CD REVIEW: Ronnie Cuber – Straight Street



Ronnie Cuber – Straight Street
(SteepleChase SCCD 31860. Review by Peter Vacher)

US baritone-saxophonist Ronnie Cuber is a kind of first responder in jazz: up for anything, it seems. As likely to be seen fronting a quartet as in this 2010 recording or soloing with the Mingus Big Band at Ronnie Scott’s or, indeed, working with Latin bandleaders like Eddie Palmieri and making the New York session scene. He has toured with Aretha Franklin and the R&B saxophonist King Curtis and taken his place in big bands led by Lionel Hampton and Woody Herman. So, you could say, to paraphrase an old headline, that when Cuber plays, he embodies the totality of the jazz experience. All jazz life is here. In other words, he is recognized as one of the leading proponents of his sometimes cumbersome instrument, as good for a full-on live set like this one as for a stand-up solo in a big band.

Here he’s teamed with a very lively rhythm section starring the mercurial pianist George Colligan, on fire throughout, with bassist Cameron Brown, always steady, and drummer Joe Farnsworth, another luminary of the New York scene. They open with Groovin’ High, its familiar shape like a launch pad for an extended extemporization by the gruff-toned Cuber, then 69 years of age and full of vim as he doubtless is still, the flow of ideas quite unquenchable. Whether these are all cogent and pertinent is a matter of opinion, of course, his very prolixity as much a barrier as a benefit. Colligan, on the other hand, impresses at every point, with his exciting, Peterson-like facility, and a level of keyboard fecundity that explains his popularity with leaders like Cuber and so many others. They move on to Miles’ Mode by John Coltrane, a fast-moving post-bop piece that induces some of Cuber’s most adventurous harmonic forays and allows Colligan to unleash his inner-McCoy Tyner, the energy quite palpable, the outcomes exhilarating, as Cuber deploys the top end of the baritone’s range, nearer to Coltrane himself than Gerry Mulligan, say, ever was.

As sleeve-note writer Neil Tesser says, "the muse of Coltrane hovered close on this particular gig" with two more Coltrane themes each given a lengthy exploration. The counterbalance to all this advanced playing comes with a ballad reading of Summertime and the rather lovely Gloria’s Steps by Scott Lafaro.

So a strong set revealing Cuber’s mastery of the idiom and of his instrument, his harmonic propensities unfettered as is his technique. Clearly something of a SteepleChase favourite, Cook and Morton cite Cuber’s sound as ‘gruff and monstrous’ at times and I’d add porcine, too: Colligan, though, can do no wrong. Quite why it has taken nine years for the recording to emerge on to CD is unexplained. Good sound.

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NEWS: Finalists announced in 2019 Jazz World Photo competition (Trutnov, Czech Republic)

Roscoe Mitchell (foreground) and Don Moye. Berlin 2018
Photo credit and © Ralf Dombrowski
Sebastian writes:

The jurors of the 2019 Jazz World Photo competition have announced the 30 finalists, out of a total of 353 entrants. The winners will be announced on 23 March 2019 at the Jazzinec Festival in Trutnov, Czech Republic.

We at LJN are particularly pleased to see the name of our regular contributor RALF DOMBROWSKI among the finalists. He was chosen for his picture of Roscoe Mitchell (above). Describing the photo, Ralf writes: "The photo was taken at the rehearsal for the Art Ensemble's concert during Jazzfest Berlin 2018. I was hopping around between chairs because I really wanted to get Don in the background... luckily it worked out."

The link below is to a photo gallery displaying all of the shortlisted entries.

The finalists come from the following countries: Italy (9), Poland (5), France (4),Ukraine (2), Austria (2) and Germany, Argentina, Turkey,Chile, US, Greece, Slovenia, Czech Republic (1 each)

The competition was set up by Patrick Marek in 2013. Pictures have to have been taken during the calendar year prior to the competition. Past winners were: Didier Jallais, France (2014 and 2018), Andrea Rotili, Italy (2015), Marion Tisserand, France (2016), Oleg Panov (2017). The shortlisted pictures constitute a touring exhibition, and the winners receive a trophy designed by Jan Činčera

LIST OF 2019 FINALISTS

Adriano Bellucci
Gérard Boisnel
Mariusz Buczma
Roberto Cifarelli
Arturo Di Vita
Ralf Dombrowski
Serhiy Horobets
Jiří Hrbek
Aleksandra Kasztalska
Marcin Masalski
Adriana Mateo
Flavia Matta
William Monaco
Resul Muslu
Sandro Niboli
Sascha Osaka
Oleg Panov (past winner)
Sobiesław Pawlikowski
Didier Peron
Jože Požrl
Pablo Reyes
Rainer A. Rygalyk
Don Saban
Fabrizio Sodani
Antonio Sollazzo
Didier Taberlet
Pierre Vignacq
Kostas Voultsidis
Jaroslaw Wierzbicki
Alessandro Ziantoni

LINK: World Jazz Photo site with  photo gallery and details of all the 2019 finalists

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FEATURE/INTERVIEW: John Turville (new album Head First out 22 Feb, and touring)

John Turville
Photo Credit: Rob Blackham
The pianist John Taylor, who died three and a bit years ago, left behind not only a discography of great recordings and a fine catalogue of compositions, but also a band of disciples in his former students. John Fordham singles out the most admired of that cohort, JOHN TURVILLE, who  has a new album out and is touring it around the UK.  

When the great British pianist John Taylor died suddenly at 72 on a concert in France in 2015, shock and sadness at the loss of this most wittily diffident of master musicians reverberated all over the jazz world, across Europe and beyond. Taylor was not only a byzantine but vividly accessible improviser – deservedly regarded as being in a league alongside his own early heroes Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner – but also a composing original who could bridge jazz and modern-classical methods in pieces that challenged improvisers with fascinating choices, whilst remaining as seductive as good songs.

Taylor left a unique body of work behind, but also – like such piano inspirations as Evans, Hancock, Tyner, and Keith Jarrett – a new generation of creatively liberated young devotees. John Turville, the 39 year-old Nottingham-raised pianist/composer and educator, is one of the most assured, admired, and versatile of Taylor’s student flock. He studied classical music at Cambridge University, and then jazz at London’s Guildhall in the early 2000s, and has worked widely as a sideman and teacher – but his new album Head First is only his third as a leader. On the evidence of this idiomatically varied and beautifully-played venture, Turville has made creative leaps in both the breadth of his repertoire and the richness of his ensemble sound – now fully exploring the classic small-band jazz format of a brass and reeds-led quintet, with no less a luminary than Loose Tubes co-founder and long-time John Taylor sidekick Julian Arguelles on saxophones.

The programme embraces the riffy, percussive Fall Out (once a big-format arrangement from the pianist’s work with Walthamstow’s E17 workshop band), the cinematic, free-jazzy Seahorses, the bright samba of the Fred Hersch-inspired title track, the English rural calm of the Tayloresque Ennerdale, and affectionate homages to two personal favourites, Buenos Aires modern-tango composer Diego Schissi, and Brazilian guitarist Toninho Horta. Head First launches with a 15-date UK tour this month.

John Turville is an enthusiast, and it shows in the irrepressible eagerness with which he will discuss anything and everything musical, from the influence of French composers Olivier Messiaen or Maurice Ravel on postbop harmonic conceptions, to Joe Henderson and the 1960s Blue Note hard bop sound, or the connecting tissue between Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk in the work of another big personal influence, the great American pianist Fred Hersch. The title for Head First is a playful juggle with Hersch’s name, but the starting point for this new phase in John Turville’s career was the Jazz Piano Summit in Taylor’s honour at London’s Southbank in September 2015. The gig had been booked as a showcase for Taylor himself, and some of his favourite pianists including the German prodigy Michael Wollny, and Britain’s Gwilym Simcock. In the event, it turned out to be a valediction, performed in solos and duos by eight Taylor-influenced pianists in all, including Turville.

"I wrote a piece for the Summit I called A Perfect Foil," Turville recalls, "which referred to a tune of John’s just called Foil, based on a 12-tone row. It got me thinking about doing some more writing – not just to explore that blend of jazz swing and chamber-music that John played so well, but also perhaps to reflect my own ways of mixing all the stuff I liked, the French classical thing, the Blue Note bebop thing, Brazilian samba and Argentinian tango, John’s and Kenny Wheeler’s influences, and so on. Then Julian came into the picture, who was so close to John and Kenny. I’d already had a play with him with the bassist Dave Manington and drummer Tim Giles, which he was nice enough to say was the most musical thing he’d done in a while. So I wrote some new pieces, asked Julian to join me and was in a dream when he accepted, and brought in Robbie Robson on trumpet, who I’d known since my Guildhall days."

