UPDATE: Scammers claiming to represent UK Jazz Festivals

We reported in May 2017 that three UK Jazz Festival organizers were posting  prominent warnings that there were scammers operating who were purporting to offer bookings at their festivals. Now the same thing seems to be happening again, this time with regard to Cheltenham Jazz Festival. Hence, we are re-publishing the original story with the Cheltenham link added:

- Bournemouth have put up a warning HERE

- Edinburgh have put up an alert HERE

- There is a note on the bottom of the London Jazz Festival homepage HERE

- The alert on the Cheltenham Festivals site is HERE

Kim Macari has written to us explaining the matter in detail. She writes:

"There is currently a scam offering bookings to overseas artists at EFG London Jazz Festival and Edinburgh Jazz Festival. They are copy and pasting information from the festival websites and offering gigs, complete with contracts. They ask artists to arrange their own work permits at a cost of $400 and direct them to their 'Work Permit Agent' Evelyn Scott to arrange this. If artists make this payment, they lose the money but also give their information to the scammers to use in identity theft.

The emails are coming from infojazzfestival@musician.org, purportedly from a Gerry Clarke.

Serious have spoken to the British Police about this but their position is that no crime has taken place so they won't pursue it.

The gig offers look legitimate enough that overseas musicians without working knowledge of the festival teams could be easily convinced of their authenticity." 


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Trish Clowes (606 Club, 13 Feb)

Trish Clowes
Photo credit: Dannie Price
Described as “one of the most agile and original jugglers of improv and adventurous composition to have appeared in the UK in recent times”, multi-award winning saxophonist, composer and bandleader Trish Clowes talks to Laura G Thorne about her February performance at the 606 Club as well as her upcoming release on Basho Records. 

LondonJazz News: You are playing at the 606 Club Chelsea on Wednesday 13 February with drummer Winston Clifford, pianist Jim Watson and bassist Joe Lee. How did this gig come about and what led you to these players?

Trish Clowes: Over the years Steve Rubie has asked me to do a few gigs that have got me playing with people with whom I don’t usually work – I have very fond memories of playing in a line-up with alto hero Pete King in 2017. In the current climate (certainly for my generation), these are cherished moments because so often as a bandleader, you really have to focus on just one or two main projects.

For this gig, he suggested I hand pick a band that could feature someone I’d always wanted to work with, and I immediately thought of Winston Clifford – a legend of our scene here – and he was free! Jim Watson is someone I’ve also wanted to play with for a while (and I’d actually heard him and Winston in a rhythm section together last year). We’d already spoken about doing something, and then this opportunity presented itself. Like Winston, he’s one of those people who, when you hear him play, you want to get involved and be part of the conversation. Joe Lee is a great young bass player who’s just finishing up his studies – he was one of the first students I worked with at Guildhall and so it’s a real pleasure for me to invite him to the stage.

LJN: Is there a particular theme or concept that is driving the choice of repertoire for this 606 performance? What is the thought process that goes into deciding what material to play?

TC: When I know what my “cast of characters” is going to be for a gig, I start thinking about all the tunes I think would be a good fit, and anything I might have been checking out recently. I also ask the players if there’s anything in particular they’d like to play. There’s going to be a bit of everything this time I think… Joe Henderson, bit of Wayne Shorter… Coltrane… ooh, I see a theme – tenor greats! But also, Toots Thielemans, a couple of mine… the set list is still evolving.

LJN: You are known for your considerable skills as a composer, winning a BASCA award for your first BBC commission The Fox the Parakeet & the Chestnut in 2015 (as well as many other accolades). What inspires you to write?

TC: Oh, anything can inspire me. I think it’s a bit like learning a language… the more deeply you know the language the more you think in it. I’ve had ideas for tunes whilst washing up or in the middle of the night… in response to poetry, a book, a film, a political issue… or just a totally abstract musical concept. Most of all it’s people who inspire me. I’ve written loads of tunes that are essentially about celebrating a certain aspect of someone’s playing, as in, creating a springboard for them to improvise from… something I know they will enjoy re-inventing.

LJN: Compared to playing an instrument, does composing and arranging music exercise another part of your creative musculature? Do you have a preference?

TC: There’s no separation for me. Performing, improvising, writing – they are all extensions of each other. Obviously, performing/improvising in the moment is highly reactive… composition is more reflective – it encompasses improvisation, but you can take longer to make decisions, and so you can debate with yourself on how to develop ideas. But I couldn’t be without any aspect of all the above.

LJN: Is there a secret to being an exceptional musician, and if so, will you tell us what it is?

Patience. Dedication. Humility. Love. (in no particular order)

LJN: Your band My Iris (which we hear is releasing a new album soon) has been described by one writer as “the jazz of the future”. There’s a lot of talk these days about the resurgence of jazz music –  do you agree with that assessment and where do you see yourself within that landscape?

TC: I have to admit I’m pretty excited to be releasing this new album – it’s coming out at the end of April on Basho Records. It’s a great honour for me when it seems like my music is connecting with people – going out to play and leaving it all on the stage, that’s how I like it! Of course, this connection starts with having great people on the stage (both live and when I’m imagining what to write for them next… ‘them’ in this case being Chris Montague, Ross Stanley and James Maddren).

Words/genres go in fashions in the media, in different parts of the world. As part of this process I imagine or hope that incredible creative music gets thrown into the limelight… And I hope this finds new listeners, some of whom will stay with it for life, and that’s a beautiful thing. For myself, I feel very lucky that I get to make the music I love with brilliant people and somehow make a living out of it! I seek out new challenges, always hope I can stay fresh…

Laura G Thorne is the 606 Club's Marketing Manager

LINKS: Trish Clowes is at the 606 Club on Wednesday 13 February 2019

Trish Clowes' website

Trish Clowes on Basho Music


NEWS: Swanage Jazz Festival to go ahead in July

Peter Bacon reports:

Yet again, any talk of the demise of the Swanage Jazz Festival has proved premature. Here's the full text of a press release received last night:

"Swanage Jazz Festival is back on track and will run again in July 2019. Following doubts about its future, a new nine-strong group of Swanage residents has stepped in to form a new organising committee, following an initiative led by Swanage Town Council.

"Much loved by musicians and audiences, Swanage Jazz Festival was run by a local organising committee for 28 years before they decided to close the Festival in 2017 owing to advancing age and ill health. The esteemed jazz guitarist Nigel Price stepped in to stage a highly praised Festival in 2018 but he decided that owing to professional commitments he could not continue to run the event in 2019 and beyond.

"An initiative led by the Mayor of Swanage, Councillor Mike Bonfield has resulted in a group of local residents stepping forward to pick up the reins. They are working closely with Nigel Price to effect a smooth handover.

"The 2019 Festival will take place on the weekend of 13/14 July. It is likely to be a rather smaller event than in previous years, but it is hoped that the Festival will return to full strength in 2020 and beyond. The new Festival management group is being advised and supported by Paul Kelly who has been involved in jazz promotion since the mid-1970s.

"Councillor Mike Bonfield said, 'We stage over 60 events each summer in our picturesque town and the much-loved Swanage Jazz Festival plays an important role in maintaining the vibrancy and tourism offer we have. We are grateful to Nigel Price for the work he did and wish him our warmest thanks. We would have been very sorry to have seen the Festival close. I am delighted that the Council has managed to find and encourage a new group of residents to maintain this long-standing event that has proved so popular in the past. We look forward to seeing Swanage Jazz Festival grow back to a major event in the national jazz calendar over the years ahead.'”

The customary marquees on Sandpit Field won't be a feature of the 2019 festival, and until venues have been confirmed no artists can be decided upon or announced. Watch this space...


