REVIEW/PHOTOS: Nordub at Unterfahrt in Munich

Sly Dunbar
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski
(Unterfahrt Munich, 17 July 2018. Review by Ralf Dombrowski)

Sly Dunbar has difficulty walking. He arrives on the stand with the aid a stick, a gaunt figure in a Che Guevara T-shirt. But once he's at the kit, he's in his element: his mode of expression is laconic, with clear attack, a dry groove and his easygoing way that has defined countless recordings and performances. Together with Robbie Shakespeare, he is the master of calm flow, leading the quintet Nordub through subtly minor-tinged, psychedelic landscapes in sound.

Robbie Shakespeare and Vladislav Delay
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski

In addition, guitarist Eivind Aarset and electronics specialist Vladislav Delay generate spacious, floaty yet hypnotically dense sounds. And over the top, trumpeter Nils Peter Molvær's clear timbre gives a melodic impulse that often dissolves into clusters of reverb. This music is a trip, we're in a place where the people in the room are connected by their swaying in rhythm, and by their thoughts getting lost in sound. Actually, it is way too powerful for a small club. This amalgam of Scandinavian and Caribbean styles at Unterfahrt proved not just fascinating; for just about everyone who witnessed it, it was inescapable.

Nils Petter Molvær, Robbie Shakespeare, Vladislav Delay
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski
Ralf Dombrowski's original German: 

  Sly Dunbar tut sich schwer mit dem Gehen. Er betritt die Bühne auf einen Stock gestützt, eine hagere Gestalt im Che-Guevara-Shirt. Aber einmal am Set, ist er der Lakoniker des Schlagzeugs, mit hartem Punch, trockenem Groove und einer Lässigkeit, die schon zahllose Aufnahmen und Auftritte geprägt hat. Zusammen mit Robbie Shakespeare ist er der Meister des gelassenen Flows, der das Quintett Nordub durch mollgetönte, dezent psychedelische Soundgefilde leitet

Eivind Aarset
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski
Dazu kommen der Gitarrist Eivind Aarset und der Elektroniker Vladislav Delay als Klanggeneratoren weitläufiger, zumeist schwebender, sich bis zu hypnotischer Dichte steigernder Hörräume, und der Trompeter Nils Peter Molvaer, dessen sonorer Ton sich als melodischer, sich oft in Hallclustern auflösender Impuls über das Geschehen legt. Diese Musik ist ein Trip, ein Assoziationsraum für Körper, die sich im Rhythmus wiegen, und Gedanken, die sich im Klang verlieren. Eigentlich ist sie auch für einen Club viel zu mächtig, was aber nur dazu führte, dass sich kaum jemand in der Münchner Unterfahrt der Faszination der skandinavisch-karibischen Stilmixtur entziehen konnte.

LINK: John L Walters' review of the CD Nordub


REVIEW: Monophonics at the 100 Club

Danny Lubin-Laden and Kelly Finnigan of Monophonics
Photo by Peter Jones

(100 Club. 17 July 2018. Review by Peter Jones)

‘It’s embarrassing to be American right now,’ commented Monophonics' frontman Kelly Finnigan towards the end of this one-off UK date. Brits know how he feels: these are dismaying times for sentient beings on both sides of the Atlantic. The Monophonics went on to play Neil Young’s Southern Man, with its minatory lyrics about racism (‘Southern change gonna come at last / Now your crosses are burning fast’). But this was untypical of the gig as a whole: the Monophonics are primarily a soul band, working in a genre whose emotional thrust is more often personal than political.

What made this performance so satisfying was its control, its lack of bombast; there were the degrees of light and shade worthy of – dare I say it? – jazz. And although their music isn’t jazz, it’s the sort of music I think jazz fans will like, especially those fond of Dr Lonnie Smith. There are improvised solos, and the six-man line-up includes trombone and trumpet, underpinned by Finnegan’s growling organ and Wurlitzer electric piano. For me, the setting of the hallowed 100 Club was also significant; after all, this was the playground of so many Hammond-led British acts who explored the common ground between soul, r&b and jazz, from Zoot Money to Graham Bond to Brian Auger.
When Finnegan stabbed at the Wurlitzer, it sounded like a rhythm guitar. The Monophonics’ actual guitarist, co-founder Ian McDonald, is a sensitive exponent of the less-is-more school, teasing eloquent, lyrical runs and brief solos from his instrument, leaving the tough stuff to Finnegan and the horn section.

Photo by Peter Jones

The band hails from Marin County, north of San Francisco, and their particular brand of soul is described as ‘psychedelic’. Certainly there is more than a hint of acid rock in their mixture of influences, of which the clearest is Sly and the Family Stone. One can also hear echoes of Otis Redding in Finnigan’s powerful, rasping, passion-drenched voice – which is one of the greatest I’ve ever heard.

Most of the tunes were original; two were debuted at this gig. There were also a couple of cover versions of obscure Northern Soul-type numbers, including Chuck Bernard’s Bessie Girl. The enthusiastic audience participation in Lying Eyes and Promises indicated that the Monophonics have already built a fan-base here in London. The band, now in its 13th year, is clearly still on its way up.

Excellent support was provided by British soulsters Crowd Company, an eight-piece outfit with its own vibrant original material. This band features trumpet and tenor sax and two impressive harmonising vocalists in the shape of Joanne Marshall and Esther Dee.


INTERVIEW: Ben Cottrell (reflections on Beats & Pieces' North American tour plus new album/DVD launch at mjf)

A few Beats & Pieces in Canada
Photo: Daniela Gerstmann

Beats & Pieces Big Band celebrated its 10th anniversary with a North American tour and is about to play a birthday gig (and a live album/DVD launch) back where it all began, at Manchester Jazz Festival. Ben Cottrell tells Sebastian all about it:

LondonJazz News: This was your first time in North America. Which cities did you play in?

Ben Cottrell: First gig was in Montréal then we drove over to the US to play Rochester International Jazz Festival as part of the Made In The UK programme, before crossing back into Canada (via a Niagara Falls stop off!) to finish the tour at the Toronto Jazz Festival.

LJN: Where was the biggest audience?

BC: All gigs were busy which was really pleasing for our first tour over there. Biggest audience was probably in Rochester – the venue is a really beautiful church that holds 450-500 people, and each night there are two shows. Both were completely full and with people queueing outside, apparently, which is always good to hear!

LJN: And what were the biggest surprises about the gigs?

BC: Possibly the biggest surprise was that playing in a big church wasn’t an acoustic disaster! We were worried a 14-piece band with pretty full on and complex arrangements might be a bit much for such a big and boomy space, but in the end we were pleasantly surprised when we did the soundcheck and all really enjoyed the gigs – the acoustic actually meant that some of our more chilled moments (tracks like broken or fairytale for example) were even more special.

LJN: Did you get some compliments?

BC: It’s always great speaking to the audience after concerts, especially when we’re outside of the UK – I don’t think we’ll ever stop finding it amazing that people so far away from home are even aware of what we’re doing, never mind being interested in it and really into it. We did get lots of compliments as well as some really positive press and radio coverage which was of course really nice, and lots of people asked us to come back to tour again soon – hopefully we can make that happen…

(Some examples of that press/radio coverage – mostly from Rochester – are hereherehere and here)

LJN: And how were the logistics of 14 people into buses?

BC: We flew into Toronto as flights were loads cheaper than to Montréal, then hired three people carriers at the airport and drove ourselves around in those for the rest of the tour (just under 1,500km in total!). For each car we had three of us named on the insurance to drive so we could share the driving between us, and everything worked out pretty smoothly actually… American cars seem to be so much bigger than in Europe so there was loads of space and we were all pretty comfortable, although fortunately we weren’t touring backline otherwise it would have been more of a squeeze!

