REVIEW: Big Band Supertramp, Heavy Lemo and Gods of Apollo at the 2019 Manchester Jazz Festival

John Helliwell of Big Band Supertramp
Photo Credit and © William Ellis
Frank Griffith attended three very diverse concerts on the Friday (24 May) of the 2019 Manchester Jazz Festival. He writes:

A particular highlight for this listener was the debut of "Big Band Supertramp featuring John Helliwell and The Big Supertramp Band ". Their 90-minute performance at the Royal Northern Music College Theatre was a delight indeed, at the packed venue. Todmorden-born saxophonist and clarinettist, Helliwell, joined the iconic British band Supertramp in 1973 and has remained ever since, despite several hiatuses in the band's activity. The 20-piece orchestra consisted of many UK jazz stalwarts including trumpeters Richard Iles and Steve Waterman, trombonist John Barber, and saxophonists, Andy Scott, Mike Hall and Rob Buckland. The rhythm section was driven and powered by Matt Steele on piano, Ollie Collins on bass , guitarist, Billy Buckley and Steve Gilbert on drums; all names new to me but all impressive in their creativitity in interpreting The Tramp's songs. If this wasn't enough, the addition of percussionist, Josh Savage, behind an arsenal of mallet-driven tuned percussion, timpani and handheld tinkly things brought about a welcome and effective texture to the proceedings.

Big Band Supertramp
Photo Credit and © William Ellis
Helliwell darted equally between alto and tenor saxes as well as clarinet, playing on well known Supertramp songs such as Brunch, Thirsty Work, Dreamer, Breakfast in America, Crime of The Century and the encore, It's Always Raining – all of which were well known to the section of the audience "of a certain age" who clearly responded with appreciation at these well-known songs from their slightly younger "daze". In addition, John's humorous "anecdotery" in addressing the audience was welcome and went a long way to bringing the crowd together on recalling this important and innovative band in British rock during the 1970s and '80s. I very much enjoyed his frequent clarinet breaks, elocuting song themes with a deep but somewhat rustic tonal quality often in the chalumeau (lower) range of the horn. Echoes of Acker Bilk and Pee Wee Russell amongst the more vibrant and percussive textures of the Supertramping (but not trampling) arrangements was a welcome and unique combination indeed.

The arrangements were penned by the likes of Andy Scott, Gary Carpenter, Clarke Rundell and Rob Buckland, among others, all of whom are long-time collaborators and friends of Helliwell.

An astonishing debut of this great new band and concept. Let it flourish with wild abandon, please.

Heavy Lemo performed two sets at the outdoor St Anns Stage between 5-7pm, featuring the rapid-fire rappings of Liverpudlian, James Lyon. At no point was I able to actually ascertain what he was saying/singing but that clearly was not an issue as the four-piece combo supporting him was on it, big time. Playing 1970s-like Herbie Hancock funk grooves with engaging harmonic sequences they were left to their own devices in their frequent solo excursions. Keyboardist Misha Gray's solos were particularly engaging, laced with his angular and challenging jazz vocabulary. Guitarist Andy Morgan also shone with his steely-toned and sinewy solo turns.

Gods of Apollo
Photo courtesy of Rob Cope
Soprano saxist and composer, Rob Cope's project, Gods of Apollo – "a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing" – was an impressive endeavour indeed. Held at the Royal Exchange Studio in St Ann's Square this intimate, darkened space was ideal in creating a "space-ious" atmospere if you like. The concept being to combine freely improvised music with the NASA archives to create a film score like tableau for the listener. I very much enjoyed Cope's exacting a variety of sounds and colours from his soprano sax as well as pianist Elliot Galvin's rich tapestry of rhapsodic and counterpoint improvisations to the overall effect.

The MJF continues through until the end of play on Monday 27 May.

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REPORT: The Musical World of Dave Wickins: A Celebration at the Vortex

Re-united this week at the Vortex: the Kirk Lightsey Trio with
Steve Watts and Dave Wickins
(Photo from 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival) 

Sebastian writes:

When the jazz community in this country shows its support for a valued colleague, the sense of community, of friendship, fellowship really is something unique. You feel it, and above all you can hear it in the room. There was a fantastic turn-out of musicians wanting to support drummer Dave Wickins (complete listing of those who played below) and to contribute to help him out. Kirk Lightsey had cancelled a gig in Paris and crossed the channel especially to be at this benefit night.

There was a special moment when the Kirk Lightsey Trio with Steve Watts and Dave Wickins himself played. The drummer, who is suffering from cancer, had been sitting placidly in a wheelchair and welcoming people, but when he played he completely came to life.

