NEWS: Snarky Puppy announce eight UK dates in November

Snarky Puppy
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

The Snarkies are busy Pups. Between April and November they will play, if my maths have not deserted me, 74 dates (!) including a load around the U.S. and Europe, and taking in Japan and Australasia. The good news is that there are eight UK dates. That's in addition to their 6 July appearance at Love Supreme. Curiously, the London date at the Royal Albert Hall takes place on 14 November, i.e. one day before the start of the EFG London Jazz Festival.

Snarky Puppy is touring the globe in support of their new album Immigrance which is released on 15 March on GroundUP Music.

Here is a song from it:

 Bandleader Michael League said: “The band is so excited about bringing 11 new songs to the UK on our upcoming tour. Of course we'll be mixing them in with material from previous albums (including some very old songs we haven't played in years), but it will be really special sharing the new ones with the audience who first welcomed us to Europe in 2012.”


6 November 2019 - Bournemouth - O2 Academy
7 November 2019 - Nottingham - Rock City
8 November 2019 - Bristol - O2 Academy
9 November 2019 - Oxford - O2 Academy
11 November 2019 – Ulster Hall - Belfast
14 November 2019 - London - Royal Albert Hall
15 November 2019 - Manchester - O2 Apollo
16 November 2019 - Glasgow – Barrowlands

LINK: Snarky Puppy 2019 Tour and Tickets


REVIEW: John Turville Quartet with Julian Argüelles at Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham

John Turville Quartet with Julian Argüelles at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo: © John Watson/
John Turville Quartet with Julian Argüelles
(Eastside Jazz Club, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 27 February 2019. Review and photos by John Watson)

There often comes a turning point in a musician’s career, a milestone at which a respected player becomes a much more significant musical force and develops a strong individual personality.

I would suggest that pianist John Turville has reached that point, with the release of his new album Head First (Whirlwind Recordings), and an extensive UK tour (more details below).

Turville has a wide range of influences, but has special affection for the music of pianist John Taylor and trumpeter-composer Kenny Wheeler, two much-missed giants of the UK scene. Inspired by many other sources, and with a wealth of experience in many large and small ensembles, Turville’s style is now quite distinctive, blending mellowness with splashes of bright colour, creating strong moods.

Head First has received enthusiastic reviews, not least from Patrick Hadfield in LondonJazzNews, and it was a delight to hear the music from the album performed live by his quartet, plus the brilliant tenor and soprano saxophonist Julian Argüelles, at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Eastside Jazz Club on what was the third date of the tour. The group is completed by trumpeter Robbie Robson, bassist Dave Whitford and drummer James Maddren, and all the musicians are familiar faces – as tutors as well as performers – at the conservatoire. Turville himself teaches jazz piano there, while Birmingham-raised Argüelles is an Honorary Fellow.
Julian Argüelles with the John Turville Quartet
Photo: © John Watson/
Some of the arrangements include tricky time signatures, and the complex interweaving of themes, but the group played with tremendous confidence. It was really extraordinary, for example, how Maddren could play so accurately and expressively while hardly ever needing to glance at the written dots.

But what counted was not just the technical expertise, but the gorgeous musical colours Turville has created in these pieces. Outstanding original themes included a ballad tribute to John Taylor, Ennerdale, and Interval Music, with exquisite blending of the horns of Argüelles and Robson, plus the album’s title track.

Robbie Robson at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo: © John Watson/
There were also some outstanding pieces by other composers, including Argüelles’ dynamic A Month In Tunisia – with an explorative tenor-drums intro – and the mellow Cancion 4, by Dan Schissi. with particularly expressive playing from Robson’s dark-toned trumpet.

John Watson's photographs and writing can be found at

John Turville soloing in Birmingham
Photo: John Watson/
The quartet’s UK tour, supported by Arts Council England, kicked off at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. Dates to come include Cambridge, Colchester, Wells, St Ives, Bushey, Nottingham, Sheffield and Brighton, plus workshops at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Leeds College of Music.

LINKS: John Fordham's feature about Head First with links to tour schedule
Patrick Hadfields's CD review


PREVIEW: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival (22-24 March)

John Etheridge and Theo Travis of Soft Machine
Photo taken at Capstone Theatre Liverpool in 2017 by Robyn Goh
The band played Bristol Uni Students Union in November 1974 and will play there again....

Adoptive Bristolian Jon Turney is looking forward to the Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival (22-24 March). This year's event takes place in a year when the festival's normal venue Colston Hall is closed for a major refurbishment... but is it really closed? Jon finds out:  

Bristol festival time again, eh?

Yes, and it’s a great line-up this year. They’ve got jazz acts from Richard Galliano to Keith Tippett and Matthew Bourne’s duo, China Moses revisiting Billie Holiday to the Gypsy Kings. And a ton of blues too.

Pretty much the first big one of the year, then?

Yup, especially this time, with Gateshead taking a break.

Wait, though, isn’t that nice Colston Hall off limits?

Indeed. The main building has been ripped apart inside.

So where will they put on all this music?

Well, Colston’s closure, plus a blizzard-induced dent in the takings last year, gave the organisers a lot to think about. Happily, Bristol has many mansions, and this year’s programme will run in a different set of venues that combines good facilities with a flexibility the old Hall lacked.

Do they work together well?

Yes: There’s space for big draws in the O2 Academy and the marvellous St George's on Brandon Hill. And the new Festival hub is a few minutes walk away in the Bristol University Students’ Union. Happily, they completed their big refurb a few years ago, and the Anson Rooms, as the performance spaces are known, boast a main hall, two smaller theatres and a bar.


A good one. In fact, although the programmers have upped the blues quotient this time (with stars including Lucky Peterson, Kirk Fletcher, and Aynsley Lister), there’s probably a wider range of jazz this time, too.

So how should I plan a weekend?

Well, you could just hang out in the Anson Rooms. There’s a good selection of interesting stuff in the Winston Theatre there (200 seats) – Ant Law, Julian Siegel’s quartet, Yazz Ahmed, Johnny Mansfield’s Elftet, Dennis Rollins, Soweto Kinch and Bristol trumpeter and leader Andy Hague playing a tribute to Kind of Blue. The larger main room sees sets from Soft Machine and lots of blues. The festival workshops find a new home in the smaller Pegg Studio Theatre. And the regular freestage programming runs all weekend (Friday-Sunday) in the adjoining Balloon Bar, with 20 bands programmed.

Sounds simple.

Still, then you’d miss all the goodies round the corner and down the hill at St George’s, where you have to go to catch Moscow Drug Club, Galliano, Tippett and Bourne, China Moses, Liane Carroll, Huw Warren’s Dylan Thomas Project, or festival patron Pee Wee Ellis realising a lifetime ambition to perform with strings.

One of those Bristol festival specials?

Yes, and there’s a new commission for pianist Rebecca Nash’s Atlas, featuring altoist John O’Gallagher and Sara Colman on vocals, back in the Winston Theatre, which looks intriguing.

All good. I’ll miss the Colston vibe, though.

Well, latest news: you can spend Sunday afternoon there, at least, when Colston’s vast foyer (the new bit) hosts a just-announced six act showcase for Jazz South. That’s another enticing collection of sets you can hear for free, including We are Leif, Iain Ballamy’s stellar quartet with Jason Rebello and Percy Pursglove, Hexagonal, featuring Jason Yarde and John Donaldson, and Kate Westbrook’s new Granite Band.

Looks like another mini-festival in itself.

The festival begins on Friday evening, March 22, and runs from noon on Saturday and Sunday. Full programme details and booking


CD REVIEW: Sam Leak/ Dan Tepfer – Adrift

Sam Leak/ Dan Tepfer – Adrift
(Jellymould JM-JJ032. CD review by Mike Collins)

Two-piano sets have a rich, if not voluminous tradition in jazz. Dave Brubeck wrote a suite for two pianos in the 60’s; Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock toured and recorded in the 70s. More recently Brad Mehldau and Kevin Hays set the bar high with their release. For the last ten years, Pizza Express have hosted the Steinway Two Piano Festival, and 2014’s edition brought Sam Leak and Dan Tepfer together.

They are two of a younger generation of prodigiously creative and fluent pianists, resident respectively on either side of the Atlantic in London and New York. By their account, Sam gave Dan just a couple of weeks warning of the suite he’d written for the occasion. The electricity they discovered in the performance however, led to this session. Recorded in New York Adrift was released on Jellymould at the end of 2018.

