TRIBUTE: Clive Fenner (1949 - 2019) by Simon Purcell

Clive Fenner
Photo courtesy of East Side Jazz Club
Clive Fenner, who made a massive contribution to London's jazz scene, passed away at the end of April. In this tribute his close friend Simon Purcell remembers a remarkable man:

How do you do justice to a friend’s life? I knew Clive Fenner initially as a musician and educator. I also played volleyball with him but never football (at which he excelled). Neither did I accompany him fishing – he was a highly accomplished angler and pioneer of some methods of carp fishing. This obituary isn’t a comprehensive description or litany of regrets. Instead it is the inevitably incomplete tribute to a great friend with whom I shared a lot of life and a heartfelt thank you for introducing himself to my life and contributing to my experience and understanding of the world.

Many musicians and jazz lovers know Clive through the East Side Jazz Club in East London, while hundreds more students were transformed through their experiences of Jazz, Cuban music and educational companionship on his summer schools in Cuba and the South of France.

I first met Clive Fenner in May 1993, when he attended community jazz workshops in Forest Gate, East London. Although he had worked on the fringes of the pop world in the 1970s and '80s, drumming wasn’t a realistic professional proposition at the time but after more than 10 years working as an educational philosopher, training teachers, Clive was at a crossroads, intent on replacing the sanctity and respectability of academe with a drum-kit, and the crimes and misdemeanours of the jazz lifestyle. We soon hit it off discussing jazz and educational philosophy, each of us eager to delve more into each other’s specialism. At this time, he began highly demanding lessons with the great American drummer Clifford Jarvis and later with the internationally acclaimed drum teacher Bob Armstrong. Not many people are aware that although Clifford was an extremely challenging person at the time, they formed a close friendship, Clive supporting him through his final illness (thank you to Nigel Tame for this information).

Pivotally, shortly after that first workshop season Clive asked me how to get gigs. My advice was to “find a pub that will allow you to play with some good players” and that is exactly what happened, Clive immediately creating the East Side Jazz Club in October 1993. The rest as they say is history. The switch had been pressed and off he went, hosting and playing at 30 gigs a year in East London.

What Jazz Umbrella and the East London Jazz Project had attempted with groups of musicians, Clive at first managed singlehandedly, in the process bringing many of the UK’s major artists to the venue. There was a deep sense of community and fairness to Clive’s work. As a result, gigs were affordable to the community, musicians were paid a decent fee and he constantly reached out to younger musicians to perform at the club. While current tributes from musicians are characterised by gratitude for the gigs and respect for his resilience, the local audience point to Clive’s invitational personality and absence of airs and graces. He was morally committed to jazz in the community and it is perhaps his local community that understood him and have valued him even more. High art in East London is one thing and sometimes playing at “Clive’s” was a bit like appearing in a Mike Leigh film or Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, complete with plastic foliage (if you’ve been there you’ll know) but that was all part of the attraction and perhaps its longevity.

Furtive philosopher.

The jazz community is largely unaware of Clive’s expertise in Teacher Education and that for many years he contributed to and led courses at various institutions including the Institute of Education, Havering College and until several years ago at Roehampton College.

It was always a treat to hear Clive discuss jazz in relation to Plato, John Dewey and the great Scottish educationalist Laurence Stenhouse (with whom Clive almost studied for a Ph.D) and although our banter was that he preferred to talk about jazz, on the rare occasions when he could be nudged into full disclosure, his discourse about curriculum was inspiring and expressed with alacrity, wit and detail. To his credit he was also extremely sensitive about professional vocabularies and didn’t want to create misunderstanding or elicit the “educrap” complaint from the more cynical jazzers. I think he would smile now, remembering how he would brand me a Platonist if I expressed a preference for Charlie Parker over John Bonham. Sometimes that would be as far as we would get philosophically!

However, it wasn’t all banter and I often sought Clive’s educational counsel. Back in 2002 he was an expert “reader” for my own research (into student-centered curriculum in jazz) prior to publication, and his guidance and informal mentoring has had a profound influence on my own work at a curricular level. Similarly, conversations spanning more than two decades about education as product and process, and the philosophical dilemmas about education as induction or Plato and absolutism were always something I cherished and which informed my work. Our discourse influenced the ways in which I have developed the curriculum in several institutions, and has in turn been shared within the UK conservatoire sector, and impacted upon thinking within the Association of European Conservatoires and beyond. Ways in which jazz students are assessed was indirectly influenced by discussions with Clive, certainty during the formative period of jazz in Higher Education in England. Of course, I told Clive of these things, recently phoning him from a conference in Norway, enthusing that “finally” Europe was on board about a shared educational value, but as usual we were quickly back to discussing drums, carp or food!

Life-long learning and Summer Schools

In many ways, Clive embodied the aspirations of many of his students. He worked at his music with immense determination and application, developing his technique through extensive practice and lessons over many years. He often recounted that as much as he loved the lifestyle and the music, the journey was never easy, indeed Clifford and Bob had been extremely hard task-masters, making serious demands of Clive’s time to meet their practice assignments. However he took pride in the process and it is my impression that with the release of two CDs, (Get It! 2013 and Get Up! 2017) and particularly in the last two to three years since his diagnosis, Clive had finally found some ease (and less angst) in his playing, finally allowing himself to play for fun. I think he really enjoyed the last couple of years playing.

Clive’s other community were his courses in Cuba and in the South of France.

The first Mediterranean Jazz Summer School took place in a very rural part of France, in 1996, Clive supported by his wife Hazel and a tutor team that included Steve Berry, Martin Hathaway and myself. Since then many musicians have worked with Clive (see tutor list) and the course has flourished and expanded steadily ever since. Clive and Sue Stothard (his right-hand woman) have worked tirelessly to ensure that students experience learning in a supportive and transformative environment. It would be inappropriate to make comparisons with other summer schools as they are all magnificent but Clive’s courses were very magnificent too. While he rarely taught on his courses, he was a great “boss” with a deep vision of community learning, and who understood the richness and diversity of students’ needs and the paramount importance of placing learning in the context of deep community and fun. Here he was facilitator, generously enabling us to experience some deeply transformative moments. That was his gift. The Cuba Course began in 2003 and has operated with similar success with similar emphases upon learning, community and fun.

You will hopefully gather that Clive was a doer, he made things happen. There is far too much to mention here but there were some amusing tales such as: being blindfolded in a basement in Bourges and subsequently inducted in to Le Bonnet Rouge (an ancient French revolutionary sect – I think?); the day he met Miss Universe; meeting Herbie Hancock while out for a walk in Cuba; being wined and dined by the Governor of a Caribbean Island who was under the impression that he was an international trader. And more…

The summer schools were the most intense times with Clive, where we shared many highs and a few lows but the saddest loss for me is the loss of a friend whom I saw or spoke to nearly every day and whose values, perspectives and sense of fun have blended so much with my own. Clive Fenner was a musician, an educator and philosopher, great angler, decent footballer, cook and some would say “reluctant hedonist”, he loved the arts and in many ways was a contemporary Renaissance Man whom I respected and loved a lot.

I know you liked making a racket on those drums, Clive, but you had a great, inspirational (and funny) mind too. We miss you.

Simon Purcell

Clive Fenner. 6 June 1949 – 28 April 2019


CD REVIEW: Leïla Martial: Baa Box – Warm Canto (plus mjf 26 May performance)

Leïla Martial: Baa Box – Warm Canto
(Laborie Jazz CD.LJ48. CD review by Sebastian Maniura)

Vocalist, clown and improvisor Leïla Martial releases her third album, Warm Canto, on 24 May. It features her trio Baa Box. The album focuses around the human voice, mostly hers, stretching its physical and musical capabilities. Made up of Martial, voice, glockenspiel and senza (thumb piano); Eric Perez, voice and guitar; and Pierre Tereygeol, voice, guitar and percussion, the trio explores looping, vocal effects and layered patterns to create an interesting and lively tone palate.

