REPORT: Fiona Monbet Quartet and Stéphane Kerecki Quartet at Jazz Sur Seine Showcase Night in Paris

Fiona Monbet with Damien Varaillon (left)
and Laurent Derache (right)
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney

Fiona Monbet Quartet and Stéphane Kerecki Quartet
(Jazz Sur Seine Showcases, Sunset and Duc des Lombards, Paris, 16 October 2018. Report by Sebastian Scotney)

The Jazz sur Seine showcase night is an annual event where Paris Jazz Club, the publicly funded umbrella marketing organization for almost all the jazz clubs in the Paris region, is en fête and en gloire. All the clubs around the rue des Lombards near Les Halles are free-admission for the night, and the whole area teems and throngs with people.

Nightfall in the rue des Lombards on the showcase night
iPhone snap by Sebastian Scotney
Last year I had the amazing fortune to get the very best seat in the house in the Duc des Lombards for Didier Lockwood. The violinist was driving and motivating a young trio who had come up through the ranks of his music school (REVIEWED). He was on superb, dominant, unforgettable form.

But what a difference a year makes. His utterly unexpected death in February at the age of just 62 sent a shock-wave right through the French jazz community. It was somehow fitting that last night the first of the showcases in the basement club Sunset was by a quartet led by his “spiritual daughter”, the violinist Fiona Monbet.

I have heard her once before, performing with the Man Overboard quintet in rural Cambridgeshire in 2016 (REVIEWED). This was an opportunity to hear her on her own terms. She has phenomenal violin technique (Thomas Gould is a huge fan and it was he who originally made me aware of her).

Whether at the opening of the gig, or on the album's first tune Valse (waltz), the listener is dropped straight into familiar Grappelli/Lockwood territory. The tune could be a cousin of Toots Thielemans’ Bluesette, and Monbet has all the freedom, the joy, the delightfully free attack and delay, and surprise of those great players. But there is also more. What emerged last night is a deep knowledge of both Irish folk (her mother is Irish) and Middle-Eastern leanings too. There is a sense of her being stylistically free, not in the sense of searching or exploring, but that she has many different fully-formed characters to reveal.

The eclectic mix suits guitarist Sébastien Giniaux too. He is a fine player who is really capable of holding attention. And in Laurent Derache she also has as melodic sparring partner an extremely versatile accordionist capable of adding colour, sharing a melodic line, or of stepping forward as soloist. Damien Varaillon is a subtle, less-is-more, completely supportive bassist. Varaillon and Monbet herself were the only permanent elements to feature on both the CD and this showcase. And what that brought to the fore was quite how strong her musical presence is.

Things are happening. She has now been signed by an effective manager. She has just released an album Contrebande. This was a very fine gig which created a buzz, and it is not difficult to predict that Monbet’s star is about to rise, and very substantially.

A packed Duc des Lombards waiting for
Stéphane Kerecki's quartet 
I also attended another of the showcases, the quartet of bassist Stéphane Kerecki. I reviewed an album way back in 2010 (LINK) and wrote that I found his "tuning, presence and sound fabulous". He is a decisive yet sensitive bass player and that ethos ran through his band. Saxophonist Julian Lourau (on Kerecki's new album the saxophone is the more extrovert Emile Parisien) also has that ideal combination of power and delicacy. Drummer Fabrice Moreau clearly understands and complements Kerecki's powerful subtlety, leaving pianist/keyboardist Jozef Dumoulin to inhabit the anarchic/ free electron/ questioner role. Perhaps every band needs one, and Dumoulin's presence is an assurance that surprises are in store.

Coming away from an evening, I can't avoid the wish that our London scene, which has more going on, could be a little more joined up, and thereby a little more... Parisian.

Jazz sur Seine continues until 27 October


CD REVIEW: Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra – Jazz Planets

Echoes of Ellington Jazz Orchestra – Jazz Planets: A Tribute To Gustav Holst and Duke Ellington, arranged by Peter Long
(Right Track Records 2018. CD review by Frank Griffith) 

Peter Long's latest Echoes of Ellington recording marks the centenary of Gustav Holst's premiere of his innovative The Planets suite which has proven to be enduringly  popular and highly influential. Long has reworked each planet through his "DukeBillity" lens portaying each orb with distinctive soloists from the band.

These include alto saxophonist Colin Skinner (Johnny Hodges), tenorist Mike Hall (Paul Gonsalves) and the baritone sax of Jay Craig (Harry Carney). The plunger tombone of Chris Traves (Quention Jackson) shines and sputters as does the fleet and fit trumpet of James Davidson (Clark Terry) to great effect. In addition, pianist, Colin Good, demonstrates a spirited nod to Ellington and Strayhorn on Uranus as does the leader's clarinet on his tour de force delivery on Neptune (Jimmy Hamilton).