NEWS: Ronnie Scott's celebrates 60 years with a Jazz 60 playlist

We all like a playlist, and the legendary Soho jazz club Ronnie Scott's has devised, with a lot of help from its friends, a list of 60 jazz albums in celebration of the club's 60th anniversary year.  Peter Bacon reports:

The Jazz 60 playlist is just the first of a number of special events Ronnie Scott's has planned to mark its 60 years at the heart of jazz in London. Celebrations will culminate in a 60th birthday gig at the Royal Albert Hall in October.

The press release describes the list as comprising "the 60 most important, most brilliant, most innovative and most significant jazz albums that have been recorded over the last 60 years".

The release states:

Artists who have shared their personal jazz favourites include the likes of Soweto Kinch, Nubya Garcia, Courtney Pine, Pee Wee Ellis, Billy Cobham, Claire Martin, Alex Garnett, Natalie Williams, Moses Boyd, and Monty Alexander.

Broadcasters and journalists such as Giles Peterson, Cerys Matthews, Robert Elms, Mike Hobart, Rosie Hanley, David Freeman, Jane Cornwell, Mike Vitti and Jez Nelson have also provided their top albums. Additionally, industry expert and resident Ronnie Scott’s Music Bookings Coordinator Paul Pace also shared a list of the Jazz albums which have inspired him...

Managing Director of Ronnie Scott’s, Simon Cooke, said:

 “With such an incredible array of artists to choose from, selecting the most significant jazz albums of the last 60 years was never going to be straightforward. Our 40 aficionados nominated over 800 albums which have been whittled down to a definitive list that not only reflects the jazz of the past 60 years, but looks to the future too; just as we do at Ronnie Scott’s.”

The official Ronnie Scott’s Jazz 60 playlist 

Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda
Archie Shepp – Attica Blues
Art Blakey – Moanin’
Betty Carter – The Audience with Betty Carter
Bill Evans – Sunday at the Village Vanguard
Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else
Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady
Chick Corea – Now He Sings, Now He Sobs
Courtney Pine – Journey to the Urge Within
The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
Dave Holland – Extensions
Dexter Gordon – Go
Ella Fitzgerald – Ella In Berlin: Mack the Knife
Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch!
Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Seven Days of Falling
Esperanza Spalding – Emily's D+Evolution
Frank Sinatra – Sinatra at the Sands
Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay
George Benson – Breezin’
Gregory Porter – Water
Hank Mobley – Soul Station
Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters
Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage
Horace Silver – Song for My Father
Jaco Pastorius – Jaco Pastorius
Joe Henderson – Page One
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
John Coltrane – Giant Steps
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert
Kurt Elling – The Messenger
Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder
Loose Tubes – Loose Tubes
The Mahavishnu Orchestra – Birds of Fire
Mark Murphy – Stolen Moments
Mary Lou Williams – Black Christ of the Andes
Michael Brecker – Tales of the Hudson
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Miles Davis – In a Silent Way
Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley – Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley
Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth
Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come
Oscar Peterson Trio – Night Train
Pat Metheny Group – Still Life (Talking)
Robert Glasper – Black Radio
Roy Hargrove – Earfood
Sarah Vaughan – Ronnie Scott’s Presents Sarah Vaughan Live
Shirley Horn – Here’s to Life
Stan Getz & João Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto
Sonny Rollins – The Bridge
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
Stan Tracey – Jazz Suite Inspired by Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood”
Sun Ra – The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One
Tubby Hayes – Tubbs in N.Y.
Wayne Shorter – Speak No Evil
Weather Report – Heavy Weather
Wes Montgomery – The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery
Wynton Marsalis – Black Codes (From the Underground)
Yussef Kamaal – Black Focus

LINK: A selection of the Ronnie Scott's Jazz 60 is available on Spotify


INTERVIEW: Quantum Trio

Quantum Trio (from left): Michał Jan Ciesielski, Kamil Zawiślak, Luis Mora Matus
Photo credit: Kasia Kukiełka
 Quantum Trio from Poland and Chile won the Grand Prix in the Hitch On Jazz Juniors International Exchange 2017 in Kraków. With two well-received albums under their belt and a live album just released, the unconventional band whose music ranges from dynamic compositions through lyrical ballads to rock energy anthems release their third studio album soon. Mary James recently interviewed the band –  Michał Jan Ciesielski, tenor/soprano saxophone; Kamil Zawiślak, grand piano; Luis Mora Matus, drums – about the nature of their improvisation and what they have been doing since their win.

London Jazz News: An obvious question, but why is the band called Quantum Trio?

Quantum Trio: We met in Rotterdam in 2011 at the Codarts Conservatorium, all studying in the jazz faculty. Michal had studied electronics in Gdansk and took a brief course in particle physics. We all got interested in the idea of quantum physics and its implications, where there is a lot of room for interpretation. The notion of uncertainty and the unknown is artistically very interesting for a musician.

We would play without a bass player and engage in a constant change of grooves, kicks, motifs –  basically just reacting to each other. Before almost every Ensemble class the three of us would come a bit earlier and improvise together. We liked it a lot and decided to meet every couple of days for a session of improvised music, a sort of collective instant composition. We would record these sessions and then choose the best ideas and work with them as cues. Then finally we would bring precomposed bits to the rehearsals and see what would happen and where would it lead us with the same open approach. It has always been an exciting journey to create together. Somehow we could guess each other’s minds while improvising, but we never knew what the final outcome would be. We believe the name came out as a representation of our creative process. Improvisation in music, as in the apparent randomness in quantum mechanics, is a big mystery in the way that it works, and also that represents a big inspiration in our music.

LJN: Please tell us more about that process.

QT: We take chances and go to unknown places. At the time that we are improvising we also act as some sort of duality. On the one hand we are ourselves, the individual instrumentalist, and we are creating music on the spot, spontaneously to what we hear and feel. But, on the other hand, we are more than ourselves. We are a unit, some sort of separate entity from us, and that entity has its own idea of where it wants to go. We, the instrumentalists, don’t know where it’s going, and we shouldn’t dare to “turn on the light” to see where we are going, because it would affect the final result. We are an active/passive element of the whole, and we let the music tell us what it needs and where it wants to go.

LJN: I detected a change in your sound when I heard you recently.

QT: We have all grown as musicians but also as people and friends. Recently we released a video of a session that we did in April 2018 in Warsaw where we played the material from our first and second albums. We had not listened to it until November and we were surprised ourselves. So we have decided to release it as a live album. The songs have changed, matured in a way that it was a new piece of music, the music had crystalized in a surprising way. It marks something in the history of the band.

LJN: So what’s happened over the last year?

QT: Well we have recorded our third studio album and we have also matured. All of us have had many changes in our personal lives. We are not looking for an aggressive sound all the time; if the music needs silence, we give it silence. Our attitude to music is more humble, you give the music what it needs, not what you want to show. We have been performing a bit less this year, we needed time to think and not go into dangerous mode of automatic pilot that many bands play in. We didn’t want that. What makes us special as a band is the interpretation of the moment. We needed a different way of hearing the music so that’s why we sound different now. When we write a composition, there is always a limitation to that song, it serves a purpose emotionally but when you are more mature you take the limitation and you want to serve it better with the tools you have. We would never like this band to fly off the handle. We want to convey emotions by refining them so they are received better and better.

LJN: Your talk of refinement makes it sound like a scientific process.

QT: Well let’s call it emotional science. We deal with emotions through music. We are doing a scientific search in a way – we look for uncertainty. We feel comfortable with uncertainty. Music allows you to say what you cannot say in words.

LJN: What have you been doing since you won Hitch On?

