BOOK REVIEW: Brian Gruber: Six Days At Ronnie Scott's – Billy Cobham On Jazz Fusion And The Act Of Creation

Brian Gruber: Six Days At Ronnie Scott's – Billy Cobham On Jazz Fusion And The Act Of Creation
(CreateSpace. 201pp. Book Review by Frank Griffith)

Brian Gruber's new book has the hallmarks of one of the greatest tomes about perhaps the most influential drummers and bandleaders of this or any other era. Gruber has captured Billy Cobham's insights, humour and straightforwardness to an extent that no one else has previously achieved. One major reason for this is Gruber's approach of interweaving the texts of one-to-one interviews with Cobham with his observations of the Billy Cobham/Guy Barker Big Band during their 2017 six-day residency at Ronnie Scott's. This allows the reader to move between the two kinds of narrative in a balanced way, avoiding the need to absorb too much of either in one go. Not unlike a radio host playing frequent tracks interspersed with interviewing a noted guest, Gruber clearly gets the balance right, keeping the reader's attention as he makes each new angle on how Billy ticks emerge into view.

Gruber's chronicling of the dialogue with him and Cobham virtually puts the reader in the nightclub, the cafe or a moving car hosting an interview. There are cameos from a plethora of jazz legends like Ron Carter, Jan Hammer, Randy Brecker and fellow drummer Bill Bruford (also an innovative figure in jazz/rock fusion). Their comments and insights convey not only their respect for Cobham but acknowledges his playing with Dr Billy Taylor, Horace Silver and Miles Davis to his bridging the transition to his trailblazing bands and recordings in the 1970s. In addition, Gruber's interviews with a younger generation of his current band-members like Steve Hamilton, Carl Orr, Mike Mondesir and arranger and bandleader, Guy Barker are inspiring as well. They not only reveal their feelings about playing under Cobham but their own journey and hopes and dreams as well.

Cobham left an indelible impression on the jazz, jazz-fusion and drum worlds when he came to wider prominence with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971. Led by Doncaster-born guitarist John McLaughlin, with violinist Jerry Goodman and Czech-born pianist Jan Hammer, it was probably the first international jazz supergroup. Hammer playfully refers to the music as "Indian Improvisational Olympics" in his interview but despite this, no drummer had fused pinpoint jazz articulation, four-way independence with acute melodic tuning and 16th note and swing grooves in equal measure. He changed the direction of jazz percussion influencing a generation of players in the process.

One minor quibble is the rather spartan discography. It lists the titles, labels and (mostly) years of Cobham's fifty recordings, but omits any mention of the personnel or locations or dates. I realise that this information is probably available elsewhere online, but it would have been useful to be able to refer to it alongside the recollections.

Six Days provides a terrific insight into the music and life of a world-class drummer resulting in a unique and challenging document for fans of Cobham, jazz, fusion and the culture of the 60s and 70s. A must and thoroughly enjoyable read.

LINK: Gruber Media website


REVIEW: Chet Baker Live in London Vol II album launch at the Jazz Cafe

L-R: John Horler, Jim Richardson, Quentin Collins,
Leo Richardson
Photo of launch from Ubuntu Music

Chet Baker Live in London Vol. II album launch
(Jazz Cafe, Camden Town, 18 Sept 2018. Review – and Interview with Jim Richardson – by Kate Delamere)

The ghost of Chet Baker was in the room when pianist John Horler's trio from the 1980's re-formed for a last time to launch Chet Baker Live in London Volume II. The trumpeter’s haunting legacy sounded in every plaintive note that spoke of empty caresses and unrealised dreams to the mixed crowd of young and old, who were left wanting more. Horler’s light mesmeric touch flattered percussive flurries from drummer Tony Mann that were complemented by Jim Richardson’s rhythmic and scurrying melancholic melodic runs on the bass prompting whoops from the audience.

The original trio were joined by Quentin Collins on trumpet paying homage to Chet’s fierce mellow style, a-league-of-his-own Leo Richardson on saxophone and special guest Cherise Adams-Burnett whose laid-back vocals were reminiscent of Chet’s and made for a truly special night.

Cool jazz cats in the audience couldn’t help toe-tapping along to tunes such as Horace Silver's Strolling and  I Remember You, The Touch of Your Lips, For Minors Only (Jimmy Heath), Sam Rivers' Beatrice and Just Friends.

And of course, the night would not have been complete without a poignant rendition of My Funny Valentine (Richard Rodgers) – the song synonymous with Chet's moody singing style.

But even the encore of It Could Happen To You didn’t satisfy this baying crowd.

A fitting tribute to the man whose life was a bittersweet refrain to wasted promise that ended abruptly aged 58 on Friday 13th May, 1988 when Chet fell to his death from a hotel room in Amsterdam. His companions in death as in life - heroin and cocaine.

Tuesday’s tribute nevertheless was one that would never have happened but for Richardson having the foresight to record Chet’s performances with the trio on his Walkman recorder in 1983 when Chet played six consecutive nights at The Canteen in London.

"Poignant...moody": My Funny Valentine
with Cherise Adams-Burnett
Photo from Ubuntu Music 

Jim, 77, from North London, recalled: ‘We got a call to work with Chet and it was nerve-wracking because he had a bad history using narcotics. He upset a great deal of people being a smack user and banging it in his arm. It blighted his life. But he’d say it helped him musically to hear better even though it made a bit of a wreck out of him.

‘When we met him he didn’t look well. But he sounded well when he put that horn to his mouth. There was no drama, he was quiet and polite. He sat side on to the audience totally focused, the trumpet next to the microphone so he’d get a close sound.

‘I nervously asked Chet in between sets if he’d allow me to record our performances. I wasn’t sure how he’d respond. He looked at my Walkman that I wanted to record it on and into my eyes then said ‘f*** you…!’ and pulled me into a big bear hug, which was his way of saying ‘of course!’

‘And the results on the Walkman were amazing!’

Jim attributes Chet as the reason he got into music and forged a successful global career as a bassist.

‘I fell in love with Chet when I heard him on the radio as a fourteen-year-old schoolboy. I was a big fan from then on, and loved his lyrics and melody. Chet’s Dad insulted him telling him he sung like a girl but I loved his sound. It was genderless, a soft sound, evocative.

‘When I left school and worked as a hod carrier on a building site I’d often find myself whistling some of Chet’s solos. They were beautiful. He had a melodic romantic warm style and fire in his belly. As far as music was concerned he was a big hero of mine. After listening to him I’d mess around with wire brushes and a tea chest playing along to records. Then in 1958 when I was 17 I got a double bass and turned professional five years later playing with big bands.’ And thanks to Jim’s cheeky request 35 years ago, a second selection from those performances has now been released as a two-CD set Chet Baker Live in London, lovingly restored under the supervision of Martin Hummel, Director of Ubuntu Music, and with an eloquent sleeve note by Richard Williams.

Jim said: ‘I’m so very proud to have been alongside John Horler and Tony Mann to form the rhythm section for Chet’s performances. Whatever issues Chet may have had throughout his dramatic life, he certainly came up with the goods in grand style at these shows. I think we can safely say we made Chet proud. And an old geezer a very happy man.’

And if the ghost of Chet Baker could talk, I bet he’d be saying ‘Back at ya, Jim!’

The launch at Jazz Cafe
Photo from Ubuntu Music

Kate Delamere is a national journalist in TV, newspapers and magazines, and writes creatively for theatre, radio and print.