Growing up in a musical family, Martial studied at the Marciac Village Music College from the age of ten, later continuing her studies at Collège Jazz de Marciac, the home of the Jazz in Marciac festival. Leïla was torn between the career of an actress or a singer; it was her 2009 Concours de la Défense win that led her to pick music. Two albums followed; 2012’s Dance Floor, and 2017’s Baable, with Baa Box. The trio, according to her website, is named after the “baa” made by goats. This is because a goat “does not look for aesthetics, it IS". The trio’s previous album was based on “epic rock,” the new album represents something quite different. This is another step on her self-professed journey of developing a magical musical language based on improvisation.

A large part of it is made up of beautiful, intricate vocalisation intertwined with looped vocal harmonies, percussive sung phrases and supportive guitar lines. The press release for the album states that it is influenced by “vocal possibilities beyond a Western framework, including Romani, Pygmée and Inuit”. Songs such as Nuit Pygmée showcase the range of Martial’s shape-shifting vocalisation, jumping from flowing lines to staccato, twisted, disjointed phrases. The band use loops to create a full and energetic sound on Serendipity, one of the albums rockier numbers, with its use of effect pedals on the vocals. The layering of the vocal lines give the effect of a choir supporting the song.

In the slower, more poignant numbers such as Le sourire du clown the instrumental aspect of the band is featured more prominently; creating an uneasy, creaking, rattling sound-world with feverish percussive tapping, slow and steady guitar lines and shimmering, sometimes quite creepy, vocalisations accompanied by glockenspiel. Jeanne allows the guitar to be more than just an accompanying instrument. Positioned seventh in the twelve-song order it is a welcome momentary break from the album's fairly continuous vocal focus.

There is always a danger when using loop pedals and layered vocal lines that the music you make, especially if collated into an album, will be repetitive and aesthetically similar. Warm Canto does repeat textures and ideas, however this doesn't hinder ones enjoyment of the music. Focusing more on the voice and its musical possibilities rather than using it as a means to an end in the song-writing process brings about interesting and fresh material. This is an accessible, enjoyable album with some real vocal gems embedded within.

Leïla Martial: Baa Box play the Manchester Jazz Festival on 26 May.

LINK: mjf concert details and booking


TRIBUTE: Chris Legee (1941-2019)

Chris Legee in September 2018
Photo courtesy of Michael S Klein
Michael S Klein remembers his friend Chris Legee who passed away last week. Boston (US)-born Chris was an indefatigable activist on the London vocal jazz scene. Michael writes:

Chris passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in her sleep on Wednesday 15 May 2019.

What can I tell you about Chris Legee you haven't heard already? People stopped her in the street,on the bus, and asked whether they could photograph her! She was a walking artpiece! She was more importantly a shining and colourful example of how to be human. Her kindness is legion and she always evinced concern and compassion for others. She was a tireless networker well known in the London jazz milieu.

She was Sheila Jordan’s agent for England! Last year she and I made an album of Sheila's 2010 performance with the Brian Kellock trio and Tori string guartet called 'Sheila Jordan, Live in London' to commemorate Sheila's 90th year.Chris's long-running vocal jazz open mic.event will celebrate its 22nd birthday next month and She is loved,missed and mourned,by many! There is so much more! Workshops at her home with international artists, a series of live demo recording workshops at Schotts Music and she loved to sing! Suffice to say this extraordinary person will live on in our hearts and minds! A light has gone out in the Cosmos!

Flora Christine Legee (21 June 1941 – 15 May 2019)

Michael S Klein is a singer/songwriter, record producer sometime music studio and record label proprietor.


NEWS: Applications open for Brussels Jazz Orchestra's International Composition Contest 2020

Supplied publicity photo
Peter Bacon reports:

News of money for jazz is always welcome. We've just received this press release from the Brussels Jazz Orchestra:

In January 2020, Brussels Jazz Orchestra will hold its eighth International Composition Contest. One of the most important international competitions for jazz composition, its focus is on premiering new pieces written specifically for big band instrumentation. Brussels Jazz Orchestra endeavours to encourage talented international composers and arrangers all over the world and offer them a stage with this competition. In addition, it aims to forge ties for the future with composers from all over the world.

The contest is for composers for contemporary jazz orchestra. Composers can participate by sending in a work they have written themselves for the preselection, in the form of a live recording and a score, by 30 September 2019 at the latest.

Following the preselection round, the names of four composers selected for the final will be announced on 15 October 2019. These four finalists will be commissioned to write a final piece for Brussels Jazz Orchestra.

The finalists’ compositions will be played on 12 January 2020 by the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, conducted by the finalists themselves. An international jury will choose the winner of the BJO International Composition Contest 2020.

The winner will receive a cash prize of €2000, and a professional audio and video recording of the premiere of his or her composition, performed by Brussels Jazz Orchestra.

LINK: For more information and applications


NEWS AND INFO REQUEST: New Documentary, Ronnie's

On Frith Street
Photo supplied by Eric Woollard-White

Sebastian writes:


A new documentary feature film is being made to mark the 60th anniversary of Ronnie Scott's, and will explain and illustrate its "global musical legacy".

The current working title is Ronnie’s.

According to the press release "it is being made by UK-based film finance and production company, Goldfinch. Kew Media Distribution will be representing the film for worldwide distribution within its slate at the Cannes Film Festival (14 May to 25 May 2019), working towards a theatrical release in early 2020.

"Filmmaker Oliver Murray is attached to write and direct. Eric Woollard-White  is producing for Goldfinch, while James R.M. Hunt is on board as Archive Producer and Paul Trewartha as Editor." (Quote from press release ends)


Eric Woollard-White has written to LJN as follows:

"We are still on the look out for any previously unseen film, photos or other bits of interesting archive (we recently discovered some old menus and some press cuttings we had not seen before for example) that might be interesting enough to include in this documentary."

Eric can be reached directly at: eww (at) oldfinchstudios (dot) co (dot) uk

LINK: More of the Press Release was covered in this Variety story


CD REVIEW: Terkel Nørgaard  – With Ralph Alessi

Terkel Nørgaard – With Ralph Alessi
(We Jazz. CD Review by Dick Hovenga(*))

Danish drummer Terkel Nørgaard has been a very popular figure in Scandinavian jazz for some years now, and has started to become better known outside Scandinavia too. His beautiful playing, the consistent excellence of the musicians who surround him, and his ability to write inspiring compositions are the basis for this.

For his new album he asked trumpeter Ralph Alessi to join his trio, which, naturally enough, was an offer the American musician didn’t want to turn down. And Nørgaard was so pleased that it had happened, he honoured Alessi's contribution with the title of the album. A nice gesture, but one which doesn’t do full justice to the contributions of Søren Gemmer (piano) and Jesper Thorn (bass), both from the thriving Copenhagen jazz scene. Of course Alessi's trumpet does dominate proceedings, but without the presence of Nørgaard's great trio, his playing would have been of far less consequence.

The title With Ralph Alessi is clearly aimed at giving Nørgaard more of an international profile, something that Alessi has had for a long time. And this album does everything to maximise the chances of making that happen. Based on 21 sketches, Nørgaard has constructed an album in seven compositions with real heft. The recordings were made as long ago as June 2016 but, for all sorts of reasons, they are only now being released by the fine We Jazz Records label from Helsinki.

And the result is a great album. The compositions are beautifully diverse and always surprisingly full of unexpected turns. They are played in a fine open atmosphere in which all four musicians make the most of the space they are given. Of course Alessi, who built up his reputation in the bands of Steve Coleman and Uri Caine from the end of the last century onwards, and then, via Cam Jazz and the last few years at ECM, and has also made an impression with some superb records in his own name, delivers some emphatic playing.

He is a delightful trumpet player to listen to, and it must be said that with Nørgaard, Gemmer and Thorn he has taken things to the highest level. There is no sense of him just following or in any sense of being constrained by the lines of the compositions. He just picks them up and transforms then in something richer in sound and atmosphere. And where he picks up, the trio follows and vice versa. The listening, the interaction, the dovetailing are flawless.

It is also definitely worth mentioning that Nørgaard has a superb trio with Gemmer and Thorn which deserves to be much better known worldwide. Nørgaard is at the helm, and what a top-notch drummer he is. And Gemmer and Thorn are seriously impressive as well. Their playing is fluent, technically beautiful but above all full of emotion and class.