Wickins is, to use a well-worn cliche, a musicians' musician. Writing from New York (where his later mentors and inspirers have included Billy Hart), Douglas Marriner wrote on Facebook that Dave Wickins has "one of the truly great touches on the instrument, ever. A Master of the brushes. A life-changing teacher and generous mentor to generations of musicians in the UK". Those sentiments are widely shared. I remember one European festival director expressing a sense of awe, delight and "how come I've never heard of this guy before" after witnessing Dave in action for the first time.

Here is a list of those who played at the Vortex and supported the cause:

Julian Nicholas (organiser)
Imogen Ryall
Stan Sulzmann
John Parricelli
Kirk Lightsey
Nikki Iles
Pete Churchill
Steve Watts
Dave Whitford
Nick Smart
Liam Noble
Julian Siegel
Geoff Simkins
Simon Purcell
Chris Batchelor
Steve Buckley
Alex McGuire
Geoff Williams
Malcolm Earle Smith
Byron Wallen
Buster Birch
The Ben Wickins trio (Ben Wickins-piano and voice, Dan Hemsley-bass, Joe-Neil Solan-drums)

And there was that phenomenon of the "band in the room" too. The audience included, for example, both Dominic Ashworth and Martin Speake who had come to support the cause.

LINK: Podcast interview with Dave Wickins from 2017 (including memories of "studying" with Philly Joe Jones)

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NEWS: And the third ever winner of an Ivors Jazz Award is...

Django Bates with the 2019 Ivors Jazz Award
Photo credit: Mark Allan

Stan Tracey won an Ivor Award for Jazz in 2012... John Surman was awarded one in 2017... and today at a ceremony at Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane in London, Django Bates became the third winner.

The citation states : "A musical polymath and prodigiously gifted composer, Bates has been at the heart of Britain’s jazz scene for the last 40 years. The award acknowledged his unique and exceptional talent and his relentless drive to collaborate and seek out new possibilities to explore where jazz can go." 

The full list of award winners is below. Django Bates will be at Wigmore Hall on 14 July with a new project with his trio and Evan Parker. It will be a double celebration of Evan Parker’s 75th birthday and a look ahead to Charlie Parker’s centenary next year. Speaking as he received the award, Django Bates said that above all he took the honour very seriously, that it was very important to him, and that he was glad that the Ivors include jazz in the awards.

And as he posted later on his Facebook page: "I'm very pleased to announce that I have just received The Ivors Jazz Award. "In the last few years I’ve attended a few award ceremonies, always with a speech in my pocket just in case. Due to eccentric decisions by the judges, I never got to use those speeches BUT, to receive this Ivor is a quantum leap away. My previous words seem flippant. This is a serious moment for me and I’m genuinely touched. I love jazz. I love being part of the huge British jazz vista which stretches from Acker Bilk to Dudu Pukwana’s Zila, via Bex Burch’s Vula Viel. Thanks to my manager Jeremy Farnell for his vision and steadfastness, my wife Sophie for her tolerance and wisdom and to all that have supported me along the way."

LINK: Ivors Academy Website

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NEWS: Programme for AmserJazzTime Festival (6-9 June, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama)

Huw Warren
Publicity photo
Peter Bacon reports:

Mix the current resident artists of Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama with its students and alumni and you get the AmserJazzTime Festival guest programme, which runs at the Cardiff College's Dora Stoutzker Hall and foyer from Thursday to Sunday, 6-9 June 2019. It celebrates the Royal Welsh College’s 70th anniversary.

Here is the programme according to the College's press release:


Thurs 6 June 7.30pm 
SNOWPOET
Led by graduate of the college, multi-instrumentalist Chris Hyson, along with vocalist Lauren Kinsella, Snowpoet’s music is infectious and delicate. They’ve won rave reviews for their compelling sound and a reputation as one of the most innovative and creative new bands in the UK today.
Tickets £12, £10 concessions (Under 25s £6)
Dora Stoutzker Hall

Fri 7 June 7.30pm
HANNAH GRACE
Hailing from Bridgend, Hannah’s training at the College has led her into a successful career as a jazz and soul inspired singer and songwriter.
Tickets £12, £10 concessions (Under 25s £6)
Dora Stoutzker Hall

Sat 8 June 6.45pm
RWCMD BIG BAND 
The College’s Big Band, led by drummer Alex Goodyear, celebrates the music of American band-leader Bob Curnow. 
Admission Free
Foyer

Sat 8 June 8pm 
HUW WARREN & JOVINO SANTOS NETO
Renowned Welsh jazz pianist and lover of Brazilian music Huw Warren joins forces with Jovino Santos Neto for a playful evening of Brazilian inspired piano and accordion duos, and guests.
Tickets £12, £10 concessions (Under 25s £6)
Dora Stoutzker Hall

Sun 9 June 5pm 
ATLAS FT. SARA COLMAN
Graduate Rebecca Nash rounds off the festival with her highly-charged band Atlas and the beautiful vocals of Sara Colman.
Admission Free
Foyer

There is also a chance to enjoy a host of free performances by Royal Welsh College students with free sets throughout the festival, including our AmserJazzTime foyer sessions that week on week present the very best emerging jazz artists. Check the website for a full timetable.

