REVIEW: Bill Laurance at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden

Bill Laurance
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska(*)

Bill Laurance
(Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden. 30 March 2019. Review by Richard Bateman)

It is a mark of the ever-increasing confidence and momentum behind Bill Laurance's solo career that his list of supporting personnel gets shorter and shorter. It's only five years since his début, Flint, appeared with a veritable chamber-ensemble of strings and horns in addition to the core trio of Laurance and Snarky Puppy bandmates Michael League and Robert 'Sput' Searight; yet Cables – Laurance's fourth solo album, which launched on March 29th – features a cast-list of one: the pianist himself. On his current European tour the set-up is the same. Just him, a piano, and – as he himself put it on stage at Saffron Hall – 'a bunch of machines'.

Bill Laurance
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska (*)

Does he get lonely without a band? 'You know what: I love it! It's really liberating', he says from early on in the set. Does the audience miss the band? No, happily. A pianist as skilful as this is always worth seeing alone, and Laurance avoids the trap of repetitive sonic monotony through judicious, and never overwhelming, use of those machines. Proving the point, the beautiful, delicate Ebb Tide – the first song of the evening from the new album – needed only the most gentle of reverb effects and one single sample to effortlessly evoke both the sea and whale-song, with gentle glissandi complementing the more conventional right-hand improvisation figures.

Bill Laurance
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska (*)

Laurance's tunes are indeed relatively simple, with many being based upon an initial ostinato figure (which can often be as straightforward as two-alternating notes, as heard on December in New York from his second album Swift (reviewed), which opened the set, and Constance from the new album); yet they are also ear-ticklingly catchy and, somehow, reassuring. A kind of aural warm-bath. The manner in which he builds and develops his tunes out of these opening riffs meanwhile harks back to the methodology of the Count Basie Band, as does the kinetic, propulsive energy that then develops, whether through a blur of hands on the keyboard (the boy has serious chops) or a continuous layering of samples one atop another.

Sonically, however, the particular synth sounds and samples also give Laurance's music a degree of kinship with the work of pop bands such as Air and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Kinsmen, a tune responding to the WhatsApp-based rediscovery of old school-friends, evinces this most clearly. Likewise the quasi-symphonic set closer Cassini, which outlines the take-off, journey and final reckoning of Nasa's recently-ended probe-mission to Saturn in (appropriately) a tour-de-force combination which one might choose to think of as Laurance and the machine.

The least-effective part of the evening was the Brexit-based improvisation, which, other than containing the slightest suggestion of a morse-code 'SOS' in the left hand (or perhaps I was projecting that), did little that bore relation to its stated subject, though it did not linger long before eliding into the beautiful closing section of The Curtain from Snarky Puppy's 2015 collaboration with the Metropole Orkest.

No matter, the rest of the evening was a stimulating, melodious delight. Laurance is a most agreeable stage-presence, and 90-minutes in his solo company passed in a happy whirl, rounded off in some style with a most unexpected but supremely well-executed encore cover of House of the Rising Sun.

Bill Laurance
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska (*)

Credits also to: James Heather who provided sterling support with his own opening piano set; the sound and lighting crew, both of whose outputs were unobtrusively excellent; and to Saffron Hall itself, a venue new to this author, a very well-appointed concert hall in its own right and a frankly astonishing facility to find in the middle of a secondary school. Lucky indeed are the kids who go there. Do visit if opportunity affords.

Laurance now moves on to Leeds, Liverpool, Gateshead and Bristol before then heading across the North Sea for a stint in the Netherlands. Catch him if you can.

Bill Laurance
Photo credit and © Monika S. Jakubowska (*)

(*) Monika S. Jakubowska's photos are from the preceding evening 29 March 2019 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London

LINK: Peter Bacon's preview with tour dates


REVIEW: Terence Blanchard and the e-Collective at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham

Terence Blanchard
Photo credit: John Watson /

Terence Blanchard and the e-Collective
(Jazzlines at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 29 March 2019. Review and photos by John Watson)

When Terence Blanchard points his amplified horn at the floor and blasts his high notes, it’s as though searing bolts of liquid lightning are shooting from the bell. Underpinned by thunderous bass and drums, this is one heck of a musical storm.

The New Orleans-born trumpeter and composer brought his e-Collective project to the CBSO Centre for the only UK date on an international tour, and he also took part in an educational project at the Birmingham concert hall, arranged by the organisation Jazzlines. The band had just flown in from the Netherlands and now moves back to the USA for dates in Texas and New York City. I first heard Blanchard live in concert with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, shortly after he had taken over the trumpet chair from Wynton Marsalis in 1980 – in those days, quite some shoes to fill.

But stylistically, Blanchard – who had earlier cut his musical teeth in the Lionel Hampton Orchestra – was clearly his own man, and already a bold, confident improviser.

So much very fine music has followed, ranging from three albums with Blakey to many bebop collaborations and, in more recent times, to film music. His score for Spike Lee’s 2018 film BlackkKlansman won him nominations for Best Original Score at the Oscars, the Grammys and the BAFTAs.

When I heard Blanchard’s e-Collective project at the 2016 Gateshead International Jazz Festival, I was hugely impressed. The music had so much energy, so much spirit – a terrific concept. The group’s Blue Note first album, Breathless, seemed to me to be over-produced, but the follow-up Live superbly conveyed the stripped-down dynamic quality of the music.

So it was a joy to hear the band live again, this time in Birmingham, and with much the same line-up as the Live album: guitarist Charles Altura, bass guitarist David Ginyard Jnr, and drummer Gene Coye, and with pianist Taylor Eigsti replacing Fabian Almazan.

Opening with the recorded words of Dr Cornel West (as on the Live album), Blanchard swiftly dug into the repertoire from the Breathless project, including Hannibal, Kaos, Unchanged, Soldiers, Can Anyone Hear Me, and Choices. Altura’s tube-toned guitar soloing had effortless clarity and melodic elegance, while Blanchard played relatively short but fiercely projected blends of long notes and high blasts, the tone constantly shaded by harmoniser and echo effects. He also dabbles on a small electronic keyboard, somewhat superfluously when such an articulate pianist as Eigsti is on hand and taking too few solos.

In fact, for the encore – Dear Jimi – Blanchard put the trumpet aside and only played the keyboard as Altura held the theme, with its echoes of Stone Free.

But it is those earlier trumpet blasts which will stay in the memory for a long time.

I’m very much hoping that Blanchard finds a new project for this rather marvellous band and that Breathless and Live will mark the start of a magnificent musical journey.

L-R: Taylor Eigsti, David Ginyard Jr.,Terence Blanchard, Charles Altura
Photo credit: John Watson /


REVIEW: Jeremy Lubbock – A Life in Music. The Guildhall Studio Orchestra at Milton Court

Giles Thornton directing a rehearsal.
Guildhall Studio Orchestra with Jeremy Lubbock looking on and
Malcolm Edmonstone on keyboard (centre top of picture)
Photo © Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Jeremy Lubbock – A Life in Music 
(Guildhall Studio Orchestra. Milton Court. 27 March 2019. Review by James Brady.)

As an arranger and songwriter, Jeremy Lubbock is one of those music industry figures who has worked prolifically behind the scenes without ever really coming to wider public notice. From the 70s through to the 2000s, Lubbock worked in LA, racking up three arranging Grammys, an Oscar nomination and a credit list that includes the likes of Barbra Streisand, Joni Mitchell and Al Jarreau. His greatest successes came in the 80s and 90s, and the sounds of these decades dominated this evening’s programme.