John Turville Quintet
Photo Credit: Rob Blackham
With Dave Whitford on bass and James Maddren on drums, the quintet met for two days in April 2017, at the Artesuono Studio in Udine, where Turville had recorded his 2009 trio album Midas. If the leader had had any doubts about how new material and a new band might gel, they soon vanished.

"The vibe was there from the start," Turville reports with feeling. "The place, the piano, the wonderful engineer Stefano Amerio, and above all the musicians. Julian can hear the Taylor harmonies in my writing, and responds to them as he’d done so unbelievably well in his amazing duo with John, and though he and Robbie – who has both a Kenny Wheeler and Miles vibe to his sound – play completely differently, they both have incredible ears and play some wonderful improvised counterpoint together. I can’t wait to get on the road with them all, playing all those back-to-back gigs for a fortnight, sharing all the ways they’ll develop this music as we go.’

John Turville’s Head First is out on Whirlwind Recordings on 22 February 2019. The quintet tours the UK until 9 March.

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REVIEW: Mike Westbrook Uncommon Orchestra at Ronnie Scott's

The Uncommon Orchestra in Birmingham in 2017
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Mike Westbrook Uncommon Orchestra
(Ronnie Scott’s, 12 February 2019. Review by Richard Lee)

First, let’s clear the air: i) this is going to be one of those jazz reviews that finds no fault; ii) Mike Westbrook is our greatest living composer/arranger. Don’t even begin to discuss. Because in this scintillating but all-too-rare metropolitan performance by the Uncommon Orchestra, revisiting key moments in the Westbrook catalogue, we heard a lifetime project to take the thing called jazz and make it a truly English thing. Mike has taken the American tradition, melding it with European influences from cabaret, folk song, rock (more XTC than R’n’B), Victorian poetry and Dada. His arrangements of Ellington, Rossini and Weill have a peculiarly English sound, which manifests itself most powerfully in his settings of William Blake. But he also gathers round him English musicians that deliver world-class playing. Most of the Orchestra are gathered from Mike & Kate’s home area in the South West, and while they may not be household names, they are clearly among England’s Finest. What was clear from the start was how at home this massive band was on the Frith Street stage. (24 must be one of the biggest line-ups at the Club). I saw them at King’s Place when they launched A Bigger Show and, spectacular though that was, a real buzz and energy were palpable tonight.

Commencing with a pair of “roll-up, roll-up” pieces from 2016’s A Bigger Show, the Uncommon Orchestra announced itself with gusto. The ever dependable Kate Westbrook, John Winfield, Martine Waltier and Billie Bottle drove the powerful choral presence in Gizzards All Gory, enjoining us as “Friends!” but finding a darker tone in the following Juxtapositions with its “disasters yet to come”.

Winfield led on Long John Brown and Little Mary Bell which sure has developed from its first outings, here gaining even more poignancy with Dominique Pifarély’s plangent violin. The most English of arrangers then gave us Brazilian Love Songs layered in Mingus-like arrangements giving way to the most Latin Latin I’ve heard in ages from non-Latin players, followed by the first of Jesse Molins’ tremendous guitar solos, and then to a Surabya-esque vocal outro from Kate: a veritable world tour in one number. The beautiful Tender Love & Bebop de Rigeur from Citadel/Room 315 featured the phenomenal Roz Harding on alto. She is such a powerful, confident player, easily holding her own with regular Westbrook reeds Alan Wakeman & Pete Whyman who themselves played magnificently throughout. I really enjoyed the use of Marcus Vergette’s stand-up and Billie Bottle’s electric bass in unison, and while Mike focused on conducting tonight, was equally impressed with Billie’s terrific work, depping at the keys. The first set closed with Lu Me Sceccu, because Mike was “determined we’d play some Italian folk songs” on last year’s tour to revisit Catania, the release of which eponymous album (recorded in 1992) was what we were celebrating tonight. Quite right too…

A re-working of Ellington’s Tulip or Turnip gave one of the younger members of the band, trombonist Samuel Chamberlain-Keen, an opening to shine. And then came Alabama Song, versions of which I’ve enjoyed in a variety of forms from Kate & Mike over many years; but I think we reached peak-Weill here. Perhaps it was Graham Russell’s horn solo, followed by stalwart Dave Holdsworth’s sprightly pocket trumpet (all the more theatrical while he’s entwined in his sousaphone); perhaps it was the arrangement, the most sumptuous ever; or was it Kate out-Lotte-ing Lenya? Whatever: it felt like a whole musical in itself, demonstrating that Mike is one of the finest theatre arrangers.

OK, so in this most English of bands, there’s one French musician here and violinist Dominique Pifarély took centre-stage in D.T.T.M, a number re-worked by Mike from On Duke’s Birthday for his beautiful Paris solo album. How delightful to hear it here in Dominique’s sensitive hands. His slow blues propelled by that ever-powerful choir was deeply moving, hugely appreciated by a really warm, thankfully entirely non-corporate audience. Billie Bottle took the lead on another Bigger Show number, the textually bleak but musically fulsome Gas, Dust, Stone, notable for another time-splintering solo from Roz Harding while Coach York fearlessly drove the 12/8 from the kit.  As Ellington’s messenger on earth, Mike gave Alan Wakeman room to stretch out on tenor in Strayhorn’s Something To Live For, while Pete Whyman’s alto & Dick Pearce’s trumpet led the charge in a thundering Graffiti from The Cortège.

The evening ended with “a couple of English pieces” as Mike termed McCartney’s Golden Slumbers, John Clare’s The Toper’s Rant and I See Thy Form from the 1982 Westbrook Blake. In between, they took the William Tell Gallop at a heady pace which even had the usually indifferent waiters bopping behind the bar. But the English pieces were each, in their own way, the kind of anthems we need right now, delivered with such depth of emotion. A wonderful uplifting way to end a unique show.

Why on earth, in the 50th anniversary year of Abbey Road a major concert hall isn’t snapping up the Westbrook Off Abbey Road beggars belief. England’s Finest? I think my use of “English” throughout is too restrictive. The Westbrook Project travels the world for its sources (see The Cortège) and, in that, is a truly European one: outward-facing, co-operative, collaborative - and before you @ me – audiences for this band last year mustered thousands, not hundreds, in Sicily & Italy. Of course Ronnie’s was completely packed but where are the UK audiences for jazz in their thousands…? Mike is a prophet in his own land, shamefully ignored, hugely treasured by those who know.

The evening started with an uncomfortable apology for not presenting Mike at Ronnie’s more; Mike in his turn generously ended the evening saying what a joy it was to play the club, and how ever grateful he was to Ronnie who gave him his first gig. So we went home thinking of "yesterday", but like the upcoming movie of that name, where a musician finds himself in a world that never knew the Beatles, I imagine a world where we all wake up after a power-cut and whenever you type “jazz” or “music” into your web-browser, it comes back with “Mike Westbrook” as its first hit.

UNCOMMON ORCHESTRA

Mike Westbrook - piano
Kate Westbrook, John Winfield, Martine Waltier, Billie Bottle - vocalists
Coach York - drums
Marcus Vergette - double bass
Alan Wakeman, Pete Whyman, Rosalind Harding, Sarah Dean, Ian Wellens - saxes
Stuart Brooks, Graham Russell, Dave Holdsworth, Dick Pearce, Sam Massey - trumpets
Stewart Stunell, Joe Carnell, Ashley Nayler, Samuel Chamberlain-Keen- trombones
Jesse Molins, Matt North - guitars
Dominique Pifarély - violin

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INTERVIEW: Ariel J Ramos (The Jazz Standards Progressions Book and mDecks.com)

Jazz Standards Progressions Book
Publicity Photo Front Cover

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” US musicians Ariel J Ramos and Mario Cerra quote Nietzsche on their educational website, mDecks.com. The two have developed The Jazz Standards Progressions Book, with chords, scales and analyses of over 1000 tunes. (Available in Concert, Bb and Eb versions, as PDFs or paperbacks). Alison Bentley emailed Ariel. 

LondonJazz News: Can you tell us about your musical background?

Ariel J Ramos: We both went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Mario graduated with a degree in performance (saxophone) and I have a degree in Film Scoring. We have always loved and played jazz. I have written music for independent films, TV, chamber music and jazz ensembles, while Mario has concentrated more on performing. I think our different points of view, mine being more harmonic and Mario’s more melodic, was a great combination when we analyzed the jazz standards.