This Ducal treatment is definitely not Lo Cal with Long's sumptious and calorie-rich harmonies infused with meaty rhythmic figures upping the stakes for all aboard. Elington's music contains a unique blend of contrast and contradictions. While visceral and elegant it also demonstrates a seamless mix of the traditional and progressive amidst plenty of shouting, bridged with intimately reflective passages. This is music that is unique and refined yet earthy and exciting.

Long explains: "Ellington and Holst share the abilty to pull off the same clever trick. Both composers use a very high amount of sohisticated harmony and rhythm but have the abilty to infuse the whole thing with a high level of humanity with their abilties as melodicists. It's this, and the extra magic ingredient of 'genius' that hooks the listener in."

Long's stable of like minded players has done an amazing job delivering this landmark achievement performing with unbridled creativity while embracing Ellingtonia at every turn. A universal truth indeed. This Gustav is Good Stuff!



NEWS: 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Award winners

Jazz Ensemble of the Year: ARQ (from left): Diane McLoughlin, Buster Birch,
 Alison Rayner, Steve Lodder and Deirdre Cartwright
Publicity picture
Peter Bacon reports:

The winners of the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards were announced last night at a special shindig at Plzza Express’s Holborn jazz club. The awards are organised by the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group (APPJAG) with the support of PizzaExpress Live.

And the winners are:

Jazz Vocalist of the Year: Ian Shaw
Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year: Arun Ghosh
Jazz Album of the Year: Denys Baptiste – The Late Trane
Jazz Ensemble of the Year: ARQ – Alison Rayner Quintet
Jazz Newcomer of the Year: Shirley Tetteh
Jazz Venue of the Year: Jazz At The Lescar in Sheffield
Jazz Media Award: Lance Liddle – Bebop Spoken Here
Jazz Education Award: Jean Toussaint
Services to Jazz Award: Jill Rodger
Special APPJAG Award: Gary Crosby OBE

Kelvin Hopkins MP, APPJAG Co-Chairman, said: “The Parliamentary Jazz Awards are a great way for MPs and Peers of all political parties to show their support for British jazz by recognising and honouring the amazing musical talent we have in our country. From established stars to fresh new talent, the range and diversity of this year’s winners shows the vibrancy and creativity of British jazz. We are extremely grateful once again to PizzaEpress Live for supporting the Awards.”

Compére for the evening was Ross Dines of PizzaExpress Live, “This has been a really strong year for the Parliamentary Jazz Awards in terms of talent and nominations. The well deserved recipients are a veritable who’s who of names that have made a real impact on the music and helped make the UK one of the world’s leading jazz territories”.

The Parliamentary Band on the evening comprised Max Brittain, Alison Rayner, Henry Lowther, Fraser Smith and Sophie Alloway.

Full list of 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Award nominees


INTERVIEW: Jason Moran (James Reese Europe and The Absence of Ruin, UK dates plus JazzFest Berlin)

James Reese Europe and the Harlem Hellfighters
Photo credit: Underwood Archives/Getty Images
(specifically cleared for our use by promoter)

Composer, pianist and visual JASON MORAN has produced an original response to the extraordinary story of James Reese Europe (1880-1919) and the Harlem Hellfighters, and how France was introduced to the sounds of jazz in the final year of the First World War. There will be performances of the show, entitled James Reese Europe and The Absence of Ruin in the UK in late October and early November, and it is set to be one of the major events of JazzFest Berlin on November 3. Interview by Rachel Coombes:

On New Year's Day 1918 one of America’s most respected bandleaders, James Reese Europe, landed in Brittany with his military band The Harlem Hellfighters, introducing France for the first time to the sound of New York jazz, amidst the horrors of the First World War. This autumn the American jazz pianist, composer and visual artist Jason Moran has set himself the challenge of reimagining the occasion, paying homage to the momentous impact that this visionary musician and his players had on the course of jazz’s global development.

The Absence of Ruin is a musical and audiovisual story of wartime bravery, racial integration and individual heroism. Having been a darling of high society in New York from the 1910s onwards – during which time he founded and ran the highly successful Clef Club for African-American musicians – James Reese Europe swapped his established life in the U.S. for France’s frontline. Moran aims to cast much-needed light on the man, following on from similar projects he has undertaken on Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk.