The facts that Alessi was an inspiration to the trio during the recordings and vice versa seems to pour out of every groove. What Scandinavian jazz ensembles are so good at pop is to traverse so naturally back and forth from the powerful to the minimal. That particular dynamic works brilliantly, the ease with which they cover those transitions captures the ear every time, and make With Ralph Alessi into an exceptionally fine album that brings joy every time one listens to it.

LINKS: We Jazz at UK Distributor Kudos

(*) Dick Hovenga's original review appeared on the Written in Music site and is published here in Sebastian's translation as part of an ongoing collaboration


CD REVIEW: Tom Harrell – Infinity

Tom Harrell – Infinity
(HighNote Records HCD 7321. CD Review by Peter Jones)

A simple riff in 7/4, accompanied by a flurry of semiquavers, heralds The Fast, the first tune on this new album – his 33rd as leader – by American trumpeter Tom Harrell, which he has just added to an award-strewn 35-year recorded legacy. Somehow he has also found the time to work as a sideman with the likes of Charlie Haden, Lee Konitz, Horace Silver and Phil Woods.

The good news about Infinity is that Harrell sounds as hip and modern as ever, with that soft, silky tone reminiscent of Chet Baker. His quintet has mutated several times since the mid-1990s, currently consisting of Mark Turner on tenor, Charles Altura on guitar, Ben Street on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums, of whom the latter has been with him on and off for the last six years.

Infinity is a highly melodic piece of work, featuring tunes that often unspool in long sections (e.g. Dublin), and are rhythmically complex (e.g. The Fast, Hope) without this complexity becoming the main focus of attention. Of course you’ve got to love it when, three-quarters of the way through a relaxed number like Hope, the tune suddenly snaps into upswing, on an album that otherwise has no swing on it at all. Or when the band just sits on a guitar/bass groove, as on Ground and Taurus.

The playing throughout is unshowy; the vibe is pretty laid back, and the soloing is beautiful, particularly Harrell’s own. Guitarist Charles Altura is a nicely muted presence here, his contributions reflective and tasteful, e.g. at the start of Coronation and on Folk Song where, appropriately enough, he plays acoustic.

Some of the material harks back to the classic days of the jazz quintet, such as the straight groove Blue, which evokes the sound of 1960s Blue Note, with some cool modulations and classy soloing from Mark Turner and Harrell himself. Elsewhere the music sometimes takes unexpected turns, as on The Isle, where a slightly twee melody is replaced after what sounds like the closing chorus by a darker excursion based on a single chord.


CD REVIEW: Fazer – Nadi

Fazer – Nadi
(Squama SQ001. CD review by Tony Dudley-Evans

Fazer are a young German group from Munich who all studied together at the Academy for Music and Performing Arts in that city. Their latest album was, however, recorded in London by Ben Lamdin of Nostalgia 77.

The CD has eight tracks all relatively short at around four to five minutes long and just the one longer track at slightly over nine minutes. They are listed as A1 to 4 and B1 to 4, so I assume it is also coming out on vinyl.

The music is led by the two drummers, Simon Popp and Sebastian Wolfgruber, who create a strong and regular rhythmic pulse that links in very effectively with the electric bass of Martin Brugger.  The rhythms are gentle rather than forceful, and have a very engaging feel that reminds me of African drumming. Over these rhythms trumpeter Matthias Lindermayr and guitarist Paul Brändle develop nicely melodic lines. Each track is quite similar with Lindermayr mostly taking the solos; one track, Twin Drum, is a feature for the two drummers and this also has a strong African feel.

The compositions are also very melodic and there is an overall cohesion to the music. However, it strikes me as all being a little safe. I do think, nonetheless, that the music will go down well with the new young audiences in UK cities who follow the likes of Nubya Garcia, Joe Armon-Jones and others.


CD REVIEW: Mattimatti – Tomrum

Mattimatti – Tomrum
(Agogo Records AR105CD. CD Review by Stephen Vitkovitch)

Tomrum (the word means void or vacuum in Swedish) charts the musical friendship of two Mattis (Matti Nilsson and Christoph (Matti) Matenaers) who began playing improvised tunes on sitar and hang on the street while travelling through Sweden and Germany. But don’t let that put you off, there’s substance here.

The album starts in meditative fashion, then grows as gradually more layers are thrown in – with a surprising amount of complexity for something that was recorded in just an hour, due to computer issues chewing up the rest of the day’s work. It’s not a surprise to read that Nilsson and Matenaers have played together for years; what they achieve in improvising is clearly built on a firm understanding of the other’s approach and musical outlook. Nilsson on clarinet is a highlight, and his mastery of a variety of instruments is pleasingly showcased here, taking on sitar, guitar, harmonica and space echo too.

This is a soundtrack to your life inside a Nordic Noir thriller, just at the moment where they shift into slow motion and pan around the protagonist as carnage kicks in. This isn’t to say the music is violent, it isn’t, but it feels like there is an undercurrent of menace, something looming in the background. While the two Mattis are the core of the group and the genesis of the name, it’s their guest Anton Ingvarsson on bass who underpins things. Ingvarsson delivers the intensity which characterises the record, and for me invokes the spirit of Pink Floyd’s Careful With That Axe Eugene.

The group use adjectives like “hypnotic” and “mythical” to describe the work, and I wouldn’t disagree. The sense of magic is reflected in the artwork depicting a forest shrouded in mist. You might struggle with exactly where to place the CD or vinyl in your collection, but it does deliver an interesting documentation of what three friends with a common vision can produce under time pressure.

LINK: Mattimatti at Agogo Records


CD REVIEW: Christian Lillinger – Open Form for Society

Christian Lillinger – Open Form for Society
(PLAIST. 004. CD Review by Alison Bentley)

Can jazz be a model for society? German drummer Christian Lillinger brings together nine musicians from different European countries to adapt and develop Lillinger’s compositions, in what he calls ‘re-composition’. Using musique concrète influences in post-production, it’s a wonderfully original mixture of jazz and improvised and electronic music, with undertones of funk and drum & bass.

The pieces are short and intensely immersive. Piece for Up & Grand Piano and Ringmodulator with Kaja Draksler (Slovenia) and Antonis Anissegos (Greece) has notes dropping inside each other. There’s a brittle beauty, evoking Nancarrow, and a delicate electronic treatment to the sound, like prepared piano. Aorta has the pulsing complexity of some of Steve Coleman’s (or pianist Andy Milne’s) recent work, with loping, sinewy bass (German Robert Landfermann/Swedish Petter Eldh.) Lillinger excavates the moment with shifting funk-edged rhythms. There are occasional glimpses of a time signature, as piano and vibes trade licks from outer space (vibes players are Germans Christopher Dell/Roland Neffe). In Thür, vibes and piano stalk each other abstractly, sometimes blurring or coalescing together freely with ringing percussive sounds. Titan could be a god striding with playful menace through a percussion shop. A dark, driving groove melts with synth sounds (Elias Stemeseder from Austria.)

The abstract phrases of Basel, led by piano, bass and cello, (Lucy Railton, UK) shadow each other. They’re lightened by bell sounds and darkened by musique concrète-like wave forms. In the groovy Sisyphos, the bass repeatedly pushes an ostinato phrase uphill, only to have it fall back into the root note; drums flutter dramatically around vibes. The miniature Überwindung has gamelan-like phrases with instruments slightly out of synch. There’s a thrill every time Lillinger’s drum and bass beats burst out. Überwindung seems linked with Laktat- a little grungy too, with delicately detailed piano and vibes phrases over more ponderous bass, and a wild drum and piano climax.

The strong acoustic bass grooves of Mocking are undermined by rock-inflected slapping drum beats, and warm free piano with synth swirls. The woody cello and luscious bass of Toro koma draw together in a quirky melody, before veering into free complexity with percussion and piano. It’s like scribbling over the same place on a page to produce a striking image. Sog distorts vibes and cello with a nod to Stockhausen, but the acoustic tones peer through. Cello, piano and vibes pick their way across the precipitous melody of Triangular, as an M-Base-esque groove emerges. The drums in KfkA have an '80s crate-of-spanners-dropped-in-a-warehouse sound, with spiky piano and whooping electronica. One of Lillinger’s previous bands was called Hyperactive Kid, and this track has the feel of a child trying out sounds- with consummate skill.

