THAT WAS 2018: Favourite and most-read articles as we approach our 10th anniversary

Among our favourite pieces:
John L Walters' review of Bobby McFerrin (link below)
Photo credit: John Watson /
Sebastian writes: 

Welcome to our 888th and last article of 2018.

If I'm feeling reflective, nostalgic even, it is because just a few days from now, 10 January 2019, will mark LJN's 10th anniversary. It will be ten years since I wrote a tentative first blog piece, a preview of the Ian Shaw residency at Pizza Express in Dean Street. And since then LJN has mushroomed.

2018 has been an amazing year. I am lucky to work with a core team who can be not just effective and skilfull, but also invariably bring such enthusiasm to everything they do for the site: Peter Bacon, Romy Summers, Catherine Ford and Rob Edgar.

And it is amazing to deal with the joys and surprises of the daily flow of superb articles that we get to edit and post from the fantastic team of writers and photographers.

First a few favourite pieces selected by Peter Bacon and myself from this year, then extracts from, and links to, the ten most-reads of the year:


This year we have had

- a first-time contribution from the doyen of British jazz critics John Fordham

- a deeply felt piece about Monk by Liam Noble

- Lauren Bush celebrating the 90th birthday of Sheila Jordan

- Alison Bentley describing the joys of Vincent Peirani's Living Being

- AJ Dehany on Joan Jonas and Jason Moran at the Tate

- Jane Mann on Paul Booth's Bansangu

- Gail Tasker on Eddie Parker's Debussy Mirrored

- John L Walters on the Bobby McFerrin Barbican show

- Leah Williams at the Proms and decidedly On The Town

- Geoff Winston at the Rhythm and Reaction art exhibition

Sebastian's review of Joshua Redman in a duo with violin at the Wigmore Hall

Peter Bacon's review of Kate McGarry

At No 6  in our most-reads: AJ Dehany's report Manfred Eicher
Phone snap by AJ Dehany


10) Steve Rubie's interview with Peter Ind previewing the great bassist's 90th birthday concert

"I have watched various of the young musicians that cut their teeth in the Bass Clef come through as jazz names – that has been good to see. And we have seen some incredible young musicians coming through, They seldom get side-tracked but keep their sincerity in the music – and their energy. It’s all about the energy!" (Peter Ind)

9) Martin Chilton's feature on the Andy Sheppard album Romaria
"The idea to record Elis Regina’s hit Romaria as an instrumental was suggested by Andy Sheppard’s wife Sara. He explained: 'My wife has great ears for music and she suggested I tackle Romaria. It started as a nice tune for an encore in concerts and everyone loved it so it became a regular part of the live repertoire. I took it to the recording session and the producer, Manfred Eicher, loved it. He was adamant we named the whole album after it.' " (Andy Sheppard)

8) Sebastian's interview with WDR Big Band saxophonist Karolina Strassmayr for International Womens Day

 "If I could change one thing in the world, I would remove the self-doubts of women, deeply embedded and firmly lodged into our minds by conditioning. The fact that young women today still doubt whether they can kick ass like men is most tragic. I would want to (and DO) tell them that all they need is curiosity, a spirit of adventure and persistence!" (Karolina Strassmayr)

7) AJ Dehany's review of John Cale's Futurespective at the Barbican

"The first night of two ‘Futurespective’ concerts at the Barbican was a two-hour spectacular showcasing the breathtaking range of his input and output over five decades in music, with wholly reimagined selections from his string of classic 1970s albums, Vintage Violence, Paris 1919, Fear, and Helen of Troy, smatterings from the eighties and noughties, and more recent punches that reflect his continuing interest in raucous minimalism, orchestral and electronic textures, deep literary allusiveness and gut-punching emotional reveal." (AJ Dehany)

6) AJ Dehany's report on an audience with Manfred Eicher at the Royal Academy of Music

"It's always the musician that formulates the music, it's not really coming later when we record the music. If we have a two-track recording we have to be alert to the balance, the shape of things, to capture the music in this moment. If it is a multitrack recording we have to bring this and balance later and not forget that everything that has been recorded cannot be corrected—intonation, tempi, phrasing should all start before the microphone, so the music shapes itself already in the best possible way.” (Manfred Eicher)

5) Georgina Williams' review of George Benson at the Royal Albert Hall

Benson left the audience to be played off by the band with a cheeky smile full of life for someone who is approaching their ninth decade. He’s definitely still got it. (Georgina Williams)

4) Kate Delamere's review of the Chet Baker Live in London album launch/ interview with Jim Richardson

"When I left school and worked as a hod carrier on a building site I’d often find myself whistling some of Chet’s solos. They were beautiful. He had a melodic romantic warm style and fire in his belly. As far as music was concerned he was a big hero of mine. After listening to him I’d mess around with wire brushes and a tea chest playing along to records. Then in 1958 when I was 17 I got a double bass and turned professional five years later playing with big bands." (Jim Richardson)

3) Peter Jones' tribute to pianist Paolo Losi

"So so sad, way too early. My heart goes out to his family. We will all miss this beautiful man who had a heart of gold and wonderful musicianship." (Tracey Mendham)

2) Sebastian's review of the Jacob Collier Prom

"This was a special event, and an exciting step in a huge career that has only just begun."

1)  Martin Chilton's interview with Chris Barber

“In 1960, I was on the same bill as Louis Armstrong at the Hollywood Bowl in California. We were the last band on before him, and I remember him being very friendly. He told us we should go on for an extra number – so we did. He was a generous-spirited man. He just played like Louis Armstrong all the time. You didn’t analyse him, you just listened. You loved to hear him play.” (Chris Barber)


PREVIEW: Bath Jazz Weekend at Widcombe Social Club, Bath (4-6 January 2019)

Get The Blessing
Publicity picture

The first jazz festival of the year will be the new Bath Jazz Weekend. Peter Slavid reports:

For over ten years, starting in 1996, one of the highlights of the jazz calendar was always the Jazz Weekend of the Bath International Festival. It was an unusual and eclectic programme and it introduced us to many European musicians appearing in the UK for the first time. As well as a big local audience it attracted visitors to the city from all over the country and beyond. It has been much missed by its hardcore group of fans.

The new Bath Jazz Weekend – Friday 4 to Sunday 6 January 2019 – will be a bit different, but hopefully will lead on to greater things. This is very much a pop-up festival put together by Nod Knowles (who ran the original weekend). He has the support of some of the fantastic musicians now living in the area, and has managed to create a really interesting programme from these local artists.

With a single indoor venue, and pricing that provides a full weekend pass, as well as individual tickets, this should allow a proper festival atmosphere to develop.

The music is a mix of styles from swing to bebop and from jazz-rock to electronica and should make sure there is something for everyone. I have no doubt that the European wine-tasting will attract a lot of interest as well.

It's always great to see new festivals appear, particularly at this time of year. This one certainly deserves lots of support that will hopefully allow it to expand and flourish in the future.

The programme so far:

Friday 4 January
A Taste of Europe
5pm until late
Dave Newton & John Pearce
European Wine Tasting
& more artists tba

Saturday 5 January
The Weekend Remains Afternoon
12noon to 5pm
Karen Street’s Streetworks
Iain Ballamy/Jason Rebello Quartet

& more artists tba

The Weekend Remains Evening
6pm until late
Tony Orrell & Vyv Hope Scott aka The Jellilalas
Andy Hague’s Quintet with Jim Blomfield
Get The Blessing

Sunday 6 January
European Family Afternoon
12 noon to 6pm
James Lambeth’s Lambeth Swing
John Law’s Re-Creations Quartet with Sam Crockatt

The Bristol European Jazz Ensemble

LINK: Detailed info and tickets


LJN YEAR-END LISTS (3) Recorded Memory of the Year 2018

For this, the third and last of our year-end lists, LJN contributors and friends remember their favourite recordings of 2018. 