Clocking in at just half-an-hour, the eight Sam Leak compositions, numbered I  to VIII, cover a broad sweep stylistically, but most striking for this listener was the balance the pair achieved, blending the sound of their two pianos and ebb and flow of their lyricism and groove. Piece I  has the two pianos exchanging crystalline chords, bubbling phrases and chiming motifs; II grooves steadily under a Wheeler-esque arcing melody; III has them chasing each other with scampering lines; IV sounds for a moment like it might have been a lost French impressionist piece; V dances away with a rolling 12/8 gait, both pianist taking turns to spin out long melodic lines and explosive linear bursts of lyricism.

Sam Leak’s writing provides plenty for them to get their teeth into, but more importantly, gives them space to reflect and response. Two pianos have the potential to fill every chink of space, but there is never a moment when that seems remotely likely. This is beautifully judged performance and an advert for the musicianship of both players.


NEWS (WITH UPDATE): Full Programme Announced for Pizza Express Soho Two Steinway Festival (17-24 March)

On 23 March with Gary Husband: Joachim Kühn
Photo credit: ACt Music / Steven Haberland

Sebastian writes:

The full line-up for the tenth edition of the Pizza Express Steinway Two Piano Festival is now in place. The festival runs for a full eight days, and has a host of interesting names and several first-time encounters. All events have doors 6.30pm and concert 8.30pm except where stated (Sunday lunchtime 24 March). But... how do they get that second piano into and out of that basement?

UPDATE 27 FEB: Another lunchtime gig just added

23 March, 1.30 pm: Harry Bolt & Sam Leak / Wendy Kirkland & Steve Melling


17 March: Ian Shaw & Liane Carroll

18 March: Tom Seals & Mo Pleasure

19 March: Gwilym Simcock & Pablo Held

20 March: Kit Downes & Bojan Z

21 March: James Pearson & Tamir Hendelman (Celebration of Oscar Peterson)

22 March: Alex Wilson & Nicky Brown

23 March, 1.30 pm: Harry Bolt & Sam Leak / Wendy Kirkland & Steve Melling

23 March: Joachim Kühn & Gary Husband

24 March, 1.30 pm: Tom Cawley & Elliot Galvin / Ivo Neame & Alcyona Mick

24 March, 8.30 pm: Julian Joseph & Jason Rebello (SOLD OUT) (pp)

LINK Programme Details and Bookings


INTERVIEW: Seamus Blake (new album Guardians of the Heart Machine / launch Kings Place 8 March)

Seamus Blake, London2018
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska
Saxophonist SEAMUS BLAKE, a major force in contemporary jazz, has recorded a new album on the Whirlwind Recordings label with a new band, The French Connection. Guardians of the Heart Machine was recorded at the Studio de Meudon in Paris. The London launch is at Kings Place on 8 March. Saxophonist Alex Hitchcock interviewed Seamus Blake about the album, starting by asking him where he is based....

"I’m based sort of nowhere; I have some bags and some instruments in Latvia but at the moment I’m just sort of a vagabond." Seamus Blake is speaking from Riga. The path leading to this point saw him win the 2002 saxophone edition of the legendary Thelonious Monk Competition and enjoying a celebrated career that has seen him feature in groups led by John Scofield, Antonio Sanchez, and Dave Douglas while releasing an eclectic range of recordings as leader, memorably with fellow tenor saxophone hero Chris Cheek on the 2014 Criss Cross release Reeds Ramble.

"My initial thing was just to come over to Europe: I can float between Europe, the US, and Canada because I have passports for those places. I enjoy Europe a lot, it’s a different view on life and the Europeans love jazz... it’s a refreshing change to hop across the pond."

The wheels of the new album, Guardians of the Heart Machine, were set in motion when Paris-based jazz aficionado Olivier Saez approached Blake in Ronnie Scott’s and broached the idea of a tour with some younger French musicians: pianist Tony Tixier, bassist Florent Nisse, and drummer Gautier Garrigue. A subsequent recording in Paris was taken up by Whirlwind Recordings, the label founded by American bassist Michael Janisch. The label’s press release suggests that the title, derived from a character in the 1927 film Metropolis, "symbolizes and protects the importance of creating music with feeling", which Blake places at the centre of his work. "Part of the meaning is certainly connecting emotions to music, and surprisingly some people don’t always do that! I remember as a child listening to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as a ten-year-old, closing my eyes and seeing this entire Disney animation. It was like what I imagine doing acid to be: very pictorial. Music has that power, through sculpting sound you can transmit emotions and take people on a journey."

The title track, Blake says, also took on an added meaning three months ago, when his father underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery. The song "became an anthem to protect him and to keep him strong, and I was sometimes dedicating the song to my father in the hope that he would have a successful operation. And he did: he’s recovering well, and so protecting the heart of music, playing with heart, playing with feeling, those are all interconnected for me."

It was his father, an English teacher "who is infinitely smarter than I am", who pointed out the nod to Macbeth in The Blasted Heath, an initially accidental reference that Blake puts down to Shakespeare’s lurking presence in his subconscious. He describes it as "a kind of a despair song – there were a lot of forest fires going on [at the time of writing in 2017], and every summer seems to break a new record for fires and heatwaves. I remember seeing some images of some of these decimated forests after the fires and they looked apocalyptic to me." The track is immediately notable for its haunting, understated vocals; Blake has sung on previous albums and feels that words offer "another dimension; for me it’s another colour and a way to tell a story with even more clarity. You can say a lot with a musical story but you don’t have that power of image that you have with words."

Wandering Aengus, inspired by the poem by W.B. Yeats, also leans more towards the melancholic, dreamlike side of Blake’s writing. The fluttering odd meter groove is an apposite setting for the ethereal world of Yeats’ poem, and showcases the rhythm section’s deftness and restraint, with the lightness of touch in Tixier’s spiralling over-the-time solo particularly compelling. The atmosphere is supernatural; Blake began writing the piece on a guitar with appropriately "funny tuning" after being sent the poem by his mother, and thought about adding lyrics before deciding against it. The track is, Blake says, a candidate for a planned project – "sometimes the musical journey is longer than just one album" – that will revisit some of his small group instrumental songs, add lyrics and expand them to large ensemble or big band vocal arrangements.

He says of Tixier, Nisse, and Garrigue that "they are all open-minded musically, they’ve mastered their instruments, and they contributed in a lot of cool ways. A good supporting musician knows when to add something creative and to fine tune their intentions to the music." Blake wrote the music for the album after having already played extensively with them, and tried to combine his own style with "a European classical feel that would offer a little bit of a challenge but would feel like a bridge between the European and American worlds". Blake cites the "classical voice-leading and bass movement" in Vaporbabe as an example of his attempt to integrate the two styles; an as yet unrealised vision for a video for that track imagined the quartet "wearing powdered wigs and dressed like Mozart".

One of the most compelling aspects of Blake’s playing – and one that has inevitably given rise to a small army of slack-jawed imitators – is his dexterity and expressiveness at the extreme ranges of the instrument. Rather than being an exclamation point or a climactic device used for its own sake, Blake’s lucid, direct altissimo functions as a true extension of the saxophone’s range, allowing ideas to find their natural resolution. He sounds free to stretch out and to follow lines and motifs to their conclusion here, particularly over Tixier’s responsive comping on Sneaky D and on a harder-edged, chordless section of Lanota". This freedom is reflected both in the compositions and in the way this and his last album, Superconductor, are presented; the artwork and titles on both albums seem to be moving closer to the ‘concept album’ than anything before in Blake’s discography. "I’ve been freer to do more creative things," he says. "Previously, I was a little bit more limited in terms of what I could do. With Superconductor, I was quite free to do anything I wanted. Maybe through having a bit more freedom I’m able to unify the vision a little bit more."

Tellingly, Blake identifies his own ‘postmodern’ inclinations in the scope and ambition of these last two albums. "Sometimes I get a little bit scattered: jazz musicians now are into everything, they can play R&B, hip hop, drum and bass, classical music. There are elements of all of these, so some albums mix a lot of different things, and for the listener it’s quite a journey. It’s a common thing, especially in our super-connected world." He reflects: "perhaps it was too much freedom all of a sudden and I was trying everything I had never been able to do. I’m hoping to make albums that have more of a continuitt." The sheer breadth of Blake’s work as a side musician certainly testifies to that ability to shift between idioms, or rather to blend them convincingly. He places improvisation at "the core of jazz and the core of my personality; that’s always been something I loved. Even if it’s in the context of another genre or style, I’m still a jazz musician in what I do, even if there are these other elements going on."

