A MEMORY: David Mossman by Stan Sulzmann

The 'old' Vortex in Stoke Newington
Photo from vortexjazz.co.uk
Stan Sulzmann writes:

I first played at the original Vortex well over 30 years ago on quiet mid-week nights in a trio with Jeff Clyne and Phil Lee. So I met Dave Mossman (1942-2018), instantly likeable, and full of enthusiasm and life, who ran the club along with Irving Kindersley. Irving left shortly after. I was one of many fortunate musicians to have crossed David's path. The Vortex room had a great sound and what was lacking in audience numbers was more than made up for by Dave's generous hospitality – fed and watered and a few extra drinks to take home in your bag! Wouldn’t be unusual to walk in and see Dave with his tool-kit changing the space, opening up a pillar blocking view, carrying out the maintenance and then rushing to the bar, serving drinks and food and answering the endless phone calls (no mobs in those days). Dave did absolutely everything with enthusiasm, positivity and grace. It was a great place to feel welcome and play whatever we wanted, facilitated by someone who genuinely loved the music.

Some time later David asked if I could run a regular 'house band' spot with John Parricelli, Steve Watts and Martin France featuring 'special guests'. I jumped at the opportunity and we enjoyed several years of wonderful evenings with guests from John Taylor and Stan Tracey to Tim Garland and John Etheridge, Jason Yarde, Brian Kellock, Julian Arguelles to Marc Copland, Evan Parker, Norma Winstone.... I looked forward to those evenings so much and we all have fond memories. Audiences went up and down, and money was sometimes tight but David was always unfazed – just looking forward to the next night.

One particularly memorable occasion I had invited Paolo Fresu, the great Sardinian trumpet player. I had met him in Germany and he was very well established throughout Europe but unknown here in the UK. A shoestring budget and Paolo came with his partner and stayed at my home to make it work. I was praying for a good audience for him and the club! As was usual at the Vortex David had great friends and supporters, so an Italian writer Lara Bellini offered to help. She had access to an 'Italians in London' mailing list.

I walked in the club and said to Dave “how is it?”

"You’ll never believe it,” he said.

Oh no! I thought, no bookings...

Dave beamed: "We could have sold out for three nights!" There were queues outside round the corner. The place was bursting and Dave was sweating away at the bar but we were in hysterics because everybody apart from the band and Dave were speaking Italian. Apart from Paolo, when I announced "John Parricelli" they went crazy! We ended up with the audience spilling onto the stage and young women draped across the piano smoking, everyone clapping the backbeat on an encore blues!

David's face was a picture! It could only happen at the Vortex!

Having now seen quite a few lovely tributes I will leave it to those better able to put in words what we all feel about David and what he represents as a human being and supporter of our music. Reading some of those tributes it reminds me of all the generations that have passed through the Vortex and will continue to do so. Long may it last and David be remembered for instigating these golden opportunities for us all and his invaluable contribution to life.

LINK: Oliver Weindling's Tribute

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REVIEW: Forward Festival 2018 at Shapeshifter Lab, Brooklyn, NY

Forward Festival 2018
L-R: Matthew Putman, Hillard Greene, Federico Ughi
Patrick Holmes, Daniel Carter
Photo credit: Tobias Wilner

Forward Festival 2018
(Shapeshifter Lab, Brooklyn, 6 and 7 December. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

There are wires everywhere, and everyone seems to know everyone else's name. This a visual manifestation of electronic music at Forward Festival 2018: a New York musical community's two-night annual get together; and an opportunity to bring electronics to a level-pegging in the realms of improvisation and avant-jazz over eight short sets.

The opening group was this mission personified, with Federico Ughi and Jeff Snyder (who spoke in advance of the festival HERE), joined on stage by Cenk Ergün. Electronic musicians outweighed traditional musicians two to one, which leads for an unusual compositional dynamic and an unusual listening experience. Ughi sat centre stage, and through a range of rhythms and contributions provided a central improvisational anchor. He controlled the phases and moods through his play, but also through the selection of tools: developing from mallets, sticks, brushes, and back through the range.

As the percussion built, jumped, and crackled there's a visual connection maintained between sound and action, which was interestingly obscured with Snyder and Ergün. Set up on opposite sides of the stage they presented as two ends of the history of electronics: modern day computer wizardry concealed behind a shining macbook and some neat arrays of knobs with Ergün casually sitting like he would in a cafe; and an alchemist's nest of wires being diligently reconfigured into two enormous stuffed flight cases, with Snyder stooped over thoughtfully applying new order to the visual chaos by adding and adjusting cables, and tweaking knobs. Together the sounds melded into a pulsating beast.

Any impression of a barrier between a sound and its production, of a musician's application and the audible expression, were shattered by saxophonist Rachel Musson. Her solo moment was a tour de force in using the tenor as a sound platform, noises and notes getting a level pegging. It's also one of the rawest things I've ever seen. Wearing ones heart on one's sleeve doesn't cover it, it felt like reading someone's personal diary.

Musson was followed by a 577 records mainstay, a group bringing label founders Ughi and Daniel Carter together with long-time bass collaborator William Parker and Mary Anne Driscoll at the piano. In a fashion, this was a quartet of individuals exploring their own paths, but together being much more than the sum. Parker is the beating heart of the group, and he and Ughi fed off each other while Carter tenderly tested out a mind-boggling area of trumpet mutes and varying scales of saxophone (over the two days he casually played six different instruments). Musson retook the stage and led Carter into a beautiful dual tenor arrangement.

Listening Group are an antidote to noise and playing abandon, and although had twice as many people on stage, made half the noise. With a remit to, well, listen, this was a sensitive affair, but a rare opportunity to bring out sounds which often go unheard: the clack of a saxophone's keys, and a delicate bassoon as the de facto ensemble lead. The instrumentation is unusual (strings, electronics, woodwind, percussion) and the outcome of the concerted experiment was a mystical undulating sound experience.

Donald Sturge Anthony McKenzie II
Photo credit: Tobias Wilner

Friday had a more raucous soundscape, and opened with the diametric opposite to the listening group, with a stripped back drums and guitar setup making enough noise for a small army. Donald Sturge Anthony McKenzie II is a new power source that you could run most of South Brooklyn's grid off. There are toms everywhere, and a terrifying snap and spring to the constantly changing high energy beats, so much so that bits of the drum kit were flying off and giving up as he went. He played with abandon, looking most taxed when keeping a restrained beat for the accompanying guitar slides.

The energy continued into Telepathia Liquida and New York United, the last ensembles, and current big hitters. A rolling back line for Carter's soprano and Patrick Holmes' clarinet to plaintively pick over. Moments of angst built up with Hilliard Greene's furious bowed bass, and were released by New York United's more dazed electronics from Tobias Wilner.

The overlying feeling was that Carter and Ughi could do this for hours, days (and indeed Ughi had been at the heart of the majority of the groups over the hours and days). They seem so comfortable playing, the room could be empty and they'd still carry on, content. It's playing amongst friends. Throughout the festival the concept of stopping between musical thoughts to receive a round of applause was alien, and aside from the occasional pause the breaks were really only when a group had finished its set after half an hour of draining effort.

Forward Festival is a variety show, but with an underlying desire to improvise and experiment. It ends up as a showcase of contrasts: attentive listeners, and big sounds purveyors; future electronics and raw human acoustics; spontaneous displays and carefully structured frameworks. It's imbued with a sense of exploration, of looking forward.