LINKS: Chet Baker in London Vol II album at Ubuntu Music
CD Review: Chet Baker in London Vol II


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: 2018 Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival

Fergus McCreadie
Photo by Patrick Hadfield

Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival
(Islay, Scotland.14-16 September 2018. Round-Up and photos by Patrick Hadfield)

Islay is an island off the west coast of Scotland, famous for its birdlife and its whisky. For the last twenty years, for three days each September the geese and barrels are joined by jazz fans from the island, across Scotland and throughout Europe, gathered for a remarkable festival. The island's relative remoteness make it special: both musicians and audience have to really want to get there, most travelling by ferry to join the appreciative islanders. Without regular music venues, the promoters - Islay Arts and Jazz Scotland - and their volunteers are adept at turning unlikely locations into intimate spaces: community halls, distilleries and an RSPB nature reserve visitor centre all played host to exceptional gigs. There's something about Islay that draws superlative performances from musicians, and the audience - both visitors and locals - have a real sense of community: one sees the same people at gigs throughout the weekend, and many people come back year after year (this was my eighth visit). The organisers mix and match musicians, creating new and surprising ensembles just for the festival.

Soweto Kinch (foreground) with Nick Jurd
Photo by Patrick Hadfield

Friday night saw Soweto Kinch play an impassioned set with bassist Nick Jurd and drummer Jonathan Silk at Lagavulin, sponsors of the festival. Aided by an array of pedals and a recalcitrant Mac which declined to play at one point, he sampled his own playing to loop riffs and play with prerecorded samples, creating a choir of saxophones. Despite the technology, the music felt personal and organic: Silk, playing this music (largely taken from Kinch's latest album Nonagram) for the first time, worked with the recorded beats, adding a real sense of swing. The samples acted as a starting point for the musicians to improvise. Kinch also rapped two numbers, the heartfelt Forecast, during which he got the audience to chant the chorus, "What's it all for?", and a freestyle number in which he demonstrated his quick imagination as he worked in words suggested by the audience.

Lagavulin, the distillery which sponsors the festival (and provides a warm welcome at each gig), was also the venue for Graham Costello's STRATA, who played a set on Saturday lunchtime. I'd seen this band play during the summer, and had been so impressed that I thought I might be disappointed this time. Not a bit of it: for ninety minutes, this band of young musicians - they're students or graduates of the jazz programme at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland - gave their all, playing intense, intricate music; their musicianship is highly accomplished. A mixture of jazz, prog-rock and classical forms, with a bit of folk thrown in for good measure, they've synthesised a powerful but subtle music. They played straight through, without any announcements - so I've no idea what they played, or which of them composed what. Harry Weir's ecstatic, wailing tenor and Fergus McCreadie's repetitive, rhythmic piano over Joe Williamson's textured guitar build up an emotional ferocity, driven by Graham Costello's polyrhythmic drumming; Liam Shorthall brought depth with his trombone. A superb start to the musical day.

Pete Johnstone and Mario Caribe
Photo by Patrick Hadfield

The young musicians from STRATA made appearances in other bands across the weekend. Shorthall was part of Mario Caribe's lively New Mambo band. Caribe has played every Islay Jazz Festival bar one - he clearly has an affinity for the island. (Someone shouted "welcome home!" as he came onto the bandstand.) I'm not a fan of latin jazz - or so I thought. But in the hands of Caribe, the rhythm was infectious: this late night show was immense fun. The band - including Pete Johnstone on piano and Mike Butcher on tenor, together with Shorthall students of Caribe's from the RCS ("People ask me why I teach... It's so my students can get me gigs", quipped Caribe) - were exuberant and hugely entertaining.

McCreadie played several gigs in various bands across the weekend. His own trio played some beautifully understated piano music, much of it from their recent CD Turas, together with new, yet to be named pieces. His piano playing is engaging and introspective, exploring ideas and melancholic moods. Though comparatively quiet, the trio are emotionally powerful - after the gig, one member of the audience explained how one of the new pieces had brought tears to her eyes.

McCreadie also played in the Stephen Henderson Quartet, augmented to a quintet for one show only with the addition of Graeme Stephen on guitar. But it was his guest appearance with saxophonist Tommy Smith that really impressed. This duo, opening for Smith's quartet, played some exquisite standards: Ellington's Single Petal of a Rose stood out, achingly beautiful. The Tommy Smith Quartet, playing music written or inspired by John Coltrane, played an exhilarating set of high powered, energetic music. They're a formidable force, driven by Sebastiaan de Krom's drumming and Pete Johnstone's forceful piano. Tommy Smith seems to get better and better: part of the international jazz scene for over three decades (and the educator behind the RCS's jazz programme), his saxophone playing was a tour de force.

With so much talent on hand, it says a lot that neither the Tommy Smith Quartet, nor STRATA, nor Soweto Kinch played my favourite gig of the festival. That was instead a show at the Outback Gallery, named for its remote location at the end of several single-track roads, on the north-west coast of Islay - next stop west is Newfoundland. Reedsman Martin Kershaw explained that he was asked who, if he could choose anyone, he'd like to play with: and so this one-off gig found him playing with percussionist Corrie Dick and Graeme Stephen in a wholly improvised set. Kershaw played alto and soprano saxophones, but mostly bass clarinet - a haunting, mournful sound. Dick's drumming was humorous and creative, using various implements on his drums to create rhythms. Stephen utilised a variety of pedals to sculpt his sound. The music was engrossing, moving from abstract to melodic, shifting in inventive and imaginative directions. They held the audience enthralled for fifty minutes before drawing the piece to a close. Then, with a few minutes left, they played a straight blues, Kershaw on alto, proving they could swing with the best. It was a truly special event.

Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.


FEATURE: Impressions of music in Baku, Azerbaijan

A muqam trio in a restaurant
Photo: Mary James

One of LJN's regular contributors, Mary James recently spent a few days in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Here are some impressions, plus a few photos she took of the music scene there.:

It’s easy to experience the resonant and deeply emotional mugam music in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan. From the tantalising snippets of music which introduce each metro stop to well-attended formal concerts in stunning modern venues, its slightly melancholy sound is everywhere, the backdrop to everyday life and enjoyed by all ages.

Nisbat Sadrayeva
Photo: Mary James
At the Muqam Centre we heard the singer Nisbat Sadrayeva captivate an audience which included small children whose dancing and clapping was unforced and enthusiastic. Her voice was extraordinary powerful without any obvious effort, many songs deeply moving, especially those with just voice and dilli kaval (a flute like instrument). Sometimes the audience broke into applause mid-song – it was hard to work out why – maybe there were words they loved or maybe it was in response to a particularly difficult vocal technique. After many songs, audience members proffered bunches of real and artificial flowers, each gracefully received by Sadrayeva.

The sound of muqam tempts you into restaurants. A trio of tar (that interesting figure-of-eight shaped instrument played horizontally), qaval drum and kamancheh (played with a bow like a cello) plus male voice provided plenty of variation from traditional tunes to the score from the Godfather. And in a small jazz club, a trio of Azerbaijan musicians led by drummer Elvin Bashirov, played a mix of Western standards which sounded very far from home and quite possibly exotic to the local audience (who sadly for us and the trio, talked loudly throughout the show).

Young people sing by the Caspian Sea
Photo: Mary James

On the shores of the Caspian Sea, small groups of young people gather most nights to sing and play guitar against the magical backdrop of Baku by night. They may have been singing the latest Azerbaijan pop tune but somehow I doubt that, there appeared to be improvisation and response between guitarist and singer. One singer adopted a stylish nonchalant air, another was more impassioned. It felt very natural and deeply rooted in their culture and people stopped to watch and listen.

There is a Baku Jazz Festival 14-28 October with artists from France, Brazil and Norway, and it features a jazz day dedicated to Parviz Rustambeyov, a young jazz saxophonist who died in mysterious circumstances in prison in 1949, a reminder that this young nation has had a difficult political past.

Mary James, who lives in Gloucestershire, is a jazz promoter working with John Law, Maciek Pysz and others. Twitter @maryleamington


CD REVIEW: Barre Phillips – End to End

Barre Phillips – End to End
(ECM 6725184, also available as LP. CD review by Olie Brice)

In 1968 Barre Phillips recorded the first ever album of solo double bass. Initially intended as source material for composer Max Schubel to manipulate electronically, the results were so musical and beautiful that Schubel persuaded Phillips to release them. Variously entitled Journal Violone, Bass Barre or Unaccompanied Barre on different releases, the recording remains one of the most vital and influential releases of solo improvised music.

