NEWS: Paul Dunmall wins Paul Hamlyn Award

Paul Dunmall
Herts Jazz Festival, 2016
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Sebastian writes:

Today's press release from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation states:

Ten visual artists and composers living and working in the UK each receive £60,000 over three years with no strings attached, making this the largest and most flexible award for individual artists in the UK. Among this year's awardees is PAUL DUNMALL.

The Paul Hamlyn Awards for composers and visual artists support artists with two objectives:

- To encourage artists to continue to practice despite outside pressures, financial or otherwise.
- To support visual artists and composers, across the broadest range of practices and genres.

Paul Dunmall's biography included in the release is as follows:

Paul Dunmall’s career has been defined by his exploration of the practice of improvisation for his primary instrument, the saxophone. His compositions often begin as fixed structures for improvisation, which then act as the framework for experimentation during their performance. Although identifying primarily as a jazz musician, his work also cuts across world, folk, classical and blues through his many collaborations.

The other composers receiving awards are  Sarah Angliss, Frank Denyer, Deirdre McKay and Kate Young

The judges for the Composers' Awards were: Joanna MacGregor OBE (Chair), John L. Walters (journalist and composer), Pete Wareham (composer and 2015 Award recipient), Stevie Wishart (composer) and Roger Wright (Chief Executive, Snape Maltings)

LINKS: LJN coverage of Paul Dunmall


REVIEW: Elliot Galvin Trio at the Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

L-R: Elliot Galvin (on toy electric  guitar),
Tom McCredie, Corrie Dick
Phone snap by Rachel Coombes

Elliot Galvin Trio
(Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall. 19 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Rachel Coombes)

The bright red Yamaha in the Albert Hall’s Elgar Room seemed the perfect emblem for Monday’s gig from Elliot Galvin’s trio (featuring Tom McCredie on bass and Corrie Dick on drums): this group have a knack of convincingly synthesising musical quirkiness with serious, intelligently composed music. For example, they undoubtedly rely more heavily than your average trio on hacked children’s toys salvaged from charity shops.

The toys played a starring role in this Jazz Festival gig, which consisted principally of music from their most recent album The Influencing Machine (Edition). But, as with all of Elliot’s mechanical tinkerings (one can’t help thinking of his home-made micro-tonal melodica) and disparate musical influences (from Ligeti to Deerhoof), their use has an imbedded musical significance within each composition. This is especially so when one gets to know the inspiration behind this particular album: the story of the first documented paranoid schizophrenic, James Tilly-Matthews, who believed that his life was being controlled by a machine.

Having warmed up the audience gently with the soothing harmonics and hymnal progressions of the album’s opening track New Model Army, the trio burst into life with the stomping riffs of Red and Yellow, arguably the biggest ‘crowd pleaser’ on the record. This tune combines everything that the group do best: audacious angular melodies inspired by the classical avant-garde, with muscular grooves that propel the music forward into realms of sheer improvisatory joy. Following the thoughtful atmospheric anthem that is Society of Universal Harmony (which Elliot cheerfully tells us is about a ‘sort of ‘cult 100 years ago who believed that humans communicate via an all-encompassing ethereal mist), Tom McCredie swapped his double bass for the electric guitar, ramping up the texture for a song whose primary influence is the infectious sound of West African High Life. Buried within the polyrhythmic complexity was an ingenious Stravinskian piano melody played with the utmost precision.

A couple of tracks from the group’s first album Dreamland followed – a wittily deconstructed boogie-woogie entitled simply Blues; J.J. which saw Corrie Dick’s slick, propulsive drum beat compete with Elliot’s introverted chord experimentation, and finally the gentle A major, which revealed Corrie Dick’s instinctive flair for texture as well as rhythm. Lobster Cracking, their latest track, brought us back to the bonafide Elliot Galvin experience; that is to say, twists and turns of tempo, and heavy percussive riffs suddenly interrupted by contemplative tendrils of melody. We were then treated to some new material, due for release in December, which was introduced with a pedal point that had a curious whiff of the Beastie Boys Intergalactic about it. These boys really are true masters of genre splicing.

Returning to The Influencing Machine for the concluding section of the set allowed for a final display of riotous white-knuckle jazz with Monster Mind and Boys Club, but also afforded an opportunity for the trio to demonstrate their music at its most delicate. Bees, Dogs and Flies, for which Elliot inserted strips of paper into the piano strings to create a harpsichord-like resonance, is a masterpiece in sensitive jazz-baroque counterpoint, à la Mehldau. Nestled amongst the whacky boisterous flair of most of their set, this unassuming composition was an unexpected highlight of the evening.

LINKS: Interview with Elliot Galvin about The Influencing Machine
CD Review of The Influencing Machine


PREVIEW: Noel Langley's Eventide Ensemble at the Vortex (22 November / 2018 EFG LJF)

Noel Langley
Publicity photo from Eclipse trumpets

Sebastian writes:  Noel Langley has been in touch to explain the background behind a very rare appearance by his Edentide Ensemble at the Vortex this Thursday 22 November - see also links to our previous coverage of this project:

Noel Langley: "After a couple of years of intensive work behind the scenes supporting Yazz in her various endeavours I’m stepping into the limelight again. Next week sees the third outing for my Edentide Ensemble, but this time I’ve expanded the six-piece chamber version into a fourteen piece mini orchestra.

Still slightly less than the twenty-one people on the record but I’m getting there slowly and it’s going to be amazing to present this music in a way that more accurately reflects my original concept.

This will actually be the first time that any of these arrangements have been performed live, as even the album versions were assembled by overdubbing.

As well as the music from Edentide I’ll be playing new arrangements of tunes by Weather Report, Graham Fitkin, Kenny Wheeler and Edward Elgar.

And the line up is:

Noel Langley - trumpet, flugelhorn and various precision items (some of which were donated by Hermeto Pascoal no less)
Alcyona Mick - piano
Chris Allard - guitar
Charlie Pyne - double bass and vocals
Will Glaser - drums
Clara Hyder - harp, trumpet & flugelhorn
Tori Freestone - flute, alto flute & soprano saxophone
Kate Robertson - flute, alto flute & piccolo
Duncan Lamont Jr. - bass clarinet, clarinet & baritone saxophone
Lance Kelly - trumpet, flugelhorn & piccolo trumpet
Adam Chatterton - trumpet & flugelhorn
Dave Lee - French horn
Trevor Mires - trombone & bass trumpet
Andy Lester - bass trombone & tuba. "


2) REVIEW of Jazz in the Round by Alya Al Sultani
3) REVIEW of CD by the late Andy Boeckstaens


REVIEW: Bill Frisell at Cadogan Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Bill Frisell at JazzFest Berlin 2018
Photo credit: Ralf Dombrowski

Bill Frisell
(Cadogan Hall, 18 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Gail Tasker)

Such was the captivating effect of Bill Frisell’s playing: although Cadogan Hall is a sizeable space, there was a feeling of intimacy and warmth that is rarely felt in venues of that capacity. He was seated above a patterned carpet that looked to be from his living room floor, surrounded by neatly positioned amps, mics, pedals, and a collection of stuffed animals in a corner - a recognisable Frisell quirk. And whilst cutting a diminutive figure on stage, Frisell more than filled the void with his constantly creative, hypnotic guitar playing.

From the moment he sat down, the guitarist seemed completely in the zone. Each song led seamlessly into the next, none of the music was discussed, and there were only a couple of gaps throughout the set to allow for applause. Frisell successfully enveloped himself and the listeners into a constantly shifting soundscape, sometimes of mellow, folk melodies, sometimes of distorted, dissonant chords of the contemporary classical realm.

In fact, the exciting thing about Frisell is that he goes beyond genres. The folk element was certainly central his playing, an accessible feature that had a nostalgic quality to it. But this was mixed in with a bluesy air that came out in his soloing, simple yet stirring. There was even a country feel, especially when he played the lower strings, helped along by his electric tone to create an old Cowboy Western film-time feel. And his influences seemed just as varied; as well as originals from his album Music IS, pieces from the set included Frisell’s interpretation of the Bond classic Goldfinger, (which appears on a recent and highly-recommendable ECM album Small Town, in duo with bassist Thomas Morgan), and the Beatles tune In My Life.