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REVIEW: Scottish National Jazz Orchestra - The Count & The Duke at Usher Hall, Edinburgh

SNJO
Photo Credit: Patrick Hadfield
Scottish National Jazz Orchestra – The Count & The Duke
(Usher Hall, Edinburgh. 6 December 2018. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

The programme promised a big evening of music: Duke Ellington's Black, Brown & Beige followed by Count Basie's The Atomic Mr Basie. The SNJO delivered, and then some.

Black, Brown & Beige filled most of the first half. Ellington's first masterwork was premiered in 1943 at Carnegie Hall. It didn't go down well: it was panned by the critics and dropped from the repertoire after three performances. It wasn't recorded in full at the time, although excerpts were issued in 1944 and Ellington reworked the first movement, with added words (sung powerfully by Mahalia Jackson), which was issued as Black, Brown & Beige in 1958. Segments subsequently found their way into Ellington's three Sacred Concerts.

It was the 1943 original version that the SNJO played. Rarely heard, it must have been quite a coup simply to get the charts. As with the Carnegie Hall premiere, they started with Black and Tan Fantasy, not part of Black, Brown & Beige. Brian Kellock took to the stage first, sitting at the piano and flexing his fingers over the keys, improvising until he settled into the tune, as he was joined by the rhythm section of Calum Gourlay on bass, Kevin Mackenzie on guitar and Alyn Cosker, drums. Then, starting with the reeds, the different sections of the orchestra took to the stage, playing the theme, until the full 18-piece band got up a full head of steam, setting the tone for the evening.

Tommy Smith, the band's director, then introduced Black, Brown & Beige and its three movements, setting the context and explaining some of its history, and reading Ellington's description of what he was trying to achieve – a depiction of the life of African-Americans, the suffering wrought by slavery, the solace of faith.

From the thunderous drum beats at the opening of Work Song and the fanfare of horns blasting out the main riff, it was clear the band had nailed it. Work Song was full of passion and power, though not without nuance. Come Sunday, the second segment of Black, is slower, and was played with depth and subtlety, without the vocals Ellington added to subsequent versions.

Anoushka Nanguy and Calum Gourlay
Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield
The second movement, Brown, featured Anoushka Nanguy on vocals for its third section, Blues Theme Mauve. Her full voice conveyed the depth of emotion in Ellington's lyrics ("the blues ain't nothin' but a cold grey day..."). The last movement, Beige, was more upbeat and lively, representing life in Harlem and, with Sugar Hill Penthouse, Ellington's own neighbourhood, before the Finale repeated themes from the whole piece.

The SNJO were superb. It would be easy for Black, Brown & Beige to have come across as a museum piece – an interesting, rare curio. The whole orchestra brought it to life. It was a tour de force, full of energy in both the ensemble sections and the solos.

Had Black, Brown & Beige been the only music played, it would have been an excellent evening: the audience wouldn't have felt short-changed. But instead of heading out into the night, we were treated to the second half, The Atomic Mr Basie in full. Unlike the original Black, Brown & Beige, The Atomic Mr Basie is much more familiar, a masterpiece of lively swing from 1958, with tunes and arrangements by Neal Hefti.

As befits a performance of an album which famously features the mushroom cloud on its cover, the SNJO were explosive, blasting off with Basie and Hefti's Kid from Red Bank. After the tightly orchestrated Ellington, it seemed like the orchestra was given more freedom by Basie, and they made the most of it. They roared.

Driven by the tight rhythm section – not least Kevin Mackenzie on guitar, whose choppy chords laid the foundations for the tunes just as Freddie Green did for Basie – the orchestra proved they can swing like the best. Brian Kellock, sitting in the Count's chair, was suitably understated, just nudging the tune here and there.

They played the album through to its final tune, Lil' Darlin', without introducing the tracks. As each came along, it was like being greeted by an old friend: you could feel the audience smiling as they recognised each theme.

The soloists were excellent, particularly Martin Kershaw and Paul Towndrow on alto, and the fiery trumpet of Tom McNiven; Tommy Smith himself took some bold, muscular choruses. But more than that, it was the SNJO as an ensemble that shone.

It was a tremendous evening during which the SNJO brought two more pieces to their ever-growing repertoire. As they left, the audience were bubbling with enthusiasm. I'm still buzzing!

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.

Reeds: Martin Kershaw, Paul Towndrow, Tommy Smith, Konrad Wiszniewski, Bill Fleming
Trumpets: Jim Davison, Sean Gibbs, Tom MacNiven, Lorne Cowieson
Trombones: Chris Greive, Liam Shortall, Kieran McLeod, Michael Owers
Piano: Brian Kellock
Drums: Alyn Cosker
Bass: Calum Gourlay
Guitar: Kevin Mackenzie
Guest vocalist: Anoushka Nanguy

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NEWS: The 2019 (61st) Jazz Grammy nominations

Still Dreaming – L-R: Brian Blade, Ron Miles,
Scott Colley, Joshua Redman
Publicity Photo by Jon Brown

Sebastian writes 

The 2019 Grammys will be awarded on 10 February 2019. Here are the nominations. First, the five jazz categories, and then some jazz-related nominations in other categories:


NOMINATIONS IN THE JAZZ CATEGORIES

JAZZ SOLO

Regina Carter
John Daversa
Fred Hersch
Brad Mehldau
Miguel Zenón

BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM

My Mood Is You – Freddy Cole
The Questions – Kurt Elling
The Subject Tonight Is Love – Kate McGarry With Keith Ganz & Gary Versace
If You Really Want – Raul Midón With The Metropole Orkest Conducted By Vince Mendoza
The Window – Cécile McLorin Salvant

BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM

Diamond Cut – Tia Fuller
Live In Europe – Fred Hersch Trio
Seymour Reads The Constitution! – Brad Mehldau Trio
Still Dreaming – Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade
Emanon – The Wayne Shorter Quartet

BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE ALBUM

All About That Basie – The Count Basie Orchestra Directed By Scotty Barnhart
American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music Of Freedom – John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists
Presence – Orrin Evans And The Captain Black Big Band
All Can Work – John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
Barefoot Dances And Other Visions – Jim McNeely & The Frankfurt Radio Big Band

BEST LATIN JAZZ ALBUM

Heart Of Brazil – Eddie Daniels
Back To The Sunset – Dafnis Prieto Big Band
West Side Story Reimagined – Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band
Cinque – Elio Villafranca
Yo Soy La Tradición – Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet

JAZZ-RELATED NOMINATIONS IN OTHER CATEGORIES

20. Best Urban Contemporary Album
Chris Dave And The Drumhedz
Meshell Ndegeocello

21. Best R&B Album
Lalah Hathaway

51. Best Folk Album
Punch Brothers

62. Best Instrumental Composition
Terence Blanchard

64. Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals
Vince Mendoza (for Gregory Porter)

LINK: Full list of Grammy Nominations in the Jazz Categories

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NEWS: Jazz Resumes at the Oxford Tavern in Kentish Town



Will Arnold-Forster writes:

The weekly Monday night gig at The Oxford Tavern in Kentish Town that George Crowley ran so fantastically for years is making a return under new stewardship. George did a great job of running this stalwart of the London jazz scene and we're keen to make a success of the relaunch...

It's all come together very quickly, but we are VERY much looking forward to two fantastic nights of music on both Monday 10 and Monday 17 December.

We will certainly be back in Jan (probably from the 14th) and plan on it being a weekly night from that date onwards (slightly staggered start due to Christmas, etc).