Throughout a rich and varied career, always at the cutting edge of improvised music, Barre Phillips has led his own ensembles and collaborated with Archie Shepp, John Surman, Eric Dolphy, Evan Parker, Mal Waldron and Derek Bailey amongst countless others. He has also played a groundbreaking role in pushing the possibilities of multiple double bass improvisation, recording duos with Dave Holland, Peter Kowald, Barry Guy, Yoshizawa Motoharu and Joelle Leandre, and even double bass trios and quartets. Throughout, though, the solo voice has remained a constant, with Journal Violone being followed by Call me when you get there in 1983, Camouflage in 1989 and Journal Violone 9 in 2001. Now, 50 years on from the initial recording, Phillips has released End to End and has announced that it will be his final solo album.

The new album is gorgeous. Beautifully recorded, Phillips’ sense of form, sublime tone and harmonic imagination take us on a gradually unfolding journey. This is mostly freely improvised music – Phillips mentions in the liner notes that he had “five areas of prepared material, five ‘songs’ I wanted to explore” - but tends to a very tonal and compositional approach. The 11 tracks are grouped into 3 sets, entitled Quest, Inner Door and Outer Window and some material re-occurs clearly – part 4 of Quest and part 4 of Inner Door for example are working with the same idea. Most pieces explore one sound area patiently for the duration of the track. The pieces are fairly short for freely improvised music, mostly under 3 minutes with the longest just over 6. The overall impact is a meditative, entrancing experience – a fully mature artistic statement from a musician who has reached the summing up of his solo development. I’m reminded of a chronological retrospective of Joan Miro at the Tate a few years ago – the first room of the exhibition had paintings rammed full of exhilarating detail. By the final room, the paintings were washes of colour with simple lines, yet the same emotional charge and intensity were compressed into these sparse paintings. While I wouldn’t call Phillips a minimalist, there is something here of the same condensed clarity.

Fifty years after inventing the genre, Phillips continues to push the solo double bass into new and beautiful territories. Thank you, Barre, for all the music.

LINK: Artist profile at ECM Records


INTERVIEW: Sara Colman (new album What We’re Made Of out 28 Sept)

Sara Colman
Photo: Ian Wallman

Sara Colman has her new album, What We’re Made Of, coming out later this month, and will be performing music from it, as well as some arrangements of Joni Mitchell, in Birmingham in November. The new CD is a real step up for the vocalist and composer. In the second of two chats (the first is here), Sara and Peter Bacon discuss the results:

LondonJazz News: This new album feels very strongly like just that: an album! Did you always have that structure in mind? Or was it a happy accident after the event?

Sara Colman: Whilst I think it was a happy accident, it’s possible that something subconscious was going on. I think the singer-songwriter/‘70s pop albums I listened to a lot as a young person were often very crafted in terms of song sequence, they were organised in the knowledge that listeners would most likely listen to one side and then the other... I think that has happened here and although it wasn’t deliberate maybe it was inevitable!

LJN: Most of it is original material of yours, with various collaborators. I know you did some serious song-writing studies a few years ago. Are we seeing the fruits of that here? Writing comes easily to some, and is a really hard process for others – which are you?

SC: Writing definitely does not come easily! Collaborating made it much more productive and I really enjoyed working with my co-writers and arrangers on the songs – they all have very different ways of working and that was an intriguing process.

Some songs have been evolving for years. Heartsafe, for example, started off as a song called Eyes Wide Open several years ago. I played it live and it worked but it wasn’t complete – playing songs live often shows you what works and what doesn’t. In that instance, one of things the song needed was a bridge – I’m a big fan of the bridge! I think a bridge gives you a chance to say something in a way that a verse and chorus aren’t set up for. It allows you to speak from a different perspective – Rickie Lee Jones says it’s where you tell the secret about the song. I agree!

Studying showed me how to get past a block and how to craft a song. It showed me the aspects of songwriting that I do naturally and, crucially, holes that I fall into, things I do habitually, and how to helpfully critique my own work, how to re-write.

I loved that MA – I wish it had been a continual course rather than just two years! I think I was very wary of collaborating, now I want to do more!

LJN: Your band is very much the opposite of one meeting for the first time in the studio on the day. There are strong bonds between you? Tell me about your fellow musicians.

SC: Well, it goes without saying that I think they are all wonderful musicians and talented in so many ways! Steve Banks (guitar) is my partner and so that makes for an interesting collaboration. Thankfully he is very patient as I can be very, very impatient! As I don’t play guitar he has to translate my ideas even when they are half formed! His piece Open is one of my favourites on the album. We had moments of joy expanding that from a solo guitar piece to the much bigger work it’s become.

I have worked with Ben Markland (bass) for 20 years. He is a rock and such a stickler for detail. His ears are incredible and having him as an MD is a gift. He listens and plays a lot of different kinds of music so is always up for trying out new ways of approaching songs. He has also been a big part of the production of this album.

Rebecca Nash (piano) is a new friend by comparison and a very important one. From the first time we played music together I knew we had lots more to do! She is so musical and so very creative and supportive. And she sings beautifully too! We wrote Dreamer together and we are collaborating on some songs for her new album with her band Atlas.

Jonathan Silk (drums, string arrangements) is a new collaborator – he’s such a great guy and will go to all lengths to get things done and done right!

The same with Jules Jackson – we co-wrote Trouble Out There and Jules did the string arrangement for that song. Another amazing player who I got to collaborate with for the first time. I was stuck with that song and he helped bring it to life!

Adriano Adewale is the only person I had never really played with before. He’s such a gentle soul with a fierce lion of a musician inside! I love what he brought to the album. For this singer, drums can be troublesome – but not with AA and JS.

We recorded the acoustic piano and the strings at the new Conservatoire in Birmingham. It’s a gorgeous space to record in and Ben engineered and ran the sessions. We asked the Carducci Quartet to come and play the four songs which have strings and they played beautifully.

Percy Pursglove is such a brilliant musician, lyrical and dramatically expressive, perfect for these stories. He is such an inspiring improviser, I enjoy that so much in live gigs too. He also sings (he kept that quiet)!

The invisible member of the band is definitely Nick Dover who owns Canyon Sound. Over a period of about six months I spent several weeks in the studio with Nick. I had never made an album like that before and it wasn’t my intention to do so until I had experienced working with him at that studio – then I knew that it would be a big part of the evolution of the sound.

LJN: Among What We’re Made Of’s many strong attributes is a) the strings, and b) the stacked harmony vocals. Tell us about these.

SC: Emilia Martensson and Anthony Marsden came and sang bvs on several songs – two strongly unique voices, equally beautiful, both with haunting and emotional qualities as well as being very different to mine. I wanted to be able to hear the character in each of the harmony voices rather than a homogenous bv pad sound, for this music – they were both amazing. [Paul Simon’s] Still Crazy After All These Years was a last minute idea and we recorded it around the piano, all together – live if you like. I love having a bit of that scruffy stuff on an album, a song where you can hear the pedal creaking on the piano and the parts are deliberately loose.

For the song Strange Meeting I asked the band to sing too. They had to be a village! I also wanted that vibe on What We’re Made Of.

The strings idea came in the development of Steve’s piece Open. I guess both strings and bvs add depth and texture. They also give the writer another chance to colour in the musical picture, they can reinforce a message, expand a theme, and in the arrangement of Heartsafe for example, the strings add to the rhythmic dynamic. It was a new experience and a treat to have time and space to experiment with strings and vocals.

LJN: There are strong stories in these songs and it’s tempting to get the background on each, but let’s, for reasons of space, focus on just one: Echoes. It has its inspiration in one person and in a specific place, yes?