“Sometimes I think that artists as multi-faceted as Fats Waller, Monk, and Europe deserve a ‘deeper-dive’”, Moran explains. “Their music is only one layer of the complexity of who they are and the era in which they lived. But more specifically, they all have a relationship to Harlem, the neighbourhood in which I’ve lived for the past 25 years; these projects are slowly painting a portrait of Harlem and its men.”

It seems curious, given his extraordinary talent and personal story, that Europe is not a name recognisable to many. This is, of course, why Moran feels that time is right to re-establish his status, during the centenary year of the conflict’s end.

“The public has paid more attention to the people that Europe influenced, such as Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake and, of course, Duke Ellington. Yet Europe caused jazz culture to really blow up; he’s comparable to, say, Jelly Roll Morton, although Morton lived longer to tell his stories himself. Europe was murdered at 39 years old, a year after returning from France. But his effect is long-lasting and that’s what we want to pay attention to with this project.”

Jason Moran
Publicity picture

It is a hard task for the modern listener to comprehend the significance of this transatlantic musical journey, and perhaps even harder to imagine the arduous circumstances under which Europe performed with his Hellfighters.

“We can definitely say that this was the first time that jazz was heard outside the US – and certainly the first time that a large ensemble like this had travelled across the water,” says Moran. “I keep thinking about these musicians who were on the frontline: they would go off and play a concert having literally just put their life on the line. The players truly got to understand, having arrived in this foreign country, what the power of their music actually was. Before this they’d been playing in front of their peers and their fans; but witnessing the audience appreciate their music across the Atlantic for the first time must have profoundly affected the way in which they felt this music could impact a community. They performed not only in standard concerts, at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées for example, but also in hospitals for the wounded. It’s hard to think of any comparable situation. It would be like Kendrick Lamar today starting a band and going into a warzone.”

Moran will perform with his own trio The Bandwagon, alongside young British players from the Tomorrow's Warriors stable. Together they will trace the jazz historical line from Europe’s performances in France to the music of later artists whom he influenced, from James P. Johnson to Mary Lou Williams. As with much of his work, Moran has turned to the visual arts to bring his thoughts to their full conception. This time he is collaborating with filmmakers John Akomfrah and Bradford Young to bring a cinematic component to the performance. “John and Bradford have so much experience in capturing images and histories of trauma. Part of what I want the audience to understand here in the show is a person’s relationship to their landscape. The project is called ‘The Absence of Ruin’ – when we think about a ‘ruin’ we conjure up images of Ancient Greece or Rome; this concert is a meditation on the ruins that James Reese Europe leaves. Because music is fleeting, it sets him in a different kind of space.”

Expanding on the way in which his forays into other disciplines have helped him see his own music’s potential, Moran explains: “Spending 14 years working with artists such as Joan Jonas [he was most recently involved in a Tate Modern collaboration with her – Geoff Winston's review for LJN] has really changed my mind about how music works, and helped define the kind of work that I’ve made. I’ve also witnessed the effect of what the music is outside of ‘jazz’ circles. I think there’s a special attraction that music has always had to people who are looking for abstraction... there’s something that music can narrate even without using text, it paints another kind of picture.”

As someone with the eye of a visual artist, Moran is acutely attuned to the ambiance of jazz’s physical performance spaces.

“About two years ago I started making sculptures and installations based on old New York jazz clubs which don’t exist anymore. I spent a summer in Rome and watched how the city continues to unearth its very complicated and sordid history – it made me feel that there was something to unearth myself in terms of thinking about where we play our music and who we play it for. Those components really make a great concert – the music, the people and the place.

"So, in the past week I was examining a photograph of James Reese Europe conducting, and I noticed that on his conductor’s stand there was a box draped with the American flag. He stands on the flag as he conducts. That’s a powerful visual statement. Rarely do I wish to go back in time, but I do wish to know why he stood on the flag – it’s complicated for him because he’s a performer who was also trying to get rid of the grey area around the portrayal of black identity on stage, for example in vaudeville shows. That’s the complex nature of a figure like Europe – and that’s what we’re going to dive into.” (pp)

The show is co-commissioned by 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, Serious and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, with support from the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.  

Producing partners are Berliner Festspiele / Jazzfest Berlin and the Federal Agency for Civic Education, Germany and Renfrewshire Leisure.


London (Barbican, 30 October) 
Cardiff (Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, 31 October) 
Paisley (Town Hall, 4 November)
Jazzfest Berlin (3 November) 
Kennedy Center, Washington (8 December)


NEWS: George Crowley to run new Wednesday evening gigs at Empire Bar, Mare St., Hackney

George Crowley
Photo: Whirlwind Recordings

Sebastian writes: 

Saxophonist George Crowley, who runs Friday night jazz at the Con Cellar Bar, will be running a new gig at the Empire Bar, next to the Hackney Empire on Wednesdays. Here are the line-ups currently planned. Admission is free.