LJN: And did you get any time for sightseeing?

BC:  With the long drives the schedule was often pretty tight, but we decided to leave Rochester really early en route to Toronto so we’d have time to stop off at Niagara Falls which was pretty cool. We also had some free time in Montréal and in Toronto at the start and end of the tour, so most of us went up the mountain in Montréal for example, and then in Toronto a few took the ferry out to the islands in Lake Ontario and went for a swim in the lake. Being away with your mates is one of the best things about being on tour (for me anyway) – we don’t all live in the same place anymore so pretty much the only time we’re all together is when we go on tour, and it’s nice if there’s time in the schedule to just hang out.

The view from the drum chair
Photo: Anton Hunter
LJN: What other things are you doing to mark this 10th year of B+P?

BC: The North America trip was probably our biggest undertaking of this year, or any year for that matter, so that took up a lot of our time! We also showcased at Jazzahead! in Bremen in April which was fun and hopefully will lead to some new opportunities over the next 12-18 months, and before that we did some UK gigs in January including kicking off the anniversary celebrations on New Years’ Day with a three-night residency at Ronnie Scott’s where we also invited some Efpi labelmates (Let Spin, Johnny Hunter Quartet and Paradox Ensemble) to come play with us. Each one of those gigs sold out which was a really nice way to start the year!

LJN: Anything in the past 10 years you'd like to rewind and do diffferently?

BC: There aren’t any major regrets or anything; of course with the benefit of hindsight there are lots of things we could/should have done differently though. But whenever we’ve felt like we’ve done the wrong thing or things haven’t gone as well as they might have, we’ve tried to learn from the experience and not make the same mistake twice. We’re still making new mistakes of course but I think that’s to be expected when anyone tries to do new things.

LJN: And there is an album. New material old material or a mixture?

BC: Yes, it’s a live album with accompanying DVD to mark the 10th anniversary, and we’ve simply called it ten. We recorded it on 27 January 2018, in the same rehearsal space at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where we’d gathered for our first rehearsal session ten years to the day previously. On the recording day we did two shows for small invited audiences of friends and family, so it was a really nice atmosphere and hopefully that comes across in the performance. The album has ten tracks – three each from our first two albums Big Ideas and All In, three brand new tracks (including recent single time) and a tune called toan which was the very first piece that I brought to the band in that first rehearsal. Previously that track was only recorded for our very first EP that we released in 2009 (now long-deleted) but the track has always stayed in the set and is often an audience favourite, so it’s been great to make it more widely available on ten. The album is released on 20 July and available to pre-order from our bandcamp site at now.
Here is the first video:

LJN: And is there an album launch?

BC: We’ll be launching the album with a hometown gig/birthday party at the Manchester Jazz Festival on 27 July which we can’t wait for… We played our first ever gig at mjf 2008 and the festival has been a big part of the band’s history and our individual careers since then, including offering myself and our guitarist Anton Hunter incredible opportunities to launch new projects through the amazing Irwin Mitchell mjf originals scheme. As always, Steve Mead and the team have put together a really cool programme for the festival this year and we’re delighted to be part of it.

LJN: And you will be touring in the UK – where/when?

BC: After mjf our next UK gigs will be in October – so far the gigs that have been announced are in Nottingham (11 Oct), Marsden Jazz Festival (13 Oct), Glasgow (18 Oct – our first ever Scottish gig!), and Middlesbrough (19 Oct). We’re also doing a day-long workshop in Huddersfield in conjunction with Marsden Jazz Festival on 7 Oct which will be a lot of fun – that’ll be led by me, Anton Hunter (guitar) and Anthony Brown (saxophone).

LJN: Who will be new to the band when it tours?

BC: Nobody is brand new, that’s one of the things that really makes this group what it is. About half the band on ten were at that first rehearsal session ten years ago, and most of the others that weren’t there that particular day were still in the same circles of students in Manchester at the same time so were still our mates. Even when we occasionally have to get deps in (which is inevitable considering how busy and in-demand all the individual musicians are) they’re almost always people we know well that have done many Beats & Pieces gigs over a number of years and/or who we’ve played with loads in other projects. A few people have moved on to other things since we released our last album All In in 2015, but again the people we brought in were all obvious candidates – they were people we knew well, who we loved playing with and hanging out with, and in most cases already knew the music as they’d been deps for us before.

LJN: And I'm guessing there are a few people you need to thank!

BC: I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who made this North America trip possible, in particular our manager Daniela Gerstmann who put countless hours of time and a huge amount of effort into making this a reality. Also thanks to Sue Edwards for her work with the Made In The UK programme, to Heidi Fleming at Famgroup in Montréal for all her help, and to PRS Foundation and ISF partners and Arts Council England for their support.

LINKS: Beats & Pieces Big Band website

The mjf gig


INTERVIEW: Halie Loren (new album From the Wild Sky, UK debut at Pizza Express Live, Holborn 31 July)

Halie Loren
Photo credit: Bob Williams

Alaska-born vocalist HALIE LOREN will be making her UK debut at Pizza Express High Holborn on 31 July. Whereas most of her previous albums had a strong bias towards the American Songbook, this new album, From the Wild Sky (Justin Time / Nettwerk) consists almost entirely of her own songs.  The new album was produced here in London by Troy Miller, and London guitarist Femi Temowo is also featured. Interview by Lauren Bush:

LondonJazzNews: From the Wild Sky is very different from your previous work.....

Halie Loren: This new album definitely takes a different direction. It diverges from being something that can be categorised more strictly within the jazz genre and it definitely delves more into the pop and folk influences in my music. Also, it’s all original with the exception of the last track and so it’s the first time that I have done an album that focuses on my original material since my very first CD that I released independently about 12 years ago. A lot of my roots are in songwriting, so I felt really called to do this as an artist for a few years now and finally the moment arrived where I felt like I really needed to do it. The whole idea of crowd-funding it is what kind of made this stuff possible in terms of the way that I did it. In every way, it’s a new adventure.

LJN: How were you first guided into the world of jazz and the American Songbook after your first original album?

HL: Jazz was always a part of my path, growing up. My mom listened to a lot of jazz albums when I was growing up so I knew a lot of the American Songbook just through listening to it my whole life and singing along. I loved Nat King Cole and Etta James was one of my favourite vocalists, and Ella Fitzgerald and all that stuff is just part of my experience with being a young person interested in music. I knew and performed a lot of these songs from forever ago but when I started making albums, the first one that I embarked on was original music.

LJN: Perhaps you could tell how your songwriting process worked for some of the songs on this album?

HL: The songs I wrote for this album took shape in many different ways. For the song Well-Loved Woman, I came up for the chorus of that song while I was on a road trip and it stuck in my brain for forever. Then I wrote the rest of the song maybe a year or two later. A lot of songs come to me that way. It was also more of an a cappella writing style.

With Noah, I came up with the melody of the chorus and immediately went home and sat at the piano for hours to figure out where it was supposed to go. For me, I have to have my hands on the instrument and be simultaneous for it to connect for me. Then the melody comes through as this message that is informed by where my hands are. Then my hands listening this weird way to what my voice is doing and it’s like this hide-and-seek game. It’s very fun and whimsical. It's like these 2 sides of my brain are speaking different languages, trying to figure out what the other one is saying.

LJN: You’ve spent the last two years composing these personal songs. What was it like taking them to your producer to help you bring it all together?