The final pieces, Excerpts of Open Form for Society: (Improvisations) One to Five were improvised collectively, and are on CD and vinyl only. In the speeding runs of One, chords strike sparks from the thundering bass. The meditative Two draws dreamy vibes across exploratory cello. Bass and cello play the subaquatic drones of Three with primeval grace. Four is lighter and almost boppy, as vibes and piano tones float away like bubbles over supple bass. Lillinger uses an amazing array of percussive textures with deep piano in Five.

Perhaps the final contribution comes from the listener, as the ear hears patterns and attributes meaning. Lillinger cites Karl Popper’s theories in the latter’s book The Open Society as an influence, and it’s great to hear such skilled musicians listening and working together so creatively.


REVIEW: Kate Westbrook and The Granite Band at Kings Place

Kate Westbrook and The Granite Band
Publicity picture
Granite – A Soliloquy
Kate Westbrook and The Granite Band
(Kings Place Hall Two, 16 May 2019. Review by Richard Lee)

I’d given the Granite album a few listens and (because all the puns have already been done) was really taken by the sheer rockiness of it… I first saw Mike way back in the '70s, with a quartet that eventually became Solid Gold Cadillac, and that model is back in production with The Granite Band.  It really is like an old favourite coming back, with all the design delights (think Fiat 500) but with the built-in efficiency that comes with maturity. If anything, I was put in mind of those highly adept prog bands like Caravan, Henry Cow and Hatfield and the North.

I’m most taken with the theatricality of the Westbrook’s work: it’s almost always about something. If it’s not artists (Blake, Turner, Rossini) then it’s places or ways of life (Chicago, Catania, Uri). Here, in a work that sits with their best, the text celebrates Kate & Mike’s home patch, the ambience and wildlife of Dartmoor. Again I felt lucky to have familiarised myself with the album as I found quite a bit of the text deep in the sound-mix (which was instrumentally excellent). It might have been helpful to have the text in the programme. It’s a poetic painting, much in keeping with Kate’s powerful canvases, using blunt Hughes-ian adjectives like verbal impasto, and creating edgy surrealist rhymes (“…Fiscal Analysts will lose…burn out the Blues.”) Kate’s cabaret voice swoops and slinks with the poetry but also purrs and palpitates as she breaks words into constituent parts and fires them at us like percussive riffs. I was impressed with the lighting too which, after a shaky start on the spots, was sensitive to and evocative of both text and music.

As ever, Mike provides some great riffs for the band, as in Helpless, Helpless, and some recurring yearning themes, in Sun & Moon, My Barricade and Reckless, Reckless.  His own blues-inflected solo moments, such as the wonderful Curlew Cry, are treasurable miniatures.

I’ve written before about the awesome Roz Harding and her contributions tonight only raise the praise index. Outside of the big band context of the Uncommon Orchestra she is aided and abetted by the guitars of Matthew North and Jessie Molins, the latter often play in unison with her. That seemed to me a new incarnation of Westbrook’s powerful reeds and brass front lines, with Jesse’s muscular fretting playing the tenor foil to Roz’s alto and soprano. The same could be said for Billie Bottle’s bass, not just a powerful underpinning but an equally important melodic voice in the band. The south-west supergroup is completed by Coach York’s powerhouse kit work. Like the whole evening, very hard, granular, crystalline, and totally rock solid…

The album finishes with a whistled, wistful coda, Irving Berlin’s Let’s Face The Music; tonight, after this terrifically rousing London premiere, the encore was appropriately upbeat and optimistic – I just wish I knew what the number was!

Kate Westbrook – voice, whistling
Mike Westbrook – piano/keyboards
Roz Harding – saxophone
Jesse Molins – guitar
Matthew North – guitar
Billie Bottle – electric bass
Coach York – drums


REVIEW: Theo Croker and Soweto Kinch at the Curtain Club,

L-R: Theo Croker, Nick Jurd, Soweto Kinch
iPhone snap by Rachel Coombes

Theo Croker and Soweto Kinch
(The Curtain Club, London. 16 May 2019. Review by Rachel Coombes)

The first on-stage encounter between alto saxophone player Soweto Kinch and trumpeter Theo Croker felt like a curiously private affair, taking place in a small, airless room with padded leather walls in the basement of The Curtain Hotel in Shoreditch.

The occasion for this exclusive collaboration was the album launch of Theo’s Star People Nation
(Sony Music), a record which, as he explained to the audience during the course of the evening, is about embracing humanity’s shared experiences (quite literally, since we are all composed of stardust), while also being an exploration of the musician’s own personal experiences as an artistic black man. It is a celebration of multiculturalism, bringing together the individual and universal through a musical language that synthesises the idioms of Croker’s own prestigious jazz legacy (he is the grandson of Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Doc Cheatham) with contemporary grooves and super slick production. The compositions evince, appropriately, the cosmic, spacious signature style which was consolidated on his 2016 album Escape Velocity. It is a style that is at once epic and introspective.

During the evening we were treated to a screening of the video for Understand Yourself, undeniably a standout track on the record, and one which perhaps best encapsulates the album’s spirit. The visual backdrop of spliced-together footage drawn from both everyday and historical rituals of blackness (such as the Million Man March Washington in 1995) created a powerful counterpoint to the vocals of the Jamaican musician Chronixx, who delivered a strong missive to cast off old identities so as to reclaim knowledge of one’s higher self, in a nod to Marcus Garvey’s famous speech ‘Man Know Thyself’. The track’s reggae flavour, blended with African percussion and the textures of the horns make for a potent mix, acting like a musical manifesto for Croker’s quest to reclaim the richness of black musical heritage and ‘re-serve’ it up to audiences.

The evening at the Curtain was hosted by the team at Brave Poets, a network of poets and lyricists who specialise in genre-defying nights of spoken word and music. They introduced the evening with a relaxed Q&A session between Theo and Soweto, which touched upon the pair’s own lineage and respective musical journeys, the territorial nature of jazz, and the importance of maintaining authenticity and sincerity when faced with pressure from the wider industry. Soweto acknowledged the importance of the ‘Rasta-conscious’ musical and theatrical environment in which he was raised, which allowed him to appreciate the fact that he could be a part of an influential creative continuum; similarly, Theo recognised that it was witnessing the sheer number of black musicians (from Wynton Marsalis to Eddie Locke) at his grandfather’s memorial concert that made him realise the vitality of the scene. "No one told me to be realistic," he said, gratefully admitting that he was given the freedom to pursue what seemed to many like an unstable career path. Fundamentally, both musicians accepted that there was a need for black musicians today to take control of their history and make it as visible as possible to the next generation – an aim which resonated with the premise of Star People Nation.

And so finally to the music: Soweto and Theo were joined onstage by Nick Jurd on double bass, Dexter Hercules on kit, and David Mrakpor (from Blue Lab Beats) on keys. The joyous informality of what followed suited the intimacy of the venue and gave the audience an intimation of the fun that world-class jazz musicians have when they’re not in ‘professional’ performative mode. Soweto announced that he would treat the audience to some ‘guinea-piggery’ by testing out a new track entitled The Rescue, which began with a crisp piano melody (played via his laptop), building up into intricate counterpoint with saxophone and flute. Theo gave us an introspective, thoughtful solo before the repetition of the piano melody brought the composition to a plaintive close. The group then presented an instrumental version of Understanding Yourself, which was in stark textural contrast to the recorded track, with Theo’s generous use of delay effects, Soweto’s unrestrained, exuberant improv passages, and David’s feisty keyboard solo.

The next work, Heartstrings – which Soweto announced that he would ‘curate’ for us on the spot – gave a chance for the audience to appreciate the sax player’s inimitable freestyling (the night was technically entitled ‘Jazz and Hip Hop’, although there was perhaps not quite enough of the latter to warrant this). His lyrical flow then gave way to further uproarious instrumental conversations between Theo and Soweto, with Soweto usually taking the lead, and Theo following with often angular and audacious patterns. His clean tone, daring melodies and crisp articulation were a clear testament to the inspiration of his mentor Donald Byrd. The second half of the night’s set was devoted to a favourite on-stage hobby of Soweto’s – freestyle audience participation.