Weds 7 November: Bruno Heinen Quintet
w/ Rachael Cohen (alto), James Copus (trumpet), Andrea Di Biase (bass), Jon Scott (drums)

Weds 14 November: Details from the Empire Bar website

Weds 21 November: Hannes Riepler Trio w/ Dave Whitford (bass), Jason Brown (drums)

Weds 28 November: Total Vibration
Laura Jurd (trumpet), Chris Batchelor (trumpet), Tom Herbert (bass), Corrie Dick (drums)

Weds 5 December: Steve Buckley Trio
w/ Steve Watts (bass), Gene Calderazzo (drums)

Weds 12 December : Jeff Williams Trio
w/ Josh Arcoleo (tenor), Sam Lasserson (bass)

Weds 19 December: Tom Farmer Quartet
w/ Nathaniel Facey (alto), Lewis Wright (vibes), Shaney Forbes (drums)

Meanwhile, at the Con Cellar Bar, gigs are set for the following dates:

Fri 9 Nov: Dee Byrne's Entropi + Jonathan Silk's FORJ

Fri 16 Nov: EFG LONDON JAZZ FESTIVAL GIG: Olie Brice Quartet + Challenger / Stillman / Herbert (BOOKINGS)

Fri 7 Dec: Chris Batchelor / Steve Buckley Quintet + Brandon Allen / Tim Lapthorn Quartet

LINK: The Empire Bar lists the current month's gigs HERE 


REPORT: Jazzèbre Festival in Perpignan, France

Jazzèbre's mascot
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans

Jazzèbre Festival
(Perpignan, France, 12-14 October 2018. Report and pictures by Tony Dudley-Evans)

I have come to regard the French jazz scene as one of the most interesting and varied in Europe, so I was delighted to receive an invitation to the Jazzèbre Festival in Perpignan, which is right down in the South East of France near the Spanish border. It's so close, in fact, that I flew into and was picked up in Girona in Catalunya.

Jazzèbre was this year celebrating its 30th anniversary; it runs for a whole month, this year from 22 September to 21 October with mostly weekend concerts all programmed by the festival's very astute artistic director Yann Causse. The name is taken from the zebra and the main stage has on it a model of a zebra. I did not find out why!

Artistic director Yann Causse
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans
My highlights were two bands with something of a regional focus. The Florent Pujuila Quartet is led by Florent Pujuila, mostly on bass clarinet, but also soprano saxophone and clarinet. He's from the region and is probably best known as a classical player, but he is also a fine jazz composer and soloist. The rest of the quartet has three members of the current Orchestre National de Jazz: trumpeter Fabrice Martinez, bass player Bruno Chevillon and drummer Eric Echampard. I enjoyed Pujuila's intricate and varied compositions, and, in particular, the interestingly complex writing for the rhythm instruments. Solos from Pujuila and Martinez were engaging, and this, plus the writing, made for an absorbing and stimulating set.

The second group to impress was the oddly named Ostaar Klake Quintet. Their set moved between atmospheric pieces full of interesting textures and more energetic tunes that seemed to draw inspiration from the work of Pharoah Sanders and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The players are all based in the South East, particularly in Toulouse, and are led by the bass player Lina Lamont, but the main inspiration seems to be baritone saxophonist Marc Demereau, a veteran of the Toulouse scene. I particularly enjoyed the passages with a double baritone sax frontline when Demereau was joined by fellow saxophonist Florian Nastorg (he also played alto); this resulted in a very special and distinctive sound. I was also impressed by the way the quintet was happy to focus in the quieter tunes on the sounds and textures of the music rather than having to build up to a climax. There were, however, plenty of climaxes on the full-on pieces and lots of drama.

Louis Sclavis played from his Characters On A Wall material, with each piece inspired by a particular artwork which Sclavis described in words before playing the piece. The writing is very beautiful, but somehow the quartet with Benjamin Moussay on piano, Sarah Murcia on bass and Christophe Lavergne on drums seemed rather subdued for much of the set, only coming to life on the last three numbers.

Papanosh were there with their project involving New Yorker Roy Nathanson and beat boxer Napoleon Maddox. There was lots of humour and fun in the music, but the set did not really cohere.  It moved constantly from one focus to another and never settled. I suspect the band found the formality of the large hall and the lack of response from the audience a bit daunting.