HL: I’ve never done that before, so I didn’t know how the process would work exactly, but every process and every collaboration is different. I did know, because I had specifically sought out to work with Troy Miller, that I resonated with his work. I knew that we would probably work well together. I already trusted that he would do a great job because I had heard proof of that. It was definitely a moment of vulnerability to say "here are these songs in really rough form, is there anything that you think you could uncover and polish up to a brilliant shine?"

LJN: What was it like traveling to London to work in Miller’s Spark Studio?

HL: It was wonderful. We ended up spending less than two weeks together to record this album from start to finish. The first five days were actually spent doing pre-production, plotting out what we were going to do to arrange these songs, what elements we wanted to have on them, trimming sections of instrumentals or tidying up these songs. We then spent two of those days tracking the songs that didn’t require the entire band to be present because the rest of the musicians were all in Brooklyn. We recorded all of the a cappella stuff and everything that Troy and I played in London and then we went to the studio in Brooklyn to record everything else.

LJN: Tell me about this stellar band ...

HL: Troy Miller was a very instrumental part in assembling the cast of musicians who appear on the album. He’s done a lot of work with all of these musicians I admire, including, of course, Becca Stevens. We’ve still never met in person, but I've long admired her artistry, and when she came through town, Troy was able to bring her in to collaborate on my song Wild Birds. These were all connections that I’d never met before, but they are all world-class musicians. Femi Temowo was a big part of the collaboration musically from start to finish. He and Troy work together a lot. The music world is so small in so many ways and there are so many connections to be made.

LJN: It must have been really exciting working with all new people?

HL: They’re all so amazing. I was floored. I had a hard time not laughing, thinking: this is so delightful!

LJN: This is going to be your London debut. What are you most looking forward to?

HL: I’ve wanted to play in London for years and it's always fallen just shy of coming to fruition until now, for whatever reason. It's felt like two ships passing in the night, London and me! It’s going to be really exciting because quite a few fans of mine are located in or near London and I’m really hoping I get to meet some of them. That’s one of my favourite things about social media. That you can connect with fans who are located halfway across the world and then sometimes, you get to put a face to an online profile. The fact that it’s going to be under these circumstances, with this band, too, is so beyond me. I’m so excited to be able to reunite with my studio buddies! (pp)

Halie’s gig at Pizza Express Holborn is on 31 July.

Full list of tour dates


REPORT: Jazz and Humour at the German Radio Jazz Research Group in Lübeck

Odilo Clausnitzer presenting the
1964 Dizzy for President campaign

Sebastian writes: 

The 34th meeting of the German Radio Jazz Research group took place in one of Northern Germany’s most characterful, historic and cultured cities, Lübeck, at the end of May. The theme of the day-long symposium was Jazz and Humour. There were six papers, with intriguing titles such as “Django Bates and British humour. An Exploration,” or “Jazz criticism: jazz and the humourlessness of its devotees.”

The Django Bates presentation by Marcus Barteld was well-researched and documented. The nub of it was a presentation of three pieces. Barteld is a saxophonist, jazz educator and a member of the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. He has found Bates’ Interval Song to be a piece that teenage students can work on very effectively and with pleasure. He has also done detailed analytical work on Django Bates' compositions, which he presented. There was a detailed formal analysis of the track Sheep from the album Spring is Here, with the empahasis on Bates as composer, whereas a similar exegisis of Like Someone in Love from Quiet Nights focused on Bates' arranging methods.

The discussion which followed considered whether the humour, the ability to run rings and play paradoxes, over repeated listenings leave a listener above all with a sense of Bates’ facility as composer and his level of craftsmanship (the Germans use the noun “Können”). Attention was drawn to his eclecticism, his use of collage and, aligned with the theme, the slapstick, parody and eccentricity of the work. There was reference to what distinguishes British humour – at least in the eyes of the Germans present – namely, dry laconic understatement, anarchy and disrespect for authority, the whole legacy of Monty Python... but the more one looks it is the craft in Bates' work which comes to the fore.

One commentator described Django Bates’ work as a “Fundgrube fuer Theorien” (a treasure trove from which to make theories), and that was perhaps the most lasting impression. Bates’ work has so much in it, there is so much to unearth, people who like to dig for hidden treasure are never going to tire of analyzing and deconstructing it. Subsequent research has led me in the direction of Professor Marc Duby at UNISA in Pretoria and drummer Nick Zielinski of UIUC in Illinois, both of whom I understand have been doing their digging at doctoral and post-doctoral level

The presentation entitled “Jazz criticism: jazz and the humourlessness of its devotees” by Konstantin Jahn of Dresden University was more of a chronicle of some of the more acrimonious debates within jazz of the past few decades, citing Marsalis and Stanley Crouch, the Larry Ochs incident in Spain, Kenny G as object of derision – notably from Pat Metheny – and led to a broader discussion about the frequent outbreaks of division and thin-skinned-ness. The host of the sessions, Peter Ortmann, rounded off the discussion by pointing out that these discussions among people interested in jazz tend to be lively because of the passion and personal feeling that underlies them.

Götz Bühler in his presentation focused on the venerable tradition of jokes from and about jazz musicians. The humour often exists in spite of the situation, bringing out the fact that people who devote themselves to their art can be the downtrodden. There was a diversion into jokes about the non-musicality of record collectors, and a video interlude with Hans Groiner, the alter ego of Hammond organist Larry Goldings. And a memory of Bill Cosby – he wanted to be a jazz drummer in the 1970s – which the revelations of the past few years have made cringe-making.

Odilo Clausnitzer chronicled the "Vote Dizzy" campaign – Dizzy Gillespie's attempt at the US presidency (while touring) in 1964. There was poetic justice when Obama opened up the White House for a concert on International Jazz Day during his presidency and declared the White House to be the "Blues House". Clausnitzer set the context in the wake of the "Jazz Ambassadors" programme of the late '50s, and of Dizzy's charismatic personality, and described the role of Rolling Stone founder Ralph Gleason and his wife in getting the momentum going behind a campaign. The "John Birks Society" was a deliberate act of punning on the "John Birch Society", a right-wing organization which had acted as sponsor to the campaign of Barry Goldwater. Perhaps the most lasting are Jon Hendricks words for the Vote Dizzy Gillespie campaign song, and a remarkable list of the potential senior figures of a Gillespie government: e.g. Max Roach in charge of Defense, Ray Charles to run the Library of Congress, and Miles Davis to run the CIA.

Eminent broadcaster Michael Ruesenberg had conducted some interviews, notably with Julia Hülsmann who had said she respected musicians such as Django Bates who could "do" humour, and stating it was not something she can do. An interview with Paolo Fresu stressed the importance if putting all of life into music – including humour. Bernd Hoffman's paper on the comic depiction of musicians in the musical shorts of the 1930s was typically erudite, and had a fascinating sequence about how Cab Calloway's visuals and sound were manipulated for comic effect.

The historic city of Lübeck is surrounded by water

Lübeck was the ideal backdrop for this meeting. The host was Peter Ortmann, who until 2012 was the Director of the German National Youth Jazz Orchestra (BuJazz)) and has since returned to his home city of and works at many levels to nurture high-quality provision of jazz education. We also heard a presentation of the city's amazing cultural offer from Katrin Weiher – she is "Kultursenatorin". She talked with immense pride about the sheer volume of activity, and also drew attention to the 875th anniversary of the founding of the town and the host of events spread over 2018 which form the city’s “Kulturjahr.” There is a dedicated website www (it’s Lübeck's birthday). The city has 13 small theatres, a perfectly preserved medieval heart and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The centre is completely surrounded by water. It is a gem of a city.