After a brief, bracing fanfare excellently executed from the gallery by the trumpets, the first half consisted almost entirely of numbers for string orchestra from Lubbock’s album Awakenings, with a couple of choral pieces near the end from brother John Lubbock’s vocal group. A rhapsodic piece (Moods) featuring Derek Paravicini, described in the programme as “a musical savant: blind with severe learning difficulties and autism, and the gift of an extraordinary musical ear and memory,” brought some variety to the proceedings, but I was left wondering if one or two of the series of slow, sentimental pieces could have been dispensed with.

A welcome change of pace came after the interval, with the additions of student brass and saxophone sections, and in particular Chris Hill on bass and Ralph Salmins on drums (who both made energetic contributions), filling the stage with an outfit in the Metropole Orkest mould. Features for Joe Stilgoe and Tommy Blaize (best known for his weekly duties as vocalist on Strictly Come Dancing) stood out in the early part of the set, with both vocalists delivering engaging and charismatic performances. Jeremy Lubbock punctuated each number with a brief anecdote about its origins, the highlight of which was hearing about Ray Charles’ mercenary approach to recording Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, of which Blaize’s imitative take deserves particular mention for neatly evoking Charles’ characteristic quirks and balance of passion and control. Taking over baton duties for this and several other numbers was recent GSMD graduate Giles Thornton, who commanded the podium unobtrusively but effectively.

Along with Blaize and Stilgoe, Liane Carroll made a typically spirited appearance on two Lubbock originals, Just Yet and Mornin’. Although she acquitted herself with characteristic panache, the former seemed too low for her to really shine, whilst the persistent balance issues obscured her vocalese fireworks in the latter (which was also notable for a tastefully funky contribution from guitarist Dominic Stockbridge and spirited work from percussionist Tom Williams).

An archive recording of I Didn’t Know What Time It Was from Lubbock’s trio with whom he toured extensively in the 1950s and 60s revealed his pedigree as a rich-toned baritone combining aspects of both Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra.

The vocal crown of the evening must go to student Isobel Gathercole, who appeared right at the end for a powerful rendition of Luck Be A Lady originally arranged for Barbara Streisand. This was one of the loudest, densest charts of the night, but Gathercole held her own against the massed forces, with a bold stage and vocal presence. In terms of students, her appearance was by far the most conspicuous, and it seemed a shame that, barring a first-half viola feature from Hiu Nam Chan (Londonderry Air) and a short vocalese number (Blue Interlude) which brought vocalist Eliza Carrick-Davies to the fore, more weren’t given opportunities to shine.

This was clearly a labour of love for GSMD Head of Jazz Malcolm Edmonstone, who provided some typically eloquent (although brief) solos during the second half on piano and keyboards. The warmth between the Lubbock brothers was also evident as they embraced at the end, and each guest vocalist paid homage to the elder statesman enthroned at the side of the stage as they left. It was hinted that rehearsals time had been relatively brief and I was left wondering whether more polish from the strings in particular could have been had, although it’s worth adding that the brass and woodwinds would have sounded at home at any high-profile Hollywood bash.

Readers familiar with Milton Court will know that although delightful for unamplified sound, the acoustic does not lend itself well to amplified music, and unfortunately this evening suffered in the same manner. Persistent microphone problems included breath noises apparently emerging from somewhere in the string section and, notably, Joe Stilgoe singing acoustically at the start of his first number due to a dead microphone (although he handled it with customary suavity).

Overall, the evening was very evocative of a particular era of shiny, heavily-produced LA-style film song and there seemed to be an effort to recreate a lusher sound than was possible in this room. Lubbock himself summed it up when he referred to adding the string and horn parts to an arrangement as “sweetening”.  Whereas the evening as a whole perhaps needed some more subtlety and spectacle, it was both pleasing and highly worthwhile to see an arranger emerge from the shadows, and to have the chance to reflect upon his long and distinguished career.

A curtain call at Jeremy Lubbock – A Life in Music
iPhone snap by James Brady

Set Lists

Moods – feat. Derek Paravicini (piano)
How Shall Love Be Spoken – feat. Clare Wheeler (voice)
Londonderry Air – feat. Hiu Nam Chan
Rocking – The John Lubbock Singers
The Lord’s Prayer – The John Lubbock Singers
I Saw Three Ships – The John Lubbock Singers and The Guildhall Studio Orchestra
Blue Interlude

Our Love Is Here To Stay – feat. Joe Stilgoe
Change Partners – feat. Joe Stilgoe
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was – recording of Jeremy Lubbock trio
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town – feat. Tommy Blaize
Not Like This – feat. Tommy Blaize
Just Yet – feat. Liane Carroll
Mornin’ – feat. Liane Carroll
Luck Be A Lady – feat. Isobel Gathercole

Guildhall Studio Orchestra

Violin 1: Nicole Petrus Barracks, Paula Guerra, Dom Ingham, Zoe Hodi, Clement Lebourgeois, Anastasia Egorova, Gaspard Perrotte

Violin 2: Georgia Ellery, Evie Rogers, Ivelina Ivanova, Abigail Adams, Joanna Strembicka, Kin Keung Li, Annalise Lam

Viola: Hiu Nam Chan, Ruby Bowler, Isobel Doncaster, Lara Bowles

Cello: Rita Moutinho, Nia Williams, Alexia Bergman, Aline Christ

Bass: Max Salisbury, Evangelos Saklaras, Antonio Díaz Fernández

Harp: Elin Samuel

Saxophones: Dan McConkey, Alex Shaw, Max Ellenberger, Asha Parkinson, Simeon May

Trombones: Jacob Cooper, Joe Bristow, Will King, Oli Rath

Trumpets: George Jefford, Scott Kempster, Sam Ritchie, Marco Natale-Miles

Guitar: Dominic Stockbridge

Piano: Malcolm Edmonstone

Guest piano: Derek Paravicini

Guest Bass: Chris Hill

Drums: Ralph Salmins

Percussion: Tom Williams

Singers: Eliza Carrick-Davies, Belle Haswell, Lucy Hayes, Alzbeta Turcanyiova

Guest singers: Liane Carroll, Tommy Blaize, Joe Stilgoe

Guest audio production: Haydn Bendall


FEATURE: French Flautist Sylvaine Hélary (new album Épisodes and touring in Eastern Europe)

Sylvaine Hélary
Photo credit: Arthur Grand

LJN marks the end of International Women’s Month 2019 with this interview with French flautist Sylvaine Hélary (*). She is about to set off on a month-long tour during April, which will take in six countries – Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Hungary. She has a new recording out with Spring Roll, the band she leads, entitled Épisodes. Featuring compositions by Sylvaine, Antonin Rayon (also from France) and New York luminaries Kris Davis, Matt Mitchell and Dan Blake, it is an album which does not get subsumed into the New York sound world. What emerges is resolutely distinctive and different.

Hélary has a broad range of activity. She is currently in her second season as artist-in-residence of the Brest-based producers Plages Magnétiques (previously known as Penn Ar Jazz) and will have the premiere of a new work with her electric band Glowing Life in the autumn there. She is a first-call player for musical projects in Paris and has worked with Eve Risser, Steve Coleman, Marc Ducret, Dominique Pifarely and Jozef Dumoulin. But her interests also encompass theatre projects. For this feature, she talked about her musical background, her various roles as a sidewoman, the new Spring Roll album and women in jazz. Interview by Sebastian:

I first came across flautist Sylvaine Hélary at the premiere of Eve Risser’s White Desert in 2015. In a moment which I shan’t ever forget, her focused pristine and totally clear flute tone gave way to the sounds produced by a small child on a theremin. It was a revelation, a very special theatrical moment in music.