LJN How did the mDecks organisation come about?

AJR: mDecks was founded in 2008. I had been teaching music for many years at the time, and had developed a few “tricks” and methods to teach harmony and improvisation which were really effective when trying to explain some of the concepts; such as a map to explain harmony and graphing scales over the circle of fifths to explain modes and upper structure triads. Since I had studied computer science before becoming a full-time musician, I thought it would be a great idea to turn those methods into apps and books that other teachers and students could use.

LJN: How did you choose which tunes to include?

AJR: Since we used our Mapping Tonal Harmony app as a tool to create the analyses, we were limited to tonal progressions, although we expanded the options of chords and chord-scales quite a lot to fit all the borrowing from other modes that occur in a jazz tune. We took the harmonic concepts represented in the map as far as possible to allow the analyses of many tunes that try to escape the boundaries of tonality. A typical example would be the use of a 1 7 as a tonic, which you see in blues progressions all the time. We chose the tunes based on the Real Book volumes.

LJN: What level of jazz musicians are the books aimed at? Could a beginner use them?

AJR: These are books for intermediate to advanced players who are used to reading from a lead sheet, understand chord changes and have played quite a few jazz tunes. Also, a beginner might immediately interpret the chord-scales included in the analyses as something they must play when improvising, which is not at all the intention of having them included in the analysis. An advanced jazz player will know these (the chord-scales) are extensions of the chord symbols, indicating the amount of tension created by the different notes based on the current harmonic function.

LJN: You demonstrate ideas on piano in your YouTube videos. Can other instrumentalists use the books too?

AJR: Mainly because I am a piano player, but any instrumentalist can benefit from the analyses. Even arrangers and composers will find them extremely useful. I think it is crucial to understand and hear harmony from a functional perspective. In tonality, every chord implies a harmonic function. This creates a certain amount of tension, and tendencies which are best understood when we analyze the chord in relationship to the key of the moment.

LJN: I like the way you have everything together on the same page! Can you explain a bit about how you’ve done that? (I imagine visual learners would find your graphics especially helpful.)

AJR: We created the analyses using the map in Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro, which organizes the entire set of harmonic functions based on fundamental harmonic rules. Using the app you can input the chords, from the map, as functions (not as chord symbols.) Every function is associated with a chord and a chord-scale. You have to decide which function best represents a chord. The app then creates the chart, finding important cadences and bass-lines that are essential in a well-constructed harmonic progression. All these cadences are represented by the standard arrows and brackets symbolism used in many jazz harmony books. Yes, symbols are a great device to see right away what’s going on in a progression.

LJN: You’ve also brought out the Jazz Standards Progressions Book Reharmonised. Could you tell us how you’ve done that?

AJR: The re-harmonizations were created using standard re-harmonization techniques, such as substitutions, borrowing from minor, interpolating secondary functions, etc. The re-harmonizations are mostly a way of offering the player an alternative version of a standard that derives from the original, works harmonically and at the same time gives the player the opportunity to play the same standards using a fresh harmonic progression.

LJN: In your videos you recommend we “consider the melody as much as you can.” Do you have any plans to bring the books out with melodies included?

AJR: We would love to include the melodies but it is really hard (not to mention costly) to get the rights from the proper copyright owners. Hopefully, in the future, we might be able to afford it. In the videos we mention melodies, because when creating the analyses we were always considering what the melody was doing, to decide which was the best functional analysis.

LJN: The charts also come as XML files to be imported into your Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro app and can be used as backing tracks. Is the app part of the package or bought separately?

AJR: The app is independent from the book. Users of the app can just get the XML files, which include all the same Jazz Standards, and then view them and play them from within the app, without the need to have the PDF version of the book. Of course, loading the XML files into Mapping Tonal Harmony gives the user the chance to interact with the analyses using all the features included in the app, from the play along, to the voicings panel, the map, etc.

LJN: Your apps are for iPad and Macs but I only have Windows and Android! Can I adapt them?

AJR: At the moment the apps ore only for macOS and iOS, but we are working on the Android and Windows versions of the apps. (pp)

LINK: The Jazz Standards Progressions Book and the apps are available at mDecks.com

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REVIEW: Thrill Festival 2019 (Scottish and Belgian musicians in Edinburgh)

Michel Michel Massot of Mâäk Quintet on sousaphone
Photo credit Patrick Hadfield

Thrill Festival 
(Various venues in Edinburgh. 7-9 February 2019. Review by Patrick Hadfield)

In the otherwise gloomy days of mid-February, the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival and Visit Brussels decided to brighten things up by programming a three day festival in Edinburgh featuring Scottish and Belgian musicians. Each bill featured bands from each country or collaborations between the two.

Irini Arabatzi
Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield


On the first night, the Jazz Bar featured one such collaboration, the Thrill! Sextet - three young musicians from each country, working together for the first time. This was their second gig - they debuted recently in Brussels. Mark Hendry, a familiar face to Edinburgh audiences playing double bass, lead the band jointly with Belgian reeds-player Tom Bourgeois; together they provided the tunes. The music was engaging and assured. Irini Arabatzi provided mostly wordless vocals, her voice soaring and shining like another horn. The one piece with lyrics, Bourgeois' Familiar Note had spoken as well as sung words as Arabatzi narrated a tale of alienation as if she were describing a Hopper painting. The other musicians were similarly adept. Joining Bourgeois on tenor was Sylvain Debaisieux, who made his sax scream. Drummer Stephen Henderson was playing better than I'd seen him, both forceful and subtle. Together, the sextet sounded like they'd been together much longer than a month or so - and I hope this is the start of a long productive relationship. They were followed by Mâäk Quintet, who were something else. Featuring four horns and a drummer, there was a ferocious anarchic streak running through their music. Providing the foundation was Michel Massot's serpentine sousaphone; it towered over the musicians. Whilst Massot worked hard on the bassline, Samuel Ber's drumming was frenetic but precise: full of energy, he drove the other musicians, pushing them harder and harder.

The three frontline horns were lead by trumpeter Laurent Blondiau, who directed the band. He used a variety of mutes on his trumpet, bending the sound. The saxophones - Jeroen Van Herzeele on tenor and Grégoire Tirtiaux on alto - were impassioned, screaming and soaring. The music the Mâäk Quintet created was exciting and felt risky, balanced on the edge of chaos but never quite crossing the line.

Grégoire Tirtiaux, Laurent Blondiau, Jeroen Van Herzeele
Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield


The following night marked the first show of a new partnership between EJ&BF, Creative Scotland, City of Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Government, who together have established the St Brides Centre as a space for jazz all year round. A converted church, it has seen gigs before, but its relaunch marks a new venture, and one that bodes well for Edinburgh's music scene. Fittingly, the first set was by one of Scotland's most exciting young bands, Graham Costello's STRATA; it was also the first night of their short tour celebrating the release of their new CD, Obelisk. St Brides is a larger space than I'd seen them in before, but it suited their full sound, somewhere between electric jazz, classical minimalism and progressive rock. Maybe with a bit of psychedelia thrown in for good measure.

Mark Hendry - this time on electric bass - filled the hall with sounds like an organ. Joe Williamson's guitar chopped and shimmered, sometimes drone-like, whilst his solos provided a gentle break. Saxophonist Harry Weir provided emotional depth with his soulful solos. Behind it all, Costello's high energy drumming and Fergus McCreadie's repetitive piano patterns drove the music along. They played without pause, barely leaving time for the audience to show their appreciation before moving onto the next theme, and without introducing the tunes, all written by Costello. Watching STRATA is an intense and exhilarating experience, full of contrasts.

Another drummer-lead ensemble, Belgium's Antoine Pierre URBEX played the second set. Starting from a similar point as STRATA, their sound was a lot cooler and, at times, impressionistic or abstract. The music was a slow-burner, ending up with the appropriately named Closing Off being full of frantic guitar and an angular, jagged sound. Jean-Paul Estiévenart's trumpet had an open, spacey sound, reminiscent of Tomasz Stanko. Drummer Antoine Pierre's band ends up sounding like avant garde post bop, with quirky time signatures belying a strong groove.