QT: Besides the regular shows, we have been preparing for the new album Red Fog mostly. We did a gig in Warsaw in April that we just released as a video and a new live album. We took time, we all have other projects. But as a band, Quantum Trio is a representation of our inner selves. There is a connection of every element of what each of us does, whether pop, jazz or other things, it’s all music. All our different experiences come together when we play as Quantum Trio, that’s why it’s a band and not “just” a project.

LJN: Tell us about your new album Red Fog.

QT: We have had a restricted time to prepare for this album. For our first two albums we had no deadlines so the material developed organically. Originally, we had planned to record it in autumn 2018 but the label asked us to do it earlier, in July 2018. So we were forced to compose in a more instinctive way. The title song Red Fog was composed only one week before the recording session. In the last moment we had a lot of unconscious things in our heads and it all poured out.

Afterwards we were producing and mixing it ourselves, and we have created the atmosphere which was also a discovery for us. What we have learned from producing this album was where our music can go in the future. Red Fog will be released in March 2019 on Italian label, Emme Record Label. We are already planning our next albums, both studio and live. We also hope to come to London this year!

LINK: Quantum Trio's website

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


CD REVIEW: Rymden – Reflections & Odysseys

Rymden – Reflections & Odysseys
Jazzland Recordings CD: 3779206 / 2LP: 3779207. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

There’s a major story behind this unassuming cartoon rocket ship hurtling up through the firmament. A decade after the tragic death of revered Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson, his longtime colleagues Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström have returned to the trio format which launched global high flyers, e.s.t. Alongside them on Rymden’s Reflections & Odysseys is one of Norwegian jazz’s respected names, pianist Bugge Wesseltoft, known for his enduring New Conception of Jazz project and various ECM and ACT collaborations over the years.

Despite his wide experience, Wesseltoft explains that this is his first venture into “serious piano trio” – not that the dynamic reach of e.s.t. or this new band can be viewed in a traditional context. Through the 1990s and noughties, Svensson, bassist Berglund and drummer Öström steadily charted a course to increasingly new heights, packing concert halls and influencing a generation of musicians with their experimental approach. The thrill is that, rather than looking back, this new partnership is now using that legacy as a springboard. Wesseltoft has a lively, energetic and different enough character to make his own mark, in conjunction with such a recognisable rhythmic powerhouse, and their on-stage ‘hyperspace’ probes (seen in a recent live concert stream) even tune in to the freer improvisational style of e.s.t.’s final studio albums, Leucocyte and 301. Both Dan and Magnus have continued throughout the intervening years, in solo projects and other guises – but Rymden (translated: ‘outer space’) feels like ‘home’; and all credit and gratitude to Bugge for his exciting, seamless integration.

Out of Reflections’ otherworldly echoes, the memorable, rapid-firing rock motifs of The Odyssey evolve into an undulating, thunderous bass-and-drum swell – and Wesseltoft’s flamboyance at the piano is immediately a great fit. But there’s another side to this band as intricate Rhodes grooves in Berglund’s Pitter-Patter hark back to 1970s jazz-rock. Öström’s characteristically-titled The Lugubrious Youth of Lucky Luke clearly displays the shadowy hallmarks of e.s.t.’s more pensive, chorale-like output, his softly-malleted beat a constant thread under acciaccatura-inflected piano and Berglund’s wistful arco melodies.

The range of atmospheres created in Wesseltoft’s eight-minute The Celestial Dog and the Funeral Ship is simply beautiful; and chiming Bergen is redolent of Dolores in a Shoestand from 2006. Electronically-manipulated solo percussion in Öström’s The Abyss introduces his rhythmically-challenging Råk, alternating episodes of mire-treading grunge with chasing Rhodes over a drum-bass-synth propulsion reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s On the Run. Wesseltoft’s closing Homegrown seems to weave together Scandinavian folksong with the countrified calm of e.s.t.… and, both subtly and movingly, the trio also ensure that Esbjörn’s spirit remains amongst us.

It’s to be hoped that Reflections & Odysseys propels another special and enduring musical relationship.

Rymden’s European tour, 21 February to 27 May, includes Manchester’s Stoller Hall on 20 May, with Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 4 May now added.


TRIBUTE/NEWS: Michel Legrand tribute evening (RFH, 20 Sept)

Michel Legrand in St. Moritz in 2012
Photo credit: © Ralf Dombrowski
James Albrecht of Fane productions, who co-produced the last UK concert by Michel Legrand in  September 2018 with Ronnie Scott’s (*), writes: 

Very sadly, only a week and a half after announcing our 20 September concert with Michel Legrand and the Ronnie Scott's Jazz Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, we learned of his passing. It is no more than four months since Michel’s unforgettable concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, also at the RFH, co-produced by Fane Productions and Ronnie Scott’s.

Aged 86, and certainly physically and vocally a little frail, Michel nonetheless conducted the 68-piece orchestra and rhythm section with total assurance, and his genius at the piano was as evident as ever. In a concert, billed as Michel Legrand: 60 years of Music and Movies, we were taken on a magical and nostalgic journey through some of the 20th century’s most memorable film scores whilst clips from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Thomas Crown Affair, Summer of 42, Yentl and many more were screened above the orchestra. The evening had a tangible sense of occasion, even more so in retrospect now that we know it was to be Michel’s last appearance in the UK. What a privilege to have been there.

For a 16-year-old Alex Fane, it was seeing Michel at Ronnie Scott's that became his inspiration to get into the industry. How thrilling therefore that Fane Productions was able to produce Michel's last UK concert. The tributes have been pouring in since Saturday – from those who saw the concert in September 2018 and from others who have simply been touched by Michel’s beautiful music, his beguiling melodies.

The concert this September was to have been a celebration of Michel Legrand’s international standing as a jazz musician, pairing him up with one of the world’s great jazz big bands, in an evening inspired by his legendary 1999 album Big Band. With the full support of Michel’s management team at City Lights, Fane Productions will refashion the concert on 20 September still with the Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra and special guests, as a fitting tribute to one of the very last great composers and musicians of his generation. Full details will follow in the coming weeks.

(*) (reviewed here by Andrew Cartmel)


INTERVIEW: BB Kean (Pizza Pheasantry, Kings Road 15 Feb)

BB Kean
Photo Credit: Sam Mills-Williams

London-based singer and composer BB (Beccy) Kean is excited to share her dynamic vocals and saucy style at a Valentine’s gig at The Pheasantry on 15 February. She talks here to Leah Williams about the upcoming gig, her latest single Valentine’s Miss, and working with top-flight players such as  Derek Nash and Sebastiaan de Krom:

LondonJazz News: What’s your earliest memory of singing?

BB Kean:I think I’ve always sung! It took me a while to get the confidence to do it in public though. It wasn’t until I moved abroad and felt as though I had nothing to lose that I started to perform — now you can’t stop me!

LJN: And what got you into jazz and blues?

BK: It’s the only music I’ve ever really been into. I grew up with jazz, blues and Motown music as it’s what my parents always listened to. I never really got into pop or rock or anything else really. Although I do love the way contemporary musicians like Jordan Rakei, Robert Glasper and Esperanza Spalding are starting to blur those boundaries a bit more.

LJN: Who were some of your main inspirations growing up?

BK:All the big divas like Etta James and Aretha Franklin. I have memories of singing along to them when I was about ten years old! Then when I was in my early twenties I discovered Eva Cassidy and I just thought ‘this is it, this is pure magic’ and I knew I wanted to be singing music like that in dusty jazz bars everywhere.

LJN: When did you start writing your own music?

BK: When I was really young. I actually wrote my first big hit when I was just 11 - it was a song about the environment that I did for school and they’ve been teaching it to kids there ever since! I’m still pretty proud of that although my style and subject topics have somewhat progressed since then…

LJN: What kind of thing do you write about now?