With the help of his array of pedals, Frisell kept the audience hooked with his variances in tone. Whilst most of the playing was muted yet crisp, a distortion pedal was employed at points. Frisell also used a freeze pedal to create drones upon which he would improvise, as well as a looping pedal which was used to layer melodies and create a jarring wall of sound. At points, this would descend into a mad swirl of other-worldy, high-pitched notes, showing that Frisell isn’t just about sweet, melodic phrasing and lush chords.

One of the many thrills of live jazz is witnessing the spontaneous musical interactions between players. It’s these interactions that lead to new ideas being formed, pushing the musicians into a new direction. For this reason, solo performances are arguably hit-and-miss. Yet, it takes someone like Bill Frisell, a true master of his craft, armed with nothing but a guitar and some pedals, to enthrall and mesmerise an audience for more than an hour and a half.


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

Mariza, London 2018
Photo credit and © Roger Thomas

(Royal Festival Hall, 17 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Dominic Williams)

I don’t think the audience at this Mariza gig was expecting to hear jazz, any more than her audience at Celtic Connections next year are expecting tartan trews and bagpipes. We had come to hear Mariza, the great exponent of traditional Portuguese fado, do her stuff. So, why should this be part of London Jazz Festival? I’ll try and explain.

Fado is a traditional Portuguese style of music, sung in stylised, dramatic and declamatory style and usually accompanied by guitars. The lyrics are often about “saudade” or ” longing”,  the melancholy Portuguese equivalent of “the blues”. Indeed, you could say that fado is to Lisbon what the blues is to New Orleans.

Fado is folk music but it is not up-country rural music; it comes from the dockside bars of Lisbon and reflects Portugal’s past as a great sea-trading (and slaving) nation. Fado has multicultural influences from Africa, America and places in between. In fact Mariza’s own backstory, as a mixed race immigrant from Mozambique, is arguably more authentically fado than a pure Portuguese ancestry would be.

Fado does have some structural differences from jazz. Apart from the unfamiliar instrumentation, fado is modal, rather than chord-based music like mainstream European jazz. That may be one reason why the further towards the equator you go, the more permeable the barriers between jazz and folk become – but I’ll leave that to musically-trained people to argue.

While fado itself has become stylised, you do not have to go far in any direction, geographically or musically, to find links to music with obvious connections to jazz. Eastwards into the Mediterranean, you meet Elina Duni (Partir) coming towards you. South into Andalusia, you encounter Amina Alouai (Arco Iris) and her Moorish/Spanish/Portuguese fusion. The boat takes you to Cape Verde where Cesaria Evora (Café Atlantico) inspired a new wave of singers of morna, the Cape Verde equivalent of fado. From there, Carmen Souza (Creology) could sing you along the old sea route westwards across the Atlantic. Or you could fly with fado to Brazil and sing jazz (Carminho Canta Tom Jobim).

None of these excursions are exercises in dry musical ethnography. They lead to music that is very much alive and growing its influence on jazz, but also in some sense fado-related. It would be wrong to say that fado is the root from which all these styles sprang, rather that they are all part of the same complex musical current flowing westwards across the Atlantic over the last 400 years.

Less directly, after the death of Amalia Rodrigues in 1999, it was Mariza who not only led a national revival of fado but popularised it on the international stage and sparked a wave of interest in allied musical forms – including parallel Spanish/ Creole music from the likes of Leyla McCalla (A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey). By becoming acknowledged as one of the stars of the world music circuit, Mariza has opened the door for other singers from different cultures.

On the night, Mariza played material from her nearly 20 years of recording, with an emphasis on the traditional favourites. Even when she sang more modern material, it was mostly stylistically similar. Only a couple of songs from her forthcoming album hinted at a more radical change of style. Her band had a traditional line-up, comprising Portuguese guitar (a 12-string instrument, shaped and sounding like a mandolin but played guitar-style), guitar, bass guitar, accordion and drums. They sat dressed in black, lit by individual spotlights, surrounded by darkness like Mastermind contestants, to emphasise their virtuoso status. Incidentally, they were each given generous namechecks in Mariza’s pronounced Portuguese accent, which I failed to decipher – apologies.

From the beginning of her career, Mariza broke the mould, with her trademark platinum blonde hair and her arm tattoos, but in other ways, she is very much a diva – the heels, the frock, the expansive arm movements, the appeal to the audience’s emotions, the singalongs. That’s part of the reason she can sell out the Royal Festival Hall.

Half the wildly enthusiastic audience were Portuguese speakers and probably had no interest in jazz. For them this concert was a celebration of national culture and perhaps the saudade of exile. They and the rest of the audience could enjoy the evening on its own terms, as the chance to see the pre-eminent star performer of fado in peak form. Everyone went home happy, even if they did not get some of the Portuguese jokes. But if you do want to think about the wider historical and musical context of fado, the links to jazz are certainly worth exploring in more depth.


REVIEW: Kandace Springs at Queen Elizabeth Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Kandace Springs at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Photo: © John Watson/

Kandace Springs
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 17 November, 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Jones)

Not having seen Kandace Springs before, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I did know it had to be something pretty special. After all, how many jazz musicians still in their 20s, with only two albums to their name, are handed a Saturday night slot in a big London auditorium at a major jazz festival? But as a singer, pianist and songwriter, Ms Springs is unusually talented, and she was recognized early on by Blue Note’s Don Was as the real deal.

The post-millennial influences one might predict in someone of her age are – if not absent – at least somewhere in the background. Hip-hop, house, gangsta rap, breakbeat, and never mind grime or drill… she doesn’t seem very interested. Her heroine is Nina Simone, and she loves classical music: tonight she plays snatches of the Moonlight Sonata, bits of Chopin and Debussy, even the Minute Waltz (no sign of Nicholas Parsons though). There was also a big soul element to the set, starting with a version of the Stylistics’ People Make The World Go Round, and further on War’s The World Is A Ghetto. Sometimes the material was pure pop, like her own song Breakdown. But most of all, she played ballads, of which more later.

She switched comfortably between concert grand and Rhodes, the stage lighting filtering through her enormous cloud of hair. Bass-player Chris Gaskell and drummer Connor Parks were her accompanists, and here we come to the only downside of an otherwise wonderful evening: at first I thought Parks was being too splashy with the cymbals, but eventually I realized that the kit was sound-mixed that way, and the drums were just too ‘live’. The bass was likewise indistinct – boomy and rumbly and not really cutting through. Although the mix seemed to improve as the evening went on, during the early numbers Ms Springs’s piano was rather lost in the fog.

No matter. She has a stunningly good voice – very pure and controlled, soaring and dipping with no apparent effort. It was this extraordinary vocal facility that made her command of the ballads so effective, and there were a lot of them: Mal Waldron’s gorgeous Soul Eyes – title track of her eponymous debut album – was the third tune she played, and later came The Nearness of You, an acknowledgement of the influence of Nora Jones. And there were more – What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life (she likes the Dusty Springfield version best) and she ended with The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Roberta Flack getting the nod this time). Kandace dedicated her own lovely ballad Unsophisticated to the late Roy Hargrove, who died not long after recording this tune on her recent Indigo album.

So it was a freewheeling sort of show, a young performer ranging far and wide over a repertoire that has shaped her still-developing style. And much as she claims Nina Simone as her role model, I think she’s more like a modern-day Shirley Horn. If Kandace Springs is this good with ballads at the age of 29, imagine what she’ll be like by the time she reaches her 40s…


REVIEW: Tokyo-chutei-iki at St John's on Bethnal Green (2018 EFG LJF)

Tokyo-chutei-iki at St John's on Bethnal Green
Photo by Geoff Winston. ©2018. All Rights Reserved

(St John's on Bethnal Green, 18 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review, drawing  and photo by Geoff Winston)

Tokyo-chutei-iki, the 10-man baritone sax ensemble from Japan is, in the best possible way, a very well-oiled machine. Formed in 2000 by Akira Mizutani, 'Tokyo Bass Frequency' (or 'Tokyo mid-low frequency band limits', as he wrote on the band's site), performs without any other instruments, apart from their voices. They have travelled the world and were favourites of Charlie Gillett, to whose memory they paid tribute on their 2011 album, The Last Baritonik.