LINK: Radio Jazz Research website


CD REVIEW: Beverley Beirne – Jazz Just Wants to Have Fun

Beverley Beirne - Jazz Just Wants to Have Fun
(BB Records. Review by Sarah Chaplin) 

Following on from her debut album, Seasons of Love in 2012, this album is full of cheeky exuberance and nostalgia, plundering the back catalogue of the 1980s for a quirky selection of numbers to be given a jazz makeover, all of which are served up in a fresh and sophisticated new guise by Yorkshire vocalist Beverley Beirne and her quartet.

Produced by veteran Jason Miles, who has worked with Marcus Miller, Luther Vandross and even the great Miles Davis, we have here elegantly mixed yet instantly recognisable tracks such as Adam Ant’s Prince Charming and Kim Carnes' Bette Davis Eyes, where you can see the appeal to a jazz arranger in taking it on. Others are more surprising choices, slowed down and treated to a reworking of harmony and sometimes a tweaking of the lyrics to render them into a new idiom, like Noddy Holder’s Feel The Noize or Foreigner’s I’ve Been Waiting For A Man (sic) Like You. The Specials’ Ghost Town is artfully done as a swing number but lacks its zeitgeist grit as a record of Thatcher’s Britain. The fastest and most transformed number is a bebop version of Kajagoogoo’s Too Shy with its breathtakingly frantic cymbal tick, while Hot In The City Tonight whose honkytonk groove has a pleasing hint of the theme tune from Grange Hill.

Beverley’s co-conspirator, pianist Sam Watts, has created settings for her vocals which leave space for the textures and colours in her voice to really shine through, giving the album a truthful connection to all these former pop songs, allowing the band getting behind the lush, synthetic versions to something more stripped down and acoustic. Rob Hughes on tenor sax adds a thread of continuity, simultaneously harking back to all those '80s sax breaks while providing something much more out there by way of jazz solos. Each song is subtly transformed so that it’s no longer trying to be the crowd pleaser that it was in its pop format, but while the production values are stripped away, what is preserved from the genre and the era is its infectious unrelenting sense of fun. Flo Moore on bass and Ben Brown on drums create a fabulously fat sound, and Beirne’s vocal riffs and scatting are properly integrated into the mechanics of each song rather than floating on top of it.

The graphics and photography for the album pay homage to that brash, highly saturated, pre-digital aesthetic reminiscent of '80s album covers, but the album’s overall identity is less in-your-face. Some of the instrumentation and soloing is really inspired – a Hammond organ for instance on Deeply Dippy gives it a new twist, although the song itself is quite slight as a vehicle. The most satisfying track on the album is ABC’s When Smoky Sings, whose treatment here as a wistful ballad is particularly classy, bringing an emotional tone to the song that wasn’t there in the first place. Pop Musik is the album’s calling card – and its call to action – the lyrics reinvented as "everybody talking about…. jaaazzzz", in which Beirne showcases her vocal skills, trading phrases with the band members with a wonderful light-hearted energy.

Beverley and her band will be at Ilkley Jazz Festival (of which she is artistic director) on 18 August.

LINKS: Interview from 2015
Feature from 2018


INTERVIEW: Gerald Clark (The Great Divide – new album River's Tent)

Gerald Clark
Photo credit: © Krisztian Sipos

River’s Tent is composer Gerald Clark’s second album as The Great Divide. A song sequence exploring lost time and rediscovered places, it features guests including Robert Wyatt and trumpeter Byron Wallen. AJ Dehany spoke to him from one side of the river’s tent to the other.

“It’s not a jazz album, although it has a lot of jazz influences and players on it,” says Gerald Clark, describing his new album River’s Tent. His impassioned 2013 political suite Nakba certainly was a jazz album [REVIEW]. River’s Tent is a sequence of thoughtfully-arranged, pop-influenced songs that bring together his diverse talents as a composer, producer and singer-songwriter.

“The way I like to record, it's very old fashioned and it's very expensive,” he says, explaining the gap since his previous album as The Great Divide, 2010’s Terra Firma. The new album was recorded with a core group of Gerald on piano with drummer Eric Young and Tim Robertson on bass, with contributions from Kairos 4tet’s drummer Jon Scott, jazz bass player Sam Lasserson, pop guitarist Neil Taylor and trumpeter Byron Wallen.

“Byron Wallen played on Nakba, so I met him on that. He's a great guy and a great trumpet player. I didn’t wanna use any sax on the album because I think saxophone in singer-songwriter projects often pigeonholes it in an awkward way. I wanted it to reach a broader group. Some of the horn arrangements were very inspired by Brian Wilson, who uses a French horn quite a lot. Byron has this trumpet in F, which is a lower trumpet than normal, and a French horn is in F so he ended up playing those parts and that sounded lovely, particularly over the strings. His flugelhorn solo in London Reverie is beautiful.”

The centrepiece of the album is Ibrahim with vocals by Robert Wyatt. The collaboration came about in a rather sweet way. “I love Robert's stuff and I’ve often tried to write in his style. He loved my jazz album Nakba and he sent me one of his postcards, which he's quite famous for. I thought ‘Wow, that's amazing. Well, I've got this song'. I asked him and he said, ‘Yeah, I love it, I'll do it.’”

The album’s title is taken from TS Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land. It encapsulates the reflective mood of the album. “The leaves fall and they leave the frame of a tent over the river after the change of the season. There are some fairly open '80s influences in the music. In the lyrics one of the things that links a lot of these songs is the sign of things having changed and moved on: this is how things was then… [referencing George Harrison’s “When We Was Fab”] …and this is how things are now: trying to find a way through, reflecting on the past and thinking about the present.”

The album is sequenced like a journey from darkness into light. “There's a sense of optimism at the end, and a lot of pessimism at the beginning, and then there's more reflective pieces in the middle.” Place and displacement permeate the album, from the poetic specificity of London Reverie and North Sea to the ambivalent nostalgia of The Wrong Place and The Gone-Away World. The opening two songs move from the wistful That Was The Life straight into the blackly humorous I’ve Been Pushing My Luck (And My Luck’s Pushed Back). He explains: “The songs are all either personal or tongue in cheek, and perhaps that's me, that's the way I write.”

The songs have a personal quality that is immediately relatable, but they are as much drawn from people’s lives as his own experience. The subject of Otto Quangel And The Hollywood Ten is from a novel by Hans Fallada called Alone In Berlin, and The Gone-Away World is a novel by Nick Harkaway. The Waste Land has of course spawned a whole academic industry unpacking its dimensions of the mythic and the personal.

“I think the best writing is from experience, but it doesn't mean that it's all your stories. Ibrahim, the song with Robert Wyatt, is a real story about a taxi driver who once took me on a journey. His parents were sending over a wife soon that he was going to marry. He said ‘I don't wanna drive a taxi all my life. My girlfriend keeps saying that I should…’ and then he looked at me guiltily and said ‘Oh, because I do have a girlfriend’—and I said ‘How's that gonna work out when your family sends this wife over?’ and he said 'I don't know! What am I gonna do?' It was the old world and the new world and he was betwixt and bewildered – so that's a very real story – but not about me!”

LINK: Gerald Clark's website


REVIEW: Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored premiere at the 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival

L-R: Eddie Parker. Alcyona Mick
James Gilchrist, Brigitte Beraha
Photo credit: andy squiff

Eddie Parker’s Debussy Mirrored 
(Parabola Arts Centre. Cheltenham Music Festival, July 13 2018. Review by Jon Turney)

One hundred years after his death, jazz’s debt to Debussy, via Gershwin, Gibbs or Gil Evans, is widely recognised. There are a few efforts to acknowledge it directly - from a sweet arrangement of the waltz La plus que lente for a Gerry Mulligan sextet to a recent stab at Clair de Lune (less appealing, to my ear) from Kamasi Washington. This presentation at Cheltenham, premiering a project years in the making, was a more ambitious re-examination of the great man.

