TRIBUTE: Brian Peerless (1939-2018)

Brian Peerless at Wavendon in 2013
Photo credit: Peter Vacher
Peter Vacher writes:

The sudden death of Brian Peerless shocked and saddened his many friends and associates in the UK jazz world and beyond. Brian was a constant presence on the wider jazz scene, his friendships cemented over many years, many first prompted by his time as one of the weekend team at Dobell’s, the legendary jazz record shop on London’s Charing X Road, and then furthered as he began to organise tours for visiting US mainstream musicians.

Brian organised tours, helped jazz clubs and festivals create programmes and saw to it that all the necessary paperwork for visiting stars was safely and quietly dealt with. Although fully committed to his work as a lecturer and administrator at the University of Middlesex, Brian found time to set up a circuit of playing locations and thus was able to encourage players like Kenny Davern, Warren Vache and, most notably, Scott Hamilton to spend extended periods in the UK.

Brian became an adviser to the Brecon Jazz Festival and would regularly put together special groups for the festival involving US stars like Davern, Ken Peplowski, Marty Grosz, John Bunch and Jake Hanna, always teaming them with the finest UK musicians. Over the years, Brian must have arranged literally hundreds of gigs for these US visitors and their British companions

He also recruited the US visitors for Tom Baron’s Blackpool Jazz Parties and when Tom decided to pull back, Brian with Ann and Jerry Browns created the Norwich Jazz Parties, carrying both the financial and programming responsibility and incidentally, allowing a whole array of great artists to appear before British audiences. I can recall the presence of Annie Ross with pianist Tardo Hammer in support one year and rare appearances by the great tenor-saxophonist Houston Person and trumpeter Joe Wilder. When the club scene here dwindled and it was no longer possible to sustain extended tours, Brian concentrated on arranging bookings for Hamilton, now resident himself in Europe, and was also instrumental in arranging the regular visits of the popular pianist Rosanno Sportiello.

Brian’s principal interests might be best described as pre-bop mainstream, his youthful tastes forged by the Chicago style and Condon-ite schools. He knew their recordings inside and out and was a mine of information on all aspects of their music and much else. In his younger years he played drums and had a band for a while with another friend, the late saxophonist Clive Pryke. I never heard him play but I can recall, as many others will, that his enthusiasm for jazz and its practitioners never dimmed.

Ever helpful, Brian was an engaging presence, always upbeat, a cheerful companion and a generous friend. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. His death aged 79 on Friday, November 16 at his new home in Daventry will leave a huge hole in our wider jazz world. Our sympathies go out to his wife Valerie.

Brian Peerless' funeral will be held in Rugby on Tuesday 11 December 2018. More details on request.

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CD REVIEW: Wolfgang Muthspiel – Where The River Goes


Wolfgang Muthspiel – Where The River Goes
(ECM 675 1712. Review by Peter Bacon)

This the the same band that made 2016’s Rising Grace, with one change: Eric Harland replaces Brian Blade on drums. With Wolfgang Muthspiel are Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, Brad Mehldau on piano and Larry Grenadier on double bass. Yep, it’s a pretty heavyweight line-up.

Ironically, given that drum change, it’s Blade’s Fellowship that Muthspiel’s band sometimes reminds me of. There is that dedication to the melodic interweave, that lovely balance of structure and freedom, with the arrangements integral to the music and running right through it but in an unobtrusive way, a bit like invisible stitching mysteriously creating a marvellous flowing and twisting shape. There is also a sense of the open space, the great outdoors, though it’s not as strong as in some of Mehldau’s own music (I’m thinking Highway Rider) or some of Pat Metheny’s music, for example.

The title track opens the album and is a perfect summation of it: the leader starts, pensively, on his own, with that feeling of creating the melody, the chords, the theme… then he settles into a strummed riff; Mehldau adds a line over the top, Grenadier joins and they lead to a drum roll in from Harland and Akinmusire stating more decisively the theme which has already been suggested. As listeners we might have been leaning towards the speakers, intrigued as the group slowly coalesced, but now we can sit back, assured that this is indeed going to be a hugely satisfying hour of music spent with five marvellous companions.

All the music is composed by Muthspiel bar one atmospheric group improv and a knotty, Monk-like piece of be-bop from Mehldau called Blueshead. For Django has a limpid melody, beautifully articulated by piano, trumpet and guitar in weave; Descendents holds that mood but ups the tension a little with some perfectly placed drum drama from Harland; Buenos Aires sounds like it could acquire lyrics and appear on one of Muthspiel’s singer/songwriter albums while also having a Ralph Townerish classical feel; One Day My Prince Was Gone is a free-ish improvisation with Akinmusire and Mehldau exploring the limelight; and Panorama closes the album with Muthspiel and Harland in coversation, the former again in classical mood, the latter enjoying snare and cymbals.

If you don’t know Rising Grace, I’d probably still favour that over this, but it’s a close call. Hey, why not go for the double?

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NEWS: Soundtrack of The Jazz Ambassadors documentary now available



Sebastian writes: I was invited to host a Q and A session after the screening of the film The Jazz Ambassadors at the Barbican Cinema 2 on Sunday. It emerged that the original score of the film by composer Michael McEvoy has now been released on digital platforms to coincide with that screening. The following quotes the press release

"A THIRTEEN/Antelope South/Normal Life Pictures co-production, in association with BBC, ZDF and Arte, “The Jazz Ambassadors” tells the extraordinary story of America’s plan to win hearts around the world and counter the Cold War with the USSR in 1956 with the help of America’s most influential jazz artists. Over a period of ten years, performers including Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck, along with their racially-integrated bands, travelled the globe to perform as cultural ambassadors and became ‘America’s coolest weapon in The Cold War’.

The documentary also reveals how the U.S. State Department unwittingly gave the burgeoning Civil Rights’ movement a major voice on the world stage just when it needed one most. Directed by Peabody Award-winner Hugo Berkeley and produced by Emmy-winner Mick Csáky, the film features striking archival footage, photos and radio clips, with iconic performances throughout. American composer, Michael J McEvoy, rose to the challenge of writing an original score that would capture the atmosphere of the times, while creating an underscore that blended seamlessly with the iconic live performances in the film. With nods to jazz innovators Lee Morgan, John Coltrane and Mile Davis, McEvoy’s music is at times meditative and reflective and, at others, segues in hard-driving grooves encompassing bebop and blues.

While complementing the narrative, McEvoy’s score also stands alone as a unique and mesmerising soundscape. The music is performed by a 9-piece ensemble of leading UK jazz performers brought together especially for this recording, featuring virtuoso drummer, Mark Mondesir and powerhouse bass player, Karl Rasheed Abel  who provide a deep pulsing rhythmic foundation. The horn section features the exceptional talents of trumpet players Freddie Gavita, Tom Walsh and Kevin Robinson, Paul Booth, Graeme Blevins and Patrick Clahar on saxophone, and Fayyaz Virji and Dennis Rollins on trombone. Between them they have worked with artists from Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau, Ray Charles and many other jazz greats. McEvoy completes the line up on piano and brings a wealth of experience as a composer, performer and musical director. [..]

The score for “The Jazz Ambassadors” was recorded and mixed at Air-Edel Studios by engineer Nick Taylor, with the musicians performing the compositions together while watching the visuals on screen. Director, Hugo Berkeley, was present at the recording sessions explaining the story to the musicians which enabled them to deeply engage with the subject matter. In contrast to the process in many film recordings, McEvoy kept the jazz philosophy throughout by choosing a group of strong individual voices who each brought a heartfelt depth and authenticity to their performances. At the same time, the score was recorded without a click track giving the recordings a unique improvisatory feel.

Composer Michael J McEvoy said: “The vibe in the room was really important to me. I wanted all the players there to feel that what we were was doing was special, performing a music score that was supporting an important document of jazz history that would be watched, listened to and enjoyed for many years. I believe the score fully embodies that vibe. It was an immense honour and privilege to work on this project and I’m very proud of it.” Director, Hugo Berkeley said: “Mike did a phenomenal job. The soundtrack is meditative, but also very musical. And he worked wonderfully with brass to create a sound that doubles both as ambassadorial and at the same time bluesy and mournful. I’d never realized how close those vibes could be, and I think Mike plays with that duality beautifully in these haunting compositions.”