Tom Barford  Bloomer (Edition). Before this record was released, saxophonist Tom Barford told me to stop worrying about how to classify different types of music. “Whatever you listen to, it’s supposed to make you feel something,” he said. “Otherwise, what would be the point?” Then his record makes the point: intricate rhythms, vast, beautiful, open soundscapes and a special highlight called Space to Dream which, every time, will leave you doing exactly that. (Matt Pannell)

John Coltrane – Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Impulse! Deluxe Edition). An unplanned opportunity for John Coltrane to bring his quartet into Rudy van Gelder’s studio for an afternoon in 1963 gave birth to the recording of 14 songs, two of which had only been recorded once. Everything about this release is magic, from the playing, the spontaneity and even to the design of the album’s packaging. (Martin Hummel)

Francesco Diodati – Yellow Squeeds Never the Same (AUAND). Guitar-led, shifting Steve Coleman-esque themes are funky and gently euphoric. The grungy tuba, strong horns, spiky piano and rock-edged guitar make you feel like something new and intriguing is happening. Some tracks were previewed at their memorable Barbican performance at the London Jazz Festival in November. (Alison Bentley)

Eric Dolphy – Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions (Resonance Records) is an incredible achievement. A beautifully pressed and presented 3-LP vinyl set plus book, revisiting Conversations and Iron Man, working from the surviving mono masters, adding 85 minutes of unreleased material – hidden treasures – from those two days of Alan Douglas-produced sessions. The sound quality is stunning. Every note and nuance is brought out in the extraordinarily fresh mix. One guesses it would be just how Dolphy would have wished this amazing playing to be heard. (Geoff Winston)

Kaja Draksler/Petter Eldh/Christian Lillinger – Punkt.Vrt.Plastik (Intakt). I am very proud to locate it in Europe. (Michael Rüsenberg,

Paul Dunmall Jon Irabagon Mark Sanders and Jim Bashford  The Rain Sessions (FMR Records). Paul Dunmall and Jon Irabagon took advantage of a visit to UK of the latter to record a double sax double drums album; it's powerful stuff.(Tony Dudley-Evans)

Flat Earth Society – Untitled #0 (Igloo). The double album from Belgian band is quirky, erratic, imaginative and sometimes a bit silly, but always exciting and always trying something different. (Peter Slavid)

The Last Poets – Understand What Black Is (Studio Rockers). A misguidedly controversialist interviewer led a car-crash Q&A instore at Rough Trade where the core trio of Abiodun Oyewole, Umar Bin Hassan and Baba Donn Babatunde demonstrated their conscientiousness and conviction with a commanding presence. In the group’s 50th year, their first album in two decades is a vital blend of politically and spiritually committed spoken word with genre-popping backings from the best of younger British jazz talent including Jason Yarde and George Crowley. (AJ Dehany)

Keyon Harrold – The Mugician (Sony Legacy). A modern jazz album from 2017 that in my mind is an instant classic. (Nick Davies)

Ingrid Jensen – Invisible Sounds: for Kenny Wheeler (Whirlwind Recordings). Because there was such love and attention put into these vibrant new arrangements of Kenny’s amazing tunes (Sarah Chaplin)

Yusef Lateef Eastern Sounds (Original Jazz Classics/Prestige). Not a 2018 record but I’ve been discovering and exploring Yusef Lateef’s catalogue, which I was unfamiliar with, especially Eastern Sounds. (Ciro Romano)

Lydian Collective – Adventure (Lydian). Impressively idiosyncratic debut which might have had the purists up in arms, but was infectiously groovy and simply fun, all ways up. (Rob Mallows)

Ingrid Laubrock – Contemporary Chaos Practices – Two Works For Orchestra With Soloists (Intakt). A journey of sound that couldn't be more exciting. Ingrid Laubrock reveals herself in the two orchestral works as a brilliant composer and in the environment of her musical friends, Mary Halvorson, Kris Davis and Nate Wooley, as a great soloist. (Patrik Landolt, Intakt Records)

Brad Mehldau's After Bach (Nonesuch). It is complicated to decide. I think I was the most impressed when I heard Brad Mehldau's After Bach this year for the first time. What a deep understanding of musical structures without losing emotions! A great record among many others that appeared in 2018. (Ralf Dombrowski, Munich)

Charles Mingus Pithecanthropus Erectus (1956 – Speakers Corner vinyl release). A beautiful reissue which achieves the startling distinction of competing with the original in terms of sound quality. (Andrew Cartmel)

The Ed Palermo Big Band – The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren (Cuneiform Records). The music of Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren reworked for the contemporary jazz fan, in uproarious fashion. This glorious CD is big band music for people for whom the rock and pop music of the '60s and '70s are standards, just as the popular songs of the '30s and '40s were the standards for a previous generation. (Jane Mann)

Emile Parisien – Sfumato live in Marciac (ACT). A tasty combination of Europe's finest, with just enough Wynton Marsalis thrown in to lift the mixture without spoiling it. (Jon Turney)

Evan Parker, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton – Music for David Mossman, Live at Vortex London (Intakt). A stunning home game of the three pioneers of European free music. Parker, Guy and Lytton in top form and an honourable tribute to the recently deceased founder of the Vortex Club, David Mossman. (Anja Illmaier, Intakt Records)

Barre Phillips – End to End (ECM). A final stage in his journey of sublime solo improvisations, that started 50 years ago. (Olie Brice)

Phronesis – We are All (Edition). There have been many excellent releases this year and it is hard to pick just one. But if I have to, I think Phronesis' latest album We Are All fits the bill. Each time I listen I hear something new, and it has made me rethink their earlier work too. (Patrick Hadfield)

Bryn Roberts and Lage Lund – Hide the Moon and the Stars (BMR). Bryn and Lage’s new record sounds as live and spontaneous as their in-person performances. Stunning is one word that comes to mind. The other is dancing. These two musicians dance so well together with their instruments and their ideas that one would think they were from the same family. Pick it up! (Sienna Dahlen, Montreal)

Ana Silvera – Oracles (Gearbox Records). Just how do you turn deep personal loss into something so beautiful and life-enhancing? Well the short answer is that lesser mortals cannot. And Silvera is no ordinary mortal. Absolutely everything is perfect about this work of art, it will stay with you for a long time, you feel the chill of death then the warmth of life. It is breath-taking, literally. (Mary James)

Walter Smith III – Twio (Whirlwind Recordings). This is my ‘less is more’ pick. Smith is a well established figure keeping heavy company on the international scene: he can do dense and complex. On this recording he strips back the layers, plays standards in the exposed setting of the trio with Joshua Redman for occasional company. There’s economy of expression and directness of communication in a set that bursts with energy. I’ve returned to this over and over this year. (Mike Collins)

Gary Smulyan – Alternative Contrafacts (Steeplechase). A feast of smart jazz thinking and performing with baritone sax legend Smulyan explores ‘contrafacts’ – tunes written of pre-existing chord sequences – with only bass and drums in support. A wealth of fun, skill, inspiration and fine playing from all concerned. And it’s not (quite) about Donald Trump. (Mark McKergow)

Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile (Impulse!). A positive political piece bringing diverse genres into a unified record. An overwhelming and carefully crafted album from a continually developing group. (Dan Bergsagel)

Mark Turner & Ethan Iverson – Temporary Kings (ECM). Varying shades of deadpan from the tenor saxophonist and the pianist, but beneath their wry, oblique, incisive musical conversations, there lie strongly beating hearts and the ability to search out the most subtle of emotions. (Peter Bacon)

Julian Siegel Quartet – Vista (Whirlwind Recordings). Illustrating the creative importance of working together as a quartet for many years, saxophonist Julian Siegel’s Vista, with pianist Liam Noble, double bassist Oli Hayhurst and drummer Gene Calderazzo, is an inspiring studio recording inherently projecting the excitement of the post-bop tradition, yet crackling with contemporary improvisation. Compositionally, it’s mostly Siegel; but these 69 minutes are absolutely about the band – and WHAT A SOUND! (Adrian Pallant)

Mike Westbrook Orchestra – Catania (Westbrook Records). No recording has absorbed more of my listening time this year than that of a 1992 concert in Sicily by Mike Westbrook's Orchestra, Catania. Quite why Mike is not more widely recognised in this country is beyond me. But this fantastic live recording is one that I will probably be returning to many times in the coming months – great orchestral writing and playing, and fine solo work, particularly from the great Chris Biscoe. (Graham Roberts)

Michael Wollny. White Blues, track from the album Wartburg (ACT). I had the privilege to translate Michael Wollny's thoughtfully written and personal sleeve-note for the two albums Oslo and Wartburg, released simultaneously. The pianist was a complete joy to work with. His way of listening and responding to the issues raised by a piece of prose is just as easy and natural as his way of being as a musician. Wartburg opens with a seven-track sequence from the trio, followed by this gentle masterpiece from the Parisien/Wollny duo. (Sebastian Scotney)


NEWS: Tommy Smith OBE in the 2019 New Year's Honours List

Tommy Smith and members of the BBC SSO
at the recording sessions for Modern Jacobite Photo credit: Derek Clark

Congratulations to TOMMY SMITH, a hugely energetic and influential figure on our jazz scene, who has just been made an OBE in the New Year's Honours list "for services to education and jazz music." His citation appears, incidentally, in the list immediately above that of England football manager Gareth Southgate. Other musicians awarded honours include Nitin Sawnhey and Nicola Benedetti. A press release from Tommy Smith's office reads as follows:

"Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith has been awarded an OBE for services to jazz in the 2019 New Year honours list.