Album Cover of Guardians of the Heart Machine
Looking ahead to the London launch of the new album, Blake feels "a special connection from being born in London. I always feel a little bit British when I’m back there; my very first words as a three-year-old were with a British accent. I’m a fan of tons of British music – they’ve always been the masters of popular music. It’s a coming home kind of feeling." (pp)

LINKS: Seamus Blake at Whirlwind Recordings
The London launch of Guardians of the Heart Machine will be at Kings Place on 8 March (BOOKINGS)


BOOK / CD Review: The Gospel According To Malaco: Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel Music

Robert Marovitch: The Gospel According To Malaco: Celebrating 75 Years of Gospel Music 
(Malaco Records. Book and 8-CD set. Review by Miko Giedroyc)

Contemporary Gospel has been the soundtrack of my life, spiritually and musically, for almost 20 years. Before that I was a  jazz obsessive. One of the reasons I came so late to gospel was Mahalia Jackson’s set in Bert Stern and Aram Avakian’s film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, Jazz On A Summer’s Day. How, I asked, could such an amazing singer come onstage and sing a four-chord old-schooler (I7 IV7 II7 V7) after the gorgeous complexity of Bebop, the deep groove of Hard Bop and the calm sophistication of Cool? Gospel, it seemed to me at the time, was barrelhouse without the double entendres. And at the time, my Christian faith wasn’t strong enough to appreciate the beautiful simplicity of Jackson’s closing song, Our Father, to a visibly stunned crowd at Newport.

In strictly musical terms, the history of gospel music from about 1960 to 1990 is a history of “Catch-Up” with the rest of African American music. My theory is that what happened to gospel music in the earlier part of the last century is the same as that which happened to all Christian institutions: terrified of the modern world, it closed its eyes to what it perceived as the pollution of the secular world. Jackson, for example, vowed never to sing secular music, and famously said that the problem with singing the blues was that when you'd finished singing them, you still had them. (But it is of course nonsensical to suggest that this moving spirit of the Civil Rights movement distanced herself from the world in any other way than musical). Only in the 1960s did the Church liturgy start to look outwards; that Edwin Hawkins’ Oh Happy Day and the Second Vatican Council coincide is, to me, no coincidence.

Based in Jackson, Mississippi, and the only surviving independent African American music label, Malaco Records is the “Last Soul Company”, the plucky and lucky survivor of over 50 turbulent years in the music business. Plucky because of its history of successful competition with global labels through the use of brains and ears (witness the meteoric success of the Mississippi Mass Choir, the brainchild of the Jackson Southernaires’ Frank Williams, also Director of Gospel at Malaco); and lucky on several counts (saved from financial ruin in the mid-1970s by Dorothy Moore’s Misty Blue, and from loss of life and of musical assets when a tornado ripped Malaco’s premises apart in 2011).

The significance of this 8-CD album, accompanied by 140 pages of detailed and fascinating commentary by Robert Marovich, is not in its modern comprehensiveness, however. Today’s giants of contemporary gospel – Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, Donald Lawrence, Israel Houghton, Donnie McClurkin, Kurt Carr – are mainly to be found on other labels (though Malaco has had its fair share of top artists). For me, its significance is that it is an education in traditional gospel and an aural history of the Great Gospel Catch-Up of 1960 to 1990, courtesy of the Savoy and Apollo gospel back catalogues which Malaco shrewdly purchased in the 1980s, and which catapulted Malaco into pole position through the ownership of the key recordings of Mahalia Jackson and The Rev James Cleveland, the “Queen” and the “King” of Gospel respectively, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, et al.

Disc One spans the period 1947 to 1965, has 18 tracks, four from Apollo, the rest from Savoy. Apollo’s golden era coincided with Mahalia Jackson’s tenure, 1946 to 1954, and the first song on the disc is the recording that made her famous, Move On Up (1947). Track Six, In The Upper Room (1952) which Jackson co-wrote, is a less well known later release at Apollo but shows greater musical openness – it is harmonically three-dimensional, uses backing vocals and has greater dramatic confidence. The Ward Singers were one of Savoy’s earliest signings in gospel and a highlight is their Old Landmark (1951, Track Five), made still more famous over ten years later by Aretha Franklin, and then by James Brown in The Blues Brothers. This early version of the ultimate gospel thumper is suave and nuanced, and I prefer it to any other I’ve heard.

Otherwise, Twelve Gates To The City (1955, The Davis Sisters) is a muscular shuffle, and the Hammond-plus-Leslie has a modern bark rather than a traditional shimmer; Open Our Eyes (The Gospel Clefs, 1958) is a gritty harbinger of the Motown Sound; and there are two songs from The Rev James Cleveland and The Angelic Choir, Peace Be Still (1963) and I Stood On The Banks Of Jordan (1964), featuring his gut-wrenching baritone and the early sound of the mass choir. Cleveland, the “King”, is a key figure in the Catch-Up, fusing in his music traditional gospel – as exemplified by the 16 tracks on this disc leading up to his – with modern soul, jazz, pop and mass choir arrangement (it is Cleveland’s choir which sings Old Landmark with James Brown in The Blues Brothers).

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Publicity picture
Disc Two joins the musical dots between these early steps into modernity and fully-fledged contemporary gospel. As the tracks pass, the elements of contemporary gospel fall into place before one’s ears: piano and Hammond not just playing harmony and groove but improvising fills (check Precious Memories, Track 1, Sr Rosetta Tharpe), the electric guitar becomes a fixture (Gospel Train, Track 2, The Golden Nuggets, Malaco’s first recording on the album), the soloist becomes preacher/narrator/ improviser (Frank Williams’ first appearance on the album with the Jackson Southernaires in Sweet Hour Of Prayer, Track 5), the mass choir becomes exciting and takes centre stage and sings complex harmonic and rhythmic patterns, orchestral instruments appear and are given theatrical scores (same track), and in general the musical gulf between the gospel and the secular narrows (check Call Him Up, recorded two years before Fame). The disc ends with a fabulous flourish: Jesus Dropped The Charges (The O’Neal Twins), spot-on lead vocals, slappy bass, four-to-floor drumming, red hot Hammond, a mass choir in tight responses and a beautiful chord chart with all my favourite modulations!

The rest of the album does not in any way disappoint, and there are some special highlights for me: another recording of James Cleveland’s Peace Be Still (Onyx 1983) on Disc Three, this time by the great Vanessa Bell Armstrong, the title track of her debut album, done as a deep 6/8 with fabulous jazz harmony; Solomon Burke’s recording of Thomas Dorsey’s Precious Lord (Savoy 1983) on Disc Four, a massively exciting and dramatic preach-led rendition over blues-soaked Hammond and guitar which never goes into time; also on Disc Four Perfect Peace (Onyx 1984) featuring Keith Pringle, harmonic gorgeousness; and a 2005 reprise of Oh Happy Day (Malaco) with a lovely lazy latino vibe. And then there are songs performed by Ricky Dillard, LaShun Pace, Dottie Peoples and several mass choirs (especially those of Mississippi and Georgia).

Bravo Malaco! As Robert Marovich notes, “never before have so many significant gospel stars been collected into one package. These songs brightened spirits when they were released and continue to do so today…this collection presents some of the best of African American gospel music and does it with the grace and dignity the songs deserve.” And the song I keep going back to is the very first on the album, Mahalia Jackson’s 1947 Move On Up, which doesn’t have a mass choir, an electric guitar, a virtuosic Hammond, a string orchestra, a “shout” coda, or any particular harmonic shape at all. But it’s gorgeous and moving, and reminds me that it is not always necessary to use tritone substitutions to praise and honour God.

Miko Giedroyc is organiser and organist of London's Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir and, alongside Tracey Jane Campbell, one of its two founders.

LINKS: Spotify Sampler of The Gospel...
Book website

The Gospel According To Malaco is released on 28 February


REVIEW: Arthur Miller's The American Clock at the Old Vic

The Old Vic Theatre
Arthur Miller's The American Clock 
(Old Vic Theatre. 23 February 2019. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

I can think of three good reasons to go and see Arthur Miller's The American Clock – A Vaudeville, from 1980 at Old Vic, in a production directed by Rachel Chavkin.

The first is the contemporary relevance of a play about the decade of the 1930s, with its theme of what – if anything – one can trust, believe and hold on to when things get tough. It is a theme that clearly has resonances and relevance for our time. The second is the myriad clever ways in which the almost ever-present music sets the scene, comments on and propels the narrative. And the third is a performance of total authority and grace by Clarke Peters. (Hurry, because he is only with the show until 2 March – the production continues until 30 March).

The production is almost halfway through its run (I was just curious about it and bought a ticket). It is well known that the play was originally a flop: it closed after just 12 performances on Broadway in 1980. And it is not difficult for critics to make the weakness of its script and of characterisation into the main deal. The Spectator's theatre critic, also a playwright, has just written here that it “feels like a clutch of abandoned scripts patched together into a messy whole”.