As I have got to know the French scene for creative music better since then, I have seen her name appearing regularly in a number of different ensembles. Just as the violinist whose name crops up again and again is Theo Ceccaldi, and if a trombonist is to the fore it will almost inevitably be Fidel Fourneyron, the standout name on flute is Sylvaine Hélary. This is not least because she is comfortable across such a wide range of music. She is a jazz improviser who has a strong base of instrumental technique and sight-reading, and who also has a very engaging stage presence gravitating naturally towards theatre music.


I started by asking Sylvaine Hélary where she is from: “I am a Bretonne, from Rennes.” She studied at Rennes – in fact she completed the first two years of a degree in history there before moving to Paris. Her flute teachers in Paris were both players from the Opéra de Paris. And what has she held on to from that teaching? “Those teachers really taught me to understand that the flute doesn’t have a wide range of dynamics, so what you have to work on is the colour, the breadth and focus of the sound. And I am very pleased they did!” I remembered that her sound and its quality and personality was what I had noticed first. “People do say that a lot...”

With Sylvaine Hélary, one always has the sense of a multi-dimensional person. Even in those early stages of moving towards music as a profession, there was more than the acquisition of instrumental skills: “But I was doing jazz workshops already in Rennes. And I accompanied a theatre group with the music for their shows. I’ve always had several musical things going on at once.”

Sylvaine Hélary as a member of White Desert, Moers 2015,
with Julien Desprez (L) and Fidel Fourneyron (R)
Photo credit: Elisa Essex


The list of projects and bands in which she has worked is impressive. She was recently invited to play in Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse and has also formed part of guitarist Marc Ducret’s sextet. In a group led by saxophonist Alexandra Grimal, she was not just a flautist, but also speaker, reciter, actress and singer. She very often shares the stage with Antonin Rayon (her partner), as in the septet of violinist Dominique Pifarély, and plays in composer Jozef Dumoulin’s dream-travel band Orca Noise Unit, as well as the context in which I originally heard her, Eve Risser’s White Desert Orchestra.

When she describes her role as a sidewoman, the clarity with which she sees her vocation and the supportiveness she brings to it are plain to see: “Music is about sharing. I find it nourishing to do other people’s music. I really enjoy being at the service of someone else’s music, to understand it, to let the music that other people have conceived of and imagined to be heard, played as well as possible.” And what about the choice of projects to get involved with? “I don’t work with people because they are well known. I imagine the sound – and also friendship. Over time, that element has become more important. In the past, maybe I didn’t place such value on it.”

Spring Roll. L-R: Bruno Chevillon,
Antonin Rayon, Sylvaine Hélary, Hugues Mayot
Photo credit: Arthur Grand


Turning to the project where she is the leader, Spring Roll, there are clearly defined intentions and objectives. As the band’s material puts it:

“In this project, Sylvaine Hélary and her band explore a chamber music with a very singular sound. Playing on timbres and resonances, Spring Roll defends this stream of the New Music while borrowing the codes and playground of the jazz. It is a question of exploring a direction of composing inspired as much by her training in art music, as by her sessions with musicians of the New York scene and by the unclassifiable pop music of her wild years.

Spring Roll instrumentation is unique: four musicians on stage with flutes, saxophone, piano, double bass, an analog synthesizer and a ring modulator. We are tossed between pure minimalism and orchestral effervescence. Many improvised passages are part of the composition itself.”

The relative roles of composition and improvisation again bring an awareness of not just what Spring Roll is, but also the idea of asserting difference from existing models: “With Spring Roll, it is the writing that the Americans have brought that I really like. And they also found a way of articulating a way of writing for improvisers which has nothing in common with the European tradition of free improv. Sometimes we slip from writing to improvising without even knowing we’re doing it. I love that.”

There is always the possibility to be over-awed by what goes on in New York. Hélary remembers: “The first time I met the Americans, it was at a working session in Brooklyn organised by Ralph Alessi, where I got to work with Tim Berne, Kris Davis, Tony Malaby, Matt Mitchell and Tom Rainey. And I remember we were all thinking about how amazing the New York scene is. But what Tim Berne and Tom Rainey – who, to some extent, created the scene – said to us, in effect was ‘We’ve done what we’ve done. But you should do something. Invent something. Make something. Don’t copy us. Make your scene in Paris, in Europe. Wherever it is. Make your own sound.’

Those words clearly resonated and stuck with Sylvaine, and gave her and her French colleagues a simultaneous sense of responsibility and empowerment; and Épisodes, where Spring Roll works with the compositions and transforms them, is the result. There is an acute sensitivity to sound throughout the album, and an astonishing awareness of contrast. The music moves from simplicity and clarity to density and complexity, as if there is a heightened awareness of all of the possibilities at any moment. And the more one listens, the more one is aware of Hélary’s strengths: that she is a trained musician with a capacity to read and interpret complex music, but is also an avid and very aware communicator.


Finally in my conversation with Sylvaine Hélary, we talked about the theme of International Women’s Day and Month. The first noticeable thing about this discussion was the impressive extent of her preparation and forethought, the awareness of the context, of the way things can be improved and the active role that she, as an individual, can and does take.

She framed her remarks with a quote from the Milan Women’s Bookstore (Libreria Delle Donne): “Those who desert the spheres and structures of power do not do so out of weakness, but because these structures do not suit them.” Or, as Hélary said to me: “I have been thinking and reading about issues of parity and equality. There is a massive history before us and, in a sense, there is nothing new. We as women, from a very early age, are ‘governed by fear’. It’s everywhere in society.”

So, what Hélary sees as important is to find the contexts where a difference can be made: “As women musicians of a slightly older generation, we can do a lot.” Hélary is invited to do residencies and masterclasses, and it is in those situations that her clear awareness of a role she can play shines through: “We can show people the journey we have travelled. Not telling [the young women] it will be easy, not giving them illusions or magic dust….” She remembers how women of the earlier generation had an influence on her, even though they were few and far between. “We had role models like Carla Bley or Helene La Barrière.” But her final word on this subject is typically strong, purposeful, clear and optimistic: “Now there are more of us.”

Épisodes is released on the Cleanfeed label and features:

Sylvaine Hélary: flute, alto flute, bass flute and piccolo
Hugues Mayot: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Antonin Rayon: piano, Moog
Sylvain Lemêtre: vibes, percussion
Kris Davis: piano (some tracks)

- (*) LJN’s other coverage for International Women’s Day 2011–2019 is HERE
- from France, Sebastian also interviewed Francoise Clerc of Bureau Export in 2019
IWD interview with Eve Risser from 2015
Sylvaine Hélary’s website 
- Épisodes on Cleanfeed


CD REVIEW: Mike Westbrook Orchestra – Catania: Live in Sicily 1992

Mike Westbrook Orchestra – Catania: Live in Sicily 1992
(Westbrook Records WR004 – 2 CD set. Review by Mark McKergow)

This previously unreleased double CD takes us back to a series of Mike Westbrook Orchestra live dates in Catania, Sicily in July 1992. The unrestrained, joyous and powerful performances seem to bring with them the smell of the Mediterranean outdoors on a balmy evening: sometimes languid, sometimes heady, and memorably enjoyable.