After eliciting the words ‘success’, ‘technocratic’, ‘shenanigans’, ‘psychedelic’, ‘phat’ and ‘avocado’ from us, he weaved together some entertaining lyrics, tying the six words together into some kind of coherent whole (I wish I could remember exactly how...). But Soweto seemed itching to get back to his saxophone, which he swiftly did, concocting experimental improvised freak-outs with an equivalent ebullience. The night drew to a close with the two inviting their friend and collaborator Steve Williamson to join them on saxophone for a jam, and we left the venue (far later than we should have) with the woozy strains of Caravan in our ears.

Theo Croker’s Star People Nation is out now.


REVIEW: Jordan Rakei at EartH in Hackney

Jordan Rakei at EartH
iPhone snap by Leah Williams
Jordan Rakei
(EartH, Hackney, 15 May 2019. Review by Leah Williams) 

Jordan Rakei has had an outstanding few years, releasing new music and gaining fans in record time since he arrived in the UK from Australia. Tickets for his shows have become notoriously hard to get your hands on and last night’s gig sold out in under an hour.

It was a pre-emptive glimpse at his new album Origin, which is released on Ninja Tunes on 14 June, following which he embarks on his biggest UK and EU tour to date, including a stop at the Roundhouse on 18 October.

From the opening moments of the show, it was clear he wouldn’t disappoint. There was quite the set-up on stage, but he arrived alone and began with a simple atmospheric background cocooning his smooth vocals. Building this up slowly with well-practised live looping, it was an excellent introduction to the fuller sound as the band came in.

While these low-tempo, solo moments were sadly rare for the rest of the night, each one did further testify to how much of his sound – putting electronics and infectious rhythms aside – simply comes down to the incredible quality of his distinctive voice. It’s a voice with honeyed personality, a voice that draws you in and makes you hang on every word, and it sounds every bit as amazing live as on his recordings.

The set list was cleverly constructed to mix new tracks with old favourites. As often happens at new album launches, the artist is looking to introduce their new material – and the audience are really just desperate to hear the old stuff they so know and love. So when he invited everyone to sing along to Say Something, one of the first releases from the new album, it was an inspired way to get the audience engaged – and it opened the floodgates. He couldn’t have stopped everyone joining in after that had he tried.

Partly, this is down to the fact that his lyrics really seem to speak to people, with their exploration of human existence and connection in this rapidly changing world. And as the entire audience passionately sang along to “Doesn't it seem like a wildfire / See that burning bridge right through the mirror / Doesn't it make you realise / Only you can keep this flame alive” it was clear his philosophising has captured the minds and ears of a generation. Perhaps another reason he’s so popular is that his style so effortlessly draws inspiration and sound from such an eclectic mix of music. Jazz, reggae, funk, pop, electronica… it’s hard not to hear a bit of everything in there and to identify musically with some aspect.

The jazz and funk elements come through strongly from the restless pulsing beats of the rhythm section and props needs to be given to drummer Jim Macrae for the relentless strength of his groove.

Similarly, Rakei’s music slides easily between these infectious rhythms to ethereal ambience and back again with no apology. Proving himself master of the false ending, there was many a song that wound down to a whisper only to draw you back in to a climactic finish or to transition through to another song, never letting the intensity of the musical experience wither. A highlight of the night was when he moved seamlessly between three favourites, Tawo, Blame It on the Youth, and Add the Bassline to bring the gig towards its close.

A show that lives up to the artist hype, get ready to hit “buy” on those tour tickets – there’s no doubt they’ll be sold out before you’ve had a chance to blink.

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


FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Europajazz 2019 in Le Mans

"This was my gig of the festival" (Tony Dudley-Evans)
Luc Ex Assemblée with Rachel Musson (foreground)
Photo Credit and © Peter Bastian
The Europajazz Festival in Le Mans has been celebrating its 40th birthday. Throughout its existence, it has been shrewdly helmed by Armand Meignan. Round-ups from Oliver Weindling (first part of the festival) and Tony Dudley-Evans:

OLIVER WEINDLING: This year’s programme showed how over the years Armand Meignan has annually balanced various elements: a continuity and awareness of musicians who have played at the festival regularly (such as, this year, John Surman, Barre Phillips and Michel Portal), commissioning of new projects from younger musicians (such as a Tom Waits tribute by Hasse Poulsen), and music which is just plain great (such as a trio formed by Le Mans resident Paul Rogers).

I attended the first three days of the main festival climax for this year, and it started with a young band: Gone to the Dogs (Extended). A local band of guitar, bass, drums which has been expanded to include a trumpet and saxophone. Energetic and danceable, they immediately endeared themselves to me by playing a tune called Vortex. From there on, they merged jazz old and new, for example in reworking the Ornette Coleman classic Rambling. En route, they sounded like a band who might be playing at a bal populaire of 2019, and brought in electronic and even hip hop elements.

The venue where they played, La Fonderie, is one of three that the festival uses. Here there is a chance for more diverse musical styles, almost more experimental and wide-ranging. So I also heard an evocative duo from Finland, with trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and percussionist Mika Salo blending looping and distortion to create a moving evocation of the spirituality and vastness of the North. I had heard them last year at the Südtirol Festival in the modern art museum and had enjoyed it then, but, in this context, the music seemed to float and we floated with it!

Paul Rogers
Photo Credit: Michel Legeay/ Europajazz
The third of the gigs that I heard there was of a trio put together with long-standing favourite of the improvised scene, Paul Rogers, playing his trademark bass of 7 strings and 14 sympathetically resonating. He played with two musicians from Berlin, Olaf Rupp on guitar and Frank Paul Schubert on soprano sax (whom we have heard in London with Mark Sanders). Starting with a sound and approach akin to 20th century contemporary music, they moved into territory more reminiscent of the improv scene occupied by Evan Parker and Derek Bailey. Paul himself has been resident in Le Mans for more than a decade. His own playing is mesmerising, understanding every nuance of his special instrument and giving the music a special drive and rhythm.

Triple bass. L-R: Paolo Damiani and Daniele Roccato and Bruno Chevillon
Photo Credit: Michel Legeay/ Europajazz
Bass players, in fact, played a major role in the festival. Too often, the bass hides at the back of the band, as the line of last defence. In another of the spaces, the medieval collégiale Saint-Pierre-la-Cour, it was possible every lunchtime to hear acoustic sets. I had missed a highly-regarded gig by Claude Tchamitchian, but was able to hear a special trio of basses, including Bruno Chevillon, Paolo Damiani and Daniele Roccato. Each in turn brought a unique take on the role of the instrument, not just as a pure plucked or bowed, but also percussive and prepared in different ways. Perhaps it is a special awareness of bass players from their usual context of anchors of their bands, but throughout there seemed to be a momentum and implicit pulse that could lead us through.

This was even more clearly shown by a solo performance by one of the true legends of the instrument, Barre Phillips. A mesmerising performance where he showed clearly how the bass works as a solo. Frequently melodic, but gradually he showed the other effects that can be achieved on the instrument. The acoustics of the College picked out every nuance.

Meanwhile, another of the ‘friends’ of the festival who appeared in the large hall of the Abbaye d’Epau, was also a close partner of Barre Phillips – John Surman (from the trio with Stu Martin, reprised with Tony Buck three years ago). Again he had the audience mesmerised in a solo performance that started on bass clarinet and ended with him dancing around the hall playing The Keel Row.

Another focus of the festival was having three masters of bass clarinet, not just Mr Surman. There was Michel Portal, who refused to be cowed by his age of 83, and revelled in the chance to play with guitarist Lionel Loueke. A beautiful tone, and great imagination and interplay. A true great and a privilege to get to hear him.