I think the strap-line "A Vaudeville" (definition here) makes it clear that Miller has set the show up as a series of vignettes. Essentially Miller's conceit is that tracking one family's story through the whole decade of the 1930s can be seen as emblematic for a whole era, for the whole country. Brecht is definitely in the machinery: characters parade with banners to mark the year that the drama has reached. This production spreads those roles across three actors, which most critics have said confuses things: I thought it varied the delivery, kept the action going, gave more of the sense of a Greek chorus passing comment.

What Miller does is to show a series of things which people can latch onto in a time of uncertainty. So, for example, at the beginning of the play, the belief being tested is that "markets will rise". There is a riff on how economic depression is experienced at first hand. One rueful moment comes from a Mississippi character who states that economic depression only affects white people – because black people never know anything but that and never rise up from it. And then there is a whole load of symbolism about the jazz age and music stopping, culminating in a poignant moment when the family's piano is repossessed

What stays in the mind from this "revue" are the powerful moments when the mood of a particular time is captured and brought forward with real immediacy. The closing sequence of the first half leading to the Roosevelt inauguration speech of 1933 (“ the only thing we have to fear is... fear itself”) was something I won't forget. It had a pulse running through it: the regular low thud of Shaney Forbes's magnificently metronomic drumming underpinned the scene, as if one was supposed to be feeling the heartbeat of America.

He was one of the four musicians on stage. Pianist/guitarist Jim Henson was the musical director, and accompanied a number of the cast in songs. James Gardiner (yes the alumnus of e.g. the George Michael band) was on clarinet and alto, and Laurence Ungless was on bass.

The music was cleverly done to reflect the decade. Songs like The Sunny Side of the Street (Fields/McHugh) and Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out became interweaved into the narrative and became motifs, commentaries to accompany the story of the economic depression. There was a doff of the cap to Gershwin (one of the characters wants to feed his family by becoming a successful songwriter) with S'Wonderful, and to mark 1938, and to recall the vibe of the Benny Goodman 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, there was a frenetic mesmeric Sing, Sing, Sing version of a cycled four-bar figure from It Don't Mean A Thing. The music was accurately subtly right. There were also more recognisably modern transformations of the themes of the period into dream sequences, cleverly constructed by composer Justin Ellington. The part of the creative team doing the music just seemed to set a high standard throughout.

There was one scene set in a dole office, where the "belief" being worked over is communism. And the absence of any musical accompaniment made it hectoring and grating and also otiose. Perhaps that was the point.

And I was just bowled over by the presence, the diction, the authority of Clarke Peters. Every word, every nuance is understandable. The pacing, the timing of his every word is mesmerizing. His performance is worth the price of the ticket on its own.


INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Neil Hughes / Jazz Voices Festival (a new event at The Cinnamon Club, Altrincham, 5-7 April 2019)

Jazz Voices is a new festival that focuses on the power of the singer and the emotions contained in the lyrics of jazz songs. Held over the weekend of 5 to 7 April, it also aims to draw a national audience to the Cinnamon Club in South Manchester to hear local talents alongside nationally recognised names including Ian Shaw and Sara Dowling. Rob Hughes spoke to festival organizer Neil Hughes:

“This is the 16th year the Cinnamon Club has been operating and as a venue we’ve become established in the Manchester area as somewhere people can go to hear great singers,” says festival organiser and the club’s managing director, Neil Hughes. “We wanted to celebrate that and give a wider platform to some of the local singers that our regular audience know through a higher profile event.”

The idea of staging a festival at the club stems partly from Hughes’ stewardship of Jazz on a Winter’s Weekend in Southport over the past four years. The most recent instalment of the weekend proved to be an outstanding success and Hughes has enjoyed programming an event over four days.

“I get great satisfaction from putting all the elements together and I thought the idea of a boutique event in an intimate venue – the capacity is 80 – with two rooms, the ballroom and the lounge, would appeal as the sort of thing people might travel to,” says Hughes.

To this end, Hughes has done a deal with the nearby Mercure Bowden Hotel, offering rooms at a special rate and laying on a shuttle bus for anyone who doesn’t want to make the short walk to and from the club. Weekend tickets let festival goers see eight acts over the two and half days, although tickets for individual concerts are available also.

“We kick off on the Friday with Tom Seals, who’s a great singer and a terrific boogie-woogie piano player, and the young singer-songwriter Lyza,” says Hughes. “They’ll each be playing classic albums in their entirety, with Tom presenting Billy Joel’s Stranger and Lyza doing Carole King’s Tapestry. Then on the Saturday we have two special local talents, Zoe Kyoti, who’ll be giving her first full band performance, and Kirsty Tatler. They’ll be followed by Ian Shaw, who’s always a popular visitor to the club and has just been nominated for a JazzFM Award.”


Sunday’s music begins with a gospel concert featuring the powerful voice of one of the north west’s finest singers, Alison Owen, who will be joined by the Music Place Gospel Choir, and in the evening Sara Dowling arrives from London.

“Sara’s been to the Cinnamon Club five or six times now and for me, she’s one of the most gifted jazz singers in the UK,” says Hughes. “Like Ian Shaw, she’s appreciated by fellow musicians as well as reviewers. Nigel Price has been very complimentary about her singing and musicianship and she got a five star review in Jazz Journal, so we know that we’re giving the audience top, top talent.”

As the club’s director Hughes takes pride in the breadth of music the Cinnamon Club has presented.

“We’re open to music on the fringes of jazz and blues – soul is particularly popular here and we had a great night recently with the Steely Dan tribute band, Nearly Dan,” he says. “But we like to present strong music at jazz’s core, too. We have Janette Mason and Wendy Kirkland due at the club soon, both very, very good jazz pianists.”

Jazz Voices, he adds, embraces and showcases the club’s philosophy of giving people high quality music and good value for money in a relaxed environment.

“We’re really looking at turning the club into a speakeasy for the weekend,” he says. “People buying into the full experience get private access to the Jazz Lounge before, during and after the performances. They also get a welcome meal on the Friday, free snacks, tea, coffee and bottled water in the Jazz Lounge over the weekend, a meal on the Saturday and brunch on the Sunday. All that and tickets to hear eight great performances. We hope that’ll make the Cinnamon Club the place to be on the first weekend in April.” (pp)

LINKS: Jazz Voices Festival
The Cinnamon Club


CD REVIEW: Joachim Kühn – Melodic Ornette Coleman: Piano Works XIII

Joachim Kühn – Melodic Ornette Coleman: Piano Works XIII
(ACT 9763-2. CD Review by Jon Turney)

Ornette Coleman came into his own on his second LP, his early advocate Martin Williams wrote, with “the chordally anchoring piano… eliminated, never to return.” Well, never is a long time. As well as risking “chordal anchoring” by recruiting two guitarists to Prime Time in the 1970s, Coleman made great music with compatible pianists, most prominently Geri Allen, later in his career without sounding in the least hampered. He wasn’t a man you could tie down.

He also worked fruitfully with the questing, classically-schooled German Joachim Kühn, a duo captured in a celebrated concert recording from 1996. The pianist kept a collection of unrecorded Coleman compositions from that time, and now offers a selection here, performed solo.

The slightly odd title aside (when was Ornette not melodic?), it’s a beguiling offering. The pianist, about to turn 75, is in fine form, and his treatments of the 11 new Coleman pieces do bring out their tuneful qualities, as well as prompting elegant, modestly proportioned improvisations, some almost classical in quality, some delving into much freer playing. Some of the tunes bear Ornette’s aural signature clearly – the rest would not catch this ear as pointing his way, but still preserve interesting small, song-like, often lyrical, ideas. The set is rounded out with two versions of Lonely Woman, and a longer piece dedicated to Ornette by the pianist.

As a European-based piano player’s homage to Ornette, it won’t displace Aki Takase’s blinding 2007 romp through 30 or so more familiar Coleman tunes in my affections, though she had the advantage of Silke Eberhard as a horn partner. The results here, it feels, owe more to Kühn than Coleman, but are no less interesting for that. The German is a late career master at the top of his game and this set is a worthy addition to his discography.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. Twitter: @jonWturney


REVIEW: Steely Dan at Manchester Arena

Donald Fagen of Steely Dan
Unattributed photo
Steely Dan
(Manchester Arena. 21 February 2019. Review by Frank Griffith)

Steely Dan toured regularly in the early 1970s, then became a studio-only band, broke up in 1981, and re-formed in 1995. The hiatus of their activity followed the release of their 1980s album Gaucho. The untimely passing of Walter Becker, in 2017 at just 67 years of age brings on a new phase. Happily, Donald Fagen, at 72, is still as vital as ever and stewards the band's continuum today. The band was in brilliant form at the Manchester Arena, one of five dates on their current UK/Ireland tour. And after that, they will not exactly be shying away: they will be doing nine dates in Las Vegas in May.