Artist-in-residence Christophe Monniot
Photo: Tony Dudley-Evans
Alto saxophonist Christophe Monniot has been artist-in-residence this year, working on a repeat performance of his major commission, the Jericho Sinfonia. The piece is inspired by the Bible story of the collapse of the walls of Jericho as a result of the playing of trumpets round the walls, and the piece includes extensive use of recordings of experts and others discussing the story and the possibility that it could be true. I found this very difficult to follow in French and even those who could follow it agreed that these sections made the whole piece rather disjointed and certainly very long. Nonetheless, the writing for the 11-piece ensemble was strong and dramatic, and the integration of the very strong solos from most members of the group into the writing was very effective.  Monniot's own solos on alto sax were particularly strong and dramatic.

Monniot had also worked with a group of students from the jazz course in the city's conservatoire, and they played one of the sections of the commissioned piece. They did this with great conviction and impressive soloing.

André Invielle played a solo set based on song, percussion and a limited use of electronic sounds.  His performance is based largely on word play and from the reaction of the audience it is clearly very witty. I'm afraid my French again was not up to it.

Sadly the jazz picnic scheduled for the Sunday had to be cancelled because of heavy rain.


INTERVIEW: Charlie Wood (New Album Tomorrow Night, Release Date 12 November)

Charlie Wood
Photo credit: John Need

"10% head, 45% heart and 45% gut" is how singer-pianist CHARLIE WOOD describes his new album Tomorrow Night which is his seventh studio album. It will be launched on 12 November on Perdido Records and features 12 songs which bring him closer to his Memphis roots. Interview by Emily Palmer: 

LondonJazz News: What’s the story behind the new album?

Charlie Wood: It’s been a long time in the making! The record is based on the premise of returning to my musical roots. I grew up in Memphis listening to R&B and blues, music that had a profound effect on me. I suppose every record I do is informed by that, but this one explicitly references my musical heritage. It’s a combination of some original material and songs by other people that I really love.

LJN: What sort of sound can listeners expect from the album?

CW: I didn’t want the material to sound dated. I wanted to do more contemporary music that had an emphasis on the grooves, vocal delivery and lyrical content that I grew up listening to. For me the record is 10% head, 45% heart and 45% gut and I hope the listeners feel that too. Music is like food; most people don’t need to get too far down the road with it before they decide whether they like it or not. I want people to like the record, and I don’t want people to have to think about it for very long either!

LJN: Can you tell us a bit about the musicians you worked with?

CW: This kind of music is heavily reliant on the nuances of individual players and the tension that exists between a combination of players. London has such a wealth of fantastic musicians and I was fortunate enough to have some of the best in the recording studio with me. The rhythm section (Chris Allard on guitar, Dudley Phillips on bass and Nic France on drums) are all well-educated, groove players that I have worked with for a long time. With this type of record the horns don’t normally get much of a look in, it’s more about how they play together, but on the title track they really had a chance to have some fun. It’s Mark Nightingale on the trombone, an effortless player that I can’t be without, Brandon Allen who is a monster of a saxophonist and the brilliant Ryan Quigley on trumpet. And listeners will hear a familiar voice on backing vocals – my wife, Jacqui Dankworth!

LJN: The album features songs that are self-penned, how would you describe your writing process?

CW: For this record, I already knew that I wanted visceral, blues melodies so I concentrated on the music first. But typically, I’m sat the piano and the lyrics and melody occur to me simultaneously. A phrase has a certain melody and pitch to it, it’s just about elaborating on that innate musicality. I care a lot about the meaning of the lyrics, more and more so as I get older. I want the lyrics to have a complexity but at the same time to be succinct. Less is more, and I have learnt that through experience.

LJN: Is there one track on the album that stands out for you?

CW: It will be the one that is the least listened to – as is often the case – an original, You Can’t Have My Blues. It’s about someone that is down and out and has had everything taken from him apart from the one thing that can’t be taken away. The melody would feel at home with a Gospel R&B treatment to it; it’s soulful and it feels good. It’s kind of a reharmonized melody which I like. I write a melody with one idea for the harmony and then I disturb it. It’s a chance for it to be genuinely interesting to you, the writer, because you have the chance to see what else can come from it, something that you didn’t think of when you first wrote it. You can pique your own curiosity and I find that really fun and rewarding. This song is the most overt expression of putting a more contemporary harmony behind something with an unmistakably R&B feel. It goes in unexpected places, it’s got a nice spirit to it.

LJN: How did you pick which covers you wanted to record?