The Oxford
Photo from Google Streetview

The Oxford Tavern is at 256 Kentish Town Rd, London NW5 2AA

10 December Line-Up:
Sam Braysher – alto saxophone
Will Arnold-Forster – guitar
Conor Chaplin – double bass
Steve Brown – drums

Doors@8pm, music from 8:30.  £8/£5 concessions on the door

LINK: Jazz at The Oxford on Facebook

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TRIBUTE: David Mossman (1942-2018) by Oliver Weindling

David Mossman
Photo courtesy of Vortex Jazz Club

"He was a man who just got on with things." DAVID MOSSMAN founded the Vortex Jazz Club in Stoke Newington in 1988. He passed away on Saturday night 8 December 2018. Oliver Weindling, who has done much in his own right to continue and to build on David Mossman's work in the club's current premises in Gillett Square, remembers and pays tribute to a figure who made a unique contribution to London's jazz scene:

I am writing this on a Sunday afternoon where the London Jazz Orchestra is about to do its monthly performance, as it has done for the past 28 years, to be followed tonight by a benefit for the club of South African music run by Jason Yarde and Adam Glasser. It makes today seem extra special to the memory of David Mossman who has died of cancer last night, but it's actually just another regular day at the club he founded.

It's hard to pin down not just how much David Mossman helped the jazz scene in London by starting the Vortex in 1988. I doubt if that would even have been on his mind when he opened the doors in Stoke Newington Church Street. He just started putting on jazz as a way to make the cafe and art gallery work in an area known more for IRA bomb factories than what it is today. It's not even that he understood so much about jazz when he started, but, as with so many things about him, he did it because of having a great 'gut feel', a love of music that reflects riskiness, and the patience to see the fruits of the hard work out later.

So, after a few years, we had a man who developed a full and broad understanding of the best about this music. It wasn't about booking big names. And that's why perhaps so many musicians got their first chances during his time running the club. But his generosity, as shown in his trusting of the musicians and their music, extended as far as his audience, whom he always welcomed with a smile. So here we had a true East Ender (from Bromley-By-Bow), who for the first 45 years of his life had been a black cab driver and committed mountaineer. I myself think that this love of taking risks in Snowdonia is what made him able to appreciate what jazz musicians give when they take the stage. It was a balance between musical quality and keeping going throughout. He was probably able to benefit that the club started at almost the same time that the Jazz Cafe moved from its original location in nearby Newington Green to Camden, so that there was a gap for these musicians who needed somewhere to help develop their skill on a regular basis.

But he was always eminently practical. He did work on the acoustics of both the original Vortex and also the new venue in Dalston. He kept the music to the fore, learning about the music through listening every night, giving him a taste that ran through all styles up to and including Evan Parker and the free improv scene. When I asked him what were his favourite gigs, he explained that it was usually when a musician would ask him if he could play with someone whom he had never played with before. "And did these gigs make money?", I asked. And his immediate reply was "Sometimes"! At one stage, he had actually been planning to close up shop and move to the ill-fated Ocean in Hackney (now the Picture House). Many of us - musicians and fans alike - discouraged him and it was at that time that I myself became part of the team that helped move the club to Dalston (after an ill-fated attempt to buy the old building). So it became a life-changer for me too, in that from then on, it pretty well determined where I would be most nights!

He himself at that point, with his partner (latterly wife) Lesley moved to start a cafe in Margate. This was in 2003 well before it became the town that it is today. But again it was an intuitive sense of risk and adventure that brought him there. And immediately one of the first things that he did there? Start a jazz festival and put on gigs in his cafe. But even then he still came up to the Vortex every weekend and more, helping out at the door, going down to the Turkish supermarket to stock up for his Margate cafe, meeting his musician friends and giving his advice.

He was a man who just got on with things. So he never went with a begging bowl to organisations like the Arts Council, as he had a hatred of form filling and bureaucracy, but always worked out how to survive. For him it was about being able to earn enough to enjoy company of great music, musicians and to share with the fans.

David never received any of those awards that exist nowadays. In fact, for him perhaps one of the proudest moments was when Evan Parker presented him with an album with Barry Guy and Paul Lytton, called Music for David Mossman (Intakt). For all the recordings that had been made in the club, this was the first (and sadly only) one that recognised David's role fully.

I hope that the way the Vortex exists today allows us to keep much of that respect for the music and musicians that he had, and that the club can continue to move and evolve without forgetting those principles of putting great music and musicians first, with an optimism about the long term.

LINK: Tribute from Margate Jazz Festival - David Mossman was the driving force behind it from 2005 to 2013

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INTERVIEW: Yolanda Ingley II (new album Woman Got To Cry out now)

Yolanda Ingley II
Publicity picture
Singer/songwriter Yolanda Ingley II lives in Melbourne Australia. She grew up in the UK, living in London in the 1970s; she still visits regularly with her music and life partner saxophonist Steve Dagg. She spoke to fellow singer/songwriter Jeanie Barton.

Yolanda Ingley II found commercial and critical success with her first album of original songs This Dangerous Age released in 2016. Her second album of originals Woman Got To Cry is out now on vinyl via Only Blues Music and to stream/download from iTunes et al. It was recorded direct to analogue tape at Half Mile Harvest Studio and produced by Sam Teskey of The Teskey Brothers.

Jeanie Barton: You’re really making waves in Australia with your new songs enthused with jazz, soul, blues, folk and gospel. How does this success feel?

Yolanda Ingley II: Of course I have been very pleasantly surprised. I had a big break from music bringing up my children but have been working pretty hard these last ten years, first singing jazz again but then more recently writing my own material and performing it. At first I wasn't sure what I was expecting or wanting but when I made This Dangerous Age, I knew it was a good album with great musicians, and I knew the songs were strong as I'd been getting good feedback, so in a way I wasn't that surprised that people liked it.

JB: What do you think it is about your music that is speaking to so many people of all ages?

YI: I think people are hungry for songs that have some lyrical content. Not just "silly love songs" so to speak. I try to write from the heart so love is always there but also talk about our real concerns. And I think memories play a big part... and I suppose if there are any "themes" in my music they are ones about the world impacting on our personal lives, the struggle between our outer and inner worlds and maybe something too about the ambiguities that exist in our relationships. Real people relate to those things. That's why Cohen was so popular and Dylan. In turn the music seems to evoke strong feelings in people. I get a lot of people coming up to me at gigs saying how moved they were. That's a good thing.

JB: You have spent many years in the UK and I understand you started to sing on the London jazz circuit, how did that scene give you the foundation for what you now do?

YI: It was a huge buzz to play with some of the people I met through the London Jazz scene; particularly Downstairs at The Kings Head in Crouch End on Sunday afternoons. I lacked experience on the stage so to speak, so started out quite tentatively but I knew a lot of songs and had a good ear for them. I was thrilled to be able to sing with such stalwarts of the London jazz scene as drummer Laurie Morgan and double bassist Coleridge Goode and to get feedback that was positive and encouraging from everyone there. I knew they'd played with some of the best singers from jazz’s hey day so their encouragement meant a great deal. I met so many people, great musicians who I began to do my own gigs with, including a four-week run at Jazz After Dark in Soho.

JB: What inspired you to write?

YI: I knew the songs I was singing (basically the entire Billie Holiday Songbook), all the great standards of jazz, had been sung by the greatest singers of all time and I felt if I was going to keep singing those songs I better be able to do something bloody good – something better – but that's almost an impossibility; you are singing songs that have definitive versions by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, etc. I didn't think I could ever write a song in that vein (in a way those songs of yesteryear are pure nostalgia and you can't write songs like that now) – they are not really relevant to today's world – so I began with some of my poems. I'd always enjoyed writing poetry. That was the key to unlock the door and find my own voice. The words had immediacy, the songs were about current ideas and I knew no-one else had sung my songs so I didn't have to feel I was competing against any other version. The version was mine. I own the definitive version.