BK: Well, I never sit down to purposefully write about anything in particular. My compositions tend to come more from vocals and melodies that gradually formulate in my mind until they’re ready to come out. They’ll be about whatever experiences I’m going through at that time, things my friends have told me about or perhaps interesting stories I’ve heard.

LJN: What’s your most recent single Valentine’s Miss about?

BK: Ha erm..it’s actually about when you date a guy who’s really sweet and lovely but then just a bit of a wet blanket in the bedroom [she laughs]. It’s a pretty cheeky song, like most of the tracks on that EP, just trying to have fun with the music.

LJN: Is that how you would describe your sound, cheeky?

BK: It’s hard to put into just a few words. I’m an old soul really and am definitely influenced by that vintage funk and blues sound that can be a bit saucy at times. But I also like to write songs about things that are important to me and so am equally comfortable singing about personal, heartfelt experiences. I’d say as an artist your sound is generally in a state of constant flux anyway and the newer material I’m writing is definitely developing and moving towards something a bit different — it’s exciting!

LJN: Your debut EP Laid Bare was produced by Derek Nash. How did that collaboration come about?

BK:I sent a track across to him and before I knew it I was at his studio out in Kent recording with all these amazing musicians like drummer Sebastiaan de Krom, pianist Paddy Milner and bass player Geoff Gascoyne. It was such an incredible experience and Derek did a really great job with the EP.

LJN: Do you enjoy collaborating with other musicians?

BK: Absolutely. Working with different musicians is a large part of the fun and, especially when you’ve been playing with a band for a while, it really influences your songwriting. When I’m composing music now I feel as though the individual styles of the musicians I work with are present in my mind and can shape the musical choices I make at times.

Someone I regularly gig and write with is guitarist Jamie Howell and my next EP will most likely be a collection of tunes we’ve written together.

LJN: Will you be playing some of this new material at your gig at The Pheasantry?

BK:Yes, I’ll be playing the tracks from my current EP and giving a sneak peek of some new material as well as a few sultry, romantic classics — it is a Valentine’s gig after all!

It should be a great night, I’m really looking forward to it. I love nothing more than being up on stage; those magical moments when you’re singing something that really matters to you and know you’re connecting with the audience is what it’s all about. I’m so lucky to have such a great band with me as well. I really hope to see some familiar and new faces there! (pp)

Tickets for BB Kean’s gig at The Pheasantry on 15 Feb
BB Kean’s debut EP Laid Bare, including single Valentine’s Miss is on Apple Music Beccy Kean website


REVIEW: Chris Bowden at Union Chapel

The band at Union Chapel
iPhone snap by James McGowan

Chris Bowden
(Union Chapel, London. 22 January 2019.Review by James McGowan)

Union Chapel swelled with anticipation ahead of Chris Bowden’s long-awaited performance of his 1992 album Time Capsule. There was a genuine affection and depth of feeling among the crowd for a man revered by fans of jazz and dance music alike.

Bowden was steeped in jazz from a young age. He studied classical saxophone, before spending several years touring and recording with acid-jazz group K-Collective. The Birmingham-born musician hit the wider consciousness with his hugely acclaimed debut Time Capsule which was released on UK Soul Jazz Records in 1992. Further releases include Slightly Askew in 2002 and Unlikely Being last year which was covered on the pages of LondonJazz News (INTERVIEW). He has also been a much sought-after arranger and collaborator with a range of acid-jazz and dance artists including the jazz-rock hip-hop outfit the Herbaliser.

The stirringly swinging Ridiculous Itinerary opened the first set with trumpeter Jay Phelps deftly weaving among the leader’s soulful alto lines while keyboardist Jim Watson unfurled floating liquid chords. A joyous take on Herbie Hancock’s One Finger Snap was propelled by Young Jazz Musician of the Year Xhosa Cole’s muscular tenor saxophone.

Set two was all Time Capsule. Mothers and Daughters now Mothers surged with pulsating swagger, fuelled by Chris Dodd’s hypnotic bass – such a key part of the Bowden sound – and Neil Bullock’s taut minimalism on drums. Forbidden Fruit recalled the intricate world-funk of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with the group’s string section zig-zagging hither and thither.

Bowden stalked the stage in a contented trance, gently whispering to fellow musicians. A hymnal Epsilon oozed spiritual energy, its dreamlike melody unfolding in nuanced twists and turns with soulful, crisp alto lines and a soaring flute duel between Cole and multi-instrumentalist Pelham Wood.

Like the album, the set was a sequence of sculpted fragments and moods, peppered with textures from long-term collaborator Simon Richmond on electronics. Sane echoed Gary Bartz with Watson’s fearsomely percussive chords stirring up a Latin vamp over frenzied rhythmic interplay between Dodd and Bullock. A cameo for Stuart Baker was a sign of how much his contribution has meant through the years before a poignant final coda gave way to a Coltrane-ish whirlwind finale.

Bowden explained that the album Time Capsule was intended to reflect a unique moment in time. I’m sure that in reopening the capsule 27 years on, one of British jazz’s most uncompromising musicians will have found that the freshness and vigour of the music remain undimmed, its enduring breadth of vision and inspiration resonating more deeply than ever.


NEWS: A Great Day in Birmingham (11 Feb 2019)

Tony Kofi, as captured by Brian Homer
Photo: © Brian Homer
Remember the classic photograph, A Great Day in Harlem? Birmingham photographer and jazz enthusiast Brian Homer is hoping to emulate it in his city on 11 February. Peter Bacon reports:

It's a chance to celebrate the vibrant jazz scene in England's Second City; it's also a chance to create a memorable photograph. A Great Day in Birmingham takes its cue from Art Kane's iconic 1958 photograph taken in front of a Brownstone building in Harlem and featuring 57 musicians, most of them still great names in jazz's history. There's even a book dedicated to that picture (Art Kane: Harlem 1958 by Jonathan Kane, reviewed here).

Photographer Brian Homer will be co-ordinating the event and triggering the shutter (though he'd love other photographers to be involved too), and is calling on  those active on the Birmingham jazz scene to gather in Victoria Square, Birmingham, at 10am on Monday 11 February 2019.

Selfie shot
Photo: © Brian Homer
Brian, who is also instrumental in producing the bi-monthly Jazz in Birmingham what's on guide, told me: “I’ve known about Art Kane’s iconic picture of 57 great jazz musicians taken in 1958 for many years and I’d thought of doing it in Birmingham before but I’ve now got to know the scene better and now seemed a great time to do it.

“The jazz scene in and around Birmingham is now very strong with a wide range of musicians, promoters, clubs and venues as well as one of the top jazz courses at the Conservatoire. And Soweto Kinch being prominent on radio and TV as well as playing, and Xhosa Cole winning BBC Young Jazz Musician 2018 just made it the right time.”

LINK: Jazz in Birmingham's A Great Day in Birmingham page with full information


INTERVIEW: Sandy Burnett (ACE Cultural Tours' first From New Orleans to Memphis tour, late March/early April 2019)

Sandy Burnett
Publicity Photo
SANDY BURNETT is a musician and former BBC Radio 3 broadcaster. He has worked as tour director for several cultural tours in Europe and the UK exploring locations with a rich cultural heritage. In late March and early April, he will have the chance to combine personal passions and his job: having done substantial research and reconnaissance of the tour locations, he will be taking his first party to North America, on a tour exploring and delving into the musical heritage of the Southern USA, starting in New Orleans and ending in Memphis. A few of the 22 places on the tour are still available. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: How did you get into this tour-directing lark?