The last day of the festival - dubbed "Saxturday" in honour of Adolphe Sax, the Belgian-born inventor of the saxophone - saw another Scottish-Belgian double bill at St Brides. The Colin Steele Quintet opened the show. Steele is no stranger to Edinburgh audiences, but his soulful, folk-infused melodies are always welcome. The set covered several years of his repertory, starting with I Will Wait For You from good most recent CD and working backwards to an extended suite, Down to the Wire, originally commissioned by Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival more than a decade ago. His tunes are lively but hint at a deep Celtic melancholy. The quintet is comprised of Scottish jazz stars: Konrad Wisniewski played some blistering, bluesy tenor whilst also evoking Highland pipes; bassist Calum Gourlay, making one of his frequent visits back to Scotland, is always welcome for his warm, lyrical playing; drum star Alyn Cosker. And at the heart of the band, Steele's long term collaborator Dave Milligan played some forceful but elegant piano solos, and was particularly elegaic on Steele's romantic tune Bacharach on Lochwinnoch.

Toine Thys Trio featuring Hervé Samb
Photo credit: Patrick Hadfield


The second set was courtesy of the Toine Thys Trio featuring Hervé Samb, which, for the avoidance of doubt, made it a quartet. With Arno Krijger providing a funky groove on the Hammond B3 organ and Hervé Samb adding a slinky, choppy touch of Afrobeat with his guitar. The organ sound brought to mind 1970s soundtracks and late nights in smokey basements. Toine Thys played tenor and soprano, the notes cascading from the horn.

It's hard not to put the collaboration between Scotland and Belgium that produced such musical highlights in the context of the political backdrop. Brexit risks make such enterprises far more difficult to produce, as freedom of movement to and from Britain has restrictions placed on it. The benefits of working with others – the cross-fertilisation of ideas – were plain to see at the Thrill Festival.

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

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NEWS: Cheltenham Jazz Festival programme announced (1-6 May 2019)

Joshua Redman
Photo: © Jay Blakesberg
Peter Bacon reports:

The line-up for this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival (1-6 May 2019), one of the biggest outside London, has been announced, and although the move from serious jazz to its pop relations continues to leaven the offering, there is still enough to keep all but the most curmudgeonly happy.

Leading the jazz vanguard this year are pianist Fred Hersch and Joshua Redman, both making Cheltenham their only UK stop, Abdullah Ibrahim and Ekaya, Scandinavian piano trio Rymden, The Bad Plus and John Surman, John Warren and the Brass Project Live. Then there are Dan Weiss’s Starebaby, Nikki Yeoh and Zoe Rahman, Partisans, Rachel Musson, Michael Formanek’s Elusion Quartet, David Sanborn’s Acoustic Band, the Hanna Paulsberg Concept and Hermia Ceccaldi Darrifourcq.

As usual, many of these performances will be held in the terrific but not huge Parabola Arts Centre, part of Cheltenham Ladies’ College, so early booking is advised. Opening the Paraboloa sessions is a particularly intriguing trio of Soweto Kinch, Andreas Schaerer and Kalle Kalima.

Charenee Wade
Publicity picture
Now named as Associate Curator, Jamie Cullum will be appearing, as will his successor in the Artistic Curator role, Gregory Porter. According to the festival’s press release, Porter’s choices in the line-up include Charenee Wade, Alina Engibaryan and Kandace Springs.

DJ Gilles Peterson is presenting a fine selection from the youthful UK scene including Nubya Garcia, Vula Viel, Alfa Mist, Vels Trio and Cherise Adams Burnett.

Moving towards the pop end of the programme, big names include Sergio Mendes, Swing Out Sister and Katy Melua, while the older demographic will be happy with Georgie Fame, especially as he has the Guy Barker Big Band for company, and Curtis Stigers with the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band.

Other notable gigs include: Incognito, Madeleine Peyroux, Omar Sosa & Yllian Cañizares, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble.

Tickets go on sale to Members at 10am on Wednesday 27 February 2019 and on general sale from 10am on Wednesday 6 March 2019.

LINK: Cheltenham Jazz Festival website

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NEWS: 2019 JazzFM Awards Nominees Announced

Winners at the 2018 Awards
Photo from JazzFM
The nominations for the Jazz FM Awards 2019 are announced. (Full list below)

The Awards ceremony with live acts yet to be announced will take place at Shoreditch Town Hall on International Jazz Day (30 April). The hosts will be Chris Philips and Jez Nelson. Three awards, the PPL Lifetime Achievement Award, PRS For Music Gold Award and Impact Award recipients will be announced later.

Public voting is open now for three of the awards (listed and website link below), and will close on Monday 12 March 2019.

Full list of 2019 Nominees:

Breakthrough Act

Cassie Kinoshi
Emma-Jean Thackray
Sarah Tandy

The Digital Award with Oanda

Blue Lab Beats
Louis Cole
Moses Boyd - 1Xtra Residency

The Innovation Award with Mishcon de Reya

Orphy Robinson – Freedom Sessions at Vortex
Steam Down
Tomorrow’s Warriors

Instrumentalist of the Year

Camilla George
Jean Toussaint
Rob Luft

International Jazz Act of the Year with Lateralize

Jamie Branch
Makaya McCraven
Wayne Shorter

Soul Act of the Year

José James
Leon Bridges
Poppy Ajudha

Blues Act of the Year

Eric Bibb
Errol Linton
Roosevelt Collier

Vocalist of the Year

Cherise Adams-Burnett
Ian Shaw
Judi Jackson

UK Jazz Act of the Year (Public Vote) with Cambridge Audio

Jason Yarde
Joe Armon-Jones
Nubya Garcia

Album of the Year (Public Vote) with Arqiva

Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens
Jean Toussaint Allstar 6Tet – Brother Raymond
John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is A Reptile
Various Artists – We Out Here
Wayne Shorter – Emanon

Live Experience of the Year (Public Vote)

Jason Moran: The Harlem Hellfighters – Tour
Jazz Re:Fest 2018: Brighton Edition
Makaya McCraven and Nubya Garcia – EFG London Jazz Festival
Orphy Robinson presents Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks – Tour
Steam Down featuring Kamasi Washington
The Cookers – Church of Sound




The Jazz FM Awards 2019 is a partnership between Jazz FM and Serious and is made possible with the support of PRS for Music, PPL, Shoreditch Town Hall, Mishcon de Reya, Lateralize, Cambridge Audio, British Airways, Arqiva, Oanda, Warsteiner, Savile Row Gin, Denbies and Yamaha UK.

LINK : JazzFM Awards website

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PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Lara Jones of J. Frisco (Jazz North Presents Alt-Shift-J in Middlesbrough)

J. Frisco. L-R: Megan Roe – Guitar/Voice, Jemma Freese – Keys/FX/Voice
and Lara Jones – Saxophone/FX/Voice
One of the highlights of this weekend's Jazz North Presents Alt-Shift-J will be a set from the trio J. Frisco (The Crypt, 7pm, Saturday 16 February 2019). The band describes itself as an "avant-garde jazz trio featuring soprano saxophone, electric guitar, keyboards and vocals, creating improvised genre-fluid soundscapes and noise drawn from emotion, political, and gender issues." AJ Dehany, who will be attending the event, talked to Lara Jones:

LondonJazz News: You are a young trio of guitar, sax, electronics, vocals, samples, and you've just released your debut album Naked - how would you explain what you do? What is the essence of the mooted 'J Frisco Experience'?

Lara Jones: Well we say we make avant-garde jazz, others say it's jazz, experimental, film, electronic, ambient, noise... we get lots of different tags, but we're just about making music that responds to the world around us and love to explore new sounds where we can. Aha, the 'J Frisco Experience' – I guess this is something that can only be understood if you've seen us live... we're quite theatrical with our performance and assume this is what people mean!

LJN: The album in particular sets up a kind of opposition between the salty sweetness of the soprano sax and the darker textures alongside it – is this sort of textural yin-yang a conscious dynamic?

LJ: The contrasts we create in the music is definitely a conscious dynamic, particularly in the first album Naked, it was written/recorded in a time when we were frustrated at a lot of things, there's a polarisation in the music that was a polarisation we felt in ourselves at that time. We describe it as constantly being pulled under water and fighting to come back up above it...



LJN: The unperformed text accompanying previous ten-minute track Meditative encourages us to take a zen-like or yoga-like moment of stillness "in a world filled with constant noise". Is there a tension between this and the 'noise' elements of what you do, particularly with regard to the use of sampling on the album?

LJ: This track is absolutely about taking a moment of pause and reflection and to take in all the noise around us. I suppose much like our music, the world and its sounds are constantly changing and evolving and this track gives the listener and ourselves a chance to take it back to something minimal. Listening, really listening is the key!