JB: You’re playing guitar too now, how does playing an instrument as well as singing in the band change the dynamic?

YI: Playing guitar has helped me to ground the sounds with their own style. I'm no guitarist really but I can set up a base for the song to flow over. I don't write complex chord structures and I leave a lot of space in the music which gives the musicians in the band plenty of room to move and improvise. Plus I love sitting in the band and playing guitar. I never felt comfortable out the front with the microphone. I like being embedded in the band. But that might change again one day.

JB: What do you hope to do next – I understand you are planning a UK tour also?

YI: At the moment I'm busy here in Melbourne promoting my new album Woman Got To Cry and doing as much as I can to extend my base. I will be doing a tour of some other Australian States early next year and then hopefully will be in the UK in the middle of the year to do some dates and push the album to a wider audience in the UK.

Jeanie Barton is a jazz singer and songwriter. https://jeaniebarton.com

LINK: Yolanda Ingley II on Soundcloud

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REPORT: Jazz Juniors Festival in Kraków

The 42nd Jazz Juniors Competition was won by Marcin Pater Trio
Photo credit: Andrzej Banaś (Jazz Juniors 2018) 

Jazz Juniors Festival
(ICE Kraków Congress Centre 29 November – 2 December 2018. Report by Mary James)

The Jazz Juniors Festival continues to raise its game. Held annually in Kraków, it presented the confident outward face of Polish jazz with concerts by Marcin Wasilewski Trio and a Tribute to Tomasz Stańko featuring Avishai Cohen (trumpet) and Jeff “Tain” Watts outstanding highlights. The year the event reverted to its original name and format, Jazz Juniors, a competition that has run for over 40 years and whose laureates include Marcin Wasilewski in 1992. The auditions and concerts took place in the beautiful surroundings of ICE Kraków Congress Centre which added to the gravity of each audition and rewarded each musician with superlative sound.

Twenty six bands entered this year, the top prize being no less than five European festival appearances, concerts in China, Moscow and Budapest, a Polish National Radio concert and funding for a record deal on Italian label Emme Records. Seven bands qualified for the auditions, all but one from Poland. Two bands were led by women: RAME Jazz5tet from Italy, led by Valentina Fin on vocals, and Monika Malczak Quintet. All the bands played original music ranging from folk-infused to full-on skronk, and there were some unusual lead instruments such as harmonica and accordion, making the task of the judges very difficult. It is a credit to all entrants that despite the undoubted stress of competition, there was a spirit of co-operation between bands (two bands sharing a bass player) and many musicians took the opportunity to widen their networks and attend to the business side to their careers by talking with jury members and guests after the judging had ended.

The First Prize winners, Marcin Pater Trio (Marcin Pater vibes, Mateusz Szewczyk bass and Adam Wajdzik drums) are no strangers to entering competitions. Pater reached the finals of B-Jazz, won the Jazz Baszta Festival and the International Percussion Festival in Italy, a reflection of the strength of vibes teaching in Poland. His I Love You Baby, Goodbye sent shivers down your spine with its silky harmonies and slow pace.

Second prize winner RASP Lovers left no-one in the audience with any doubt that Romantic Alternative Schizophrenic Punk is exhilarating. And RAME Jazz5tet explored the links between jazz and poetry and were rewarded with third prize for their thoughtful introspective music and arresting vocals from Fin.

If ever there was proof needed that competitions are worth the stress, then look no further than last year’s winners of the Hitch On Music Competition, Quantum Trio from Poland and Chile, who packed out the brick lined basement of Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club off the main square in Krakow. A busy year of touring and recording has honed some of the band’s raw edges, and a concert length set enabled us to hear their full range of moods (and wonderful tunes) from blisteringly fast to reflective. The breathtaking solos of saxophonist Michal Jan Ciesielski had all the precision of a laser.

Mention should be made of Weezdob Collective, also at Piec Art, who gave us a second opportunity to witness the presence, lyricism and passion of Kacper Smoliński’s harmonica outside of his own band. Smoliński is one of the few Europeans studying jazz chromatic harmonica, and has already won significant prizes. The Collective played a joyful, enjoyable and confident set from their debut album Star Cadillac, and the interplay between sax and harmonica in particular was a delight. The band has played together for five years and some members have been friends since childhood, another example of the strength of the Polish music scene where music schools are attached to primary schools.

A new organisation Music Export Poland, whose aim is to expand the distribution and promotion of Polish music, artists and recordings on foreign markets, organised a panel discussion about music export with contributions from Iceland, Canada, Poland and the UK (represented by London Jazz News). The panel member from Poland explained his work in promoting Polish avant-garde music in China, at which he is increasingly successful, reminding listeners that no matter how well known you are at home, in China you start from scratch, a challenge and an opportunity.

Mary James attended the competition as a guest of the organisers.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, works with John Law and others. Twitter @maryleamington

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REVIEW: The Jazz Migration showcase at La Dynamo in Pantin, France

No Tongues
Photo credit: Nigel Slee
Jazz Migration Showcase
(La Dynamo, Pantin, France, 3 December 2018. Review by Leah Williams)

Jazz Migration has been supporting and mentoring young creative jazz musicians since its inception in 2002, helping them to build their careers and share their music on a global platform. Its annual showcase at Dynamo in Paris offers four of its selected groups the opportunity to perform a 30-minute set in front of the public and specially invited guests from across Europe’s jazz scene.

Although there were many similarities between the groups, with a prevalence of electronic effects and recordings, and a shared curiosity for testing the conventional boundaries of their instruments, they were also completely unique and, in many ways, contrasting groups, making it somewhat difficult to compare them.

However, the one set that will definitely stay with me the longest and left me eager for more came from No Tongues. Made up of four musicians from the Nantes region, the group has a very clear inspiration and direction. They are inspired by “human oral traditions from across the globe” and the hidden or even forgotten parts of ourselves these reveal – perhaps signified by the tribal masks with which they shared the stage. From the opening short piece where the musicians played in unison to reflect and amplify a man taking his cattle out to pasture, it was clear this was going to be something completely new.

Moving on to pieces inspired by an Inuit recording and two contrasting funeral laments – from Tibet and the Antipodes Islands – the group used dialogue between the instruments and the recordings alongside a whole panoply of interesting effects. To give a small taste, Ronan Courty used mallets, pencils and at one point a grooming brush to draw interesting sounds from his double bass while Alan Regardin and Matthieu Prual played their trumpet and saxophone into each other resulting in an interesting wall of sound as well as a trial of breath control. There was something quite visceral about experiencing their performance, that truly did make you feel as though you were connecting to a time and people beyond yourself. It didn’t always make for comfortable listening but to watch live it was a feast for the senses, keeping the audience completely entranced with an innovation and musicianship hard to match.

