FEATURE: Huw V Williams' 25th Improvised Music Agenda Podcast (with Corey Mwamba, about ceasing live performance)

Welsh bassist Huw V Williams has been recording interviews as podcasts, and has just reached the 25th episode of his Improvised Music Agenda Podcasts, in  which vibraphonist Corey Mwamba talked to him about the background to his decision to withdraw from live performance. Mwamba's last gig will be in Derby this weekend. Interview with Huw V Williams by Sebastian: 

LondonJazz News: Tell us about your latest, 25th podcast interview.

Huw V Williams: For episode 25, I talked to Corey Mwamba. Corey is an incredible vibraphone player who is about to retire from public performance on 23 March 2019. Corey will still be active in composing/recording/organising/archiving music. I’m sure many musicians have felt like stopping (myself included); I wanted to see what lead him to this decision. I had wanted to talk to Corey for a while, despite our paths having not crossed yet, but I seized the opportunity and talked on the afternoon prior to his last ever gig in London.

A lot of the interviews I have recorded have felt as if they could go on for a lot longer, I’m playing with an idea of doing a part 2 with previous guests. Corey is definitely a person I’d like to catch up with again.

LJN: What originally gave you the idea to set up this podcast?

HVW: Around October 2017, after years of listening to podcasts and hoping to start my own, I bit the bullet and bought myself some recording equipment to record the long-form interviews. The main idea is to talk to some of my favourite musicians and to shine a light on some of the artists who I don’t think get as much attention as they deserve. I talk to guests across the whole spectrum of improvised musics.

LJN: Who were the first guests?

HVW: The first few interviews I recorded were with Dee Byrne, Simon Roth and Elias Stemeseder: musicians I had known for a while, but never had the opportunity to learn their full origin story or the details about their creative process. My policy about the podcast has always been to interview people who I am genuinely interested in and have researched. I do all the interviews in person, for many reasons, the biggest one being chemistry with the guest, but also for control over sound quality. If people are going to listen to me asking questions for an hour, I want to to sound as clear as I can make it.

I have always been curious about what makes up a musician, for example what had happened in their youth to turn them on to music and why they went down a certain path musically. In a long-form interview such as this, I feel the listener gets a clearer picture of the person I’m interviewing, as there’s more opportunity to open up than there would be in a short five-minute interview.

LJN: How many episodes will you record?

HVW: Originally I had only planned to make 10 episodes, just to see how it went, but after that I got the hunger to do more. There’s still a big list of people I’d love to interview, so there’s no real plans of stopping. Since I’ve published 25 episodes so far, maybe I’m going to aim for at least 50.

Huw V Williams
Photo supplied
LJN: What topics do you cover in the podcast?

HVW: The topics covered in most of these episodes are mostly to do with music. I love talking about the formative albums which made the musician the person they are now. I also cover biographical things, everyone has a slightly different story of how they fell into a life of playing fairly obscure music and it’s interesting to see how these things came about. Podcasts which really influenced me to start “Improvised Music Agenda” are Jeremiah Cymerman’s “5049 podcast”, who interviews musicians based around New York, he really gets into it and there’s a great mix of guests, also the other big one for me has been Stuart Goldsmith’s “Comedian’s Comedian Podcast”, in which he himself a stand-up interviews other stand-ups about their creative process. I have learnt a lot about interviewing from these two podcasts, but there are also many others which have influenced me (which I won’t list right now).

LJN: Is the podcast aimed at musicians or the wider audience?

HVW: When I started doing this, I was trying to model it on something I would like to listen to, but the intent has always been for it to appeal to the wider audience. I’m hoping the interviews will introduce people to new music and support the great scene we have in the UK at the moment. It’s been quiet nice recently bumping into fellow musicians who have been listening to the podcast and being complimentary about it.

LJN: Which has been the most popular episode? Do you have a favourite episode?

HVW: From looking at the stats, more people are listening each week and diving into previous episodes, which I’m really chuffed about! There are so many incredible musicians in our circle whose profiles aren’t as high as others, but their creative output is of equally high standard. For that reason I wouldn’t want to say which is the most popular or which is my favourite episode as it brings hierarchy to the series. I’m grateful to all the guests for giving up their time and telling their stories on mic for the listener. I believe each episode is different and every guest has a different quality that comes out, musically and personally. For example, Alex Ward and Adrian Cox are both incredible clarinettists, but on very different sides of music and had a great time interviewing both.

LJN: Which musicians would you really like to interview?

HVW: There’s already a big list of people I’d love to talk to which keeps growing. I would love to interview some of my heroes that are still around, for example Trevor Dunn, Mary Halvorson, Tony Malaby and many many many more. But if I could interview guests who have passed on, I’d love to talk to Wilbur Ware, Derek Bailey, Thelonious Monk and many, many more.

LJN: What have you learnt from doing the podcast? And how is it different from others?

HVW: From doing the podcast, I’ve become more aware of interview techniques and the role of the interviewer. The style which I’m going for is half way in between being an interview and a conversation, which I hope makes the guest open up a little more and get to talk about things you wouldn’t hear in other contexts. Maybe the closest comparison that people might make is to the Jazz podcast hosted by Rob Cope and Dan Farrant. Although there’s some crossover of guests between mine and Rob’s shows, we extract different sorts of information from our guests and our angle is slightly different. We have also been on each other’s shows and regularly message each other about podcast-related things, we’ve sort of created a British jazz/improvised music podcast support group.

It took me a while to start the podcast as I wasn’t sure if it was going to be different enough from other ones, but I figured it’s good to have as many of these things out there as possible as it’s minority musical genre, the more we talk about it, the more people will listen to the music.

LJN: Where can we find the podcast?

HVW: You can find the podcast on most streaming services, links are below. I also have a Patreon page for the podcast to help raise funds. There are many costs that go with making a podcast, for example online hosting, recording gear, travelling and so on. You can do a one-off donation or a subscription, – every little bit of money makes a big difference. Also, a massive thank you to those who already contribute! If you enjoy the podcast and want to help out with out donating money, a rating and review on iTunes is also a massive help.


Buzzsprout - the Corey Mwamba episode
Also available on Spotify and Stitcher


NEWS: Cutbacks in Jazz Programming at BBC Radio 3

"We will be resting Jazz Now"
Screengrab from BBC website

Sebastian writes:

A press release at the end of last week presages a cut in the number of weekly jazz programmes on BBC Radio 3 from four to two. Late Junction which has been a Radio 3 late-night fixture ever since Roger Wright first asked Fiona Talkington to start it in September 1999, will become a once-a-week show.

Here is the key paragraph from the press release:

"On Fridays, Late Junction, a programme that explores the experimental boundaries of music, will move to a single two hour programme in a key slot on Friday evening, to kick start BBC Radio 3’s weekend for listeners. It will run from 11pm-1am. Jazz will continue to be well represented through Jazz Record Requests, J to Z, and on BBC Sounds which will bring together the best of Jazz performances and programmes from across the BBC. We will be resting Jazz Now and Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz. Music Planet will move from its Friday evening slot in turn, to Saturday nights from midnight-1am. We will also be making use of our unique partnership with The European Broadcasting Union to expand the Sunday night In Concert programme by 30 minutes, bringing listeners more of the very best of European music-making."

The full Press Release is here

A Facebook group to co-ordinate the petitions against the Late Junction decision is HERE
There is also a petition against the axeing of Jazz Now HERE


FILM REVIEW: Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes
(2018, documentary, 1h 26m.  Director: Sophie Huber. Review by Richard Lee.)

This truly delightful documentary history of the Blue Note label is a love letter to a past-era, but with plenty of hope for the future.

Our heroes – Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff – are the musical equivalents of Siegel & Schuster, the boys of immigrant stock who around the same time turned der Ubermensch into your friendly neighbourhood Superman. Alfred & Francis championed the supermen of black musicians who played better and more inventively than anyone on the planet ever had, and it’s their love of the music that powers Sophie Huber’s film. As she says “Apart from the music, I am moved by the humanity that runs through the entire history of Blue Note. The collaboration between the German Jewish founders, who fled to New York in the 1930s and the African American musicians and how together, they found an expression of freedom in jazz. Especially today, when xenophobia and racism are omnipresent, it is important to tell this story and expose this extraordinary music and its lasting influence to a younger generation.” Our thoughts and prayers are with the descendants of those immigrants and musicians in the USA today, trying to power through this century’s Blue Notes.