Eddie Parker, a lifelong student of Debussy has arranged ten of his pieces, mostly lesser known items, for a superbly skilled ensemble - mainly crack jazz players aside from the singer James Gilchrist and the sparkling young harpist Imogen Ridge.

The harp, four flutes (Parker, Rowland Sutherland, Gareth Lockrane and the remarkable Jan Hendrickse) and James Allsopp on bass clarinet gives the group a gorgeous texture, with the voices blending seamlessly. Texts from Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Baudelaire were enlivened by the singers - Brigitte Beraha in her element, and Gilchrist’s resonant tenor tiptoeing toward improvisation once or twice. They are used sparingly, though, and even less often together, which leaves a small regret as the two voices interweaving afforded some of the most delicious moments of the set.

Eddie Parker (bass flute) directing the Debussy Mirrored Ensemble
Photo credit: andy squiff

There were plenty of others to savour. The longest piece, a re-working of the children’s ballet La Boîte à joujoux which closed the first half, was a delightful succession of them, packing in enough contrasting episodes for something several times its quarter hour length. Here, as elsewhere, the detail of the arrangements was too much to take in at first hearing, but did composer and concert master Parker proud. Four flutes turned Syrinx si doucement perdue into a conference of the birds. Al Sarape was a convincingly arabesque feature for Hendrickse on wood flutes. Parker’s version of Clair de Lune began with vibes and piano from Simon Limbrick and Alcyona Mick, giving way to a fine-tuned percussion solo from Limbrick. The jazz rhythm team of Steve Watts on bass and Martin France on drums, were their excellent selves.

In short, everyone acquitted themselves brilliantly, tracking arrangements whose complexity was indexed by the shuffling needed to order unfurling scores required for even quite brief pieces. But, resplendent in his white suit, furnishing good-humoured introductions, conducting, and soloing compellingly on several flutes, it was Parker’s evening - an achievement to rival Debussy’s own, and a handsome repayment on a century old debt.

The ensemble has Autumn performances booked in Bristol and York, and a date at the London Jazz festival (details here ). Then, surely, there must be a recording?

Curtain Call for the entire Debussy Mirrored Ensemble
Photo credit: andy squiff


INTERVIEW: Peter Ind (90th birthday celebration at the 606 Club, 26 July)

Peter Ind at the 606 in 2015
Photo credit: Gary Wolff

The 90th Birthday of a true legend of British jazz, bassist and former club prorietor PETER IND, falls on 20 July. Six days later, on Thursday 26 July, he will be celebrating it in a London club with which he has a unique connection, the 606, and with musicians and friends. Steve Rubie of the 606 interviewed Peter Ind, looked back over his truly remarkable career and looked forward with him to both the birthday and the celebration gig:

Steve Rubie: You will be at the 606 Club on Thursday 26 July when we look forward to celebrating  your 90th Birthday. That's remarkable! What's planned for the evening?

Peter Ind: I see it as reminiscing really about jazz development and what that looks like, looking back at 90 years old, both musically and in conversation.

What I would like to do is to talk with Gary Crosby who is an old friend and student. Have always remained friends. Hoping to play a little, at 90 I have to take breathers. There will be some jazz and poetry from myself and Peter Marinker, as well as music from a variety of special guests and jazz musicians I have known over the years, from around the World.

SR: You have a history with the 606 Club, tell us more about that from your side...

PI: Steve, I remember that you always used to come over early to the Bass Clef before the 606 club started in the evening – that was a compliment. It was also good to be alongside and chat with another jazz club owner. And I have known the 606 since its early days when it was a small venue in the King’s Road – and played there with all sorts of people, including a historic reunion gig with Lee Konitz alongside the superb drummer Rod Youngs – a night of New York remembrances. It is remarkable that the club is still going after all these years.

I have always admired your invincible positivity about the music. You and the club have not received the recognition or publicity you have deserved. Inevitably, the publicity in the jazz world has centred on Ronnie’s but we both know what it takes to be a club owner.

We have always enjoyed coming in here – for a start we could park around here and it was always the place we could call in on our way to Twickenham from an event in the centre of London. We have seen many memorable performances – Ian Shaw and Lianne Carroll in a piano duet was one of the things always to remember.

SR: A number of musicians, including Iain Ballamy, David Preston, Yaz Fentazi and the Young Warriors (directed by Gary Crosby) will be playing. How did you come to know them?

PI: Initially I came to know most of the younger generation of jazz musicians through the clubs I owned and ran in the '80s and '90s in Hoxton – The Bass Clef and Tenor Clef clubs. Like Iain Ballamy – when he was playing alongside such musicians as the Argüelles brothers and Django Bates. Dave Preston I met when we played and recorded at Abbey Road with Ian Shaw.

I have always loved eastern music – in New York I played with an Armenian Band – Chick Ganimian’s band – in fact I had my only hit record in the charts with one of our albums – Come With Me To The Casbah. And I used to go over to Jordan when my wife Sue was working there, and began playing with an oud player. So, when she had a rug exhibition at Goldsmith’s I played at that with Yaz Fentazi and we have played gigs periodically. Gary Crosby came to me for a lesson as a young guy with dreadlocks and we have done various gigs over the years – my 85th at Ronnie Scott’s and my masterclass with some of the Young Warriors stand out as examples. So really these are musicians from throughout my life in jazz.

SR: You are well known for running the Bass Clef music venue in East London in the 1980s. For those people who unfortunately weren't in London at that time to see it for themselves, can you describe what it was like?

PI: You know I went out to New York many times before I went to live there in the '50s, working as a musician on the Queen Mary (July 1949 to May 1951) and so had the opportunity to see the incredible jazz scene in NY at that time – all the clubs on 52nd street – the Three Deuces, the Orchid Room, Birdland – and elsewhere with so many musicians – Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Max Roach, Bud Powell, Erroll Garner, Coleman Hawkins – just playing all over the place. I loved that scene and mirrored Bass Clef on those clubs – it was downstairs in the basement – informal, comfortable, with reasonably priced beer – and I also wanted it to have really good food – a vegetarian selection as well. It was all about the music – we had Latin American and Afro Caribbean nights each week – with a crowded dance floor – a fantastic range of live improvisational music from high energy young players and with a lot of US renowned musicians like Kenny Barron and Duke Jordan coming over to play. For ten years it was incredibly popular with crowds snaking around the corner to get in. The area was very rough then but we certainly lifted the area up. At that time, we were the first venue there. With recording studios as well.

SR: There is a quote (attributed to Norman Jay MBE) that described the atmosphere at the Bass Clef and the Tenor Clef as "like being in your bedroom with your friends around". Did it feel that way to you?

PI: Norman Jay was more accurate than he knew – I had a flat above the club – but few entered there. In another way he was also right – all younger musicians used to call in to hear what was going on, some like the Smiths, Mark Almond and Nigel Kennedy were around the studios or rehearsing. It was, as I said, comfortable and informal – nothing glitzy or interior designed in the way later clubs were. For me it was always the music – and affordable food, beer and music so that many people could enjoy it.

SR: In the early 1950s you studied with one of the most striking educationalists of that decade, the pianist Lennie Tristano. What was particular about Lennie's teaching and what do you think students of today could learn from it

PI: I have talked and written a lot about Lennie Tristano – in fact I wrote a book about him (Jazz Visions – Lennie Tristano and His Legacy, Equinox, 2007). He was probably the first one that believed that jazz could be taught. He was an amazing character – a blind piano player that commanded great respect and played incredible improvisations. It is the strangest thing to me that he is so unacknowledged now. His patience and thoroughness in learning tunes in all keys particularly stands out in my mind.