The Dan Band opened with an instrumental sans Fagen and three backing singers with a jazz standard by pianist Ray Bryant, entitled Cubana Chant. The four horn  players consisting of Mike Leonhart  trumpet, Jim Pugh trombone, Walt Weiskopf tenor sax and Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax acquitted themselves impressively solo-wise on this mambo-tinged jazz classic. After which, the Maestro Fagen and  singers, Caroline Leonhart, Jamie Leonhart and LaTanya Hall sauntered onstage to great appreciation from the audience to render a stunning version of Bodhisattva from the 1973 LP Countdown To Ecstasy.

To follow were many of their 1970s classic like Hey Nineteen, Black Cow, Aja, Rikki Don't Lose That Number, Kid Charlemane, Peg, Josie and My Old School. Reelin' In The Years was handily served up for their encore demanded by the audience in a several-minute standing ovation; there was no chance of anyone going anywhere as the band emerged to perform one of the Dan's first hits from their 1972 debut LP Can't Buy A Thrill.

A highlight for this listener was tenor saxist Walt Weiskopf's, solo and duets with  explosive drummer Keith Carlock, on Aja, the title track from the classic 1977 LP. These solo spots were immortalised on the LP by none other than Wayne Shorter and Steve Gadd, so no pressure, Walt! Actually, his and Carlock's efforts were just as impressive which is so emblematic of how jazz and improvisation are not best measured on a scale of better or worse but just different. So much of the "criteria" in my view is dictated and formed by the time, place and residual "climatic" factors and influences that surround and affect the performance.

One of the major distinctive factors of Steely Dan is the role of the guitar in the band. This was superbly demonstrated and realised by Jon Herington. Standing out in front alongside Fagen,  Jon's frequent brief solo bursts provided a counterfoil and narrative to Fagen's and the three female singers' melodies and lyrics. The guitar role in The Dan sound is equal to the vocals and gist and message that the songs portray. A wordless component that guides and grounds the listener throughout. A task that Herington rose to with aplomb with his brief and succinct improvised offerings.

The piano and keyboards work of Jim Beard also shone throughout with his frequent solos and "comping". These were not only brilliant-sounding but never got in the way of Fagen's comping on the Fender Rhodes keyboard. This was a great example of every band member having distinctive roles yet never getting in each other's way. A difficult feat for a 13-piece ensemble! A truly great and heroic performance met with great glee and appreciation by all.

The concert was opened by the Steve Winwood and his band including noted saxophonist, Paul Booth, blowing up a storm on tenor and baritone sax. Their set included several of Winwood's hits all of which showed him in great form on guitar, Hammond organ and vocals. The band got the burners well warmed for what was to follow.


Cubano Chant (Band only)(Ray Bryant cover)
Hey Nineteen
Black Friday
Green Earrings
Black Cow
Time Out of Mind
Rikki Don't Lose That Number
Kid Charlemagne
Dirty Work
Babylon Sisters
Keep That Same Old Feeling (Crusaders cover)
My Old School

Reelin' in the Years
A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry

Saxophonist/arranger Frank Griffith recently moved to the Liverpool area. His next London appearances will be at Boaters in Kingston on 9 June and The Milford Arms in Isleworth on 10 June.

There are three remaining Steely Dan shows on thecurrent tour:  tonight in Birmingham, 25 Feb in Wembley Conference Centre and 28 Feb in Dublin.


NEWS: Third Surge In Spring line-up announced (mac, Birmingham, 27 April 2019)

Surge Orchestra
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

The one-day musical extravaganza with Sid Peacock's Surge Orchestra at its heart is back for a third spring showing on Saturday 27 April 2019. As before the venue is the mac in Birmingham, and as previously the Bangor Co.Down-born bandleader/collaborator has curated a richly expansive programme of bands will all kinds of styles and influences.

The central performance of Surge In Spring III will be the ever-expanding Surge Orchestra (it can number as many as 21 players) with guests Eimear McGeown on Irish flute, Niwel Tsumbu on Congolese guitar and Ulster Scots piper Darren Milligan, playing music from the band's new album Valley of Angels, which will be launched on the day.

Also on the main stage will be the Mike Fletcher Jazz Orchestra and the Kadialy Kouyate Band, as well as many other free events in various spaces around the mac, including Ukrainian songwriter Iryna Muha, Haitian song from Germa Adan, Ulster songwriter Richard Laird and the oboe and pipes duo of Melinda Maxwell and Calum Armstrong.

Here is a promo video:

Tickets are now on sale. The three main concerts are £10 each or all three for £24.

LINKS: Surge In Spring III at mac

Surge Orchestra


NEWS: 2019 Dankworth and Eddie Harvey Award winners

Peter Bacon reports:

This is just in from The Musicians' Company:

"The Musicians’ Company is delighted to announce the winners of the 2019 Dankworth and Eddie Harvey Jazz Arranger Awards.

"The winner of the Dankworth Big Band Award is Charles Bates for his work Eyes Open. The winner of the Small Band Award is Wilber Whitta for his composition Wotjek.

"The winner of the Eddie Harvey Jazz Arranger Award is Billy Marrows for his arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's Lucky to be Me.

"The winning works will be performed in a concert on Sunday 10 March at 6.30pm in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire when it is hoped the winners will be present to receive their awards.

"The awards will be presented by members of the Dankworth and Harvey families and each of the three winners will receive a cheque for £1,000. The awards are funded by The Musicians’ Company with generous assistance from The Wavendon Foundation."

Tickets for the event are £15 (concessions £12) are on sale HERE.


REVIEW: Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, Welcome to the Twenties 2.0, at Cambridge Corn Exchange

Postmodern Jukebox in Cambridge
iPhone snap by Richard Bateman
Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox, Welcome to the Twenties 2.0
(Cambridge Corn Exchange, 21 February 2019. Review by Richard Bateman) 

"Scintillating... and fun!" was my companion's verdict on Postmodern Jukebox's Cambridge stop on their Welcome to the Twenties 2.0 tour yesterday evening. Two tremendously uplifting hours which provided the perfect escape from the dregs of winter.

Taking modern pop tunes and re-arranging them into pastiche jazz and rock 'n' roll styles is PMJ's beguilingly simple and effective schtick, which has accrued them over 3.5m YouTube subscribers in the last ten years. Not bad for a group who, as we were told last night, were paid "in FALAFEL SANDWICHES" for their initial efforts in founder Scott Bradlee's basement apartment in 2009.

Given visual ballast by a mise-en-scene straight out of the world of the Great Gatsby, replete with art-deco music stands, top-hats-and-tails, spats, braces, beglittered dresses, and a ruffled backcloth drape straight out of the Apollo Theater, this show really does transport you to a glitzy, glamorous world far away from the now.

A rotating carousel of guest vocalists is a key part of PMJs cabaret-vibe. There were five of them yesterday. All, in quite distinct ways, superb. Particular props must, however, go to LaVance Colley (who was also the MC for the night) – whose quite astonishingly wide (and high) range was given full, ear-popping vent on Cee Lo Green's F-You and Beyoncé's Halo – and onetime America's Got Talent contestant Tia Simone, who in addition to having something of the look of Tina Turner had all of the vocal power.

Behind them, the six-piece band – led on this occasion by bassist Adam Kubota, and given superb propulsive energy by Dave Tedeschi on drums – was seriously tight, and clearly having an absolute ball. There are plentiful lashings of ham and cheese in this set, but under their aegis any last vestiges of cynical resistance to a soundworld which contained a belting power-ballad rendition of Radiohead's Creep (sung by former Wicked star Emma Hatton) and a hot-swinging I Will Survive (complete with a middle-eight samba section and a jazz-flute-solo), was indeed futile.

Don't be fooled by the title of the tour, mind. Although the first four numbers of the set stuck fairly faithfully to the '20s musical vibe, thereafter there was at least as much stylistic influence emanating direct from the '50s and '60s. Not that that was a bad thing, allowing, as it did, a deliciously sexy cocktail bar version of Bowie's Life on Mars to rub shoulders with a roistering up-tempo take on Toto's Africa, alongside a sultry, swinging All About That Bass, and a Shirelles-esque doo-wop version of My Heart Will Go On that somehow managed to make Celine Dion's schmaltz-fest not only listenable but positively enjoyable.