Composer and pianist Mike Westbrook reminds us in the extensive sleeve notes that while these days no concert seems to go unrecorded (if only on someone’s phone),  back then all they came away with was an inevitably unbalanced ‘desk mix’. However, other recordings of the events have recently emerged (including a cassette from an audience member) and have been combined by the much-missed Jon Hiseman with Jay Auborn and Callum Godfroy into a compelling record of work from three nights of performance. It’s a tribute to Hiseman that the joins are pretty much inaudible, leaving us clear to focus on the music.

And what music it is!  The opening music is worth the price of admission; View From The Drawbridge from Westbrook’s Citadel/315, originally written in 1974 as a feature for John Surman, is put into the hands of a relatively young whippersnapper called Alan Barnes on alto sax. Those accustomed to hearing Barnes’ neat and polished mainstream output these days would be well advised to take a listen to the extended workout here, beautifully rendered from an exploratory opening into confident and passionate music-making with a reflective ending, never descending into mere pyrotechnics. The thematic statement at the start of the piece is dramatic, the brass particularly well captured with Barnes prominent again (this time on clarinet).  In the background a baby cries out, bringing us back to the place and the people.  A sonic knock-out.

Except that this is only the first round. Again and again we get up for the next instalment. Love And Understanding, also from Citadel, sees a rocky beat with building brass backing riffs building for Alan Wakeman (tenor sax), Paul Nieman (trombone), Peter Whyman (soprano sax) and James McMillan(trumpet) to stretch out.  In this kind of jazz the solos are never knowingly under-developed, but these players are well up to the challenge in keeping things inventive as the band gathers momentum behind them.

Other highlights on disc one include an outstanding vocal performance from Phil Minton on the ballad Song Of The Rain from Mama Chicago, with Anthony Kerr’s vibes shimmering in response.  Kate Westbrook takes the vocal lead on Leñador with Frank Schaefer’s cello in support, leading into an extended piano solo from the late Pete Saberton.   The disc closes with a terrific run at Factotum al Bebop, inspired by Largo al Factotum from Rossini’s Barber Of Seville and introduced by Westbrook in Italian.  This is old-school swinging jazz of the highest order, the horns sizzling before Alan Barnes takes another exuberant turn at the front.

The second disc takes us on a tour of Westbrook’s influences and fascinations.  William Blake materialises with I See Thy Form, sung by Phil Minton with a suitably revolutionary also sax solo from Chris Biscoe, backed by a majestic brass arrangement, and Long John Brown which gives Minton a chance to show his considerable power to full advantage.  Duke Ellington joins the party: I.D.M.A.T being a deconstruction of It Don’t Mean A Thing giving more space to Whyman on soprano, which is followed by Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life, Biscoe to the fore, with a Westbrook family vocal/piano duo.  Brecht and Weill appear towards the end of the recording, with Surabaya Johnny (Kate Westbrook and Alan Wakeman solo). Alabamasong gyrates with off-beam harmonies.
This memorable set ends with The Toper’s Rant, a ‘paean to good ale and good fellowship’ by Westbrook and John Clare, with three alto saxophones jousting with the violin of Dominique Pifarely before the band disperses into the crowd amidst confusion and applause.

This double CD is like a window into another world; the time of terrorist attacks in Italy which threatened the show, the openness of Catania which offered Westbrook the chance to put on three performances of whatever he liked with whoever he wished and then offered it as a gift to the citizens with free admission (all documented in the excellent 12 page CD booklet).  The atmosphere hangs lustily, the music triumphs, the dust settles again.  The wonderful news is that these evenings live again.  Sadly, not everyone involved with producing the music is still among us; along with Pete Saberton and editor Jon Hiseman, trumpeter Dave Plews and sound engineer Debbie Dickinson are gone. Except, of course that they live on through their work.  This CD is a celebration – buy it and listen to it in that spirit.

LINKS: John Cumming's tribute to Debbie Dickinson
Tributes to Jon Hiseman
Kate Westbrook will be performing Granite - A Soliloquy at Kings Place on 16 May - BOOKING LINK


NEWS: Trio LBT Win the 11th International European Burghausen Young Jazz Prize

L-R: Maximilian Hirning, Leo Betzl, Sebastian Wolfgruber
Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski
The winners of the 11th International European Burghausen Young Jazz Prize, worth EUR 5,000 are Trio LBT (Leo Betzl, piano, Maximilian Hirning, bass and Sebastian Wolfgruber, drums). 

The runners-up (EUR 3,000) were Weezdob Collective from Poland, and third place (EUR 1,500) went to Lobster from Leipzig. The soloist prize (EUR 1,000) went to Kacper Smolinski. 

Ralf Dombrowski comments:

"In the end it was the piano trio LBT from Munich who won the competition with their distinctive mixture of techno dramaturgy, club beats and jazz attitude. But the competition had been tough, ranging from song-oriented soul with indie influences (SiEA) and psychedelic jazz (Lorenzo Riessler Ensemble) to a modern saxophone-led band (Lobster) and energetic postbop (Weezdob Collective).

The musically virtuoso Polish harmonica player Kacper Smolinski also won the Soloist Award, and so with the final round of the 11th International European Burghausen Young Jazz Prize, the 50th anniversary edition of the Burghausen Jazz Week started off with a fascinating glimpse of the future."

Ralf Dombrowski, a regular contributor to LJN, was a member of the jury for this award

Trio LBT
Photo credit Ralf Dombrowski
LINK: Burghausen Jazz Festival website


PREVIEW/INTERVIEW: Jacky Naylor (new trio Meraki, touring 2-13 April)

Meraki: Jonathan Silk, Jacky Naylor and Nick Jurd
Publicity picture
Meraki is a trio led by pianist Jacky Naylor, featuring double-bassist Nick Jurd and drummer Jonathan Silk. They are about to embark on an eight-date tour to showcase original music which they’ve been developing for the past two years. Jacky grew up in Skipton, North Yorkshire, and studied at Birmingham Conservatoire. He is currently studying for a Masters degree at the Royal Academy. Peter Bacon caught up with him:

LondonJazz News: I’ve heard all three of you individually, but what made you start a trio?

Jacky Naylor: I first came across Nick and Jonathan when they played with Andy Bunting every Saturday at The Old Joint Stock in Birmingham. We all passed through the Conservatoire, though not at the same time, but I started going each week to hear them. My first album, Rough Boundaries, featured Birmingham Jazz Orchestra, where Silky held the drum chair, and, soon after, I met Nick. I wanted a new writing and improvising outlet, and felt encouraged by both Jonathan’s and Nick’s individual sounds, clear thoughts and honesty. It meant that the music I was composing felt more like a collaboration than an individual project, hence the name ‘Meraki’, which comes from a Greek word which describes the love, heart and soul that you put into something, or the essence of yourself that you put into your work.

LJN: What has Meraki done so far?

JN: Meraki is two years old and we’ve used that time to grow a deep familiarity with each other’s sound. We’ve played frequently, stretching and exploring the music, plus my writing has developed with both of their musical personalities in mind. But growing the trio has been more than a musical project. David Stanley, a visual artist I also met in Birmingham (though he now lives in Serbia), has collaborating with us to produce videos of our new music. I’ve been interested in why live perfor- mances, rather than listening at home, can engage people, and wanted to use the videos to offer listeners a visual experience. Funding from Arts Council England allowed David to take complete artistic control with these videos, and the outcome is very exciting.

LJN: How would you describe your music?