LINKS: Jazz Ambassadors soundtrack on iTunes
Jazz Ambssadors soundtrack on Spotify
The Jazz Ambassadors website

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REVIEW: Ian Shaw and the Citizens of the World Choir: Shine Sister Shine at Kings Place (2018 EFG LJF)

Ian Shaw at Kings Place
Both photos courtesy of Charlotte Keech

Ian Shaw: Shine Sister Shine
(Kings Place Hall One, 24 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)

This review is the last of our fifty-four pieces covering the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival

Charismatic singer and human rights activist Ian Shaw has a commitment to showing us the personal in the political. His concert Shine Sister Shine made us lock eyes on serious issues of female and refugee experience with grace and clarity of purpose. “I’ve always been very concerned,” he said, “that men don’t treat women the way they ought to be treated – and also…“ (adding a codicil possibly directed at the dubious record of the UK’s former Home Secretary turned Prime Minister) “…that women don’t treat women the way they should be treated.”

The album is “a celebration of the actions and art of extraordinary women”. Stella Duffy calls it “a soundtrack to hope”; it’s a labour of love, an album of songs written by women including Joni Mitchell, Gwyneth Herbert, Peggy Lee and Alicia Keys. At Kings Place a polished quartet performance was followed by a Q&A and an inspiring collaboration with the Citizens of the World Choir directed and conducted by Becky Dell and made up of refugees, asylum seekers, volunteers and campaigners – mostly young women. The programme was serious and engaged, but also musically engaging.

Becky Dell directing the choir

Witty and urbane, as a singer Ian Shaw’s got the lows, the highs, the growls, the squeals. The power and volume of his voice are complemented by his sensitivity and versatility across genres. He is a great interpreter of a diverse repertoire and a communicator with a deep commitment to social and political issues affecting women and refugees. In a Q&A with Jo Good from BBC Radio London he talked movingly about his experiences working in Northern France with the charity Side By Side Refugees. He said frankly, “It’s not a refugee crisis, it’s a political crisis.”

Right now in France women and children are pleading with border agents who are using tear gas and batons to barricade legal ports of entry. The young women and men of the Citizens of the World Choir filed through singing from the back of the auditorium. It was a beautiful sight to see on stage – and what a thrill it must have been to be up there. The choir does so many things: during the longeurs of indefinite detention it simply gives people something to do. For an audience it brings a human face to the stories and statistics in the media. Also, at a fundamental level, as Shaw says, “music brings people together”.

The songs were played with serious jazz chops by pianist Barry Green with Mick Hutton on bass and Dave Ohm on drums. The material ranges from rock to pop with jazz, soul and gospel flavours. In Joni Mitchell’s Shine the refrain “Oh let your little light shine” was softly chanted like a prayer. The 2007 song has a topical appeal: “Shine on good humor/ Shine on good will/ Shine on lousy leadership/ Licensed to kill.” I was touched by Oscar Peterson’s gospel anthem Hymn to Freedom: “When every heart joins every heart and together yearns for liberty/ That's when we'll be free.”

During the rousing choral finale of the single Shine Sister Shine the back screen presented a slideshow of superwomen from Maya Angelou to Ella Fitzgerald, through Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi, concluding with a dedication to Jo Cox, the Labour politician assassinated by a white supremacist a week before the Brexit referendum in 2016. During the encore Ian Shaw addressed us a final time on a personal level to take political action: “A little thing you can do for me. Write to your MP to request that we stop indefinite detention in the UK.” Please do: https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/

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

Ian Shaw – voice, piano
Barry Green – piano, Fender Rhodes
Mick Hutton – bass
Dave Ohm – drums
The Citizens of the World Choir directed and conducted by Becky Dell

LINK Side by Side by Refugees website

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NEWS: First names announced for 24th Manchester Jazz Festival (23-27 May 2019)

Keith Tippett
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

The first names have been announced for the 2019 Manchester Jazz Festival (mjf) – the city’s 24th – and tickets go on sale for them today. Changes next year include earlier dates – 23-27 May rather than the usual late July week – and a new home base due to the previous home, Albert Square, being part of extensive Town Hall renovations.

The gigs announced today are, in the words of mjf’s press release:

Keith Tippett & Matthew Bourne + Isotach Trio
 – RNCM Theatre, 23 May 2019: 
Two of the greatest British jazz pianists meet across the generational divide in an exciting new collaboration. Don’t miss this rare chance to see the duo perform together.
 

Noya Rao + Caoilfhionn Rose – 
Night and Day, 23 May 2019: 
Leeds-based electronic soul quartet Noa Roya are purveyors of lush enigmatic dreamscapes and electronica. They draw on influences from jazz, hip hop and electronic music while incorporating the sounds of the bass-heavy dub music synonymous with the Leeds music scene.
 

Tim Garland’s Weather Walker – 
St Ann’s Church, 26 May 2019: 
Garland’s latest intimate project fuses chamber jazz, classical and folk. Weather Walker evokes the varied seasons and moods of the Lake District and traditional song from north west England.
 

Emilia Mårtensson’s Loredana – 
The Deaf Institute, 27 May 2019: 
Award-winning Swedish vocalist Emilia has built a well-deserved reputation as one of the most exciting young vocalists on the UK Jazz scene and is known for boundary pushing and her original music which crosses borders between Scandi folk, jazz and pop.

The press release continues:

“For the first time, mjf have teamed up with Manchester Food and Drink Festival, who will curate an exciting mix of culinary offers along the festival hub.”

Of the changes to the festival, artistic director Steve Mead said:

“We’ve worked really hard to find a suitable new home and after a lot of research, we’ve chosen the area running from St Ann’s Square all the way to New Cathedral Street.

“St Ann’s Square became our base in the early years of the festival so now, in our 24th year, this will be something of a homecoming for us, albeit a much bigger home with much more to offer.

“We’ve also moved the festival to the late May Bank Holiday weekend to give Manchester’s student population the chance to enjoy the festival.

“What won’t change is our commitment to offering audiences a diverse, surprising and memorable mix of new music experiences and we hope you’ll continue to join us on that journey.”

As part of its recognition of the term-time dates, mjf is offering the city’s large student population a £5 ticket offer for under 25 year olds at selected gigs for a limited time only.

LINK: Manchester Jazz Festival – including booking for the above events

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REVIEW: Cyrille Aimée at Pizza Express Jazz Club (2018 EFG LJF)

Cyrille Aimée
Phone snap by Alison Bentley


Cyrille Aimée
(PizzaExpress Jazz Club. 25 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Alison Bentley)


Singer Cyrille Aimée has called improvisation an “expérience humaine”, a “way of life”. How would that translate into a gig?

From the first moment, Aimée staked out her territory with a playful smile and leapt headlong into Whatever Lola Wants (Lola Gets) a tango given a modern jazz feel. It’s not so often included in the jazz repertoire, and underlined her musical theatre connections. Stephen Sondheim himself has admired her singing, and she’d translated his One More Kiss into her native French as Un Baiser d’Adieu. “Everything sounds more dramatic in French,” she said, a little chansonnière along with Billie Holiday in her voice.

The speedy jazz swing of Undecided began to reveal the sheer range of styles Aimée could sing, whilst still sounding like herself. Her breakneck scat was as fun and accomplished as Ella’s, full of short bebop quotes; she moved her hand as if playing a trumpet. You felt she had the vocal technique to sing anything she liked. Aimée has talked about growing up listening to the salsa records played by her Dominican mother; I Could Have Danced All Night was a double time samba, with a wide vocal vibrato that recalled Lena Horne or Dinah Washington. Hila Kulik brought some intricate Corea-esque patterns into her fine piano solo. The ballad I’ll Be Seeing You was a perfect match of lyrical and musical interpretation, breathy and introverted. Neither Aimée nor Wayne Tucker’s muted trumpet strayed far from the melody.