Returning to St Johns, where they had appeared four years earlier, each saxophonist was dressed in black, expressing their individual personalities through sartorial selections, with headgear ranging from worker's cap to rounded stovepipe, pork-pies, a wide brim fedora, off-beat beanies and a fluffy, felted explosion. Emerging on to the stage area within the formidable architecture of St John's, to pick up their saxes neatly arrayed on the tiled floor of the chancel, they did a swift tune up and then were straight into Mituzani's tightly-arranged repertoire.

This was billed as a free, lunchtime, open rehearsal, ahead of their evening show and two nights at Ronnie's, but it was anything but a warm-up. They delivered two lively 40-minute sets, with touches of light wit all the way through an energetic and polished performance, which drew in a large crowd who clearly enjoyed every minute.

There are many flavours to the group's tight but loose, united front. The syncopated undertows pumping away to anchor the melodies called to mind the early twentieth century compositions of Les Six. With Mizutani conducting with metronomic arm gestures from his place within the group, they covered pure pop, the broad brush of world music and made forays in to jazz, which came through strongest when soloists took centre stage, improvising vigorously.

Assured and well-rehearsed, with the crafted, interwoven arrangements branded in to their make-up, the batting of elephantine bass lines and descriptive melody came as second nature to these baritone virtuosi. Which gave them room to add bursts of synchronised pogo-ing, the odd leap, and sorties deep in to the audience, stopping off to serenade a babe in arms as they did their rounds.

To preface their encore they sang from song sheets with each singer's photograph on the covers facing the audience - a lovely touch of graphic wit on which to close.

Tokyo-chutei-iki at St John's on Bethnal Green
Drawing by Geoff Winston. ©2018. All Rights Reserved

LINK: Review of Tokyo-chutei-iki at the 2014 EFG LJF


REVIEW: Bobby McFerrin with Voicestra and a cappella choir at the Barbican (2018 EFG LJF)

Bobby McFerrin with Voicestra and a cappella choir
Photo: © John Watson/

Bobby McFerrin: Gimme 5. CircleSongs
With Voicestra and a cappella choir
(Barbican, 18 November 2018, EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by John L. Walters)

On the stage are 17 empty chairs and 17 microphones. The performers walk on. At the back, dressed in black, are 12 men and women, an a cappella choir organised by Pete Churchill (the musician who made the extraordinary Miles Ahead vocal project happen), which was packed with local heroes. In front of them are the five members Voicestra, Joey Blake, beatboxer Dave Worm, Rhiannon, Judi Vinar and in the centre, Bobby McFerrin.

Within a few minutes, the Barbican hall is full of sweet music, freshly minted out of thin air and the imaginations of the musicians. Though McFerrin sometimes performs what he calls ‘paper music’, which has been composed and written down at some point, the CircleSongs he makes with different versions of his Voicestra are improvised, crafted from small motifs that he sings and then passes on to other singers in the ensemble, conducting and orchestrating with gestures and by example. Built up over time, these themes and variations take on their own momentum and texture, and the songs can go in very different directions, like moiré or marbling patterns generated by juxtapositions of pattern or colour. It can be mesmerising, and it obliges the audience to listen ‘in the moment’.

The evening’s first number evolved over an ambling bass (Blake) and jazzy ‘drums’ sung – and mimed – by Worm. The song next built gloriously over a lilting riff while the third song was more modal and contrapuntal with an even, almost ‘classical’ pulse. With a few gestures McFerrin invited the audience to join in with a simple, three-note phrase on two adjacent tones and we all became one big Voicestra.

There are intimate moments: a duet for Rhiannon and Vinar, or a power trio with Blake’s bass, what sounds a bit like a feedback guitar solo by McFerrin and Worm’s remarkably convincing vocal ‘drums’. Rhiannon improvises a ‘stream-of-conciousness’ lyric that ends dreamily with a reference to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. McFerrin coaxes the audience to sing increasingly complex lines and we sometimes succeed, grinning like Cheshire cats as we fade in and out of the soundscape. It’s joyous fun, and it helps us recognise the high degree of artistry displayed by both the seasoned Voicestra and the specially recruited a cappella choir.

Joey Blake takes the lead for one SongCircle, which allows McFerrin to take a breather. Blake’s approach is similar to McFerrin’s, yet the timbre of the former’s ‘head’ voice – high and clear, a little like Richard Bona’s – takes the sound in a gorgeous new direction. Dave Worm introduces a different mood for his ambitious SongCircle, in which he gets the audience to sing several distinct motifs. The result is a kind of world music ‘stadium anthem’ that is uplifting and beautiful, if some distance from jazz.

Bobby McFerrin at the Barbican
Photo: © John Watson/
McFerrin, however, lives and breathes vocal jazz, however wild and circuitous the vocal excursions (someone even throws in John Barry’s Goldfinger). A falsetto, Bach-like exercise mutates into hints of Don’t Worry, Be Happy, his 1980s hit, which he then sings over Worm’s fast beatboxing bebop – just for a minute – before shutting it all down with a wry smile. He thanks Voicestra and asks the choir to introduce themselves before they all walk briskly off stage, leaving 17 empty chairs.

McFerrin returns for a completely solo encore. His version of Autumn Leaves may seem effortless, but it is also emotional and affecting, light yet deeply felt. You can hear the history of jazz in every note he sings, and in the spaces in between.

Full line-up

A cappella choir
Fini Bearman
Yvette Riby-Williams
Natalie Williams
Paola Vera
Emma Smith
Liz Swain
Ben Barritt
Tommy Antonio
Sam Chaplin
Kevin Fox (replacing Pete Churchill)
Matt Featherstone
Cleveland Watkiss

Bobby McFerrin
Joey Blake
Dave Worm
Judi Vinar


REVIEW: Dave Liebman and Marc Copland at Pizza Express (2018 EFG LJF)

Dave Liebman with Marc Copland in the background
Photo: © Paul Wood
Dave Liebman and Marc Copland
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 17 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)

A pair of masters who have worked together a lot – including a duo recording in 2002 – were exploring that most exposed of formats again here on a brief European tour. Their first sold-out show on Saturday night was a gorgeous demonstration of the possibilities of just one horn and a piano.

A duo as accomplished as this one emphasises the pliability of a tune, whether a standard or a newly minted beauty, as with Richie Beirach’s Elegy for John A. This moving tribute to John Abercrombie, a player also important to Dave Liebman and, especially, Marc Copland – who played with the guitarist even before he switched from saxophone to piano back in the 1970s – benefitted from Liebman’s casual ability to toy with tonality on soprano saxophone, bending notes now and again ever so slightly, but never completely out of shape.

Copland’s piano sound, by contrast, emphasises a crystalline purity, but shares Liebman’s studied care in note placement. A Copland solo always feels as if it is going somewhere – not just fishing for the next idea – as shown to best effect on Hancock’s Maiden Voyage. As with the closer, All Blues, it’s a tune that comes with a high risk of mining cliches, but they made it sound fresh and alive. Another standard and a couple more originals, one from each player, rounded out the set, with Liebman also contributing some thoughtful tenor and engagingly wayward on wooden flute.

One of those sets where you fancy you can feel decades of playing, and deep study, informing the performance of each tune moment-by-moment. Look away from the stage, and register the muted clatter of cutlery, and it might seem momentarily odd to enjoy such delicately balanced chamber music in a pizza joint, but then it’s impossible not to just get lost in the music again.