CW: I wanted to do under-recorded songs by people that I love. I had to do an Otis Redding song, a BB King song and absolutely had to do a song by Bobby Bland. Upon reflection, there’s a lot of heartbreak in this kind of music! I recorded Bland’s Members Only, it’s a song that I’ve always loved and is very rarely recorded. The lyrics are simple but really direct. It’s such a great song!

LJN: How do you approach songs that have already been recorded by such iconic musicians?

CW: You can’t really better them. I don’t want my versions to sound like a tribute act, but that’s something you can’t really get around. A blues song can be stretched out, the basic succinct format allows for it to be taken in a whole new direction. That’s just not the case with an R&B song; if the arrangement is altered it’s simply not the same song anymore and doesn’t have the same emotional content. We’re not at liberty to disturb arrangements like that. I can’t really change the material, but I can make it my own simply by living through it.

LJN: How do you want the record to make listeners feel?

CW: The music I grew up listening to has got so much heart, it’s sincere and has a real emotional effect on people. I wanted this record to have all of that and I hope it moves the listeners. (pp)

LINKS: Tomorrow Night is released on Perdido Records on 12 November. 
Charlie Wood (website) is launching the album at Ronnie Scott's on 2 December.
He will also be participating in the Jazz Voice opening night Gala Concert of the 2018 EFG London Jazz Festival on 16 November.  


REVIEW: Tina May at the 606 Club

Tina May with Steve Brown
Photo: Peter Jones
Tina May
(606 Club, 14 October 2018. Review and picture by Peter Jones)

“Everything is about Mark tonight,” explained Tina May at the start of this gig. She was referring, of course, to the late Mark Murphy, who has been her guiding light in jazz singing for many years. And she didn’t just mean the repertoire for the evening, although there was indeed a connection to the great man in every song. To name-check Murphy is to declare an attitude to jazz singing that distinguishes it from lesser forms of singing, and for Ms May that means doing a great deal more than merely bookending the band’s solos.

She began with a song from Leonard Bernstein’s musical On The Town, Lucky To Be Me, which Murphy recorded in New York shortly after the 9/11 attacks. In the musical, this tune is usually performed in a rather brash, over-the-top manner, as you might expect from an American sailor on 24-hour shore leave. But in May’s hands it became very relaxed indeed, almost languid, a hip, mid-tempo swinger that beautifully reflected the song’s lyrical content, a celebration of new love. Out Of This World followed (from Murphy’s Rah album), arranged in Afro-Cuban style by the Munich-based pianist Andy Lutter.

In fact, Lutter had been part of the original plan for this gig: the idea was for them to perform their recent album Café Paranoia. It turned out he had prior commitments; thankfully, her long-time friend and accompanist Nikki Iles was available, even though some of Lutter’s charts weren’t.

After a classy rendition of Murphy’s signature tune, Stolen Moments, they arrived at a song called Dance Slowly.

Murphy himself never recorded or performed this tune. But for years he used to send snatches of poetry to Andy Lutter, many of them being what he called his ‘jazz haikus’ – not in the strict 17-syllable Japanese verse form, but much looser, while preserving the spirit of the haiku: odd thoughts and meditations, and usually quite short. Whenever he had time, Lutter would write music for them, with the object of eventually recording them with Murphy. But the singer became ill, and it never happened. Last year, Lutter and May released their own version of Mark Murphy’s jazz haikus on Café Paranoia. Not only was it one of the best albums of the year, it also sounded fiendishly difficult from a singer’s point of view. I confess one of my reasons for attending this gig was to see how it was even possible to render such challenging material live.

There was no need to worry: May, Iles, bassist Nick Pugh and drummer Steve Brown had it all under their fingers. After the delicate Dance Slowly came the haunting one-minute ballad Tundraness. What on earth is it about? It didn’t matter. Before singing the Café Paranoia title track, written as a sort of Weimar nightclub tune, May told the audience that Humphrey Lyttelton had once handed her a clarinet and told her to play it because they only had three and they needed four. She then produced said instrument and played it on this tune, quite well. It was that kind of gig.

May’s personal warmth and humour are an essential part of her appeal as a performer. She is also a fearless improviser, and does it all without apparent effort; she has a huge vocal range, sings across the bar-lines, misses words out, adds extra ones, and there are lots of slurs and subtle melodic variations, giving the impression of complete spontaneity.

Perhaps the best thing of the night was a smouldering I’m Through With Love, although a final Mark Murphy haiku – the sweet, mournful Less And Less – ran it a close second.

Peter Jones’s This is Hip: The Life of Mark Murphy is published by Equinox.