To that end, as well as plenty of classic tracks played over the iconic visuals of Reid Miles, there are extended recording sessions from a 2018 supergroup, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Lionel Loueke, Kendrick Scott and Marcus Strickland. These “Blue Note All-Stars" are joined by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock for a delicious take of Masqualero, and these Blue Note stalwarts also contribute some valuable thoughts on the label, its founders and its influence. But perhaps the real joy among the interviews or voiceovers from the archive is the great Lou Donaldson. With his voice now a quirky alto of its own, he provides insights, quips and gossip that are worth your ticket price alone.

As the company’s intermittent history is told – “no-one could understand that here was a label more interested in the music than the money” – we arrive at the 21st century and the rise of hip-hop and latterly, the generation of Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. Whereas the jazz police would once have bemoaned these contemporary incursions, what comes through Huber’s framing of things is that music for the new kids on the block – makers and listeners alike – is simply Ellingtonian – good or bad – and genres, or indeed provenance, are no longer the key to understanding or approval.

This is good news for the future. And so is the promise from Blue Note that a soundtrack album will be released, and that the BBC has chipped in to show the documentary later in the year.

LINK: Blue Note Movie website


REVIEW: Josh Sinton and Hprizm at ISSUE Project Room in Brooklyn

Josh Sinton
Publicity photo by Johannes Worsoe
Josh Sinton and Hprizm
(ISSUE Project Room, Boerum Place, Brooklyn, 15 March 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

The evening preview notes sounded more like an architectural exhibition than a musical showcase, all “non-linear forms”, “generative programming”, “dense environments” and “musique concrète”. But while in architecture this sort of language would signal the forefront of complex geometry and parametric fanciness, this edition of Syncretics Series is borne from the lower-tech worlds of magnetic tape and early age electric amplifiers.

Tonight was a double-header, contrasting the large projected audio-visual sampling/messing of Hprizm presenting PRESSURE WAVE with the solo live clarinet of Josh Sinton and his work, krasa. A single chair is set centre stage ready for Sinton, placed directly before a dominant floor-to-ceiling white partition truncating a cavernous Beaux-Arts entrance hall (the former lodge HQ of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks).

It is when Sinton takes the stage that one notices that his chair is facing backwards. But the static view of the back of his black shirt and fedora is the perfect neutral focus for the sounds he is here to produce. krasa is a tour de force exploration of the sounds of an instrument. But really, all the sounds of an instrument. Sinton himself has likened his method to an “audio microscope”, and the attention to detail is startling. In this closely miked-up scenario, a delicate breath is picked up and amplified, and the pre-emptive rumble of a note arriving is presented before the note itself. Over a half hour or so the soundscape is built from clicks and air through to a sort of rolling climactic layered buzz.

The choice of instrument as the contrabass clarinet – a more unusual member of the clarinet family here resembling a large silver flattened pretzel – is inspired in providing a very low, resonant base to build from, but still retaining treble register capabilities. With his fingers semi-permanently clamped in the lower end of the contrabass range, there are moments where it is goes through more of the growing throbbing phases of the didgeridoo than the reed instrument it is.

This constant feeding sound has much to do with the impressive circular breathing on display, the view from behind the performance showing only the heaving shoulders and the side of Sinton's neck regularly inflating, the amplified rhythm of this additive bellows forming its own percussive metronome to the music. From the audience's position it feels as if we're watching him constantly fuelling a pulsing clicking fire.

Extra texture is added by honks, screeches – punctuation to the developing background. The resulting feedback, in control but at times on the limits, has the sound desk attentive and twitching, not sure if to intervene would be a creative invasion (I think here it would) but conditioned with conventional music's production instincts.

Producer/MC Kyle Austin (a.k.a. High Priest, or Hprizm)
Publicity photo from 2016
Hprizm presents a different challenge. As a start, Kyle Austin has arranged his laptop so he faces the audience. Attention is directed not to him, but above him, to the murky sepia-toned moving images that he projects. Unlike krasa, PRESSURE WAVES is inspired by magnetic tapes and retro recording and looping capabilities, but prepared through new technology. The old images and sounds, both distorted through noise, are played from a neat laptop glowing with an apple logo and not from tape technologies, or even the bird's nest of cables of intermediate technology (like the Jeff Snyder electronic instrument tool set). The synergy between the obfuscated sounds, introduced public announcement samples and noisy historic images is effective; as the musical clarity and minimal dance vibe develops, the imagery changes to pulsing wavy surfaces and nets. Here it is the changing visuals – not a bellowing neck and cheeks – that sets the metronome.

This former Elks hall, the current ISSUE Project Room, has seen better days. But the semi-derelict non-futuristic and re-purposed old space helped set the low-tech tone – providing interesting acoustics in amongst an opulent marble floor and ionic column capitals surrounded by missing vault tiles, MDF patches and faded, peeled gold leaf. The space also proved unexpectedly versatile: the enormous Hitchcock silhouette of Sinton's behatted profile and the absurdist loops of the contrabass clarinet looming high above the arches of the arcade colonnades along the side; the triple height plaster partition the perfect projection screen for Hprizm's filtered imagery.

It is worth noting how varied these two performers can be. Austin's work is often found in art galleries, or on stage with superstars like Radiohead and Public Enemy, while last month Sinton was nerdily fussing about Phantasos, his passionate re-staging of the 90s alternative rock band Morphine in the back room at Barbès. Whatever they're up to, I think its worth a visit.


REVIEW: Ana Silvera at Anteros Arts in Norwich

Ana Silvera
Publicity photo by Alice Williamson

Ana Silvera
(Anteros Arts, Fye Bridge Street, Norwich. 15 March 2019. Review by Jane Mann)

London-born singer composer Ana Silvera, currently on a ten-date tour around England and Scotland, appeared at the charming recital room of the former Tudor mansion which houses the Anteros Arts Foundation in Norwich. She will be playing with various artists on this tour – on this occasion she is joined by Danish double bassist Jasper Høiby, well known on the London jazz scene for his work with the Loop Collective and for his bands Phronesis and Fellow Creatures.

She is billed as a folksinger, though her musical projects over the last few years have been wide-ranging in genre. She released her first album, the folk-tinged The Aviary in 2012. She was then commissioned by the Estonian Television Girls’ Choir, for whom she wrote a seven-part song cycle, Oracles, a live recording of which became her second album in 2018. In between she has: written the score to a ballet Cassandra performed in the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House in 2014; collaborated with an Early Music ensemble Concerto Caledonia resulting in the CD Purcell’s Revenge in 2015; and composed soundscapes for Ice & Fire Theatre Company on a commission entitled What Do I Know? for the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2018. Last month she played at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Montreal, Canada.

Silvera studied voice at the Guildhall School of Music as a teenager, and literature at University College London, and music and lyrics are clearly equally important to her.

She is a diminutive but compelling figure on stage. She switches between guitar and piano and has an engaging way of introducing the tunes and talking about her work. Her singing is wonderful – precise, delicate and powerful. She uses a looper expertly to create her own backing vocals, at times providing herself with a four-voice choir.

She is accompanied throughout by Høiby who has absolutely sure intonation, and an impressively melodic way with a bass line. His jazz sensibility sits beautifully with Silvera’s rippling folky fingerpicking.

Silvera sang mostly her own material. The combination of piano (as she mentioned, a rather fine Steinway) and bass, and guitar and bass produced a surprisingly full sound, especially when the choir of Anas joined in too. Her songs are affecting – joyful and sorrowful by turn. Often serious, a repeated theme is the difficult journey towards acceptance after loss or bereavement. The arrangements were nicely varied – some sounded like new contemporary music, others impressionistic, all dappled piano and tumbling bass.

She had arranged two songs from Oracles for this tour, both of which I really liked. The first, I Grew Up In A Room, Small As A Penny is Leonard Cohen-like in both its deceptively simple melody and striking visual imagery. It is about her happiest memories, conjuring up her viewpoint as a loved child. The other, Catherine Wheels had a lyrical instrumental interlude like a miniature jazz pastoral. I would very much like to hear the full band versions of these two tunes live, as the duet versions were delightful.