LJN: What's your relationship with Jazz North? Do you see yourselves having a 'northern identity'? 

LJ: Jazz North have been incredibly supportive of us. We were Jazz North's Introduces Artist in 2017, this gave us the opportunity to play at lots of different Northern Jazz Festivals and hone our sound and performance. Ever since we feel we've become a part of this really beautiful northern scene of jazz/improvisation musicians. We met lots of other bands, musicians and promoters through this scheme and as a result we've had a a brilliant couple of years, performing and workshop leading! As individuals we are from all over and spend time in lots of different places but as a band we absolutely have a Northern identity we are really proud of. There are brilliant things happening up here and we couldn't be more grateful to Jazz North for their support.

LJN: Omg, right, so you collaborated with Archipelago! I'm going to see them next week at the Vortex (birthday present to self). The Archipelago J Frisco double trio 'superband' is a monumental collaboration. How was that, especially working with a 'rhythm section'? Will it be reprised/given a live treatment? Is this experimenting with expanded formats something you're keen to continue?

LJ: ARCHIFRISCO! I'm so glad you know about this! We actually originally met Archipelago at a Jazz North showcase; we fell in love with what they did... somewhere along the line they become our friends. We did a gig at the Basement in York put in by an amazing promoter Harkirit Boparari, where we were supporting Archipelago and at the end of their set, they got us up on stage to play with them; there was this really powerful connection that happened when we played together, one of those that can't really be described in words, it was unexpected too but beautiful! The wonderful Faye MacCalman decided to put us in for the Lancaster Jazz Festival Commission and we ended up getting it, so she wrote us a full set of music and we performed it... honestly we had the most amazing time doing it together and we've met since to record some of the material. We're gigging in Leeds at the Fusebox Festival in June and hopefully at Sage Gateshead, we're also looking to get all material recorded at released as an album if we can secure some funding!

We love collaboration and expanded formats is absolutely something we are keen to continue, both with our own set up and in future collaborations... we do love a good drummer!

LJN: What do you have planned for the Alt-J gig curated by Jazz North this weekend?

LJ: Soooo... we're planning to play some of our NEW material... we just recorded our second album. We're really really proud of this one and can't wait to share it with the world, hence playing some of the material before its release, haha! We're so excited for the gig on the weekend and look forward to seeing and working with all the other wonderful people.

LINKS: J Frisco website
Interview explaining the origin of the band's name
Jazz North Presents Alt-Shift-J in Middlesbrough

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NEWS: Leeds Jazz Festival line-up announced (18-21 July 2019)



Peter Bacon reports:

Headlining this year's Leeds Jazz Festival is saxophonist Andy Sheppard, who will be appearing with the Norwegian piano trio led by Espen Eriksen. Also on the bill is Sheppard's ECM stable-mate, Israeli pianist Shai Maestro who brings his trio with sometime Lee Konitz drummer Ziv Ravitz and Peruvian bassist Jorge Roeder.

Other festival highlights include:

The Electric Lady Big Band. This 16-piece, star-studded ensemble includes Laura Jurd, Yazz Ahmed, Nathaniel Facey and Iain Ballamy and will be playing jazz arrangments by guitarist Denny Ilett inspired by Gil Evans' reworkings of Jimi Hendrix tunes in the 1970s. The result? Electric Ladyland as you've never heard it before.

A Jazz Celebration of Windrush. Pianist Trevor Watkis's musical retrospective of the jazz trumpeter Dizzy Reece and the lasting impression of the Windrush generation on the UK jazz scene, with an Anglo-American band.

Young UK bandleaders in the form of pianist Sarah Tandy, saxophonist Leo Richardson and double bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado.

Leeds' place in the music is celebrated with a 90th birthday party for drummer and bandleader Ronnie Bottomley; a film about the late trumpeter Richard Turner; the premiere of a new album by trombonist Kevin Holborough; and Simon Thackray's Mrs Boyes Bingo which promises prize bingo with simultaneous drumming disruption from Mark Sanders and John Edwards...

Early Bird tickets are now on sale.

LINK: Leeds Jazz Festival website

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CD REVIEW: John Turville - Head First


John Turville - Head First
(Whirlwind Recordings. WR4734. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)


John Turville has put together a quintet that spans generations for this lively, self-assured release, with saxophonist Julian Arguelles, a mainstay of British jazz for over 30 years, joining younger musicians like drummer James Maddren and Robbie Robson on trumpet. Dave Whitford is on bass.

Turville sits at the centre of the record. The music is varied, reflecting Turville's eclectic influences. The eleven tracks comprise three latin numbers, some meditative piano and some energetic ensemble playing, all infused with Turville's sensitive piano playing.

He admits being inspired by John Taylor, who played on a couple of Arguelles' recordings and to whom the CD is dedicated. Taylor's influence is perhaps most evident on Ennerdale, on which Robson seems to evoke Taylor's long time collaborator, Kenny Wheeler, too.

As well as his own compositions, Turville has chosen pieces by other composers that complement his piano style. Michel Pettruciani's boppy Beautiful But Why closes the CD; Dan Schissi's Cancion 4 is played as a contemplative duet with Robson. It is followed by Francisca, by Toninho Horta, a piece for piano trio which could be timeless.

The band manage to sound bigger than a quintet at times, with Arguelles and Robson playing diverging lines, as in the freeish Seahorses. But it is perhaps on the smaller scale pieces that the band excel. The relationships between Turville and both Arguelles and Robson on Interval Music and Cancion respectively create moments of beauty. Both horns sound superb, imaginative and assured throughout. On Cyclic Chorale Turville sets up an enigmatic, low-key conversation with some lovely playing from Whitford and Maddren.

The band is touring – see full dates below.

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

John Turville tour dates

25 February - Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London
26 February - Herts Jazz, The Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans
27 February - Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham
28 February – Workshop, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
28 February - Cambridge Modern Jazz Club (Hidden Rooms)
1 March - The Fleece, Colchester
2 March - Workshop, Royal Academy of Music, London
4 March - Wells Cathedral, Cedars Hall
5 March - St Ives Jazz Club (Great Western Hotel)
6 March - Workshop and Concert, Purcell School, Bushey
7 March - Nottingham Jazzsteps, Bonington Theatre, Arnold
8 March - Workshop, Leeds College of Music
8 March - Sheffield Jazz, Crookes Social Club
9 March - The Verdict, Brighton

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REVIEW: Huw Warren Trio at the Vortex (Everything In Between album launch)

Dudley Philips, Huw Warren and Zoot Warren
Publicity picture
Huw Warren Trio – Everything In Between album launch
(The Vortex, 8 February 2019. Review by Gail Tasker)

Friday night’s gig at The Vortex was a welcome ray of sunshine on a rainy evening. It was the album launch of pianist Huw Warren’s latest album Everything In Between, on Italian label CAM Jazz.

With Huw leading on grand piano, the ensemble was completed by Zoot Warren on drum kit and longtime collaborator Dudley Philips on double and electric bass. Together, the trio performed an array of Brazilian tunes and originals with a compelling combination of tight synchronicity and wry British humour.

Brazilian music has long been an influence on Huw, evident in his collaborations with Iain Ballamy and Maria Pia de Vito. This particular group, announced as ‘Trio Brasil’, is an embodiment of his passion for the music, incorporating tunes from composers such as Hermeto Pascoal, Chico Buarque, and Egberto Gismonti. Yet, true to the nature of interpretation, there was a distinctively innovative edge to the proceedings. This manifested itself through Huw’s seemingly-spontaneous employment of dissonant, Monk-like chordal progressions based on Brazilian rhythm patterns, occasional flamboyant embellishments upon the main melodies, and the constantly shifting and never settling nature of Zoot’s drum grooves.

Fast-paced tunes took up the majority of the set-list. The trio’s performance of Hermeto Pascoal’s Frevo Em Maceio drew shouts and whistles from the crowd. Philips and Huw played the main melody in blindingly-rapid unison, underscored by Zoot’s driving patterns. And when the seemingly final chord of the piece rang out, the audience’s applause turned into laughter as Huw led the band into an almost ludicrously up-tempo, final play through. A similar occurrence took place with Egberto Gismonti’s Loro, which began with Zoot freely improvising on drums before lapsing into a high-paced drum beat. This became a highlight for me; the trio’s capacity to transform atmospheric, out-of-time improvisation into groove-based, danceable patterns, and vice versa.