REVIEW: Ethan and the British Composers at Kings Place (2018 EFG LJF)

Ethan Iverson at Kings Place
Photo: © John Watson/

Ethan Iverson Residency (Part 2), Ethan and the British Composers
(Kings Place, 17 November 2018. Review by Mike Collins)

“You sound like where you come from.” Self-declared anglophile Ethan Iverson summed up the project for the evening, the second gig of his three-day residency at Kings Place: To unearth some of the gems of the last 50-odd years of jazz from this side of the Atlantic, hold it up the light, maybe figure out what made it British jazz and, of course, make music.

The set covered an enormous range from Stan Tracey’s Rainbow At The Five Mile Road – “Monk meets the swinging 60s,” was the quip – taking in John Surman’s Doxology – “a chorale!” declared Iverson – touching down on a Courtney Pine piece, a Nikki Iles composition, Joe Harriott and Gordon Beck all honoured before the band finished with Mike Gibbs’ And On the Third Day.

Ask any number of people to make their selections to represent British Jazz and they’d be equally distinctive and personal no doubt. Doing the impossible and selecting what to play was Iverson’s pleasure however, and he’d recruited a formidable team to help with the interpretation (and explanations). One of the distinctively British threads he’d discerned in the music, was the distant thud of a rock beat, melded with the cadences of jazz. Who better to recruit then, than founder members of Acoustic Ladyland, sax man Pete Wareham, Tom Herbert on bass, and drummer Seb Rochford. Laura Jurd on trumpet, who’s shown she can cover the waterfront in integrating inspirations into her music, completed the line-up. An added inspiration was inviting Richard Williams, writer, journalist, arguably our most insightful chronicler of all music over the period, to talk with Iverson about each writer before playing their tune.

The playing gathered momentum as the set progressed. Nikki Iles’ Fly’s Dilemna is built round an irresistible, propulsive figure that had Rochford and Herbert egging Wareham on as he locked into the pulse with squealing and fluttering lines. Joe Harriott’s Calypso Sketches had the loosely bound freedom of an Ornette Coleman theme, punctuated by locked tight gusts of Caribbean flavoured lines from sax and trumpet. As Wareham and Jurd cut loose, the air crackled. It set them up to close the set with the steadily thickening intensity of the Gibbs piece, chanting lines and shifting harmony over a steady rocky beat.

This was an engaging, illuminating swoop through some of the strata of what it might mean to sound like where we come from. The talking added insghtful colour and perspective. Perhaps, with it interspersed between every tune, it cramped the style of the band to start with, but there was no stopping the fuse burning and they caught fire. Back for an encore, they played British writer Victor Feldman’s Seven Steps To Heaven to send us all out with a spring in the step.

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


REVIEW: 2 Pianos, 6 Pianists at The Other Palace (2018 EFG LJF)

From left: James Pearson, Nikki Iles, Dave Newton and (backs to camera)
 Jim Watson, Gareth Williams, Jason Rebello
iPhone snap by Sebastian
2 Pianos, 6 Pianists
(The Other Palace, 17 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)

A person would have to be in a very bad mood not to enjoy this hugely from start to finish. Six top-drawer pianists revelled in two adjacent grand pianos. Their delight in this opportunity was palpable: the chance to enjoy the free-flowing interchanges that jazz musicians are accustomed to, but each on their own instrument for once.

The set-up was simple. Three pairs of pianists played two brief solos, then a duo each. Gareth Williams and Nikki Iles – fresh from her own big band gig the night before – began. Williams offered a fluid standards medley, Iles essayed Johnny Mandel’s Seascape in dedication to her late mother-in-law, and her own Tideway, then the duo picked up the Bill Evans cues from Seascape to gorgeous effect.

Next up Jim Watson and Jason Rebello, Rebello’s solo Pearl a genuine jewel and the duo punching out Well You Needn’t before indulging in exuberant exchanges that used more notes than Monk played in entire shows.

“Follow that?” sighed Dave Newton who responded by opening the final pairing by leaving generous space between the notes, before some good-humoured jousting with James Pearson to round off 90 minutes of rousing pianism.

Post interval saw extra piano stools and a silly-but-irresistible finale involving all six pianists playing in a two-minute relay, then all together. This needed the lowest common denominator to work – so they fell back on I’ve Got Rhythm (allowing reference to as many other Rhythm changes tunes as they could work in) and Take The A Train, and an encore that, inevitably it felt, saw, everyone pounding out some rent party piano on a never-ending blues.

The musical highlights had already been scaled in the first set(s), but it would have been a shame not to carry the logic of the afternoon to its final destination. A small corner of the Festival, but a genuinely festive event all round. And a lovely reminder of the strength in depth of mainstream-to-modern pianism in the UK. Promises to do it again next year were solicited, and given. I’ve already begun assembling my fantasy piano team for 2019.


REVIEW: Jazz Voice at the Royal Festival Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Zara McFarlane with Guy Barker and the orchestra
Photo: MSJ Photography
Jazz Voice
Royal Festival Hall. 16 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Lauren Bush)

The Jazz Voice Gala has been an opening event of the London Jazz Festival now since 2008, when Festival Director John Cumming commissioned Guy Barker to select and arrange music to feature a group of singers chosen specially to showcase in the festival week. Barker was given licence to create an ensemble that would “cover everything” so he created an orchestra that incorporated the traditional big band set up with all the bells and whistles, featuring a monstrous string section and even some French horns.

This year’s selected singers reflect the festival’s strong international representation, including Mariza from Portugal, Laila Biali from Canada, Americans Allan Harris, Lea Delaria and Deva Mahal, and native Brits Anthony Strong, Zara McFarlane and Lisa Stansfield.
Lisa Stansfield
Photo: MSJ Photography
The night started off with a bang – a song from the Andrew Lippa musical The Wild Party. Lea Delaria had enough flair for everyone in the room, and her energy was truly infectious.

Jumoke Fashola, the host of the evening (and also co-host of the BBC Radio 3 show J to Z), shared some tidbits about the songs featured throughout the evening featuring the number “8” in many ways – pointing out years of relevance from birth dates to death dates to album dates, connecting everything to the current year 2018.

Powerhouse vocalist, Deva Mahal, was next, with an original song from her debut album,  Shards,  her voice reminiscent of Adele and Alicia Keys. Anthony Strong then joined the orchestra on piano, sweetly singing As Long As 'She’ Needs Me, from Oliver! by Lionel Bart with a terrific arrangement, echoing tones of Frank Sinatra’s charts from the '50s and '60s. Next, Zara McFarlane’s original composition, Silhouette, had a beautiful wordless chant at the beginning of it. Her low range, full of richness, she slid effortlessly through octaves and even scatted in the middle.

Lisa Stansfield, an audience favourite, sang a rock-influenced rendition of My Funny Valentine, while the band floated gracefully behind her, featuring a beautiful flugelhorn solo from Martin Shaw. Next, Laila Biali’s award-winning original song, Satellite, fluttered in beautifully, as she set the pace with a memorable piano riff and pop inspired groove.

Mariza, who is famous for singing in the “Fado” style (known for its mournful tunes and lyrics), gave the audience a warm welcome into her world. Her voice was stunning and stylish, and the meaning of her music was clear, despite not being sung in English. Allan Harris finished off the first set with a up-tempo swinging number from his latest album – a nod to Eddie Jefferson’s classic vocalese style. Sister Sadie was full of fun and led the audience into the interval on a happy note.

The second set started with a medley from a time when jazz embraced funk, soul and the grooves of South Africa, a tribute to the spirit of 1968. The band was in full force, Guy Barker’s terrific arrangements giving each section a chance to shine – especially the horns. It was great to have a special selection for the band to show off just how stellar they are.

Lea Delaria opened and closed the show
Photo: MSJ Photography
The strings were featured beautifully in Deva Mahal’s version of Good Morning Heartache. It was obvious she’d listened to Billie Holiday sing it, but still managed to find her own flavour with it. Zara McFarlane returned with an up-tempo swinging number called Never Will I Marry. She impressively sang the shout soli in the middle with the band and was obviously having a brilliant time fronting this dynamo orchestra.