The songs kept on coming, some with quite whimsical lyrics, all rhythmically interesting. I began to hear influences on Silvera’s singing style. There were echoes of Joni Mitchell in her phrasing and something of Kate Bush in the theatricality. She sang one of her favourite Kate Bush songs Cloudbusting – about Wilhelm Reich’s rain making machine – confirming that Bush is indeed an influence. Another poignant song, Greenwich Pier, about one of her favourite places in London, quite Celtic-sounding, and with a piano part like ringing bells, was originally a commission for BBC Radio Three’s Late Junction.

Here is the original Late Junction Session with Maya Youssef, Laura Moody and Silvera:

Haloes sounded to me like Early Music – Silvera’s high crystalline vocals and a beautiful sonorous bowed basso continuo from Høiby were a delight. Another jewel was La Galana I La Mar, a Sephardic wedding song from the 1600s sung in Ladino. In January Silvera played Ladino songs with cellist Francesca Ter-Berg at the Copenhagen Jewish Film Festival, and she and Høiby are planning a whole album of Sephardic songs later on this year.

The powerful Mulberry Moon was about Chilean folk singer Victor Jara who was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s men in 1973. Silvera sounded remarkably like Joan Baez, and there were more ringing bells in the arrangement, from the bass this time.

Pont Mirabeau, with a refrain adapted from French poet Apollinaire’s poem of the same name, also had something of the '70s singer-songwriter about it. Silvera told us that a woman in a café in Paris handed her the poem written on a piece of paper to cheer her up, which inspired her.

“Sous le Pont Mirabeau coule la Seine... la joie venait toujours après la peine.”
[The Seine flows under Mirabeau Bridge... pain was always followed by joy]

Silvera finished the show with Hometown, from The Aviary. She encouraged the audience to hum the chorus, as background to Høiby’s beautiful nimble bass and her delicate vocals. And we did.

Ana Silvera – voice, piano, guitar, keyboard
Jasper Høiby – double bass, voice

Set List:
Red Balloon
Queen Of Swords
Early Frost
Sink Or Swim
I Grew Up In A Room, Small As A Penny..
La Galana I La Mar (Trad.)
Mulberry Moon
Greenwich Pier
Cloudbusting (by Kate Bush)
Pont Mirabeau
Catherine Wheels
Home Town


20 March - The Met, Bury
21 March - Barnoldswick Arts Centre
22 March - Edinburgh House Concert (email rebecca [at] bpa-live.com for booking info)
23 March - The Glad Café, Glasgow
27 March - Listening Room @ Old Fire Station, Oxford
29 March - The Goods Shed, Stroud
30 March - Thimblemill Library, Smethwick (nr Birmingham)


CD REVIEW: Mare Nostrum – Mare Nostrum III

Mare Nostrum – Mare Nostrum III
(ACT 9877-2 CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Mare Nostrum III (our sea, and the Roman name for the Mediterranean) is the third album by three musician-composers who grew up by the sea: trumpeter Paolo Fresu (Sardinia); accordionist Richard Galliano (France), and pianist Jan Lundgren (Sweden.) They bring their compositions and styles from their individual countries together, fusing them into new European music, both beautiful and serene.

Galliano’s pieces are strongly melodic. The piano reverb on Blues sur Seine sounds as if it’s drifting from a distant shore; Lundgren sounds as if he’s drawing equally on Satie and Bill Evans. As the folk-edged tune unfolds, the accordion has real delicacy of feeling. You can hear the air fluttering like wings in the accordion’s bellows. Galliano also plays bandoneon and accordina throughout the album, and his solo on the latter has a high sweet purity.

Le Jardin des Fées is in memory of Galliano’s friend Didier Lockwood. With its crisp minor Latin piano groove, it recalls Piazzolla (also a friend of Galliano.) Like many of this album’s tracks, it’s elegiac but uplifting, with its shimmering accordion chords and solos that stay close to the melody. Galliano’s compositions feel personal. In Letter To My Mother, the rubato piano folds warmly around the muted trumpet. The three instruments intertwine phrases closely. Prayer varies the timbres as the three instruments drop in and out, through several meditative moods; stormy deep piano chords resolve into a bright, hopeful world.

Keeping a French mood, Galliano and Fresu play Legrand’s The Windmills of Your Mind unadorned. The tune speaks for itself. Toots Thielemans' harmonica played the original Love Theme From “The Getaway” (by Quincy Jones); Galliano keeps that feel on (what sounds like) accordina over the Jarrett-esque piano and trumpet. It’s like a boat rocking on waves.

Lundgren’s four compositions bring gently different grooves. Love Land has an energetic Latin rhythm, the joyous melody spreading slowly over the full percussive chords. Accordion and trumpet phrases are tucked into each other. Ronneby evokes a Swedish town with a quirky tune, bluesy solos and lazily chromatic trumpet. Love in Return veers towards tango; short solos burst out happily, phrases jostling together. The Magic Stroll has a Gallic insouciance, redolent of Jean Françaix’ Flower Clock.

Fresu’s Pavese has subtle key changes broadening out into a chorus recalling Pachelbel’s Canon, with heartfelt soloing from all. Fresu wrote Del Soldato in trincea (“Soldiers in the trenches”) for the 2014 film Torneranno i prati. Galliano creates a powerful sense of longing for home behind the plangent trumpet theme. Fresu and Lundgren play the former’s exquisite Human Requiem as a duet. It sounds cinematic too: each chord change is like a new camera angle. The trumpet is muted but punchy, and Lundgren recalls John Taylor in his way of playing jazz chords with a classical touch. Fresu’s Perfetta is perfectly poised in ¾ like a French Chanson. The accordina’s high countermelody reaffirms the trumpet, ultimately unresolved. Fresu plays the Neapolitan song I’te vurria vasà as if he’s playing muted lyrics. The accordion brings a nostalgic French atmosphere to the spacious jazz chords.

Although most tracks are under five minutes, the musical detail seems to extend them. They’re deceptively simple. Like looking into clear water, you can’t immediately see the ripples and undercurrents of the chords and rhythms – you just appreciate the experience.


REVIEW: Jacob Garchik’s Trombone Choir and Quintet at CBSO Centre, Birmingham

Jacob Garchik (left) and Richard Foote (centre) as the Trombone Choir
 marches into the CBSO Centre.
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Jacob Garchik’s Trombone Choir and Quintet
(CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 16 March 2019. Review and photos by John Watson)

The riff started off-stage – a pulsing, blues-laden blast of brass that grew in volume as the musicians marched into the concert hall, slides waving, bells aimed at the ground and then at the ceiling. It was a thrilling start to this first performance by Jacob Garchik’s UK Trombone Choir – seven tonally blazing bones, plus tuba and drums.

Trombone ensembles are rare in jazz, but some significant musicians have created stimulating music with these rather special groups. Among them in the USA are The Band Of Bones, which has featured guest stars including Steve Turre and Mercer Ellington, and has notably celebrated the music of JJ Johnson in concerts and on disc. There’s also the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Competition, organised by the US-based International Trombone Association for groups of three or more trombones.
Jacob Garchik
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
San Francisco-born Garchik is in the forefront of trombone ensemble creativity in New York, and with the UK’s Richard Foote developed a UK version of his Gospel Trombone Choir, with a short tour organised by Birmingham-based Tony Dudley-Evans of TDE Productions. The CBSO Centre concert was promoted in conjunction with Fizzle and Jazzlines.

The music was inspired by the trombone ensembles of the House of Prayer Churches on the East Coast, and strongly influenced by the feel of classic New Orleans brass playing. The gospel trombone ensemble tradition, as far  as I can discover, originated in the region of Moravia, in the Czech Republic, and was brought to the USA by immigration from the area in the early 18th Century.
The concept works wonderfully well for gospel music, and for blues, too – the riff which heralded the arrival of the ensemble on stage settled quickly into a straight 12-bar sequence.