There were some slow, breathtaking moments to the set-list; the most impressionable was the trio’s deeply heartfelt rendition of Guinga’s Noturna. This Chopin-esque piece also appears on Warren’s solo piano album Nocturnes and Visions (2017), worth checking out. Friday’s interpretation was especially moving, with Philips and Warren doubling the melody, and Zoot only bringing in the drumkit once the music’s tension was at its limit.

Spontaneity, quick wit, steady grooves, and a certain level of telepathy are what embody Huw Warren’s trio - an imitable force to be reckoned with on the UK jazz scene.


Everything In Between by the Huw Warren Trio will be released in the UK on 15 March. Pre-release copies will be available at the trio's gigs.

LINK: Huw Warren's website

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NEWS: Jazz winners at the 61st Grammys



Sebastian writes: 

Here are the winners in the jazz categories of the 61st Grammys 2019 with the nominees also listed. The big winner is trumpeter/composer/bandleader/educator John Daversa (BIO) who won three Grammys for American Dreamers.

THE JAZZ CATEGORIES

JAZZ SOLO

Some of That Sunshine – Regina Carter
WINNER: Don't Fence Me In – John Daversa
We See – Fred Hersch
De-Dah – Brad Mehldau
Cadenas – Miguel Zenón

BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM

My Mood Is You – Freddy Cole
The Questions – Kurt Elling
The Subject Tonight Is Love – Kate McGarry With Keith Ganz & Gary Versace
If You Really Want – Raul Midón With The Metropole Orkest Conducted By Vince Mendoza
WINNER: The Window – Cécile McLorin Salvant

BEST JAZZ INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM

Diamond Cut – Tia Fuller
Live In Europe – Fred Hersch Trio
Seymour Reads The Constitution! – Brad Mehldau Trio
Still Dreaming – Joshua Redman, Ron Miles, Scott Colley & Brian Blade
WINNER: Emanon – The Wayne Shorter Quartet

BEST LARGE JAZZ ENSEMBLE ALBUM

All About That Basie – The Count Basie Orchestra Directed By Scotty Barnhart
WINNER: American Dreamers: Voices Of Hope, Music Of Freedom – John Daversa Big Band Featuring DACA Artists
Presence – Orrin Evans And The Captain Black Big Band
All Can Work – John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble
Barefoot Dances And Other Visions – Jim McNeely & The Frankfurt Radio Big Band

BEST LATIN JAZZ ALBUM

Heart Of Brazil – Eddie Daniels
WINNER: Back To The Sunset – Dafnis Prieto Big Band
West Side Story Reimagined – Bobby Sanabria Multiverse Big Band
Cinque – Elio Villafranca
Yo Soy La Tradición – Miguel Zenón Featuring Spektral Quartet

JAZZ-RELATED NOMINATIONS IN OTHER CATEGORIES

WINNER:  Best Folk Album – Punch Brothers for All Ashore

WINNER: Best Instrumental Composition - for Blut und Boden – Terence Blanchard

WINNER: Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals: for Stars and Stripes Forever – John Daversa

LINK: Full list of Grammy Nominations and winners

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CD REVIEW: Yonathan Avishai – Joys and Solitudes



Yonathan Avishai – Joys and Solitudes
(ECM 675 1624. CD review by Brian Marley)


Although Yonathan Avishai has twice before appeared on ECM as a sideman, in quartets led by the trumpeter Avishai Cohen (most recently Cross My Palm with Silver, 2017), this is the first recording for the label under his own name. He’s a reflective and resourceful pianist, with a light touch and a finely nuanced sense of rhythm. His fellow musicians on Joys and Solitudes are Yoni Zelnik (double bass) and Donald Kontomanou (drums).

Since 2015 they’ve issued a couple of recording under the group name Modern Times, but Joys and Solitudes, for all its strong interplay, seems designed as a showcase for Avishai. Although Zelnik and Kontomanou play well throughout, their solo contributions tend to be brief and less brightly spotlit. They enter and exit the music stealthily, almost imperceptibly at times, providing just the right amount of support when needed.

Ellington’s Mood Indigo shows Avishai at his best. He states the melody accompanied only by a slow, steady tick-tick-tick of percussion and asides from the bass, then introduces a touch of dissonance and a fast tremolo. Trills and tremolos are part of his signature style. Sometimes he uses them as punctuation points in the music, small breaks in the musical line. At other times they provide breathing space, a moment of repose, giving the music time to coalesce around him until he’s ready to strike out again, often with a fresh idea. The pacing in Mood Indigo is deliberate and the tempo is, to my mind, just right. This trio has exquisite timing. I hope that in future recordings Avishai will bring his arranging and interpretive skills to bear on the work of other composers

Not that he’d need to. His own compositions are far from lacking. The stepwise single note introduction to Song for Anny has a distinctly Monkish flavour that, when further embellished, introduces hints of the baroque. Avishai slips in blues phrases here and there without dragging the music too far towards the Delta, and his Tango neatly bridges the gap between a more formal interpretation of that classic form and the alcohol-sweated tension of the dancehall. There are further intimations of the blues in the moody and complex When Things Fall Apart, and the bouncy rhythm and joyful lilt of Lya draw inspiration from the jazz that originated in the South African townships.

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CD REVIEW: Patchwork Jazz Orchestra – The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes


Patchwork Jazz Orchestra – The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes
(Spark! 007. CD review by Dan Bergsagel)

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra's debut album The Adventures of Mr Pottercakes has the name and cover of a children's story, but the depth of a David Foster-Wallace. A group who have embraced the 'millenial' tagline, this is big band music poured from the minds of many to produce a diverse, playful and promising record.

The Boy Roy pairs a James Davison composition with a Misha Mullov-Abbado opening moment, a range-stretching bass sets a pensive tone before the rest of PJO steam in with a booming, swaggering arrival. A careful languid Gershwin-esque arrangement, building into climatic moments – at times you'd be forgiven for expecting the band to get up and start slow kicking in unison. Featuring atmospheric trombone and tenor solos, Rob Luft's neat, clean guitar contributions do much to quietly complement the atmosphere throughout.

Out of the staged fuzz of orchestral ambient noise and fidgeting surfaces a snapping drum line and delicate bass emerge in Mind Palace before being swept under in treacle horn chords. A sensitive woodwind and flute mix tops the band, before the drums of Scott Chapman again wrestle control and begin to drive. Liam Dunachie is given a calm pause in the limelight, his keys improvisation a neat pick as the group slims down to a core rhythm trio, but this is a storming piece.

This is rich music to set a scene. Much of the album is an exercise in narrating a complete story in a condensed song – the constantly shifting eponymous The Advenutres of Mr Pottercakes – or a brace of briefer moments back-to-back in a tender, epic re-spin of Short Cuts, The Complete Short Stories. Hi Wriggly! is a multi-mood thing, the orchestra deftly flipping pace, style and size as they follow on from solo horn moments to join together, at times almost as Mingus' The Clown, albeit slightly more structured.

The star of the show is the excitable Badger Cam. Arriving with a roaring rising horn chorus, this is pure crime thriller; dripping in suspense and chase and spawned from the compositional boffin box of Tom Green. A moment of cool guitar edge, some hammond squeals and light-metered racing drums provide respite in the incessant layered horn lines, a saucy baritone solo from Tom Smith some intrigue before we're again swept away.

Part of the beauty of Badge Cam, and indeed the PJO approach, is its arrival paired with its own lovingly-put-together video. The piece is brought to life with six minutes of sped up and spliced covert surveillance of busy badgers, foxes and occasional other wildlife cameos. Honestly, the Badger Cam video by itself is one of the best things of 2019 so far. And while I'd implore PJO to bring a collection of curious badgers doped up on badger speed along to the album launch, this is at least crying out for a projector behind the band to showcase this Oscar-worthy work.



In true Digital Native style, the album launch itself comes with a promo video, suitably quirky and awkwardly charming to match the fashion-crime shirt persona of the group. And even if the comedy production doesn't hit the heights of other young jazzer, animal-headed features (Nubiyan Twists' Headhunter video in and around Victoria Park is still a winner in this admittedly niche category) the ingenious use of cardboard boxes throughout must be applauded.

A core group cut their teeth together at their university big band, before gathering a troupe from the Royal Academy, Guildhall and NYJO. But what the videos demonstrate is that Patchwork Jazz Orchestra are a big band with a friendly small-group vibe. For such a sizeable group, conveying this is an achievement, particularly when the members are all high-flyers taking time out from a range of other successful projects. With particularly well-decorated musicians like Mullov-Abbado, Kieran McLeod, Alex Hitchcock, and Rob Luft, we have to hope that Tom Green (wearing his Spark! record label hat) can keep everyone engaged and interested and rolling along with PJO, too.