SC: Yes. My very dear friend William Joss died in August 2015. We studied together at the Birmingham Conservatoire and he was a talented composer and songwriter. Around the same time the old Conservatoire building was being slowly demolished – sometimes that was quite brutal to witness, big metal machinery gouging out great chunks of the building I had sort of grown up in, I had known for more than 25 years as a student and a teacher.

Will and I spent a lot of time making music together in that building and I imagined that it had all been absorbed by the walls and as they came down, so that music was released into the atmosphere – a bit fanciful but somehow a pertinent image. We had recorded that song at the studio in the old building with the intention of re-recording in the new one. We set a date and Rebecca and I went into record and that day I just couldn’t do it. We used the original recording for the album.

LJN: There is that cliched idea that the deepest art comes from tortured souls, etc. But there is something about this album that suggests an underlying contentment, maybe a sense of arrival after years of searching? Or am I imagining things?

SC: No, I don’t think you are imagining that! I find it so interesting that all of that comes across in these songs – perhaps not in any one but as a group this is more apparent?

I’ve definitely been collecting snippets of stories for a little while, little character studies maybe. As my experiences and my perspectives have changed, so those stories became more fully formed  – so I’ve been a bit more able to write from the perspective of someone else. I think what happens as you get a bit further down your own path (aka older!) is that you are less inside the drama of your own life…

I had a grant from the Arts Council to help make this album. It allowed me to take my time to be exploratory and ambitious with the sounds I wanted to achieve. That was so important and a real boost to my confidence – I shall be ever grateful for the opportunities that decision continues to offer me.

You know how you can hear something, a philosophy or idea that sounds so simple and you must have heard it a hundred times before and yet that one time you hear it again, it is peculiarly relevant and everything you need? I had a conversation with a fellow musician about writing music and she said that she simply writes music that she likes - if other people don’t, it doesn’t really matter as long as she does. It was like huge lightbulb going on in my brain! It sort of gave me permission to do that and that’s the benchmark for all of the music on this album. (pp)

Sara Colman’s What We’re Made Of is released on Stoney Lane Records on 28 September 2018.

This month Sara became a Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Recording Artist in Residence.

Sara and her band play music from What We’re Made Of and celebrate the songbook of Joni Mitchell at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham on Saturday 10 November for Jazzlines, Town Hall Symphony Hall.

LINKS: Stoney Lane website
The Jazzlines CBSO concert


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Dakhla Brass Murmur album launch (Kings Place, 6 October)

Dakhla Brass at the 2016 Montreal Jazz Festival
Photo: FIJM

Bristol’s DAKHLA BRASS already contrived a richly orchestrated sound when they were a three-horns and drums four-piece. Now they are exploring a richer sound palette, live as a sextet, and in the studio with producer Ben Lamdin. The results are on their fourth recording, Murmur, which they launch at Kings Place on 6 October and in Bristol on 18 November. Jon Turney asked drummer Matt Brown and baritone saxophonist Charlotte Ostafew about the band’s evolution.

London Jazz News: You began as a four piece (Brown, Ostafew, Sophie Stockham on alto and Pete Judge, trumpet), then added Liam Treasure’s trombone. Now bass player Riaan Vosloo is on board too, how is that changing things?

Char: It’s interesting because for this album, the double bass parts were added after most of the album had been written. Riaan managed to find space within the music to add the double bass lines. As we approached writing in the same way, we haven't compromised our sound at all. The double bass adds a new dimension and tone.

LJN: What else is different on the new album?

Matt: Even though a lot of our pieces are intricately written and full of weaving melodies and rhythm we felt interested in exploring sonic space that was available to fill.

Just horns and drums is a brilliant thing that we will continue to enjoy. However one thing you can’t get acoustically from that line up is smooth bass frequencies and long smooth drones.  In the studio Riaan ended up playing synth, vibraphone, double and electric bass and I added percussion and timpani as well as a Marxophone (a kind of zither) on one song. When we got to the mixing those extra ingredients were used very subtly and sometimes covertly. This helped create aurally comforting roots for angular horn lines to flourish on top of.

LJN: But it’s still recognisable as Dakhla’s signature sound?

Matt: It still has the ingredients that make Dakhla but working with Ben Lamdin we have developed a wider cinematic spread aided by the extra instruments, added percussion, deeper grooves as well as some free textural approaches in solos and accompaniment. Ben’s input was super valuable and really helpful to have that extra set of ears to enhance compositions written before we got to the studio.  We are really excited to get this album out.

LJN: And how about the live set?

Matt: The bass adds roots and more groove to the sound live and we are currently working on adding bass to a bunch of old songs but we aren’t recreating the added parts from the new record (synth, vibes, percussion etc).  We are getting enough with bass and want to explore just that and keep things fresh with live versions of songs that grow with us.

LJN: Dakhla weaves many influences together beautifully. Is the “jazz” word a help or a hindrance? Should we say something else?

Matt: We have no idea what you should say! We’ve thought about it a lot and given up – though we’re open to suggestions if anyone wants to help… We just like to make music and keep everything as open as possible. We are six musicians that have hugely eclectic listening tastes and musical backgrounds from classical and jazz education to self-taught and it all goes together to create Dakhla.

As for the J word it has mostly helped and mildly hindered I think.  We are all massively influenced by jazz music and you hear that in our instrumentation and our improvisation in terms of horn solos. And as the drummer I get to explore and improvise different ideas every night. However the horn arrangements are very through-composed, and set in stone, which isn’t so jazz.  The problems have mostly been with gig bookings: some venues say we are too jazz and some say we aren’t jazz enough… We love playing in intimate sit down and listen ‘Jazz’ venues because we can explore our dynamic range, but we can tailor our set to festivals too.  We just hope people are moved, challenged and transported when we play our compositions.

LJN: The last two recordings have each increased personnel by one. You’ve commented on the more expansive production this time. Where might you take the band next? Do you have any dream collaborations, perhaps?

Matt: It will always be Dakhla Brass - we have no plans to bring in more members. But at some point I think all of us would like to explore a much bigger ensemble. And yes, we dream. Anything to do with Bjork, Thom Yorke, Tin Hat Trio, Tom Waits, Yo-Yo Ma and Medeski Martin and Wood would be ace. Studio Ghibli would have been fun too.

LJN: And in the meantime?

Char: In terms of future writing, I'm very intrigued about the next album, knowing that we have the bass now. In theory it frees me up a lot to move away from the bass lines, so I could explore other roles within the band. Then again, part of why and how the band formed was because I love playing the role of the bass, so I can't imagine stepping too far away.

Matt: We have a London and Bristol album launch booked. Oct 6th at Kings Place in London and November 18th at The Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol,  Also we are playing in Cardiff on November 1st.  We will be getting on booking more gigs next and then a tour but that is just in the planning stages. We are proud of this album and excited to be exploring new approaches and sounds with the new line up so we want to get touring and writing!

The Dakhla Brass Murmur album launch is at Kings Place on 6 October


REVIEW: Michel Legrand and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – 60 Years of Music and Movies at the Royal Festival Hall

The standing ovation for Michel Legrand
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Michel Legrand and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – 60 Years of Music and Movies
(Royal Festival Hall, 18 September 2018. Review by Andrew Cartmel)

Sixty years indeed. This sampling of the vast output of the French jazz prodigy Michel Legrand kept proceedings to manageable proportions by presenting highlights from just his film composing career.

On stage at London’s South Bank were the massed forces of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – or, the Michel Legrand Big Band, as I like to think of it – with a jazz rhythm section nestling at their centre, featuring the maestro himself on piano supported by long-time musical accomplices Geoff Gascoyne on upright bass and Sebastiaan de Krom drums. Accompanying the musicians as they played were neatly coordinated and smoothly edited sequences of clips from the movies themselves.