With Garchik and Foote on trombones were Nichol Tomson, Rob Harvey, Kieran McLeod, Tom Dunnett and Michael Owers - plus tuba player Oren Marshall and drummer Andrew Bain, all very fine players who blazed through Garchik’s suite The Heavens with tremendous zest. The highlights included Creation’s Creation, Dialogue With My Great Grandfather, and a stupendous I’m Bound For Canaan Land. These pieces were punctuated by occasional 30-second blasts of Jesus Is A Rock, all forming an exciting road to gospel glory.

A short first set featured Garchik’s Quintet playing his original compositions, with the leader and Foote on trombones, Andrew Woodhead on piano, Olie Brice on double bass, and Bain on drums.
This was rather less successful, not really catching fire until the final piece – one of the mysteries of jazz is that you can have very accomplished musicians and yet the music doesn’t quite gel. However, the splendid gospel trombones more than made up for it. I’m looking forward to a return visit.

Jacob Garchik’s Trombone Choir also appears at Yellow Arch, Sheffield (in association with Jazz At The Lescar) on Sunday 17 March and at the Vortex in London on Monday 18 March.
The Trombone Choir in rehearsal at the CBSO Centre
Photo: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk


REVIEW: Brad Mehldau and the Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican

Brad Mehldau at the Barbican
Photo credit: Barbican/Mark Allan

Britten Sinfonia with Brad Mehldau
(Barbican Hall, 16 March 2019. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The main event here was the UK premiere of Brad Mehldau's Piano Concerto. The world premiere was last August at the Philharmonie in Paris, and it has since been heard in Barcelona and in Wrocław in Poland, and will shortly be heard, for example, in Lyon and Luxembourg. It is a big piece, roughly 35 minutes in length, consists of two long movements, and has extended solo episodes.

At a first hearing, and I suspect I am in a minority, I have to confess disappointment. The core vibe is serious, slow, elegaic, and dwells and circles rather than moving forward. There were some knotty and cerebral contrapuntal work-outs going on in the solo episodes, all rather hard to grasp, certainly at a first hearing. It was as if gravity of intent is everything. In the orchestral writing, I wanted there to be more obvious variety of timbre and colour. In the busier orchestral sections, I was reminded of the orchestral writing of, say, Patrick Doyle or Elmer Bernstein: a tendency to set up a simple motoric framework, and then to set off a lyrical voice against it. And that, to my ears and on a first hearing, seemed to be happening quite a lot. Which is fine in a film, but is there enough there to hold the attention in a concert?  There were a lot of other writers in the hall, so these early and perhaps superficial thoughts, written up and filed more or less immediately after the concert, are bound to be improved upon.

The first half had consisted of orchestral transcriptions of Bach, with a couple of interspersed improvisations by Mehldau. Curiosities were played, such as the Stravinsky transcription of Prelude X from the Well-Tempered Clavier from 1969 or Webern’s re-working of a movement from the Musical Offering from 1935. These pieces now seem like remnants from another era. Quaint, reverential, even a bit stuffy, they seemed like museum-pieces. So much has happened to bring Bach to life since then, and to let his music breathe naturally, why did we need to go there? This part of the concert also contained a quite ludicrous pause to re-configure the stage, a few minutes when in essence nothing happened; groups of orchestral players stood around chatting and waiting for their chairs and music stands to be put in place. If there had been any magic or transcendence, that moment killed it stone dead.

There was a solo encore, Little by Little by Radiohead. That felt more like Mehldau on his own terms. Yes, seriously contrapuntal, but with a far greater sense of shape and underlying direction. For me at least, it was by far the most more-ish part of the programme.

Brad Mehldau at the Barbican
Photo credit: Barbican/Mark Allan


CD REVIEW: Mats Eilertsen – And Then Comes The Night

Mats Eilertsen – And Then Comes The Night
(ECM 770 2567. CD review by Peter Bacon)

Do I sense something of a trend in ECM track programming for bookending an album with a tune and a variation of it? It’s there on the recent Jakob Bro album, Bay Of Rainbows, and it’s here again on Norwegian double bassist Mats Eilertsen’s new trio disc with fellow countryman/drummer Thomas Strønen and Dutch pianist Harmen Fraanje.

The tune is called 22 and has a heart-melting, folkish melody with a falling phrase that reminds me of Walton’s Touch Her Soft Lips And Part as articulated by Peter Erskine, John Taylor and Palle Danielsson back in 1995 (also on ECM). Fraanje makes the opening statements before Eilertsen adds the woody bottom and Strønen brings his characteristic near-orchestral percussion into play.

Eilertsen, a sideman on so many ECM discs – including releases by Tord Gustavsen, Trygve Seim and Mathias Eick – is not about to go off message on his second as leader. This album, like its predecessor, 2016’s Rubicon, sits firmly in the label’s “quiet storm”, or “Nordic cool” section – or however you want to describe one of its key strands. It’s very much a less-is-more band; even Strønen, perhaps the busiest of the three, leaves loads of space around the music. Its breaths may be deep, its sighs exquisitely articulated, but, when it chooses, this trio can have the air stopped in your chest with the intensity of its restrained excitement.

The title track (it comes from a novel by Icelandic writer Jón Kalman Stefánsson) feels like a three-way improv, as does Perpetum, while elsewhere the music is written by bassist or pianist, and has a gentle logic and form. Fraanje is lyrical with a leaning towards introspection, but the moods he creates are richly nuanced.

A good hi-fi is vital to get the full power of the album, especially the lower frequencies – not only the rich timbre of the Eilertsen’s bass but the monumental rumble of Strønen’s gran casa drum. In some ways the fourth member of the band is the hall where it was recorded (the musicians playing purely acoustically without using headphones); take a bow, Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano.

The band has been together for a decade and this is their third album (the first two are on the Hubro label). For me, it's their strongest yet.

Mats Eilertsen Trio will be appearing on the jazzahead! clubnight at the Sendesaal in Bremen on 27 April


INTERVIEW: Jacques Schwarz-Bart (new album Hazzan and Bio-Pic La Voix des Ancêtres)

Jacques Schwarz-Bart
Photo credit: Marc Baptiste
Saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, who has a dual Jewish and Guadeloupian heritage, has been living in the United States since the early 1990s. His parents are Simone and the late André Schwarz-Bart, both of whom are well-known in France as prize-winning published authors. This interview marks the release of a new Jacques Schwarz-Bart album Hazzan in which the saxophonist pays tribute to his father who died in 2006, and of a bio-pic La Voix des Ancêtres. Interview by Yannick Le Maintec, originally published in French in Le Monde (*): 

LondonJazz News: As we speak, you are back in Boston where you live after having lived in New York for a long time. You teach at the Berklee College of Music, where you also studied. How does it feel to return as a teacher?

Jacques Schwarz-Bart: It feels really exhilarating. For a very long time, I quietly held on to a secret dream of giving back what Berklee had given to me. I received an invitation to give a master class, and I think they liked the connection I was able to establish with the students, plus the fact that I was able to teach them a complex piece of music fairly quickly, and raise the level of their playing through directions and suggestions which were concise and to the point.

LJN: In the film dedicated to you, The Voice of the Ancestors, you say you feel like an immigrant. After 29 years on American soil, surely you can’t still feel like an immigrant?

JS-B: Yes. I think I will always feel like an immigrant. The sum of all my parts will always be a challenge for people I interact with. I do not expect to be perceived and understood in all aspects of my identity and diversity. I am already happy when I don’t feel any prejudice.

LJN: In the documentary film, you speak in measured terms about your dual origin, Jewish and Guadalupian, of people who have been in transit, not to say deported from their countries of origin. Does your sense of being an immigrant (or a migrant as one might say today) give you the feeling of being connected to what is happening in the world today?

JS-B: Yes. Being an immigrant allows me to see others as humans, as opposed to nationalists who have a myopic perception of humanity. When you look at the recent massive movements of migration, it is easy to see how this idea of a frontier is a pure fabrication of the mind, an artifice that is flying in pieces when confronted with reality.

LJN: I can detect in your comments that you are not exactly in favour of the walls that some would like to build...

JS-B: What you are referring to is an insult to the founding principles of the American nation, which was built by and for immigrants.