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CD REVIEW: Randy Brecker & NDR Big Band – Randy Brecker Rocks



Randy Brecker & NDR Big Band – Randy Brecker Rocks
(Jazzline Records. N 77057. CD review by Rob Mallows)


Nominative determinism was never so much in evidence as in the title for this new album by Randy Brecker. He rocks. And rocks hard.

Jazz-rock – of which nine slices of varying thickness are served along with a sweet relish dished out by the NDR Big Band isn’t everyone’s preferred choice of jazz repast. Lying somewhere between the clean-cut sound of smooth and the hard punch of bop, when done badly it can sound derivative. Done well – as here – it’s an exciting, edge-of-the-seat, knock-your-socks-off mortar bomb of sound. And Brecker’s the perfect man to throw it.

Ever since his ground-breaking stint with his saxophone brother, the late Michael Brecker, in the Brecker Brothers, Randy Brecker’s been 'the guy' you turn to for thrilling sine-wave runs up and down the scales, razor-sharp fiery solos and power; sheer, unadulterated brass power. Add his power to that of the big band, and that of sax players David Sanborn and Ada Rovatti, and the oomph of one of Germany’s top drummers Wolfgang Haffner, and you have a recipe for a surge of musical energy that will blow the fuses. Over nine tracks, the power and intensity doesn’t let up. At all.

First Tune of the Set is indeed that – catchy, foot-tappingly intense and with a synth solo from Vladyslav Sendecki so great in mass that it could warp space-time – and sets the tone for the whole album, crescendo after crescendo of riffs and blasts from the big band that are more infectious than cholera. Even though second track Adina softens the mood, it is a purposeful tune that lets Brecker show off a more muted sound and gives space for Rovatti’s up-down-left-right solo. NDR percussionist Marcio Doctor steals the show on the periphery.

Squids is quintessential Brecker Brothers (it was recorded on their 1977 album Don’t Stop the Music), funky, staccato trumpets and sax in unison, with the spirit of Mike Stern flowing through Bruno Müller’s guitar. Brecker’s solo two minutes in is short and funkified to the max, with NDR sax man Frank Delle providing a subtler counterpoint and Haffner’s hi-hat pumping like a steam piston.

Fifth track The Dipshit – still one of the best song titles in modern jazz – makes you smile, with a hard bop mood offering hints of Horace Silver (in whose band Randy and his brother played), but it’s next track Above and Below, from the Brecker Brothers’ 1992 reunion album, that tops the lot, starting off in fourth gear and accelerating like a rocket, with Sendecki’s keyboard again supplying more vivid colours alongside Rovatti's and Brecker’s fast-paced stabs to the solar plexus.

After fifty years of frantic blowing, you could forgive Brecker if he put down his trumpet, sat down, had a cup of herbal tea and took a long, long rest. But here he is, at 73, blowing like a teenager, to tremendous effect. As he writes in the liner notes, "I would not know what to do without my trumpet. Of course, there are moments when I am tempted to throw it out of the window, however, if the instrument sounds the way you intended, it is a great joy!”

Keep the window closed, Randy!

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REVIEW: Marius Neset Quintet at the Purcell Room

L-R: Ivo Neame, Petter Eldh, Anton Eger, Marius Neset,
Jim Hart
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney
Marius Neset Quintet
Purcell Room, South Bank Centre. 5 February 2019. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The billing for this gig in the South Bank's schedules was just "Marius Neset". The blurb focused on him and him alone, his compositions, his sound, from start to finish. Yes, obviously, he is an important part of the story of this gig, but just that: a part of it.

I found it impossible not to be totally energized by the quintet's 90-minute set, and when I tried to work out what was causing that feeling, I figured that it was the realisation, again and again, that this is what five top musicians are capable of when they have given total commitment to learning, internalizing the music and to each other, and are also given the opportunity to tour regularly and to gel properly. The sheet music, I imagine, is probably stashed away at their homes. There certainly wasn't any paper to be seen onstage 

All that interaction, all that spurring-on, the landing of surprises on each other, plus all the prior thought that has gone into varying the textures and the pacings... these led to a completely satisfying evening. I wrote a press release for one of Neset's albums, and he had some interesting thoughts about the mix of contrasting personalities in his group (it's in the seventh paragraph HERE). I found myself constantly marvelling at these players and their speed of reaction.

Anton Eger seemed to be able to unleash massive propulsion and huge volleys of rapid-fire commentary and yet he never overpowers or dominates or resorts to any kind of thuggishness. Jim Hart’s switching back and forth from either vibraphone or marimba to percussion pad makes him a pivot, able to reinforce either a melodic line or a groove, and to shift the balance of the music from melodic to rhythmic. Petter Eldh can be forceful and anarchic but also forceful and anchoring, and switch from one to the other – and be delicate too. Ivo Neame is one of those pianists who will always spring joyous surprises, and not just for the audience – the expressions of the other band members give eloquent expressions of what is happening.

And as for the band-leader Marius Neset, his ability to achieve velocity and be a whirlwind are well-known, but for me it was the melodic clarity and balance from the tune Prague’s Ballet that has stayed in the mind. It's a lovely tune, and he just shaped it beautifully.

I noticed that the audience was partly the normal concert-hall jazz audience (yeah, I'll admit, we're getting on a bit...) but the real buzz and the energy in the audience was coming from a substantial contingent of much younger people. A good sign.

Perhaps the most complete expression of the reactivity, the mega-energy, the total preparedness of this band was in the closing sections of Life Goes On, where there seemed to be something of a homage to Zawinul's Birdland. This is a band which definitely knows how to make the weather.

SET LIST

Theatre of Magic from Pinball
The Silent Room from Circle of Chimes
Sirens of Cologne (ibid)
Music for Drums & Saxophone from Pinball
Prague’s Ballet from Circle of Chimes
Life Goes On (ibid)

Encore: Jaguar from Pinball

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NEWS: Scarborough Jazz Festival line-up announced (20-22 Sept 2019)


Peter Bacon reports:

The strongly mainstream Scarborough Jazz Festival might seem a long way off – in this Brexit Britain world I'm finding it hard to conceive of what life will look like next month, never mind the Autumn – but here are some names we can all rely on.

The press release says it all:

"This year’s festival takes place at Scarborough Spa over the weekend of 20-22 September 2019 and there’s going to be a tremendous finale to each evening.

"There are lots of new performers amongst the line-up, however one constant face since the festival started in 2003 has been the compere and multi award-winning reeds player Alan Barnes.

"Alan has performed at every Scarborough Jazz Festival and will be celebrating his 60th birthday this year by bringing together twelve amazing UK musicians.

"He has commissioned world class trombonist Mark Nightingale to write 13 charts for the 12 piece big band of tunes written in 1959 by, for example, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Horace Silver and Duke Ellington. That should bring Friday to a stirring climax.

"Saturday night’s finale should get everyone on their feet.  Jeremy Sassoon’s Ray Charles Project – Jeremy sings and plays piano – has seventeen instrumentalists and singers, a great spectacle on the Grand Hall stage..."

The release continues:

"Sunday night sees what promises to be a perfect finish to the festival.  Legendary ‘musician’s musician’ guitarist Jim Mullen has brought together the ‘Volunteers’: an All Star nine piece band who play jazz with hints of blues, soul, funk and rock."

Names so far announced with more to come:

Alan Barnes + 11
Alec Dankworth’s ‘Spanish Accents
Clark Tracey Quintet
Dave Newton
Freddie Gavita Quartet
Jam Experiment
Jasmine
Jeremy Sassoon’s Ray Charles Project
Jim Mullen’s Volunteers
John Law Quartet
Kate Peters’ Big Band
Liane Carroll
New Jazz Extempore
Partisans
Sam Rapley’s Fabled
Tony Kofi Quartet.

 Earlybird Weekend Tickets are now on sale, priced at just £90 until 31 March 2019.

Tickets can be purchased via Scarborough Spa’s Box Office (01723) 821888 and the Jazz Festival website: www.scarboroughjazzfestival.co.uk

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CD REVIEW: Joe Lovano – Trio Tapestry


Joe Lovano – Trio Tapestry
(ECM 679 6426. CD revew by Peter Bacon)

The saxophonist’s latest band is a bass-less trio with Marilyn Crispell on piano and Carmen Castaldi on drums and percussion.