Meanwhile, another premiere was that of Louis Sclavis, on bass clarinet as well a ‘normal’ Bb, with cellist Bruno Ducret. They played a duo concert in the College which ran through a whole range of compositions by both musicians. The cello is, I am pleased to say, becoming an instrument used more and more for this music. It has a range which complements the clarinet. Ducret, who follows worthily in a lineage following Vincent Courtois and from a family steeped in improvisation, was unfazed by working with Sclavis who is in such control of his instrument that even his improvisations sound as though-composed.

TONY DUDLEY-EVANS : I had previously attended the Europa Jazz Festival in the late '90s when three British pianists, John Taylor, Howard Riley and Keith Tippett, played solo piano sets. This year British jazz was reasonably well represented with John Surman’s solo saxophone, clarinet and wooden pipe set, Paul Rogers’ improvised set with the German Olaff Rapp and Frank Paul Schubert (see Ollie Weindling’s comments above) and Rachel Musson appearing with Luc Ex’s Assemblée. Interestingly, only Rachel Musson is resident in UK now.

The festival seems to have broadened out quite a bit since the '90s and the focus is on up-and-coming French and European artists as well as this year celebrating well-known artists who had appeared in the early years of the festival. One such is Archie Shepp who had appeared in duo with Horace Parlan in 1981, in 2000 with a quintet paying tribute to Billie Holiday and in 2004 in a quartet with Claudine Amina Myers. I suspect he played more adventurous sets in those days; this year in the Abbaye Royale de l’ Epau playing with his regular French quartet, he started with Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore and played a fairly conservative set with plenty of space for members of the quartet. There were flashes of his more avant-garde side, but these were few. Nonetheless, he and the quartet were extremely well received by a packed venue.

Much more interesting was Luc Ex’s set with his Assemblée with Luc on bass, Hamid Drake on drums, Rachel Musson and Ab Baars on saxophones. Luc and Hamid provided a really strong rhythm foundation, and both Ab and Rachel wove intricate lines over these rhythms. At certain times the two horns seemed be competing with the rhythm instruments, and forging their own separate path, thus creating a contrast that was immensely stimulating. This was my gig of the festival.

Before I set off for Le Mans, I received a number of comments asking whether the bands would be playing for 24 hours and at high speed. The final concert of the festival featuring Emile Parisien, initially with his regular quartet and then with a large ensemble of 11 of the top French players set up to mark the 40th Year of the festival, did bring these comments to mind. It was a long concert at over three hours and Emile Parisien does play at breakneck speed. There was a danger at times of the large ensemble becoming a party band, but they mostly avoided this with a good choice of material, including a number of compositions by Joachim Kuhn (not present) and strong solos from Parisien himself, Michel Portal, Vincent Peirani and Fabrice Martinez.

Barre Phillips
iPhone snap by Oliver Weindling


It says a lot about the festival that the musicians performed with such élan and positivity. Armand has over the years shown all the features that make a festival like that work. Respect for quality, but not forgetting the new things. Venues and festivals need long-term continuity – it’s where the music shows its life and energy. And there is no ‘automatic’ renewal system here, so that the baton can be passed and the festival then evolve. We wait expectantly.(Oliver)

Jazz Europa is a very enjoyable festival; it has a nicely varied programme with good venues. It’s a relaxed festival that allows time for one to have a good lunch and explore the fascinating old Plantagenet city. (Tony)


LP REVIEW: Ilmiliekki Quartet – Land Of Real Men

Ilmiliekki Quartet – Land Of Real Men
(We Jazz, WJLP13. Review by Dick Hovenga(*))

With Land Of Real Men, Ilmilieki Quartet (meaning quartet ablaze), the Finnish band that started in 2002 and broke on to the international jazz scene straight away, are back. In the intervening years, the four members of the band have built substantial individual careers internationally. It is 13 years since they last recorded as quartet, so it's great to have the band back together, and on such persuasive form.

Not that things have been particularly quiet around Ilmiliekki Quartet. Far from it. In 2009 and then in 2018 they released two albums in collaboration with violinist/singer Emma Salokoski, but their only two albums that they have release as a quartet were their debut album March Of The Alpha Males (2003), and then Take It With Me (2006). And yes, the players’ individual careers have prospered. Trumpeter Verneri Pohjola made a series of impressive albums on the UK label Edition Records, drummer Olavi Louhivuori played in Tomasz Stanko's Scandinavian quintet, and also impressed with his band Oddarrang, pianist Tuomo Prättälä released a series of quirky singer-songwriter albums, and bassist Antti Lötjönen impressed with The Five Corners Quintet, Timo Lassy Band and 3TM.

Right from the first notes of their quirky version of Laurie Anderson's Oh Superman to the last notes of album finale lonely lonely, Land Of The Real Men is a breathtaking jazz journey that will surely find its place among the best albums of the year.

The way they strike a balance between pure jazz and typically Scandinavian modesty, and between free jazz/improvisation and the lyrical/melodic is completely fascinating. The way in which they master their instruments as well as in their compositions look for space to let their idiosyncratic playing resound separately from each other, or to vie with each other to blow the tiles off the roof is truly extraordinary. In a word, overwhelming.

Through the course of eight compositions, everything that makes this band and the individual musicians so great comes back to life. Listen to a composition like Singharat STI 1 or afterimage and its beauty will blow you away.

And listen to the second side of the album with Il Maileki and Ravelogue. How splendidly modest the quartet can make itself. There is miraculously beautiful playing especially from Pohjola: what a trumpet hero he has become over the years, and great playing from Prättälä which gives self-restraint a new dimension.

And what a superb composition the title track is. As soon as it starts, you start to imagine how it will sound live. And as the track unfolds in style and groove-laden, it all just really works. What a world-class track! And then follows a beautifully subdued opening to a track which has a really nice way of keeping momentum and [dwars uitlopend], lonely lonely, which once again has great playing by Pohjola. It is the perfect closer.

It's good that the We Jazz label, active on many fronts, has released this new album so it can get all the worldwide attention it deserves. Land Of Real Men is jazz just as we like it, but unfortunately hear far too little. Revitalising, invigorating, energetic, adventurous, free and full of both emotion and craftsmanship. Land Of The Real Men is a gem of a record!

Oh, and by the way, the beautiful double vinyl edition is the one to have!

(*)LINK: Dick Hovenga's original review appeared on Written in Music in Dutch


INTERVIEW: Hermine Deurloo (Celebrating Europe at Manchester Jazz Festival, 25-27 May)

Hermine Deurloo, Rembrandt Frerichs and a flying harmonica
Publicity photo
Harmonica virtuoso Hermine Deurloo appears in a quartet with pianist Rembrandt Frerichs on the second day of a three-day representation of Dutch-based talent and collaboration in Manchester Jazz Festival’s Celebrating Europe series that runs from 25 to 27 May. Rob Adams sets the scene and speaks to Hermine about her harmonica adventures.

Hermine Deurloo has played in the UK on only a few occasions and is looking forward to working in Manchester with Rembrandt Frerichs, whose adventurous approach – “you never hear the same intro twice,” she says – particularly appeals to her.

The harmonica wasn’t Deurloo’s first choice of instrument. She played recorder and cello from the age of five and switched to saxophone when she went to Amsterdam Conservatory’s jazz department with the desire to play jazz in the style of Wayne Shorter, form a band and travel the world.

She was side-tracked by hearing recordings by the late harmonica genius Toots Thielemans. Initially she worked out his solos on saxophone but one day in a shop she came across a chromatic harmonica, bought it and began to study.

“When I began playing professionally, I combined the saxophone and the harmonica,” she says. “But more and more I got asked to do just harmonica gigs. Then I played on a commercial for Dutch television and that melody became quite famous, so that helped to build my profile.”

Her wide-ranging playing career – she’s handled gigs with maverick drummer Han Bennink and soul-jazz saxophonist Candy Dulfer with equal ease – reflects her musical interests. Growing up she listened to all sorts of musical styles, from Madness to Stan Getz, and she takes an “it’s all music” approach to whatever comes her way.

“What I do is all related,” she says. “It’s all improvising, although something from a really different culture like Tango or Flamenco would be more difficult because of the rhythm. In October this year I will play a modern classical piece; now that will be a challenge!”

She met Rembrandt Frerichs through the bassist in Frerichs’ trio, Tony Overwater, and as well as his sense of adventure, she was drawn to his melodic approach to improvising.