Anthony Strong’s second song gave him the rare chance to step out from behind the piano on the lovely ballad Some Other Time, featuring the beautiful French Horn section.

Mariza continued with another tune from her album Tera in her native Portuguese, roughly translating to “Kiss of Longing”. This one had a bit more of a playful feel to it as she teased the band on the last note.

Laila Biali featured another song from her latest album with a tune by Randy Newman, I Think It’s Going To Rain Today. Her voice held similarities to Becca Stevens, and the arrangement, featuring the string section, really captured the bleak and beautiful sentiment of the song.

Allan Harris sang Eddie Jefferson’s lyrics to the Coleman Hawkins tenor solo from the classic Body and Soul. This version had a likeness to Moody’s Mood for Love and Harris’ version did the song justice. Lisa Stansfield included one of her originals from her newest album, Twisted, about an all-consuming love. This song showed off the prowess of Guy Barker’s arrangements.

Lea Delaria got to open and close the night, finishing off the evening with the powerful David Bowie song Life on Mars. Her theatrical performance would have made Bowie proud as she poured her soul into the poignant words.

An encore, with special guest, Charlie Wood, boosted everyone’s mood back into a toe-tapping, New Orleans inspired medley. The whole crew of singers marched back onto the stage to take turns trading lines with the Wood and the orchestra.

It was clear throughout Royal Festival Hall that a good time was had by all – another successful London Jazz Festival opening night Voice gala.
Anthony Strong
Photo: MSJ Photography


REVIEW: Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra at Cadogan Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Jeff Goldblum at Cadogan Hall
Photo: © John Watson/

Jeff Goldblum and the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra
(Cadogan Hall, 17 November, 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Peter Jones)

Here was the quest: to find out whether he could actually play. As pianist Sam Leak put it on Facebook the other day: “I can’t tell to what degree he’s actually joking, just having a go at a hobby, or thinks he’s doing something serious...” Leak ended by saying that if the comic actor was allowed to be in the London Jazz Festival, he himself fancied a crack at the goofy professor role when they get around to casting Jurassic Park 5. Well, Sam, that sequel came out earlier this year, so stand by for Part 6. But we take your point.

Jeff Goldblum has apparently been playing jazz for 30 years. He must have learned something in that time. We’ve seen him accompanying Gregory Porter on Graham Norton’s TV show, perched on the piano bench like a giant praying mantis, all elbows and knees, stabbing at the keyboard, picking out little jagged clusters of notes that kind of fit the tune, but only just. So is he a faker, or is he the new Monk?

At the start of the gig (interrupted by a false evacuation alarm) Goldblum promised we would get a full two hours to find out, minus the interval. Actually what we got was a piece of amiably chaotic entertainment, more Butlins holiday camp than Ronnie Scott’s. He reminded me of the distant relative who turns up at the house on Boxing Day and just takes over, organizing a quiz, getting everyone to tell their favourite joke, playing a bit of jazz on the piano, asking us to admire his new shirt, getting the audience up for selfies with him.

The band was well-padded enough to disguise Jeff’s contributions at the keys – organ, guitar, tenor saxophone, bass and drums, plus an occasional singer (Imelda May) – and they could have got along fine without him. Most of the material would have passed muster at your average midweek pub jam: Nostalgia In Times Square, Autumn Leaves, Cantaloupe Island, Caravan. The star twitched his way through it all, contributing the odd solo (never more than one chorus), often raising an arm in a curious gesture of… what? Appreciation? Supplication? It was hard to tell. He seemed in a state of permanent distraction. Much of the time he simply laid out, taking the opportunity to interact with someone near the front of the audience or behind him in the circle.

It was fun. I enjoyed it.


REVIEW: Anthony Coleman and Friends at Barbès Brooklyn

Anthony Coleman in 2012
Photo credit Susanna Bolle/ Creative Commons

Anthony Coleman and friends
(Barbès Brooklyn, 17 November 2018. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

Barbès is a small bar. And beyond it, behind a curtain in a smaller room still, sat pianist Anthony Coleman, drummer/ percussionist Satoshi Takeishi and reedsman Marty Ehrlich, running through phrases, throwing around scraps of manuscript paper, and generally enjoying themselves as if they were in their own front room.

As the third of a four-week Saturday residency at Barbès, this makes sense. While they discussed the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt of their continuing rehearsal five minutes before the set, and questioning the crowd as to whether the sound balance was OK, once the curtain was drawn across the door, it was very much a gig.

The opening piece set a clear intensity, with Ehrlich taking a bright phrasing on alto, dropping in and out to meet the various energies of Coleman's piano. The trio was further deconstructed, with Takeishi rejecting drumsticks and instead delicately playing his toms with his fingers and palms. There was a continued enthusiasm in not playing woodwind instruments as envisaged, an atmosphere generated from grunts and slaps on the soprano as well as the cleaner improvisation.

Throughout the set the sheer enjoyment of jamming was evident and enjoyable, but is was on two ballads, A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing and Ghost Of A Chance, that the musical combination really shone. The tender Ghost... had Coleman accompanied by restrained percussion backing within the room and the well-timed additional shuffle of a cocktail shaker reaching through from beyond it. Having been sprung on him by Marc Ribot midweek when Coleman was accompanying him at his residency at the Stone, he came ready and motivated here, and had the decency to warn the others in advance so Ehrlich could produce a very considered clarinet melody.

They finished with a jaunty piece from Coleman's most recent recording, playing to piano pumps and drawing on Takeishi's interests in Colombian rhythms – perhaps a different focus to explore here in the coming months. For an early evening local session, Barbès is an unpretentious and rare opportunity to get up into the action, and Coleman and friends readily provide an immersive experience.

This is our first report from New York by Dan Bergsagel, who has just moved there.

LINKS: Barbès Brooklyn is at 376 9th Street, Park Slope - WEBSITE
Biography of Anthony Coleman from the New England Conservatory


REVIEW: The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra at the Vortex (2018 EFG LJF)

The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra
Photo courtesy of the Vortex

The Nikki Iles Jazz Orchestra  
(The Vortex, 16 November, 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Mike Collins)

‘Thanks to The Vortex for giving me my first gig’ declared Nikki Iles, somewhat incongruously for such an established figure on the UK jazz scene, as the clamorous reception from a packed Vortex subsided at the end of the evening. If not Nikki’s first gig then, it did perhaps signal a new chapter with the first full gig of a big ensemble (very big with 20 people on the stage) under Nikki’s name with her behind the conductor’s desk rather than at the piano.

Gathering together commissions from over the years, orchestrations of her own small band tunes, new writing and a couple of borrowed charts, ‘fleshed out’ for the remarkable band she’d assembled, this was an exhilarating debut. The depth and range of the writing and arranging suggest it was more  the culmination of a journey.

Wild Oak a tribute to Geri Allen, set the scene. An affecting melody line, chiming piano chords, Alcyona Mick doing the honours, suddenly swept aloft by a swell of rich harmony imbued with an edge by a growl of dissonance; a quietly urging groove, suspenseful episodes balanced on bubbling counterpoint from Conor Chaplin’s bass and the beautifully modulated solos presaged the return of soaring melodic lines. Gray as the Morning for the late Steve Gray, had a kicking, sparky pulse, with more drama throbbing pedals notes to goad soloists on. Vince Mendoza’s pulsating and funky Hero with a 1000 faces got an airing, stabbing horns ramping up the energy for first Mike Outram’s guitar, stuttering phrases gradually coalescing into swirling lines, and then a fierce tenor solo from Julian Siegel borne along by a surging wave of backings.