Ronan Prual – double bass
Ronan Courty – double bass and ‘objects’
Alan Regardin – trumpet and ‘objects’
Matthieu Prual – saxophones and bass clarinet



House of Echo
Publicity photo


House of Echo is another quartet, headed up by pianist Enzo Carniel and guitarist Marc-Antoine Perrio. They were introduced as “young musicians with great maturity who don’t fear silence or being noisy”. The first piece illustrated this perfectly. Music full of delicate dialogue developed slowly yet organically, creating a deep ambience in the small space. This led into a sort of controlled chaos from which beautiful colours and melodies emerged sporadically, allowing the audience to remain alongside throughout. Out of all the groups, this is the one I could imagine having the widest appeal and would be equally effective listened to at home as live. In fact, the frantic happenings on stage with the many, many different tech effects that Marc-Antoine Perrio was working with, meant that at times it was nicer to close my eyes and let the glorious wash of sound engulf me without the distraction.

Enzo Carniel – piano
Marc Antoine Perrio – guitar
Ariel Tessier – drums
Simon Tailleu – double bass

Séverine Morfin and Angela Flahault of Three Days of Forest
Photo credit: Nigel Slee

Three Days of Forest opened the showcase in true style. The only group to include voice as one of the instruments, this automatically lent them a unique appeal and perspective. Music that truly defies definition, they were introduced as a group blurring the boundaries of genre, encompassing elements of folk, free jazz, punk and protest song. Their latest music was inspired by protest poetry written by African American authors Rita Dove and Gwendolyn Brooks and some of the poems were read out in between pieces, which was a nice touch. The unusual trio of vocals, viola and drums worked incredibly well together in this setting, creating a soundscape that was at once diverse and yet wholly theirs. All pieces were performed with infectious conviction, with each instrument an integral part of the ensemble. The expertly built texture at times appeared so much bigger than should be created by just three musicians, resulting in an epic soundscape easy to get lost in.

Angela Flahault – voice
Séverine Morfin – viola
Florian Satche – drums



Melusine
Publicity Photo 

Melusine drew the short straw somewhat, playing at the end of an evening that went beyond its scheduled time, and didn’t benefit from the same audience numbers as the others. However, this didn’t stop them from giving their all in an impassioned performance that effectively brought together this unusual ensemble. There were some moments of real brilliance, with the skilled playing of Christophe Girard on accordion or William Rollin on electric guitar taking the lead to create an anchor in the midst of the free form. Their overall sound didn’t seem to have come together in such a distinct way as the other groups quite yet but there was enough passion, innovation and talent to still make them one to watch.

Anthony Caillet – euphonium
Stan Delannoy – drums, percussion
Christophe Girard – accordion, composition
William Rollin – electric guitar
Simon Tailleu – double bass

Leah Williams is a freelance journalist and editor working across many different sectors and has been a regular reviewer and feature writer for LJN since 2016.

LINK: Jazz Migration website

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CD REVIEW: Jakob Bro – Bay of Rainbows


Jakob Bro – Bay of Rainbows
(ECM 677 1120. CD review by Peter Bacon)

This is Danish guitarist Jakob Bro’s third trio album for ECM and the second with Thomas Morgan on double bass and Joey Baron on drums (its predecessor is 2016’s Streams and Jon Christensen was the drummer on the first, Gefion, in 2015). Bay of Rainbows reprises tunes from earlier in Bro’s extensive recording career and is his first live album for ECM, captured at the Jazz Standard in mid-town Manhattan in July 2017.

The band’s calling card is its ability to sustain its very own particular kind of quiet storm. The melodic content is often pared down though not short of charm, even prettiness, and this songlike style is shared between all three musicians. They weave in and out, each sewing a distinctive line and produce a musical fabric which often has a gossamer intangibility, yet moves the emotions in a strangely deep way.

Bay of Rainbows opens and closes with the same tune, called Mild – an apposite title for its gentle harmonious nature (any horses present would remain sublimely unfrightened) and yet, both in its  opening version and its closing, longer, more discursive variation – which gives Morgan a more prominent role – it reveals new and more intriguing nuances with each listen.

Copenhagen, the opener on Gefion, is another pretty piece with a charming melody line from Bro and intersecting counter melody from Morgan, Baron's brushes underlaying them – in the end it's Morgan who is left to round it all off. Here, the tune is the rose between the sharper, darker, thornier moods of Red Hook and Dug, the latter digging deep in a sometimes almost threatening manner.

I realise I risk sounding like a stuck record, but Thomas Morgan really is outstanding in every band he plays in.

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NEWS: National Jazz Archive spreads to Birmingham

Australian Jazz Quarterly from May 1947, one of the items in the collection.

Birmingham City University now hosts a satellite archive of the National Jazz Archive (NJA). Peter Bacon reports:

 Exciting news for jazz researchers, especially those in the English Midlands, is that the British Institute of Jazz Studies collection has recently arrived at Birmingham City University as a satellite of the National Jazz Archive.

The press release explains:

"This collection includes an extensive number of foreign language magazines and books. This will be complemented in the following years by additional UK focused materials and jazz ephemera."

Professor Nick Gebhardt, Director of the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR) is quoted in the release:

“The partnership between Birmingham City University and the National Jazz Archive is an important new initiative that seeks to stimulate debate about the history and significance of jazz in the UK and beyond. Through exhibitions, performances, talks and workshops, our aim is to create a vibrant, living archive known for innovative research and outreach programmes that are uniquely anchored in the wider community."

The press release continues:

"The Birmingham City University satellite collection is housed in the Arts, Design & Media archives at Parkside Building. This collection is available to all through appointment with the Keeper of the Archives, Dr Pedro Cravinho.

 "This year represents a significant milestone for the National Jazz Archive as it celebrates thirty years of activity. The NJA holds the UK’s finest collection of written, printed and visual material on jazz, blues and related music, from the 1920s to the present day. Since the NJA was established in 1988, its vision has been to ensure that the rich cultural heritage of jazz is safeguarded for the future generations.

Jazz, the fourth issue of the Belgian publication from 1945, is in the collection.

"This year also represents the beginning of a partnership between Birmingham City University and the NJA towards the establishment of an NJA’s satellite-based at the University’s Arts, Design and Media Archives located in its Parkside Building, where the first archival materials have already arrived.

"The archive includes a diversity of foreign-language jazz and blues-related magazines from across the world, to include:

"Jazz Podium (Germany), Musica Jazz (Italy), Jazz Bladet (Norway), Jazz Forum (Poland), Jazz ‘n’ More (Switzerland), Jazznytt (Sweden), Quartica Jazz (Spain), Hot Jazz Club (Argentina), Jazz Live (Austria), Jazz (Belgium), Jazz Bulletin (Czech Republic), Jazz Revy (Denmark), Rytmi (Finland), Jazz Nu (Netherlands), Melody Maker (UK), Australian Jazz Quarterly (Australia), Coda (Canada)."

These materials are available to all through appointment with the Keeper of the Archives, Dr. Pedro Cravinho at ADM-Archives-Request@bcu.ac.uk

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BOOK REVIEW: The History of European Jazz – Edited by Francesco Martinelli



The History of European Jazz – The Music, Musicians and Audience in Context. Edited by Francesco Martinelli 
(Equinox Books. 742pp. Book review by Sebastian Scotney)

Thud. The History of European Jazz really is quite some book. It weighs in at over 2.1kg. The retail price is £195 or $280. It is 742 pages long, has been several years in the making, and consists of 34 chapters on different countries, plus six additional chapters on different themes. Only a single author has contributed more than one of these country chapters, and there are four country chapters which have more than one author, so that makes a total of nearly 50 contributing writers.

As one slightly sceptical observer put it to me, “The project really is limitless in its scale.” Indeed so. Jazz in Europe over the past century is a vast, disparate and more or less inexhaustible subject. So it is definitely to the credit of those involved that they have not only managed to pack so much in between the book’s black covers, that they have given it such a sense of order and structure, and that the standard of the English and of the proofing are so good. It is also very well illustrated and the picture captions are detailed and highly informative.