LINK: Review of Café Paranoia CD  


CD REVIEW: Metamorphic – The Two Fridas

Metamorphic – The Two Fridas
(DISCUS 65CD. CD review by AJ Dehany)

When she was six, the painter Frida Kahlo contracted polio. Confined to bed for a month, she made up an imaginary friend who accompanied her for the rest of her life. In her diary she recalled the experience as being the origin of one of her most important paintings The Two Fridas. That double portrait of Frida Kahlo is transformed into a double portrait of composer and pianist Laura Cole in the new double album by her octet Metamorphic. Part spoken word, part sound art, part improvisation, part composition, as a double album it has an almost overwhelming emotional and intellectual heft. The album is, she says, “an attempt to express intimate emotions and thoughts through the creative – and recording – process”. It's an attempt that places significant demands on the listener.

A double album poses significant problems for attention and pacing. They’re often patchworks or sketchbooks (like the Beatles' white album which is currently celebrating its 50th birthday). The Two Fridas seems conceptually coherent, with shape and development, but it does take its time to emerge. Overall it’s a slow, atmospheric listen, sparingly melodic. Many of the tracks start with an atmospheric sense before settling into a theme or groove. The concision of one of the album’s highlights, Senken, coming in at under five minutes, makes for a more satisfying and visceral conception – though in additon to his rapport with bassist Seth Bennett, I’d love to hear more of drummer Johnny Hunter and bassist Ruth Goller together; there’s a real punch when they lock together.

Laura Cole is not only a bandleader, composer and pianist, but a poet. The spoken word elements form the connecting tissue of a journey into an exploration of self-knowledge and overcoming, reflecting her fascination with symmetry and “the double-sidedness of things, maybe as a Gemini”. The title track is the clearest outline of the concerns of the album: “I am the person I know best; it will be better in the knowing.” It also demonstrates some of the characteristics of Laura Cole’s writing, with many tracks using short repeating thematic sections or units.

The long track The Mountains, The Sea / The Island is an opportunity to hear her singular piano inventions. For a full picture you have to hear her recent double album Enough, which comprises a disc of arrangements of others’, and another of originals and improvisations. Her piano playing is lustrous and a touch eldritch, with a distinctive classical sense and a richly developed harmonic sensibility.

Naturally the album has not one but two centrepieces: the title track and the 17-minute suite Digging For Memories, which presents an unfolding of dignified and controlled emotion. Charcole I & II also obey the Gemini tendency, recorded back to back; essentially presenting two sides of the same improvisation. In Little Woman, Lonely Wing Cole weaves together Ornette Coleman and Jimi Hendrix compositions in a way that sounds uniquely her own. As a bandleader Laura Cole is light-handed but inspires discipline in the ensemble. Recorded at Real World, the clear dynamic sound impresses on you individual contributions and the individuality of the contributions.

John Martin specialises in extended techniques on the tenor sax and brings a dash of that grit to forge a strong responsive trio together with Chris Williams from Led Bib on alto sax and Ollie Dover on bass clarinet. Johnny Hunter’s command of pace and dynamics is valuable in these extended structures that start quiet and abstract, and move inexorably toward a groove or vocal ostinato. Vocalist Kerry Andrew always feels embedded in the group rather than leading, whether singing wordlessly or uttering glossolia, whether whispering or reading the poems.

Surprisingly for an album of this length, this double portrait of deep selfhood raises more questions than it answers. The inspirational work of Frida Kahlo similarly involves a negotiation of the private meanings of public utterances, and there is always some mystery in the most detailed portrait. At their hottest moments of interplay the octet, called Metamorphic, submit the protolithic strata of Laura Cole’s personal experience to the heat and stress of group connection, transforming raw material into fine art.

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

LINK: Metamorphic website


INTERVIEW: Abraham Brody (new album Crossings and EFG LJF concert 18 Nov)

Abraham Brody
Publicity picture

US-Lithuanian singer/composer ABRAHAM BRODY’s second album, Crossings, comes out on 16 November with an appearance at the London Jazz Festival on 18 November collaborating with innovative string quartet Wooden Elephant, who will also be performing their acoustic reworking of Radiohead’s album Kid A. Based in Iceland, he spoke to AJ Dehany in London about music as a transformational process.

The title of Abraham Brody’s new album, Crossings, encapsulates his personality and practice. He is a composer, artist, and multi-instrumentalist with Lithuanian roots who grew up in the US. He has lived in London, Lithuania, and now lives in Iceland. He originally studied classical music, then became involved in folk music. His first album From The Rich Dark Earth (2017) reworked Lithuanian folk traditions, but he has found himself evolving a more personal style.