JN: Having written previously for big band, it’s been fun exploring the different sounds achievable with the trio. The music is modern and complex, but learning and memorising it together has been a rewarding experience. I’m currently studying a Master’s at The Royal Academy, which means my ideas have also been shaped by inspiring faculty members such as Kit Downes, Jasper Høiby, Nikki Iles, Pete Churchill and Stan Sulzmann.

LJN: What are you hoping to get out of the tour?

JN: We want to share the new music and see what people think. We’re visiting a wide range of places  (see below) and each venue has an acoustic piano. This completely transforms the sound of an acoustic trio and the relationship between each instrument. Having the experience of playing in a lot of different settings, on different pianos, and to different audiences will allow us to fully stretch and explore the music before we record an album.

LJN: You mentioned recording, what’s next for Meraki?

JN: Once we’ve completed the tour, we’re heading to Real World Studios to record Meraki’s first al- bum, thanks to funding from Arts Council England. Afterwards, who knows? We are planning to release the album in 2020, and hope to keep the ethos of collaboration at the heart of our future projects, and though we’ve had endless conversations about who would be our dream collaborators, we’re going to keep it a secret for now.


2 April: Spotted Dog, Birmingham (Tickets on the door)
3 April: Matt & Phreds, Manchester
4 April: Jazz @ Future Inns, Bristol
6 April: The Verdict, Brighton
7 April: Peggy's Skylight, Nottingham
9 April: Flute & Tankard, Cardiff (Tickets on the door)
12 April: Jazz North East, Newcastle
13 April: Zeffirellis, Ambleside


REPORT: The Sequestering of Corey Mwamba (His Final Public Performance) in Derby

Corey Mwamba
Photo credit: Brian Homer

The Sequestering of Corey Mwamba
(Baby People Studios, Derby. 23 March 2019. Report by AJ Dehany)

An inspirational creative force in the music, Corey Mwamba is many things to many people. An improviser, composer, vibraphone player, theoretician and even philosopher. A voice of conscience and integrity not afraid to criticize the failings of the scene—but with an affability and openness of spirit that makes him its great champion too. He spotted early the stellar talents of his own and younger generations, such as Shabaka Hutchings and Xhosa Cole (who were in his groups before each moved to London).

It’s almost unique for a musician working in improvised music, unhindered by health or other problems, to quit playing live—but a few years ago Corey Mwamba set a firm date for his retirement from public performance: 23 March 2019.

Let me give you an indication of the effect his decision has had on the close-knit community of musicians involved in the British scene associated with free improvising and new approaches to composition. Composer-saxophonist Cath Roberts, while we were talking about it in February at the BRÅK night she co-runs with Tom Ward and Colin Webster, put it like this: “Corey’s giving up live performance and everyone’s losing their shit.”

There are good reasons for his decision that he has set out clearly on his mid-2018 blog statement “Why I’m retiring from live performance”  and in Huw V Williams’s Improvised Music Agenda Podcast Episode 25 . These include dissatisfaction with certain projects in which he felt misunderstood, racism within the music scene, and practical personal matters concerning live performance.

It’s crucial to note that he hasn’t quit music. He’s just stopped doing the bit that’s most painful to him. He will continue to focus his energies in other directions: a PhD, creative director roles for Derby Jazz and Out Front! He will continue to collaborate and record music and act as a thoughtful and reflective voice. “As a musician,” he says, “how we decide to reflect what music means to us is important. We have to make that decision for ourselves. That doesn’t mean we have to pander to expectations for what other people think we should be doing.”

Andy Champion (L) and Corey Mwamba
Photo credit: Brian Homer

As the clock ran down over the last few months, I, like others, attended as many of those last London gigs as I could. In December I saw bassist Dave Kane visibly break down with emotion during the last minutes of Yana trio’s final London performance at the Vortex, squaring a circle fourteen years in the making. In February at Jazz re:freshed in West London’s Mau Mau Bar, Mwamba’s final live London gig with a quintet including Robert Mitchell and Rachel Musson made for a quizzical swan song to the behemoth London which has always been a site of professed ambivalence to Corey Mwamba, who remains based in and committed to his hometown Derby.

The date, Saturday March 23, arrived, with the mirrored and mezzanined open performance space of Baby People Studios in Derby the scene for an evening of heightened emotions and a celebration of musical and personal fellowship. The evening, already pregnant with pathos, seemed to gather in emotional weight and gravity. The applause and appreciation growing more keen and concerted, the mood was tightly wound but the evening released and proclaimed a sense of joy and unity in the making of music collectively.

The first set emphasized close personal and musical friendships with a sequence of duos, opening with fellow Midlander artist and percussionist Walt Shaw, then with saxophonists Jason Yarde, Rachel Musson, and Martin Archer. The second set, Nth Quartet with Laura Cole (piano), Andy Champion (bass) and Johnny Hunter (drums), demonstrated the memorability and flexibility of his jazz compositions in a band format and the edifying rapport of his contribution to a group dynamic.

Introducing the next set he started along a line, “There’s a lot of nonsense in this, what promoters and papers have the temerity to call an industry” before opting to pursue the no-nonsense approach of just playing. Yana is a trio which is a key ensemble for Mwamba, formed with bassist Dave Kane and drummer Joshua Blackmore whom he met in Derby some 14-15 years ago. Their music is completely improvised, often without conscious preparation but with a remarkable and unshakeable personal chemistry. “That group is solid,” he says. “We’re brothers, and it’s just always gonna continue.”

After Yana came a warm speech from Newcastle-based Jazz North East promoter Paul Bream, whom Mwamba had thanked earlier on. Bream reminisced warmly, speaking on behalf of everyone, thanking Corey and wishing him the best in his future endeavours. In a lovely gesture of community spirit on behalf of a group of the musicians who contributed, he presented a bouquet of flowers “and more importantly: a case of Rioja!”

Rachel Musson and Corey Mwamba
Photo credit: Brian Homer

Connections are more important in this music (whatever ‘this music’ is!) than perhaps in any other. Rhizome is a vast interactive map Corey Mwamba has made with Tom Ward that shows the intricate connections between diverse musicians, a sort of cybernetic family tree of musical scenes at an interpersonal level. In a way the next part of the evening represented this in microcosm.

“There are a lot of people here who are really good friends and mean a lot to me so I’ve decided to pile them all on stage at the same time and conduct them,” he said, warning humorously, “this might not work…”

“It will definitely work,” interjected Jason Yarde, lurking behind the piano with a camera and a saxophone, “it’s just a matter of degree.”

At this point during a directed free improvisation and a biting funk noise, the joy in the room overpowered any maudlin thoughts. Mwamba conducted an impromptu big band formed from the combined talents of the gathered visiting and performing musicians there including Dave Kane, Joshua Blackmore, Andy Champion, Johnny Hunter, Laura Cole, Walt Shaw, Rachel Musson, Jason Yarde, Martin Archer, Xhosa Cole, Martin Pyne, Tom Ward, Alya Al-Sultani, Zoe Champion, Gary Reader, Richard Belfitt.

Returning, Corey Mwamba introduced a final live set lasting all of five minutes, dense as a neutron star, a super-compressed improvisation presenting in miniature his sense of mystery in sophisticated harmonic nuance, his melodic lyricism and rhythmic swagger, culminating as ever in climactic sheets of virtuosic vibraphone noisemaking.

“It’s been an interesting death,” said Corey Mwamba, bookending one chapter and opening up another. “Tomorrow will be the start of an interesting life.”