Ice Station Zebra demonstrated the mastery of film composition that Legrand had achieved as early as 1968. The pointillist mystery of the introduction, comprising cross-hatched strings and glockenspiel, yielded to supple shoots of woodwinds springing up, subtly and adroitly conjuring the mood before the brass section injected a stab of menace. If the film itself, a Cold War thriller set in cardboard snowfields, is now forgotten, Legrand’s music for it remains compelling, absorbing and masterful.

Providing an impressive contrast, and a first hint of Legrand’s extraordinary range, Gable and Lombard was an American pastoral, conveying a sense of loss and nostalgia from the opening notes, with Helen Tunstall’s harp adding delicate pastel splashes. Sebastiaan de Krom’s ticking drums and Gascoyne’s bass were at the heart of the piece which suggested the sweet insistence of a memory which is always just a little out of reach.

Michel Legrand left the conductor’s podium to sit at the piano, leaving conducting duties to Paul Bateman, and there was an audible sigh of appreciation from the audience as he played the opening bars of The Summer of ’42. His solo carried the piece with casual authority until the orchestra joined in with a flood of colour and emotion, but Legrand unequivocally maintained the theme. Casualness and authority were again paired in his insouciant announcement, “Now I’m going to play a couple of songs that I wrote with Miles Davis.” These were from the film Dingo and Legrand’s piano was rapid-fire bop played to perfection, like bright water flooding between stones. The trio dominated here, with the glittering cadence of Legrand’s playing, de Krom’s mesmeric and measured drums and Gascoyne’s throaty, sinewy bass all providing a spellbinding setting for the mass deployment of the brass.

The encore for the concert was Legrand’s ravishing solo on Brian’s Song, a perfect jewel of a composition and one which will have lodged in the minds of every listener  more than a few will have walked from the hall humming it. But the ultimate statement of this evening came a little earlier, with the music from The Thomas Crown Affair. The Windmills of Your Mind was like a controlled series of explosions from the orchestra until arpeggios from Michel Legrand led us into a sublimely slinky trio rendition. His piano performed a melancholy, thoughtful monologue before the final orchestral flourish, as though reflecting on the long decades of a great career.

The concert was presented by Ronnie Scott’s and Fane Productions, in association with City Lights Entertainment UK.

Michel Legrand
LINKS: Review of Michel Legrand's autobiography
Review of his Ronnie Scott's debut in 2011
Review of an appearance at Ronnie Scott's in 2015


REPORT: Don Weller Tribute at the 606 Club

Don Weller at the 2015 Herts Jazz Festival
Photo credit: Melody McLaren

Don Weller Tribute
(606 Club. 10 September 2018. Report by Brian Blain)

If you wanted to catch up on the unpretentious heart of 'modern' mainstream jazz then the place to be last Monday week was the 606 Club when 10 of Britain's finest came together to play for free in tribute to one of the truly great English players, tenorist Don Weller, now in retirement.

Great to see Dick Pearce, a trumpeter currently in Shropshire, once a member of Ronnie Scott's Quintet and the author of the most authentic account of a jazz musician's life that I have read, in the first band, along with Dave Newton (piano), Arnie Somogyi (bass), Dave Barry (drums) and the irrepressible Alan Barnes (alto). Kicking off with a brisk trot through It's You Or No-one, Newton roused the crowd with a thundering solo while the band laid out, giving a lift to the evening which seemed to kickstart everyone else. Pearce was sweetly melodic on Misty, in a ballad medley, but for me it was Barnes, on the superb Detour Ahead, that provided the emotional high in this first set. Janine was good; a great jazz standard and a tempo that gave the rhythm section a chance to settle into a nice easy flowing groove. How these guys – and the next band as well – can pull all this varied material together with no rehearsal and just experience and ears to make it all work is really quite remarkable and something we all take for granted, always expecting a new musical peak that must be scaled to justify the claim of 'artist'.

Next up two tenor titans Art Themen, who got the ball rolling with the original Phone Calls, and Mornington Lockett, with John Donaldson (piano), Jim Mullen (guitar), Andy Cleyndert (bass) and Clark Tracey (drums), and into the set with a Dexter Gordon tune, one of Art's favourites, and a brisk It Could Happen To You, with Mullen's unique sound and biting attack providing an astringent contrast to the bustling voices of the jousting tenors. One of the really subtle blues lines , Charles Lloyd's Third Floor Richard, with its slightly Monk-ish overtones, gave John Donaldson the chance to get down to some head shaking stuff. By the time we got to the closer, a roaring Just One of Those Things, Tracey and Cleyndert were really flying, giving the feeling that they could have gone on all night. Club owner Steve Rubie had brought his flute to the party on the Charles Lloyd tune and –  while thanking everyone for the music and their support for Don Weller – let's not forget his role in donating the club for the evening to make it possible. This was the jazz community at its best.

LINK: Art Themen's preview of the Tribute Night


NEWS: London Jazz Festival gets EFG backing to 2023

Peter Bacon reports:

Long-term commitment to jazz music from the big world outside it is not an everyday occurrence so it is worthy of hurrahs to note that EFG Private Bank has renewed its title sponsorship of the London Jazz Festival for another five years to 2023.

The announcement was made last night at the EFG LJF’s Mayfair Hotel launch party where the full programme for this year’s festival (16 – 25 November) was also revealed.

John Williamson, Chair of EFG International, said at the event:

“2018 also marks the 10th anniversary of our partnership with the EFG London Jazz Festival, during which time we have seen the Festival go from strength to strength. As an organisation, we aspire to share and celebrate the distinctive qualities which make jazz such an exceptional art form, embracing creativity and innovation, freedom of individual and collective expression, diversity and collaboration. Through our sponsorship programmes we also strive to help up and coming talent establish their voice on a global stage.”

Claire Whitaker, Director of Serious, responded: “We are delighted that EFG Private Bank has renewed their partnership with the Festival. EFG and Serious share a passion for jazz, the excellence of the music and the diversity of the audiences it attracts. We are thrilled that their commitment to the music we love ensures that the reach and scale of the festival can be sustained and supports the next generation of talent.”

It was also announced by James Stirling, BBC Music's Head of Content Commissioning, that Soweto Kinch will be hosting some TV coverage from the festival on BBC4.

LINK: EFG London Jazz Festival website with full programme


PREVIEW: Margate Jazz Weekend (21 – 23 September 2018)

Paul Booth and the Bansangu Orchestra
Publicity Photo/ Pathway Records

Ahead of the Margate Jazz Weekend, AJ Dehany interviewed Adam Sieff, one of the Margate Jazz Festival team involved in this year’s event:

Margate has a longstanding grubby artistic cachet. The painter Turner was a lifelong regular visitor and it is here where TS Eliot drafted much of The Waste Land: “On Margate sands I can connect nothing with nothing.” The town became pretty depressed in the 20th century, but particularly since the opening of the Turner Contemporary gallery in 2011 its profile as an artistic hub has risen. It still retains a rather grungy character; “Somebody summed up Margate beautifully,” says Adam Sieff. “It’s like teenagers; they have all sorts of faults and don’t clean their rooms – but you love them.”

In 2005 the founder of London’s Vortex, David Mossman, moved to Margate and set up the Big Sky Festival, which morphed into the Margate Jazz Festival with a new team including Martin Goodsmith and Adam Sieff. The 2018 Margate Jazz Weekend is a three-night special organized by Olby’s Soul Cafe, with a supporting programme of fringe events over the weekend. “There’s so much happening in Margate now!” Adam says, noting regular events at Ales Of The Unexpected and the weekly jazz jam at the Lifeboat, where “people who had never been before have said ‘I had no idea how much fun Margate could be!’”