LJN: If we go back in time about 30 years, what happened in your career to make you switch to music? How does the top student in the class end up as a musician?

JS-B: I did not become a musician overnight. I was born a music lover. Music is an artistic vehicle that always transported me, got me enthused and impassioned.

I encountered my instrument, the tenor saxophone, very late, at the age of 24. I had just finished the school of government (Sciences Po). Since I was the top student in my ENA class, the President of the General Council of Guadeloupe offered me a position as General Manager. A few months before I started, I tried playing a saxophone at a friend’s house. Within half an hour, I was able to play simple scales and had melodies. My friends said: You never told us you could play! One of them offered me a gig the next day. And that summer, I played a series of little gigs. There was no transition between my first notes and my musician’s life.

After being in that position as a manager for two years, I quit in order to go to Paris. I wanted to be closer to the world of jazz music. I got a new position as a senator’s assistant. I was just enjoying going to concerts, and the idea of starting a career in music was simply inconceivable since I had started so late.

Then, one moment changed my destiny. I met Garrison Fewell – the Berklee professor and great guitar player – at the Caveau de la Huchette (TRIBUTE HERE). At the end of his set, he saw my sax case and invited me for the last song. I accepted with excitement. Afterwards, when he found out I had just recently started, he said I should come to Berklee. He sent manuals that I worked hard to ingest. I went to Boston for auditions, got a scholarship that allowed me to complete my musical education and stay in the US. I put my previous life behind me, and never looked back…

LJN: It's hard to imagine you switching to full-time music at the age of 24. There must have been something else going on....

JS-B: I don’t know whether to attribute it to the weight of my ancestry and inheritance, but I clearly remember being apprehensive of the world ever since I was born. As a child, I wanted to climb back into my mother’s womb, and I was a very late talker. Human interaction was really of no interest to me. I didn’t feel like engaging verbally. On the other hand, I sang every melody I heard. That is how I felt alive: I knew I really belonged to the world of music.

I quickly amassed a collection of jazz cassette recordings. Vinyl was very expensive so I recorded a lot of music from jazz radio shows. My best friend father was a jazz aficionado, so I made copies of his entire vinyl collection. My walls were entirely covered with shelves of cassette tapes. This was my refuge, my place of safety.

LJN: Hazzan is composed of ten songs from the Jewish liturgy. How did you get to know Jewish music?

JS-B: My brother and I received a religious education. These chants I heard as a child, either at the synagogue or during Jewish holidays at my father’s friends. This aspect of Jewish religion was important to me because of my love of music.

Jewish philosophy and ethics remain life principles for me to this day. For instance, I am very much attached to the importance of questioning. I question everything. It is the essence of wisdom. It is said that a Jewish person always responds to a question by another question. But one does not do so to avoid the truth. Rather one doesn’t take the truth for granted: it must be sought after, with deliberation, fortitude and courage. That is how I also approach musical truth.

LJN: Among the ten prayers you have chosen, is there one which is more important to you than the others?

JS-B: From a philosophical standpoint,  Ma Nishtana is important to me: we are reminded that we were slaves in Egypt. My parents met because of this teaching. It is this shared history of slavery between Jewish and black people that triggered my father’s interest in black culture. That is what motivated him to learn how to speak Creole and to befriend African and Caribbean intellectuals in Paris. And that is how he approached my mother in Creole!

From a musical standpoint, two songs are close to my heart, because they represent the fusion of all my influences. Shabbat Manuka Hi and Mi Sebeirach. These two pieces combine polyrhythms, rich harmonies, lyrical melodies and powerful grooves. These elements are the cornerstones of my musical universe today.

LJN: I don't know if what I'm about to say can be offensive or should be taken as a compliment... Hazzan doesn't really sound like an album of Jewish music. How do you respond?

JS-B: The idea was not to sound like Jewish music. I intended to fully express my artistic freedom as a jazzman who has delved into Caribbean and African rhythms while staying true to the essence of the Jewish chants on this record.

I will always remember the concert I played in Metz, my father’s native town. The organiser came to the stage during sound check. I saw on his face a mixture of enthusiasm and fear. I stop the band and he says: "It’s intense, it’s powerful, it grooves, but what does it have to do with Jewish music? Our guests are mostly part of the Jewish community here. What will we tell them?” I replied: “Do not worry. They will sing along with us. You think that nothing is Jewish in this music. But everything is Jewish while being also not Jewish. Through these chants, they will latch on to my entire universe.”

LJN: I think I am right in saying that Hazzan has a clear connection with the albums you previously produced, and notably Jazz Racine Haïti?

JS-B: Absolutely. I am interested in the spiritual aspect of music. And even when a musical style is not strictly spiritual, what draws me to it is its spiritual expression. It seems to me that jazz is experienced by most jazzmen as spiritual expression, just as gwoka came from Voodoo, which is religious music and also a passion of mine. Spirituality is a continuous thread throughout my work. My whole musical history is essentially a long prayer.

LJN: Is the saxophone a mystical instrument, or can it become one?

JS-B: If I can’t use my saxophone as a vessel for spirituality, I will have missed the point. Playing the horn is about unveiling your inner voice. There is a reason why the most spiritual artist in history, John Coltrane, was a tenor saxophonist.

LJN: So we come to the question "What about God in all of this?" (**). We talked about Judaism, voodoo... What does Jacques Schwarz-Bart believe in?

JS-B: I believe in energies bigger than myself. Human senses and intellect have limited ways of accounting for this unfathomable reality. Each religion is an attempt at capturing a glance. That is why no religion is superior to another.

The ones I received have each given me a different angle. I am also attached to Buddhism and Toltec shamanism, while Judaism and Voodoo remain foundational in my perception.

I also love astrophysics with a passion.

LJN: After Hazzan and Jazz Racine Haiti, have you now completed a process of self- examination What will be the inspiration for your future projects?

JS-B: I just remain open. Carlos Castaneda said that the apprentice shaman needs to let the spirit guide his steps on this perilous journey. If you keep your ego in check, you will keep your ability to follow the spirit. That is how I will get to my next step. That said, I have five projects ready to come out, and three in the works: enough to keep me busy for the next decade!

LINK: (*) Yannick's original interview in French in Le Monde

(**) "Et Dieu dans tout ça?" is a familiar French trope, the question always asked of hundreds of interviewees by Jacques Chancel in his long-running shows on radio and TV, Radioscopie and Le Grand Échiquier.


PREVIEW: Eric Vloeimans' Oliver's Cinema (Turner Sims, 29 March)

Oliver's Cinema. L-R: Tuur Florizoone,
Jorg Brinkmann, Eric Vloeimans
Publicity photo

Dutch trumpeter Eric Vloeimans' trio Oliver's Cinema will be at Turner Sims on Friday 29 March. Rob Adams looks forward to it:

You don’t need to be able to solve crosswords to appreciate Eric Vloeimans' trio, Oliver’s Cinema, who appear at Turner Sims Concert Hall in Southampton as part of the Going Dutch programme that will continue to bring musicians from the Netherlands to the UK and Ireland until the end of the year.

Those who like a good anagram will have spotted that the group’s name is made up of the letters that form Eric Vloemans but the trumpeter himself simply views this as a handy way of getting round the perennial problem of what to call a group, a lucky call since the “cinema” element turns out to be very appropriate.

The idea for a trio that features trumpet, accordion and cello was triggered, he says, by a recording he heard in a bar while on tour in Belgium.

“In my youth I thought that the accordion was a horrible instrument,” he says. “But that was more because of the music that I’d heard played on it.”

The sound of the instrument grew on him, in much the same way that he’d come to cherish Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a piece he couldn’t bear to listen to before he learned more about it while studying at Rotterdam Academy of Music. He checked out a few accordion players with a view to incorporating the instrument in his own music but without success until a friendly Belgian bartender suggested that Vloeimans listen to Tuur Florizoone, a player born in Leuven whose dedication to music and free spirit had already taken him as a 17-year-old with his accordion off to Brazil for a life-changing year.

“The bartender played me this CD and it was great, so I just called Tuur up to arrange a meeting,” says the multi-award-winning Vloeimans, who has never been afraid to try out different instrumentations, having moved effortlessly from acoustic quartets to electric bands to orchestral settings. “As soon as we started playing together the first notes made it clear to me that I had found a soul mate in music and we worked together as a duo initially, which was really nice.”