Aimée famously abandoned her success in the French equivalent of Pop Idol to pursue jazz. So it was fitting that her pop cover on this gig, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, should be played as Afro-Latin modern jazz (shades of Cedar Walton with Freddie Hubbard.) The whole band had a sense of unstoppable energy, and Tucker’s trumpet solo had a physical power. Aimée’s own songs had jazz and pop influences, (with Tucker and Kulik on backing vocals.) In Inside and Out and Each Day she had some of Corinne Bailey Rae’s winsome charm, but pop elements didn’t prevent strong, uncompromising trumpet, vocal and drum solos (Yonatan Rosen.) Aimée focused intently on everyone’s solos, dancing all the time. In Me Too, written with her sister, Aimée’s stage presence was strong as the song’s message, with a full-on Latin groove. Aimée lives in the US, and she wrote Down to describe moving from New York to the warmth of New Orleans. Recreated live with her “Rupert the Looper” machine, she layered Bobby McFerrin-style sounds that created a warm climate of their own.

Two pieces usually played as instrumentals revealed how much Aimée used her voice as an instrument. Paul Chambers’ Whims of Chambers was sung wordlessly as a duo with bassist Jeremy Bruyère. Every labyrinthine boppy note on both instruments was perfectly tuned and articulated. Aimée’s version of Monk’s tune It’s Over Now (Well You Needn’t) opened with a fast-fingered, fluent bass solo then detonated into funk.

“You always have to take risks,” Aimée said in the interview with her which LJN published in 2016, (link below), and perhaps that is the source of her – and her band’s – energy and sheer joie de vivre. She recently gave a TED talk entitled “Dare to improvise,” and you felt tonight that she was almost daring the audience to have as much fun as she was. We did.

LINKS: Nicky Schrire's interview from 2015
Annie Yanbekian's interview from 2016
Report of Cyrille Aimee's appearance at the 2014 London Jazz Festival
Cyrille Aimee website

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REVIEW: Makaya McCraven + Nubya Garcia – Chicago X London at EartH (2018 EFG LJF)

Makaya McCraven
Photo credit: Emile Holba for the EFG London Jazz Festival

Makaya McCraven + Nubya Garcia – Chicago X London
(EartH, Dalston, 24 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Gail Tasker)

“It’s nice to be playing in my hometown again”, Nubya Garcia announced to the 1,000-strong crowd at Dalston’s newest venue EartH on Saturday night. Despite being the unofficial queen of the London jazz scene, Garcia has been spending more and more time abroad, touring the likes of Croatia, Portugal, Australia, and even India. She’s also been kept busy with numerous projects, such as London-based spiritual jazz group Maisha, who just had their debut album launch on Thursday. With two sold-out releases of her solo project under her belt, the band are in high demand and were greeted with raucous cheers from the crowd.

The line-up was Charlie Stacey on keys, Daniel Casimir on double bass, and Benjamin Appiah on drums, a slightly different line-up from her EP When We Are with Stacey taking the place of Joe Armon-Jones and Appiah replacing Femi Koleoso. The set-list comprised of a mix of tunes from When We Are and 2017’s Nubya’s 5ive. Each player showcased their skills, with Stacey hammering out whacky solos on his Rhodes, and Appiah playing high-energy drum beats throughout.

The musicians seemed fresh and confident, despite certain problems with the sound. Casimir’s double bass was so loud that very little of the upper register came through, though this improved as the set went on. And whilst Appiah’s upbeat style of drumming meant playing each rhythmic division down to the eighth note, it would have been nice to have had some space to hear more of the keys and sax. A true highlight however was Garcia’s solo rubato introduction to Lost Kingdoms, which gave her a chance to showcase her versatility, tunefulness and incredible intensity and power in the upper registers. This tune received the biggest crowd reaction, understandably so from the angular, catchy main melodic riff. But also because it featured guitarist Shirley Tetteh, who brought her own world of groove to the proceedings.

The second half of the night featured American beat-maker and drummer Makaya Mcraven, who has also been receiving a lot of attention recently. His latest album Universal Beings was released only a few weeks back by Chicago label International Anthem and has received high critical acclaim from the UK. This is partly due to the host of UK talent featured in the credits: Shabaka Hutchings and Daniel Casimir to name but a few. His previous album was also a collaboration with the UK jazz scene and includes the likes of Theon Cross and Soweto Kinch. Mcraven’s band on Saturday however consisted of fellow Americans Irvin Pierce on saxophone, Greg Spero on keys, Matt Gold on guitar, and Junius Paul on vocals and electric bass.

The band played a mix of tunes from Universal Beings and another 2018 release, Where We Come From. Mcraven displayed a highly nuanced approach to the kit as he flowed from slow, drunken hip hop to faster, more free jazz. He also showed true spontaneity and variation: his light touch and constantly-changing beat pattern kept the audience enthralled and the rhythm section on their toes. His compositions also displayed a developed, through-composed style that proved especially exciting in the cross-rhythmic, slightly modal tune Atlantic Black. Another stand-out character was Gold on guitar, whose solos reached intense heights, and Paul, whose vocals doubled with the saxophone to produce a remarkable rendition of Tony Williams’ There Comes A Time.

The very fact that this double bill took place at a 1,000-capacity venue in Dalston shows not only how much jazz has transformed over the past decade, but how much London has as well. One can only hope that venues continue to accommodate and support the London jazz movement along its trajectory, so that it can reach ever-greater heights.

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REVIEW: Jazz In The Round – Wonky Logic, StringTing, Tony Kofi and The Organisation at Kings Place (2018 EFG LJF)

Wonky Logic, Jazz in the Round at Kings Place
Phone snap by Jacob Silkin

Jazz In The Round – Wonky Logic, StringTing, Tony Kofi and The Organisation
(Kings Place Hall Two, 24 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by AJ Dehany)

Jazz FM DJs Chris Philips and Jez Nelson’s monthly night Jazz In The Round came to King’s Place with a late announcement that it would not be taking place in the round after all. Onstage they presented three sets in two halves. Wonky Logic and StringTing represented separate electronic and acoustic directions of the ultra-modern. These were balanced against Tony Kofi and the Organisation’s traditional electroacoustic jazz in a cleverly curated evening.

Leeds-based musician and producer Wonky Logic (aka Dwayne Kilvington) led a killer duo with Eddie Nache (from Sons of Kemet). This is skronky, funky, dirty, groovy, looping nu-jazz psychedelic soul, very much part of the new electronic sound of London jazz. The in-your-face sound is musically multilingual, the patois and pidgin of younger musicians brought up on the internet and unafraid to mix up sounds and styles in an unprecedented way.

With samplers and looping machines and the unrepentant use of keytar, the sound is a feverish din of clustered chromatic tones. The jarring dissonance of the loops pierces into your brain. The rhythms are simultaneously banging and intricately detailed. Nache is a sick drummer with finesse and panache. The pairing is energizing and their connection and commitment are strong and hypnotic.

Jez Nelson asked them “You gonna record soon?” Wonky Logic is a guy who never seems to be quite in the same room as you. “Yeah? Nah,” he said. Jez paused. “No. [pause] Okay,” pausing again before asking uncomfortably “Are we doing a changeover?” There came a high-pitched voice from the next band offstage “No we’re not!” After a couple of minutes, StringTing came on. In a beautifully conceived touch of curation they felt like the acoustic counterpart to the electronic saturation of Wonky Logic.

Led by violinist Rhiannon Dimond, StringTing is one of the most exciting ensembles to have emerged recently from the stable of Tomorrow’s Warriors. Tonight the group was a trio of cello and two violins. They remind you of a mixture of Viennese harmony and gypsy gutsiness in their ferocious discordant playing. The trio rock standards in a way you’ve never quite heard before, with an appealing sense of menace, hammering percussively on the instruments.

Extreme versioning of some standard selections from the leftfield of the repertoire brought new energy to Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge and Thelonious Monk’s Brilliant Corners. Just as Wonky Logic is part of a new direction in electronic jazz, StringTing are are part of a jazz faction in the new crossover classical playing (alongside ensembles like Wooden Elephant).

Toni Kofi and The Organisation bring a hard-boiled post-bop sound with Liam Dunachie on Hammond organ, Pete Cater on drums and Simon Fernsby on guitar. The album Point Blank is a selection of tunes from the likes of Wes Montgomery, McCoy Tyner, Henry Mancini and Jimmy Smith. Tony Kofi plays the baritone saxophone exclusively here. Explaining why, he said that in Japan he found an album by the Pepper Adams/Donald Byrd Quintet with the baritone sax on the cover and he fell in love with the instrument. Later there was a problem with his regular sax at a gig. He had to go fetch the baritone out of the car to continue. In doing so he realised it could work for longer stretches.

