeds
Richard Exell: reeds
Kit Massey: violin
Nick Parker: violin
Caroline Verney: cello
Paul Moylan: double bass
Nick Ward: drums/percussion
Nick Ball: drums/percussion
Nikki Santilli: dancer
Patrick Hood: dancer

Richard Pite is Director of the Jazz Repertory Company

In addition to the concert, there will be a free pre-concert talk by Catherine Tackley at 6.15pm in the Cadogan Hall’s Caversham Room, exploring the music and musicians who paved the way for jazz in Britain.



REPORT: 35th Conference of the Radio Jazz Research Group, Salzburg. – " Improvisation: New Perspectives

Prof Raymond MacDonald presenting in Salzburg
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Sebastian writes:

The conferences of the Radio Jazz Research group provide a useful point of confluence between people promoting and presenting jazz – such as jazz broadcasters, festival and concert promoters – and current academic research. And this 35th session in Salzburg in October 2018 gave those of us outside the academic world a useful window into it.

The format of the gathering is that papers are given based around a specific topic, allowing light to be shed on the subject from some very different perspectives. Most of the talks are in German, but the spirit is definitely one in which complementarity and breadth of vision are welcomed, and the sessions are open to speakers who work in English (this time two of the papers).

The context is normally around a festival in the German-speaking world, so the discussions around the seminar are often illustrated and enlivened by examples from the performances and the musicians at the festival.

This session was held concurrently with Salzburg’s Jazz & the City Festival and focused on work around “Improvisation – New Perspectives”. This festival has as part of its way of working the presentation of artists in both established bands and in blind date contexts, where musicians are free to invite people they have been curious to work with, so the background was a fruitful one.


Of the papers given, there was one which dominated the discussion because the sheer scale of the empirical research and data-mining has been so vast and so intensive. The data are indeed impressive. A group of researchers based in Weimar has worked since 2012 on the Weimar Jazz Database. Transcriptions and recordings of a total of 456 jazz solos have been fed into the database. They range from 1925 to a Chris Potter solo from 2009.

A link to their work is HERE

What comes up when they interrogate the data is mind-boggling. In this slide Klaus Frieler was able to demonstrate across the instrumentalists whose solos they have sampled a "swing ratio" ie on average the extent to which individual players diverge from straight quavers (straight eighths):

Swing ratio slide as presented by Dr Klaus Frieler
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

And in this slide the players were ranked by the accuracy of their intonation, with Benny Goodman as the cleanest, and, extending that simile, Charlie Parker as the dirtiest:

Instrumentalists ranked by intonation
iPhone Snap by Sebastian Scotney

One panel member recalled a delightful comment during an off-the-cuff instant self-review from Andreas Schaerer as he summed up his wonderful solo recital the previous evening (reviewed here): "Ich höre gerne falsche Töne" ("I love to hear wrong/inaccurate notes")


The other papers ranged widely. Professor Raymond MacDonald talked about various strands of work he has done on how musicians talk about and reflect on improvising, and also gave convincing and lively demonstration about work done with early-years children on improvisation, sponaneity and the development of telepathic understanding. The papers from philosopher Georg Bertram and Michael Rüsenberg set improvisation in a wider human context, i.e. beyond the confines of its being used as a vehicle for artistic expression. I found the semantics (paraphrasing versus improvising versus interpretation) in Gerhard Putschögl's paper quite hard to grasp, and Iwan Wopereis gave us an insight into his work which is very much in progress.

Full programme of the 35th Conference of the Radio Jazz Research Group Conference in cooperation with the 2018 Festival Jazz & The City in Salzburg.“Improvisation: New Perspectives”

- Welcome from Tina Heine, Artistic Director of the Jazz & The City Festival and Bernd Hoffmann, Chair of Radio Jazz Research

- Michael Rüsenberg (author/journalist):
"Beyond Jazz : Improvisation, a part of life"

- Gerhard Putschögl (Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts ) :
“Paraphrasing Variation as universal musical and spoken improvisation”

- Iwan Wopereis (Open University, The Netherlands):
"What Experts think of Improvisation – a survey among RJR Members"

- Raymond MacDonald (Universiy of Edinburgh):
“Notes from the Psychology of Improvisation”

- Klaus Frieler (Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt Weimar):
“Dig that Note – Die Weimar Jazz Database”

- Georg W. Bertram, (Freie Universität Berlin):
“One cannot not improvise.”


CD REVIEW: Ron Caines/Martin Archer Axis – Les Oiseaux De Matisse

Ron Caines / Martin Archer Axis – Les Oiseaux De Matisse
(Discus 72CD. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Veteran saxophonist Ron Caines makes a very welcome return with this fascinating and inspiring collection of themes and improvisations, ably joined by Martin Archer and others from the Discus Music stable.

The first line of Caines’ CV is usually that he was a founder member of East of Eden, best known for their 1971 hit single Jig A Jig featuring the violin of Dave Arbus. East of Eden were so much more than this novelty record – an eclectic powerhouse performing music influenced by rock, jazz, folk, Bartok, ska, Dada and more, contemporaries of Captain Beefheart and early Soft Machine. Go back and listen to Jig A Jig today and you will hear a building intensity quite at odds with the jaunty tune, giving tension and uncertainty. It seems clear that this hit record was the beginning of the end for East of Eden; the label wanted more in the same vein, at odds with the band’s aims.

A better start to Caines’ CV might mention that he has spent much of his life as an artist and painter, studying with abstract artist Paul Feiler, teaching life drawing at Bristol Polytechnic and gaining critical recognition. A part of the Bristol music world in the 1970s and 1980s, he worked with Keith Tippett and also led Parker’s Mood, a quartet dedicated to the music of Charlie Parker. Hearing them was awe-inspiring – Caines had the ability to take an old standard like Lover Man and then play it on alto sax as if he’d just that moment thought of it. Moving to Brighton in 1995, he continued to paint and gave up performing following a tendon injury.

In recent years, however, Caines has begun to perform again – initially with the Brighton Safehouse Collective. Now 78, he teams up with fellow saxophonist Martin Archer, with both contributing tunes and themes, as well as some highly effective tracks resulting from improvisations in the studio with live sound processing from Hervé Perez, recombined and edited somewhat in the manner of Teo Macero’s work. The violin of Graham Clark plays a prominent role, rather reconnecting us with Ron Caines’ roots in East Of Eden.

Caines himself contributes five compositions including Various & Diverse, a theme he composed for a joint project with Keith Tippett in 1983. His tunes have a majestic quality, a strength which allows considerable scope for the accompanists to spread out. Laura Cole’s piano is never less than sympathetic, rippling effectively and spaciously on both Haptic Space tracks. The double bass of Gus Garside stomps aggressively into Labyrinth, a tune which brings echoes of dark European folk dances into hard-hitting unison passages with sax and violin.

Martin Archer bring three of his own contributions to the disc including the title track with its bird-song and sax textures and Nymphzuruck, which borrows its format ‘shamelessly’ from East of Eden’s Nymphenberger and combines another huge theme with plentiful free-flowing soloing. Caines and Archer share joint credit for The News From Nowhere/Mazeep, a 15-minute journey which brings together all the various elements of this talented ensemble into a thrilling climax.

While this album might appear to be based on some rather ‘retro’ elements (rock influence, free-ish improv, electric violin, stereo split saxes, studio sound processing), it actually adds up to an impressive and original collection – one of the most worthwhile CDs I’ve heard this year. In the sleeve notes Caines thanks Archer for giving him this opportunity for his voice to be heard. It’s a voice that is well worth your attention. Listen to Labyrinth on the Discus Records website and hear for yourself (link below). And while you’re there, consider buying a copy of Keith Tippett’s The Nine Dances Of Patrick O'Gonogon CD (link to Patrick Hadfield’s LJN review below) – all proceeds are going directly to Keith Tippett as he recovers from serious illness.