Edinburgh-born Smith has been a presence on the international jazz scene and a champion of jazz in Scotland since he emerged as a precocious talent in his teens during the 1980s. Following studies at Berklee School of Music in Boston he toured the world with vibes virtuoso Gary Burton and subsequently recorded for major jazz labels Blue Note and ECM before forming his own record company, Spartacus in 2000.

He founded the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, which he still directs, in 1995 and successfully campaigned for a jazz course to be established at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). He is now professor of jazz at the RCS and holds honorary doctorates from the University of Edinburgh, Glasgow Caledonian University and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

As well as his career as a bandleader and teaching at the RCS, Smith runs his own internationally acclaimed Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra to nurture young talent. He currently tours internationally with Norwegian bass master Arild Andersen’s trio and tours and records with his own group, Tommy Smith Quartet: Embodying the Light, and in a duo with pianist Brian Kellock.

On learning of his OBE, Smith said: “I am surprised and delighted to be given this honour. I have been passionate about the value of jazz education since my own experiences as a young musician and would like to dedicate this honour to all the teachers and musicians who have played a part in my development.”



INTERVIEW: Ian Clarkson of The Jive Aces (Aldwych Theatre, 10 Feb)

The Jive Aces
Photo Credit:  Sandra Vijandi
Jive and swing band The Jive Aces have been honing their irrepressibly joyous sound and getting audiences on their feet for over 20 years. Ahead of their biggest London show to date on 10 February 2019, Ian Clarkson (lead vocalist, trumpet and ukulele player) spoke to Rachel Coombes for LondonJazz News about the group’s inspirations, career highlights and upcoming projects.

LondonJazz News: The Jive Aces have been celebrated as one of the world’s greatest jive and swing bands for over 20 years - how did you first all come together?

Ian Clarkson: That’s right, we have been together longer than that other British band, the Beatles! They probably made more money but I think we are still having more fun! It all started when once upon a time, myself and the drummer (Peter Howell) were at school together and we met Ken Smith and John Fordham (bass and sax) the year we left school so we have been together a long time. We were all discovering jazz, swing and blues at the same time; Alex Douglas (trombone) and Vince Hurley (piano) then joined in the '90s and it then all gelled. We then started adding girl guest singers and now even have accordion on a few songs. This really adds to the chemistry of the band and we all get along so well and know what each other is thinking and going to do on stage.

LJN: Have you noticed any significant changes in the scene since you first started out?
IC: One of the things that has changed over the years, funnily enough, is we have seen a return in interest for hot jazz, especially in the younger audiences and a revival of traditional and vintage swing. It is great to have younger people recognise much of our material and know who our influences are for real. I think social media and YouTube, etc, has helped this – one of the good sides of the internet.

LJN: Besides the obvious swing hot-shots such as Louis Jordan, Louis Prima and Big Joe Turner, who else do you, as an ensemble, consider to be your greatest musical influences?

IC: Yes, we love all the cats called Louis, including Louis Armstrong (we even wrote a song called Three Cats Called Louis). Otherwise, there are so many influences – we were all listening to early rock and roll in our early teens and then started working our way back through blues, Big Bill Broonzy, etc, to New Orleans jazz like the aforementioned ‘Satchmo’, up through the big band swing era – Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Count Basie – to early black rhythm and blues like Wynonie Harris, Slim Gaillard, and of course great swing singers like Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and the showman Cab Calloway!

LJN: Your latest releases, the two-album series Diggin’ The Roots (Vol 1: Rockin’ Rhythm & Blues, and Vol 2: Hot Jazz), delve into some of the sounds that first inspired you as musicians. How did you choose which songs made it on to the albums?

IC: It was a difficult choice as we loved so many but we mainly did the songs that we mutually all knew and loved and jammed them out and created arrangements for them – some staying close to the original version in homage and other tracks we totally arranged from scratch, particularly the hot jazz standards. Someone who knew very little about jazz asked me what the Hot Jazz album was like so I replied that it was like the “Great American Songbook” after a few espressos!

LJN: While most of your live material consists of covers of much-loved tracks, you have released many original songs on your records – do you all have a hand in composing?

IC: Yes we have, we like writing our own songs too. Sometimes we write a song separately but more often we collaborate with each other or even write them all together but we do want to also keep the genre fresh by writing new compositions. For example even in Diggin’ The Roots Vol 1 & Vol 2, Vol 1 has two self-penned songs, Bad News (a satire on the media filled with bad news and best to stay away from them), and Rock n Roll Movie Star, for which we have a beautiful music video. The song is your typical '50s R&B sound with fab guitar played by our British pal who now lives in California, Chris Wilkinson, and is an homage to the '50s B-movie era. And many more! Pretty much all our albums have original songs and you can buy them all from our website!

LJN: The group has an immensely busy tour schedule of 250 or more shows a year all around the world. Given such a hectic timetable, what’s the secret to maintaining such persistently energetic performances?

IC: Well many things go into this. But one thing is that the whole band is now eating ‘healthy’, balanced diet (lots of fruit and veg), no drugs (recreational or other) as they really kill creativity and alter minds. We also work out shows to impact people with fun, joy and happiness. We aim to make all our shows memorable, that's what we strive to achieve. But we also use Dianetics, a book written by L. Ron Hubbard in the '50s which contains a therapy to convert the negative energy into positive energy which has been extremely helpful. So we do have more energy on stage and in life!

LJN: You have performed for the Queen, reached the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent, appeared at Glastonbury and headlined the Royal Albert Hall – but what has been your most memorable career highlight to date?

IC: It will probably seem odd but despite all the great places we play, from Montreux to Glasto, it is the latest new places that are the highlights and recent best memories! Such as recently we played a four-night residency at the legendary New York jazz club Birdland! Three of the nights were sold out and we had an amazing reception from a whole new audience for us. The owner was extremely pleased and we will be returning there in 2019. And also performing in Istanbul for the first time, those were the most recent memorable ones of this year. But truth be told, we have so many memorable places it would be a few pages long!

LJN: You are perhaps best known for your joyous reworking of Bring Me Sunshine¸ which went viral on YouTube in 2011. Would you say that this song and the accompanying video best sum up your musical character and ethos?

IC: Absolutely! To me jazz, jive and swing have a joy to them and I like nothing better than making people happy; if the audience are happy, job done! There’s nothing like coming out of a show at Ronnie Scott’s (one of my favourite gigs) to meet all the people and hear from them how much they enjoyed it and how happy they are. I used to hear people who thought that music “moving” an audience meant making them sad or getting them to cry but I think it is far better, and more fun, to take audiences up to the higher level emotions. I’ll leave Adele to take care of the sad stuff...

LJN: In February 2019 you’re coming to London’s Aldwych Theatre for a high-profile show – what can audiences expect from the concert?

IC: Yes! We are very excited about this! Our good friend Rocco Bonvino is the promoter of this exciting show. It will be our biggest show to date in London and our first foray into official West End territory. The show will feature not just us chaps but also Grazia on accordion, Charlotte “Lottie” Beattie on baritone saxophone, the Satin Dollz vintage showgirls and of course the return of the rising star that is Cassidy Janson who as well as singing with us played Carole King in the successful musical Beautiful at the Aldwych Theatre!

It will be a great mix of jazz and rhythm ‘n’ blues with added singers and tap dancers plus BBC Radio host Joanne Good who will MC the proceedings and maybe even be coaxed to dance a little...