Kofi is great and the baritone is pretty good. I wanted to like the group, but the Nord C2D Hammond organ setting just sounds like Blackpool Pier to me. With the organ and guitar and the straight-ahead drumming and musical selections, The Organisation has a sound I find anachronistic. The contrast between the modernity of the young acts in the first half and the traddiness of the older lads in the second was presumably deliberate, and conceptually I love that. It’s just that the organ sound made me think of the ghost train at a terrible funfair.

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

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REVIEW: Madeleine Peyroux – the Anthem tour at Royal Festival Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Madeleine Peyroux
Publicity Photo by Anne Zimmerman

Madeleine Peyroux – the Anthem tour
(Royal Festival Hall, London. 24 November 2018. Review by Jane Mann)

There was a full house in the Royal Festival Hall for American singer/songwriter Madeleine Peyroux and her band. Although in the middle of a world tour promoting her new album, Anthem, she and the band seemed fresh and cheerful.

I was expecting lots of songs from Anthem, named after a favourite song by Leonard Cohen, and there were quite a few. Peyroux and her band also played a broad selection of tunes from her extensive back catalogue of the last 20 or so years, which pleased the fans. It always feels very comfortable listening to Peyroux. She appears relaxed on stage, and comes across as pleasant and good humoured, with the audience and with her band. The music is easy to like too – her fantastic band turn their hands and voices to a variety of styles, all played with precision and seeming effortlessness. After announcing that there would be plenty of love songs, she kicked off with Don’t Wait Too Long, an original composition from her 2004 hit album Careless Love. The band played immaculately from the first note, and that lovely Peyroux voice is as gorgeous as ever. Next came a gently swinging arrangement of Bob Dylan’s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go, then a fabulously languorous version of Serge Gainsborough’s La Javanaise, used in the soundtrack of last year’s film sensation The Shape of Water.

Then came a section of the new songs, beginning with a jaunty tune called On My Own. Peyroux started out as an interpreter of other people’s songs, but has been composing more and more over the years, usually in collaboration. All the songs on Anthem, apart from the Leonard Cohen title cover, are composed by the members of the group who play on the CD. “It’s a collaborative record”, says Peyroux.

The mood changed with a song about the current state of the USA called The Brand New Deal. It was like a Gil Scott Heron piece arranged by Steely Dan. The  chorus goes: “Feel the poor under your heel, it’s a brand new deal”. The song ends with a long and sombre list “…disinformation, discrimination, under-education, de facto segregation…”, the guitar keens, there’s a short wild piano solo, and driving bass and insistent drums, tumbling downwards, to the final discordant finish on the words “Mass incarceration”. Blimey! After that showstopper was the affecting Lullaby about a woman singing to her baby which I think was about refugees fleeing by boat. The rhythm section created a rolling seascape, the guitar called out and there was a relentless onward thrust. As Peyroux sang, her voice went from soothing lullaby to an almost harsh desperate tone as she sang “baby please don’t cry, I’ll sing it with you until I die, baby please don’t cry”. On one refrain she breathed/sang “baby please don’t die”, to heart-breaking effect.

After that, Peyroux said “why don’t I do something more cheerful?", and the audience seemed to think it was a good idea too.

We heard On A Sunday Afternoon, apparently popular with “stoners”, full of witty musical references and a suggestion of Woody Woodpecker, and then the charming toe-tapper Honey Party.
The all-American band are a completely different set of players from those on Anthem. On lead guitar was Jon Herington, known for his work with Steely Dan – his precise and interesting solos embroidered many of the songs. On electric bass Paul Frazier, best known for his work with David Byrne, played only one solo all night but he brought versatility and funkiness which underpinned the whole show. On drums was Graham Hawthorne who has toured with Paul Simon and Randy Brecker among others – he plays in a marvellously discreet way, apart from his compelling contributions to the two political songs, and a mesmeric martial drumming throughout the Leonard Cohen cover Anthem. The keyboardist, Andy Ezrin, had lots of effects up his sleeves throughout the show. I particularly enjoyed his solo on the light and lovely bossa nova Honey Party, when he managed to slip in quite a lot of The Flight Of The Bumblebee.

Peyroux herself is a fine guitar player, and she played for most of the set. There was an acoustic interlude when the band left the stage and she played us some solo blues and spirituals, including Bessie Smith’s Don’t Cry Baby and Trampin’. She is so good at singing the blues. You can still hear that Billie Holliday influence in her phrasing, and the way she slides up to and down from notes, but her strong tuneful sound, and that honeyed timbre is very much her own. She also sang Josephine Baker’s J’ai Deux Amours, in her perfect French.

The band came back on and we had terrific versions of Allen Toussaint’s Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky From Now On with all five musicians singing the chorus in harmony whilst still playing away, a fantastic effect – one of the highlights of the night. After another Cohen number Dance Me To The End Of Love, with Peyroux purring out the lyrics over a hot club-esque quartet with restrained guitar and piano solos, and hints of Love For Sale in the vocal line, the audience cheered. The band launched into the final number, We Might As Well Dance from the new album, another upbeat sounding but ruefully worded number, “We might as well dance, we’ll be leaving soon,” and we were invited to clap along.

After a standing ovation, the band came back and played for me the best piece in the show, a great arrangement of the Billie Holiday hit Getting Some Fun Out Of Life. It’s a wonderful song, a lovely sentiment, which sat perfectly with the tone of the whole show, and everyone on stage shone.  Ezron’s piano work here was somehow redolent of New York in the 1940s, though fresh and new.  Herington’s guitar solo, though suggestive of bebop, was his own interesting take. Frazier and Hawthorne were allotted a little space for themselves to show off their understated graceful rhythm thing, and Peyroux’s peerless voice was showcased flawlessly. I couldn’t have asked for more from this splendid band.


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MINI-REVIEWS: We also heard... at the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival

Anton Eger of Phronesis at Southbank Centre
Photo credit: John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk
The team of writers at LondonJazz News has produced over 50 full-length reviews of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival. We are not aware of more extensive coverage of any music festival anywhere. And still we go further. As in previous years, we have given our writers and others involved in the scene the opportunity to fill out our coverage with short reviews: 

Abraham Brody & Wooden Elephant at Village Underground (18 November) PREVIEWED 

Innovative string quintet Wooden Elephant’s acoustic instrumental reworking of Radiohead’s Kid A recreates the album’s glacial electronic textures using extended techniques, objects and toy instruments. It might seem gimmicky to some but the concert was impressive and emotionally engaging even for those unfamiliar with the album. Encounters between electronic and acoustic elements also drive Lithuanian-American singer/violin player/composer Abraham Brody’s new album Crossings. He and the group performed its powerful songs with a thrilling theatrical impact. (AJ Dehany)

Adam Waldmann/Conor Chaplin/Corrie Dick at Cadogan Hall foyer (23 November)

Dinosaur bandmates Corrie Dick and Conor Chaplin are regularly-paired pals. Their melodic sense in rhythm made for an intuitive blend with soprano saxophonist Adam Waldmann, playing Kairos 4tet originals and jazz standards including I’ll Be Seeing You and Ask Me Now. Their command of the notorious ‘Coltrane changes’ of Giant Steps was pretty convincing. Hilariously, they made Corrie—ie. the drummer – take that onerous first solo. (AJ Dehany)

Al MacSween at Pizza Express (22 November)

Pianist Al MacSween’s esoteric trio set with Huw Bennett on bass and Joost Hendrickx on drums was tight and protean. Puriya Dhanashri is an attempt to combine Indian classical and Cuban rumba. The experiment worked wonderfully well: the rooty basslines allow space for the rich voicings of the Raag. In an untitled piece combining Cuban samba with Moroccan Gnawa the restrictive bass figure presented a challenge to invention. Fascinating and expansive music ignited by diverse passions. (AJ Dehany)

Amir al-Saffar and Rivers of Sound at Kings Place (16 November)

Amir al Safar is an American trumpeter born in Chicago, the son of an Iraqi scientist who had emigrated to the USA. His Rivers of Sound project brings together jazz musicians and musicians in the tradition of Arab music, and the resulting music is a wonderful mix of the two traditions. Amir is not concerned with 'bridging the two musical cultures', but with producing a distinct musical form in its own right. The concert was full of brilliant music from the 17-piece ensemble driven by Nasheet Waits on drums and featuring solos from all sections of the ensemble. It was especially good to hear Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