Sandy Burnett: It logically grew out of what I’d been doing ever since 1994: playing a lot and conducting a bit, in both classical and jazz environments, and talking about music on the radio week-in week-out for a decade. In 2007 I passed a stiff audition process and got to take my first tour to the Leipzig Bachfest. It’s a great opportunity for me to do my thing, which is to talk about music and its cultural context from the point of view of a practising performer, plus it’s really interesting and a lot of fun. Although I’ve clocked up 35 classical music tours since then – I now fit in half a dozen a year – this is an exciting departure for me as it’s the first one I’ve done that’s centred on jazz and blues.

LJN: There is a logic here in starting the tour in NO and ending in Memphis, I guess…

SB: In fact I’d originally wanted to do the tour the other way round: tackling the intensity of Memphis first, with its fascinating 1960s history of civil rights and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, and the racially integrated recording boom at Stax Records, and then heading down Highway 61 to New Orleans for five days of having an absolute blast.

But my colleagues at ACE Cultural Tours talked me round, and of course, they were absolutely right.

So yes, first up we’re examining the fascinating way that all the different elements of early jazz came together in New Orleans a century ago, and then we’re travelling up the Mississippi Delta with its fantastic blues heritage, making Memphis our grand finale. We’re checking into the legendary Peabody Hotel there, and also including visits to the two Elvis shrines, Sun Studios and Graceland.

The Royal Sonesta Hotel in Bourbon Street,
New Orleans
Photo from Google Streetview
LJN: Your hotel is right in the centre, in Bourbon Street I see…

SB: Wowzers – when we first pulled up there to check in I couldn’t believe my eyes. There’s club after club cheek by jowl with each other right the way down Bourbon Street, each with a live band blasting out all sorts of music: rock, zydeco and blues as well as jazz. Just like the movies! It’s a great place to be based, right in the heart of the French Quarter, really vibrant and a little bit wild. But may I be middle aged at this point and say that our rooms are super quiet and at the back of the hotel?

LJN: What are some of the things you and the group will do in NO. Presumably a mix of the touristy and the off-the-beaten track….

SB: Preservation Hall – yes it’s touristy, but it’s a must, and they do put on a great show. People queue round the block for hours, but we’ve got fast-track access. We’ll be taking in a gig at Snug Harbour over in Frenchman Street, and the Palm Court Jazz Café has great food and a top band steeped in the New Orleans tradition, so we’ll be dining there one night. Last time I was there we hopped in a cab uptown to hear the Rebirth Brass Band, which was a pretty epic night out…

LJN: And will you get to play the bass at some point?

SB: James Evans, brilliant clarinet player and former bandmate of mine in the Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra here in the UK, has moved out to New Orleans and is part of the scene there. He’s getting some players together so that I can lead a private workshop with a borrowed bass especially for our group – I can’t wait for that, and it’ll be great to see him again.

LJN: And after New Orleans?

SB: We’re heading up Highway 61, staying one night in Natchez – remember it from the Johnny Mercer song One for my Baby? – and another in Clarksdale, right at the heart of Mississippi blues country. Morgan Freeman has a fantastic club there, so that’ll be our entertainment for the evening, before we head to Memphis for our grand finale.

LJN: And you will take in some sights that have nothing to do with music… up to a point?

SB: I don’t think you can ever understand music without its cultural heritage, and especially not in this case. Hurricane Katrina in 2006 was horrific and Spike Lee’s When The Levees Broke is awful and essential viewing, but New Orleans really has bounced back, the music, food and people are wonderful, and the hospitality is amazing. There’s lots of really difficult stuff to take on board, by which I mean the legacy of slavery and racial division which still endures today. On our route north we’ll be visiting a Louisiana plantation, now a museum, which offers a sobering picture of what life was like on both sides.

LJN: Why late March/early April?

SB: It happened to fit with my diary plus it’ll be after the mayhem of Mardi Gras, and the weather should be perfect. Not too hot!

LJN: You have done a lot of tours for ACE with classical destinations. What are the hallmarks of a successful tour?

SB: It’s all in the planning, and the office is brilliant at that – getting good hotels and restaurants, building a trip full of great music and things to see, but not making the easy mistake of cramming the itinerary so that everyone’s exhausted. Downtime is important, as well as the uptime!

LJN: Are you the one who ends up dealing with the tour party’s medical and logistical problems or is someone else assigned to do that?

SB: I’m with the group as the in-house music expert; travelling with me is my super experienced, sympathetic and efficient tour manager. She’s there to help everyone settle in, make everything run smoothly, confirm bookings in advance and cope with logistical issues. But in reality we work as a team.

LJN: Is every aspect of the tour now fixed or is there still scope for (eg musical) surprises?

SB: We’ve got the key elements in place, but we’re sure to come across spontaneous things while we’re there, so yes, there’s scope to head off independently now and again for late night musical adventures. I for one am not counting on any early nights. (pp)

LINK: ACE Cultural Tours From New Orleans to Memphis tour


CD REVIEW: LBT – Way Up in the Blue

LBT – Way Up in the Blue
(Enja Yellowbird YEB77852. CD Review by Rob Mallows)

I approached Way Up in the Blue with a slightly sceptical ear. The description in the press release indicated the album was an experimental jazz electronica crossover, with a hint of techno to boot. It didn’t sound promising, given I have little patience for the latter two genres of music.

But, you know, beneath the repetitive beats there’s a beautiful, uncomfortable, contemporary jazz album. For (imperfect) comparison, think a super-charged EST, or the Neil Cowley Trio guesting at a rave somewhere off the M25.

LBT – who are pianist Leo Betzl, double bassist Maximilian Hirning and drummer Sebastian Wolf – don't make it easy for the listener to enjoy this music; but you have to admire their ballsiness in making an album so challenging and disruptive. Given their undoubted pedigree – the group won the German Jazz Prize 2018; Maximilian Hirning was awarded the soloist prize; Leo Betzl is a prize winner of the Steinway Förderpreis, the Kurt Maas Jazz Award and the Bavarian Art Promotion Prize – that sense of hubris is understandable, and earned.

Second track Arpeggione starts conventionally enough with a light melody, but then: boom! The atmosphere changes as things get industrial, almost Stockhausen-like in their weirdness – strange bass glissandos, droning cello, pizzicato toy piano-like pecking. It’s as if the band picked up a box of rhythmical ideas and threw them at the wall, to see what sticks. What results works as a sort of propulsive rhythmic assault.

Title track Way Up in the Blue is part techno banger, part minimalist piano tour de force, where each musician is battling the other to make as much with as little as possible: Wolfgruber’s drums are straight up four beats to the bar bass and snare on second and fourth beats, unceasingly; Betzl sticks to the same rhythmic noodle throughout, with a few chord shifts. Hirning’s double bass is straight up quarter tones, no embellishments. Then half way through it transforms and this is where the value of patience is evident, as the melodic descents which punctuate the tune are as dramatic as any waterfall.

Fourth track Skrjabin is all about Hirning’s bass. It is, in effect, an extended, languid solo for the first two minutes, with a single note all Betzl offers until a melody starts to emerge, Wolfgruber’s drumming providing a clockwork narration as the song wakes up. Four minutes in it picks up the pace further and ends beautifully.

Fifth track Circadian Dysrhythmia offers no obvious melodic entry point, as Betzl’s repeated arhythmic single tones sounds like he’s tuning his piano. The colour comes from the addition of the wonderfully named ‘Paranormal string quartet’ who do exactly what their name promises, by introducing an eery cacophony of plucks, slides, scrapes and ghostly whines, under which Wolfgruber lets off the handbrake and kicks into a hard, pounding rock/dance beat. It’s all about the build, layer upon layer, bar after bar, sounds synchronising with each until it just stops, abruptly.