LJN: What else do you have in store for the coming year?

IC: It looks like it will be yet another very busy year, and we aren’t complaining! The Aldwych kicks off a whole spring tour of UK theatres then we are heading to the US where we are playing in New Orleans at the House of Blues and back to New York for a show at Birdland, and then we have our 15th Summertime Swing festival in Sussex which is going to be bigger and better than ever! Plus the usual Derry Jazz Festival in May followed by Breda Jazz in Holland and Tangier Jazz in Morocco. Exciting stuff! And if we have time, maybe filming another music video. We definitely live up to the reputation of being the busiest band in the land!

LINK: The Jive Aces perform at London’s Aldwych Theatre on 10 February 2019. Book tickets here.


CD REVIEW: Keith Jarrett – La Fenice

Keith Jarrett – La Fenice
(ECM Records – ECM 2601. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This extraordinary live solo performance by American pianist/composer Keith Jarrett, was recorded at that most beautiful of theatres, La Fenice (The Phoenix) in Venice, and is released as a double CD by ECM. Though the performance took place in July 2006, the release is timely – this year Jarrett was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2018 62nd International Festival of Contemporary Music in Venice. Previous winners include composers Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, György Kurtág, Helmut Lachenmann, Sofia Gubaidulina and Steve Reich. Jarrett is the first “jazz” composer to get the award, though I am sure that Jarrett fans will be not surprised at his joining this illustrious club of celebrated modern composers.

Since The Köln Concert, a solo performance recorded in January 1975 for ECM, Jarrett has released many fine live solo piano CDs, and this is no exception. On La Fenice we get 97 minutes of mostly improvised composition – the bulk of the album is an incredibly varied eight part suite. This piece covers an astonishing array of differing styles, beginning with fierce atonal Modernism, some of which would sit perfectly well alongside the oeuvre of his fellow Golden Lion composers. It moves on through movements of shimmering impressionist lyricism, minimalist contemplation, and muscular rhythm.

You have no idea where he is going but you go with it, it is compelling. The end of the vigorous Part V resolves neatly like a final movement, but no, here is another, a beautiful melodic exploration, leading us upwards.

There are surprises along the way. After Part VI he departs from the suite to give us a charming version of The Sun Whose Rays. This song from The Mikado, often regarded as just another jolly tune from those funny chaps Gilbert & Sullivan, is a gem. I for one am delighted that Jarrett has chosen to showcase its loveliness with his delicate arrangement. After this bright interlude he goes back for the last two movements of his suite. By Part VII Jarrett is in the zone, with a radiantly harmonious piece, and then to finish, seven minutes of a fabulous rolling blues. It must have been wonderful to be in the audience in Venice that hot July night – the applause is rapturous.

To finish, Jarrett takes his time with three wildly different songs (encores?) starting with My Wild Irish Rose. This is an Irish popular song from 1899, previously recorded by Jarrett in 1999 on the album The Melody At Night, With You – his version here is lush and romantic. Next he plays an extremely lively Stella By Starlight, and finally Blossom, an actual Jarrett standard, first recorded with his European Quartet in 1974. This last is a delight, it works perfectly as a solo piano composition, and is a flawless end to an astonishing musical journey.

Keith Jarrett – piano
All compositions by Keith Jarrett except where indicated

Track listing:
CD 1
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

CD 2
Part VI
The Sun Whose Rays (Arthur Gilbert, A.S. Sullivan)
Part VII
My Wild Irish Rose (Traditional)
Stella By Starlight (Victor Young, Ned Washington)


CD REVIEW: Hanna Paulsberg Concept – Daughter of the Sun

Hanna Paulsberg Concept + Magnus Broo  Daughter of the Sun
(OdinCD9665. CD review by Mike Collins)

Daughter of the Sun is Norwegian tenor player Hanna Paulsberg’s fourth release with her Concept band and it’s a strong statement, freighted with emotion and propulsive energy borne along by a strong group feeling.

For this release the band are augmented by Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo who fits in seamlessly with the core quartet of Paulsberg, Trygve Fiske on bass, Hans Hulbækmo, drums and Oscar Grönberg, piano. Paulsberg determinedly draws inspiration from beyond Nordic horizons, and the music is rooted in soulful, open-minded jazz, with a loosely bound feel to pieces penned mainly by Paulsberg, as the sense of a shared, tumbling pulse bundles them along.

Scent of the Soil starts the set, quietly cycling piano chords underpin a hummed chant, exploratory flurries form the bass, slaps of a tenor reed and breathy phrases until Broo’s trumpet leads them to a clattering climax. Little Big Saxophone launches with a skittering fractured bustle from the rhythm section and percussive clusters from the piano, Broo slaloming through it, with squeaks and runs before a driving riff settles and Paulsberg slides and squalls. Hermulen Tar Ferie has at it’s a heart, a shuffling, dance like pulse which accumulates an irresistible momentum as Paulsberg swoops and spins out melodic patterns before Grönberg takes it on with angular, darting lines. It’s all bookended by abstract group interaction. Serianna, penned by Fiske, rolls along with a rocking vibe, nodding at more hymn-like harmonies, and evoking direct and passionate soloing. Daughter of the Sun’s slower moving melodic lines unfold over a bristling, swinging pulse from the cymbals and throbbing chords from bass, whilst trumpet and tenor exchange phrases, twisting around each other.

This is a thoroughly engaging set. There’s a vivid impression of a live performance with the band confident in each other, listening, letting ideas and atmospheres unfold, the outlines of the script provided by Paulsberg providing the platform for forceful playing all round.

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


LJN YEAR-END LISTS (2) Live Memory of the Year 2018

Natacha Atlas at St George's Bristol
Photo credit: Evan Dawson

For this, the second of our three year-end lists, LJN contributors and friends remember their best gigs of 2018.

Natacha Atlas, St George’s Bristol. A car crash on the M4 meant no sound check, no rehearsal time – but one of the country’s most beautiful concert halls was packed with anticipation. Natacha Atlas and her band (Asaf Sirkis, Samy Bishai, Alcyona Mick, Hayden Powell and Andy Hamill) took breathlessly to the stage, bringing to life their unique blend of Arabic music and contemporary jazz. By the end, it was the audience that was breathless… (Evan Dawson)

Aziza (Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Kevin Eubanks, Eric Harland) at Ronnie Scott's. These musicians take you through the sound barrier. That’s the invisible wall where you pass from polite appreciation of their technical skill into wide-eyed awe at what they’re creating, together, right in front of you. I’ll never forget this gig in October. Sitting close by was the Head of Jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. I remember thinking: “How does he begin to teach people to do that?” (Matt Pannell)

Bopfest at Toulouse Lautrec. This was a musician-inspired series of gigs arranged by Alison Neale and Nat Steele, musically satisfying and well-attended. (Leonard Weinreich)

Vinicius Cantuaria at the Montreal Jazz Festival. The way Cantuaria just glides, slides through changes, particularly in Jobim songs, is something I never cease to find quite miraculous. He was at L'Astral with a quartet musicians who could match the feather-lightness of his touch. Helio Feirrera Alves at the piano and a ubiquitous New Yorker Bill Dobrow on percussion found absolutely the miracle of weightlessness that is required to support this remarkable musician. (Sebastian Scotney)

Capri-Batterie & Stewart Lee at Cafe Oto. The Devonian avant-garde improvising trio’s collaboration with comedian and free jazz enthusiast Stewart Lee has given us the landmark album Bristol Fashion, a peerless, hilarious, and monolithic act of folly newly re-released on vinyl. At Cafe Oto the group’s strong fellowship confidently sailed us keel-deep into the dark continent of Lee’s spontaneously-devised chronicles of “Non-musical music-related sounds recorded in the Dalston-Stoke Newington area from 1989-2007”, “Hospitals I have visited 1968-2007”, and the Orkney Wireless Museum. (AJ Dehany)

Quentin Collins Electric Quartet at Ninety One Brick Lane. I spent a wonderful evening listening to the fabulous Quentin Collins Electric Quartet. Including an A-list lineup, with Andrew McCormack on keys, Laurence Cottle on bass and Jamie Murray on drums to play a heady mix of new groove based-jazz. Electrifying! A great new music venue in the heart of trendy Brick Lane, showcasing a stellar programme which has so far also included the likes Mark Kavuma & Camilla George followed by DJs. Saturday evenings recommended! (Gaia Saccomanno)