The Mendoza piece sounded perfectly in place amongst the Iles originals and arrangements. A marker of the quality of the rest of the set and the richness of the vocabulary. Highlands an Iles near standard, skirled and swirled James Copus uncorking a blistering flugel solo. Red Ellen swaggered and rocked, with a rambunctious solo from Nick Smart rousing cheers all-round. The newest piece, Home to Glory was an elegy, that stilled the room, Mick’s acerbic rhapsodic piano solo giving way to emotional flights from Henry Lowther’s trumpet that hung in the air. An electric moment. A blistering take on a Steely Dan tune closed the set and the uproar disturbed any dust remaining after the Vortex’s recent makeover.

This didn’t sound like a debut, more like a seasoned hand and a distinctive creative voice, pieces brought to vivid life by a top-drawer band. More please!

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

LINK: Report of the 2015 concert celebrating 50 years of jazz at Leeds College of Music, featuring a jazz orchestra led by Nikki Iles.


REVIEW: Punch Brothers at the Barbican (2018 EFG LJF)

Punch Brothers
iPhone snap by Leah Williams

Punch Brothers
(Barbican, 17 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Leah Williams)

Wherever Chris Thile goes, inventive sounds and lyrics, unbridled joy and energy follow, and the progressive bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers is no different. And Thile was most certainly on full form last night, keeping the audience raptly attentive with his virtuosic playing and singing, his trademark writhing body and priceless facial expressions. But it isn’t all about him and to proclaim so would be to do the collective an injustice.

The Punch Brothers are so unique and successful precisely because of the incredible skill and personality of each member. Alongside Thile on mandolin, banjo ace Noam Pikelny, bassist Paul Kowert, acoustic guitarist Chris Eldridge and fiddler Gabe Witcher make up a unified whole where at times it’s difficult to distinguish from where each sound is emanating.

The music is incredibly intricate and complex, with each instrument being stretched to its full capacity. Yet, crowded intimately around one mic with nothing but relaxed, happy expressions on their faces, the quintet masters each note, rhythm and twist and turn with enviable ease. Whether weaving in and out or playing in faultless synchronicity, they take the audience on a musical rollercoaster. Each song journeys through precision perfect highs, lows, soft moments and moments filled with frenzied energy, leaving you with adrenalin pumping and heart melting at the same time.

They played pretty continuously in this high-octane fashion for almost 2 hours, blending old favourites with new tunes from their latest album All Ashore. Songs from this album are reliably varied in tone and content, with subjects ranging from “odes to great Tiki cocktails” through to ruminations on isolation and relationships in the modern day. Pikelny simplified this with a witty introduction, saying the concept was widely based on the ‘“circus back at home”, with a very simple message of “help, help us please”. This led nicely into tunes very clearly inspired by a political backdrop we can all relate to, the aptly named Just Look at This Mess fully highlighting the quintet’s ability to seamlessly blend virtuosic playing with satirical sentiments.

A much-deserved standing ovation acknowledged the impassioned, generous performance of this music, the kind of music that is made to be heard, seen, experienced live. For their two encores, the quintet managed to do the impossible and create an even more exposed and intimate atmosphere, abandoning the microphone for softly mesmerising acoustic moments.

An excellent showcase of the kaleidoscope of sounds, textures, colours and emotions you can create with 5 stringed instruments and a lot of soul. A fantastic gig to kick off the ever-widening scope of the EFG London Jazz Festival.


Dave Douglas's UPLIFT at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2018 EFG LJF)

Dave Douglas, London 2018
Photo credit and © John Watson/

Dave Douglas's UPLIFT
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, 16 November 2018. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Jon Turney)

Man-of-many-projects Dave Douglas’s latest band is an edgy electro-acoustic ensemble. Two amplified guitars, Rafiq Bhatia dealing in a range of effects and Mary Halvorson with a slightly sharper, cleaner tone and Bill Laswell’s effortless depth on electric bass, as much felt as heard, thicken the sound. Ches Smith adds to it, with drums miked to deliver a cavernous echo and sharp cymbal work. Douglas on trumpet and Jon Irabagon on reeds throw unprocessed sounds over the top.

The pieces they play are from Douglas’s UPLIFT series, conceived as a response to dire political events worldwide. The opener has a fittingly uneasy turbulence, guitars furnishing organ sounds, the bass grumbling and growling, thrashing drums, and some Milesian trumpet peals over the top before a screaming tenor sax solo and then interweaving guitars, Halvorson raising the temperature with some bottleneck exclamations.

Dave Douglas's  UPLIFT. L-R: Mary Halvorson, Bill Laswell,
Dave Douglas, Ches Smith, John Irabagon, Rafiq Bhatia (hidden)
Photo credit and © John Watson/

There were calmer interludes later: sombre muted trumpet, softly suspended at times, beautiful alto clarinet from Irabagon, and occasional nods to more conventional jazz styles. But the dominant sound blend was the more minatory mix they began with - with an underlying current of unease the more positive declamations from the front line almost, but not quite dispelled.

This is wordless artistry, and there was little spoken exhortation, after one impassioned reminder from Douglas that “we’re at a difficult moment for our species”. So how does the musical statement relate to the worldly matters that the players want to highlight? This wasn’t exactly good time music (which is a fine thing but you don’t want it all the time). Nor did it amount to a call for action (ditto). I guess the political charge lies in pointing to such issues, then using each of them as a jumping off point for a piece that does leave you feeling good - among other things. Antidotes to despondency, created afresh, are always worthwhile.

Political engagement? You tell me. Musical brilliance? Sure. Uplift? Yes, I think so.


CD REVIEW: Sara Colman – What We’re Made Of

Sara Colman – What We’re Made Of
(Stoney Lane Records. SLR1968. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Jazz singers have often relied on the Great American Songbook and professional songwriters’ compositions for their repertoire. Jazz singer-songwriters are less common. Sara Colman grew up listening to the classic '70s singer-songwriters, and has written some striking songs, saturated with jazz.

Two covers pay tribute to her heroes: Joni Mitchell’s All I Want, and Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years. The first is less folky than the original: a guitar-led Afro-Latin feel (Steve Banks) recalls Lionel Loueke. There’s strong bass work from Ben Markland and a satisfyingly Herbie-ish Fender Rhodes solo from Rebecca Nash. The voice is deep and full-toned, with lots of space for the lyrics to sink in. Paul Simon’s song concludes the album strongly, with Colman’s own gospel-tinged piano, and smoothly-layered live backing vocals from Emilia Martensson and Anthony Marsden.

Two contrasting songs by Colman open the album. It Begins slips the vocals in among Delius-like strings (the Carducci String Quartet, playing arrangements by Jonathan Silk, are on several tracks.) Part of the song’s pleasure is the contrast between the languid, impressionistic vocals and Percy Pursglove’s spirited flugel improvisation. The Latin What We’re Made Of seems to melt Nash’s Fender Rhodes and Colman’s voice together. Its Brazilian-style backing vocals and strong lead vocal sent me back to Flora Purim and Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, but this song has its own sound. The chorus has been running through my head since I first heard it.

Colman has co-written most of the other songs with her fellow musicians. Heartsafe, Open and Be Careful are jointly by Banks, whose baritone guitar is folk-edged, Bert Jansch-like on the first. There are strong overtones of Magazine-era Rickie Lee Jones, with the circling string quartet and unhurried, bluesy vocal. Open has an intriguing melody and steel-string guitar part; like Kevin Eubanks’ work, it has complex rhythms that flow completely naturally, here teased out by subtle strings and backing vocals. Be Careful is underpinned by a delicate drum and bass groove from drummer Jonathan Silk. Colman spent weeks in the recording studio, working on the album with owner Nick Dover. This track has layers of lush sound, and Dover has a writing credit.

Echoes and Dreamer have a melancholy feel. Colman studied at, and now teaches at, the Birmingham Conservatoire, and many of the musicians on the album have a close association with Birmingham. The phrase: “There you go” recurs in Colman’s Echoes: both an expression of resignation, and a commentary on the demolition of the old Conservatoire building, paralleling the death of a close musician friend. She sings with an understated emotion which catches you unawares. Dreamer, co-written with Nash, has lovely John Taylor-esque piano, and an extended vocal solo, with an expressive tone that brought Liane Carroll to mind.