Underneath the angularity of it all, the underlying musical and jazz credentials of the band do cut through. In the same way it is only the most fervently religious who flirt with heresy, only those steeped in jazz lore – as the band demonstrates on the surprising last track, the jazz standard Moonglow which stands apart from what went before – can feel comfortable rejecting or metamorphosing most of what underpins that very genre. Betzl and co are, after all, experienced jazz musicians, not dilettantes. For example, on This is no way to Vernazza, the periodic interjections from Betzl and the acrobatic bass melodies from Hirning hint at their jazz chops, but it’s all subtly downplayed and repurposed. Eighth track Plectral Comfort Zone is anything but, and consequently the least satisfying track.

Having listening to the album twice, I can’t say I fully understand it, but it has been growing on me with further listens. If jazz-techno-electronica is the next evolution of jazz, then LBT have planted their flag in the ground and staked a claim to leadership. This is an album that will, I’m sure, furrow the brows of a lot of jazz journalists and listeners alike, and I imagine it’s not likely to trouble the Spotify playlists at all. But, I guess, that’s the whole point of it.


CD REVIEW: Chris Ingham Quartet featuring Mark Crooks – Stan

Chris Ingham Quartet featuring Mark Crooks – Stan
(Downhome Records – CD review by Mark McKergow)

Enterprising pianist Chris Ingham’s latest project takes a look at the work of tenor sax legend Stan Getz through this excellent collection featuring the superb saxophone sound of Mark Crooks.

Chris Ingham clearly likes to grasp an idea and run with it. His previous sets have examined the work of Hoagy Carmichael and, less predictably, Dudley Moore. (If you have yet to hear it, listen to  Ingham’s Dudley CD as a reminder of Dagenham Dud’s skill as a jazz composer, arranger and performer before his transformation into Hollywood hearththrob.) Unlike Ingham’s two previous subjects, Getz was not a composer and so this disc has a vast range of tunes recorded by the saxophonist over his 45 year career from which to choose.

Any mention of Stan Getz will immediately bring out words from aficionados about ‘rich tone’ and ‘Lester Young’, so the choice of horn player is critical. Mark Crooks proves an excellent choice for the role here. From roots at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and the Guildhall, Crooks has established himself as one of the go-to instrumentalists for the likes of the John Wilson Orchestra. His luscious sound and apparently effortless phrasing suit this repertoire very well, and the recording puts the saxophone front and centre in a most attractive way.

The opening Ballad For Leo opens the door to the set very nicely – starting out of tempo with piano flourishes, finding a mid-tempo groove which then doubles into a scurrying shuffle with Crooks riding along, always interesting but never rushed, dropping in the odd double density note in the manner of a footballer nutmegging his opponent to show how much he has in reserve. Horace Silver’s Split Kick shows the band in fine classic swinging form with Arnie Somogyi, surely one our finest bass players, holding down the beat in great form.

Getz was a particularly fine ballad player, and slower tunes are well represented here. When The World Was Young is a masterclass in the art of ultra-slow jazz with the band finding myriad ways to keep up the accompaniment without getting in the way of Crooks’ solo. Later in the album Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most is presented as a sax/piano duet which brought me up short, a startling and finely wrought display of emotional yet reserved music making, economical yet extremely expressive.

Many people first heard Stan Getz in his bossa nova collaborations with Astrid Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. It’s only natural that this album should feature some bossa, and Ingham has chosen well. We don’t get the most well-known pieces, no Desafinado or Girl From Ipanema. Instead the featured tunes include Vivo Sonhando, a Jobim composition from 1962 first recorded by Os Cariocas and picked up for the classic Getz/Gilberto album of 1964. Luiz Eça’s The Dolphin also gets a welcome outing, with George Double’s fine and delicate drumwork offering a shimmering background. Double finally gets to step forward on Kenny Barron’s Voyage for some solo breaks, and Somogyi is similarly rewarded with solo space on Detour Ahead.

Chris Ingham and his cohort are touring their Stan show this year, so look out for them at a jazz club near you (particularly if you live in Suffolk!). If you can’t see the performance, then this CD is both a fine reminder of the distinguished work of Stan Getz and yet another quality indicator of our fine home-grown talent.

LINK: Stan (including tour dates) at Chris Ingham's website


CD REVIEW: Andrew Rathbun Large Ensemble – Atwood Suites

Andrew Rathbun Large Ensemble – Atwood Suites
(Origin Records 82755. CD Review by Frank Griffith)

Toronto native, saxophonist, composer and bandleader Andrew Rathbun has just released his large ensemble debut CD for Origin Records entitled Atwood Suites. Two of the three pieces, Two Islands and Power Politics are set to the poetry of the renowned Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood. Recorded in New York City in 2017, Rathbun's ensemble boasts top-drawer personnel such as trumpeter Seneca Black, trombonist Mike Fahie and Birmingham UK-based American saxophonist John O'Gallagher. Vocalist Luciana Souza also makes an outstanding contribution with her readings of Atwood's prose. The powerful but sensitive support of longtime John Scofield drummer Bill Stewart guides and goads the band handily throughout as well.

The plangent flugelhorn and trumpet solos of Tim Hagans flow throughout the two suites as the primary soloist on the CD. As liner note writer (and composer/pianist) Jim McNeely states: "Tim's lyricism ranges from thoughtfully introspective to wildly expressive". His achingly beautiful musings on the 2nd movement of Two Islands and his surging motifs in the swinging 3rd movement provide the listener with good evidence of the wide span of his emotional proclivities. He rises and fulfils his role with aplomb, as if he is co-narrator to Luciana's resplendent vocal interpretations of Atwood's words.

In addition to his prowess as a composer/arranger, Rathbun is equally eloquent in articulating his aims and processes adapting Atwell's poems. "I don't consider myself an expert on poetry but as a musician thinking about poetry it's good to sort of resemble a lyric in a way. It doesn't have to necessarily have a rhyming scheme but it has to have an internal natural rhythm that sort of draws me in to want to set it to music. Even if the phrases are in odd groupings or kind of have a strange gait it still had to be able to function within a musical phrase." All sage advice to those of us who aspire to effectively mix and balance different mediums to create something unique.

Origin is an innovative Seattle-based label, and is currently celebrating its 20th year. It was founded by drummer John Bishop (with whom I had the honour of going to high school in the 1970s... as if any LJN reader needs to know this...). It has served Rathbun well. On this new album, his multi-talented and creative ensemble and the distinctive soloists have concocted a clear and unified vision, amalgamating Atwood's writings into an impressive and epic work.


NEWS: Jazz Camp for Girls in the North (10 Feb 2019)

Photo credit: Porl Medlock
Peter Bacon reports:

Jazz North is organising a Jazz Camp for Girls on Sunday 10 February 2019 with workshops at four venues across the North to give girls aged nine to 15 the chance to find out more about playing jazz under the tutelage of women players.

The 10am to 3pm workshops are taking place in Rotherham, Greater Manchester, Lancaster and Huddersfield.

Jazz North's press release explains:

"The camps will be led by professional female musicians including creator of In the Gap! Hannah Brady, manchester jazz festival hothouse artist Helen Pillinger, J Frisco’s Lara Jones and Megan Roe, Sonia Mellor, Colette Dutot, Jilly Jarman from BlueJam Arts, Helena Summerfield and Cath Sewell.

"Addressing the gender imbalance in jazz, Jazz North’s initiative has been inspired by the success of a similar project created and led by JazzDanmark..."

Jazz Camp for Girls Project Manager Helena Summerfield explained why the timing couldn’t be better:

"In the light of recent initiatives such as Keychange and Europe Jazz Network’s Gender Balance in Jazz and Creative Music manifesto it feels like the perfect time to be launching Jazz Camp for Girls in the north.