Oh and in amongst all that, there was space for some quality hoofing, too. Alex MacDonald pretty much summing up the whole PMJ enterprise by first demonstrating beyond peradventure that large audiences are incapable of clapping in time to anything, before then channelling the spirit of Fred Astaire in a virtuoso tap-dance routine, accompanied – of course – by the music from Super Mario Brothers.

Closing with a pounding full-cast encore medley of What is Love and Lulu's Shout, the whole show was a delicious reminder of an era in which jazz's raison d'etre was to ensure that as many people as possible had a damned good time, which the 1500 or so people in the Corn Exchange very audibly made known they had. And, most excitingly, it was a reminder of the deep link between said good time and exquisite, top-drawer showman- and musicianship. Scintillating, in fact. And fun!


REVIEW: Alina Bzhezhinska – Legacy: Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby at Kings Place

Alina Bzhezhinska and her band for the Alice Coltrane set
Photo: Leah Williams

Alina Bzhezhinska – Legacy: Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby
(King’s Place, 20 February 2019. Review by Leah Williams.) 

As part of the Venus Unwrapped series at King’s Place, which focuses on the creative firepower of women composers, talented harpist Alina Bzhezhinska put together a concert to celebrate the music of jazz harpists and composers Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, two Detroit-born musicians whose music is both brilliantly of its time and also incredibly relevant today.

It’s a rare opportunity indeed to hear their harp music played live. Indeed, I wonder if these pioneering women would have been surprised or disappointed to know that today, the jazz harp – especially as band leader – is still such a rarity. Either way, they’d certainly have been happy to know that someone as passionate and talented as Alina was on the case, continuing to celebrate their legacy and bring the jazz harp to new audiences.

The first set was music from Dorothy Ashby’s album Afro-Harping. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the album and was in part what spurred Alina on to begin this project. As she said in an LJN podcast interview last year: “The music still sounds so fresh and almost kind of revolutionary, especially for the jazz harp world, but [Dorothy Ashby] also managed to capture the music that was fashionable at that time in the '60s.”

She also talked about the arrangement of the album, which has been pared back to a quintet but given an “even funkier, more modern feel” with arrangements from pianist Christian Vaughn. It was a labour of love for all the musicians involved, and this is apparent on stage with a vibrant energy and unbridled joy infusing the music and infecting the audience. It would be remiss not to mention in particular Gareth Lockrane on flutes, whose sound ranged from jaunty to nostalgic but with an unwavering clarity and fluidity, making for a simply mesmeric listen.

For the second set a changed line-up played the music of Alice Coltrane. Alina said she’d put herself on “a mission to share Alice Coltrane’s story and music with more people. Although Alice had a very special relationship with her husband John Coltrane, she was so much more than just his wife.”

It was a really interesting experience to hear the music of these two contemporaneous composers side by side. Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby had plenty of things in common: both were undoubtedly incredible musicians and women, battling against not only race and gender barriers but a general lack of interest in the harp – especially in a jazz setting. But they also took quite different paths and had different inspirations and motivations driving their music.

The shift in sound was immediately notable from the opening notes of Alice Coltrane’s solo harp piece Wisdom Eye, which has an almost mystical quality. Moving seamlessly straight into Blue Nile, lush melodies bled into moments of frenetic energy, which seemed to hint at the spiritual journey Alice went on throughout her life.

One of the highlights of this set was a surprise guest in the form of Rihab Azar, an exceptional oud player from Syria who Alina had just met the week before and enticed to join them for the concert. Her effortless playing added a new texture to the sound that felt perfectly suited to the music.

For the final tune, the bands from both sets came on stage together for Alice Coltrane’s famous Journey in Satchidananda. The full sound afforded by the septet really rose the enchantment of the music up another level and would have left many people humming the recognisable melody from this brilliant track.

As Alina said at the start of the concert: “This is truly a special night, not just for me and the band but for the whole jazz community who love the harp…” That community was surely swelled by the end of the evening.

Line up for Dorothy Ashby set:
Alina Bzhezhinska, harp
Gareth Lockrane, flutes
Julie Walkington, double bass
Christian Vaughn, piano
Joel Prime, drums / percussion

Line up for Alice Coltrane set:
Alina Bzhezhinska, harp
Tony Kofi, saxophones
Larry Bartley, double bass
Joel Prime, drums / percussion

Leah Williams is a freelance journalist and editor working across many different sectors and has been a regular reviewer and feature writer for LJN since 2016.


CD REVIEW: Nick Malcolm – Real Isn’t Real

Nick Malcolm – Real Isn’t Real
(Green Eyes Records GE 002 CD Review by Jon Turney)

Trumpeter Nick Malcolm has a long working relationship with his in-demand quartet mates pianist Alexander Hawkins and bassist Olie Brice. Together with new recruit Ric Yarborough on drums, they are an exemplary contemporary unit. All four enjoy moving seamlessly between conventionally harmonised and freer playing as the mood and the music takes them, each enhancing the other.

This third quartet CD from Malcolm confirms them as a band that does this with rare skill and commitment. But it has ambitions beyond that. It offers a many-hued suite, in which Malcolm fashions musical settings for four contrasting voices. They are framed by five pieces – called Spirals – for the quartet.

The songs are as different as the singers. After the first Spiral, Emily Wright offers limpid jazz precision on Floating Earth. Marie Lister digs deep into soul and R’n’B on Silent Grace. Josienne Clarke is pure folk on Grass Remembers, which sets a Yeats lyric rather than Malcom’s own. And the always adventurous Lauren Kinsella cuts loose, improvisationally, on the title track.

Each singer benefits from a perfectly crafted backdrop, Lister for example getting electrified accompaniment from Hawkins and guest Will Harris on electric bass, Clarke accompanied by Hawkins alone on organ. Back to back, these vocal efforts would be a curious assemblage, but the instrumental items in between them explore their differences in a way that, oddly perhaps, brings them closer together. The quartet reflects on each one, sometimes picking up elements of the melody, sometimes, it seems, just responding to the feeling of the song. The Spirals are equally varied, and allow all four players to shine. Brice is deep-toned and assertive, Hawkins sparkles throughout, Malcolm is fluently inventive and indulges his fondness for unusually large intervals, Yarborough provides intricate support.

Their method is well-displayed on Spiral IV – Blues, a set highlight that segues from Clarke’s vocal. Brice plants a simple bass figure against a spoken reprise of the lyric, Malcolm deepens the mood with a keening series of statements reminiscent of some of Avishai Cohen’s recent work, alluding to the blues rather than giving over to it entirely, Hawkins converses with him, then scampers off into an exuberant solo in which bluesy gestures can be glimpsed briefly amid the scurry and flurry of free keyboard style.

Then, after Kinsella’s piece, the final track is a carefully layered affair that references all that has gone before. There’s more obvious studio work here, with multi-tracked vocals and some light use of electronics, but still in the service of a free spirit. As it builds gently over ten minutes, then fades, the listener realises this is an album whose full artistic scope only becomes clear right at the end, if you do the old fashioned thing and listen through in the right order. I did, and it works.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol.  Twitter: @jonWturney

Nick Malcolm is currently touring his new Jade quartet (with Jake McMurchie, tenor, Will Harris, bass and Ric Yarborough, drums):

27 February – Cardiff: The Flute and Tankard, 4 Windsor Place, CF10 3BX

3 March – Bristo: Cafe Kino, Stokes Croft, BS1 3RU

5 March – Cambridge: Listen! at Unitarian Church, 5 Emmanuel Road, Cambridge CB1 1JW

7 March – Newcastle: The Globe, 11 Railway Street, NE4 7AD

8 March – Derby: Derby Jazz at Deda Studio Theatre Chapel St DE1 3GU 


NEWS: Big names line up for National Youth Jazz Collective fundraiser

The big names taking part
Publicity image
Peter Bacon reports:

A fundraising gala concert is being organised to support the National Youth Jazz Collective. It’s called Jazz For The Future and it's at 8pm (doors open 6.30pm) on 29 April at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Dean Street.

On the bill are Liane Carroll, John Etheridge, Tim Garland, Laura Jurd, Mark Lockheart, Orphy Robinson, Ian Shaw, Cleveland Watkiss, Norma Winstone, Jason Yarde and BBC Young Musician of the Year, Alex Ridout. They will join NYJC vice president Julian Joseph, and others. The concert curator is NYJC’s award-winning Artistic Director, Issie Barratt.

The press release states:

“All funds raised will go to supporting the annual NYJC Summer School. NYJC provides music education across the country for youngsters of school age, to enable them to play by ear in small groups: to learn, improvise, compose, arrange and lead bands. The amazing Annual Summer School selects 45 of the nation’s best young jazz musicians from a 16 day audition tour, to play in ensembles supported by 15 world class professional jazz musicians.”