SR: As well as Lennie you've played with some of the most iconic musicians in jazz, including the likes of Lee Konitz, Billie Holliday, Buddy Rich, Roy Eldridge and Warne Marsh(!) In retrospect, looking back based upon your observations, are there specific qualities that all truly great musicians share, and if so what are they?

PI: Intensity – they commit to their playing 150%.

SR: You've continued to remain engaged with the jazz scene through the decades (though you are a painter and author as well)! What do you think about the current generation of players coming out of the conservatoires?

PI: You know we watch various programmes and music competitions. There is such pressure – I admire young musicians who focus on sincerity when there are so many pressures for exhibitionism. You know I played alongside Charlie Parker and a very young Miles Davis in the New York loft scene – at that time Miles was just a young guy – he was so different. While Dizzy and Bird were so fired up he was so relaxed by really interesting play. Sad to see what happened later. I have seen various young musicians coming through – my advice is always try not to worry if you don’t get the success you feel you deserve. It is the music that is important. And remember that those taken up as sellable successful musicians maybe don’t explore what they could do in jazz. And that is sad. 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!

Interview produced with thanks to Laura Thorne, Marketing Manager at the 606.

LINK: Peter Ind 90th birthday celebration at the 606 Club 


NEWS: First Artists Announced for 2018 Galway Jazz Festival (4-7 October)

Sebastian writes:

The Galway Jazz Festival 2018, which will present over 120 musicians from 12 countries in more than 60 events across the city between 4 and 7 October, has announced its first artists. Two programming strands emerge: a dual focus on the UK and on Germany.

The UK programming strand

Festival director Ellen Cranitch explains the thinking behind the UK strand: “Nobody knows what's going to happen with Brexit – it could be that UK artists will need visas to come to Ireland in the very near future, we just don't know. We want to put a bit of a spotlight on what this may mean for the Arts in general, and music in particular. We also want to bring peoples attention to the burgeoning UK jazz scene, something that sometimes gets overlooked in favour of more exotic European scenes.”

Liane Carroll,
Ashley Henry
World Service Project
Huw Warren
and from beyond the jazz scene:
Kavus Torabi (website) in a double act with DJ Steve Davis
Poppy Ackroyd

The German programming strand

The festival's spokesman comments: "The German angle is less political and more geographical – each year we pick a country/region and thread together a few acts that present a cross section. The last couple of years was Scandanavian based, and this year (in association with the Goethe Institut) we present a cross section of German jazz."

Concerts by three artists from the German scene were announced, also demonstrating that the festival maintains a strong line on gender-balanced programming,

Pianist Julia Hulsmann with her trio
Jazz harpist Kathrin Pechlof and her trio
Saxophonist Anna-Lena Schnabel making her Irish debut

A further announcement with other International artists from Europe and Africa, and also Irish artists will be made in early August

LINK: Details and ticket information on the FESTIVAL'S WEBSITE


CD REVIEW: Linley Weir - Just One More Time

Linley Weir - Just One More Time
(Self-released and available on iTunes. CD review by Sarah Chaplin)

Just One More Time is what Linley Weir herself describes as a transitional album, which sees her emergence as a songwriter and pays tribute to her Fijian mother who died not long before she was planning to record it. Tapping into the emotions that arose in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s passing has produced a wealth of new material, which she presents here with compelling candour and simplicity, giving voice not so much to the grief as to the vivid stories that are her mother’s legacy.

Working with these rawest of ingredients could make for an album that’s too personal, but Weir brings to it such warmth and humour, such wonderful phrasing and arranging, you can really hear how much her line-up are relishing each and every song. John Crawford’s piano accompaniment makes a great foil for Linley’s delectable voice, right from the opening track Big Oak Tree, a folk-like elegy to nature. She employs bassist Andy Hamill to great effect on the wry and sexy love song More Than Just Friends, and Island In The Sun features percussionist Jansen Santana in full South Seas-calypso mode. But the most inspired addition to her band is the versatile and understated Shanti Jayasinha on trumpet and cello, adding his own jazz lines to the storytelling with memorable solos on both instruments, ably augmented by Simon Pearson on drums.

My favourite track is the very catchy Mr Black which paints a picture of her mother in feisty form, determined to go ahead with her mixed-race marriage no matter what her Scottish fiancé’s family thinks. All the songs are originals with the exception of Ivan Lins’ The Island, but its inclusion here makes complete sense – not only biographically for Weir – but because it fits so well alongside her own songwriting and sounds like it was written especially for her unaffected, heart-centred approach, right down to her own backing vocals, which subtly blend and accentuate throughout the album. The final song, Goodnight My Queen, makes abundantly clear Weir’s future trajectory in terms of her melodic ability as a writer and as a singer, and shows us there is more in store from this accomplished Surrey-based musician.


REVIEW: Marcus Miller (Laid Black) at Ronnie Scott's

Marcus Miller at Ronnie Scott's
Photo credit and © Carl Hyde

Marcus Miller
(Ronnie Scott's, 11 July 2018. First House. Review by Sebastian Maniura)

On an evening when the nation’s eyes were on the England semi-final, Marcus Miller returned for the second night of his three-night residency at Ronnie Scott's. Thanking everybody for coming down despite the match, Miller even went so far as to read out the score as it evolved during the set. Marcus and his band are currently on tour promoting his well-received new album Laid Black. The album follows on from Afrodeezia from 2015, inspired by his role as a UNESCO spokesperson for the Slave Routes Project. In Laid Black Marcus brings the music "home", incorporating modern styles such as trap, hiphop, R&B and gospel.

The band took the stage to a pre-recorded soundscape of multiple voices which led into Blues (from the album Tales) featuring a blistering solo from Miller. It would be difficult not to be struck by the sheer ease with which he and his band dived straight in to such a heavy groove. The set was a mix of new material, gospel hymns and old classics, never catching the audience off guard but not letting them get too comfortable in one vibe either. It showcased both the individual players’ skills and the elasticity, range and explosive energy of the group as a whole.

There was all the technical brilliance you would expect from a Marcus Miller concert as well as clear camaraderie between the musicians. Saxophonist Alex Han’s ecstatic solos on Untamed and Tutu drew whoops and applause from the crowd as well as dancing and fist bumps from his fellow musicians. Russell Gunn's playful trumpet work came to the fore on Trip Trap when he battled Alex Han’s melody line for the spotlight, even jokingly moving Alex’s mic away from his sax. Alex Bailey (drums) did stellar work navigating the complex trap and hip hop beats. Often playing along to a pre-recorded track, he not only seamlessly synchronized to it but managed to groove with it as well.

Miller’s solo lines were intricate and always brimming with energy. Tracks such as Untamed, Hylife and Trip Trap illustrated his sheer virtuosic mastery of both the fretless and fretted bass, whilst Tutu and I Loves you Porgy portrayed his more sensitive and restrained side.

With bass-led music there is always a danger of it being too chop-heavy. Miller negotiates this balance skilfully with melodies and solos that utilise both finger and slap style with tasteful aplomb and bountiful diversity, effortlessly switching from bass line to solo line.

The band moved seamlessly to accommodate these changes. Brett Williams on keys never allows the music to feel the least bit flat or thin. Indeed there was a depth to the music that made sure the show wasn't just about how well everybody could play.