Charukesi at Cadogan Hall foyer (19 November)

Martin Speake's rhythm-oriented quartet Charukesi, on a relaxed Monday afternoon in Cadogan Hall foyer. Fascinating, often Indian-leaning compositions, explored by Speake, Alyson Cawley on tenor, Will Glaser on drums and the man who can do absolutely anything with a guitar, Rob Luft. Great playing from all, and beguilingly grooving, tuneful music with real heart. (Jon Turney)

Empirical Residency at Old Street (19-22 November)

Empirical supplemented their appearance at the South Bank with their now traditional four-day 'residency' in a pop-up environment at Old Street Station. There is something quite surreal about taking the escalator from the Northern Line and emerging at the top to hear the strains of one of the best jazz bands around playing free for anybody who cares to stop and listen – and there were plenty who did stop and listen. They were treated to some fresh and imaginative modern jazz by this superb quartet, in which the vibraphone playing of Lewis Wright stood out for me; great stuff. (Graham Roberts)

Jaimie Branch's Fly or Die Quartet at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston.  © 2018. All Rights Reserved

Jaimie Branch at Cafe Oto (21 November 2018)

Jaimie Branch, radical trumpeter extraordinaire, made an explosive impact with her Fly or Die quartet. Sweat-drenched Branch put herself on the line to deliver passionate, totally committed playing at the edge – in the footsteps of Wadada (would love to hear them play together) – along with uncannily inventive action from her tremendous collaborators, Chad Taylor (drums), Jason Ajemian (bass) and Lester St Louis (cello). Two long sets, including Lovesong For Assholes And Clowns (we know whom she meant!), plus encore. (Geoff Winston)

James Brandon Lewis Trio with Anthony Pirog at the Vortex (24 November)

James Brandon Lewis’s trio with Anthony Pirog on guitar was a high point. From the off, the band grabbed us with their uniformity of purpose and amazing layered approach, blending everything from gospel and prog jazz through to free improv. Lewis’s lines over the rumbling below exuded a special spirituality that sucked one in, showing him to be a true heir to David S Ware and Charles Lloyd. Don’t miss his return in a freer context in February with John Edwards and Mark Sanders at Cafe Oto. (Oliver Weindling, Vortex Jazz Club)

Jeff Williams Quartet  at Pizza Express (25 November)

Although billed as a trio, Jeff Williams actually fielded a quartet at the Pizza Express, with a front line of Josh Arcoleo and John O'Gallagher on tenor and alto saxophone respectively, fuelled by a tremendous rhythm section in which Jeff's fine drumming is allied to the bass paying of one of the UK's finest, Sam Lasserson. The group provided 90 minutes of excellent original music, most of it, I believe, composed by Jeff Williams, with plenty of room for all concerned to display the full range of their skills; a marvellous way to spend a Sunday afternoon. (Graham Roberts)

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger at Royal Festival Hall (21 November)

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger recorded a podcast with us back in 2013 at the time of their very first organ/saxophone project in Huddersfield. What came across strongly at the time was that this was an important  project for them, that they both wanted to pursue, with the idea of stretching out time into long cycles – and so they have. The assuredness with which they now present a programme and the way they held an audience's attention for about an hour were remarkable. (Sebastian Scotney)

London Jazz Orchestra celebrating the 80th birthday of John Warren  at the Vortex (25 November)

The Vortex’s programme included no less than five big bands with musicians aged from eight (in NYJO London) to 80, in this case a very special show for John Warren. Warren’s music is more than just for a pure big band. The drums and bass are rarely a traditional rhythm section sharing the melodies contrapuntally as Paul Clarvis showed. But the whole band was on top form. Henry Lowther, having played with Warren for over 50 years, was also outstanding. (Oliver Weindling, Vortex)

Mo Foster & Friends at Lauderdale House (22 November)

Dream night for Lauderdale House's EFG London Jazz Fest event last Thursday with early arrivals queuing to grab the good seats to hear Mo Foster & Friends – Foster, Ray Russell. Chris Biscoe, Jim Watson, Corinna Silvester and Nic France – a starry crew dedicated to re-creating the music of Gil Evans Carla Bley, Mike Gibbs, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorious. Also room for a little more 'get down' with Eddie Harris's Freedom Jazz Dance and Alan Toussaint's On Your Way Down, nevertheless the dynamic and balance of this electric heavy band was remarkable, projecting an almost acoustic blend in this extremely live room. (Brian Blain - Programmer, Lauderdale House)

Phil Robson at Pizza Express
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Phil Robson Quartet at Pizza Express (18 November)

Phil Robson's new Anglo-US quartet delivered two cracking sets at Pizza Express, showcasing his and tenor man Jed Levy's rich backlog of tunes, buoyed by peerless drumming from Clarence Penn. Great to see Robson keeping company with some of New York's finest following his move stateside last year. (Jon Turney)

Phronesis at Southbank Centre (23 November) 

The Usain Bolt of the drums, there’s a moment in every Phronesis gig when Anton goes mad. In the encore of a ridiculously accomplished 90-minute set performing material from the trio’s new album We Are All, he closed his eyes and attacked the kit, subverting and inventing rhythms with arms moving faster than the eye can see. Followers of Eger’s exuberant fashion-sense should note Jasper’s humorous injunction “Anton’s hair is bleached blond now. Deal with it.” (AJ Dehany)

Pigfoot  at Green Note, (24 November)

The Green Note provided a superb small room environment in which to hear the estimable Pigfoot, with Chris Batchelor on trumpet, Liam Noble on piano and Paul Clarvis on drums, joined for one night by the great Steve Buckley on various reed instruments (including very fine penny whistle). The band's take on Elvis Presley and Led Zeppelin has to be heard to be believed, and is a joy to listen to. They also get 10 out of 10 for their unflappable response to the unwelcome intervention early in their set of a couple of members of the audience who had clearly been drinking too much on empty heads! Great evening, top venue. (Graham Roberts)

Ronan Perrett’s TwoSpeak at Green Note (21 November)

Upbeat tunes and infectious energy were on display with Ronan Perrett’s TwoSpeak, his Cornish ancestry evident in a tune about a Cornish queen, Gytha, a catchy hit if ever there was one. And Joseph Costi on keys never stopped smiling. (Mary James)


The Edge of the Abyss at Royal Academy of Arts (16 November) PREVIEWED

Part concert, part lecture, this tribute to fin de siècle Vienna presented by Club Inégales and inspired by the RA’s Klimt/Schiele exhibition accessibly traced the birth of atonality and rhythm-based music. “Following Schoenberg through to the early stages of jazz”, the quartet of pianists Peter Wiegold and Martin Butler, saxophonist Diane McLoughlin and singer/violinist Alice Zawadzki improvised from recordings of Pierrot Lunaire and Stravinsky’s Ragtime, illustrating the motto “To the age its art, to art its freedom.” (AJ Dehany)

Supersilent at Southbank Centre (23 November)

The Norwegian electro-acoustic noise-jazz trio pulled no punches with a one-hour wall of driving synths, icy trumpet and white noise reminiscent of Nurse With Wound or Cabaret Voltaire. Their intense electronic scarescape had the bruising physicality of musique concrete – but not without some sparkling moments of reflection. It was a brainbath. (AJ Dehany)

Thomas Backman at Pizza Express (23 November)

The Swedish quartet’s mixture of slow-burn yearning widescreen chamber pop with elements of jazz and electronica deserves wider attention. They played from their debut album Did You Have A Good Day, David? in a sadly under-attended lunchtime show. Sparkling synths and haunting hocketing vocals with beautiful lyrics in Swedish and English charting icy topographies reminiscent at times of Björk. (AJ Dehany)

Tom Barford Group.
L-R: Rupert Cox, Dave Storey, Tom Barford, Billy Marrows
Photo by Mary James
Tom Barford Group at Green Note (21 November)

Tom Barford allowed plenty of space for his quintet to flourish with excellent performances all round, and especially beautiful solos from Tom and delicate ensemble work in Space To Dream, a work inspired by some advice from Iain Ballamy who counselled Tom to write pieces to which all band members could bring their personalities. (Mary James)