LINK: Tickets for events in the Dora Stoutzker Hall can be purchased through the Royal Welsh College Box Office or online here.

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CD REVIEW: Mark Dresser Seven – Ain't Nothing But A Cyber Coup & You


Mark Dresser Seven – Ain't Nothing But A Cyber Coup & You
(Clean Feed Records. CD review by Dan Bergsagel)

Sounding more like a group of outlaws than a jazz ensemble, the Magnificent Mark Dresser Seven pack musical infamy even if they aren't packing heat. Masterminded by the prolific Mark Dresser himself, on his latest adventures he is accompanied regular collaborators, including the versatile and quick-fingered Marty Ehrlich and the sparky rhythm duo of Joshua White and Jim Black.

More than simply a well-balanced skillful septet, the Seven combine on Ain't Nothing but a Cyber Coup & You to produce a record combining energetic dystopia with reflective analysis, exploring deeply personal loss and sadness as much as it explores our collective political ones.

For an avant-garde compositional bandit like Dresser, the record is conceptually formal: six (approximately) ten-minute pieces sandwiching brief minute-long stripped down interludes built around the steel rods of the unusual instrument, the McLagan Tines. Like a wine pairing at a tasting menu, each sets the scene for the following track. Pre-Maria is a tension-building purr before the bass and percussion scuttle, rattle and splat into Let Them Eat Paper Towels, a piece inspired by the response (or lack of) from the administration to support Puerto Rico post hurricane Maria. Essentially a sombre thing, it flits from anguished violin breaks to a keys trot loose adaptation of Que Bonita Bandera, winding up and up, always with a hint of unhinged chaos, until finally it snaps into an abrupt halt.

Embodied in Seoul is about peace – intercontinental, maybe inter-peninsula – but an elusive, scratching, peace. And again Kier GoGwit's violin is a key piece, providing much of the scene-setting and melodic lead; an evocative sound well used. Together the group builds into a sweeping melodic train and climax, the keys jumping nimbly right through it. Gloaming leads with a resonant double bass welcome, vibrating on two-levels and an additional violin string pairing before an earnest keys turn and rich flute. Described as a 'parametric waltz', it develops with all the instruments waltzing to the same song, but each dancing slightly apart, on their own in the room.

While carefully crafted and well thought out, the record is at its most ear-catching when arriving with the unstoppable momentum of the Seven in full flow. Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You has a furious piano intro, eventually joined by sharp uplift kick, more hip hop beat than anything else, and nimble equally furious bass lines. Clarinet and violin laments are delivered over a high-paced rhythm section uniting regularly on the theme, vamping between ripping keys and drums, and returning to a two-chord theme, like a siren, throughout.

Black Arthur's Bounce hangs on a rolling melody running through the piece with urgency and a continuing momentum only to be brought to frequent stop/starts for regrouping. The melody lead shifting from the prominent trombone of Michael Dessen, to the violin letting through an alto swagger, and crisp flute of Nicole Mitchell cutting through before a frenetic piano flourish. It's a bit of an improvisational showcase from the whole ensemble, as indeed is the whole.

The liner notes touch on Dresser's embrace of political discourse in his pieces, and a sardonic dystopia inspired by Mingus – particularly the enticing juxtaposition in the title track and the cruel surrealism of Let Them Eat Paper Towels, spotlighting the nefarious interference of an imperial presidency in the first cut, and a much more nefarious lack of interference in the latter. However I'd posit that instead, as a strong composer and double bass band leader embracing hints of chaos in a multi-melody tune, tracks like Black Arthur's Bounce are when Dresser most fuses some of the Mingus approach with bits of '70s AACM Chicago filtered through an '80s Anthony Braxton.

The record as a whole is pieced together with these small, open-stitched interludes, but from beginning to end they slip from playful to increasingly more agitated. So it is some reassurance that we finish with the soothing Butch's Balm, in memory of teacher and pianist Butch Lacy – reflecting the more energetic opener in memory of Arthur Blythe. Tender, slow start with considered minimal piano composition, this weaves along the clean melancholy of Joaquin Rodrigo, the slow gravitas of Erik Satie, with the timbre of Tan Dun. Percussive brushes, the bass as if in quarter time. A slow machine scene.