LINKS: Les Oiseaux De Matisse on Discus Records (preview) 

Patrick Hadfield’s LJN review of Keith Tippett Octet The Nine Dances Of Patrick O'Gonogon 


REVIEW: Kokomo at the Jazz Cafe

Kokomo at the Jazz Cafe, baseball-capped vocalist, Frank Collins, to the fore
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved © 2018

(Jazz Cafe, 24 October 2018. Review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Kokomo were on fire down at the Jazz Cafe for a rip-roaringly funky midweek gig. They got right down into the groove as only they can do – and some! In true Kokomo style the soul-funk barometer was reading very high, with a flexible personnel always rooted in the core of original members who, if anything, have grown in stature since their early days.

The sparking, chunky rhythm section of percussionist Jody Linscott and bassist Jennifer Maidman, underpinned by Tony O'Malley's chippy keyboard work, was given serious extra traction by the awesome drumming of Ralph Salmins who, with eye-watering jazz and rock credentials, not to mention engineering of the massed drum ensemble at the 2012 Olympics, helped bring out the best in the full ten-piece. "Ralph Salmins could propel an ocean liner,"  was the reaction of one of LJN's editors when I told him who had been in the drum seat. He certainly could – right from the first, supercharged bass drum beats, he brought something special to the mix and things took off with a heftily accelerated drive. This was Kokomo firing on all cylinders with a rhythmic underbelly to cry for! Classy jazz guitarist Nigel Price, depping perfectly for Jim Mullen, embraced that brew of rhythm and melody which shapes the Kokomo sound, sharing the honours with Neil Hubbard, whose deft soloing, with each note picked with such care that millisecond in advance, never fails to elicit admiration.

Saxophonist Tom Richards, who brought a wealth of experience to bear from playing with the likes of Jamie Cullum, Kylie, Robbie Williams and the Heritage and Metropole Orchestras as well as in Proms projects, took on board Mel Collins’ groundwork with his tightly crafted phrasing, blending seamlessly.

Despite protestations of a sore throat from the irrepressible Frank Collins, he and his cohorts, Helena-May Harrison and Charlotte Churchman, on the eve of his birthday – yes, there was a joyous rendering of Happy Birthday (!) – delivered five-star vocals, bursting with enjoyment and precision in their how-tight-can-you-get harmonies. They just flew. Tony O'Malley, the driving force behind the 2014 reformation of the band (review), kept everything on track with gentle mentoring from the wings, taking on ad-hoc vocals and chucking in funky keyboard riffing to flesh out that signature, blue-eyed soul sound.

The repertoire took in both established classics and more recent compositions, with Helena-May Harrison paying homage to one of Kokomo's original vocal trio, Dyan Birch, with a heartfelt rendering of Forever. From the instrumental Tee Time to Bobby Womack's I Can Understand It, immediately identifiable from O'Malley's chord even before the band kicked in, they showed how fresh these songs remain. The selection worked to a tee – there were no second bests on this set list; it had been finely honed to allow this buzzing incarnation of Kokomo to push themselves out beyond the conventions of the genre and gel as a powerful, inventive unit, and as the evening played out they just got better and better. Even my ears were singing as I left the venue!


Tony O'Malley (keyboards/vocals)
Frank Collins (vocals)
Charlotte Churchman (vocals)
Helena-May Harrison (vocals)
Neil Hubbard (guitar)
Nigel Price (guitar)
Tom Richards (sax)
Jody Linscott (congas)
Ralph Salmins (drums)
Jennifer Maidman (bass)


NEWS: One-day Walthamstow Jazz Festival announced for February 2019

Ginger Baker at Bristol in 2013
Photo credit: Ruth Butler

London Borough of Culture 2019 Waltham Forest, local record label Byrd Out and headline sponsor Adnams are working together on a new venture, The "Walthamstow Jazz Festival 2019, in association with Adnams".  The festival will have Ginger Baker and his Jazz Confusion as headliners, plus Django Django, Evan Parker, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, Thurston Moore, as well as recent arrivals on the scene such as Emma-Jean Thackray, Binker Golding, Elliot Galvin, Project Karnak and others.


TITLE: Walthamstow Jazz Festival 2019, in association with Adnams
DATE : 16 February 2019
VENUE Walthamstow Assembly Hall, Forest Rd, Walthamstow

Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion
Django Django (DJ set)
Vels Trio
Thurston Moore
Evan Parker, John Edwards, and John Russell
Binker Golding and Elliot Galvin
Emma-Jean Thackray
Project Karnak
Laetitia Sadier
Dear Earth (DJ set)
None More Records Soundsystem (DJ set)
Tommy Hare
And more TBA!

A limited number of tickets for the festival are now available at an Early Bird price of £25: 


INTERVIEW: Stan Sulzmann (70th Birthday Tour with Neon Orchestra, 22-27 Nov)

Stan Sulzmann and Neon Orchestra at the 606
Photo credit:Matt Pannell

Saxophonist/composer/arranger/educator STAN SULZMANN, one of the central figures in British jazz, will celebrate his 70th birthday this November by going on tour with his Neon Orchestra. He talked to Kathryn Shackleton about hearing Dexter Gordon as a young teenager, about his first steps into arranging ("I got a Fake Book, stuck a pin in the table of contents, and did an arrangement of that piece"), about the inspiration he derives from the younger generations of musicians coming through, and looks forward to the birthday tour in late November:

LondonJazz News: What are your memories of getting into jazz as a child?

Stan Sulzmann: My dad always had the wireless on and played piano and accordion at endless parties and pub outings. We listened to Earl Bostic and that was like the pop music of the time. Ted Heath was another good blowing band on the radio, and occasionally there would be a bit of Dave Brubeck or MJQ, which I loved.

LJN: What made you play the saxophone?

SS: At school I really wanted to play an instrument but they had run out of French horns and flutes, which were the instruments I was interested in. It was not until I was 13 that my Dad took me to the Selmer shop in Charing Cross Road, and he was so generous that he traded in his accordion for a lovely old Selmer Super Action tenor sax for me.

LJN: How did you learn to play jazz?

SS: I used to take two trains and a bus for two hours to get my sax lesson at the weekend. My teacher was a very good musician who did summer seasons for Max Jaffa, played great swing clarinet and booty sax. He played off the melodies and didn’t really teach jazz but he was the one who taught me good technique. For two or three years I would sit in my bedroom with a mono Dansette record player and play along with second-hand jazz records – I had no idea what I was doing but that’s how I learned to play.

My family moved to a place near Wimbledon where I hooked up with some other young players at school and there was a Palais ballroom in Merton where I got a job while I was still at school busking top 10 hits for £2 a night! That was a great way to see musicians that were coming through. I remember being really impressed by Glenn Hughes, the great baritone sax player with Georgie Fame, and seeing Zoot Money’s band and Bill LeSage.

The first American that I saw play live when I was about 13 was sax player Dexter Gordon. My dad took me to see him at Ronnie Scott’s. I sat in that tiny little club and there’s Dexter right in front of me with Stan Tracey. It was heaven!

Bill Ashton started a band for schoolkids at the Marquee Club in London, which later became the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. That started the journey for me… I met bass player Chris Laurence, percussionist Frank Ricotti and drummer Bobby Worth there. Bill Ashton cajoled people like bandleader Tubby Hayes to come along and we were always a bit in awe of those big guys! We’d never dare to ask them for a lesson or anything!

LJN: What were your experiences as a young player starting out in your career?

SS: Bill Ashton put me forward for a job on the cruises to New York and that meant that I was hearing incredible music in New York by all the greats. I saw Basie’s band, and I remember a great double bill with the Miles Davis quintet and Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet at the Village Vanguard.