One key question is who the book is addressed to. The book adheres to the general principle that Equinox, the book’s publisher, follows throughout its extensive jazz catalogue, led by Alyn Shipton. As he explained to me in a different context recently: "the university-based ‘jazz studies’ market has grown, but at Equinox we prefer our music books to cater for academics, enthusiasts and the general reader".

That principle of wanting to inform and to appeal to the general reader runs through the book. Editor Francesco Martinelli entitles his foreword “stories that needed to be told,” and describes part of the process as a “‘stitching-together’ of stories in a jazz quilt covering the whole of Europe”. That is to say that the cultural, historical and economic contexts in the different countries are never the same. And the approach of allowing a specialist from the country concerned to tell each story gives that authentic sense of where the music comes from.

But stories need good story-tellers, and there are those who can and, unfortunately, some who can’t. It is not surprising, for example, that the story of Irish jazz is well told by Cormac Larkin. His chapter starts with the improbable narrative of 3,000 people led by Father Peter Conefrey, a Catholic priest with strong nationalist leanings, trudging through the cold on New Year’s Day in 1934, holding placards emblazoned with slogans such as “Down with Jazz” and “Out with Paganism”, and ends musing on what Father Conefrey would make of the jazz scene that he would look down on today.

Another superb story-teller, Gábor Turi, gives us the chapter on Hungary. It is clearly written and develops in a way that the ‘general reader’ can certainly enjoy. More broadly, the story of jazz’s problematic relationship with communism comes across with passion many times, notably in the chapter about Poland. In Bulgaria, there are stories of tough times when musicians were rounded up and imprisoned. In the chapter on Ukraine the writer is almost certainly describing similar circumstances when he reverts to dark euphemism, alluding to jazz practitioners’ “sense of instability as the authorities’ ‘heightened interest’ routinely recurred”.

The history of jazz in Germany is broader and more complex, but I found the chapter dealing with it rambling and hard to follow. There is a lot of information there, but it it doesn’t really have threads to help the reader through it, and whereas several writers elect to give a resounding and strong conclusion, this chapter peters out rather inconclusively.

Jazz is based on open-mindedness, open ears and a willingness to be influenced. And what I have found fascinating has been to follow the stories and the characters that cross borders and appear in several chapters. One of them is neatly flagged up in Alyn Shipton’s introduction, and that is the story of trumpeter Adi (Eddie) Rosner whose activities span Germany, Poland and the Ukraine. He also pops up in the chapter on Jewish musicians, and, intriguingly and briefly, in the one on Azerbaidjan.

And there are plenty of characters whose influence pops up all over the place. Sometimes these appearances are caught in the index but often they are not. Kenny Wheeler’s influence is deep and far-reaching, and he makes un-indexed appearances in the history of jazz in both Belgium and Italy.

And then there are influential figures who could pop up more or less anywhere. I couldn’t have predicted, for example where the British writer and commentator Stuart Nicholson would receive the most references. His remarks about the links which jazz has with theatre and parody, and his description of the ‘rugged individuality’ of its creators earns him a prominent mention... in the chapter about the Netherlands.

Some chapters – the one on the UK for example – describe the current scene in detail, whereas the chapter on Norway leaves itself less than a page to fast-forward from 1980 to the present day. So the only reference I could find in it to the oft-vaunted jazz educational miracle of Trondheim consisted of the names of three musicians and a passing reference to it as a “jazz-friendly student town”.

And then there are those influential figures who, one hopes, might receive their dues because of deep and transformative effect they had on the scene around them. The question is whether a) being astonishingly good at what they did and b) quietly going on doing it for decades would prove to be enough. Danish musicians have often talked to me of the reverence in which they held legendary pianist Horace Parlan who spent most of his later life in their midst. But in the chapter on Denmark he gets just one cursory reference and doesn’t make it into the index.

A few such passing regrets in an enterprise of this size are inevitable, and they should not detract from the gold-mine of information and of bringing-to-life that is there. As so much information goes online, books on this ambitious scale are increasingly a rarity. The facts that this one has received the backing to actually come into being, and that it has been done this well, is nothing short of a miracle.

LINK: The History of European Jazz at Equinox Books

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INTERVIEW: Simon Thacker (new double album Trikala now released)

Simon Thacker
Publicity Photo
Guitar virtuoso, composer and teacher SIMON THACKER hails from East Lothian. He has a deep involvement in Indian music, and this month sees the release of an ambitious new (double) album, Trikala, in which he engages with an international group of 12  other top-level musicians and singers under the moniker "Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti". Three years in the making, in Trikala he both digs deep and casts the net wide across the Indian sub-continent. In this interview with Fiona Mactaggart, he explains what led him into Indian music, discusses Trikala and talks about his plans:

There aren’t many hints in Simon Thacker’s background as to where his specific musicality springs from. There were neither musicians in the immediate family nor any links with the Indian subcontinent. Thacker offers: “There’s something about the (Indian) musical language that just fits me personally, spiritually, emotionally”. Thacker recalls connecting with music from an early age. “I lived in the countryside in East Lothian; there’s not really anybody about and that may be a reason why music was so important”. He recalls from age six “pestering” his mother to buy him cassette tapes of songs and later on passing through phases of “obsession” with pre-war Blues, Jimi Hendrix and Western classical music.

By high school he realized he “could actually express so much through (specifically) western classical music” and began composing and improvising at school events. Subsequent formal training was at Edinburgh Napier University (where Thacker nowadays teaches), the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow, and with private teachers including Brazilian classical guitarist Fabio Zanon. Additionally, Thacker is generous toward his Nava Rasa Ensemble colleagues, saying the 2011 tour with them was “almost like attending Indian-Western University”.

Thacker is clear he comes from the heritage of Western classical music. However, he describes an increasingly deep engagement with many world musics, especially Indian, since even before the time of his first Indian/Western classical 2011 album, Nada-Ananda (with his Nava Rasa Ensemble). Always immersed in various projects, this was followed up in 2013 by another Indian/Western classical album Rakshasa (with his then quartet Svara-Kanti), and in 2016 by Karmana, an Indian-Roma album with Polish cellist Justyna Jablonska. All three were released to critical acclaim. With his new album, Thacker dives especially deep into “the four Indian musical traditions: Hindustani classical (north); Carnatic classical (south); Punjabi folk (west); and the Bengali mystical folk Baul tradition of India and Bangladesh (east)”.




For Trikala he highlights his move from commissioning works from the likes of Shirish Korde, Terry Riley and Nigel Osborne, esteemed composers all, to instead feature self-composed works. As in his previous releases, however, he also includes several “re-imaginings” of some beautiful Indian songs, including India’s national song, Vande Mataram. Thacker goes on to explain that Trikala is Sanskrit for the three tenses: past, present and future. Indeed Thacker describes a sense of deep connection between his music and past tradition, seeing the re-imaginings of traditional pieces in Trikala as a direct link to the past. “It’s almost like I’m staring into the eyes of, or holding hands with the people, the greats of the past”. At times there’s almost a spiritual quality to Thacker’s discourse around music.