Trish Clowes' My Iris at Barbican Hall (24 November)

It has been exciting to watch Trish Clowes' My Iris project grow into an empathetic and creative ensemble and take on bigger performance opportunities. Taking to the Barbican stage (opening for Avishai Cohen), Trish and the band combined earthiness and transcendence (with great sound from Alex Fiennes) by segueing together three atmospheric and groovy compositions into one seamless, compelling suite of music that promised even brighter prospects for 2019. (Dan Paton, Basho Music)

Velvet Revolution (double bill with Vula Viel) at the Vortex (18 November)

To get in Velvet Revolution was, for the Vortex, a coup. The Anglo-German-French trio (Theo Ceccaldi on violin and viola, Daniel Erdmann on saxophone and Jim Hart on vibes) proved why their last release was the German critics' album of the year. Technical brilliance (especially from Ceccaldi), great interplay, and subtle humour. Genius. (Oliver Weindling, Vortex Jazz Club)

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REVIEW: Melody Gardot at the Royal Festival Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Melody Gardot in 2010
Photo credit: Stefanie Meynberg/ Creative Commons

Melody Gardot
(Royal Festival Hall. 25 November 2018. London Jazz Festival. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


“Is that Guy Barker?” I asked my companion. Sure enough, Guy Barker had joined the impressively large string section forming up as we waited for Melody Gardot to appear in the concert which was to be the grand finale of this year’s London Jazz Festival. A moment later the star herself strode onstage, exuding effortless elegance and charisma.

Melody Gardot is much more than one of the finest singers currently operating. She is also a formidable songwriter and a restless experimenter. It’s this last quality which has given rise to the unusual ensemble gathered for this concert. Gardot’s band is essentially a lean and stripped down affair – herself adroitly playing piano (and, on one number, guitar) along with her regular guitarist Mitchell Long, Chuck Staab on drums and Sam Minaie on bass, plus the unusual addition of Stephan Braun on cello. Braun overlaps with, and links the combo to, the full-blown string section under the direction of Guy Barker.

A dark and ominous instrumental introduction showed what this unusual ensemble was capable of. Gardot reached into the grand piano and tugged at its heartstrings, Staab played a skipping beat on the drums, Long’s guitar shone like a beacon in the darkness and Braun created echo chamber effects before modulating into a melancholy accordion sound. The first song proper, Bad News had a menacing Weimar-cabaret swagger, like a swaying drunk who might turn dangerous, accompanied by Minaie’s arco bass, Long’s ghostly guitar and Melody Gardot’s skeletal piano.

The mood lightened dramatically with the sunny Latin uplift of If the Stars Were Mine. This joyous, loving song saw Gardot scatting in a duet with Braun, and ended with the cellist drawing plaintive bird-like cries from his instrument. Baby I’m a Fool saw the full string section joining in – with Melody Gardot on solo guitar. The strings added a great emotional depth and also called to mind the grand productions of Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle.

Gardot’s sultry, yearning singing was tenderly decisive on Our Love is Easy, a slinky, gliding, slow-motion torch song which the strings opened up to an epic scope – epic, yet somehow still stripped-down and intimate; understated but extraordinarily potent. Melody Gardot’s voice was sensual and articulate, evoking the deepest of feeling with the most subtle of nuance. For Deep Within the Corners of My Mind the strings created a searching, melancholic backdrop for her pondering and wounded vocals – a dark pillow for her to cry on.

The mood lifted decisively again with Morning Sun on which Braun created rainfall effects with a cluster of wooden beads and Long played eerie slide guitar. Gardot’s singing began as otherworldly whoops but soon blossomed with a simple warmth which carried great emotional impact, flowing with the growing excitement of the melody. Minaie’s plucked bass was like a big heartbeat and Staab delivered drumming of sweet, thunderous complexity. (“That big-ass thing on the drums,” Ms Gardot calls it, later.)

In an evening of original songs, You Don’t Know What Love Is was a striking departure. And for this singular occurrence Guy Barker picked up his muted trumpet. Melody Gardot described it as a tribute to Chet Baker, but the sleek, moody modernism of Barker’s playing was more like vintage Miles Davis. Meanwhile, Gardot put the lyrics through the looking glass of her unique delivery and sensibility. Afterwards, as the audience applauded until their hands hurt, Melody Gardot went and embraced Guy Barker. And Barker dropped his mute on the floor – as indeed who wouldn’t?

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REVIEW: Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard at Pizza Express Jazz Club (2018 EFG LJF)

The Espen Eriksen Trio and Andy Sheppard
St George's Bristol, 12 October 2018
Photo credit: Evan Dawson

Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard
(Pizza Express Jazz Club, 24 November 2018. Review by Mike Collins)


The encore was like a slow, extended exhalation. Andy Sheppard nudged intervals round a scale, sounding two notes at a time, Espen Eriksen gradually colouring them with gently stroked chords. A swell in volume and they came to rest. Beautifully judged, it left a warm glow to carry us home.

Since a first gig with Sheppard in a 2016 stop at Pizza Express, Eriksen’s trio, with Andreas Bye on drums and Lars Tormod Jenset on bass, has been working with the tenor man, touring and recording. The album Perfectly Unhappy was released earlier this year (reviewed by LondonJazz) from which, much of the material for this gig was drawn.

The tunes are built from the simplest of melodic and harmonic elements. Melodies follow the contours of cadences that would feel like a law of nature had ruptured if they didn’t resolve; rocking pulses that intensify but would shock if they accelerated too much. Sheppard is a master at taking materials like this and creating moments of lustrous beauty again and again.

On the opener, Above the Horizon, breathy flutters heralded a folky theme over an even dancing grooving and, somehow, runs and swoops created tension and suspense as the warm tones of the tenor expanded the melody. There were changes of pace. Indian Summer built up a head of steam as Sheppard ramped up the energy and Eriksen dug in with some bluesey turns. Anthem developed a gospelly edge, the tenor solo skidding across the full range within single phrases. Revisited had a rolling momentum and elicited a singing bass solo.

There was a little jolt of memory for these ears as a graced piano phrase hung in the air over the slap of a backbeat from the drums and a propulsive bass note. Something of the vibe in that moment put me back in more or less the same place in the audience in the late '90s, with Esbjörn Svensson at the piano. Comparisons with that trio are perhaps a little well worn, but it’s easy to hear something of it in this music.

On this gig it was the insistent intensity of grooves, sympathy between the four musicians and melodic invention that made the music glow. And that encore, Home, was just the right note on which to send us out.

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

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REVIEW: Bill Laurance and the WDR Big Band at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2018 EFG LJF)


Bill Laurance
Photo creit: John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

Bill Laurance and the WDR Big Band
(Queen Elizabeth Hall. 25 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Rob Mallows)


Bill Laurance is a hot property at the moment. A principal member of the double-Grammy-winning juggernaut Snarky Puppy; three self-penned albums under his belt and a fourth on the way; a solo piano tour on the stocks for next year. What does he do next? Gives his tunes to one of the world’s great big bands, the WDR, and says: see what you can do!

They rose to the challenge and with lead arranger and WDR principal conductor, saxophonist Bob Mintzer, in charge this show hit most of the right notes, even though a couple of tunes weren’t wholly suited to the bigger sound on offer.

Laurance had the look of a small child about to open his Christmas presents as he arrived on stage. He had a lot of new toys to play with. Four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophone and flute players, to be exact. Brass is a new sound to those familiar with Laurance’s solo work, and it was clear from opening tracks The Good Things and The Rush that the band gave a seismic boost to these well-crafted compositions, particularly the deep cut-through of the trombones. Under Mintzer’s guidance, the WDR Big Band purred like a precision-engineered BMW 7-series on the autobahn, effortlessly adding tonal depth and heft.

Laurance’s compositions are relatively straightforward, and that’s not a criticism; it is their simple beauty the captures the ear and the soul and uplifts. So, the ostinato riff at the heart of Swift is as catchy as a team of Romanian jugglers, and required only minor embellishments by the WDR to make it burst into technicolour.

Aftersun, a tribute to scientist Carl Sagan, was one of the tunes that didn’t benefit much from souping up, given its rather languid feel, although Paul Shigihara’s guitar solo – his most noticeable contribution in an otherwise understated contribution – was a tremendous garnish.