John Dankworth had just started teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, at that time, so I went there to study sax and flute in the day, but by that time I was married with a child and I was working, playing with John’s band at Ronnie Scott’s in the evenings. It was crazy! I got a call one night at 3am and it was Pete King from Ronnie Scott’s. He asked if I had a passport and at 8am I was off with sax player Tony Coe to a studio in Cologne to play in Francy Boland’s band. Art Farmer and Kenny Clarke and Herb Geller were sitting opposite me, and the guest musician was Stan Getz! To hear him play live… he had a huge beautiful sound that permeated through the room.

LJN: As a leader you have your own duos, quartets and a big band. What do you get out of playing in these different formats?

SS: Most of it is about the relationships you develop with people. I had a good 15-20 years with piano player John Taylor and you build up a real empathy. I met pianist Nikki Iles in northern England and really liked her playing. Nikki and I like to play tunes, and I like the freedom in a duo of not having to have a gig too mapped out.

I first met legendary trumpet player Kenny Wheeler on a pop record session in a cheap studio in Denmark Street. Hearing him play, my mouth hung open – he was a fiery, incredible player who left you breathless. John Taylor and I made a duo recording of Kenny Wheeler pieces, and being John, he could never just play the tunes, you had to break them down and mess about with them. John would really stretch you. I think Ken was thrilled that we had made a record of his music.

My Neon Orchestra represents the more formal side of playing and I’m using all those years of experience with playing with fabulous bands like Allan Ganley’s Big Band and the NDR Big Band.

LJN: You always fly the flag for younger players, including them in your Neon Quartet, teaching at the colleges and going to see them play in gigs.

SS: Yes. The Neon quartet came about because I love being in touch with young people like Gwilym Simcock, Kit Downes, Jim Hart and Tim Giles because they stretch me.

You learn so much just listening to young players. That’s why I like teaching. I love being around young people. It’s a two-way thing. You might be showing them things but you also get to see their world of music too. The older you get the more you realise that there is little in the world that is totally new, though. For me you can’t lose the history. I still love Louis Armstrong and when I listen to him or Ben Webster I get a tear in my eye.

LJN: How do you go about composing and arranging music for your bands?

SS: I never wrote anything until I was 40. I was in awe of all these fantastic writers. I joined Noel Langley and Scott Stroman’s Friday workshop band, where you wrote things and tried things out. Kenny Wheeler used to go along. This gave me a band to write for. The first time, I got a Fake Book and stuck a pin in the table of contents and did an arrangement of that piece, because the biggest problem is where to start. We wrote the scores by hand in those days and it took hours but eventually I built up enough music so that on my 50th birthday we did a charity gig for Great Ormond Street Hospital, playing my arrangements.

LJN: What are the plans for the Neon Orchestra tour and what are you especially looking forward to?

SS: I’m excited about the gigs coming up as part of my 70th birthday tour, not least because I’ve written three new pieces which will be premiered at these gigs. This is also the first time I have had funding to spend some time rehearsing the orchestra. Another reason to look forward to it is because I get on well with each person in the band, I think they are all great players, so it will be a good social occasion too. And it is a real treat as well to have my son Matthew in the band for the first time. After the tour I intend to carry on writing and in the future I’d love to play my music with one of the European radio big bands, if I get the opportunity...(pp)

Kathryn Shackleton is a programmer at Watermill Jazz 

Stan Sulzmann’s 70th birthday tour with his Neon Orchestra is supported by Arts Council England


22 Nov – London Jazz Festival, Purcell Room.
23 Nov –  Sheffield Jazz
24 Nov –  Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
27 Nov –  Watermill Jazz, Dorking


Nick Smart - MD
Dave Whitford - bass
Sarah Williams - bass trombone
Tim Giles - drums
Alex Munk - guitar
Nikki Iles - piano
Matt Sulzmann - saxophones
Stan Sulzmann - Band leader/saxophones
Pete Hurt - tenor saxophone
Josh Arcoleo - tenor saxophone (not Watermill)
Martin Hathaway - alto saxophone
Alex Hitchcock - saxophone (Watermill only)
James Allsop - saxophone/bass clarinet
Mark Nightingale - trombone
Mark Bassey - trombone
Gordon Campbell - trombone
Henry Lowther - trumpet
Tom Walsh - trumpet
James Copus - trumpet
Noel Langley - trumpet (not London)
George Hogg (London only)
Johnny Mansfield - vibraphone 


CD REVIEW: Kate Westbrook – Granite: A Soliloquy

Kate Westbrook – Granite: A Soliloquy
(Westbrook Records – WR003.  CD Review by Jane Mann)

Granite is a song cycle about Dartmoor with text by Kate Westbrook and music by Mike Westbrook.  This beautiful but forbidding moor, and its granite quarries, is not far from where the Westbrooks live in Devon. Kate Westbrook is also a painter and Dartmoor is a favourite subject. Granite was commissioned by a German fan, Frank Eichler, who spends his summers in South West England, and who loves the moors. It is therefore appropriate that the Westbrooks should conjure up this wild landscape in words and music for his special piece.

The English jazz cannon contains many pastoral depictions, but none like this. There are moments here of lyrical beauty, with sparkling piano, wistful saxophone and evocative text. The rest of the instrumentation is surprising rocky – the fittingly named Granite Band has a rock base and the sound too is literally rock-based. Producer Jay Auborn explains in the sleeve notes: “Echo and reverberation sounds were recorded live at Haytor Granite Quarry. Using… convolution processing, we were able to recreate the unique sound of the quarry back in the recording studio.”

Kate Westbrook has a track record for delving into many musical genres. Jazz, pop, rock ‘n roll, European cabaret and English music hall have all been influential, as have classical music including opera. She is well-known as a performer of contemporary music. Despite knowing of that huge range, this work took me by surprise. It is in essence a concept album, with an extraordinary soundscape.  The jazz elements are mixed in with contemporary music and spoken sections. The Blues are definitely in there too, and it will certainly appeal to rock fans – indeed it was reviewed favourably in Prog magazine.

The Granite Band all come from Mike Westbrook’s The Uncommon Orchestra. There are two electric guitarists: jazzer Jesse Mollins and goth rocker Matthew North, both of whom also have their own projects. Mollins has a jazz trio, and North (who incidentally runs the fan club for The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown) plays rock. Billie Bottle, electric bass, is a Westbrook stalwart, who plays piano, guitar, bass guitar and sings in various other Westbrook ensembles. Bottle’s own project is a Canterbury Sound-ish neo-prog outfit Billie Bottle and The Multiple. Coach York is a jazz and rock drummer, who plays with Mollins and other jazz combos. Roz Harding, saxophone, is no stranger to electric guitar music – her own project is the trio Supermood, with guitarist Mike Outram and drummer Jim Bashford. She also plays with Billie Bottle and The Multiple. The rest of the Granite Band are Kate Westbrook, voice, with Mike Westbrook at the piano.

Highlights for me include the opening number Tracks Of Desire, dense ensemble playing, lunging guitars, swooping saxophone above, and below all rumbling drums, spare bass and heavy chords on the piano with Kate giving Marianne Faithfull a run for her money with a smokey deep vocal line.   Over the 24 tracks, some of them very short, each musician is given the space to solo. There are different musical textures attained by unusual pairings like voice and saxophone, or spoken word and guitars, all enhanced with the strange atmospheric echoes captured in the quarry. These are very pleasing. There are tumultuous sections with all instruments blazing, contrasted with gentler moments of archetypal Westbrook piano and song.

The Granite lyrics are classic Kate Westbrook: by turns visual, visceral, and stirring. There are three linked sections, which describe the landscape at different seasons of the year. The Westbrooks are fascinated by birdsong, and Kate’s love of the curlew, “yearning bird” as she calls it here, and its lament-like song is a repeated motif in Granite. The lyrics give us vivid close-ups of “summer heather, spore bracken and gold gorse-thorn” but also pull out to long vistas across the moor, and then up to the stars. There is something very dark here. Kate Westbrook wrote recently: “Humour seems important, and yet the song lyrics I am writing at the moment are serious and about the environment, and death and there are few jokes.” The album finishes with the sound of Kate Westbrook, whistling poignantly in an echoing quarry, leaving the listener to ponder the unvoiced words of a popular Irving Berlin song: “Before they ask us to pay the bill and while we still have the chance, Let's face the music and dance.”