Strange Meeting adds lyrics by Colman and Hannah Hind to Bill Frisell’s slow tune. An old man looks back on his life; his ballroom dancing is a metaphor for long-lost love. The volume pedal eases long chords from Banks’ guitar, enhanced by percussion from Adriano Adewale. Pursglove’s trumpet begins and ends the piece freely. Trouble Out There has perhaps the most modern jazz feel. It’s co-written with Jules Jackson, who doubles on bass and string arranging. The song looks at humans’ propensity to self-destruct: the loose, unsettling groove heightens the mood. “Would we recognise the ending of the world?”

There’s a strong group feel to this fine album. What We’re Made Of has the emotional openness of classic singer-songwriter recordings, allied to considerable musicality and a modern jazz sensibility.

LINK: Interviews with Sara Colman are HERE and HERE.


REVIEW: Fire! Orchestra + Sly & The Family Drone at Tufnell Park Dome

Sly & the Family Drone in the round at
Tufnell Park Dome
iPhone snap by AJ Dehany

Fire! Orchestra + Sly & The Family Drone
(Tufnell Park Dome, 14 November 2018. Review by AJ Dehany)

This is not a funk session. The amps are pointed inwards on the ground in the middle of the floor. It’s like a boxing ring. We’re spilling into the square and sniffing up against the four guys in the band. The drummer looks like my mate Prof 5000 and I’m tempted to send him a photo. I don’t, ‘cos my photos are shit and I’d feel like a twat, even though filming has been normalised at gigs now – whether you like it or not. Sly & The Family Drone probably don’t care. We’re jumping up and down. The drummer is battering out solid blocks of rhythm with improvised fills. The saxophonist is screeching and skronking, then searing high like a whistling steam kettle. The other two guys are twisting knobs on their mixers, distorting and transforming the sound from their mikes and from more drums in a punishment of feedback.

Reaching out across his amp the guy in front of me tries to give the mike to our mate Grace. She isn’t having it. Anthony the promoter declines too. Then he offers me the mike, fool. OHHHHHYEEAASSSS. For the next few minutes I’m in the band. Does that make me Sly to their Family Drone, the Echo to their Bunnymen? Bending forward I’m screaming into the mike, not just a scream but a high slicing swipe slathered in echo and reverb and chlorine gas. I do a low drone for a bit, then settle into raps of percussive cawing and I’m sure I’ve knackered my throat. After that we keep dancing and then they stop and we realise we’ve lost all our hearing and we’re not pretty no more.

This is a night organised by Baba Yaga’s Hut, the UK’s foremost promoter of noise, improv and psych music from the dark end of the left-field, but you never know quite what to expect from Fire! Orchestra, who take to the main stage next. It’s Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Trio with Johan Berthling and Andreas Werliin, augmented by two vocalists, a string quartet, a horn section and a piano. There are 14 now but last time they were spotted there were 28 of them. I wasn’t even there but my ears are ringing thinking about it. There were also about four times as many people in a smaller venue. Are people not going out as much in today’s Brexit days? It’s no use saving your money, when the economy crashes into the sea it won’t buy you so much as a gold toilet in a carpet warehouse.

This is the third iteration of the Fire! Orchestra. They’re playing a new piece, or a suite, or a concept, called ARRIVAL, with lyrics by Mariam Wallentin. The acoustic elements of strings and clarinets give the music an ancient ritual sense, especially with the European folk feel of the paired female vocalists. The core Viking trio of Gustafsson, Berthling and Werliin are as fierce and driving as ever, and the extended horn section is sheer diesel poured on the fire. The piano carries the music into classical harmony, and there are intense bouts of semi-free extended group improvisation, as well as typically ferocious baritone sax work from Mats Gustafsson. He makes a great show of conducting the horns and the strings, ducking between them, gesturing rhythms for them to follow or waving to indicate waves of sound or gaggling patters of discordant ruckus. The atmosphere and energy are sustained for a whole hour. Then we all go home. Our mates moan the whole way back about how there’s no good music any more in this day and age until I just want to whack them round the head with an orchestra – which is basically what just happened. But everyone’s a critic.

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

Fire! Orchestra: Mats Gustafsson (baritone sax), Johan Berthling (basses), Andreas Werliin (drums), Mariam Wallentin (voice), Sofia Jernberg (voice), Josefin Runsteen (violin, percussion, voice) Anna Lindal, Katt Hernandez (violin), Leo Svensson (cello), Per Texas Johansson, Christer Bothén, Isak Hedtjäm (clarinets), Alexander Zethson (piano), Susana Santos Silva (trumpet)

LINKS: Family Drone on Bandcamp
Fire! Orchestra
Baba Yaga's Hut website
Interview with Mats Gustafsson from 2014


PREVIEW: Toulouse Lautrec 10th Anniversary Celebration (27 November)

Appearing at the 10th anniversary celebration:
Francesca Confortini and her jazz group.
Clockwise from left: Matteo Busti, Filippo Galli, Giovanni Cresseri,
Alex Otta, Toby Allen, Francesca Confortini (seated, centre)
Photo credit: Andy Porter

Peter Jones looks forward to a special evening celebrating ten years of Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington:

A grassroots jazz venue is something to be cherished, even more so if it’s putting on live jazz and cabaret seven nights a week, but that’s exactly what Kennington’s Toulouse Lautrec has been doing for the past decade. And on Tuesday 27 November, they plan a celebration to mark that tenth anniversary.

For those who have never been there, Toulouse Lautrec is a family-run enterprise based on three floors of a converted pub. The ground floor is a restaurant, the middle floor a piano bar, and at the top is a jazz club. Brothers Florent, Oliver and Nolan Régent divide up the management duties: Oliver is head chef, Florent the restaurant manager, and Nolan is in charge of the entertainment. The Régent family have been a part of the local community for 27 years, ever since the parents of the three brothers opened The Lobster Pot, two doors away.

Even I can work out that Nolan Régent must have put on 3,650 gigs since 2008. I asked how on earth he manages to keep on top of it all.

“It’s easier once you’ve got the infrastructure in place – particularly the ticketing company and the website. The thing about us is, we’ve got a unique booking policy: we’re half cabaret and half jazz. We try to preserve the Moulin Rouge spirit. So our anniversary event will reflect that: in the jazz club we’ve got Francesca Confortini with her six-piece jazz group, plus some burlesque performers, dancers and cabaret artists. In the piano bar we have the singer and trumpet-player Karl Charity, plus the singer and pianist Pete Saunders, who used to be in Dexy’s Midnight Runners.”

On the night, guests will have the freedom of the whole building, and can help themselves to a lavish dinner spread. Downstairs, they can have their picture taken – with showgirls – via the gloriously-named Vintage Selfie Frame. “It’s going to be great fun,” predicts Nolan. “The whole point of the evening is for people to experience what the venue’s all about.”

In fact, it’s about more than just putting on food and entertainment. Toulouse Lautrec has become a stalwart member of the local community, providing a much-needed venue for music students from the Guildhall to perform on Monday nights. And they support the London School of Musical Theatre and the Southwark Playhouse Theatre, whom they supply with food and rehearsal space, and who are about to move into larger accommodation in nearby Uncle Tower.

Any more news for 2019? “Yes – we’re going to be staying open all day, serving breakfast and lunch as well as dinner.”

Early Bird tickets for the 10th Anniversary event are priced at £29, including food. 

During the EFG London Jazz Festival Toulouse Lautrec is hosting BOPFEST
Toulouse Lautrec is at 140 Newington Butts, London SE11 4RN, tel: 020 7582 6800.


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: 2018 Leipziger Jazztage in Germany

Maggie Nicols
Photo credit: Susann Jehnichen

The 42nd Leipziger Jazztage (Leipzig jazz days) took place from 11 to 20 October – with a focus on the British jazz scene. Martin Laurentius attended the last few days of this East German jazz festival, which has its own rich tradition:

City of Heroes

Leipzig is nicknamed the Heldenstadt (city of heroes). On 4 September 1989, prayers for peace in the Nikolaikirche segued into a Monday demonstration, and a peaceful revolution started which was to sweep the old DDR regime from power in just a matter of weeks, and cause the fall of the "Iron Curtain".