"An impromptu big band formed from the combined talents 
of the gathered visiting and performing musicians there"
Photo credit: Brian Homer

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

LINKS: Brian Homer photo album:
Victoria Sparrow photo album
Barney Stevenson video
Huw V Williams Improvised Music Agenda Podcast
Bio/interview with tea
Corey Mwamba website

...and AJ, as might be expected, had some unexpected adventures in Derby


REVIEW: Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival

Yazz Ahmed at Bristol
Photo: Mick Destino
Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival
(Various venues, 22-24 March 2019. Overview by Jon Turney and Peter Slavid)

Jon Turney writes: Bristol’s festival, reconfigured for 2019 around building works at its usual home Colston Hall, has now grown to the point where a healthy jazz appetite leads to wanting to be in two, or even three places at once.

That kind of agility was a little harder this year as venues were a decent walk apart, but hopping back and forth between the acoustically distinguished St George’s on Brandon Hill and the well-appointed students’ union higher up in Clifton covered a good selection of jazz highlights from the excellently eclectic programme.

Mine began on Friday evening at St George’s with Richard Galliano’s New Jazz Musette. The man who re-established the accordion in jazz remains a towering presence on the instrument. While more recent European exponents like Vincent Peirani or Luciano Biondini build on his achievements, he still showcases the instrument in a band that is very much leader and three accompanists. If one occasionally wishes for something a little more collaborative, a little more of the time, it’s an impressive display of fast-fingered flair from him, and of disciplined support from his cohorts.

Saturday brought more interactive music from three bands in the comfort of the medium-sized Winston Theatre. A festival commission for pianist Rebecca Nash’s Atlas produced a satisfying six-part suite, coloured by sparing use of electronics and percussion. Guest John O’Gallagher glowed on alto in the front line alongside Nick Malcolm’s eloquent trumpet.

Two sets in the same venue later in the afternoon presented state of the art UK jazz quartets, led by Ant Law and Julian Siegel. Guitarist Law works beautifully with his long-time altoist Mike Chillingworth and although he is still presenting pieces from a recent CD release he appears to have almost enough new music to fill another. The pastoral flavoured Harvest stood out among the new songs, infusing Law’s remarkable technique with real feeling.

Siegel’s brilliant quartet also share the benefit of long acquaintance. “There is an eagerness and appetite about this band”, I wrote here after a live show in 2014. There still is. Every item in their repertoire is a gem, and the four players – Siegel on saxes and bass clarinet, Liam Noble on piano, Oli Hayhurst on bass and the exhilarating Gene Calderazzo on drums – all play at the highest level, separately and – more strikingly – together.

The Julian Siegel Quartet
Photo: Mick Destino
In between these, it was just possible to catch a decent slice of Liane Carroll at St George’s, belting out great songs with rare abandon. Later in the same space, China Moses offered a more restrained study in the art of vocalising, as befitted a recreation of Billie Holliday’s Lady in Satin, a classic studio session captured at almost the end of her career.

This set, introduced as a festival centrepiece, featured a jazz orchestra, 13-piece string section and a trio of backing singers, all following scores lovingly transcribed from the originals by Ian Bateman. They provided a sumptuous backdrop to Moses’ nicely poised delivery – honouring Billie without imitating her – although the actual arrangements, originally by Ray Ellis, are largely devoid of jazz interest or influence. They are superb songs, though, and Moses' ovation was well-earned.

And back to St George’s on Sunday afternoon to hear Huw Warren’s suite inspired by Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle. Premiered at Brecon five years ago, in Thomas’ centenary year, it remains unrecorded (shame) but is still a lovely live show, with verse intoned expressively by Mark Williams and rich contributions from Iain Ballamy on tenor.

The Warren-Ballamy connection, displayed well on the calypsoid Organ Morgan is so strong it prompted a longer walk, down to the Colston Hall. The still-functioning foyer space hosted a Jazz South band showcase including Ballamy’s quartet, with Warren standing in for regular pianist Jason Rebello. Their short set confirmed impressions from earlier shows in Bristol and Bath that this foursome – with Percy Pursglove on bass and sought after Bristol drummer Mark Whitlam – is an exciting new unit that deserves a long life.

A different style of saxophone rounded off the day, with Soweto Kinch delivering a characteristically high-energy show in the Winston Theatre. His combination of post Coleman (Ornette and Steve) alto, rap vocal, and rapport with the audience evokes huge enthusiasm for some pretty wild music. His easy charm is allied with an ambition that is still driving musical development that is challenging as well as engaging.

Peter Slavid writes: A good indication of the breadth of the festival can be gauged by the fact that I had an equally rewarding time over the weekend attending an entirely different set of concerts.

My personal highlight on Saturday was the outstanding improvised duet between Matthew Bourne and Kit Downes (standing in for the indisposed Keith Tippett). The concert started with the intricate acoustic improvising trio of Isotach with Bourne on both cello and piano alongside the violin and cello of Aby Vulliamy and Michael Bardon.

The two pianos of Bourne and Downes then gave us a mesmerising display of improvising. Sometimes delicate, sometimes ferocious, sometimes playing inside the piano to extract unusual sounds. The style may have been a bit different to the more mainstream programming at the festival,  but the music was outstanding and will hopefully have won over some new converts to this more experimental style of jazz.

Saturday concluded with an enjoyable concert from Yazz Ahmed and her very fine quartet. I particularly like the way she uses electronics to enhance the music rather than to batter the audience. It's much more subtle than many bands, and she shifts the sound electronically as part of the improvisation, and in particular she knows when to turn it off! The bent notes and rhythms she uses to support the tunes from her Bahraini heritage are comfortably embraced by the other musicians, with Martin France’s drumming quite outstanding in the way it plays around the beat shifting from delicate brushes to strident march rhythms. This is a band of bandleaders, and it's a reflection of Ahmed's standing that she can attract this quality of partner.

On Sunday I was agreeably impressed with the Jonny Mansfield Elftet. This is a very young band, recent winners of various awards including the Kenny Wheeler prize, and with a debut album due shortly from Edition. As well as Mansfield's excellent work on vibes, I was particularly taken with the arranging, which had more depth and colour than is normal from musicians of this age. As is often the case with young bands there was probably not quite enough room left for soloing – but the solos that we heard were all really good – so I'm sure that will develop over time.
Johnny Mansfield
Photo: Mick Destino


NEWS: RIP David Sinclair

Michel Petrucciani as captured by David Sinclair, one
 photograph from his amazing archive
Malcolm Sinclair, photographer David Sinclair's son, has just put out the following statement:

My father, David Sinclair, died peacefully yesterday, 25 March, at his home in Melksham, Wiltshire. He has now gone to join the love of his life, my mum Kathy Sinclair, whom he missed so much in the last 8 years.

I am sharing this with his close family and a number of his jazz friends, and would be grateful if the news could be passed on to many more across the music world. Please contact me for more information or email me ( A service will be held in Wiltshire in early April, date and venue tbc.

David was a proud Scot, an immensely talented photographer – particularly considering how severely disabled he was – and the toughest man I ever knew. Since a car accident in 2014 he was downcast that he had lost his ability to inhabit London clubs night after night and spend time with his many musician friends. Yet, while the last year of his life was endured in even more pain than previous decades, he was happier than for many years and described last Christmas as the best he had ever had.

He leaves a legacy of three wonderful grandchildren, and an amazing photography archive including most of the pictures on the walls of Ronnie Scott's, Pizza Express Jazz Soho, and the 606 Club in Chelsea. Oh, and a lot of tablet and ready salted crisps!

He would want me to share his immense appreciation for the love of his immediate family and the friendship of hundreds of people across the jazz world who cared about him and supported his work.