This is an exciting and powerful recording full of surprises, which may well find a wider audience among rock and prog devotees.

Kate Westbrook – voice, whistling

Roz Harding - saxophone
Jesse Molins, Matthew North - guitar
Billie Bottle -electric bass
Mike Westbrook - piano/keyboards
Coach York - drums

Track listing:

1. Tracks of Desire
2. Year's Rotation
3. Spread-eagled

4. Glacial Flood

5. Helpless, Helpless

6. Curlew Cry

7. Architects and Pornographers

8. Sun and Moon

9. Raw Creation

10. Rain-soaked Summer

11. Sun-warmed Soil

12. Story

13. Wordless, Wordless

14. Bathing Belles and Philosophers

15. Late Autumn

16. My Barricade

17. Salvation

18. Winter

19. Aeons Old

20. Exile

21. Quarry Workers and Instrumentalists

22. Reckless, Reckless

23. Yearning Bird

24. Let's Face the Music

Text: Kate Westbrook
Music: Mike Westbrook


FEATURE/INTERVIEW: Dario Napoli Modern Manouche Project UK Tour (11-24 Nov)

Dario Napoli
Photo Credit: Fabiana Toppia Nervi

Django Reinhardt was only 43 when he died and he sometimes lamented in his final months that he might be overlooked by history. Happily, the virtuoso gypsy is hailed as one of the most influential guitarists of all time and his remarkable legacy has been emulated by jazz musicians all over the world and by guitar greats as varied as Les Paul, BB King, Carlos Santana, Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix and Willie Nelson.

Among the musicians keeping the cherished Django sound alive today is Italian DARIO NAPOLI, who is bringing the ‘Dario Napoli Modern Manouche Project’ to the UK next month for a tour that includes the closing concert of the Liverpool Royal Philharmonic 2018 ‘Django’s Legacy’ season (on Saturday 24 November)
. Martin Chilton writes:

Speaking from his home in Cortona, Napoli says he was first “blown away” by Reinhardt’s music when he heard Biréli Lagrène in concert in Vienna. The French guitarist’s interpretations of Reinhardt prompted Napoli to go back and explore the original music of a man born in January 1910, in a caravan on the road in Belgium.

“My favourite Django records are the recordings he did in Rome in 1949,” says Napoli, who was born in 1974. “They were made with relatively unknown jazz drummers, pianists and clarinet players, joining violinist Stéphane Grappelli, who was a more mature musician by 1949, when the quality of the recording was better.

“Django was playing the music he loved and was so relaxed. In the Rome recordings there are pieces that are completely impromptu, because he is exploring while he is playing. Improvising is the hardest thing to do, because it is the riskiest way of playing. I don’t think a week goes by when I don’t listen to those four sides.”

What makes Reinhardt’s playing all the more astonishing is that in October 1928, he was caught in a caravan fire, which damaged the right side of his body and burned his left hand. He lost the use of both his pinkie and ring finger and had to devise an entirely new way of fingering chords, using the damaged stumps to press on the fretboard while he was playing. Napoli is in awe of Reinhardt’s technique, as well as his imagination. “What stood out was his creativity and also the amazing rhythmic positions he took up with his hands as he invented a complicated horizontal way of playing.”

Napoli is a good example of the modern, inventive entrepreneurial musician. He teaches aspiring musicians at his ‘Gypsy Jazz Guitar Camps’ and has co-written an instruction guidebook (with DVD) about playing gypsy jazz guitar. He uses crowd-funding social media campaigns for albums – his most recent CD is My Favourite Spot – and travels the world playing in festivals and at concert venues.

How would Reinhardt, a famously unpredictable character, have coped in the modern world? “It would have been a lot harder, because you have to focus on so many things besides just the music,” says Napoli. “Django had a tough time even with his brother Joseph helping out by making sure he had picks and strings. When Duke Ellington invited him to the USA, the great bandleader could not really deal with some of Django’s behaviour. Django was a guy who wouldn’t show for gigs, or would be ridiculously late. He was very spur-of-the-moment. Thankfully people believed in him and got him recording deals.”

There is video footage of Reinhardt playing Jattendrai Swing in 1939 – a clip that has been seen 1.4 million times on YouTube. “I know his guitarist grandson David Reinhardt and he has a lot of things with Django that have not yet been released,” adds Napoli. “Hopefully one day that music will be shared with the world.”

Reinhardt is only one of the influences on Napoli’s playing. He enjoyed seeing Eric Clapton as a teenager and would try to emulate “absolute favourites” such as George Benson, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Joe Pass when he was learning on a battered guitar that cost 40 euros.

When he plays his 14 dates in the UK – on a tour that takes in Sudbury, Cardiff, Bristol, Hereford, Taunton and Ledbury, before finishing in Liverpool – he will mix tributes to Reinhardt with his more modern material.

With him in the UK will be Tommaso Papini on rhythm guitar and Alberto Viganò, primarily on electric bass. “Alberto, who joins me on melodies and does solos, is an interesting player. I have known Tommaso for about eight years. He is a great rhythm player and really good at arranging. He’s a very funny guy and there is never a dull moment. I have done short tours to America, Brazil, Colombia and Holland – and played in Ireland at Cloughtoberfest and at the Django sur Lennon Festival in Donegal – but this time we will be on the road for three weeks. It’s been satisfying putting the tour together myself and I am excited at the prospect of seeing the beautiful British countryside.”

Playing gypsy-style guitar is physically exerting and Napoli says it takes a lot out of him. He works hard at staying fit, although he has cut down on tennis and stopped playing his beloved basketball altogether about 13 years ago after “the wake-up call” of breaking his left thumb during a game.

Nevertheless, he practises relentlessly and is already planning for recording a new album in January 2019. For now, though, the UK is his focus. “My elder brother force-fed me the Beatles as a youngster. They were the first thing I heard and I want to see as much as possible in Liverpool and dig into their history. In fact, we do a gypsy version of Paul McCartney’s 1973 song My Love that just seems to work.”

Another thing that appeals is finding common bonds with a different audience. “Being on stage is the most fun thing to do, and this is an age where lots of musicians rely on live performance for their living,” he says. “I like sharing things with new people. I like explaining insight behind my own instrumental compositions. It is also great to see them understand why we are playing a Django song and why it means so much to us. When you can create a true bond with a crowd, that connection is a unique experience. It can take your music to a new level.” (pp)


11 November: Pizza Express, London
13 November: Brecon Jazz, Brecon
15 November: Cardiff Jazz, Cardiff
16 November: The Stop Cafe, Shrewsbury
17 November: The Market Theatre, Ledbury
18 November: Sunflower & I, Cardiff
19 November: Severn Jazz, Worcester
20 November: Huntingdon Hall, Worcester
21 November: Zelda's Jazz Room, Wantage
22 November: Weobly Village Hall, Hereford
23 November: Creative Innovation Centre, Taunton
24 November: Liverpool Royal Philharmonic, Liverpool


ROUND-UP (3): Jazz & the City 2018 in Salzburg

The Bass Summit in the Traklhaus
L-R: Robert Landfermann, Lukas Kranzlbinder, Jasper Hoiby
Photo Credit: Frank Schindelbeck /

Jazz & the City 2018 
(Salzburg. 18 October. Round-Up by Oliver Weindling)

This, our third and final round-up from Jazz & the City, is from Oliver Weindling. Links to our other two pieces are below. Oliver writes:

I had ended my own Friday night hearing Jasper Hoiby with his band Fellow Creatures. Great to hear how the band has developed from its first initial gigs a year ago, revelling in the joy with which all the members of the band impart from their performance. So the first gig on Saturday had a bit of continuity since it started with an extended version of a Blind Date concept that is being used at the festival – musicians playing for the first time with one (or more) whom they have never met before.