Courtney Pine is a huge draw, performing with his House Of Legends project, an exhilarating mix of Caribbean influences. Cuban violinist Omar Puente’s unique sound also appeals to crossover audiences, and the Bansangu Orchestra draws on a breathtaking range of music from Brazilian to Middle Eastern, led by Thanet-based saxophonist Paul Booth. The 18-piece lineup will include Jason Yarde, Alex Wilson, Shanti Paul Jayasinha, Trevor Mires, Barnaby Dickinson, Steve Fishwick, Rod Youngs and Gemma Moore. The band – Bansangu! – is named from a running together of “The band sound good!”

Free daytime events include the Simon Treadwell Jam Session, the Mampama six-piece featuring Ray Otu Allen, Jo Doolan and Richard Rozze, the Three Plus Trio, and a conceptually appealing event involving a conversation between sax and trumpet positioned at opposing ends of the harbour. “It’s gonna be fun!” says Adam. “The weather forecast isn’t looking too bad. You have to work on the basis that everything is gonna be fine. Let it roll!”

I asked Adam what his Desert Island line-up drawn from living musicians would be. “Who would I love? Ethan Iverson and Mark Turner, but that would be difficult! I would love to see Kenny Burrell, one of my all time heroes. Probably the way to do that would be with Martin Taylor playing together. I would love to see the Argentinian Chivo Borraro—that big fat saxophone tone, he’s wonderful. I would have Wynton with a small line-up. When he was doing that septet in the ‘90s it was unbelievable.”

Adam has longstanding links in the music industry, and is himself a guitarist. He was a session musician for years, working on a string of classic '80s TV shows and, as a producer, with artists from the sublime to the ridiculous, from Italian rock royalty Edoardo Benato to Splodgenessabounds.

“Ah,” I recalled, “Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please!

“Not that one,” he laughs. “I did In Search of the Seven Golden Gussets… It’s subtle stuff.”

As our REVIEW of last year’s single-serving Margate Jazz Weekend pointed out, Adam Sieff is an ardent champion of younger musicians. He is working with the Jazz Re:freshed organization to promote regular programming with an emphasis on quality. “The London movement (if you want to call it anything): it’s very exciting but at the moment I’m not seeing quality control. It’s the things that surprise me that are great.” He admires people like Binker Golding who is not playing what the scene expects them to play.

“As soon as you see something exciting people latch on. More mainstream crowd-pleasing stuff comes through, which is a shame because at the heart of this whole movement is musicians playing the music they’ve been surrounded with, with skill. Its very easy to say ‘Yeah, integrity! We’ll have some of that!’”

AJ Dehany is based in London (with frequent trips to Margate) and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

LINKS: Margate Jazz Weekend
Programme at Olby's website


Friday 21 Sept – The Bansangu Orchestra (Doors 7.00pm Show 8.30pm)

Saturday 22 Sept – Courtney Pine ‘Black Notes From The Deep’ (Doors 7.00pm Show 8.30pm)

Sunday 23 Sept – Omar Puente ‘Best Foot Forward’ Doors 7.00pm Show 8.30pm)

Free gigs 

Saturday 22 Sept

14.00 The Lifeboat - Three Plus (Ginger Bennett/Ian East/Daniel Cano)
16.00 Margate Harbour - Call Across The Harbour (sax and trumpet at opposite ends of the harbour) 18.00 Buoy & Oyster - Jo Doolan & Richard Rozze (table bookings)

Sunday 23 Sept

14.00 The Glass Jar - The Simon Treadwell Jam Session
16.00 The Cinque Ports - Mampama (Kevin richards 6-piece High Life band feat Ray Otu Allen)


Full Weekend Friday to Sunday Inclusive £37.50
Friday Evening Show, £15.00 plus 10% booking fee
Saturday Evening Show £27.50 plus 10% booking fee
Sunday Evening Show, £15.00 plus 10% booking fee


REVIEW: Ian Shaw Quartet at Ronnie Scott's

Ian Shaw
Publicity picture by Gerhard Richter

Ian Shaw Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, 15 September 2018, Second House. Review by Kate Delamere)

Hailed as one of the world’s leading male jazz singers, Ian Shaw hit London’s Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club with a frenetic energy that refused to abate on Saturday night. The award-winning artist from Wales, the ‘land of song’ – and something of a stand-up comedian to boot – he was unafraid to entertain. The packed audience was hanging on his every note and word from the moment he set foot on stage.

The legendary jazz club was the perfect intimate setting for a charismatic Shaw who had the untamed vigour of an exuberant puppy. He showcased an impressively extensive vocal range and unique musical arrangements paying homage to greats including Joni Mitchell (In France They Kiss On Main Street), Leonard Cohen (Dance Me To The End Of Love), Peggy Lee (I Don’t Know Enough About You), Hal David and Burt Bacharach (A House Is Not A Home) and Stevie Wonder (All In Love Is Fair).

His self-deprecating humour at times may lead the uninitiated to question whether he takes himself seriously despite being the recipient of two BBC jazz awards for Best Vocalist. "I’m a wet shabby old Labrador reaching for notes that don’t belong in my range," he confessed at one stage to the audience. But this was all part of his charm. A seasoned performer but with a sweet humility that suggests he’s still pinching himself as to the reasons why he has an audience eating out of the palm of his hand!

His voice is an instrument that deserves to be heard, complemented by Barry Green’s masterful piano with its broad range of style, while Mick Hutton expertly kept the tempo on the double bass allowing drummer Dave Ohm solo flourishes infused with seductive pitter-patter rhythms.

At times it was fun to witness the friendly sparring between drummer and bassist, only made possible by the familiarity of their relationship. Shaw and his band are a tight unit, having performed all over Europe following their appearance in 2014 at the prestigious North Sea Jazz Festival and Hamburg’s Elbjazz in 2015 where they showcased Shaw’s new work. They are indeed a formidable team with an easy, natural rapport that adapts well to Shaw’s random flights of fancy as he interrupts his own vocals to heckle the audience! No doubt it will soon become common parlance in the best jazz salons across Europe to talk about a good night out in the vernacular of being ‘Ian Shawed!’

But this man isn’t to be under estimated. Not only did a flamboyant Shaw pay homage to past artists, he also offered up a few of his own compositions – 42, My Brother and Shine Sister Shine, written with Tanita Tikaram – that revealed his original talent.

Grab any opportunity to be ‘Ian Shawed!’ His most recent album Shine Sister Shine is internationally released this month.

Kate Delamere is a national journalist in TV, newspapers and magazines, and writes creatively for theatre, radio and print.

LINK: Ian Shaw's website


NEWS: Claire Martin and Scott Stroman to get BASCA Gold Badges

Peter Bacon reports:

Jazz singer and broadcaster Claire Martin and conductor, composer, trombonist/singer Scott Stroman are among 11 individuals being celebrated for their “exceptional talent in the UK music industry” with Gold Badge Awards from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA).

The 2018 gongs will be handed out at a ceremony at The Savoy, London, on 19 October. Broadcaster Janice Long, a previous Gold Badge Award recipient, will be the host. These awards are for “individuals who inspire or support creativity and the professional lives of BASCA members” and “acknowledge contributions to the worlds of jazz and classical, film, television and theatre music, and songwriting”.

The 11 Golden Badge wearers are described thus in BASCA’s press release:

Annette Barrett, highly respected music publisher and Managing Director of Reservoir/Reverb Music.

Martyn Brabbins, acclaimed conductor and Music Director of the English National Opera.

Jackie Davidson, multi-faceted, award-winning music entrepreneur and manager. This award is presented in association with PRS for Music.

Chris Difford, Grammy nominated and double Ivor Novello Award winning lyricist, Squeeze co-founder and solo artist.

Guy Fletcher OBE, Ivor Novello Award winning songwriter and former Chairman of BASCA and PRS.

Guy Garvey, lead singer and lyricist of elbow, renowned DJ for 6 Music and solo artist. This award is presented in association with PPL.

Claire Martin OBE, critically acclaimed jazz singer and broadcaster.