“He has a piano style that is similar to my playing on the harmonica,” she says. “He has a great knowledge of harmony and classical music which I find interesting. We're really looking forward to playing in Manchester and hope the people there will leave the concert inspired and enlightened.”

Beginning with the UK debut of voice, guitar, viola and electronics duo Sanem Kalfa & George Dumitriu, who will be exploring their Turkish and Romanian roots, the Dutch programme also features Amsterdam-based vocalist, pianist and trombonist Nani Noam Vazana in a new project with Manchester-based cellist Abel Selaocoe, called Both Sides of Africa.

This meeting  builds on the ongoing success of LoLanders, the international sextet which premiered at Celtic Connections in Glasgow earlier this year and in June will take musicians including violist Oene van Geel and whistle master Fraser Fifield to UK and Dutch dates including Glasgow Jazz Festival and the Netherlands’ flagship jazz venue, the Bimhuis.

All of these connections are being made through the auspices of Going Dutch, the project funded by Dutch Performing Arts and organised by the Jazz Promotion Network, which was set up to bring Dutch musicians to the UK and Ireland and is facilitating, in some cases, first and in other cases, rare appearances on these shores.

The Hermine Deurloo-Rembradt Frerichs Quartet plays Bridgewater Hall (Barbirolli Room) on Sunday May 26 at 12 noon.

Sanem Kalfa & George Dumitriu play at International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Saturday May 25 at 7pm.

Nani Noam Vazana & Abel Selaocoe’s Both Sides of Africa is at St Ann’s Church at 4:30pm.

Rob Adams is a freelance journalist based in Edinburgh who has been working on publicity for Going Dutch.

LINK: Hermine Deurloo/Rembrandt Frerichs Quartet gig at Manchester Jazz Festival


CD REVIEW Michaël Attias - échos la nuit

Michaël Attias - échos la nuit
(Out Of Your Head Records OOYH 003. CD Review by Olie Brice)

This feels like an album which should inspire poetry, rather than a review. Michaël Attias’ first solo album is an incredibly beautiful, patient, delicately unfurling recording, an intimate duo for alto saxophone and piano played by one person simultaneously.

Attias explores a variety of approaches to the combination of sax and piano. Some pieces explore chords held with one hand while alto lines entwine with the other. The haunting Grass is a duo for sax and the reverberance of the inside of a dampened piano, and circles similarly explores the piano resonance, sometimes combined with circular breathing on the sax. Other pieces, Trinité and wrong note especially, explore shades of intonation that suggest Monk’s magical capacity to bend the notes of a piano.

The whole album is essentially freely improvised, although several of the pieces draw on material Attias has explored before, such as some compositions he wrote for a theatre production and a chord voicing he was shown by the late, great Masabumi Kikuchi (Attias recorded with Kikuchi both on the pianist’s own albums and with Paul Motian). There is a wonderful lack of showiness about the whole thing, an unhurried melodicism that makes me think of Steve Lacy and Lol Coxhill while remaining truly individual.

I’ve reviewed Attias’ work on this site before (link below), and am a long-standing fan. This solo album deepens my respect even further, one of the most beautiful and unusual new albums I’ve heard in a long time.

LINK: Review of Nerve Dance (2017)


CD REVIEW: Richard Galliano – The Tokyo Concert

Richard Galliano – The Tokyo Concert
(Jade EAN 3411369992032. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Richard Galliano’s solo concert at the Wigmore Hall in the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival was certainly one of my highlights of the festival and of the year. Galliano’s sense of how to construct and to pace a recital from start to end was a revelation. Jane Mann did a wonderfully detailed write-up of the London concert and I was still very much under the spell of it when I wrote my LJF round-up (links below).

Galliano has explained the background to the CD of a live recording made for months earlier in 2018, in July, on his website (this text curiously never made it into the English language press release): “This live recording is the result of the fact that the three concerts which I gave as part of "Folle Journée" were recorded. "Folle Journée" is a renowned classical music festival which first saw the light of day in Nantes, and is now being exported to Japan. Three concerts! I chose the second one for this recording because something new happened that day, which fully justified the release of an album. For the record, Rémi Bourcereau, my sound engineer, took a very good initiative and recorded the concerts without actually informing me. He was so right to do that!” Galliano says that the receptiveness and quiet attentiveness of the Japanese audience are something special, and it is true that on this recording they all really do listen and wait together, and then all show their vociferous appreciation together at the end of each of the 13 tracks.

The joy of this CD is its variety and its total assurance. Galliano makes all the tunes, whether they are from classical music (Chopin, Debussy, Granados), or from popular repertoire work in an authentic way. The Legrand medley he did in London is here again, and I think he makes more of the contrasts between the tunes on the recorded version than he did in London, where it was all more of a seamless/suave/boulevardier version.  Galliano employs textures which go all the way from a single unsupported melodic line (Soleil and Chaplin’s Smile all the way to the large-scale orchestral and harmonically mobile (Valse pour Claude). He did play some delicious Hermeto Pascoal (Bebe) in London that didn't get included here, but there is so much to enjoy on this CD one can hardly moan about that.

The news about this new album only reached me because I now subscribe to the podcast version of Alex Dutilh’s superb drive time show on France-Musique Open Jazz. The show cannot be recommended highly enough. Alex always has all of the press material and the latest stories at his fingertips, but his descriptions of the music which is about to be played or has just been played often have an elegance and a ‘souplesse’ to really illuminate and explain the music.  I also picked up the news from his show that Galliano will be perfoming in a duo with Ron Carter at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Now there’s a combination….

The Tokyo Concert will be performed live at the church of St Germain-des-Prés at their festival this Friday 17 May.

LINKS: Jane Mann's Wigmore Hall review
Sebastian's LJF Round-Up for theartsdesk
The Tokyo Concert at
Jade Music


REVIEW: Dan Weiss's Starebaby at the Vortex

Dan Weiss at the Vortex
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2019. All Rights Reserved

Dan Weiss's Starebaby
(Vortex, 2 May 2019; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Drummer Dan Weiss's project, Starebaby, with his top-drawer collaborators, Craig Taborn (keyboards), Ben Monder (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Matt Mitchell (keyboards), has been around five years in gestation, and delivered a seriously intense, hard-hitting and energetically enjoyable performance at the Vortex.

Crossing the boundaries of jazz, heavy metal, grindcore, prog and electronica, Weiss's compositions had a natural flow to them, an intuitive edge to which all the group's metal-loving performers gave full commitment to tease out all the potential nuances in the architecture of Weiss's tightly synchronised writing and in their improvisational interludes. Metal was their first point of communion, surprisingly – who'd have thought!

Starebaby's eponymous (brilliantly produced and three-sided on vinyl) album formed the basis of the repertoire with the 15-minutes of Episode 8 serving notice for the complex hyper-intensity of what was to follow. Depredation and Annica rubbed shoulders with new pieces to which titles had not yet been ascribed, and what had been pencilled in as a 75-minute set grew, I am reliably told, by another half hour.

There was something of Yes meets Napalm Death meets a super-charged Elvin Jones on a sci-fi plateau in their atmospheric road trip. Monder summoned up the sense of the supernatural and the infinitude of the cosmos in his wry distortions, not far removed from his peregrinations on Blackstar, while Weiss's complex percussive drive and Dunn's state-of-the-art bass riffing ensured that there was no let up in volume and intensity – until the precise moments when the scores called for a dropping off from the power play, with Weiss employing the soft touches of mallets as keyboards drifted in to the indeterminate zone.

Mitchell, wearing a Napalm Death sweatshirt, swapped keyboards with Taborn in an amusing changeover in the tight stage area, both just managing not to drop scores, or knock music stands and chairs flying – the outcome was a beautifully crafted piano solo from Taborn, a complete contrast to the electronic roars he'd earlier released.

Unforgiving, but treacherously human, this was a most impressive offering, one for the left field of the Vortex community, drawing in a broad audience (including Antonio Sánchez, Weiss mentioned), and inviting comparison with the power trio, The Thing – that would make a great double bill!