Ry Cooder at Cadogan Hall. Heading – ticket-less – to Cadogan Hall on 18 October... joining the hopeful queue for any returned tickets to see Ry Cooder's sold-out show... I managed to secure one, and was rewarded with one of the best concerts I have ever seen... one of my live memories of this or any other year. (Graham Roberts)

Crosscurrents Trio at the Manchester Jazz Festival. The billing was extraordinary, the expectation high… and, my goodness, a summer’s evening spent with the masters – double bassist David Holland, percussionist Zakir Hussain and saxophonist Chris Potter – delivered the most iridescent, vibrant and aromatic acoustic jazz/world music I can remember. For over 100 minutes, Manchester Jazz Festival’s RNCM audience was spellbound by this magical collaboration – precise, solid musicality peppered with animated conversations and palpable admiration for each others’ art. (Adrian Pallant)

Liran Donin's 1000 Boats album launch for 8 Songs at the Vortex. A heartfelt and honest accounting of a rare Donin-led ensemble. It was heavy and exhilarating, and an emotional tour-de-force from the bassist and composer. (Dan Bergsagel)

Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, who without fuss unfolded intensely melodic joint improvisation for an hour and a quarter, and kept us all quietly spellbound. (Jon Turney)

Get the Blessing in Manchester. Sometimes a memory is more than just the music. In October I was stuck in Manchester overnight so without any great expectation I looked for a gig – and ended up in the Soup Kitchen – a brilliantly dingy basement club watching Get the Blessing in storming form. (Peter Slavid)

Alexander Hawkins at Cafe Oto. In his three-day residency at Cafe Oto in London in April, Alexander Hawkins showed the spectrum of his pianistic skills and live-wire improvising: in duo with Evan Parker, in quartet with Elaine Mitchener, in free combinations. Open and highly stimulating concerts. (Patrik Landolt, Intakt Records)

Vijay Iyer Sextet. I have seen this a couple of times now and it gets better. I suppose it is what one might call cerebral but simultaneously robust and physical, and a truly memorable live show. (Ciro Romano)

Daniel Karlsson Trio at Spice of Life. A long-standing musical itch, finally scratched; after enjoying their first five albums, it was such an unalloyed pleasure to see them live in London, finally (Rob Mallows)

Martin Kershaw, Graeme Stephen and Corrie Dick at the Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival. In an art gallery on the edge of Britain, Martin Kershaw (saxes), Graeme Stephen (guitar and effects) and Corrie Dick (assorted percussion) weaved magic for 50 minutes of spontaneous improvised music. Highly accessible and by turns emotional, humorous, soft and loud, it was highly engaging. Three cheers to the Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival for daring to put together three musicians in a unique combination just because they could. (Patrick Hadfield)

Kongo Dia Ntotila brought their “Congolese music with a jazz sensibility” to Brixton’s Hootananny to celebrate their new album. There was dancing to powerful traditional beats, and grooving to the delicate guitar and vocal/horn harmonies. The band called it “Afro joy” and hundreds of people agreed. (Alison Bentley)

Christian McBride Big Band at Cheltenham Jazz Festival. a breath-taking performance from the master of the double bass. Nothing else I saw could touch this. (Nick Davies)

The Magic Lantern playing in the 40 seater basement venue The Bicycle Shop in Norwich. Singer/composer Jamie Doe’s trio with double bass player Will Harris and guitarist Harry Christelis were on their tour of tiny intimate venues to launch the new genre-busting album To The Islands. They were spellbinding. Such a beautiful voice, such sympathetic playing, and what poignant songs. The whole audience were rapt. (Jane Mann)

Pete Long – London premiere of Jazz Planets. Pete Long’s masterly re-working of Gustav Holst’s Planets Suite performed by his Echoes of Ellington Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, London, on 8 September 2018. Pete Long applied Duke Ellington’s methodology to Holst’s Planets and assigned his soloists to each of the individual Planet recreations with exemplary results. (Peter Vacher)

Louis Moholo Quartet at Cafe Oto in October. Incredibly joyous, deeply swinging, beautifully moving gig from one of the best live bands in the world. (Olie Brice)

Ben Monder, Tony Malaby, Nasheet Waits at Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC. This was such a physical listening experience, an impressive wall of sound! (Anja Illmaier, Intakt Records)

Rachel Musson's I Went This Way, premiered at the Surge in Spring Festival in Birmingham in April; a wonderful new work for a nonet with spoken word, strings, woodwind, flute, double bass and drums. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

The New York All Stars in Soho
Photo from Ubuntu Music
The New York All-Stars at Pizza Express. (Eric Alexander, Seamus Blake, Mike LeDonne). New York tenor sax man, Eric Alexander, has long been a favourite of mine. In organising their 2018 UK tour, a series of unforeseen circumstances led to altering the line-up and ending up with an absolute dream team: the first ever pairing of Alexander with Seamus Blake, underpinned by Mike LeDonne on piano/organ…with Ian Shaw guesting on vocals. The FT’s Mike Hobart wrote, “…an improvised line-up played a varied and gripping set like old acquaintances”. (Martin Hummel)

Orchestre National de Jazz de Montreal at Théâtre Rouge, Montreal. Playing my Ice Age Paradise repertoire adapted for big band and Christine Jensen’s Opus-winning suite Under the Influence with Jim Doxas, Fraser Hollins and Francois Bourassa in the r.s + L’Orchestre national de jazz de Montreal au Théâtre Rouge (Conservatoire de Musique) in Montreal. The combination of a strong, unique and fresh rhythm section, great sound on stage, a supportive audience and the fact that our chops were finally very well-wrapped around that repertoire made for a really enjoyable and successful final concert in Montreal. (Sienna Dahlen)

Leo Richardson Quartet at Spice of Life, November 2018. I arrived halfway through the gig, to find a rapturous spellbound audience lapping up Richardson’s stellar straight-ahead originals and left speechless after a torrent of incredible solos from the band. (Sarah Chaplin)

Scottish National Jazz Orchestra featuring Laura Jurd: Sweet Sister Suite/Mary Lou Williams, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh. The SNJO continues to show its mettle as one of Europe’s finest large groups, and this programme with Kenny Wheeler’s suite commissioned by the SNJO some two decades back sat in flowing contrast to the collection of Mary Lou Williams scores from the '30s to the '70s lovingly collected by SNJO leader Tommy Smith.  Unforgettable. (Mark McKergow)

Tom Smith’s Queertet at Omnibus Theatre. This gig, the band's debut, for #festival96 celebrated Pride in Clapham and all things wonderful in the LGBTQ+ community. The music was fabulous, of course, and guest star Ian Shaw was surrounded by Tom’s energised quintet including the super sultry tones of Matthew Herd. (Sue Dorey, Omnibus Theatre)

Kacper Smoliński playing harmonica in the tiny basement venue Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club in Kraków on 2 December, as part of the band Weezdob Collective, a prize-winning band from Poland. The physical and emotional power expended in his solo was heart-stopping. When sax and harmonica played together the sound was like geese in flight, calling to each other over synchronised wing beats, it was magical. (Mary James)

Bobo Stenson Trio, Fasching, Stockholm. Bobo Stenson’s album Contra la Indecisión will surely be on a few best-of-year lists. Catching the trio on home turf, stretching out live on the album material mixed judiciously with old favourites, counts as a moment of the decade, never mind the last year. Stenson’s trio groove with a quiet, burning intensity like no other, laced through with melancholic lyricism. Live, in an intimate club, it’s a memory to treasure. (Mike Collins)

Markus Stockhausen and Florian Weber at Salzburg's Jazz & The City. I heard so many great concerts in 2018, that it is nearly impossible to choose one. But maybe the best jazz concert this year was the duo of Markus Stockhausen and Florian Weber at Salzburg's Jazz & The City. A kind of magic because of the incredible strength of collective inspiration. (Ralf Dombrowski)

Take 6 at Birmingham Town Hall in July. In a year of severely-curtailed jazz gig attendance, this stands out, especially when the six put their microphones down and filled the room with unadulterated voices in close harmony. (Peter Bacon)