As a “bass summit”, Jasper was invited by Austrian Lukas Kranzelbinder along with Robert Landfermann (of Pablo Held Trio). It took place in the museum located in the house where Salzburg's own poète maudit Georg Trakl (1887-1914) was born. This was a mesmerising dialogue where the three players passed the widest range of sounds across each other – bowed sections, and use of the bass as a percussion instrument amongst others. All the way through there was a strong flow that gave the performance impetus. Perhaps that is because they are all three used to giving the pulse to so many of the groups that they perform in?

Miller’s Tale is named after the fact that the album was made in Yonkers, the hometown of playwright Arthur Miller. Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman, Evan Parker and Ikue Mori delivered a master class of improvisation. All blended together, yet each was able to create lines which reflected their strengths – Evan’s extended techniques, Mark’s technical brilliance and Sylvie’s variety of sound. The ‘glue’ was provided by Ikue Mori, who masterfully integrated her electronics.

The day was completed by another Austrian group, Kompost 3. They played in the Jazzit club, the main year-round jazz club in town, intriguingly in the local Communist Party headquarters. Martin Eberle showed the full range of trumpet techniques, from spluttering through to high wails. The rest of the band (keyboard, bass and drums) took a bit of time to get going and the groove element and noise levels built. By the end they had drawn us in, though I think that they could have achieved that earlier if they had engaged better with the audience in terms of eye contact, etc.

The other group that I heard on Saturday was Synaesthetic Trip led by Edward Perraud, drummer with Das Kapital. Somehow Thomas de Pourquery had disappeared and we were left with his microphone. But there was no need to feel anything missing, with Bart Maris (Flat Earth Society’s trumpeter) and Benoît Delbecq providing interplay. A whole range of influences and stimuli, from female soul thieves through to Wagner and Bach. Perhaps unsurprisingly in a city which is the birthplace of Mozart, and has one of the most uncompromising classical festivals every summer, the audience was on its feet at the end.

All credit to Tina Heine and her team, working hard to teach the Salzburgers the thrills of jazz today. With so many thrilling gigs available for free, one should put it in the diary for next year.

LINKS: Sebastian's round-up of Wednesday to Friday
Ralf Dombrowski's Round-Up of Friday and Saturday


CD REVIEW: Ofer Landsberg Quartet – I'll Be Around

Ofer Landsberg Quartet  I'll Be Around
(  CD Review by Leonard Weinreich)

Ofer Landsberg started playing the guitar at seven years old. At 17, he traded Tel Aviv for New York, spiritual home of bebop, and began absorbing the atmosphere. When stating his influences, Landsberg dutifully lists the eternal bop patriarchs (Bird, Bud, Dizzy and Monk) but also sneaks in elusive pianist Elmo Hope, signifying hip connoisseurship.

Landsberg has developed into a bebop master, knowledgeable and unashamed to be playing changes. Investing the intricate melodies and irregular accents with his individual inventiveness, articulation and emotional artistry, he refreshes the music and strengthens its relevance. No surprise then, he’s much in demand as a teacher. In this 2018 quartet album, his style is in full bloom, bell-like single tones alternate with fast-flowing legato, each note cleanly stated. The repertoire is off-beat and packed with surprises. The group interaction approaches awesomeness.

Two Dizzy Gillespie compositions, Bebop, a cubist reconstruction of the ‘Rhythm’ changes and Shaw Nuff, based on the chords of Whispering, receive crisp, lithe performances. In contrast, Alec Wilder’s languorous I’ll Be Around is treated as a succession of eloquent sustained guitar tones suspended over a sinuous samba rhythm.

Overdue attention is paid to a couple of fine melodies overlooked by jazz musicians: Some Other Spring (impeccable jazz credentials: composed by Christine Wilson, then wife of piano megastar, Teddy Wilson and memorably recorded by Billie Holiday) features a sensitive contribution from Alex Bryson’s piano. And Be My Love, a 1950 pop ballad, has been unjustly shunned owing to sweaty association with bulky operatic movie star, Mario Lanza.

Audrey was written by Paul Desmond, keen Audrey Hepburn fan and sublime altoist who made Brubeck records bearable. Bassist Dario Di Lecce is faultless. Two more rare songs also appear: a seductive version of Katzman and Sour’s We Could Make Such Beautiful Music Together, with lovely delicate brushwork from Matt Fishwick, and I Can’t Dream Can’t I?, Fain and Kahal’s 1950s hit for Doris Day and the Andrews Sisters (but not together). Who knew it could be an inspiring launchpad for graceful bebop lines? Sportsman’s Hope and the blues Save Some For Later are insinuating toe-tappers. A highly satisfying album.

The Ofer Landsberg Quartet will be appearing in the EFG London Jazz Festival as part of  Bopfest at a lunchtime gig on 24 November at Toulouse Lautrec, 140 Newington Butts, London SE11 4RN.

Track Listing

Be My Love
Save Some for Later
Some Other Spring
I Can Dream Can't I?
I'll Be Around
Shaw 'Nuff
We Could Make Such Beautiful Music Together
Sportman's Hope


FEATURE/ADVICE: Sound Reasoning Part 3 – choosing microphones for jazz recording

Large diaphram condenser mics are great for recording double bass

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 third part of his special advice series for LondonJazz News. Sound Reasoning Part 1 – the set-up, and Part 2 – monitoring levels and listening, are here.

Choosing microphones for jazz recording

Using the wrong mics is a problem I hear a lot in mixes. Choosing the right mic for the right instrument can make the difference between a great sounding jazz record and one which struggles to sound professionally produced. Some basic knowledge of mics is useful because recording on a budget often means using a small studio which doesn't specialise in jazz. Your recording engineer may not know that recording jazz requires a different microphone choice.

The most common problem, one I've seen again and again, is incorrect drum miking. In jazz we want to hear what's happening on the ride cymbal, because it is often key to the rhythmic interplay in the piece. The standard overhead mic technique for rock music is unlikely to get the kind of detail on the cymbals you need for jazz. Or consider piano. In rock, the piano often needs to cut through walls of guitars and pounding drums. So you might mike the piano so that the upper mids were prominent and not be concerned about the low end or tonal nuances of quieter notes. In jazz you need the full depth, width and dynamic range of the piano and this requires a different approach.

I’m not going to go into details on how to mike different instruments, but rather give you an overview of types of microphone. Listening in the control room during setup, knowing the kind of changes you can the ask the engineer for, can help immensely if you are not getting the piano or drum sound you want.

The main thing to remember is to use your ears and ask two things: Can I hear all the detail I need to hear on a given instrument when they are playing very quietly? Can I hear all the detail from every instrument when the whole band is playing? Concentrate particularly on things like intricate ride cymbal patterns, detailed snare work, quieter kick drum work and details in acoustic bass playing.  Those are the most easily lost sounds once the band is playing together.

Next concentrate on tone. Does the sax or trumpet have the tone you are after? If  the player has a breathy style, can you hear the breathiness clearly? If they have a sweet soprano tone or an aggressive tenor tone are these coming across at their best? Does the piano have enough low end? Does it sound too mellow or too cutting? Can you hear the woody tone of the bass? Does the kick drum sound dull, or too boomy? Does the instrument I'm listening to sound as good as my favourite records?

If anything doesn’t sound right, ask your engineer to change the mic or adjust the positioning until it sounds they way you think it should. Understanding something about the kinds of mics and positioning can be helpful  but listening critically is the main thing.

Now on to the microphones

You don’t need a £2000 mic. Of course really cheap mics are unlikely to give you a great sound. But the choice of mic type and positioning are more important than how much they cost. A £300-400 mic if well chosen and well positioned, can sound far better than a poorly chosen and badly positioned £2000-3000 mic.