Issie Barratt said, “Our aim is to help young jazz musicians of school age become the best. We have a long list of alumni, many of whom have become top class professional musicians and household names in the jazz community. Some are in the line up for this unique event.
“We are grateful to all the musicians for offering their services and to Ross Dines of the Pizza Express Jazz Club for providing the venue for what will be a truly memorable event.”

Tickets cost £36 and are available on the Pizza Express Jazz Club website


REVIEW: Nishla Smith Quintet at the Vortex

Nishla Smith
Photo: AJ Dehany
Nishla Smith Quintet
(London debut, Vortex, 12 February 2019. Review by AJ Dehany)

The London debut of Manchester-based Australian-born classically-trained jazz singer-songwriter Nishla Smith twinkled with wistful melancholy and winsome wit. Her writing conveys a distinctive individual sensibility with sensitivity to the nuances of feelings as they shift and shade. Her singing is a delicate but versatile blend of the sparing quiver of Billie Holiday, the pinch of Roisin Murphy and the coruscating chiaroscuro of Beth Gibbons.

The quintet is made up of younger Manchester scene stalwarts. Accomplished bandleaders in their own right, they responsively but respectfully inhabit the darksome burn of Nishla’s world. The scintillating piano inventions of Rich Jones were rich but never cluttered. Trumpeter Aaron Wood’s burnished tone was deployed judiciously with melodic clarity and poise. Bassist Josh Cavanagh-Brierly is respectfully authoritative alongside the drumming of Johnny Hunter, which is detailed without being distracting.

Nishla Smith’s original ballads sound like standards from the American songbook of the 1940s and '50s. There is an ambivalent undercurrent to the beguiling nostalgia of Another Place and Julian. Maudlin moments shoulder ecstatic reveries. Why brings a sense of the directness of musical theatre with a Sondheim-esque abundance in rhyme and language, melodically trailing into the colder regions of the chord. A scattering of standards sits sympathetically among her repertoire. She performed Billie Holiday’s Don’t Explain with a heart-wrenching emotional immediacy.

In the recorded versions I’ve heard of Nishla Smith’s songs, the musical line drawing is coloured in with wonderful string arrangements by pianist Andy Stamatakis-Brown that are inky and insinuating, with an ornate gothic intensity. One imagines it would be terrific to hear that dynamic lushness alongside the harmonic richness of her quintet.

Based in Manchester, she is currently working with Opera North on a narrative song cycle inspired by a fascinating family history which she details in an absorbing interview with The Jazz Podcast. The forthcoming video for Blue Dream is a surreal apparition that visually projects Nishla Smith’s quirky imagination. Standing in a river she investigates a fish, then retires to a cast iron double bed set on the top of a moor to peruse a book on birds. She nibbles cake, plays violent chess by a river, and serves up the uncooked fish at a dining table set out in a wood. She drinks a cup of tea and stares enigmatically out of her dream and into ours. Toward the end of the concert she says to us, "Thank you for coming out. Sorry if I’ve been really weird. I usually have pockets.”

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

Voice: Nishla Smith
Piano: Rich Jones
Trumpet: Aaron Wood
Bass: Josh Cavanagh-Brierley
Drums: Johnny Hunter


1. Friends With Monsters (Nishla Smith)
2. Blue Dream (Nishla Smith)
3. I Wanna Make You Happy (Nishla Smith)
4. Golden Ghost (Nishla Smith)
5. Devil May Care (Bob Dorough, Terrell Kirk)
6. With You (Nishla Smith)

1. Another Place (Nishla Smith)
2. You’d Be So Nice (Cole Porter)
3. Why (Nishla Smith)
4. Comes Love (Nothing Can Be Done) (Sam Stept)
5. Julian (Nishla Smith)
6. Don’t Explain (Billie Holiday)
7. Up (Nishla Smith)

LINK: Nishla Smith's website


NEWS: Winner of LetterOne ‘Rising Stars’ Jazz Award announced: French pianist Adrien Brandeis

Adrien Brandeis
Publicity photo by Florence Ducommun
(supplied for use by competition organisers)

Sebastian writes.

The second winner of the LetterOne ‘Rising Stars’ Jazz Award has been announced. The inaugural winner of the competition last year was French guitarist Tom Ibarra, and the second, from a field of over 230 entries, is another young Frenchman, pianist Adrien Brandeis. The prize for the winner is to appear at seven festivals and to receive a year of PR and marketing support. 

The full text of the press release is as follows :


ADRIEN BRANDEIS is a French jazz pianist and composer born in Annecy in 1992. After having studied at the Conservatory of Nice and the Conservatoire de Paris with Robert Persi and Manuel Rocheman, he produced and released his first album Euforia in 2018. Influenced by Michel Camilo, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, the young, award winning and highly versatile pianist is steeped in Jazz, Latin and Afro-Caribbean music and strives to combine traditional jazz with modern influences. On Euforia, Adrien displays great lyricism in his playing, combined with an urban pianistic approach. The jury – consisting of radio host Alex Dutilh (France Musique: Open Jazz), Norwegian journalist Karen Frivik (NRK), Wulf Müller from ‘OKeh Records’ , England’s Jazz superstar Jamie Cullum and chaired by Mikhail Fridman – awarded Adrien with the “LetterOne ‘RISING STARS’ Jazz Award” Europe Edition 2018.

The jury said: “Yet again the “LetterOne ‘RISING STARS’ Jazz Award” produced a list of 25 highly skilled and talented musicians who made it to the final round. Finding the winner was not an easy task but Adrien Brandeis convinced us with his outstanding musicianship and innovative approach. We are certain that we will hear a lot about him in the future.” As winner of the “LetterOne ‘RISING STARS’ Jazz Award” Adrien will embark on a tour along seven major jazz festivals in Europe: Love Supreme (GB), Leopolis Jazz Fest (UA), Kongsberg Jazzfestival (NO), Nice Jazzfestival (FR), Umbria Jazz (I), Jazzopen Stuttgart (D) and Heineken Jazzaldia San Sebastian (E) In addition, he will receive a full year of PR and marketing support through Air Artist Agency.

From 1st of August until 27th of October 2018, Jazz artists could enter their submissions via a dedicated website ( to be considered for the “LetterOne ‘RISING STARS’ Jazz Award” Europe Edition 2018. Over 230 artists submitted their entries! A first round of voting was done by the participating seven festivals, which found the 25 best contenders. The final vote was done by a professional jury.

Producing the Award is the award-winning Air Artist Agency, whose director Burkhard Hopper has a long-standing experience in introducing new artists. For 9 years Burkhard Hopper ran the Rising Stars concert series in Europe which – among others – introduced artists such as Diana Krall, Brad Mehldau, Benny Green, Jane Monheit, David Sanchez and Esbjörn Svensson to the European audiences.

The “LetterOne ‘RISING STARS’ Jazz Award” is a significant event in the international jazz calendar that benefits from the sponsorship and backing of Mikhail Fridman, an international businessman, philanthropist and most importantly a huge jazz fan. Besides being a frequent visitor of Jazz festivals around the world, Fridman is also the founder of the Leopolis Jazz Festival (formerly known as Alfa Jazz) in Lviv (Ukraine).

LINKS: Letter 1 Rising Stars website
Andreas Brandeis website


REVIEW: Joshua Redman's Still Dreaming at the Barbican

Still Dreaming at the Barbican
Photo: Nadworks
Joshua Redman – Still Dreaming
(Barbican Hall, 18 February 2019. Review by Chris Parker)

Sparked by a memorial concert for bassist Charlie Haden, at which Joshua Redman played, this quartet project is inspired by the music of Old and New Dreams, a band of Ornette Coleman alumni formed to perform music in the Coleman acoustic tradition after the great saxophonist/composer went electric. Straightforward re-creations of Old and New Dreams material, however, were never part of Redman’s conception of the band’s approach. Instead, while the spirit of the music made by his father Dewey Redman, trumpeter Don Cherry, Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell infuses all the new quartet’s material, the band has a distinctly contemporary sound, everything they play – whether in-band originals or older material composed by Dewey Redman, Cherry or Coleman himself – coming out new-minted, fresh, original and spontaneous.

The quartet Redman has assembled for this purpose could not have been better chosen. Ron Miles, like Cherry an exponent of the intensely human-sounding cornet, is a perfect front-line foil, his wistful but sure-footed contributions by turns questioning, even eccentric, yet always wholly appropriate; the rhythm section, bassist Scott Colley and the virtuoso drummer Brian Blade, springily propulsive yet subtle and adventurous. Their music, like Coleman’s, is at once complex (some of the ensemble theme statements almost laughably tricksy) and direct in its emotional appeal, somehow contriving to combine the most adventurous, out-on-a-limb playing with a straight-to-the-heart quality more often heard in folk music, or even nursery rhymes. The distinctive blend – a sort of affecting, mewling cry – of the front-line horns to some extent acounts for this effect, but this is undoubtedly a thoroughly democratic outfit in the true Coleman tradition, each player a vital component in the creation of a unique group sound.