Clark Tracey. Stan Tracey's Dylan Thomas-inspired suites, Under Milk Wood and A Child's Christmas in Wales. Hearing and seeing both of these works performed for the first time ever in the same concert by Bruce Boardman, Simon Allen, Andy Cleyndert, Clark Tracey and Ben Tracey, at Herts Jazz, with a sold-out but cosy 130 audience, it reminded me why we go through all the hassle to run jazz clubs! (Stephen Hyde, Herts Jazz)

Kamasi Washington and The Next Step playing in Frida Escobedo's unique Serpentine Pavilion was a real one-off . A wonderfully intimate concert with fantastic sound, which saw the band really stretch out and let loose. Musicians who'd been playing together since schooldays (plus Washington Snr) read each other perfectly to brew up an intense cosmic jazz-funk whirlwind, rarely experienced at such close quarters. They just lit the fuse and blasted off! (Geoff Winston)

Florian Weber. Playing solo in Bad Hersfeld
Photo credit: Friedhelm Fett
Florian Weber. Our best concert in the Buchcafé, a noncommercial socio-cultural centre in Bad Hersfeld was Florian Weber on 18 May. It was the third time he played solo, and everyone was really blown away. (Constantin Sieg. Promoter/ broadcaster, Bad Hersfeld, Hessen Germany)

Philip Zoubek. Two concerts with pianist Philip Zoubek, one here in Cologne and one at the  Schaffhausen Festival in Switzerland. I very much appreciate his syle of playing free with time. (Michael Rüsenberg,


PREVIEW: Estelle Kokot (with Mick Hutton, Gene Calderazzo, Kate Shortt, Vortex, 30 December)

Estelle Kokot
Photo credit: Hannes Thiart
Pianist and singer Estelle Kokot is preparing to record a new album in 2019, and will be previewing some of the new music during her show at The Vortex on Sunday 30 December. Preview feature by Tomasz Furmanek:

At the end of 2017 and during most of 2018, the themes and inspiration for Estelle Kokot's new songs came from variety of sources including, she admits, “a serial killer and a builder turned artist, who sneaked a half jack of bourbon into my 2017 December Vortex gig”. The diversity of some unquestionably contemporary topics of Kokot’s new songs also include a story about an online scrabble caper in Faro “with a marriage proposal from a man I’ve never met and who is already engaged” and the one “about a sidekick who pretends to be a lady and her abusive rocket man, inspired by the #metoo campaign”. She also mentions a couple of new songs, like A Culture of Closed which “is about building fences and walls and trouble, that doesn’t always start in your own backyard” and 3 5 7 9 Prime Time inspired by Pythagoras and the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. “Additionally, I have spent quite a bit of time researching political, historical, biblical and mythological subjects that have always interested and intrigued me,” she concludes.

The Vortex show is entitled The Israelites and the Mother of All Bombs, and that’s how Estelle Kokot explained the title to me: “I have named the last three shows after political and historical events. “The Israelites…” share a journey with Homer and Poseidon, skimming the eye of the needle while Orion unties his belt and swings to the backdrop of the mother of all bombs. Jacob views it all from the sanctuary of his ladder. I wanted to highlight how religious beliefs are largely responsible for much of the conflict we see in the world, past and present, and how history just keeps on repeating itself”.

And how would she describe her current musical style and influences? No simple, one-dimensional answers here…: “It's really hard to pigeonhole my style and influences as each song is a story and draws from many styles and situations. I do feel though that I have returned to the source again. That being, that I do my best when I am composing and performing my own work. Kate Shortt mentioned to me the other day that she wouldn't know how to classify my work if she was asked. I like to be as open minded as possible and let the inspiration, the music and the words flow freely. I am mostly inspired by people, events, historical, political and otherwise, and why religion has such a hold over so many people. Watching a bee pollinating a flower or a long walk can instigate ideas and thoughts for new tunes too.”

The band will be the “usual suspects” collaborating with Kokot for some years already: Mick Hutton on bass, Gene Calderazzo on drums and Kate Shortt on cello and vocals: “Mick Hutton and I have been working together on and off since about 1996. Our first rehearsal together was fantastic and we both felt so at home with each other. Mick has a unique sound and doesn't mind if I play most of the bass notes! His sense of harmony is brilliant, so it works.”

“Gene and I have also been working together on and off for a long time. I love his free and open Elvin Jones type style of playing. He loves melodies and I love the musical edge he brings to things. Kate and I are near neighbours and close friends. We love getting together to try out things and have worked as a duo many times before. It felt right to have her on cello and vocals and she compliments the songs beautifully.”

Estelle Kokot’s “30 December Vortex gigs” have become a sort of a tradition by now. She was involved in and collaborated with Vortex for years, starting with the so called "old Vortex" in Stoke Newington. The sad passing of club founder David Mossman earlier this month brought back a fond memory:

“David Mossman was loved by and loved many people, mostly musicians who played at the old Vortex and the new Vortex. I met him back in the mid 1990s and at one stage played a gig at the old Vortex once a month or every two months. He was a wonderful man and really cared about musicians having the freedom to express themselves creatively. I did the first New Year's Eve gig at his restaurant Harbour Cafe in Margate and it really was a night to remember!

"Always on the go, mostly full throttle, full speed ahead, he has done more than many to ensure that there is always a platform for established and up and coming jazz musician. I am only one of very many who are feeling the loss of Mr Mossman deeply. Two songs he always wanted me to play (I mostly would, cos he asked so nicely!) were Honeysuckle Rose by Fats Waller and one of my own, Where is the Rainbow.”

LINKS:  Estelle Kokot Website 
Vortex bookings for 30 December
Interview from 2015: The South African connection


LJN YEAR-END LISTS (1): Musician/Band of the Year 2018

Yazz Ahmed, Helena Kay and Tori Freestone
with Interchange at the Parabola, Cheltenham
Photo credit: © John Watson/
The first of our three annual lists consists of nominations by LJN writers and other friends in the industry for musician or band of the year: 

Iain Ballamy Quartet. A very personal choice, unrecorded (so far), sporadically gigging, a regular line-up has taken shape at small venues around Bristol, Bath and Frome. With Jason Rebello on keys, Percy Pursglove, bass and Mark Whitlam on drums this quartet has been thrilling, sublime and genre defying at every appearance. They start 2019 at a pop-up mini-festival in Bath, and I’m hoping they end it no longer unrecorded or sporadic when it comes to gigs. (Mike Collins)

Issie Barratt's Interchange. With ten different composers, the music was stylistically varied – but the quality was high, the message was consistent and the impact was important. (Peter Slavid)

Dave Burrell
Drawing by Geoff Winston. All Rights Reserved
Dave Burrell. Probably one of the greatest jazz pianists you've never heard of. I admit I hadn't – but, luckily, Cafe Oto's tempting promo hooked me in. Burrell's range, energy, technical strength and compositional skills elicited amazement in the room. What came out of the keyboard was extraordinary. He's been around, played with the greats of the left field – Ayler, Shepp, Rivers, Sanders – and has the history of jazz coursing through his veins. A revelation. (Geoff Winston)

Pete Churchill/ London Vocal Project. I know, in a sense, that the Jon Hendricks Miles Ahead as a story is "so last year," a 2017 story. But it is in the performances that have followed the New York premiere that the heft and scale of what has been achieved is starting to emerge, as the performers dig deeper into the work, and trust themselves and each other more. It is all jaw-droppingly impressive, the story of how it came about is incredibly moving, and now it just gets better and better. (Sebastian Scotney)

Graham Costello's STRATA. It was a keenness to see pianist Fergus McCreadie that drew me to STRATA. What I hadn't appreciated was that there would be five more equally talented young musicians. Drummer Graham Costello writes the music, an impressive feat in itself. An intense experience combining jazz, prog, improvisation and classical minimalism, they have an album and tour of Scotland coming in February. (Patrick Hadfield)

Sylvie Courvoisier. Sylvie Courvoisier is at the top of her game. Her trio record renews the classic piano trio. And: In the speech-image-music project with the writer Teju Cole, the drummer Julian Sartorius and the trumpeter Tom Arthurs at the Zurich unerhört-Festival, she was bubbling over with musical ideas. And the recently recorded duo album with Mark Feldman (release: June 2019) will take your breath away. (Patrik Landolt, Intakt Records, Zurich)