So the people of this metropolis in Saxony definitely know a thing or two when it comes to wanting to tear down barriers. And that's why the curators of this year's Leipziger Jazztage came up with the idea that the programme of this, their 42nd edition, should feature the UK, and be placed under the motto "Fish'n'Chips", in honour of the British fast food staple and clichéd national symbol. On 29 March 2019 the United Kingdom is expected to leave the EU – with unforeseeable consequences for cultural practitioners in general and jazz musicians in particular on both sides of the Channel.

Goldberg Tangents & Brexit Big Band

I could only be there for the last three days of the Leipziger Jazztage, and therefore missed Michael Wollny's Goldberg Tangents experiment. However, the informative programme book does explain the background. The pianist had a double objective with this project to establish a reference to Johann Sebastian Bach's important keyboard work, the Goldberg Variations, written in Leipzig, and also to incorporate the festival’s British theme by doing an experimental collaboration with the electro artist Leafcutter John. I also never got to find out whether the English polymath Matthew Herbert with his Brexit Big Band could find a visionary way to set the forthcoming exit of the UK from the EU to music. And another omission was the panel discussion of journalist/publicist Wolf Kampmann with Matthew Herbert and Rachel Launey from the British Council about the "Brexit Big Bang".

Of grandparents and grandchildren

These days the events of the Leipziger Jazztage are decentralised. There are concerts in the opera house, aimed at a rather older, "classical" jazz audience, at which the younger audience – and that includes the students of the jazz department of the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Felix Mendelsohn Bartholdy – are not to be seen. There is the naTo socio-cultural centre, on Leipzig's nightlife mile, the Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse south of the city centre, and that feels closer to the median point, certainly in terms of audience structure’s demographic. But when a concert was announced with the guitarist Helmut "Joe" Sachse, a pioneer of the so-called GDR-Jazz who has just turned 70, with the British vocalist Maggie Nicols, who is the same age, then the audience was full of their age group, notwithstanding the fact that the second part of the evening presented players who could more or less be their grandchildren, Anna-Lena Schnabel (saxophone), Florian Weber (piano), James Banner (bass) and James Maddren (drums). Faced with an onslaught of Sachse's riffs and grooves on semi-acoustic guitar, increasing the intensity even more with loud drone noises, Nicols didn’t seem to have the vocal means on this occasion to offer much of a response.

Max Andrzejewski
Photo credit: Susann Jehnichen

In the wake of Robert Wyatt

On the penultimate festival evening we went to the Westbad in the district of Lindenau. This indoor venue, opened in 1930 as a public swimming pool, is today an event centre and this year was a festival venue for the Leipziger Jazztage, presenting a newly commissioned composition. The festival organizers had originally tried to persuade the young Berlin percussionist Max Andrzejewski make a homage to the work of David Bowie. But with his quartet HÜTTE, augmented for this Leipzig premiere by keyboard player/guitarist Jörg Hochapfel and vocalist Cansu Tanrikulu, he decided he would prefer to work on Robert Wyatt's songs, with their reputarion for being cryptic.

Andrzejewski arranged ten songs and stayed surprisingly close to the originals. Only sporadically did extraneous noises disturb the peculiar pull of the Wyatt songs. The sound pressure and volume, which Wyatt's songs require in order to experience the depth of the different levels of meaning and the streaks between text and music, did prove to be a problem acoustically in the tiled, former indoor swimming pool. It is worth noting that the band which followed this premiere, the quartet/ collective James Farm – Americans Joshua Redman (tenor saxophone), Aaron Parks (piano), and Eric Harland (drums) and US-based New Zealander Matt Penman (bass) – didn’t have these difficulties. These four kept tight, communicated at a high dynamic level, and simply let their improvisational ideas run their course.

Eric Harland
Photo credit: Susann Jehnichen

Queen's Jazz

Harland was also at the drums in the Aziza quartet of bassist Dave Holland, which opened the final evening of the Leipziger Jazztage at the Leipzig Opera. The musical setting of this band was very different from that of James Farm: instead of modern jazz, there were jazz-rock experiments that risked degenerating into cliché.

Harland's pressure and powerful drumming was the constant in both bands. But it was only through the interaction with the deep-rooted grooves of the British-born bass player that his rhythmic flow got a further ingredient, and subtly shifted between concrete beat and shimmering pulsation. Aziza's jazz rock was also roughened up and contrasted by the single note lines of Lionel Loueke's guitar, which were reminiscent of the music of his homeland Benin, and by the expressive narratives of tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, performed at exhilarating speed.

Following this concert, the Leipziger Jazztage seemed to test the borders of audibility in the opera with two quiet sets: first with the deliberately intensive performance of the quartet around the Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen, who lives in New York, followed by the concentrated, quiet performance of film music by the English vocalist Norma Winstone and her trio.

But it wasn't over yet. From midnight on, there was to be ‘Jazz’ in the Telegraph club in the centre of Leipzig – in fact a revamp of the 40-year old record of that name by Queen, from Berlin guitarist Christian Kögel. With the two tenorists Peter Ehwald and Uli Kempendorff, and with his instrumental colleague and dobro player Kai Brückner and the drummer Rainer Winch, he unpacked the 13 songs on this album. They succeeded in extracting every last ounce of kitsch, opulence and camp out of them that they could. Chapeau!

Martin Laurentius is a Contributing Editor at the magazine Jazz thing and works extensively on jazz programmes for German broadcaster WDR 3 and other stations in the ARD network.

LINKS: Leipziger Jazztage 
There will be a link to Martin Laurentius' original German when available


CD REVIEW: Omar Sosa & Yilian Cañizares – Aguas

Omar Sosa & Yilian Cañizares – Aguas
(OTA Records OTA1032. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The Cuban pianist Omar Sosa is a committed collaborator. Throughout his recording career albums in his name have featured musicians from diverse musical heritages: Tunisian oud player Dhafer Yousef on Mulatos; New England Americana  multi-instrumentalist Tim Eriksen on Across The Divide; most recently Senegalese kora player and singer Seckou Keita on last year’s Transparent Water.

Here the collaboration is a closer one in the sense that violinist/vocalist Yilian Cañizares is Cuban-born, but the influences that she brings to the music are as diverse and global as Sosa’s – she studied classical violin in Cuba, and has lived in Venezuela and Switzerland since, and her music feeds on her Yoruba ancestry.

With the exception of percussion from Inor Sotolongo all the sounds you hear on Aguas are from Sosa and Cañizares, but that doesn’t stop it having an expansive soundscape since Sosa uses a variety of keyboards and both musicians are well versed in the use of programming and samples. Sosa sings also.

The combination of acoustic piano, violin and voices in amongst the lushness of synths and digitally altered ambience is tastefully handled and reflects perfectly these two musicians as delighted to be working in their musical tradition as they are to be dressing it with all the modern technologies at their disposal.

All the compositions are jointly credited and take in original songs which could just as easily be decades-old folk melodies, so compelling are they as ear worms, gently funky grooves and jazz improvisations of the fusion kind. The album takes water as its theme and there is a flow and fluidity to the way it slips and slides along.

Omar Sosa has an extensive discography and has built up a substantial fanbase; Yilian Cañizares may be a less familiar name but her 2016 album Invocación indicated that her star is surely on the rise and she blooms even more richly in this collaboration. Aguas is a hugely generous album with many moments of pure gorgeousness.

Omar Sosa and Yilian Cañizares are appearing at the EFG London Jazz Festival as part of the Jazz Cubano! triple-bill on Friday 23 November at the Barbican.

LINKS: Booking for Jazz Cubano!
Preview: Jazz Cubano
Peter Bacon's review of Yilian Cañizares' Invocación