If your engineer doesn't have much experience with jazz, they may choose mics which are less than ideal for achieving the big, warm, detailed sound you probably want. Again, the mic choice for recording rock music is often very different from those chosen for jazz. The same is true for how you position the mics. With rock you are looking for a mic which will produce impact and cut through a wall of guitars. Fine details are not the priority. In jazz you are looking for mics which can accurately represent every nuance which is being played even at very low volumes, and mics which can reproduce the fine textures of acoustic instruments. In rock music the object is often almost the opposite, you often want maximum impact within a restricted frequency range.

Types of microphone

Condenser mics

Condenser mics are particularly good at capturing detail and high frequencies. There are two types of condenser microphone.  Large and small diaphragm condensers.  Large diaphragm condensers are also good at capturing the low end of an instrument. For this reason large diaphragm condensers are great for many things, notably vocals, sax, trumpet, piano and acoustic bass.

Small diaphragm condensers don't capture the low end as well, but they are good at capturing high frequency detail.  So these mics are great for overheads on drums and in particular recording ride cymbals.  They are also great for capturing detailed snare work.

Many engineers used to recording rock and pop reflexively put a dynamic mic known as an SM57 as the stop snare mic.  Although this mic is great if you want a punchy rock snare sound, it's often not the best choice for capturing the intricate snare work common in jazz.  On raw jazz recordings where an SM57 or similar dynamic mic has been used as the snare mic it's always immediately obvious because there's a lack of detail when the player starts to do something quiet or more intricate.  It's even more of a problem during the busier parts of the tune when it can be a real struggle to hear what's happening with rolls and drags on the snare.  Of course your mixing engineer can bring out these details by adding EQ and perhaps compression.  However applying processing to transform the snare sound can't achieve the quality you get from using the right mic.

In contrast a good small diaphragm condenser mic (as long as you choose one which can handle the loud volume of a snare drum) can better capture the detail and dynamics of complex snare work as well as the tone of the snare drum.  Mic choice on the snare does depend on the player’s style and taste, and for some jazz players a dynamic mic on the snare can also work well.  But my advice is to always try a condenser mic as well, compare the two and see which sounds best.

Dynamic mics

Dynamic mics are also good for many purposes.  They don't feed back as much as condensers so they are great for live work.  They are an ideal choice for miking toms and kick drum.  They can also be good on electric guitars, though condensers and ribbons can also work well here. Dynamic mics don't tend to represent details in the high frequencies as well as condenser mics and to my ears they are often not as good at capturing the subtle rich tones of acoustic instruments.  For this reason dynamic mics are rarely used for recording things like piano, acoustic bass, sax, trumpet or drum overheads. Dynamic mics can deal with very high volumes and air movement (such as kick drums) however, where most condensers would not cope.  Dynamic mics are also good at producing a tight, impactful, punchy sound, which is why they are often used in rock music.

In a jazz studio recording, dynamic mics are generally only used on the toms and kick drum, and perhaps electric guitar.    Although there can be exceptions to any rule, if your engineer is using a dynamic mic or a ribbon mic on anything else, it's really worth asking them to try a condenser mic instead.  Unless your engineer has a track record of engineering great sounding jazz recordings, my advice is to make sure they follow these rules.

Ribbon mics

Ribbons have been very trendy in recent years and I think are often used inappropriately.  Ribbons can sound great, but you need to be wary. Their sound can vary hugely.  There are ribbons that sound amongst the best mics I've heard.  And there are others which sound amongst the worst.  And all of them have been expensive ones from big name brands.  So use ribbons with caution.  Unless you are absolutely sure it's right for the instrument in the context of the mix, it's always safer to choose something else.

Some ribbons perform poorly at high frequencies and you can end up with a muddy, dull sound. Some people talk about these mics as "dark" or "warm" but they can simply mean the mic isn't good at capturing high frequencies.  Some modern ribbons can represent the high frequencies well, but “vintage” ribbon mics or new ribbons modelled on old designs are often incapable of producing high frequencies adequately. This means you will be recording only part of your sound and you'll never be able to recover what's missing if you later decide you want it in the mix.

An example is using ribbons as overhead mics on drums or on a sax player who has a breathy tone.  Many ribbon mics will not reproduce the top end detail needed.  I have received many recordings to mix where ribbons were used as overheads on the drums and typically it is very difficult to hear the detail of intricate ride cymbal work, especially in a busy track.  If these frequencies are missing, there's really no way to bring them back using EQ or anything else.  As always, use your ears when setting up the mics.

Context is also important. Some ribbon mics can produce a very nice velvety mid range and low end even if they don't represent the high frequencies as well.  So in a sparse intimate ballad, a ribbon might sound great on sax or trumpet.  However in an up tempo track where there's a lot of busy playing, it's the high frequencies which help our ear pick out the details of each instrument.  In this situation, a ribbon mic might mean the sax or trumpet gets swallowed up by the other instruments in a way that wouldn't happen with a condenser mic.

A common technique to get around this is to use two mics on any instrument where you want to use a ribbon mic.  You place the ribbon mic and a condenser mic right next to each other and record them on separate tracks.  DDuring the mix you can choose the ribbon for a slow track and the condenser for faster tracks.

TIP: If you can set the two mics up so that the diaphragms of the two mics are lined up to exactly the same distance from the instrument, you can use them both together in the mix.  This can be used as a kind of "natural EQ" because the sound will change as you change the balance between the two mics in the mix.  However, if you can't be sure of aligning the diaphragms, you are unlikely to be able to use them both together in a mix because of phase misalignment.

Ribbons can have a very nice “velvety” midrange and smooth deep low end and can also sometimes tame potentially harsh sounding instruments.  So if you have time to experiment, it might be worth trying one, but if you are under time pressure or are not 100% sure you are getting the right sound from a ribbon, choose a condenser instead

In the next article we look at how to place microphones and how to deal with leakage.

Mark Wingfield
Mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio


CD REVIEW: Flat Earth Society – Untitled #0

Flat Earth Society – Untitled #0
(Igloo IGL299. CD review by Peter Slavid)

There's a long tradition of quirky, experimental, improvising big bands in Belgium and Holland.  Starting with Willem Breuker through Misha Mengelberg and the ICP and others, these bands have a distinctive European sound. The 15-piece Flat Earth Society has been around now for approaching 20 years and sits firmly in that tradition. Their website carries the strapline: “The most unreliable music since 1999.”

That, and the title of this double album, give a clue to the band's nature, so too the naming of the two individual CDs which are called Side 1... and Side A. The sleeve is another clue with a large photo of Tommy Cooper inside the hologram front cover. The music covers a range of influences from Ellington to Mingus to Zappa with extra input from circus and brass band traditions.

Most of the music is composed by the leader, Peter Vermeersch, but there are four from pianist Peter Vandenberghe and one standard – a version of Summertime complete with tweeting birds that would undoubtedly surprise both Gershwin and Miles Davis. The music is very theatrical and the band's live performances emphasise that with lots of movement and chatter. It's no surprise to learn that Vermeersch also writes for cinema and theatre.

But this isn't just a joke. There are plenty of passages of conventional jazz, although there's always a tendency to inject some weird sounds or changed rhythms into the mix. The music is also inclined to veer from improvisation to classic swing and back again. The band is full of outstanding soloists, with Bruno Vansina (baritone) and Bart Maris (trumpet) outstanding, but the beauty of Flat Earth Society is that it is a true ensemble playing exciting, complex music with a real sense of fun.