After a while Vloeimans decided to introduce Florizoone to Jorg Brinkmann, a cellist originally from Northern Germany, whom he knew from working in pianist and melodica player Martin Fondse’s ensemble. Vloeimans describes Brinkmann as “a James Bond” on his instrument, fearless and ready for any adventure, a trait he’d also found in Florizoone.

“The trio formed immediately we got together” he says. ”Tuur and Jorg both have such great imaginations and I find playing with them really inspiring. We all compose and we all have similar tastes in music, so ideas tend to come together very quickly.”

The “cinema” element of the trio’s name may have come as a happy accident but it’s also apt as much of their original music has a cinematic quality. They’ve also referred to classic film themes such as Rosemary’s Baby, Bambi and Cinema Paradiso, which featured on their debut album, released in 2014.

For their Southampton concert, Vloeimans estimates that 60% of the music they play will be improvised and 40% pre-composed, although the pieces in their repertoire are continually developing.

“We can play the same pieces over and over again and each time we’ll surprise each other,” he says. “We’ve grown with the years and it feels more natural now, although it always felt like the three of us had an easy compatibility. We always enjoy playing together and we like to communicate that to the audience. We want to leave people feeling elated so that they bounce off their chairs with joy.”

LINK: Oliver's Cinema at Turner Sims on 29 March

This concert by Eric Vloeiman's Oliver's Cinema is part of the Going Dutch Programme, an Initiative of Podiumkunste NL in association with the Jazz Promotion Network. Scottish jazz writer Rob Adams is working on press and PR for the programme.


CD REVIEW: Scott Robinson – Tenormore

Scott Robinson – Tenormore
(Arbors Records ARCD 19462. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Quirky multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson returns to his first love, the tenor saxophone, on this powerful and creative ten-track recording which combines tunes from throughout his career with a top-class rhythm section.

Robinson is celebrating his 60th birthday this year, and is doing so in fine style with this CD focusing on his tenor sax playing. This in itself seems to be remarkable – the man is noted for his collection and performances on unlikely instruments including contrabass banjo and bass marimba, and is prepared to be photographed in a hat made from sax reeds. True to form, the tenor sax in question is no ordinary instrument either; it’s a silver 1924 Conn which Robinson purchased from a Maryland antique shop in 1975 and has been with him ever since.

It transpires that this is Robinson’s first ever all-tenor release, and he has surrounded himself with an excellent band. Pianist and organist Helen Sung has been seen in London as part of the Mingus Big Band in recent years, drummer Dennis Mackrel is a key part of the Vanguard Orchestra which carries on the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis tradition every Monday night in Greenwich Village, and German-born bass player Martin Wind has a long track record, including duets with guitar maestro Philip Catherine.

The CD opens in startling style with a haunting solo rendition of the Beatles’ classic And I Love Her. Robinson bravely starts playing the four-note introduction high up in the altissimo register, showing huge levels of control and skill. He descends to a more normal altitude for the tune, beautifully played with expression and emotion – a real tour de force which grabs our attention for what is to come. The mix of originals and standards which follows is always interesting and entertaining, sometimes familiar and occasionally off-the-wall.

Three of the originals are based on different extents of the blues. Tenor Twelve was first recorded in 1988 and presented here in a rewritten version showing a nicely paced sax solo and some great piano work from Sung. Going numerically down, Tenor Eleven is an 11-bar blues which somehow manages to get to the end a bar early without the listener quite being able to work out how, featuring Coltrane-ish changes, leading into a solo section featuring sax/drum duet space. The title track Tenormore takes things back yet another stage, being a 10-bar blues followed by an indeterminate number of bars from the soloists with plenty more drum action. (Ten-or-more, get it?)

The album also features some enjoyable standards – The Good Life is given a polytonal introduction which does its best to disguise what's coming with Jaws-like bass surges before melting into the melody. The Nearness Of You is a funky number with bass guitar and organ backing and some impassioned playing from Robinson, always in control and yet stretching his sound and tone towards the edge of what’s possible.

The album will be launched with concerts at Birdland in New York on 21/22 June 2019. If you enjoy the idea of an 11-bar blues, then get along there and get this album which is rich in new takes and unexpectedness. And if you’re not sure, then give it a chance – you might well be pleasantly surprised with how well it all works together.


CD REVIEW: Huw Warren Trio – Everything In Between

Huw Warren Trio – Everything In Between
(CAM Jazz – CAMJ 7942-2
. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Pianist Huw Warren’s long-held association with and deep understanding of Brazilian music has continued to inform both the vitality and sensitivity of his own compositions as well as elegant reinterpretations of South American jazz jewels – and on new release Everything In Between, with bassist Dudley Phillips and drummer Zoot Warren, he presents a rich tapestry of works which are a delight to get to know.

Huw’s connection with Dudley Phillips goes back to 1990s quartet Perfect Houseplants (with Mark Lockheart and Martin France); and with son Zoot completing this trio, a near-hour of exquisite beauty and colour is created, happily belying the curious austerity of the cover art. Solo album Nocturnes and Visions (2018) confirmed the completeness of the leader’s pianism, and all of his experience is brought to bear, here, in a balanced collaboration which partners original compositions with music from the likes of Hermeto Pascoal and Pixinguinha. It’s a classic format, of course. But Phillips’ predominance with electric bass adds significant sparkle, his conversational playing often meandering along unexpected avenues – and both Huw and Zoot Warren, as rhythm-makers, also invite him to take a subtly amplified lead. Focusing on such detail – all captured by Stefano Amerio at Artesuono, Italy – adds another dimension to the experience.

Shimmering high-register clusters in Warren’s opening Mouli Baby are telling – an indicator of his particularly personal ‘voice’ – before its lilting, sunlit waltz proceeds in trip-up 6/8; and the oblique, rubato chromatics of title track Everything In Between have a reverberation of Django Bates as Phillips’ electric bass threads through its eventual piano-and-percussion pizzazz (an early stand-out). Hermeto’s Chorinho Pra Ele is a ‘smiler’ of a piece, its showtime melodies interspersed with impressively darting rivulets, while the trio’s Scarab groove bookends Egberto Gismonti’s originally frenetic Lôro in a different piano, double bass and drum spirit. And there’s unfettered Brazilian celebration in another of Hermeto’s – Musica das Nuvens e do Cha.

The romantic nature of Huw Warren’s selections is well represented. His own First Love, Last Rites casts a darkly wistful shadow as its augmented minor-key motifs repeatedly lap the shore; Choro Bandido (Edu Lobu/Chico Buarque) might suggest a meeting of Frédéric Chopin and Bill Evans with the emotional tug of Burt Bacharach; and the Costa Rican jauntiness of Pixinguinha’s Vou Vivendo dances politely, even whimsically, in this trio’s hands. Lampedusa, from Dudley Phillips, offers alternative hues emanating from rising double bass phrases; and his shuffling Porte Alegre, with beautifully liquefied electric bass, prompts brightly-clipped piano explorations. Finally, a special word for Huw Warren’s solo interpretation of Hermeto’s Mente Clara (clear mind), whose emotive, sustained and lush harmonies, combined with pellucid runs, are delivered so affectingly. Words, on this occasion, cannot do it justice.

Simply put, this is not just another piano trio album. Love has been poured into its exuberance and tenderness… and it shows.

Everything In Between is released on 15 March (UK) and 29 March (worldwide).


CD REVIEW: Landgren–Wollny–Danielsson–Haffner – 4 Wheel Drive

Landgren–Wollny–Danielsson–Haffner – 4 Wheel Drive
(ACT 9875-2. CD Review by Richard Lee)

My introduction to Nils Landgren was through his collaboration with Colin Towns on their wonderful 2007 reimagining of Cole Porter classics, Don’t Fence Me In. That collection not only featured his remarkably graceful trombone lines, but also similarly gentle vocals on most of the songs. Here on 4 Wheel Drive he heads what is effectively a supergroup of past collaborators.