The flags at Tynecastle, Hampden, Ronnie's, the London Jazz Festival, Stamford Bridge, and more should all be flying at half mast today.

David Sinclair 1935-2019 I will miss you Dad  X

Malcolm Sinclair


NEWS: Jazz 625 returns – for one night only

Charlie Watts with Scott Hamilton and Dave Green in a publicity shot for Jazz 625

Peter Bacon reports:

A one-off TV show is not really any compensation for the jazz radio time that the Beeb is cutting, but hey, we jazz fans try to look on the bright side. Here is the press release:

"In the first live BBC black and white TV programme since the 1970s, BBC Four revives the iconic 1960’s BBC show Jazz 625 for one night only. Broadcasting live from Cheltenham during the Jazz Festival, the special show will feature a house band – led by pianist Robert Mitchell – with special guests including Joshua Redman, Jean Toussaint, Shirley Tetteh, Jacqui Dankworth and Gregory Porter.

"There’s also an exclusive recorded performance from legendary Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, showing off his jazz-chops in a quartet with saxophonist Scott Hamilton." (and Dave Green and Steve Brown)

The release quotes Watts: “That’s one of the nice things about Jazz 625, they had all the best guys on there… In those days, they had real stars and distinctive players… That was one of things I loved about those guys…they just looked so great when they played.”

Presented by Andi Oliver the one-off will include interviews and features with some of those who appeared and worked on the original Jazz 625 as well as those who have been influenced by the series and the vintage jazz era it captured.

Dr Nicolas Pillai (Birmingham City University), the programme's research consultant, told LondonJazz News: "Last year my university mounted a small-scale studio reconstruction of Jazz 625 as part of my project Jazz on BBC-TV 1960-1969, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. So it’s a dream come true to do this again on a larger scale with BBC4 and to honour the achievements of 1960s production crews led by visionary producer Terry Henebery."

Jazz 625: For One Night Only will be broadcast live on BBC Four at 9pm on Friday 3 May and there will be comprehensive coverage of Cheltenham Jazz Festival on BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6 Music. The live show is sold out. 


PICTURE/FEATURE: A Great Day in Birmingham

A Great Day in Birmingham
Photo: © Brian Homer
Birmingham jazz enthusiast and photographer Brian Homer reflects upon his version of Art Kane's A Great Day in Harlem:

When I decided to attempt a version of Art Kane’s iconic 1958 A Great Day in Harlem photograph here in Birmingham I chose 11 February 2019 as I wanted to get on with it. The long-range weather forecast was OKish so I went for it.

The story of the original picture of jazz musicians in front of a Brownstone in Harlem has just been re-published and given it's just over 60 years since that shoot and the fact that the Birmingham scene is so strong it seemed like a good idea to do it and celebrate.

In the lead-up the stars seem aligned. Just before I left for a work trip to New York I received a second hand copy of Milt Hinton’s first book Bass Line. Milt was a great photographer as well as one of the best bassists of his time. The book was only £11 from a London dealer. When I opened it the flyleaf was inscribed “To Campbell Burnap" and signed by Milt with his signature “Million Thanks to You” line which includes a little notated bass line. Milt, of course, was in the original picture.

When I got to New York it then turned out that the people I was working with also knew Milt – one of them taught with him at Baruch College. And Dotty, whose late husband was David Attie, the photographer I was researching, said: “Oh, Art Kane, we knew him well. When he was stuck in a traffic jam in his car he used to photograph the other drivers picking their noses!”

I took both of these as good omens and sure enough on the morning of the 11th the weather was fine – almost too fine as sunny conditions can cause difficult shadows. I’d invited over 100 musicians, promoters and supporters and put the word round on social media. In 1958 it was Art Kane’s first professional shoot (he was then an art director) which was a brave thing to do. This was by no means my first professional shoot but it was the first time I’d shot such a big group – assuming enough people turned up!

I’d set the time as 10am – the same as in 1958 – not to match it but because some jazzers thought that was the best time on a Monday when other commitments would be less. Of course this was OK for some but for plenty of others it wasn’t. There is probably not one “best” time but if we did it again I think we’d try a Sunday.

But all was fine – the weather and the turnout. We had over 70 people (more than in Harlem) coming to the steps in front of the Council House in Birmingham – the most iconic location I could think of which gave a sense of place as well as providing the possibility of arranging people so that they were all visible.

Fortunately, like Kane, I had enlisted the support of some other photographers I’d worked with before. George Archer, a photography student at BCU, I knew would be fine actually pressing the shutter once we’d arranged and framed the shot (I wanted to be in the shot myself). Also invaluable was Emma Jo Tucker who like George has assisted on my self-portrait projects – she was assiduously making sure we had names and contact details from each of the people in the shot.
And Garry Corbett was there making sure we got some shots of what was going on in the melée of people. In fact everyone was very patient and well up for making sure the shot worked. The group assembled naturally on the steps and it only needed a small bit of re-organising and to make sure everybody could see the camera. We shot several frames bu the first one was fine. Even Sarah Raine’s dog depping for her under the watchful eye of Lyle Bignon looked at the camera.

Brian Homer behind the camera
Photo: © Garry Corbett
I think it turned out fine but judge for yourself and see who you can spot in the crowd – I’ll be posting the picture on the Jazz in Birmingham website together with a list of all the people in it. There’s an amazing range of jazzers from 16-year-olds to people who have stopped counting the years! And all of jazz is represented from the traditional end to contemporary.

Of course many people could not make it – Soweto Kinch messaged to say he was stuck in Scotland and Xhosa Cole who was not feeling well only got there after we finished. But it went so well that we will do it again and then who knows how many we will get.

Thanks go to The Flash Centre Birmingham for sponsorship – they lent a medium format Pentax camera to make sure we got a really high-res image.

LINKS: The film about the original shoot

A Great Day in Birmingham on the Jazz In Birmingham website


REVIEW: Julian Lage Trio – Love Hurts (in London, 29 March)

Julian Lage Trio – Love Hurts
(Mack Avenue MAC1148. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Guitarist Julian Lage was born on Christmas Day 1987. There’s something so right about that; he does seem prodigiously blessed and gifted. His Wunderkind phase and his Gary Burton phase are now both long gone, he has an assured musical voice which is mature, articulate and individual.

He has a regular trio with bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Eric Doob, and they will be in London this Friday (full details below). The album being reviewed here is what Lage has called "a special edition" of the trio. He has stated that he wanted to "go into a studio for a weekend and do this thing that we won't ever get to do usually".

The bassist on the Love Hurts CD is Roeder, and the drummer is Dave King of The Bad Plus. Another unusual aspect of the recording project is the instrument that Lage plays throughout the recording made in Chicago, a 1950s Gretsch Duo Jet. Lage calls it "a dynamic instrument" which I take to mean 'resonant'. Particularly in the two very slow numbers associated with Roy Orbison, the title track Love Hurts and also Crying, he absolutely revels in this instrument's capacity to re-echo in a wonderfully sympathetic way.

These two slow, incredibly earworm-ish Orbison covers have also been released on video in the past few weeks:

- Crying is HERE.
- Love Hurts is HERE 

And for those with an appetite to hear more about the background to the album, the instrument (e.g. a long discussion of the siting of pick-ups) there is a long interview HERE.

It is only 12 months since the release of Lage's previous trio album on Mack Avenue, Modern Lore. I reviewed the touring version of that trio HERE at Pizza Express.