Colley and Redman himself provide some of the quartet’s most powerful material, the former’s Haze and Aspirations a particular evening highlight, with its carefully sculpted theme giving rise to a spirited four-way exploration; the latter’s haunting It’s Not the Same sinuous, almost serpentine, yet punchy, immediately accessible. Two Dewey Redman compositions, Walls-Bridges and Rush Hour, plus the odd Cherry piece and an encore blues (Coleman’s Turnaround), round out the 90-minute set, but whatever they play – whether apparent “repertoire music” or originals – this stellar but unfussy quartet triumphantly succeed in performing a supremely difficult feat: firmly rooting their approach in an immediately recognisable tradition, yet producing vigorous, wholly original and compelling music.


REVIEW: Walthamstow Jazz Festival 2019

Binker Golding at Walthamstow
Picture: © Mochles Simawi

Walthamstow Jazz Festival
(Walthamstow Assembly Hall, 16 February 2019. Reviews by Gail Tasker and Mark Kass)

Gail Tasker writes: Walthamstow Assembly Hall is a tall, white, imposing building of art-deco style, preceded by a Great Gatsby-esque fountain and neat lawn. Whilst the wood-panelled interior hall brings to mind school assemblies, this was in fact the rather surreal setting of the inaugural Walthamstow Jazz Festival last Saturday. Presented by local label Byrd Out, the line-up was a refreshing compendium of intergenerational musicians playing varying styles of jazz from across the UK – something for everyone.

Free jazz and the avant-garde seemed to dominate the proceedings. Evan Parker’s set, with John Edwards on double bass and John Russell on guitar, was an attack on the senses. Edwards’ use of extended techniques was especially impressive; frenzied bowing transformed into jarring bass chords, and at one point he detuned his low bass string, which produced deep, reverberating notes. Russell was equally committed, snapping a string in the first tune. The trio have released an album, Walthamstow Moon (‘61 Revisited), in homage to Coltrane’s 1961 performance at the Granada Theatre; Saturday’s performance must surely have been in the same spirit.

Thurston Moore’s performance with Steve Noble was along a similar vein. With an array of pedals at his disposal, Moore was imaginative in his use of distortion and feedback, producing spine-tingling wails and shrieks from his guitar that sounded as atonal and discordant as possible. Noble in comparison was less interesting, preferring to maintain a constant heavy beat and only changing his rhythms incrementally and very rarely. Yet the duo drew a large audience, hypnotized by the unearthly sounds of Moore’s guitar.

A true highlight for me was the duo performance by Binker Golding and Elliot Galvin. It was hard to tell to what extent the pieces had been planned, though Golding clarified that by explaining that it was all “made up” on the spot. This was not self-evident however, such was the symbiosis between the two musicians. Galvin’s use of extended piano techniques was extremely memorable; amongst various tools, he stuck Scotch tape to the piano strings, creating a muted, harpsichord-like sound which Golding responded to with hiccupy, fast notes on the soprano saxophone.

Javi Pérez of Cykada
Photo: © Mochles Simawi
The younger, more hip hop-oriented bands were a welcome breather throughout the evening. Bristol-based Snazzback, with an extended line-up of keys, guitar, horns, percussion, double bass, and drum kit, played on the basement stage. Chris Langton was impressive on the drums, playing tight rhythms with Cory Fonville-esque flair in partnership with Myke Vince on percussion. Project Karnak, a duo made up of Dominic Canning on keys and Sam Ouissellat on drums, were reminiscent of Yussef Kamaal in their heady use of hip hop rhythms and modal synth progressions. London-based Cykada, on the main stage, were the eccentrics of the night. Their on-stage theatrics brought to mind Led Zeppelin, with bass player Jamie Benzies falling to his knees during a bass solo and trumpeter Axel Kaner-Lindstrom dancing around for the majority of the performance. Despite the laid-back attitude, the musicianship was top notch; the rhythmic interplay between Tilé Gigichi-Lipere on electronics/synth and Tim Doyle on drums was a highlight.

The main drawback of the afternoon was the poor acoustic, to the point of distraction. With most performances, the drums and bass often seemed undefined and muffled. Galvin’s piano was barely audible at points whilst Kaner-Lindstrom’s trumpet was echoing and loud. This could have been due to the high ceilings, swift line-up changes, or constant murmur of people talking in the background. However, the atmosphere in the hall and the masterful playing of the musicians was such that the performances were always enjoyable – hopefully the first edition of many more Walthamstow festivals to come.

Dylan Jones of Pyjaen
Photo: © Mochles Simawi
Mark Kass writes: Following the musical theatricals of Messrs. Galvin and Golding was always going to be a challenge but jazz fusion youngbloods Pyjaen pulled it off. Headed up by super-hot trumpeter Dylan Jones, the horn man of Ezra Collective, Pyjaen are yet another ear-inspiring jazz crew of hot musos emanating from the Trinity Laban/Tomorrows Warrior/Ghost Notes stables. With the two Bens – Vize on sax and Crane on bass – and Charlie Hutchinson on drums, the band were drawn together by the very funky “blaxploitation” guitar of Dani Diodato, creating some very danceable sounds and wiping the eyes back to normality of those still in shock from Evan Parker and Thurston Moore!

Followed on to the main stage by Vels Trio who were also sadly hit by the curse of the day, (a pretty unstable sound system that seemingly struggled to get the on-stage monitor balances right for most of the acts), these Brighton boys produced a sound not dissimilar to GoGo-Penguin-meets-Bill-Laurence. When we finally got to hear Jack Stephenson-Oliver’s keys they proved to be a tight trio with a resonating groove sound created by Cameron Dawson’s bass and Dougal Taylor's drums with some mellow electronica reminiscent of a very cool Miami Vice soundtrack.

Between the main stage acts, the real jazz club happenings took place in the basement of the awesome Walthamstow Assembly Halls. With walls literally dripping with condensation, ceilings just grazing the scalps of the audience and barely accommodating a double bass, the real-feel of those stereotypical jazz clubs of the '50s came alive again in 2019… all that was missing was a carpet of used chewing gum! An amazing range of bands and performers including the diminutive Harry Potter-esque producer, composer and trumpet/tape phenomenon known as Emma-Jean Thackray, the fiddle-fronted Hey Fish and South London-based drum and based driven Project Karnack.
Timings of the main stage and the basement gigs meant your reviewer couldn’t cover everything but even if we could, the crowds in the basements meant it would have been an aural review rather than a visual one!

Ginger Baker at Walthamstow
Photo: © Mochles Simawi
Back on the main stage, and billed as the festival headliner, expectations of seeing Cream drum legend Ginger Baker in action were extraordinarily high amongst those who knew who he was! Baker has always said he was always a jazz drummer first and his African influences such as Fela Kuti and a variety of “my other experiences” as Baker puts it over the years are clearly the forerunners of the jazz Afrobeat resurgence of today.

Expectations rose even higher when Baker’s wizard-like drum technician wheeled out his voluminous drum kit onto the stage alongside a second smaller kit for the co-billed Nigerian drummer, Tony Allen and following yet another sound set-up issue, the stage was set for what we’d all come for…Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion. And I think that’s just what we got!

Sadly, the now 80-year old and rather frail Baker was led onto the stage by other band members and into his kit and having made his apologies and promises to do his best, having just left hospital that morning -– which didn’t bode well – you had to admire the man for a) turning up and ) absolutely having a go! Supported by a band that hadn’t played together for six months, Baker, bassist Alec Dankworth, saxman Pee Wee Ellis and percussionist Abass Dodoo revisited their earlier 2014 jazz album, Why?.
Tony Allen
Photo: © Mochles Simawi
After a handful of tracks, where Baker still manged to deftly demonstrate some of his trademark floor-tom work, he introduced fellow octogenarian Tony Allen for a very quick drum duet before leaving the drum work for the rest of the set to Allen as he left the stage clearly feeling the worse for wear. Heart-breaking to see but you have to applaud the great man. For one known to be “feisty”, he could easily have gone home from hospital instead of trekking over to Walthamstow but ever-the-musician, he honoured his obligations, played to a largely appreciative audience but many of whom we’re heard to be muttering on the way out: "Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion? Why?”

Mark Kass is the founder of the London East Jazz Network