Thacker elaborates: his sense is that musical traditions are revered foundations or starting points for further musical evolution, and his own musical compositions are in continuity with – and developments from – past masters. “I’m explicitly taking things into the future: it’s a vision.” CD1 features Thacker and eight other master musicians and singers, all “outstanding”, presenting a disparate mix of Hindustani, Carnatic and Bengali music and song. Some such as Jacqueline Shave (violin) and Justyna Jablonska (cello) have an established association with Thacker, being on the 2013 Svara Kanti Rakshasa and the 2016 Karmana albums respectively. Other musicians have been discovered more recently by Thacker courtesy of a favourite investigative tool of his: YouTube. Afsana Khan was found in this way after many months of YouTube research, Thacker considering her “the foremost Sufi and Punjabi singer of the younger generation in India”.

Meanwhile, CD2 is given over to Baul music and song, none of which, in keeping with that tradition, is notated. Again there features a mix of old and new colleagues, the former including Sarvar Sabri (tabla) and another musician found by Thacker on YouTube, Raju Das Baul (vocals and khomok). Thacker speaks warmly of the “telepathy” they have with each other and of Baul as an improviser of the first order. Whilst some of Thacker’s compositions are described by him as necessarily hyper-notated, he sees this as a framework for their improvisations, giving opportunity to all the musicians to “commune”. Thacker is aware that such dense and complex music “will take people quite some time to digest”, and is respectfully unapologetic about this. Though describing Trikala as “some of his most immediate music I’ve ever recorded”, he adds: “but it’s very multi-layered”. In common with many jazz musicians, Thacker eschews producing music which, if it was less complex or tricky to pigeon-hole, might reach a wider audience more quickly.

It is of interest too that Thacker acknowledges that some of his earlier work might be regarded as crossover, such as that by his 12-year-old jazz-classical quartet, Ritmata. However, for the music on Trikala Thacker states firmly that he does not describe it as crossover music. Rather he conceptualizes it as “propelling the traditions forward.” He goes on: “for me, the music isn’t Western classical and it’s not Indian; it’s now gone beyond that. I think it’s generated a third direction”. What is clear is that however it might be conceptualized, Trikala is at the least a successful syncretism, a major statement of the possibilities of Indian-Western collaboration.

Regarding plans for the future, Thacker describes a hectic programme, with two more albums on the way. A Ritmata album is currently being edited, mixed and mastered with a view to release in early 2019. Meanwhile, the bulk of a new Roma CD will be recorded this month with a remaining vocal section to be laid down this spring. Thacker and co will be touring Trikala in India in early 2019 with a UK tour anticipated for spring. His resolute statement of culturally rich, complex yet accessible music will doubtless find a wide audience. And as Thacker says of his own discovery of Indian music: “It’s like an aural portal to another universe!”

LINKS: Simon Thacker's website

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NEWS: Six More Artists Announced for Walthamstow Jazz Festival (16 February 2019)

Waldo's Gift
Publicity Photo

Sebastian writes: 

The inaugural Walthamstow Jazz Festival, in association with Adnams, put out its first press release and announced its first names at the end of October. It has just added some interesting, mostly up-and-coming bands to its schedule. The new names are:

- Leifur James the London-based multi-instrumentalist and producer - more here

- Run Logan Run from Bristol (FEATURE HERE)

- The Leeds-based seven-piece band Têtes de Pois, featuring saxophonist Jasmine Whalley (video below)

- Another Bristol band, the trio Waldo's Gift - Feature

- Dulahli , a trio from the Leeds scene (INTERVIEW)

- London-based DJ Ashley Robinson, resident DJ at the Jazz Café. He also holds a residency at Brilliant Corners - On Mixcloud




ARTISTS ALREADY ANNOUNCED:

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
Cykada
Snazzback
Dear Earth (DJ set)
None More Records Soundsystem (DJ set)
Tommy Hare
(pp)

TICKETS: There was an early bird ticket allocation which sold out quickly. Tickets for the day are now on sale at £30.

LINK: FESTIVAL WEBSITE/ TICKETS

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NEWS: Marcin Pater Trio wins Jazz Juniors Competition 2018 in Kraków

Marcin Pater Trio receiving the award
Photo credit: Andrzej Banaś (Jazz Juniors 2018).

Mary James writes:

The winner of Jazz Juniors Competition, 29 November to 2 December 2018, was announced yesterday at the ICE Krakow Congress Centre. The winner of the First Prize is Marcin Pater Trio from Katowice (Poland): Marcin Pater (vibes), Mateusz Szewczyk (bass) and Adam Wajdzik (drums)

Second Prize was awarded to RASP Lovers (Poland) and Third Prize to RAME Jazz5tet (Italy).

The competition, held annually in Kraków, attracted 26 bands from around the world for the competition. The first prize comprises 7 festival appearances and a recording contract. The competition was produced by the Fundacja Muzyki Filmowej i Jazzowej.

Marcin Pater Trio were also finalists in the B-Jazz competition earlier this year in Leuven and their performance was videoed HERE

Mary James attended the competition for LondonJazz News and her full report will follow.

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PREVIEW: Forward Festival (Federico Ughi, Jeff Snyder, William Parker, Rachel Musson... 6-7 December, Shapeshifter Lab, Brooklyn)



FEDERICO UGHI is an Italian-born drummer and composer based in New York. He co-founded the grassroots, independent label 577 Records in 2001. 577 grew out of a series of house concerts at 577 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. JEFF SNYDER is a composer, improviser and instrument-designer, and also Director of Electronic Music at Princeton University. Writer Dan Bergsagel, recently moved to New York, interviewed them both and asked them to look forward to the Forward Festival, in which they have prominent roles, and will be featuring a solo performance by Rachel Musson:

“Are you from London?”

This is not how conversations about jazz in New York normally start, with the interviewer being interrogated first. But like my story and many others, Federico Ughi's transatlantic jazz story started in London, when he was 21 and moved to Hackney. For six years he was part of the jazz scene centred around the Vortex, “I moved from Rome to London to play music, and I wasn't really sure what I was going to do. I started getting introduced to improvised music by these great musicians. When in 2000 I moved to New York, I met Daniel Carter.”

Daniel Carter and Ughi are at the heart of 577 Records, and the eclectic open approach that the record label takes comes in part from their musical flexibility, and how they met. “When I first moved to New York I went out every single night for six months trying to really see as much music as I could, to see who was there,” recalls Ughi, “I kept seeing Daniel in different situations every night, each night in a different band, a different club, a different kind of music. He was always there, and always sounded amazing. How is it possible that this guy can play all these different types of music and still sound like himself?”

Eventually Ughi mustered the courage to ask to play with Carter, starting with a few house concerts. “I used to have a nice apartment in Park Slope with a view of the twin towers, and we started doing house concerts. And that's how 577 started. It was the address, 577 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn.” “It was really informal, sometimes there was nobody, sometimes there were a lot of people. We did it a few times and we liked it, and we started the label.” The first record on the label was an Ughi/Carter collaboration.

Jump forward 14 years, and things have quietly, in a home-grown way, developed. 2015 was an important year for them: Daniel Carter was turning 70, Federico was celebrating the birth of his first child, and Ornette Coleman, an inspiration to all of them, had died. “We decided to do something special.”

Jeff Snyder's connection is maybe less historic, but is nonetheless born from the same excitement about seeing musician's playing live, and wanting to see how a musical relationship could develop further. “At some point we met through a mutual friend, Leila Adu,” who was completing a PhD there. “She brought Federico to Princeton to play as part of a series of improvised performances called Live Stock Exchange. Snyder is based in Princeton, where he has been Director of Electronic Music for around a decade. After playing together, pretty quickly they realised they had a connection, too. “I liked his approach to improvisation,” enthused Snyder. “I play a modular synthesizer a lot, which is in some ways a difficult instrument to improvise with. I do a lot or re-patching and changing my configuration as part of my performance, and it fits really well with the way Federico listens and responds.”