A poignant moment came when Miller stopped to commemorate the recent death of his father. He shared some touching memories and expressed gratitude for the sacrifices his father had made in order to give him a good upbringing, whilst Williams accompanied quietly on the organ. This led into a rendition of Preachers Kid, featuring Miller on the bass clarinet with Gunn, Han and Williams providing a solemn accompaniment. This was followed by a thoughtful take on How Great Thou Art with bass clarinet and organ. These moments shone just as brightly as the more fast-paced, flashy numbers and revealed the subtlety and profundity of Miller’s music.

Earlier, keys player Tom O’Grady’s Resolution 88 had kicked off the evening. The band, inspired by Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters and Kaidi Tatham, was a good choice to warm up the room. The combination of the bass heavy grooves laid down by Tiago Coimbra (bass), Ric Elsworth (drums) and Oli Blake (percussion) and the soloistic zeal of Alex Hitchcock (saxophone) made for some great moments. The band were at their best when they were settled into some truly funky grooves.

The blackboard for the first night

Set List:

The Blues - Marcus Miller
Untamed - Charles Haynes / Mitch Henry / Marcus Miller / Brett Williams
I Loves You Porgy - George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin
Trip Trap - Marcus Miller
Hylife - Marcus Miller / Mamadou Cherif Soumano / Alune Wade
Preachers Kid - Marcus Miller
How Great Thou Art - Traditional Hymn
Tutu - Marcus Miller

Line ups:

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller: Bass / Bass Clarinet
Alex Bailey: Drums
Brett Williams: Keyboards
Russell Gunn: Trumpet
Alex Han: Saxophone

Resolution 88:

Tom O'Grady: Keys
Ric Elsworth: Drums
Alex Hitchcock: Saxophone
Tiago Coimbra: Bass
Oli Blake: Percussion


REVIEW: Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018 (3)

 Immediate Music
Photo credit and ©: Mick Destino

Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018 
(Bolzano and Castelrotto. 4 July 2018.  Review Part 3 by Alison Bentley)

Immediate Music- NOI Techpark Südtirol / Alto Adige - Bolzano / Bozen
Stefan Pasborg- NOI Techpark Südtirol / Alto Adige - Bolzano / Bozen
Natalie Sandtorv & Eirik Havnes- Batzen Sudwerk Ca'de Bezzi - Bozen / Bolzano
Maria Faust Sacrum Facere- Stone Cave Lieg - Kastelruth / Castelrotto

This is Alison's third report from Suedtirol Jazz Festival Alto Adige 2018 

The Festival likes to put on gigs in new buildings as well as old. Down the mirrored steps, in the black-painted basement in the shining new NOI Techpark building- were Finnish trio Immediate Music. Each year the Festival focuses on musicians from particular countries- this year, it’s the ‘Nordic connection.’ ‘Let’s jump into the stream and see where it takes us,’ said drummer Olavi Louhivuori. It took us through electronic whoops and whorls from Teemu Korpipää’s table of electronic wizardry, Pekko Käppi’s jouhikkos (bowed lyres) adrift in a storm of electronica. His jouhikkos played exquisite laments, with folk inflections. One was painted with a white skull; the other with a pentagram, and the heavy metal references were not only visual: Käppi’s vocalisations even recalled Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan at times.

Pekko Käppi’of Immediate Music
Photo credit and ©: Mick Destino

The volume increased as acoustic sounds became electrified, in an exciting rush of sound- music can be disturbing as well as consoling. But the detail, especially in Louhivuori’s fine drumming, was often lost in the over-loud amplification. Ötzi the prehistoric Iceman was once preserved in mountains close by, and now rests in a Bolzano museum. If he came back to life, I think this is the music he would be playing.

Stefan Pasborg
Photo by Alison Bentley

At the top of the building was a huge glass atrium. The impersonal space was transformed by Danish solo drummer Stefan Pasborg, who seemed merged with his drum kit. Perhaps Antonio Sánchez’ solo drum score to the film Birdman has allowed us to hear the kit in a new way. The glass made a perfect sound chamber, and Pasborg’s textures resonated round the room like reflections. The different drum timbres began to sound like melody, especially when Pasborg used elbow on tom to vary the tone. Metal bars played on the floor were like a gamelan; the volume increased; mallets shimmered on cymbals in an enthralling performance.

Natalie Sandtorv & Eirik Havnes
Photo by Alison Bentley

Back down to another basement: in the subterranean Batzen Sudwerk Ca'de Bezzi were Norwegians Natalie Sandtorv and Eirik Havnes, a vocal and guitar unlike any I’d heard before. Havnes, surrounded by a magic circle of pedals, created enchanting soundscapes around the voice. Sometimes played with a bow or metal bar, his sweeping sounds, clicks and crackles were like drops in a fantasy forest. Sandtorv’s vocals, dripping with reverb, could have been in Tolkien's Elvish, with Bjork-esque cries. She drew on free vocal jazz, sometimes reminiscent of Maggie Nicols. Her voice could be as gauzy as her dress, then unnervingly powerful.

In a quarry: Maria Faust's Sacrum Facere
Photo by Alison Bentley 

High up a mountain, in a quarry of rosy porphyry stone, surrounded by mountains and trees, was a perfect setting for Maria Faust’s compositions. Practical questions (like, how did they get a grand piano up a mountain?) faded as her music unfolded. Faust comes from Estonia, but studied music in Denmark, and made it her home. Her music is inspired by Estonian folk culture, and Kristi Mühling’s kannel (a kind of zither) brought an otherworldly quality to the ensemble.

‘All my songs are about women,’ she’s said, and Epp and Tui were Estonian girls’ names. Some minimalist classical influences, (John Adams?) some luscious orchestration, with sometimes jumpy time signatures- tuba (Swedish Olof Jonatan Ahlbom) and sax (American Edward Deane Ferm) in delicious harmony. A superb solo from Swedish trumpeter Nils Tobias Wiklund recalled Christian Scott in its ferocious energy. In the hymn-like Lydia, Italian Emanuele Maniscalco’s free piano solo hooked beautifully into the rhythms of the melody. It was if he was quarrying the notes from the crags above the stage. Sparrow Song, about birds in the streets where Faust grew up, was as syncopated as bird movements. Contrapuntal clarinet (Italian Francesco Bigoni,) bass clarinet (Danish Anders Banke,) trumpet and tuba lines jumped around like- sparrows. ‘My album is about destinies of women and on how women have been sacrificed in history – and this is still the case today,’ Faust has written. Her compositions were at times serious and delicate, but also strong and full of life and the energy of free jazz.


NEWS: Maria Schneider, Bob Dorough, Abdullah Ibrahim and Stanley Crouch named as 2019 NEA Jazz Masters Fellows

Maria Schneider
Photo credit and © Kyra Kverno

The NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships are the highest honours in jazz in the USA. They are conferred on "individuals who have made significant contributions to the art form." The 2019 awardees have just been announced.

They are Bob Dorough (award made posthumously), Abdullah Ibrahim, Maria Schneider, and Stanley Crouch. Crouch receives the 2019 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy. The release states that: "Sadly, Bob Dorough passed away shortly after being notified of his Jazz Masters honor."

The 2019 recipients will be celebrated at a free tribute concert, which will take place on Monday, April 15, 2019 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and streamed online.

The press release includes the following citations:

Stanley Crouch—Jazz Historian, Author, Critic, Co-founder Jazz at Lincoln Center (2019 A.B. Spellman NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship for Jazz Advocacy)
Crouch is the author of eight critically acclaimed books and of hundreds of uncollected articles, essays, album liner notes, and reviews on jazz that has influenced the music and championed it for the general public. He also co-founded and served as artistic consultant for Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Bob Dorough—Vocalist, Composer, Arranger, Pianist
Dorough’s career spanned more than 70 years in jazz as a singer, pianist, composer, and arranger. His distinctive vocals, clever lyrics, and strong melodies were well-known in the jazz world even before his compositions and vocals for the animation series Schoolhouse Rock!.