Peter Vermeersch – clarinet/compositions
Martí Melià – clarinet
Michel Mast – tenor saxophone
Benjamin Boutreur – alto saxophone
Bruno Vansina – baritone saxophone/flute
Pauline Leblond, Bart Maris – trumpet
Peter Delannoye, Marc Meeuwissen – trombone
Berlinde Deman – tuba
Frederik Leroux – guitar
Peter Vandenberghe – piano/keys/compostions
Wim Segers – vibraphone
Kristof Roseeuw – bass
Teun Verbruggen – drums/percussion

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Modern Jazz on


CD REVIEW: Joey Morant – Forever Sanctified

Joey Morant – Forever Sanctified
(BluJazz BJ3468. CD Review by Peter Vacher)

Originally from Charleston, Joey Morant is now a New York-based veteran trumpeter who seems to have worked with everyone from Count Basie to Tina Turner, via Lionel Hampton and Paul McCartney, all this without leaving a trace. At least on record.

I heard him a few years back with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, where his bravura style almost overwhelmed the other more staid old-timers who make up the band. He calls himself ‘Mr. Entertainer’ and has travelled the world according to his resumé and has won all sorts of awards in his community. In other words, he is a classic example of the US jazz musician who just carries on, building a career and holding their own, without the benefit of extensive press coverage or widely promoted recordings. A Mid-West reviewer called Morant, "One of the heaviest cats you never heard of." Exactly.

This appears to be only his second ‘name’ album: BluJazz from Chicago also acting as his promotional support. Intriguingly, Morant is a professional martial artist as well a jazz trumpeter. Make of that what you will. His album is varied and fully complies with his ‘Mr Entertainer’ role; the trumpet playing is bright, sometimes flashy and can lean too readily on the facile quote, but is generally energetic and creative. In other words, he has the ‘chops’ to go pretty well anywhere he wants. Boppish at times, straight-ahead at others, his staccato attack is reminiscent of Leroy Jones, the New Orleans trumpeter.

He sings on his own It’s Expensive To Be Poor and his tribute to Lee Morgan via the latter’s immortal Sidewinder is certainly spirited. In a fifty-fifty arrangement, he has the excellent Mike LeDonne on the Hammond organ for company on half the tracks and it’s pianist Ted Firth and tenor-man John Simon who flesh out the ensembles on the remainder. LeDonne is a man who knows how to set a groove and with him is the fine guitarist Mark Whitfield, their joint tracks swinging hard. There’s a fine duo ballad reading of Annie Laurie with pianist Terence Conley and the jaunty Joey’s Theme with a sextet goes like a train. Both sessions have Morant’s 17-year old son Amadeus on drums and he does well throughout.

If no new ground is revealed, it’s sufficient that Morant has staked his claim and should be more widely heard. He’d go down a bomb at Pizza Express.

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


INTERVIEW: Roslin Russell – Fourth Cambridge International Jazz Festival (13–27 Nov 2018)

Myles Sanko
Photo Credit: Bruno Ferreira

The Cambridge International Jazz Festival starting on 13 November is entering its fourth year. One of the key themes this year is the contribution/leadership of women in jazz, with headliners Liane Carroll and Madeleine Peyroux opening and closing the festival respectively. There’s also a look at the themes of environment and humanity with Phronesis (concert + masterclass) and double bassist Jasper Høiby’s Planet B. Leah Williams found out more from Artistic Director ROSLIN RUSSELL:

LondonJazz News: Why did you decide to make celebrating women in jazz the main focus for this year’s festival?

Roslin Russell: We’ve championed female musicians every year and every year there seem to be more and more talented women out there who deserve to have the spotlight on them. This year, we noticed that we’d just happened to book even more women than usual and so it made sense to place an emphasis on how many fantastic, active female musicians there are at the moment. Although the gender imbalance in jazz does seem to be redressing, it’s still really important to continue giving women in jazz a visible platform to inspire other young musicians.

LJN: Who are some of the lesser-known female artists you would urge people to go and see at the festival?

RR: There are so many but a few gigs that promise to be really special are: drummer Lorraine Baker, touring her debut album Eden on 16 November, and saxophonist Josephine Davies with her trio Satori on 22 November. Then there’s The Ridout Family, featuring Alexandra Ridout on trumpet alongside her father and brother, also on 22 November. She’s a really incredible young player with big things ahead of her. They’re playing at a new venue for us this year, the Espresso Library, which promises to create a really intimate and memorable atmosphere.

Josephine Davies
Photo credit: Tor Hills
LJN: You’ve got a few new venues this year – what will they add to the festival?

RR: We’re always keen to explore new venues, and the different kind of musicians and audiences they can appeal to. We also wanted to offer music in venues outside of Cambridge city centre to widen our reach and also give audiences the chance to enjoy some of the many beautiful venues around. One I’m particularly excited about is Storey’s Field Centre, which is a new award-winning, purpose-built concert venue on the edge of the city in Eddington, a new University development. We’ve got some great artists playing there, including the Elliot Galvin Trio on 17 November and Dutch violinist Tim Kliphius’ Trio supported by Tara Minton’s Harp Bazaar on 24 November. This should be a really great gig, especially for people who like both classical and jazz as these artists really draw from both genres. Also, another stunning venue, Saffron Hall, will be hosting Orphy Robinson (he presents Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks) on 16 November.

LJN: Who are some CJF first-time artists that people should know about?

RR: It’s going to be really lovely to welcome a number of artists to the jazz fest family this year as they have strong connections to Cambridge. Myles Sanko was actually working as a chef in Cambridge when he started his jazz career, which has become hugely successful internationally now, so it will be brilliant having him back playing at the Cambridge Junction on 22 November, a double bill with Snowboy & The Latin Section. Similarly, renowned pianist Kit Downes studied in Cambridge and, although he plays here regularly, hasn’t yet been involved in the Festival so we’re really happy to have him, alongside Tom Challenger on tenor sax, at the Gonville & Caius College Chapel on 23 November.

Liane Carroll and Ian Shaw
Photo Credit: Roger Thomas
LJN: Who are you personally looking forward to seeing this year?

RR: I wish I had time to see everyone! But I am particularly excited to see the opening concert with Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw and The London Gay Big Band – I really can’t think of a better way to kick things off. Then there’s regular CJF jazz funk Fender Rhodes artist Resolution 88, who are always amazing and they have a lot of new material this year. Also Vanessa Haynes, who’s simply a mesmerising singer and will be paying a very special tribute to the late Aretha Franklin.

LJN: If there’s just one thing people should go and see this year, what should it be?

RR: A lot of the inspiration for our theme around women in jazz came from booking legendary saxophonist, composer and educator Issie Barratt. Her new dectet Interchange featuring award winning Zoe Rahman and Laura Jurd is playing on 20 November at Emmanuel United Reformed Church, a double bill with ECM artist Elina Duni & Rob Luft – absolutely not to be missed. Issie’s also giving a free talk about her experience as a woman in jazz and co-leading a workshop with Laura Jurd, where they’ll be looking at improvisation over tunes by women composers. Issie’s involvement this year really spans across the different areas of the festival and gives a good taste of how much there is on offer; something to excite and inspire everyone! (pp)

LINK: Cambridge Jazz Festival website


ROUND-UP REVIEW: Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender 2018

"The Mingus Big Band brought the weekend to an irresistibly energetic finale"
Photos courtesy of Ros Rigby

Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender
(Middlesbrough Town Hall. 19-21 October 2018. Round-up by AJ Dehany)

In July 1978, the visiting Newport Jazz Festival presented one of the greatest gatherings of jazz talent to have ever graced the UK. The bill included Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Bill Evans, Art Blakey, Oscar Peterson, Buddy Rich, McCoy Tyner, and Bo Diddley. Astonishingly, all this took place over one weekend at Ayresome Park stadium in the northeastern shipbuilding town of Middlesbrough.

Forty years later you could say jazz came home with the inaugural Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender in the refurbished spaces of Middlesbrough Town Hall. An eclectic programme was headed up by the Mingus Big Band and the Big Chris Barber Band. Barber (interviewed here a few weeks ago) was there forty years ago, as were many of his audience, one of the most mature crowds I’ve ever seen at a jazz gig on a Saturday night. The concert clearly triggered powerful memories; I was captivated by a white-haired lady at a neighbouring table who seemed utterly enraptured by an invisible delight.