Federico Ughi anf Jeff Snyder
Photo: 577 Records
What was so interesting about speaking to Snyder and Ughi was hearing how they collaborate, playing very different instruments coming from different musical stalls (Ughi calls on a punk background, Snyder more rock, and both have spent time playing with Carter's classical and free jazz approach). However the challenge for Snyder was often finding someone who could be flexible when improvising with an instrument which comes with a different history and playing style to traditional acoustic ones. “With my instrument being electronics, people say well 'what is that?'. And over the years that changes, from maybe a keyboard to, in recent years, modular synthesis.”

It's worth noting that part of Snyder's canon is his development of new electronic instruments, and how players interact with them. “I feel generally there is a problem with expression in electronic music,” explains Snyder, “A traditional electronic interface gives you a very mediated connection to the sound, through technology. You don't have the direct immediate control that you get with acoustic instruments. On a trumpet if you blow harder it's louder; on an electronic instrument you don't necessarily get a louder sound if you put more energy into the gesture. A lot of what I've been trying to work towards is a more expressive, dynamic way to make electronic sounds.”

This is in direct contrast to the enormous playing surface to interact with of the drums, where the speed, force, approach and tool have so much influence on the tone of the sound. And for me this is at the heart of Duo, Snyder and Ughi's (unsurprisingly two person) collaboration. The tension between Snyder's work to bring expression and improvisation to new electronic instruments, and Ughi's willingness to accompany and build from that.

Snyder points out that this is not always a straightforward task, to jam along with electronics. “I do use sequencing sometimes, setting up a clock. One thing I love about working with Federico is his ability to internalise tempo streams, and yet go against them, or go alongside them with a different tempo of his own. He makes good choices about whether he's with, opposing or complimenting.”

“I think I got it from William Parker,” pipes in Ughi, “I started playing with him maybe 15 years ago, and I'd never played with a bassist who was, not against me, but playing in a different way. Compatible, but different. Being on time in a different way.”

“That's exactly what I'm talking about,” chimes Snyder. “I can establish clocks, pulse streams, but in a mediated way. It can be a real problem when playing with other musician's – that tempo can't respond to other people in the room and they always end up being a slave to it. It makes me avoid taking advantages of those possibilities, but I feel I can pull those out with Federico as he'll find something to go with it that won't be restricted by it. And I don't feel like I have to keep it the same – I can speed up, slow down, introduce randomisation.”

* * *

Snyder has other challenges when coming to improvisation. “I play an instrument where there is no clear context; there's no repertoire of music I should know how to play, there's very little expectation. It's associated with Electronic Dance Music, but that's more solitary, focused on production in a studio. I'm much more interested in live performance, and in that case all bets are off. And I'm mostly an improviser because I have a very bad memory!”

This enthusiasm for unscripted live performance is what makes him so interesting to the jazz scene. Ughi called back to when they played together in a different format as part of his quartet, where Snyder came in to replace the role of the bass in a more recognisable Ornette-style group setup. “Jeff wasn't playing the bass, but he was covering the bass role. And it was fantastic.”

“That's true” chips in Snyder “but that was a real stretch for me. The band was already formed with a bass, and I came in without jazz training. And there were a lot of times when I wished that I could just walk on changes, but I didn't know what I was doing. But it meant I brought an energy that was really different, and it was such an enjoyable group.” Along with Richard Teitelbaum, Snyder has been one of the pioneers in his keenness to cross-over between electronics and jazz into new and interesting places.

A lot of this comes from Snyder's curiosity in trying to find a repertoire in electronic performance and composition (his solo record Concerning the Nature of Things is an excellent place to look for this in a number of different combinations and using newly minted instruments), but also his role at Princeton. Director of Electronic Music is a fairly unusual position, which seems to have been created just for Snyder, and sits equivalent to director of jazz, choir or orchestra. He straddles composition and performance; teaching and research. “I'm really happy that Princeton has considered it as a performance thing instead of studio music. I lead the laptop orchestra (PLOrk) which is an academic experiment in trying to make live electronic music in large groups. Usually electronic music is solitary in the studio, but even on stage it might be two people. You never see 10 people, and there are a lot of reasons for that! There are a lot of things that make it difficult. But I think it's an exciting idea.” Snyder's role is fundamentally to tease out how live large-scale electronic performances can happen, and each year gets to reform it building on the people and interests that he has available, the work he is doing on inventing new expressive electronic instruments, and a nascent new repertoire. It sounds amazingly liberating, and an excellent environment to experiment in. Many of his new projects start with his graduate composition students. “There are a lot of interesting deadlines, and it gives me nice creative restrictions to work with. I end up workshopping a lot of the pieces I write with them. The same with new instruments I'm developing.”

Shapeshifter Lab
Publicity Photo


THE FORWARD FESTIVAL, 6 and 7 DECEMBER

The pressing matter, however, is the Forward Festival next week in Brooklyn. And I really wanted to know why this project was so exciting for both of them. “One of the goals of 577 records and the festival is to involve electronic music in the improvisation dimension. There are a lot of free jazz festivals, but electronic music is still considered something not legit, very separate to traditional acoustic free jazz. We would like to change this, to try and narrow the gap. Most of the music we hear is electronics. It is almost our connection to the future. Acoustic free jazz has such a history and its beautiful and it needs to be respected. I play the most acoustic instrument in the band, but I feel like you can't create an experimental improvisation festival in 2018 without electronic music being represented.”

It is an opportunity to tie so many of their passions together; acoustic traditions and mixing genres, band setup, improvisation and structure. Ughi described this further “Every group has a different history, and each project is based on relationships between musicians. Each band develops its own personality, and from there you can create projects.” These form organically, and aren't defined from the outset. One group featuring at the festival which did come with an initially defined philosophy is the Listening Group featuring Ughi, Snyder and Carter as part of a nine-person ensemble. As someone coming with experience of large electronic ensembles, Snyder was enthused. “It's an interesting example. Having a band that big playing free, not composed music, is pretty risky and difficult to not make it a mess. The concept behind it came out of a Daniel Carter idea, to make chamber music where the real focus is on listening to each other.” Ughi was able to explain further “The night I met Daniel he was playing in a large ensemble, and he was a little frustrated because he felt it was all about playing louder and louder; it was like a competition. Can you imagine a group with the opposite? That's the idea of the group. Instead of trying to play above everybody else, you try to play below. The elements in the band need to be aware of the other members. If you can't hear someone else, you're playing too loud. You have to be extremely careful.”

Most importantly, they're both excited to gather and see some great combos and play with all their friends at the festival. It's a little like a celebration, a family reunion, and their own version of Christmas and to celebrate in a concentrated event together.And it's also an opportunity to hear and see people who they don't always get to, with players coming from England and Denmark as well as the metro area.

Like all good things, the Forward Festival started as a one-off for a special occasion with no longterm ambitions, and from there stuck. And aren't we glad!

The Forward Festival takes place at Shapeshifter Lab in Gowanus, Brooklyn on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th of December. Jeff Snyder and Federico Ughi are opening the festival with a trio, accompanied by another electronic performer, the impeccably tasteful Cenk Ergün. The Listening Group finish the Thursday night session. Daniel Carter and Federico Ughi appear three more times over the two evenings in different projects and combinations.

LINKS: Federico Ughi at 577 Records
Forward Festival
Forward Festival Mixtape on Bandcamp

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