Across all the numbers, the soloists were fearless in taking Laurance’s chord progressions and punching through to give them a twist. A particularly loud cheer was given twice to alto sax player Karolina Strassmayr; in part, one suspects, through her being the only woman on stage. She didn’t need this slightly patronising boost however, as her solo on Swag Times simply kicked ass.

While somewhat overshadowed by the massed ranks of brass, the rhythm section was subtly in the pocket throughout the show, in particular bassist John Goldsby – he did little that was spectacular, but he did it spectacularly well.

Bob Mintzer directing the WDR Big Band
Photo credit: John Watson/ jazzcamera.co.uk

The second half opened with Laurance alone at his keyboard, inspired by a recent meeting with Herbie Hancock to just be in the moment and start playing, and see where he ended up. While it was impressive to see him compose on the fly, it was also a relief to see him shift into playing Chia. Denmark Hill, a paean to the suburb of the same name, is a lovely, slightly melancholy track that didn’t really need a lot of brass embellishment, but what it got, helped.

Ready Wednesday – already jaunty as hell – did work very effectively with the WDR turbo fully open, and final cut Last Time’s simple trip-hop rhythms and basic piano riff was amplified, even maybe overpowered, by the addition of 13 brass players in full effect.

There was – as was perhaps inevitable, given it was the day of the Brexit Council decision – a 'Remain' message from Laurance that was cheered and lapped up by the rather homogenous London audience. But it was ultimately all about the music.

I like performers who play with a smile, and you couldn’t help but like Laurance’s excited, wide-eyed performance. A top-notch keyboardist and composer of artful jazz-electronica who knows how to write commercially savvy, lyrical tunes that purists might scorn, Laurance understands that first and foremost, his job is to entertain. He did, and deserves his success for that reason alone.

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REVIEW: Jazz Cubano! at Barbican Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Omar Sosa and Yilian Cañizares
Publicity photo
Jazz Cubano!
(Barbican Hall, 24 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by John L. Walters)

Last Friday’s triple-bill at the Barbican threatened to self-combust with its abundance of talent and egos. The generous menu included four hugely talented Cuban stars: Alfredo Rodriguez, Arturo O’Farrill, Yilian Cañizares and Omar Sosa and their accompanying sidemen, each reminding us of the enormous musical and stylistic contribution that Cuba has made to the world of music.

If you can talk about a Cuban signature or audio signifier I guess it has to be the montuño, a deliciously syncopated, arpeggiated form of piano riff that when written down looks like a mountain range (hence, according to some sources, its poetic name). Each pianist played such a figure several times in each set, a touchstone that was both comforting in its familiarity and totally exhilarating.

The band with the most serious jazz credentials was that of O’Farrill, whose use of detailed arrangement, space, timbre, light, shade and expressive improvisation might put you in mind of a contemporary George Russell. His sextet, with bass, congas, tenor sax and O’Farrill’s sons Zack and Adam on drums and trumpet, generates a big, complex sound. They could have easily done a whole evening concert; O’Farrill’s is the kind of uncompromising yet engaging music that the EFG London Jazz Festival does so well.

Young pianist Alfredo Rodriguez is prodigiously talented and technically gifted, but his short set was all over the place. And it was too long, not helped by accompanying bass and drums that sometimes veered towards taste-free, jazz-fusion bombast. I would have preferred to hear Rodriguez play solo, and I’m sure we’ll hear much more of him. He also sings into a digital keyboard gadget that produces close vocal harmonies. A highlight of his set was an almost corny, yet moving and tender version of Besame Mucho.

The highlight of Friday’s gig was the dynamic duo of Yilian Cañizares and Omar Sosa (not to be mistaken for the art director of Apartamento magazine), whose recent album Aguas I was thrilled to discover via Jazz FM. Violinist and singer Cañizares has a mesmerising stage presence and a warm rapport with Sosa, who plays grand piano and a collection of keyboards with perfection and grace. The overall sound, skilfully underpinned by percussionist Gustavo Ovalles, is intimate and acoustic, using amplification and electronics to add orchestral space and depth to their repertoire, which spans tone poems and torch songs while maintaining the rhythmic heart of Cuban music. Their opening set brought the house down.

Jazz Cubano! was a treat, but it might have worked better re-structured to start with Rodriguez solo, followed by O’Farrill, ending with the soulful fireworks of Cañizares and Sosa.

LINK: Peter Bacon's LJN review of Cañizares and Sosa's album Aguas

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REVIEW: Daylight Music at Union Chapel (2018 EFG LJF)

Ranjana Ghatak
Publicity Photo

Daylight Music
(Union Chapel, 24 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Slavid)

Daylight Music is a unique and very unusual programme of music. All the gigs are on a pay-what-you-can basis and have been running for nearly ten years on Saturdays throughout the year from 12noon to 2pm. This was the 295th such event and on this occasion was part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. The atmosphere is very different to most jazz events, very casual and informal, people move around and chat, there are lots of children in the audience.

The Union Chapel is one of London's finest live music venues. A beautiful building with terrific acoustics. For Daylight Music it is set up with a cafe at the back and people are encouraged to wander up for coffee and cakes during the show.

The next difference was that as soon as the doors opened the music started with the Albatross Saxophone Quartet,  a young group from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. They weren't on the bill, but they filled in the gaps between the acts with some pleasant pseudo-classical sounds. The first advertised act to perform was Ranjana Ghatak, a London-born Indian classical singer who performed with only the sound of a Tanpura drone and an expressive voice. She wasn't billed on the London Jazz Festival website, although she does have a link to jazz through work she has done in the past with Liran Donin. After another tune from the saxophones we heard Hilde Marie Holsen. She plays trumpet, but heavily processed through electronic filtering, and accompanied by lots of electronic sounds from her laptop. The result is very atmospheric and ethereal, and sits on the edge between jazz and electronica. The highlight of the evening for me was a one-off collaboration with Pete Wareham on tenor sax and Ivo Neame playing the chapel’s restored Willis organ. Wareham is probably best known from his work with Melt Yourself Down, and Neame from Phronesis, but both have appeared in lots of other environments, although probably nothing that prepared them for this.

This was an improvised set with Wareham front of stage, and Ivo Neame hidden away behind the scenes playing the organ. What was impressive was the overwhelming sound. Pete Wareham has a powerful sound on the saxophone and that was essential to let him stand his ground against the massive organ behind him.

There were times when Wareham would start a melody and Neame would join in with some counterpoint and then overlay some power chords. At other times Wareham would improvise over an organ backing. The abiding memory is the magnificent sound of that organ as Neame coaxed increasingly original and fascinating chords from it to fill the hall with sound.

Next week Daylight Music presents the London Accordion Orchestra with special guest Dillie Keane.

Peter Slavid broadcasts a programme of European Modern Jazz on mixcloud.com/ukjazz

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REVIEW: Phil Robson Quartet featuring Jed Levy at Pizza Express Jazz Club (2018 EFG LJF)

Phil Robson, Jed Levy and Oli Hayhurst at Pizza Express
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Phil  Robson Quartet featuring Jed Levy (Pizza Express Jazz Club, 18 November 2018. London Jazz Festival. Review by Anthony O'Reilly)

Phil Robson's move to NYC is London's loss, but an appreciative crowd eschewed sweet wintry sunshine to welcome his return to the eternal twilight of Pizza Express Jazz Club. Joining him onstage were the ever-dependable British bassist Oli Hayhurst and Americans Clarence Penn on drums and Jed Levy on tenor.

This quartet is in fact a collaborative venture with tenor saxophonist Levy, who contributed half of the tunes. This made for a nice contrast, as Robson's compositions often involved long, serpentine lines reminiscent of Adam Rogers' writing, whilst Levy's tended to sound more "in the tradition" but nonetheless with unexpected turns and very satisfying. Added to the warmth of his sound and excellent command of the instrument, Levy is an impressive package deserving wider international recognition.

Phil Robson is already gaining wider international recognition, as witnessed by the admiring comments on his playing from Peter Bernstein and Wayne Krantz to be found on his website. His great fluidity and fleet inventiveness were, as ever, balm for the ears.
 