The eighty-eight year old bandleader Chris Barber’s fragile vocal performance on Take My Hand, Precious Lord was a highlight in a nostalgic concert which celebrated without concern for modernity the legacy of New Orleans and the blues-inspired jazz of big band tradition. Introducing Cornbread, Peas, Black Molasses he praised those old-timers: “They played jazz how it should be played: the blues!”

It’s a matter of opinion. The Barber Band’s performance of Miles Davis’s All Blues was truly lovely, but muso nerds will appreciate that the turnaround in that tune goes to a bVI chord rather than the usual V chord of the blues. Make of that what you will. Jazz has come a long way since the heyday of the blues.

Modal jazz of a slightly later vintage was evoked in the late concert, which couldn’t have been more different from Barber’s almost pastiche feelgood romp n’ vamp. Dinosaur’s first album seemed to owe a lot to the Miles of In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, but their new album Wandertrail trails some surprising directions.

Dinosaur. L-R: Elliot Galvin, Conor Chaplin,
Laura Jurd, Corrie Dick

Such is Dinosaur’s ferocious development it feels like a decade now, but it’s only three years since I first saw them in Warsaw as the Laura Jurd Quartet. Dinosaur have evolved into an English-Scottish supergroup, characterised by Jurd’s crisp melodic trumpet playing and compositional style, and the innovative intelligence of pianist Elliot Galvin, upheld by Conor Chaplin’s versatile bass playing and Corrie Dick’s sensitive command of the drums. Their creative inventiveness is sustained throughout their open textures but the real curveball was when they suddenly evoked Fairport Convention with sweet harmony vocals in Happy Sad Song, integrating their resolutely modern electronic style with timeless folk-inspired influences.

Northumbrian folk was allied to jazz on Sunday afternoon when the seven-piece Ushaw Ensemble performed their 45-minute St Cuthbert Suite. Led by pianist Paul Edis, the group features Northumbrian piper Andy May. The ambitious eleven-part programme of the commissioned suite follows the life of seventh-century hermetic monk St Cuthbert, who was raised in the Celtic tradition but whose evangelizing at Lindisfarne led the area’s conversion to Roman Christianity. By musical analogy, folk-like themes are introduced and developed with the rich harmonic colour of jazz and classical influences. It’s a thoughtful and intelligent work with a trenchant understated beauty.

Printmakers occupy a similar space but with different influences and intentions. As credible as they come, you might viably call this sextet a supergroup too. They veer on the tasteful side, but you can’t fault them. The signature bird-like vocalese of Norma Winstone has been a wonder of the jazz world since the early 1970s. Her unison moments with Mark Lockheart’s sax are thrilling. Winstone made her name doing this and it’s still devastatingly effective. Her secret is the perfect flute-like tone of her voice. She’s a diva and hits all the right jazz notes with ample creativity but she doesn’t sound like someone playing up to a jazz singer power stereotype. Her voice is closest to the immortal Ella, but has an understated local quality we can treasure.

Pianist of the weekend Nikki Iles introduced a song she wrote with Norma Winstone, inspired by watching Jobim videos at Winstone’s house Tideway. Dark piano reminiscent of Les Six was atmospherically accompanied by subtle bird and tide impressions from Mark Lockheart and guitarist Mike Walker, whose left-field tactility on the guitar added a frisson of experimentalism throughout the set. The song Tideway was spellbinding, with the wordless vocals giving way to a Brazilian samba feel with exemplary subtlety. It’s hard to think of a more ‘exemplary’ jazz group than Printmakers.

But yes, I have one. The Mingus Big Band brought the weekend to an irresistibly energetic finale. Fresh from a six-night residency at London’s Ronnie Scott’s, the first thing we noticed about the New York-based 14-piece jazz orchestra was its diversity. Compared to the rest of the festival, it says something when having two women and five black guys out of fourteen on stage seems like a rainbow moment. That’s an ongoing issue in culture and society, not just jazz… but still…

Developed from Mingus’s sketches, a never heard composition Invisible Lady asserted the musical diversity of Mingus that the band champions. Sue’s Changes is a third-stream jazz concerto for piano and saxophone. Trombone player Conrad Herwig introduced a piece that is familiar under different names and came out of Mingus’s conversations with Eric Dolphy about US internments. Relevant to today’s tide of racism and xenophobia, he said “Mingus is the Nostradamus of jazz.” Then he gave us the chilling title of the piece: “Meditations on a Pair of Wire Cutters”.

The Mingus Big Band has devoted itself to playing Charles Mingus’s music since 1991, twelve years after the great bass player and composer’s death at age 56. They style themselves as the band Mingus would have wanted to lead if he could have had the resources. The second thing you notice about the band is there is no conductor. Directions are conducted by band members where required. At the band’s heart, musical director and bass man Boris Kozlov is a distinctive personality with a crisp and punchy tone. He has that Mingus magic of being able to strike out a commanding solo in its own right that also happens to lead everyone back in.

Helen Sung’s exciting piano playing, fast intelligence and textural colorations make her a key linchpin of the band. The third thing you notice about the band after diversity and conducting is that they’re using sheet music, which is weird given Mingus’s distaste for that and preference for singing parts to players. Nonetheless, each soloist comes to the front mike to play. This simple touch is visually and attitudinally much better than staying put in the pit. Each player has a strongly individual style that is encouraged and contributes to the band’s virtuosic group identity.

Over a weekend of intense and pleasingly disorientingly varied music, it was interesting to consider the different approaches to group style. Dinosaur resembles a rock band with its intimacy and sense of trust. The Big Chris Barber Band are old-school session guys with passion and flair but a sense of place that harks back to an older era. The Mingus Big Band may be somewhere in between, with an exciting sense of drilled individuality.

Similarly, the Beats & Pieces Big Band, who opened the festival, have made a name for themselves over a decade for taking a fourteen-piece format into new textures sonically and in the writing of bandleader Ben Cottrell, with influences from rock, dance, contemporary classical and minimalism. Following an exhausting tenth anniversary tour, they brought an enlivened group boldness to their set, and it’s worth noting they famously play without sheet music. Another part of their appeal is they don’t worry too much about being jazz. Anton Hunter’s extensive guitar fx-rack sets them apart sonically for starters, but their selections include their aching death-disco take on Bowie’s Let’s Dance, and I cleave to their heartstopping paean to emotional devastation, Broken, which still makes me cry every time I hear it.

Nikki Iles directing NYJO in the world premiere of Wild Oak,
 NYJO commission with support from PRS Foundation’s Open Fund,
dedicated to Geri Allen

It was an emotional weekend. Personally speaking, it was crazy for me to be back in the same venue of the first gig I ever went to, some time ago. I was twelve. It was The Prodigy—intense countercultural dance music situated in the rave culture. My mam thought I was going to see a stage play. My mate had a bag of hemp seeds he tried to smoke in the bogs, and we had to get picked up by his dad half way through the gig cos we were twelve and it was a school night.

So when I think about the possible emotional impact of Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender for those who were there in Ayresome Park forty years ago for Dizzy and Ella, I get it. But I don’t feel falsely nostalgic. I’m pumped about the brilliant diversity of talent on display, especially among the Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender’s commitment to broadening local and youth participation with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the Tees Valley Youth Jazz Collective, and those stunning young groups Jasmine, Tetes de Pois, and Chronotic Brass. And I’m warmed by the promise of initiatives like "Tots Play Jazz", Chris Sharkey’s session for 2-5 year olds, which really brought home the fact that jazz is for everyone, of any age.

AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. . All pictures courtesy of Ros Rigby

The Middlesbrough Jazz Weekender was produced by Ros Rigby and Heather Spencer working with the team at Middlesbrough Town Hall, an Arts Council England NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) run by Middlesbrough Council.