Sarah Rodgers, composer who has dedicated herself to championing music creators.

Matthew Scott, composer, arranger, producer and former Head of Music at the National Theatre.

Scott Stroman, inspirational conductor, composer, trombonist and singer in a uniquely broad range of musical styles.

Nick Wollage, respected and sought after engineer working across a diverse collection of projects from major Hollywood film scores to individual artists.

Crispin Hunt, Chair of BASCA, said, "The Gold Badge Awards always provide a fantastic opportunity and platform to recognise those who have achieved excellence in their chosen fields whilst contributing to the betterment of the wider musical community. This year’s list of recipients is full of inspiring individuals who we are honoured to celebrate.”

The 45th Gold Badge Awards are presented by BASCA and sponsored by PPL and PRS for Music. They take place at The Savoy in London from 11.30am to 4.30pm on Friday 19 October. The award ceremony follows a three course lunch and tickets are currently on sale. For more information contact Cindy Truong at BASCA (


CD REVIEW: Arve Henriksen – The Height Of The Reeds

Arve Henriksen – The Height Of The Reeds
(Rune Grammofon RCD2201. CD review by Peter Bacon)

There has always been an elemental nature to the cultural connections between the North East of the UK and Scandinavia, and Arve Henriksen’s work The Height Of The Reeds, a commission as part of Hull’s UK City of Culture celebrations in 2017, is one of the strongest yet.

It began as a sound installation for the Humber Bridge, the sounds being made not only by Henriksen (trumpeter and voice), Eivind Aarset (guitar and electronics), Jan Bang (samples and programming) and the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North, conducted by Justin Doyle, but also the Humber Bridge itself and its surroundings, courtesy of field recordings by sound artist Jez Riley French. With this CD release you don’t have to don a pair of headphones and battle the blustering winds off the Humber. What you miss is the interaction of music and landscape, but the sounds coming from my hi-fi speakers are substantial enough to stand alone.

We get the unmistakable sound of Henriksen’s trumpet and almost otherworldly falsetto – they are very closely related, subtle variations on the same timbral and tonal range. We get the similarly personal guitar/electronic washes of Aarset. Riley French’s field recordings include the bridge cables resonating and the percussive clicking of the reeds. The music for the orchestra and chorus, arranged by Alexander Waaktaar give Henriksen his biggest musical soundscape yet, and if the music they produce is not particularly adventurous, it is completely in keeping with the trumpeter’s precise focus. What Bang does I have always regarded in the same way I view the work of adept magicians – I have no idea how it’s done; I am happy to marvel and be enthralled.

What these nine pieces – their names are a joy: The Swans Bend Their Necks Backward To See God, Nymphs And Eurasian Horses, Pink Cherry Trees are examples – do so well is convey contradictions: a sense of the vast river but also of the overbearing man-made landscape, the loss that comes with industrial decline but also the natural renewal of wildlife, the light and shade in the Nordic soul and similarly the North-Eastern soul too. Or maybe that is all in my imagination… Henriksen’s music is like that – it gives the listener freedom to find in it what most appeals.


INTERVIEW: Gabrielle Ducomble launches her third album Across The Bridge (Pizza Express Jazz Club, Holborn, 23 Sept)

Photo Credit: Dan Hopkins

GABRIELLE DUCOMBLE goes further into her desire to make music that means something with her third album, Across The Bridge, which she launches at Pizza Express Jazz Club, Holborn, on Sunday 23 September before taking it on tour. She spoke to Rob Adams.  

The album is the Belgian-born singer’s first collection of all original compositions following two albums of Parisian-style jazz and tango – J’ai Deux Amours, from 2011, and Notes From Paris, released in 2014 – and is another step further away from the pop music that gave her her first success.

Having happily entered and finished in the final of the French version of Pop Idol, Ducomble began to see the shallowness of the programme and what it represented.

“I was naïve, I realize now, but I’m glad I had that experience because it pointed me in the direction of making music that is all about the music and not about all the other things on the periphery,” she says.

One of the people who influenced her change of direction was Dee Dee Bridgewater, whom Ducomble heard and met in Lyon. Bridgewater’s whole approach – singing every song with depth, paying attention to every detail in business as well as the music – made a big impression and after finishing the masters degree in economics she was studying for, Ducomble moved to London to improve her English and immerse herself in the jazz scene.

She enrolled at Goldsmith’s College, where she added being able to write her own charts to the piano skills she had picked up from her mother, a piano teacher. She then studied arranging and composition at the Guildhall where she met Nick Kacal, the double bass player in her touring band, which also features guitarist Nicolas Meier and violinist Richard Jones.

The songs from Across the Bridge reflect on themes including nature, social justice, ideology and art (the cover artwork features Claude Monet’s painting Japanese Bridge) and mark the end of a period when Ducomble was living a transient lifestyle.

“I wasn’t homeless in the sense of people who have been displaced or can’t afford to put a roof over their heads,” she says. “It was more that I was moving between France, where my boyfriend lives, Belgium and London and staying with friends or in B&Bs. But it made me think about what it would be like to be homeless and to have nowhere where you could go to recharge, and that’s where the song Where Is Home came from.”

Ducomble writes mostly at the piano, although she comes up with ideas on the move and saves them until she gets to the nearest keyboard, and melodies always come first.
Photo Credit: Will Austin
“Some of the lyrics on the album are my own but I also worked with four lyricists and explained the ideas I wanted to convey,” she says. “For instance, I had this idea for the opening track, Forest Boy, and when I told the lyricist what I was thinking, she came up with exactly what I wanted to capture.”

Her own lyrics might begin in French then develop into an English song, or vice versa, a result of her listening to English and American pop music in her teens before becoming interested in French pop and then the chansons associated with singers including Edith Piaf and Claude Nougaro.

On Time is Now, she is urging people to act and make a difference with regard to pollution and while she’s passionate about making the world a better place – “We could sort out the global problem with plastic and make sure everybody had some place to live if we really wanted to,” she says – she doesn’t want to come over as preaching.

“When I go onstage I want to make everyone feel uplifted,” she says. “I have a great band who are all my friends as well as my musicians, which I think is important, and we go out to present a mood of optimism and positivity. I’d like people to leave feeling more peaceful, more contented than when they arrived.” (pp)

LINK: Gabrielle Ducomble's website


CD REVIEW: Soft Machine – Hidden Details

Soft Machine – Hidden Details
(Dyad Records DY029. CD review by Brian Marley)

Hidden Details is being touted as the first official Soft Machine album since Softs (1976). In the interim, working under the name Soft Machine Legacy, the group released a slew of studio and live albums, and maintained the high level of creativity set by the first two incarnations of Soft Machine (sometimes known as the eras of Robert Wyatt and Elton Dean) in which guitar played no role.

That changed with Bundles (1975), in which fleet-fingered Alan Holdsworth was added to the personnel. But he stayed for only one album, passing the plectrum to John Etheridge for Softs. Etheridge, an earthier player, continued the good work that Holdsworth had begun, shifting the group away from the free jazz elements that were strongest on the album Fifth, in which Elton Dean’s freewheeling saxello played a major role, and the smooth fusion of the Karl Jenkins-led Seven, towards a more jazz-rock orientation, with the emphasis slightly more on rock than jazz.

Tricky time signatures still featured, of course, as did looped layers of sound anchored by ostinato bass patterns. Roy Babbington was in the bass chair for Softs, and here he is again on Hidden Details. Likewise drummer John Marshall. In fact, the only change to the Softs line-up is that Theo Travis (reeds, flute, Fender Rhodes piano) replaces Karl Jenkins, who went on to fame and fortune elsewhere.

During the period in which Jenkins led Soft Machine, he became the group’s principal composer, and composition became the group’s principal focus. Jenkins gradually reduced the amount of space afforded to improvisation, making the album Seven a slightly airless, somewhat lacklustre affair. The introduction to the group of Travis and Etheridge opened up the music so it could breathe again. They’ve been stalwarts of the group ever since.