Abdullah Ibrahim
—Pianist, Composer
Ibrahim combines the rhythmic influences of South Africa with the improvisation of jazz to create his spiritually enriching music, whether performing solo, with a trio, a full band, or an orchestra. This blend of the traditional and the modern is reflected in his distinctive style, harmonies, and musical vocabulary.

Maria Schneider—Composer, Arranger, Bandleader
Schneider’s music has been hailed by critics as “evocative,” “majestic,” “heart-stoppingly gorgeous,” and “beyond categorization.” Primarily known for her highly original and provocative big band compositions written over the past three decades, she is unique in having written classical works as well, even stepping into rock through a collaboration with David Bowie.



FEATURE/ADVICE: Sound Reasoning Part 1 – the set-up

Mark Wingfield at his Heron Island Studio desk

Mark Wingfield is a mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio. He has three DownBeat Masterpiece albums under his belt, a Jazzwise Best Release Of The Year, and over 300 rave reviews from around the world for albums he has worked on. In this series of articles Mark gives advice on how to avoid common mistakes made in the recording studio which will hold back your album from sounding great.


In my work at Heron Island Studio I get some amazing recordings to mix and master, but I also get many sessions which could have been recorded a lot better and that prompted me to write this series of articles. I’ve been specialising in mixing and mastering jazz for over 20 years. In that time technology has changed beyond recognition. Styles of music have changed. The way we listen to music has changed. But one thing hasn't changed. I still hear the same recording mistakes being made in the way things are recorded. These are the kinds of problems that mean the album is never going to sound great. The good news is that most of these mistakes can easily be avoided with a little knowledge, which I aim to provide in this series.

Of course part of what we do as mixing and mastering engineers, is work our studio magic, and it is possible to greatly improve lacklustre recordings. However, it’s important to know, if you’re a young jazz musician (or even not so young), that even the best mixing or mastering engineer can’t ever make a recording with problems, sound as good as a recording without them.

Most jazz these days is recorded in small studios. It is possible to get a great recording, even a world class recording, in a small studio. But it’s also easy in small rooms to get it quite badly wrong and mar your recording with sonic problems. The result of such mistakes means that mixing becomes about fixing problems, whereas, if you avoid the mistakes, mixing can be about making your recording sound amazing.

You've put all that time and effort into developing your art and your skill as a musician, why skimp when it comes to recording? Especially when it doesn't actually cost you any more to get it right.

These articles are aimed at musicians who may not know much at all about the recording process, but there will also be some tips that even those with a lot of studio experience might find useful. I will look at all the common mistakes I hear people make when recording and and mixing jazz, starting with the set-up stage.

Set-up: getting the sounds you really want

The first main activity in the studio is of course setting up the microphones and getting the sound for each instrument. This set-up time is the single most important element in achieving a great sound for your recording. As long as there are no actual problems with the studio itself (which we’ll cover later), getting this stage right is by far the biggest step in achieving a great sound. The majority of problems that keep a recording from sounding great happen during this phase. So it cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to put extra time and effort into the set-up phase.

Get involved

You can of course just leave it all up to the engineer. However, unless they have a long track record of engineering great sounding jazz records, my advice is not to leave it up to them to decide on how each instrument ends up sounding. You may not have much experience or knowledge of recording studios, but if you’re a jazz musician you have good ears, so use your ears to guide the engineer. Get involved in deciding on the sound of every instrument and the sound of each drum in the drum kit. Use your ears to guide your engineer every step of the way.  Don’t make the mistake of chatting in the studio lounge while the engineer does everything. Each musician should take in personal interest in helping the engineer get the sound they are after.

There is sometimes an attitude amongst some jazz musicians that the technical side of recording is not their domain, so they just keep out of it and let “the professionals” do their work. That approach is fine if you’re working in a high-end studio with an engineer who has recorded many great sounding jazz albums. In any other situation, it really pays to be actively involved.

Even if the engineer is very good, unless they specialise in jazz, they are unlikely to know what sort of sound you’re really after. Unless you are actively involved when they are setting up the sound of each instrument, you’ll be leaving it up to the engineer to guess your tastes. Chances are you won’t end up with a sound which is as good as it could have been, even if the engineer is experienced with jazz as a genre. If they are not very experienced at recording jazz, they are likely to apply the techniques they use for recording other styles of music, many of which will not be appropriate for a jazz recording. Such an approach can ruin a jazz recording. This is why it’s so important to be actively involved in listening to the sounds the engineer gets for each instrument. For example, if the sound they have set up for the drums is not picking up the intricate ride work the drummer is playing, any competent engineer should be able to adjust the microphones accordingly. But unless you are there listening and commenting, they won’t know that’s what you are after.
Listen to the sounds the engineer gets for each instrument - and
don't be afraid to comment.

Avoid last minute changes

There is one caveat here however. Don’t be tempted to make any last minute changes to the sound of your instrument. Retuning the kick drum in a way which you don’t normally tune it, or trying out a new effects pedal on the guitar or bass is to be avoided. Stick to what you know works with your instrument in the context of the tunes you are playing. Last-minute changes to instruments or effects often end in disaster when it comes to the mix. It seems to sound pretty cool while you’re recording, but in the mix you realise it’s not quite what the track needs, or it sounds too much of a good thing and now it’s too late to do anything about it. Any change in an instrument’s sound which has not been tried and tested with the tunes and arrangements should be avoided. If you are planning to buy a new effects box, a new snare, or a new anything for the purpose of using on your record, I strongly recommend you try it out in more than one gig or rehearsal before the recording dates.

Reference tracks

When you are working with the engineer to get the sound of each instrument, don't be afraid to use reference tracks to help. It's useful to come prepared with a selection of tracks from albums you think sound great. Then you can A/B between your reference tracks and what you're hearing when the engineer is setting up the mics. You can ask the engineer to play your tracks through the control room speakers to get a good comparison. Of course, you won't be able to get the same sound as on your reference tracks because the instruments, players, studio and mics will all be different. But it will give you and the engineer a target to aim at.

Give yourself some time

In these days of streaming, budgets are tight. However, if you can find a way to pay for an extra studio day or even an extra half-day, where you can set up and get all your sounds, it can make an enormous difference to the end result. Trying to do it all on your first recording day means you’ll feel under a lot of time pressure, watching the clock and worrying that you’re still trying to get the right bass sound when you should be tracking. What tends to happen is that the set-up stage is rushed through and the result is almost always a less than ideal sound. What makes sense, if you want a great sounding record, is to think of a day for set-up (or at least half a day) as part and parcel of recording an album, rather than an add-on or a luxury. You’ve put in all that time working on your art, practising, writing and rehearsing, why skimp at the most important stage of recording your album?

I can't emphasise enough how important the set-up stage is. Apart from choosing a good sounding studio, it's the most important part of getting a great sounding record. Get this part right and all you'll need is a good mix engineer to end up with a great sounding album. Get it wrong and no mix engineer in the world can make it sound as good as it could have done if you'd spent a bit more time and effort at this stage.

Over this series of articles we will look at all the common problems you need to listen out for and avoid in the studio. You’ll also gain enough understanding of how the recording process works, to help you guide your engineer in achieving the sound you’re after for your recording.

In the next article we’ll begin with monitoring (how loudly you listen in the control room, etc) and why this is so important to getting a great recording.

Mark Wingfield, Mixing and mastering engineer at Heron Island Studio