Eyolf Dale. His recordings deliver impressive candour and beauty, and his stock is inexorably rising (Rob Mallows)

Paul Dunmall. I could vote for Paul every year, one of the greatest improvising saxophonists in the world! But this year, in particular, it's great to see him win the Paul Hamlyn award, as well as releasing several fantastic albums and re-uniting with Alan Skidmore. (Olie Brice)

Empirical. A beautiful combination of instruments – saxophone (Nathaniel Facey), vibraphone (Lewis Wright), bass (Tom Farmer) and drums (Shaney Forbes) – is brilliantly deployed on a range of original material that seems, to me, to touch all the jazz bases. They achieve an almost perfect balance between lyrical, reflective playing on the one hand and the and the high octane delivery of their thrilling, fast tempo pieces. And it is not often that it can be said that some of the best live jazz of the year was performed in November in the unpromising surroundings of Old Street underground station, where Empirical set up shop during the London Jazz Festival. (Graham Roberts)

Rosie Frater-Taylor. At 19 she has just brought out a first album which sounds fresh and engaging on all levels. (Sarah Chaplin)

Melody Gardot. The sophisticated, sardonic, astonishing singer-songwriter continues to delight. (Andrew Cartmel)

Bob James. Bob returned to his jazz trio routes and released an album that was as close to perfection as you can get. (Nick Davies)

Laura Jurd. Whether as bandleader, featured soloist, composer or teacher, the trumpeter is continuing to fulfil most impressively indeed our expectations of what the all-round jazz musician should aspire to in the 21st century. (Peter Bacon)

Kansas Smitty's House Band
Photo Credit: Jesaja Hizkia
Kansas Smitty’s House Band:  2018 has been a particularly prolific year for Kansas Smitty’s, with EPs every quarter, an extending range in both musical and geographical terms, rising acclaim and exposure at top-line venues and festivals. And while staying in a classic jazz vein, they’re still continuing to strongly feature their own material! (Mark McKergow)

Nominated twice: Femi Koleoso in action at the Church of Sound
Photo credit and © Mochles Simawi
Femi Koleoso (i)/Ezra Collective. Leader, drummer, evangelist and philosopher Femi Koleoso is a one-of-a-kind in so many ways. I could praise his brilliant work with Ezra Collective, Nubya Garcia, Jorja Smith and his contributions to Camilla George. However, what makes this guy even more special is his spiritual soul…whether it’s assisting a disabled individual to attend one of his shows or preaching on Facebook about how we can help young people to have a better life. Pure inspiration. (Martin Hummel)

Femi Koleoso (ii). For being one of the driving forces behind the excitement coming out of London right now. His part in Ezra Collective and with Nubya Garcia at Love Supreme was something else – I look forward to seeing him play in New York in January on Gilles Peterson's British Jazz Showcase (Dan Bergsagel)

John Law. He takes this accolade for his amazing output this year: Sacre, his project with David Gordon for two grand pianos; his solo work; his Goldberg project; Re-Creations, his quartet playing other people’s tunes and making them sound even better, and his Congregation with James Mainwaring, Ashley John Long and Billy Weir who took India by storm in February, including an open air concert complete with flying foxes. (Mary James - booking agent for John Law)

LBT. I think one of the best bands I heard in 2018 was one from the Munich region called LBT (Leo Betzl on keyboards, Sebastian Wolfgruber on drums and Maximilian Hirning on bass) not because they are the finest musicians of the world, but because they were doing something different, something I really hadn't heard until now. It is a young piano trio that combines techno rhythms and structures with improvisation in a way that is really convincing. (Ralf Dombrowski, Munich, Germany)

Christian Lillinger. Almost everytime he appeared on stage in 2018, the result was something that could be called a re-organising of free jazz. (Michael Rüsenberg,, Cologne)

Gareth Lockrane Big Band. This unruly big band changes pace, mood and direction faster than a big band has any right to, and the players enjoy their mischief, as well. The bandleader is like an out-of-control teenager doing handbrake turns in a stolen warship. It shouldn’t be possible, shouldn’t be allowed, but he loves doing it and won’t stop, and it’s strangely addictive to watch. (Matt Pannell)

The Mingus Big Band with Wayne Escoffery. No matter how often this band appears, the variations in personnel and the richness of Mingus’s music never fail to inspire. (Peter Vacher)

Allison Neale. In an increasingly modal world, it’s refreshing that Allison, with her superb good taste and brilliant technical ability, can remind an enthusiastic audience of the intricate beauty and drive of bebop. (Leonard Weinreich)

Eddie Parker (R) with Alcyona Mick and Brigitte Beraha
Photo credit: Evan Dawson 
Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored Ensemble. This group is a unique collaboration of some the UK’s most virtuosic jazz and classical musicians, performing traditional and contemporary instruments, unified by the extraordinary orchestrations and compositions of Eddie Parker. It has taken years for him to form this group and create the music. The performance I saw was electrifying, discomforting at times and deeply moving. (Evan Dawson)

Point vrt. Plastic (Kaja Draksler – Petter Eldh – Christian Lillinger). An intensive exchange between three outstanding musicians. And never a superfluous note ! (Anja Illmaier, Intakt Records, Zurich)

Alison Rayner. She has been an in-demand bassist since the 1970s, and her band ARQ (Alison Rayner Quintet) has achieved so much since their first album in 2014. They’ve been touring their sparky original music constantly, and also won the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Jazz Ensemble of the Year. Quite right too. (Alison Bentley)

Cath Roberts. Composer, baritone sax boss and bandleader of quintet Sloth Racket and the ten-piece Favourite Animals. Co-convenor of the BRÅK free improv night in Brockley where her one-off duo with Alex Ward was a live highlight of the year. Author of head-spinning graphical charts bringing together memorable compositional chops and daring improvisational fluidity. If there is a golden compass to lead us into the future of free composition, Cath Roberts is the one pointing the needle. (AJ Dehany)

Mark Sanders. The drummer is my musician of the year. He always provides a really stimulating contribution to any group or player he performs with. (Tony Dudley-Evans)

Christian Sands. The pianist’s show during the London Jazz Festival was one of my favourites of 2018. He’s a real virtuoso. Fantastic technique but warm and soulful at the same time. (Ciro Romano)

Martin Speake. ...whom I heard live with three different bands. In each of them – a long-standing trio with Jeff Williams and Mike Outram, a quartet with Ethan Iverson, and the rhythm-focussed quartet Charukesi – his gorgeous alto lines stimulate the mind and lift the spirit. (Jon Turney)

Christine Tassan/Les Imposteures. Christine Tassan is one of Quebec’s most accomplished gypsy jazz guitarists. I cannot say enough about her sound and talent. Ca me renverse, comme on dit! She hails from Paris and has been in Montreal since 1993. Her acclaimed group Les Imposteurs have been together for 15 years and have brought their special brand of jazz manouche to many stages around the world. (Sienna Dahlen, vocalist, Montreal, Quebec)

Huw Warren. Huw Warren’s 2018 solo piano release, Nocturnes and Visions, and an intimate performance at St Ann’s Church, Manchester (for this year’s ‘mjf’), pulled into sharp focus his emotive subtlety and thunderous dynamism across the keyboard. Contrasting the Brazilian hues and rhythms of Hermeto Pascoal and Baden Powell with the charm of his own, elegant writing, including an affectionate Perfect Houseplants nod to Sir Edward Elgar, Warren’s work endlessly and affectingly captivates. (Adrian Pallant)

Mike and Kate Westbrook. This year the phenomenal Mike and Kate Westbrook took five different shows on the road: lovely musical Paintbox Jane; choral Blake work Glad Day; rock song cycle Granite; reimagined opera Rossini Re-Loaded; and greatest hits show Pure Gold. They released five CDs – three new works, one re-release from 1968, and a rediscovered live recording from 1992. And, Mike received an Honorary Fellowship from Plymouth College of Art, and painter Kate had a major art exhibition. (Jane Mann)


PODCAST INTERVIEW: Mark Lockheart (Days on Earth Premiere at Milton Court 9 January, Album Release 18 January)