Both are strong improvisers, and their compositions maintain the high standard set by Mike Ratledge, arguably Soft Machine’s leading composer from its naïve beginnings until 1976, when he left the group. Two Ratledge compositions are given an airing on Hidden Details, the cruise-controlled The Man Who Waved at Trains and Out Bloody Rageous (Part 1) (featuring an excellent soprano sax solo from Travis). They’ve never been out of the Soft Machine/Legacy songbook and have appeared on a number of live albums.

The title track offers an exciting tenor sax solo from Travis, and a frankly unhinged guitar workout from Etheridge that responds to Babbington’s fuzz-bass provocations as if receiving a series of jolts from a cattle prod. The gentler side of Soft Machine is provided by three Etheridge compositions, Heart Off Guard which feeds into Broken Hill and Drifting White. The freely improvised Flight of the Jett gives Marshall a chance to demonstrate what a subtle but powerful player he is. But it’s Travis’s compositions, Life on Bridges, Fourteen Hour Dream, and the title track that provide the strongest links to early Soft Machine and also some of the album’s highlights. Breathe, a flute-looped inhale/exhale drone that features only Travis’s flute and Marshall’s delicate cymbalwork, is a fittingly tranquil conclusion to a very fine album.


NEWS: Vortex DIY Makeover Day (22/23 September)

Peter Bacon reports on some changes at the Vortex:

I’d forgotten about painting parties – when you got all your friends round, handed them each a brush, and rewarded them for revitalising your tired digs with some cheap wine and takeaway pizza – ah, the fun of youth!

Thankfully, the friends of the Vortex, the individualistic jazz club in Dalston, North London, have better memories than mine. All hail the Vortex DIY Makeover Day. The club is offering just that heady mix of beer, emulsion, pizza, screwdriver action and cameraderie next Saturday and Sunday, 22/23 September 2018.

One of those club friends, Rick Simpson, has organised a gofundme campaign to assist in the revamp (link below). I asked him what else is going on… And, it seems, a lick of paint, etc, is just part of it.

“We feel like the vortex is on the verge of a renaissance,” he told me.

“Other changes afoot are the appointments of Kim Macari as programmer and Ali Strick as creative director and marketing/comms strategist,” Rick said. “They’re both absolutely brilliant, talented people and are bringing a new energy and optimism to the future of the club.

“Kim has already put together a fantastic programme for the rest of the year. And Ali has redesigned the flyers, the twitter account, mailing list and, more importantly, is directing the new aesthetics of the club’s interior. She’s also introduced cocktails to the Vortex for the very first time.

“The club has been extremely dear to people for the last 30 years and really is the bastion of contemporary jazz in London. We’re all looking to the future and working to make it even better. It’s also great that we have two dynamic young women at the forefront of these changes.”

And what’s going to happen next weekend?

Rick explains: “We’re going to repaint the walls, touch up any bits that are in disrepair and give the club a fresh, new look, while still appealing to old members. We’re looking to redesign the bar and get some plant life in there too! We think that a fresh aesthetic look will only help being more appeal to the club.”

So, you’ve heard the call – volunteers are needed to help with the spruce-up. And even if you can't be there next Saturday, you can still help by donating to the cause (They're over halfway there, so please help them reach – or exceed – that target).

LINKS: The Vortex Makeover Day gofundme page

What's coming up at the Vortex


REVIEW: Michel Portal with Benjamin Moussay and Keyvan Chemirani at Le Triton in Paris

Benjamin Moussay and Michel Portal
(out of shot: Keyvan Chemirani)
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Michel Portal with Benjamin Moussay and Keyvan Chemirani
(Le Triton, Les Lilas, Paris, 13 September 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Michel Portal (clarinet/saxophone) was born in Bayonne in the Pays Basque in November 1935 and  has now reached an age where the word 'legend' gets used. And with good reason.

I remember vividly the first time I came across him. I was in my late teens, and borrowed his extrovert, improbably virtuosic 1971 recording of Pierre Boulez' Domaines from the local music library (thank you, Enfield). And on Friday night, there he was. A wiry 82-year-old, he brims with good humour, rhythmic drive and melodic inspiration, with a glint of innocent glee ever-present in his eye.

With age has come a certainty about what he likes and doesn’t like. He doesn't like sadness, he said. He prefers the tranquil, the sensual. And then "j'adore les éclats, les paysages nouveaux" (I adore sudden sparks, new landscapes). That knowledge of exactly what mood he wants to have around him also determines the way he prepares for a tune. Before setting the tempo for a bittersweet little waltz he had once written in Berlin, he focused on the mood he wanted by repeating the word "sentimental" several times, like a mantra, savouring the four syllables of the word each time he said it. When it comes to giving precise meaning and clear expression to music, Portal gave an object lesson in how valuable it is to know with certainty exactly what you want.

Portal was appearing in a brand new trio making its premiere appearance. Pianist Benjamin Moussay explained how it had come about, and with a mixture of gratitude and happy incomprehension: “I seem to have been given carte blanche for life by the team here at Le Triton.” He had been entrusted with the task of building a trio for this event, one of the opening concerts of their 2018/19 season, to welcome the club's faithful back from the summer holidays. Rather than exploring any familiar repertoire, the group had been given the opportunity – and, I am guessing, a budget for rehearsal – to find pieces that they all could work at from scratch. The experiment worked; this was a very satisfying concert indeed, and the audience who packed out every gunwale of Le Triton knew they were hearing something worthwhile and unique.

Moussay has spoken in interviews of the care, forethought and preparation that should be put in before performances, but then the joy of breaking out and free in the moment. That dichotomy seems to define him. He lays down a solid groove but clearly relishes the chance to use clusters and the sustaining pedal to make an aggressive escape from definable tonality. Indeed it was only in the first encore, Doom Doom Doom, a kind of chromatic cha-cha composed by the late French organ player Eddy Louiss, that Moussay finally showed in an expansive and fleet solo what a fine jazz player he is.

The third member of the trio has a fascinating back-story. Percussionist Keyvan Chemirani inherited the playing tradition of his father, the Teheran-born Djamchid Chemirâni, who brought his artistry to the work of major creative figures active in France such as choreographer Maurice Béjart and theatre director Peter Brook, e.g. for the Mahâbhârata. Chemirani Jr.  has a way of keeping rhythms constantly alive. In the little Berlin waltz, Chemirani pulled off the remarkable feat of never letting go of the feel that the tune was just as much in two as it was in three. And when you need a delicate, controlled fade to nothing, the fingertips you would want to take you to the borders of silence would be Chemirani's every time.

The scheduled encore brought one of those fades, with Portal dropping down to the lowest notes of the bass clarinet where it becomes a mysterious sonic veil, with Chemirani using an ever lighter fingertip touch on the zarb. However, if that was the way the three had hoped to end the concert, then they underestimated the Triton audience’s sheer tenacity: insistent rhythmic clapping brought them back. Portal berated the audience with a smile for being "des enfants gâtés" (spoilt children), explained the immense difficulty of conjuring up unscheduled encores out of thin air and on the spot... but in the end he did come up with one last piece of wonderful sorcery, a little ear-worm-ish zortziko dance from the Basque country. It was an even better ending than the one they had planned.

I couldn't help thinking that I had just witnessed at first hand what makes Le Triton special. In the past few years, several French musicians have explained to me that it is their favourite club. I hadn't really understood why, but this, my first visit, showed me: it is because the Triton team places respect in the musicians, and trusts them to instigate, to shape their offering, to take charge and to deliver. All of which Messrs Portal, Moussay and Chemirani did, as they created a very special one-off evening.

L-R: Benjamin Moussay, Michel Portal, Keyvan Chemirani
LINKS: Keyvan Chemirani full biography
Le Triton website