The drummer on Modern Lore was Bill Frisell regular Kenny Wolleson, with bass giant Scott Colley. Modern Lore and Love Hurts make a fascinating pairing to compare. Lage's assured and individual voice is, unsurprisingly with the albums so close together,  recognizably his. But there is a massive contrast mainly because the drummers are so different. Wolleson has a fabulously precise, and precisely judged touch and response. His playing is totally in-the-pocket and ensures that the focus remains on Lage's choices throughout. King is very different: he is given full rein to be the soloist, the anarchist, the disruptor. It will come down to a matter of personal choice which one the listener prefers. Others will have different views; my vote goes for Wolleson. A year later I am still listening to Modern Lore for pleasure.

The tone of disruption on Love Hurts is set from the outset. After just 30 seconds of the first track In Heaven, Roeder cuts across the melodic flow from Lage with some pitchless tremolando rumbling. And towards the end of the track, King lands in repeatedly with what seem deliberately randomized interjections and crashes. Later, Lage himself goes off-piste, notably in The Windup and in In Circles. It is as if he wants or needs to create as marked a contrast as possible from the benign-ness of the Orbison tracks, to be more jaggedly abstract, to say no more nice guy, to reveal and to attempt to release an inner Marc Ducret...

I wonder if in 20 years I will read this review and be obliged to confess that I failed to appreciate an album which will prove the start of a major turning-point in Lage's career. But for the time being, I will go back to Modern Lore, and also to the more adventurous work that Lage is doing with his normal unruffled joy in the Nels Cline 4 with Tom Rainey, both of which I have found far more convincing and authentic than this album.   

Julian Lage's Trio with Jorge Roeder and Eric Doob will be at Islington Assembly Rooms on Friday 29 March, presented by the Jazz Cafe. 

Support set in Islington this Friday will be from guitarist Rob Luft's Riser band, with Joe Wright (tenor sax & Electronics), Corrie Dick (drums) & Tom McCredie (bass guitar)


INTERVIEW: Adam Fairhall – Fragments (2017)

Adam Fairhall, Seth Bennett and Johnny Hunter
Publicity picture
Fragments (2017) is a trio album led by drummer Johnny Hunter with pianist Adam Fairhall and bassist Seth Bennett. With just three tracks over 75 minutes, the album combines pre-written ‘fragments’ with long-form improvisation. AJ Dehany spoke to Adam Fairhall.

LondonJazz News: It’s interesting to compare this to the Beck Hunters album (Mick Beck, Johnny Hunter, Anton Hunter), which also has a 30-minute track, but that trio is more abstract both in the playing and the instrumentation. This Fragments album itself is slightly more abstract than what I've heard and seen you do with solo piano.

Adam Fairhall: You're right that the music with this trio is generally more abstract than my solo stuff. I guess free and 'outside' playing has been in my bag almost as long as stride and ragtime, though, and it depends on the project as to which idioms get drawn upon. I do play completely free improv in some projects (there's an album out on SLAM called The Spirit Farm, an improvising six-piece including me, Johnny and Anton), and a more post-bop approach in others. With this trio, the idioms are a response to both the free improvisation involved and the written fragments themselves. The fragments actually vary in idiom, from non-tonal lines based on a set of intervals to chords and grooves that are in a definite key. So the idiom varies in little ways throughout, making it less of an overall free blowout and encouraging more stylistic nooks and crannies as the pieces progress.

LJN: Is this Johnny's influence? The trio's an interesting constellation of stars: Seth's very lyrical, Johnny's kind of intricately detailed, and you're usually the stylistic pierrot but here you're a bit more... third-stream maybe... (to use the example of a kind of non-idiomatic music that is now established as its own idiom - qv 'free jazz'). Is what you're doing consciously different or did that happen because of the trio interactions – or the selection of the elements of material in reference to the trio interplay?

AF: Johnny did write most of the fragments (although after a while we all started to contribute), so he definitely guided the overall sound, at least at the beginning. The fragments must be quite hard to spot! Some of them are single phrases that a listener might find indistinguishable from the preceding improvisation, but which cue an event. For example in the first and second tracks there's a point about 10 mins in (can't remember exactly) where we play unison stabs. Those events are cued by single phrases, but the phrases are non-tonal rather than hooky or 'melodic', so the listener probably wouldn't be able to tell that they were composed. The unison stabs would probably, therefore, come as a surprise. I 'work up' to the phrase by introducing elements of its intervallic content in the section that leads up to it, so the other two know it's coming and we collectively prepare for it. Other fragments are more distinguishable to the listener, with chords, grooves and melodies, and it's up to us to work up to them in a coherent and creative way. It took quite a lot of practice to get the hang of doing this; we've actually been working on this trio since 2013!

LJN: I'm intrigued by this technique of incorporating fragments in improvisations. I've been trying to find out how Cath Roberts's crazy graphical charts work and I suspect there are certain similarities in that the 'notated' elements are kicked around in a spontaneously devised structure. Are there any clues for the listener – or is the point to confound any supposed binarism between composition and improvisation? It seems to exploit that tension nicely! If that's what it does..? Anton Hunter did something like this with the Article XI album, he sort of band-sourced little themes and incorporated them, so I guess it's different in that his fragments are part of the compositional more than the improvisational texture – but there I go setting up that binarism again, it's so easy to do!

AF: I think we see composition and improvisation as 'interpenetrating'; both are distinguishable practices but their boundaries are blurred. Working in this way – introducing composition into improvisation rather than the other way around – just allows us to find new ways to play with the virtues of both. It helps you see both in a new light, and you're right that a tension, or dialogue, between the two is exploited. And it helps to break down pre-conceptions about the characteristics of each (e.g. that composition dictates overall form), so in that sense the way that binary thinking is embedded in conventional jazz practice is subverted.

But yeah, I agree that this way of working has much in common with Cath's. I think one difference is that we don't know what fragments we'll end up using when we start a piece. And you're right about Anton embedding improv-generated material back into a compositional structure. I don't think you were reinforcing binaries when you said that; you were just discussing the relationship between two discrete things!

LJN: Does this trio have a live presence?

AF: We actually did a couple of album launch gigs – one in Manchester and one at the Vortex – that we didn't really invite anyone to!

LJN: What piano are you playing on this album? Your solo album was characterized by those pianos you lucked into on tour.

AF: The piano was actually a grand piano in a studio in Leeds. It does sound a bit worn, but I've got a soft spot for less than pristine pianos. You're right though, I definitely lucked out on the solo tour/album!

LJN: So you weren’t using your 'ship's piano'? What even is that!?

AF: My ship's piano was a tiny acoustic piano that fitted into the back of my car! they were made for ships in the early part of the 20th century. Mine was the smallest model made. Unfortunately, it sounded terrible. There's a reason pianos are so big! So I sold it...

LJN: Where was the album recorded? I liked the 'live chamber' feel, another kind of nice tension there. How much did you record and over what timescale? How did you make the selections? I did an interview with Zac Gvi who recorded an album of solo piano but spent years letting the sequence grow in his mind. Spiritualized took five years to mix their 1997 masterpiece. I can kind of dig that, it's always either a desk mix on the day or absolute agony forever after, right? So this album has appeared comparatively quickly!?

AF: We recorded all the material in one night-time studio session. There was only one track we didn't use for the album. Taking five years to complete an album sounds amazing, but it would be a bit of a luxury for us! Unless you've got daily free access to a studio and engineer, or you're a rock star, it would be difficult! Mind you, we spent four years practising so that we could do the album in one night!

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

LINKS: Fragments (2017) is released on Northern Contemporary

Fragments CD Review