Mark Lockheart
Publicity Photo

Saxophonist/composer MARK LOCKHEART has written a major new work for instrumental soloists and orchestra, which continues and develops musical concepts that he has been working with for many years. Days on Earth will receive its premiere at Milton Court on 9 January in a performance with Liam Noble, Tom Herbert, Seb Rochford, John Parricelli and the Guildhall Studio Orchestra. The album of the work will be released on Edition Records on 18 January. An eight-piece ensemble will be touring a revised version of the work later in 2019. In this podcast interview, Mark Lockheart explains the background to this substantial new work to Sebastian:


 Introduction - A View From Above

7:05 - Believers

14:44 - This Much I Know Is True

24:01 - Party Animal

Audio production by Daniel Garel

LINKS: Tickets and details for 9 January at Milton Court
Mark Lockheart's website 
Days on Earth at Edition Records


CD REVIEW: Hexagonal – McCoy & Mseleku

Hexagonal – McCoy & Mseleku
(HRCD 101. CD Review by Peter Jones)

The year in recorded jazz has ended beautifully, for me at least, with the arrival of this album by British band Hexagonal. The music is a 50:50 mix of compositions by pianist McCoy Tyner and multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku. Until you listen to it, you might wonder what these two have in common. It’s a hard question to answer – there is certainly a subtle ‘African’ feel to the album as a whole. But whatever the reason, the combination works wonderfully well – perhaps because unless you are already familiar with the tunes, you’ll be hard put to attribute their individual authorship.

Hexagonal are a sextet, or maybe a sexandahalftet, since the trumpet/flugelhorn slot is divided between Graeme Flowers and Quentin Collins. Pianist John Donaldson has taken on the arrangement duties, and done a fine job of it, teasing out a variety of rich melodies, vibrant harmonies and infectious grooves.

The band is impressively hip, with the collective chops to glide through complex rhythms (e.g. Mseleku’s Angola, Tyner’s Fly with the Wind) and gentle latin grooves (e.g. Mseleku’s Joy) with equal finesse. The latter quality is helped in no small measure by a supple rhythm section – Donaldson, Tristan Banks on drums and Simon Thorpe on the bass. Greg Heath also shines on tenor sax and flute, as does Jason Yarde on alto and bari. Thorpe and Donaldson both toured with Bheki Mseleku, while Yarde has had the ‘pleasure and pressure’ of working with McCoy Tyner, lending a sense of authenticity to these performances.

Stand-out tracks? There aren’t any. They’re all great, without exception. Solos? Likewise: it would be invidious to single any of them out. Let’s just say that in these grim times, the optimism of the music shines through like a shaft of sunlight on a winter’s day.

Although Bheki Mseleku died ten years ago from diabetes, at the time of writing 80-year-old McCoy Tyner is happily still with us, and has New York gigs in the diary for next year. Listening to this album has made me wish he would come to the UK, and soon. Hexagonal don’t seem to have any live dates, but in the meantime we can bathe in the warmth of this beautiful, finely-crafted album.


TRIBUTES: Nancy Wilson (1937–2018) by Sara Dowling and Frank Griffith

Nancy Wilson as she appeared on the cover of her 1966 album A Touch of Today

NANCY WILSON, the singer rooted in jazz who straddled styles from torchsong to soul and pop over a five-decade-plus career, died at her home in Pioneertown, California, on 13 December after a long illness. Sara Dowling and Frank Griffith pay tribute:

Sara Dowling writes:

Every time I walk out on stage I keep a part of ‘them’ with me; their strength, graceful posture, womanly pride, unequivocal understanding of themselves and their deep connection with every song they sing. The last of ‘them’ just flew at the age of 81. As a jazz singer living in 2018 I felt nostalgia and profound sorrow about the passing of Nancy Wilson. We can all agree this beautiful songstress had a long and successful life, but I was very much aware that the last of that legacy I unquestionably believe to be from the greatest age of jazz singing has now gone.

Nancy Wilson’s singing hit me like an asteroid touching the earth. I had never heard phrasing like it when I watched her performance of Happy Talk on Jazz Scene USA 1962. She weaves in and out of phrases with such ease and elasticity, yet throws every word at you with complete clarity and utter certainty. Cannonball Adderley’s ingenious arrangement allows this song to breathe in places as he adds eight-bar sections where he can improvise, however it is here that Nancy shows her soulful side with those small vocal touches.

During this week’s run of gigs I chose to remember Nancy with Guess Who I Saw Today. She said, “I need a song with a beginning, middle and an end and it’s got to touch your heart.”

She never proclaimed to be a jazz singer, she would call herself a song stylist. If people want to define a jazz singer as someone who scats, well that wasn’t Nancy, but if you want a woman who could swing, had the blues and could own a melody with extraordinary command, that was her.

She was someone with a very clear view in life. Yes, she wanted to make a lot of records and reach out to a large audience, yet in the same breath she battled hard with record labels to also get time to be with her husband and children. Subsequently she won. It is those stories from my heroines that give me great inspiration. You’ve got to know what you want from your life and not let anybody dictate how else you should live it. That’s a hard balance to achieve for any woman in music/entertainment,  especially in those days. I quote Nancy from one of her interviews: “As long as I’m able to sing for a little while and then go home and get what I need to give my audience, being out on stage doesn’t replenish you, I have to go home for that. I need that sense of wellbeing and balance.”

Nancy Wilson, world renowned vocalist, mother, wife and grandparent who enjoyed just over 50 years in entertainment, recording 70 albums and winning three Grammy Awards, may you rest in peace. Thank you for all the vocal lessons, the hours on my record player, reminding me to live my life in order to make music. You had the widest and most giving smile when you sang. All vocalists around the world will carry your legacy every time WE walk out on stage. You will always be in my thoughts. Love, Sara.

Frank Griffith writes:

Nancy Wilson was a sassy and sultry jazz-pop singer with extraordinary vocal and visual performing talents who emerged in 1959. She was first and foremost a superb story-singer who let songs run through her. Never one to over-emote or over dramatize, Nancy sang with a soulful integrity, as if the songs were about something she herself experienced.

Wilson was a great female song stylist of the 1950s and the first American female pop-soul singer of the 1960s. Throughout the ‘60s, Nancy was known for brassy updates of jazz standards and hip pop, soul and rock renditions. Many of her 1960s LPs on Capitol featured the arrangements of jazz icons like Billy May, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Jones and Gerald Wilson. I often ferreted out these recordings from my local library in Portland, Oregon, to dub onto cassette tapes (I know – prehistoric) and still treasure them today. I also distinctly remember an appearance by arranger/trumpeter Guy Barker on BBC Radio 3's Private Passions about 15 years ago where he included Billy May's arrangement of Lush Life for Nancy. Guy's description of May's treatment of this classic Strayhorn song more than confirmed my amazement of the enormity of this accomplishment. Full of dramatic pauses,  interludes and tempo changes it stands as one of the greatest vocal arrangements ever. All handled with aplomb with Nancy's unrelenting poise and unfettered sustaining of the thread of the song throughout.

In addition, Wilson recorded two intimate small group dates on Capitol  with the likes of Cannonball Adderley and  George Shearing. Wilson fans will no doubt be aware of the 1959 Adderley date which launched her career. I would assume that the arrangements were done by Cannonball's talented brother, cornetist Nat, who also contributed the bulk of material for the Quintet. Classics such as Curtis Lewis' The Old Country, Save Your Love For Me as well as Broadway hits of the time like Happy Talk, Never Will I Marry and A Sleepin' Bee also feature. Torch ballad The Masquerade Is Over also gets a unique Wilson treatment and became a staple in her programme throughout her long career.

The George Shearing date (The Swingin's Mutual, 1961) highlighted a much different sound with Wilson being woven into the “Shearing sound” (George’s quintet, with piano, vibes and guitar melodies and backings featured five-part harmonies within an octave with the vibes playing the upper part and the guitar doubling an octave below). This signature sound provided an elegant yet swinging backdrop for Wilson's emotional and unique interpretations of songs like Born To Be Blue, The Things We Did Last Summer and another Curtis Lewis classic, All Night Long.

I can strongly recommend a four-CD box set, The Essence of Nancy Wilson, released in 2002 on Capitol that provides a good overview of her output from 1959-1989. A true icon of jazz, soul and blues vocals – long may her memory and contributions thrive.