REVIEW: Georgie Fame with the BBC Big Band at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Georgie Fame and the BBC Big Band
Publicity photo
Georgie Fame with the BBC Big Band
(Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Sunday 12 May 2019. Review by Frank Griffith)

The unique and distinctive vocals and piano of Georgie Fame combined with the sterling efforts of the BBC Big Band dazzled the crowd at The Liverpool Philharminic Hall last night The programme was extemely varied but flowed swimmingly throughout. This included several Fame originals, many of which arranged by sadly bygone Brit writers like Harry South, Tubby Hayes and Steve Gray. A few 1960s soul classics like Papa's Got A Brand New Bag and Yeah, Yeah, which opened the concert, were included as well.

Raised in Leigh, Lancs, Fame (born Clive Powell in 1943) has a long history with the BBC Big Band dating from ther 1960s. He also toured then with the Count Basie Orchestra and performed Neil Hefti's Little Pony and Frank Foster's classic Blues Backstage which closed the two and a half-hour concert with  a heroic and explosive finish.

Fame's voice has a somewhat veiled and grainy quality to it. More Mose than Monro, if you like. Not particularly sonically resonant or having a coarse and booming blues shoutiness to it. More  crooning, dry and vibrato-less but blues-drenched nonetheless. In addition, he also carried off a few arrangements showing his flawless ability to deliver rapid fire lyrics to iconic solos by jazz greats.

The BBC Big Band rose to the challenge with aplomb conducted ably by Barry Forgie, soon to be be 80 but showing no signs of slowing down. Each set was opened with three instrumentals showcasing the brilliant soloists in the band. Amongst these was baritone saxophonist Jay Craig, on Johnny Mandel's Black Nightingale from the 1958 film I Want To Live, an early outright jazz film score. Vibraphonist Anthony Kerr also shone on Flying Home and Sweet Georgia Brown as did tenor saxophonist Martin Williams on his feature of Bob Florence's Autumn. Other outstanding solos came from trumpeters Tom Dennis and BBC BB veteran Martin Shaw, as well as trombonist Rory Ingram. Finally, the gritty yet angular tenor saxophone of Julian Siegal scored impressively on a few, albeit brief, solo look-ins.

The first class rhythm team of Chris Allard on guitar, Robin Aspland on piano, Dave Whitford on bass and Matt "Skilled" Skelton on drums shone throughout. Not only in their role of "driving the bus" but with delightful solo offerings sprinkled  throughout as well. Of particular note was Skelton's drum fills on Pat Williams arrangement of In The Still of the Night.

Fame, in addition to singing and playing wonderfully, was not afraid to share stories and his views on the current state of things. Most notable was thanking the audience for coming along to "share the emotions". Not something that one can do on their laptop, iphone or other social media contrivances that dominate communication today. Hear, hear to that as the emotions shared were rich, unforgettable and priceless.


NEWS: Margate Jazz Festival 2019 headliners announced (20-22 September)

Pee Wee Ellis
Publicity photo
Peter Bacon reports: 

The headliners for the 2019 Margate Jazz Festival are Pee Wee Ellis, Liane Carroll and Theon Cross, it has been announced. There will also be a new “social partnership” with one of the prime-mover organisations on the young London scene, jazz re:freshed. Booking opens later this month.

The Margate press release in full:

The Margate Jazz Festival 2019 will take place from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd September with a headline artist lineup of Pee Wee Ellis, Liane Carroll and Theon Cross. This is the second year of a partnership between Olby’s Soul Cafe and the Margate Jazz Festival that’s already brought some of the finest contemporary jazz artists in the world to Kent’s South-East coast including Courtney Pine, Binker and Moses, Omar Puente and Bansangu Orchestra.

For this year’s event there is also a new social partnership with Jazz re:freshed, the London-based contemporary music/arts movement and record label at the forefront of the current young British jazz scene. As well as jazz re:freshed’s festival participation there will also be a  series of partnership live events taking place at Olby’s through into 2020.

In addition to the headline artists’ performances at Olby’s Soul Cafe, there will be an increase in the number of fringe performances at venues around Margate, including the Cinq Ports Restaurant & Bar, The Lifeboat Ale & Cider House and Ales of the Unexpected with more to be announced.

Kicking the weekend off is the great saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, leading his jazz quartet featuring pianist Gareth Williams, double bassist Alec Dankworth and drummer Mark Mondesir. A student of Sonny Rollins with a stellar 50 year career including MD/bandleader and architect of James Brown’s late 60’s sound as well as Van Morrison’s MD/bandleader. Pee Wee was the co-founder of the JB Horns with Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley and a producer for George Benson, Esther Phillips and Brother Jack McDuff. Since moving to the UK he has arranged and recorded with artists including Boy George, Joss Stone, George Clinton and Paul Carrack, and for many years has toured the world with his own fine jazz lineups. Pee Wee is also an acknowledged educator and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Bath Spa University in 2014.

Headlining on the Saturday night is Liane Carroll, a pillar of the British jazz and soul scene for over thirty-five years. Born in London and raised in Hastings, she has dedicated her life to creating a deep and abiding connection with audiences all over the world through her exceptional talent, versatility and ability to truly interpret a song. Along the way she has collaborated with such diverse artists as Paul McCartney, Gerry Rafferty, Long John Baldry, Ian Shaw, Claire Martin OBE and drum and bass outfit London Elektricity, with whom she headlined at Finsbury Park’s Hospital in the Park festival and Glastonbury 2017. She has won Best Jazz Vocalist of the Year Awards numerous times and the prestigious BASCA Gold Badge Award for Services to Music in 2016. 

Ending the Sunday evening on a massive high is Theon Cross, the London-based tuba player and composer and one of the key components of the city’s thriving young jazz scene. He has made a name for himself for providing his own unique brand of swaggering tuba bass in jazz and various other styles of music, most significantly in the award winning four-piece Sons of Kemet. He has also worked with Moses Boyd, Jon Batiste & Stay Human, Pharoahe Monch, Emeli Sandé and Kano. He skilfully leads his own powerful and eclectic group exploring the diverse range of musical sounds of London through his compositions. His 2019 album Fyah has already made a great impact on the UK and US vinyl and streaming charts.

Tickets for the three days are £37.50 and available from 23 May at or call 01843 448595.

Olby’s Soul Cafe & Music Rooms
3-5 King Street, CT91DD Margate, Kent

LINK: Margate Jazz Festival


CD REVIEW: Larry Grenadier – The Gleaners

Larry Grenadier – The Gleaners
(ECM 6757841. CD Review by Jon Turney)

The resourcefulness and richness of modern double bass playing never cease to astound me. There are any number of players whose contribution can be the highlight of a live set, and a clutch of solo bass albums among my all-time favourites.

Here, another widely admired exponent rises to that ultimate challenge, with the latest in ECM’s long-standing series of releases featuring unaccompanied bass. Larry Grenadier, a strong contributor to groups led by many others, most prominently Brad Mehldau, has spoken of his relish for bass players’ commitment to adaptability, and to making everyone else sound good, but here he digs into his own most deeply felt music.

The opener features sumptuous bowed lines, and the pieces then alternate, more or less, between plucked and bowed sounds, with a little of both on the multi-tracked Woebegone. There’s plenty of variation within the format, the plucked bass sometimes folksy, sometimes swinging relentlessly, the bowed work exploring all registers. Throughout there is the feeling Grenadier mentions in the notes, that solo bass music precludes excess. It’s stripped down, tightly focussed music. But there is nothing ascetic about it. This recording is as sensuous as dark chocolate melting on the tongue or sipping a glass of fine Saint-Émilion.

That’s true on every cut, mostly pieces of Grenadier’s own, with one standard (My Man’s Gone Now), one by his wife, Rebecca Martin, a couple of vignettes from Wolfgang Muthspiel, and a longer excursion that combines John Coltrane’s Compassion with a tune by Paul Motian. If I reach for one word, there is something very inviting about the whole set – every piece, however brief, seems to have a different welcome for the listener.

Like many, I mostly settle for downloads these days, but I fancy this set deserves to be heard on CD. Beautifully recorded by James Farber, the sound of the instrument is drop dead gorgeous throughout, and so is the music Grenadier fashions from it.

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