Michael Wollny’s agile piano, together with Lars Danielsson’s bass & cello, and Wolfgang Haffner’s drums form a superbly tight rhythm section, and each of the four contributes an original piece which acts as waymarks to a set-list of rock standards from the 20th century. It’s almost a concept album: a rock songbook exploring people under pressure, and the surprises of finding oneself in love. If that sounds like a challenge to purists, well, get over it… Paul McCartney has always been an original on bass and dabbled with songbook-type jazz; Phil Collins’ big-band work and Sting’s (Gordon Sumner) recruiting of jazz greats were heart-on-sleeve passion-projects; and Billy Joel’s piano-bar songs have found their way into the modern repertoire. And this quartet has a fantastically easy affinity with their work as composers and instrumentalists. Danielsson cites McCartney as his favourite bass player and Sting is a constant presence in Landgren’s repertoire.

The opening instrumental original by Wollny - Polygon - heralds that sophisticated rocky feel we’re now familiar with from post-EST European bands. As an opener, it sets out the band’s stall as assured players but there’s a change of gear into Phil Collins’ Another Day In Paradise, showcasing Landgren’s wistful vocal and his rather beautiful trombone. Lady Madonna originally drew on Humph’s Bad Penny Blues, and here gets a funkier reggae-tinged outing as an instrumental with Wollny to the fore. All tracks are around the 4-5 minute mark, so solos have to be crafted and to the point. That’s something that Branford Marsalis recently mentioned as a discipline he had to develop while working with Sting, whose Shadows In The Rain is hauntingly underscored by Danielsson’s bass and Landgren’s unshowy bluesy tenor.

The pace picks up again with Haffner’s sprightly Spanish-inflected Lobito before Landgren leads rather touchingly on McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed. Wollny’s piano perfectly complements him and then we find ourselves in the unashamed romantic centre of the album as Billy Joel’s She’s Always A Woman is taken at half its usual speed. This might have exposed Landgren’s vocal but the clarity in his sure-footed delivery together with the band’s sensitivity is admirable. Landgren’s original contribution Le chat sur toit follows, its opening and closing themes echoing the Joel song, but with a terrific upbeat groove at its centre featuring Landgren’s stand-out solo. The Joel tribute is completed with a straight take on Just The Way You Are, finely sung but which had me longing for more of Wollny’s soloing. From here on out it’s pretty much into full-on four-wheel drive: Sting’s If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free) rocks as hard as the original; Collins’ (& Genesis’) That’s All is properly anthemic, and if Danielsson’s 4WD isn’t as raw as Smells Like Teen Spirit (which apparently inspired it) it’s a hard-driving coda to an enjoyable song-based album from an impeccably controlled quartet.

4 Wheel Drive is released on ACT today 15 March 2019


INTERVIEW: Drummer/Composer Marton Juhasz (debut album Discovery, launch Kansas Smitty's, 28 May)

Marton Juhasz
Photo Credit: Alex Ventling

Swiss-Hungarian drummer and composer Marton Juhasz is a musician with a strong aesthetic and very clear musical and thematic concepts. The Berklee alumnus has played with an intriguing range of top-flight musicians including Lionel Loueke and Byron Wallen. Discovery, Juhasz’s debut album as a bandleader, about to be released, emerged from his participation in guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel’s Focusyear programme, during which a band is selected and works together for 12 months, a rare and valuable opportunity for intensive development in contemporary jazz. Discovery confronts some of the darker aspects of living in the modern world, although it also frequently offers a sense of empathy and perhaps even serenity in its absorbing melodies. Interview by Dan Paton:

LondonJazz News: The band on Discovery features eight musicians from as many countries, spanning four continents. Was the group formed as part of the process for the Focusyear project or was it formed in advance of this?

Marton Juhasz: I first met all of the musicians in September 2017 when I moved to Basel to take part in the first ever Focusyear project. Since we were rehearsing and performing almost every day, the connection within the octet was developing very fast and I saw that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to record with such a tightly knit group. (Discovery line-up at end of interview)

LJN: Can you tell us a bit more about Focusyear and what was involved? How did it lead to the creation of your own music?

MJ: It is a similar programme to the Monk Institute in that a group of musicians is selected to form an ensemble for a year and receive coaching from some of the most respected names in jazz. Typically we would learn a new concert repertoire every two weeks and would perform the music with the visiting coaches at the school's club at the Jazzcampus, Basel. It was an incredibly intense experience both musically and personally, but one that left everyone in the band motivated to keep on pushing forward. The project actually has an official recording out on Neuklang Records that features a composition by each of the musicians, so my recording was independent of this and I'm very grateful that the band took the time to play my music.

LJN: The line-up on the recording, involving both trombone and voice, is distinctive and intriguing. Was it a challenge to write for this kind of ensemble? What particular skills do the musicians bring to the project? Again, the voice seems like a particularly significant element of the sound.

MJ: Over the months we were playing together I had a lot of chances to hear the individual musicians in different contexts and get a good idea of their character. When it came time to write and arrange the music for the album, I was trying my best to make sure that everyone would be comfortable with their roles and that the end recording would sound as natural as possible.

Despite not being household names, everyone on the record is actually a very established musician in their region. In fact, this was one of the main issues that we were working through during the process – will we be able to find some kind of coherent group sound that would allow everyone to feel represented? I think that finding a common creative space with these eight musicians is really what this record is about. I feel that I did the best I could in using the relationships between the musicians to spark some interesting interplay – it's actually quite amusing for me to hear the music and be aware of the subtle personal dynamics that influenced the playing.

Photo Credit: Alex Ventling
The voice in particular requires special attention in a large group like this because if it's not the featured instrument in an arrangement it can very easily get lost in the background. I've decided that for my record I would base everything around the vocals and build the arrangements with this in mind. The only thing left then was to make sure that this approach also applied for the mixing process.

LJN: As a drummer and composer, do you approach composition from a rhythmic foundation or do you approach the drums melodically? Perhaps it is more complex than this and involves elements of both?

MJ: Generally speaking I try to approach music from an emotional perspective. I would either stumble across some musical idea that would for some reason remind me of a moment I've experienced in the past or I would use my imagination or dreams to come up with a strong image – either way I would then use this abstract place as a focal point for the composition. When searching for harmonies or musical solutions I would always be asking myself "does this reinforce the atmosphere I'm trying to create or does it confuse it?".

Being a drummer, for a long time I felt like I was lacking in musical skills in the areas of harmony and melody, so this approach really gave me a lot more freedom when composing because I no longer had to meet some imaginary criteria for complexity. I didn't have to prove that I can write complex music because that is not my goal - if the finished song evokes the subjective emotion that I'm going for then I'm happy with it. Another main consideration for me is to make sure that the melodies I write are at least somewhat singable. At any moment I usually have a couple of different ideas for melodies floating around in my mind and if I find myself still singing one of these to myself a week or two later I know it could be a strong enough melody for a tune.

LJN: The promotional material for the album suggests the music is partly about 'making sense of the dissonance that is part of human existence’. Obviously we think of the word dissonance in terms of harmony in music – is this a connection you want people to make? Is this dissonance of human experience something personal to you, something more general, or does some of the music speak to the particular moment we find ourselves in (both across Europe and in the USA) politically right now?

MJ: That's quite a complex topic. For me, with this record, it was important to be able to express (indirectly) some of the darker experiences I had over the years, and I was absolutely certain that some of these feelings or situations were universal – most people can relate to feeling lonely, lost and confused... and probably worse. In previous years I often found solace in different music that seemed to express something I was feeling at the moment – thus offering the comfort of 'being seen'. I definitely wanted my music to have this kind of effect.

But then of course, by deciding that I would try to make some kind of honest, personal statement I then had to deal with the fear of exposing myself in this way. Sea of Uncertainty in particular is about this feeling of recognising what I need to do but having absolutely no idea what kind of reception I would be getting.

LJN: Some of the melodies on the album strike me as quite beautiful or even serene, yet the playing and arrangements can be very intense. Is this a contrast you were seeking to create? Is this perhaps a combination of American and European influences too? Similarly, I’m struck by the sharp contrasts in some of the track sequencing, particularly the notably groovy Stino being sandwiched between the menacing clanking of Industry and the eerie Wolves Gather Under A Winter Moon. Is unpredictably and contrast in your mind when sequencing an album?