First impressions of Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You may be of political collapse and technological crime – on the face of it this is very much a current affairs statement; however I'd argue this is a record more rooted in the past than looking emboldened into a bleak future. Sure, there is a tinge of chaotic despair, but there are also real affirmations of the precedence of human connections: in memories of people like Blythe, Lacey, and of tender moments gone by. As a whole the thought and careful composition on these buoyant moments outshines the current realpolitik and wargames of the rest. Political comment or to one side, Ain't Nothing But a Cyber Coup & You is an excellent and powerful album from a talented ensemble with no weak links, and led deftly by a contemporary compositional force.

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PHOTOS/REPORT: Georgia Mancio / Kate Williams – Finding Home album launch at the 606 Club


Four plus Three plus John Williams
Photo credit: Tatiana Gorilovsky
Sebastian writes: 

The newest piece, maybe even the centrepiece at last Wednesday's album launch of Georgia Mancio and Kate Willliams' new album Finding Home actually featured neither of them, but rather guitarist John Williams and the Guastalla String Quartet playing a new arrangement by Kate Williams of Ravel's Menuet from the Tombeau de Couperin. It really was about six minutes of heaven, of beauty, grace, something very special. I hope they record it.

It also served as a reminder above all what an incredibly rich seam of inspiration Kate Williams has found as a composer since the "Bill Evans and the Impressionists" project in 2014. In a sense it has come full circle and back to Ravel – or maybe he has been present in spirit all along.

It is now five years since Kate came to Kings Place and did a podcast interview with us (HERE) and  described (and also demonstrated!) the creative spark that had been ignited when she noticed appealing harmonic affinities between Ravel and Bill Evans, and how that had led to a project with orchestra. That led in turn to the "Four Plus Three" project, with the quartet of players from the orchestra who had enjoyed playing the repertoire and wanted to do more. And very good players they are; the sheer quality and strength and refinement of the string playing have clearly been significant factors in pushing this collaboration forward and giving it life.

John Williams at the 606 Club
Photo credit: Tatiana Gorilovsky
John Williams' expression in this photo palpably captures his joy. And it doesn't take much imagination to think of a possible explanation for it: the guitarist's musical path and that of his daughter have virtually never crossed professionally... that is until relatively recently. Another side to this story, and why the 606 was the right – maybe the only – place possible for the launch, is that it was club  proprietor Steve Rubie who made it happen. Kate Williams explained that story in 2017 in another interview.

Georgia Mancio
Photo credit: Tatiana Gorilovsky
This album launch was a special occasion,  the highly emotional culmination of a close two-year collaboration between Kate Williams and Georgia Mancio. The issues which the songs on the album deal with are preoccupations which both artists share. They do talk about suffering, but it is always filtered through a sense of appreciation of the beauty of the human spirit, of what the Quakers call "that of God in every man". The two musicians share common beliefs and this collaboration is clearly something they both enjoy and will pursue. And they have some great songs to sing, that stay very pleasantly in the mind. Their Victor Jara Caminando Caminando and the Broadbent/Mancio song The Journey Home are real ear-worms and Georgia sings them with a grace, a musicality and an authenticity that are very affecting.

"I firmly believe that joy is more fertile than suffering," wrote Maurice Ravel in 1905. That credo seems to be at the core of the story of this happy collaboration – which is surely going to have more chapters .

The remaining tour dates are listed HERE

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NEWS: Herts Jazz Festival 2019 line-up announced (27-29 Sept, early bird tickets now on sale)

Laura Jurd's Dinosaur
Photo: Dave Stapleton
Peter Bacon reports:

The line-up of this year's Herts Jazz Festival (the ninth) at the Rhodes Arts Complex in Bishop's Stortford on the weekend of 27-29 September shows a rich and creative mix of established players and young risers, together with a couple of tributes to classic albums and a mix of jazz and film.

Here is most of the press release:

The Festival will feature headliner gigs from Seamus Blake with the French Connection and Clark Tracey’s Allstars revisiting two classic albums by Charles Mingus and Art Blakey.

We start on the Friday night with the Herts Jazz Film festival, showing Buster Keaton’s ‘Steamboat Bill Jr’ with live keyboard accompaniment from Gareth Williams and the premiere of the re-edited and updated ‘Spike Wells – A Love Supreme’, which Spike will personally introduce. Gareth then winds up the night playing in the bar with his Trio.