"The project aims to give girls a really positive experience of playing in a band; the emphasis will be on finding their own voice when improvising and creating new music together. Jazz Camp for Girls will also develop supportive working relationships between the partner organisations and celebrate female role models from the world of jazz.

"The ethos is quality over quantity, process rather than product. We want the participants to leave feeling empowered – that playing jazz is for them. These bands do not need to have a standard jazz instrumental line up and girls can try a new instrument on the day using their transferable musical skills. Tutors will encourage participants to compose together and a handbook will be given out with teaching resources and interviews with female jazz musicians as well as mentoring advice collected via questionnaires.”

The project has been made possible by a £5,130 grant from the Ronnie Scott's Charity Foundation and the partners working together on the project are Sheffield Music Hub, Rotherham Music Service, BlueJam Arts, Trafford Music Service, Lancashire Music Service, University of Huddersfield and Marsden Jazz Festival.

LINK: Jazz North's Jazz Camp for Girls 2019


REVIEW: Wandering Monster at the BeBop Club, Bristol

Wandering Monster in Bristol
Photo credit: Evan Dawson
Wandering Monster
(BeBop Club, Bristol, 25 January 2019. Review by Jon Turney)

Friday night found Leeds-based quintet Wandering Monster paying a first visit to Bristol’s BeBop club, a small room with a listening audience where it’s always good to catch new bands. They were evidently in good spirits, the gig coming near the end of a UK tour and on the official launch day of their debut CD. Composition and arrangements, courtesy of leader Sam Quintana, were tight. And the music, for all that the band’s name alludes to everyone’s “inner monsters”, often briskly cheerful.

Opener Samsara was a case in point, with Quintana on double bass Aleks Podraza on keys and Tom Higham on drums tracking its rhythmic twists and turns and several mood shifts effortlessly. Like several of their tunes, it has passages of calm, which are displaced by high energy blowing from the entire band.

That said, the two all-originals sets are nicely varied. Sweetheart is a fetching ballad, graced by a shapely tenor solo from Ben Powling, the night’s most attention-grabbing soloist. Other pieces are adorned with tricky time-signatures, fiercely declaimed unison lines, clever closing flourishes. But overall, even in the raucous urban jazz-rock of Rush Hour there’s something else. An air of restraint, that seems to emanate from the bass – mainly sticking with simple figures, hardly ever soloing. That restraint doesn’t extend to volume which, as young bands in small rooms often will, gets elevated a bit too much for comfort in the second half. But in the playing it still lends a sense of relaxation that helps the band sound like young virtuosi expressing themselves, not straining for effect.

It’s a difficult feeling to maintain, much assisted by Higham’s excellent drumming, and suits all these players, evoking fluid guitar excursions from Calvin Travers, and sax statements from Powling that mine a rich vein of Coltrane-isms. All very promising. A bunch of players who all went to the same college in a big city, formed a hot band, and now want to bring their new music to a live audience countrywide? You’ve heard that story before, but this is a well-wrought version that’s definitely worth paying attention to.

Aleks Podraza
Photo credit: Evan Dawson
Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. jonturney.co.uk. Twitter: @jonWturney

LINKS: Next dates, which round off the tour, are in February.
Wandering Monster's eponymous album is on Ubuntu Records. Extracts here


REVIEW/ PHOTOS: Laura Mvula and Black Voices at Kings Place

"A reunion with her family and musical roots"
Laura Mvula (centre) with members of Black Voices
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

Laura Mvula and Black Voices
(Kings Place Hall One. 23 January 2019. Review by Dominic Williams)

This gig was billed as part of the London A Capella Festival (co-hosted by the Swingle Singers and presided over by Gareth Malone). Allowing for the occasional solo song with piano, the gig fitted the bill. But it was also a celebration of black civil rights, part of Kings Place's year-long Venus Unwrapped series featuring female composers and perhaps most of all, a Brummie family reunion. This was an evening with emotional heft.

Black Voices is a five-piece a capella group from Birmingham with an international reputation, founded by Carol Pemberton, who happens to be Laura Mvula’s auntie. She was joined by Sandra Francis, Beverley Robinson, Laura’s cousin Shereece Storrod and Celia Wickham-Anderson. Laura Mvula had sung in the group as a teenager, so this concert was a reunion with her family and musical roots.

“A capella” is, of course, a description of a technique rather than a style and it can cover anything from plainsong to hiphop. Black Voices are not a typical SATB line-up. They come from a gospel background and owe a lot to the American group “Sweet Honey in the Rock”, three of whose songs they performed. They feature deep rhythmic bass lines, sung like a string bass and, unlike Sweet Honey, Black Voices use a real percussionist (Remi Fadare), rather than a human beatbox. Above the rhythm, the voices swap roles and show an impressive range, although without overmuch top soprano. The singing was accompanied by tasteful but modest choreography.

Remi Fadare
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

The songs were chosen to suit the occasion, mainly celebrating women’s struggles for freedom, opening with an electrifying version of Nina Simone’s Four Women, featuring Laura Mvula on lead vocals. There were another three Nina Simone numbers and an African song (Anweba) in the same spirit. Less obviously, they also included an Edif Piath number (L’hymne a l’amour), a mock instrumental, and Uptown Top Ranking a nod to the family’s Jamaican roots. There were also call outs for inspirational women figures, predictably Michelle Obama and Laura’s mum; less predictably, Carole King.

What of Laura Mvula? She sang three of her own songs solo, (Father, Father, She and Sing to the Moon) sitting at the piano, with restrained backing from Black Voices. Inevitably these were the high points of the night and a demonstration of her power to hold a room spellbound. Just as a solo singer/songwriter, she would be top of the pile, if that was all that she wanted to do.

Laura Mvula
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

The rest of the time, she was happy to be part of the group, singing and contributing arrangements, and duetting with her aunt. After a bruising couple of years (notoriously, her record company sacked her by email in 2017) it would be easy to write this concert off as a one-off nostalgic retreat into her comfort zone, wonderful though it was.

She reminisced about her time in the group, called a capella the purest form of music and said it was where she felt at home. Nostalgic maybe, but I’d prefer to think of it as one of Britain’s brightest (and much-loved) composer/arrangers still experimenting restlessly with ways to present her multi-layered vocals live on stage. There could be good things to follow from this evening.

Black Voices
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska


REVIEW: Gainsbourg Confidential at Crazy Coqs

Garance Louis, Cherise Adams-Burnett, Huw V Williams
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Gainsbourg Confidential 
(Crazy Coqs. 24 January 2019. First night of three. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Serge Gainsbourg really is the perfect subject for a musical retrospective. As his biographer Damien Panerai describes him, he was “a supreme reference point for French chanson: a poet, a creator with many facets to him, and a monument to himself alone.”

All that limitless and colourful myth-making and self-creation are indeed a work of art in themselves. His wonderful one-liners helped to extend his persona: “Ugliness is definitely superior to beauty, because at least it lasts...”, or “There’s a trilogy in my life, an equilateral triangle of Gitanes, alcoholism and girls.” And for extra trivia points, there’s the fact that he was once a student of Fernand Léger at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. And as to where his particular brand of uber-confidence and chutzpah came from, it certainly cannot have been a hindrance to have been the apple of his mother Olga’s eye for all but the last five years of his life; her first son, Marcel, had died at the age of just sixteen months, before Serge (real name Lucien) was born.

And, of course there are all those great songs that stay under the skin. Over this side of the channel, there is probably only Je t’aime that has really made it into the national consciousness, but with French people, songs like La Javanaise and  Le poinçonneur des Lilas are omnipresent; and I was pleased, in scoping out this review, to encounter one Frenchman’s astonishingly deep, nay monomaniacal obsession with the Dvořák New World-quoting song Initiales B.B.