Lovano also plays tárogató and gongs, and it is the sound of a gong which opens the album. I don’t know whether it’s all in my mind (or my ears) but there is a remarkable similarity of tone and timbre common to the gongs Joe Lovano hits and the notes he blows via reed, tube, pads and bell. It's the sound of the man, I guess.

The title sums up the group dynamic perfectly; this is a trio constantly twisting, weaving and interleaving, three threads dedicated to producing a rich and, generally, comforting whole. There are times when the mood gets a little more edgy – Rare Beauty, for example, and the closer, The Smiling Dog – but mainly the ethos is harmonious, gentle, reflective, meditational even.

The liner notes credit Lovano with all the compositions so the listener should suppose what they are hearing is not freely improvised, though that is sometimes how it sounds – well, not “free” exactly, since there is no reluctance on either Lovano’s or Crispell’s part to play a blues phrase or a bebop line from time to time – but nevertheless there is an atmosphere of the happy wanderer about all three players, going where their own imaginations and those of each other takes them.

According to Lovano’s liner note, the twelve tone process is crucial to both his and Crispell’s approach, and this gives the music a distinctly modern classical tinge. And Castaldi’s style – his use of cymbals sometimes reminds me of Paul Motian and Andrew Cyrille – suits this music perfectly.

It’s an album of moods and atmospheres, the “tunes” oblique and often shrouded. Music the listener leans in to and is likely to learn more from on each listen.

Lovano’s Trio Tapestry will be playing dates in Europe in May.

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PREVIEW: Aberdeen Jazz Festival (21-31 March 2019)

Nubiyan Twist
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

This year's Aberdeen Jazz Festival boasts 70 bands over eleven days at the end of March, with a wide range of styles, including a Blues weekend. Included is a homage to Ray Charles and a reprise of Miles Davis’ Birth Of The Cool while London’s new jazz scene is recognised with a visit from Camilla George. Also in the programme are a new Octet from Martin Kershaw and a new band from Paul Towndrow. And Laura Jurd will be playing with rising Scottish jazz star Fergus McCreadie. Heading north for the Festival will be Leeds-via-London collective Nubiyan Twist.

Here's more from the Festival's press release:

"To top off a thrilling programme, Jazz on the Green is back on Sunday 24th March after a show-stopping year in 2018. Thanks to the support of Aberdeen Inspired, Aberdeen’s City Centre will once again be ignited in a celebration of jazz, blues, funk, soul, R&B, swing, bop, vocals and big band, with free admission for all. Aberdeen Arts Centre hosts an afterparty with Back Chat Brass.

"The Festival is reaching new venues from pop-up performances in Union Square and Bon Accord, whilst singer, Mary May tours in Aberdeenshire to venues in Portsoy and Stonehaven, before playing in Aberdeen during the West End Jazz Trail. The trail adds the Shack and 21 Crimes in Vovem to the 2018 venues McGinty’s, Park Inn, Soul, and Glentanar Wee Bar. Whilst the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra play at Queen’s Cross Church, “La La Land” is at Belmont Filmhouse. Carmelite, Bistro Verdi and Molly’s join forces to present a Dinner Safari which offers one course in each venue with a different musical act."

LINK: Aberdeen Jazz Festval website 

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REVIEW: Rosace.8 – Pascal Schumacher & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg

Pascal Schumacher in performance
Photo: © Alfonso Salgueiro

Rosace.8 – Pascal Schumacher & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg (Philharmonie Luxembourg, 30 January 2019. Review by AJ Dehany)

The world premiere of Pascal Schumacher’s Rosace.8, a cinematic symphony in ten movements, impressed deep passionate melancholia and an assertion of the vitality and versatility of the vibraphone. The Luxembourg composer and vibraphonist’s 75-minute suite is a perfect realization of style, with generous pacing, wistful moments and stormy vigour, obeying visible and invisible symmetries. Inspired by a painting that remains private, Rosace means rosette, the circular symmetrical structure of flowers. From its brooding opening chords to its final release in driving four-to-the-floor rhythm we are transported into a world of trenchant emotionality. Darkly chiming, the work invites you to explore, expose and explode the chambers of its desperate heart.
 
Luxembourg is a country of 590,000 people bordering the grand old imperial powers of France, Belgium and Germany. The night of the premiere of this stormy music, snow was as ever falling, yellow in the lights of the freeway crossing the Pont de la Grand-Duchesse Charlotte over the River Alzette. The 1300-capacity Grand Auditorium of the Philharmonie Luxembourg is nestled in a distinctive white circular wedding cake building opened in 2005. The hall’s acoustic was clear in every detail of the amplified configuration of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg: 20 musicians with gongs, sheet metal, concert bass drums, tubular bells, piano and celesta (the chiming idiophone that looks like a piano), timpani, finger cymbals, orchestral strings and Pascal Schumacher’s vibraphone augmented with electronics.
 
Rosace.8 is a contemporary classical work somewhat different to his earlier work in jazz. The award-winning vibraphonist and composer has previously made a series of amazing quartet albums including 2012’s Bang My Can, with a thrillingly dense, intense and searing alloyed sound. If your only associations with the vibraphone are Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, this is a new world. Pascal Schumacher’s work expands the vibraphone’s timbral language into a driving, aggressive rock-influenced electronically-enhanced sound.
 
In the liminal stasis of 8.4 Influx the machine-driven tremolo of the vibraphone rang like feedback, with electronic sparkles echoing off the high roof and the wide walls, the sheen and scrape of cymbals in painful and wonderful dissonance, the music developing into banks of arpeggio chords and symmetrical blocks of sound with pizzicato adornments. I asked him about the vibraphone parts, which are about 30% improvised. He said “I think I really love to not define everything and to be able to give to each performance the special and unique touch it deserves… of course it’s a little risky because it might distract the orchestral musicians but I like the risk.”
 
Pascal Schumacher & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg on the night
Photo: © Alfonso Salgueiro
He has written for orchestra before, rescoring the 1929 Marlene Dietrich film The Woman One Longs For and in 2016 presenting his Windfall Concerto for vibraphone and orchestra. Rosace.8 has obvious comparisons to the melodic cinema of David Arnold, the accessible modernity of Max Richter, and the gut-wrenching emotional impact of Ólafur Arnaulds. The spooky tremolo of the vibraphone gives it a unique character, and the music shares the chiming reverie and infinite regress of deep house. The ice palace sound of the vibraphone and celesta together with the bright shimmer and dark thrust of the strings updates Romanticism for a jaded age that has fallen out of love with itself.
 
As the work progressed the quieter breakdowns and softer material including an Interregnum didn’t feel as earned as in the astonishing 20-minute opening double movement (8.0 - 8.1) where these moments relieved the intensity of the driving orchestral writing. The movements become more episodic and less individually realized in themselves, more allied to the overall structure and symmetry. Overall it might not have harmed the work to have kept to the original plan for eight movements, but the recording when it is released should give a better idea. A work of this scale and ambition often takes a few listens for its subtleties to speak out.

Breaks in the sequence allowed the audience to catch its breath and gain perspective. Pascal Schumacher injected notes of humour, apologising for talking too much, speaking in French and Luxembourgish (a sort of Dutch-looking German enriched with French vocabulary).
 
At times he conducted the orchestra with his fingers or his four blue-tipped mallets. During the finale, the bass drum laid down a bosh four-to-the-floor beat, joined by two other percussionists in a basic rock backbeat. A decision had been made not to have a single drummer but these parts did seem a little disjointed. Reprised in the encore the audience clapped along, following with a standing ovation akin to a rock star reception.

Throughout the course of Rosace.8, brief motifs phase in and out under long melodic lines, locking, releasing and re-forming like the rosette of a kaleidoscope. Symmetry has always fascinated certain kinds of composers. The music of Rosace.8 reaches through space horizontally and vertically, manifesting the organic rosace/rosette form in eight directions. It broadcasts a bold unifying statement from this landlocked island of Luxembourg, fraternally embracing heaven and earth, north and south, east and west. This is how it can be, it says. Music is just the most musical way we have found of making music, and life itself is music. We are music.
 
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk

Vibraphone: Pascal Schumacher
Principal Violin: Philippe Koch
Timpani: Benjamin Schäfer
 Percussion: Klaus Brettschneider and Aline Potin
Piano: Laetitia Bougnol
Members of Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Lighting design: Frank Reinhard

LINK: www.pascalschumacher.com 

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