Tom Dunnett
Publicity picture
Saturday’s line-up includes Tom Dunnett’s Sextet, Graham Harvey, Quentin Collins’ Sextet and Art Themen/Steve Melling Duo. These are followed by a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Ronnie Scott’s by some of the musicians who played at the Soho club and then Clark’s tributes to the two 1959 iconic albums, “Mingus Ah Um” and “Moanin’”. The jazz keeps coming with Leon Greening in the bar until midnight.
Art Themen and Zoza Kole's (formerly Xhosa Cole) Sextet
Photo: Mike O'Brien
Sunday is kicked off by regular Festival performers, Herts Youth Jazz Ensemble, followed by Alan Barnes Octet, Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier in the bar and Laura Jurd’s Dinosaur. The Festival comes to a climax with Art Themen and Zoza Kole’s Sextet and finally Seamus Blake.

Clark Tracey, Festival Director said, “It’s great to bring our Festival to Bishop’s Stortford and a venue steeped in jazz history. As always with Herts Jazz, the emphasis is on great jazz – past and present. We are celebrating a special year in jazz – 1959 - when Ronnie Scott’s first opened and two classic albums were released. We’ve also great young talent on show: Tom Dunnett, Laura Jurd and Zoza Kole amongst many others. A Festival for everyone!”

The Festival is being supported by Arts Council England, J Samuel Pianos and Cambridge Drums.
Seamus Blake
Photo: Kristin Blid
Weekend and Day tickets are now on sale at “early-bird” discounted prices until 30 June.
Weekend £110/£90 Herts Jazz Club members/£70 students.
Saturday £65/£55/£45
Sunday £55/£45/£35

Friday night tickets are also on sale now (limited capacity).

All seats are allocated – so the sooner you book, the more choice you have!

Gig tickets go on sale 1 July.

Tickets can be booked online at hertsjazzfestival.co.uk and rhodesartscomplex.co.uk
Telephone bookings at 01279 710200
Book in person at Rhodes Arts Complex, 1-3 South Road, Bishop’s Stortford CM23 3JG

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NEWS: Swanage Jazz Festival 2019 (13/14 July) programme launched

Sara Dowling
Photo: Steven Tagg Randall

Peter Bacon reports:

In the words of The Dude, from The Big Lebowski: Swanage Jazz Festival abides! Swanage was at risk again after last year's festival but in January it was announced that a new organising committee had been formed and now the 30th festival has just launched its programme. Here are some quotes from the press release:

Headlining the two-day festival on Saturday 13 July are Swanage favourites Gilad Atzmon and The Orient House Ensemble, The David Newton-Art Themen Duo, The Nigel Price Quartet and Greg Abate with the Craig Milverton Trio.

Sunday’s Headliners include the sextet Hexagonal performing their tribute to McCoy Tyner and Bheki Mseleku, fast-rising singer Sara Dowling and her Quartet, popular vibes man Roger Beaujolais and Bossa Nova specialist Earl Okin...

The programme features at least 40 bands and the new organising committee have taken the opportunity of featuring some high quality regional talent including the Art Blakey inspired ‘Sound of Blue Note’,  Tenor sax player Ian Ellis, described by the late Sir John Dankworth as ‘outstanding’,  the South African-flavoured Philip Clouts Trio, the Afro-beat focussed Thokozile and the electric jazz-funk sounds of Harry Skinner’s Funkasaurus.  The full 2019 Festival programme is viewable on the Festival website and Facebook page.

The Festival Early Bird tickets sold out in less than two hours. Advance Weekend Stroller tickets are priced at £75 and are selling steadily with day tickets priced at £45.  These prices will rise to £85 and £50 from 1 July. Some individual concerts may be available on the day, subject to availability.

Festival Chair, Paul Kelly said, “Swanage Jazz Festival has always attracted a good crowd to this picturesque seaside town and created a jazz family atmosphere. In spite of having to scale back a bit this year, we are delighted to present another strong and wide-ranging programme of outstanding talent. It’s going to be a great weekend that jazz enthusiasts really should not miss.”

Tickets are available online from the Festival website www.swanagejazzfestival.co.uk  in person from the Swanage Tourist Information Centre or the Town’s Mowlem Theatre and by post from: Dave Roper, Treasurer, Swanage Jazz Festival 10 Globe Close, Swanage BH19 2RF


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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

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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

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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.

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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

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NEWS AND INFO REQUEST: New Documentary, Ronnie's

On Frith Street
Photo supplied by Eric Woollard-White

Sebastian writes:

NEW DOCUMENTARY

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)

REQUEST FOR INFORMATION AND MATERIALS

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

CONCLUSIONS

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)

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