With those thoughts in mind, the prospect of a show in the ideal French-themed surroundings of Crazy Coqs (preceded by the regulation steak haché/sauce/poivre/frites) proved impossible to resist. Many of the hits have found their way into the show. Guitarist Jean de Talhouët, who has devised it, pondered over whether Gainsbourg was ever to reach the songwriting heights he attained in his first studio album Du chant à la une of 1958. That thought seemed to have consequences. First, it gets out of the need to dwell on some of the later, sexually obsessive songs that chime very awkwardly indeed in the #metoo era. Gainsbourg didn’t just inherit the glorious French ‘épater les bourgeois’ tradition inherited from Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and directly from Boris Vian – he made it his own.

The selection was also skewed towards the more musically challenging and “interesting” numbers by Gainsbourg, a trend that was clear from the start with the choice of La femme des uns sous le corps des autres, where Gainsbourg revels in bitonality a la Milhaud. The muso tendency was also present in a nod to the extraordinary cult offering Histoire de Melody Nelson from 1971.

The main vocalist, Perpignan-raised London-based accordionist Garance Louis, is one of the real plus points of this show. She is comfortable singing deep into Gainsbourg’s baritone register and has a lot of charm. The show had clearly been built around her, and quite rightly. She brought authenticity and wonderful musicality to the songs. Cherise Adams-Burnett (as she proudly proclaimed) from Luton, fitted convincingly into the backing vocals role, and also played the flute very well. Her own solo contributions, however, felt more, for the time being at least, like work in progress.

That sense of a show that generally is not quite ready yet was to bedevil it on this first night of three. It is clear that the economics of getting a seven-piece band out are unfriendly, but I couldn’t help thinking, as I watched the show that, OK, it will be stronger by this Saturday, but it could really have done with a week being quietly tried out in a Harvester in Redhill or somewhere before coming to the West End. There really is a lot more to be done: instrument changeovers and the linking between songs need to be a lot slicker, and I wondered if it doesn’t really need a proper script to do justice to a cultural icon as massive as Gainsbourg.

That said, the chance to hear all these songs is not to be missed, and Garance Louis’ insouciant yet knowing way as an interpreter of Gainsbourg makes her a name to watch out for.

A reflection of Gainsbourg Confidential in the ceiling of Crazy Coqs
Photo by William Ward

LINK: Gainsbourg Confidential at Crazy Coqs


INTERVIEW: Chris Sharkey - (new album The Orchid & The Wasp)

Chris Sharkey
Photo credit: Alex Bonney

The new CD from experimental guitarist and electronic artist CHRIS SHARKEY & creative drummer MARK SANDERS is a 50-minute live recording that challenges expectations about improvised music and instrumentation. AJ Dehany asked Sharkey about the project’s rich development and realization:

London Jazz News: How would you explain what The Orchid and the Wasp is?

Chris Sharkey: There are a few different ways of experiencing/explaining The Orchid and The Wasp:

1 - It’s an unedited live recording of Mark Sanders and I improvising
2 - It’s a culmination of a 6 month artistic residency where I attempted to construct a new language to make music with
3 - It’s my humble attempt to bring something new to the table to the field of music
4 - It’s a political statement about the importance of new ideas and systems; and the dangers of permanent nostalgia
5 - It’s me fulfilling a dream of making music with Mark who has been one of my heroes since first seeing him play at the Red Rose Club in Finsbury park 16 years ago and I hope this project marks the beginning of a long musical relationship
6 - It’s a conceptual, self-produced, world-building exercise that constitutes one of the most satisfying musical experiences of my career.

The Orchid and the Wasp album cover
Photo: Ruby Gaunt 

LJN: Where does the title come from?

CS: The title comes from Deleuze & Guattari's book 'A Thousand Plateaus'. In it, they use the example of the orchid and the wasp to describe their concept of 'rhizome': A non-hierarchical, lateral structure with no fixed centre.

The wasp relies on the orchid for nourishment and in turn the wasp becomes part of the orchid's reproductive system by spreading its pollen. In order to survive the wasp must, in a sense, become the orchid and vice-versa and this is shown in the evolutionary physical mimicry of certain flowers to certain insects. This blurring or, as Deleuze and Guattari would put it, 'becoming' of these two organisms calls into question the whole idea of the self and how the world and everything in it, is structured.

Two improvisors also form a rhizome and in this piece we explore the idea of 'becoming' as our sounds intertwine and become indistinguishable from one another. As we give ourselves over to this, the music is able to grow in new and unpredictable ways leading us to fresh and unexplored ground.

LJN:  And some of the concepts also stem from the work of the critic and  theorist Mark Fisher (1968-2017).... 

CS: The video (see below) goes some way toward explaining the concepts behind the piece but the starting point was wondering why I’m so attracted to ‘new’ things. For me there’s nothing more exciting than hearing music that just perplexes me. It’s like someone opening a door to a world you didn’t even know about. And when that music is being made right now in the world it just makes me feel like the world is turning a little bit faster! It’s like the ultimate form of optimism. I think it’s the same thing that has always drawn me toward improvisation.

Fisher writes about new forms being harder to come by due to the feeling of stasis in politics and culture. This brings a political element to the process of making new music that is empowering to me as a musician who has felt a growing sense of impotency toward social and political development and change over the last decade.

While I feel that these sense of development and innovation has always been present in my work, I wanted to explicitly put that drive front and centre with the project. I wanted to push past the familiar and really dig deep to find some new methods and approaches.

LJN: How did your conceptual and political thinking intersect with developing the performance?

CS: So this is where Deleuze and Guattari (D+G) come in. Reading more about Fisher I found out that D+G were big influences so I got stuck into A Thousand Plateaus. To me, the cosmology of that book with it’s rich imagery and unusual and abstract structure and concepts (including the rhizome, de-territorialisation, re-territorialisation, lines of flight, the planes of consistency and immanence and nomad science and thought) perfectly described the creative act as I have experienced it as an artist. The crucial thing here though was, rather than it all just being ‘magic’ and chance, D+G seemed to be offering a manual on how to retrain your brain or reconsider how the world works in order to allow the kind of lateral, open thinking that allows new ideas to form.

So it was with a head full of these ideas and images that I began the residency at Chapel FM in Leeds. I allowed myself to follow ideas ‘libidinally’ and charged past the normal comfortable creative spaces. I put the guitar down and focused on the laptop using sampling as a form of de-territorialisation to break me away from the fretboard and muscle-memory.

I went down weird rabbit holes and dead ends and didn’t care (along the way I made 4 hours of ‘studies’ based on various techniques I discovered). I learned about synthesis, programming, triggering audio with midi and vice versa. My only rule: ‘If it feels weird or uncomfortable it must be right.’

Pretty soon I began feeling like improvising with these invented digital instruments was as expressive or even more expressive than playing the guitar which was when I started inviting Mark to come up and play with me. Toward the end of the residency we worked together to fine-tune the system to allow for the greatest amount of freedom and number of possibilities for the performance.

LJN: It’s intricately textured; how do you achieve this effect?

CS: The orchestration and blend of the acoustic and electronic sounds is probably key here so it’s a combination of pre-planning and quick-fire improvisation. I developed a method of playing the computer where I could have access to many sounds simultaneously without relying on anything pre-recorded or looped. This creates a deep, layered effect, which was vital as the aspiration of the piece was to present a complete world. It’s not just an improvisation. Improvisation is simply the method we used to create something together.

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

The Orchid and the Wasp is available on Bandcamp