MJ: There is definitely a slight aesthetic difference between the written material and the improvisations, I think this comes down to the melodies coming from me and the band having their own internal sound that is a mixture of everybody's influences. For me, the track order is very important – my primary concern is to keep the listener engaged either through contrast or some kind of emotional narrative. Some of my close friends are involved with alternative hip hop / sound collage art – I always felt very inspired by the juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated worlds and the effect this creates.

LJN: I'm also interested in the number of (relatively) short pieces. They clearly seem to move beyond operating as interludes as they also have strong identities and moods of their own. What do shorter form pieces allow you to achieve as a composer? Does this have any effect on the improvising or the more spontaneous aspects of the project?

MJ: I think writing shorter pieces actually makes it possible to create a stronger atmosphere. Because there is no requirement to fill up a certain time you can be more picky with what you choose to include in the final piece. As with other music, I try to go for the strongest image or emotion that I can conjure in my mind and then develop the initial musical idea in line with this. I sometimes find that any development of the idea that I can think of would lead the piece away from this strong reference point so I just leave it as it is. The last song on the album Run is literally one melody repeated over and over with the ensemble improvising around it. I tried many different ways to develop the melody but I always longed for the initial statement of it. Everything I came up with sounded too studied. I could hear my thinking process in the music and I always strive to avoid that.

LJN: You have also played in Alan Benzie's trio. Can you tell us a bit about that and how you came to be part of that band? Playing in a trio must be very different experience from the expansive Focusyear band?

MJ:: I met Alan a while ago during my studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston. We quickly became friends and continued to work together after moving back to Europe around 2011. It's an amazing feeling to have someone trust my playing enough that they would organize for me to travel across Europe to play their music! Alan's music is very much influenced by imaginary landscapes and scenes, so I think he was a big influence on me in this regard. Playing with the trio is definitely a different experience to the octet - I have much more control with the direction of the music and perhaps a better chance to actually keep track of what everyone is playing! (pp)

LONDON LAUNCH: Marton Juhasz will perform some of the music from Discovery in a quartet with George Crowley (saxophones), Rob Luft (guitar) and Andrew Robb (bass) at Kansas Smitty’s in London on 28 May.

Marton Juhasz (Hungary) – drums, percussion, composition
Yumi Ito (Switzerland born and raised - but from Polish-Japanese parents) – vocals, text (track 8)
Sergio Wagner (Argentina) – trumpet, flugelhorn
Paco Andreo (France) – valve trombone
Enrique Oliver (Spain) – tenor saxophone
Szymon Mika (Poland) – guitar
Olga Konkova (Russia) – piano, Fender Rhodes
Danny Ziemann (USA)– upright bass

LINK: Discovery on Songlink
Marton Juhasz website


INTERVIEW: Drummer Adam Osmianski (new album from Samba Azul)

Adam Osmianski
Photo Credit: Wong Horngyih

When Pittsburgh-born, London-based drummer Adam Osmianski went to Brazil 12 years ago he says that he “absolutely caught the bug for Brazilian music”. He was amazed by the range of music in all the different areas of such a vast country. “Their music comes in so many different, cool variations,” Osmianski explains. He has been playing Brazilian music ever since and his band Samba Azul, which was formed in 2012, is releasing a vibrant new self-titled album that features African candomblé-style tunes, north-eastern baião music and exciting Samba tunes. Feature by Martin Chilton: 

Brazilian music was a long way from his mind as a boy growing up in Pittsburgh. An uncle who played drums in his spare time in a rock and roll band got him started and he then took lessons in school. “I learned a lot of rock and prog-rock songs as a kid, as many young drummers do. I practised a lot of Rush tunes,” Osmianski, 36, says. “Being from the United States, I also did the whole marching band thing in school.”

At 15, he started going to a tutor, who introduced him to jazz, almost by stealth. “Very cleverly, he didn’t try to change my mind about prog-rock,” says Osmianski. “He kept teaching me the Rush tunes and things like that, but he would also slip me a John Coltrane disc and say, ‘do me a favour, just go home and check out this music.’ He introduced me to great drummers such as Jack DeJohnette and Omar Hakim, and slowly it took hold.”

One of his formative influences with Brazilian music was the great Rio de Janeiro-born composer and pianist Antônio Carlos Jobim. “I’m a big fan of Jobim’s work. He is the figurehead of bossa nova. There are so many other great musicians, but Jobim was my first introduction to Brazilian music and his tunes are so versatile. He has written so much fantastic music that he is almost like a Gershwin or Irving Berlin of Brazil. His compositions are so good that you can pretty much do anything with them, play them in a band, or jazz piano trio, or as a solo guitarist with a vocalist.”

On the new album, the band lean towards a Samba-style of music and the record features the fine singing of his wife, pianist/singer Joy Ellis, whom the drummer met in 2008. Ellis, who is working on her own album, is joined as a vocalist on the album by Mishka Adams, singing individually and together on various tracks.
The album has an enjoyable range of moods. The song Maria Du Socorro – which Osmianski describes as a “goofy, fun love song” – mentions the term “Baile Funk”, which is kind of Brazilian discotheque sound, and the track reflects the joyous nature of Brazilian music.

Mambembe, on the other hand, “is quite a lonely-sounding song,” Osmianski says. “Brazilian music is emotional,” explains Osmianski. “Brazilians are always singing about happy things such as food or football, or the sadness of love. There is a Brazilian term called ‘saudade’, which you hear all over the place. It is word that doesn’t exactly translate. It sort of means ‘longing’ or ‘missing’, but not quite. There is a lot of that in Mambembe.”

Another key track on the album is Especiaria, which was written by Brazilian Flávio Chamis. It is a song they play at every gig. “Chamis was an assistant conductor to Leonard Bernstein for a time and he lives in Pittsburgh,” remarks Osmianski. “Especiaria is about Pedro Álvares Cabral, who was the guy who was trying to get to India to find spices and ended up a bit lost and finding Brazil instead.”

The launch for the album, which was produced by Osmianski, will take place at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on Sunday 7 April, 1.30pm. The songs will be performed in Portuguese, as they are on the record, and Osmianski says the band enjoy interacting with audiences. “We explain the stories of these songs and then let them hear the tunes.”

Osmianski, who moved to the UK in 2015, enjoys teaching at the Junior Guildhall School of Music one day a week. “Jeffery Wilson teaches there and he has been a sort of mentor to Joy,” says Osmianski. “He brought me in to do some percussion workshops and they seemed to like them. When a position became available, he encouraged me to apply. I started out teaching a musical awareness programme and moved over to a jazz role.”

Most of his students are British and he loves their enthusiasm about different styles of drumming. “One kid is into modern playing and loves Mark Guiliana,” says Osmianski. “Another one is super into Elvin Jones and wants to talk about him a lot, while another is into Art Blakey. I also do some online teaching for West Virginia University, doing about five or six classes from home. I do classes and email work in the morning and in the afternoon I have time to practise and work on the albums.”

Osmianski believes the London jazz scene is buzzing at the moment. “Jazz here is full of an exciting energy, with pockets of different scenes throughout the city and so many young, talented musicians. Ever since I started playing Brazilian music, I was looking for an outlet. Coming to London allowed me to meet all these amazing musicians. This is the biggest project I have done by myself.”

Along with Osmianski on drums and the two main vocalists, the album, recorded at the Fish Factory in London’s Dollis Hill, features guitarists Greg Sanders-Gallego and Pedro Velasco, percussionists Alex Talbot and Jeremy Shaverin, bass player Greg Gottlieb and features harmonica player Philip Achille on two tunes.

Above all, Osmianski wants listeners to have a good time with his music. “I want people to enjoy the album and, in a way, not take it too seriously,” he says. “I take music very seriously and I strive to make it the best quality it can be, but part of what is cool about the London jazz scene is that it seems to be going back to a dance and party atmosphere. On the album, we only have one tune that is over five minutes. I wanted a fun project, with loads of people and loads of percussion.” (pp)

LINKS/ FORTHCOMING GIGS:  Samba Azul on FacebookAdam Osmianski website