Oli Hayhurst played imperturbably, which is perhaps as well since Clarence Penn – being the creative and thoughtful soul he is – rarely played what might have been expected of the drummer. This led to a couple of moments in which there was a sensation that the wheels might come off, but equally it meant that there was never a sense of business as usual and that Penn was really influencing events in the music. It would have been a very different gig with any other drummer, which is testament to the individuality of Penn's approach.

There was a hint of the four members still growing accustomed to each other's playing and to some of the music, which itself was interesting to witness and no bad thing. It would be intriguing to hear how this quartet continued to integrate should it play more in future.

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REVIEW: Rymden at Queen Elizabeth Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Rymden
Publicity photo by Egil Hansen


Rymden
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 23 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by John L. Walters)

The new band Rymden, comprising drummer Magnus Öström, bassist Dan Berglund and keyboard player Bugge Wesseltoft, has been called a jazz ‘supergroup’ – to co-opt a term from prog-rock. Yet you could say that every other great jazz line-up is a supergroup, a coming-together of musicians who made their reputations in other bands. Think of the Modern Jazz Quartet or Weather Report, the best known Blue Note albums or the trio of stars that made Money Jungle.

Rymden combines two complementary strands of Nordic jazz. Wesseltoft, whose New Conception of Jazz shook up European jazz in the 1990s, presides over grand piano, synthesizer and Rhodes piano with wit and élan: he has an energetic, cliché-free command of all three instruments. Öström and Berglund were two-thirds of e.s.t. the groundbreaking band that transformed the piano trio landscape more than two decades ago, but came to a tragic, unanticipated end after the sudden death of pianist Esbjörn Svensson.

But for a band like this to be a lot better than the sum of its parts, the interpretation of its repertoire has to be exceptional, and Thursday’s gig left something to be desired. For a band named after the Swedish word for ‘space’, they left remarkably little – especially on the numbers that veered towards prog-jazz bombast. The three musicians (who were greeted by the audience like old friends) were also hampered by two technological problems. First, there was an over-bassy sound mix that did the acoustic piano no favours (a problem that also affected otherwise wonderful pianist Maria Chiara Argirò in support band 1000 Boats). The second mis-step was a kitsch and distracting visual display projected behind the band. (If this was intended to be ‘retro’ or ironic, it didn’t work for me.)

Wesseltoft sounded best on the sections featuring Rhodes piano, which he plays like a demon, occasionally using drumsticks on the open top. There were fluid, funky moments that put me in mind of Crossings-era Herbie Hancock with a Nordic twist. Öström’s drum sound has a warmth that complements the machine-like intensity of his more complex drum parts; Berglund’s bass is supple and authoritative, switching comfortably between earthy pizzicato and emotional arco.

The Norwegian-Swedish chemistry between Öström, Berglund and Wesseltoft is starting to work, but I suspect we’ll hear better gigs in the future. For a six-minute taste of what they do, you can listen to The Odyssey, the opening tune in Thursday’s concert, via Spotify.



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REVIEW: Camilla George + Sarah Tandy at the Purcell Room (2018 EFG LJF)

L-R Cherise Adams-Burnett, Sheila Maurice-Grey,
Camilla George
Photo credit: Funkyfeet

Camilla George + Sarah Tandy
(Purcell Room, 23 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Charlie Anderson)

Camilla George’s debut album, Isang, was critically acclaimed back in 2017 and her follow up, The People Could Fly, was released this year. For the EFG London Jazz Festival she had assembled many of the performers who augmented her regular quartet on the album, together with guest kora player Kadialy Kouyate.

The performance opened with a solo set from George’s regular pianist Sarah Tandy who, together with Ashley Henry and Joe Armon-Jones, is one of the best pianists amongst the current new wave of London jazz talent. Tandy performed some beautiful interpretations of jazz standards such as Body And Soul and Save Your Love For Me, together with her tribute to Nat King Cole on the lesser-known standard Just You, Just Me. As well as exhibiting her technical virtuosity with rhapsodic playing, fast runs and an ability to play multiple parts seamlessly, she also showed a more delicate and tender side during the ballads. Her much anticipated debut album is set to be released next year.

Sarah Tandy and Cherise Adams-Burnett
Photo credit:Funkyfeet

Camilla George began her set with the first track from her latest album The People Could Fly, entitled Tappin the Land Turtle which featured the effervescent vocals of talented vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett and a highly enjoyable and upbeat solo from guitarist Shirley Tetteh.

With so much talent on display, bandleader Camilla George was almost overshadowed, were it not for the mature and imaginative compositions combined with some sublime saxophone solos, particularly on the ballads, such as Little Eight John, which featured delicate vocals from Adams-Burnett and a moving solo from bassist Daniel Casimir.

After playing most of the tracks from the album, they performed the final track from the album, the Curtis Mayfield composition Here But I’m Gone, a harrowing tune on the theme of drug addiction. Joined by trumpeter Sheila Maurice-Grey, she displayed her prodigious technique in combination with a superb rhythmic sensibility. Pianist Sarah Tandy also proved her versatility, as she switched between keyboard and piano.

Winston Clifford remained a strong and dependable force behind the drum kit for the whole concert with some tight and responsive playing, particularly on the final number.

For the final part of the concert, the band were joined by guest kora player Kadialy Kouyate who sang and performed on some of his own tunes. He also performed on some intriguing co-compositions, recently written with bandleader Camilla George, which will hopefully be recorded in the near future.

LINE-UP

Camilla George: alto sax
Sarah Tandy: piano
Daniel Casimir: bass (upright and electric)
Winston Clifford: drums
Kadialy Kouyate: kora
Cherise Adams-Burnett: vocals
Shirley Tetteh: guitar
Sheila Maurice Grey: trumpet

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REVIEW: Ofer Landsberg Quartet at Toulouse Lautrec (2018 Bopfest/EFG LJF)

L-R: Alex Bryson, Ofer Landsberg, Dario De Lecce, Matt Fishwick
Photo by Len Weinreich

Ofer Landsberg Quartet
(Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club. 24 November 2018. Bopfest/EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Len Weinreich)

Bebop lovers, fret not: the music is alive and kicking in Kennington, South London, thanks to Bopfest, Allison Neale and Nat Steele’s noble crusade to revive the brilliant tradition. On Saturday, we attended Ofer Landsberg’s live matinee gig.

Bebop? A devil to learn, hell to master, but once absorbed, easy to love. Quoting his mentor, veteran pianist Barry Harris, Ofer summarised the cult’s eternal dilemma: “if bebop was popular, I’d end up doing something else”.

Israeli-born Ofer, a guitarist since age seven, isn’t "doing something else". Located in New York where he teaches, he surprisingly cites pianists (Barry Harris, Bud Powell, Elmo Hope) rather than guitarists, as his influences. Accompanying him were three bebop adepts: pianist Alex Bryson, bassist Dario Di Lecce and drummer Matt Fishwick.

From the opening With A Song In My Heart, Ofer and the group started spinning whirling patterns at blistering pace. Raucous earned the exotic treatment (swaying camels swinging into 4/4) once reserved for Caravan. The talented Alex Bryson, whose fearsome technique never sounds technical, channelled Milt Buckner’s locked hands, revealing unfamiliar textures in Sophisticated Lady. Composer, Duke Ellington, would have been intrigued. Dietz and Schwartz’s sinuous Dancing In The Dark preceded a finger-busting version of George Shearing’s Conception. Dario di Lecce’s bass was never less than solid and mesmerising Matt Fishwick displayed a dexterity never less than astonishing.

Second set: a furious start with The Man I Love by the Brothers Gershwin featuring thrills aplenty. Then Ofer’s hommage to his teacher, Burgundy by Barry Harris, full of abrupt twists and prompting Bryson to contrast richly-voiced block chords with athletic keyboard runs. In a cool Indian Summer Dario Di Lecce exposed his lyrical soul. Ofer’s gymnastic fingers launched Little T at warp speed and Alex wittily inspected and reshaped a selection of venerable bebop licks. For a moment, they slowed down to ballad tempo and a handful of choruses of Tormé and Wells’ Born To Be Blue, Ofer strumming some rich, juicy chords. But not for long. In the final selection, they hurtled into Dizzy Gillespie’s Woody N’ You at breakneck speed, scattering quavers and flatted fifths to far corners of the club. Let’s hear it for Allison and Nat. Let’s hear it for bebop. And let’s hear more bebop.

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