“All the songs are very autobiographical. They're about our society, on how people interact now –  relationships, childhood. A lot of the songs are kind of abstract, about certain things that I see or that other people see that are not necessarily real – they're kind of imagined.”

His new video In The Dream, directed by Lithuanian artist MIST, was created for an international audience but comments directly on social issues in Lithuania.

“I love Lithuania. My previous album is a dedication to Lithuanian culture, but there are a lot of problems – with homophobia and racism. In The Dream is about all the diverse types of people that live there and trying to show their love in a beautiful way. Everyone is dreaming and sleeping and we all have the same kind of desires. We all search for love and to be loved – so it's kind of like asking for acceptance.”

The album Crossings is rich and atmospheric, with a strange, ancient, ritual sense allied to contemporary energies and concerns. The album title represents the different influences that cross over in his music, with his classical background intersecting with the influence of folk traditions and now electronic and contemporary directions. There is also the importance of travel and movement to his artistic development, and more mysterious metaphorical crossings.

“The songs are kind of crossing between reality and imagined reality, and putting people in a kind of mythological role.”

I had read that Abraham Brody is pursuing a “mystical vision” and has an interest in Buryat Shamanism. He says, “I started being really interested in these things because for me it is really important that music is not entertainment. It's a transformational process. A few years ago I went to Siberia and I made some films and a multimedia exhibition that I showed in Moscow that was about these rituals of shamans and how they use music to enter a trance. For me it's important that I'm not creating music just as entertainment. I want to transform myself. I think that's why it's so important that people still go to live concerts. That transformation doesn't really take place in a recorded form. It's in the live space, it's what the performer can transmit and the audience can give back.”

In 2013 he came to wider notice working with Marina Abramovic on a recreation of her piece The Artist Is Present using sound (The Violinist Is Present).

“That was when I first started going my own way. I was really really focused on this interaction with an audience. It wouldn't be just passive entertainment, it would be a really direct contact. I would look in people's eyes and I would improvise what I see.”

The concert at the London Jazz Festival is taking place at Village Underground, which is a large industrial space more associated with dance parties, an unusual choice to situate the intimacy and intensity of Brody’s music and approach.

“I wanted to create this special environment,” he says; there will be a light show, and videos made for each song by Latvian artist Zane Zelmene."

The concert will present his collaboration with the innovative string quartet Wooden Elephant, who will also present their acoustic reworking of Radiohead’s album Kid A. It will conclude with a collaboration with Icelandic electronic artist Áslaug Magnusdottir from the group Samaris.

Brody has a longstanding interest in exploring interactions between performer and audience, but, he says, “I actually think now I'm more interested in larger audiences. It’s more about the focus and the interaction, and what you can communicate non-verbally. I really look for that shared connection.”

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

Crossings is released on 16 November.

LINKS: Abraham Brody's website

Abraham Brody and Wooden Elephant play the EFG London Jazz Festival on Sunday 18 November


CD REVIEW: Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs

Trygve Seim – Helsinki Songs
(ECM 675 1580. CD review by Peter Bacon)

The singular title track of this album, Helsinki Song, has a four-note ostinato line from double bassist Mats Eilertsen complemented by slowly building snare and cymbals from Markku Ounaskari and overlain with a compelling, singing melody from Trygve Seim’s tenor and Kristjan Randalu’s piano in tandem.

It rises and falls beautifully and Seim and Randalu lay down astutely-judged and deeply-felt solos. Meanwhile Eilertsen just keeps on and on with that line, saying such a lot with so little, so that when he varies it slightly – to take it higher behind the piano solo and then through a set of changes before returning with the rest of the band to the theme – one almost holds one’s breath.

And breath is significant here – as a friend noted when he heard this, the song really breathes. And so it does! Maybe that’s how it goes straight to the listener’s heart. It’s a quality, simultaneously both spiritual and visceral, that is found running right through this album.

Trygve Seim has found, with this quartet, what feels to me like an ideal balance. In the Estonian Randalu, especially, he has the perfect complementary soloist; the piano improvisations throughout this album have had me smiling with pleasure.

There are references here to Seim’s admiration for Jimmy Webb – Morning Song is, I understand, a kind of coda to one of Webb’s tunes, and that makes sense: there is very much a songlike feeling to most of the tracks on the album. Stravinsky is referenced in Katya’s Dream, inspired by a film about the composer.

The saxophonist’s playing is very special indeed. His soprano sounds almost like the Armenian duduk at times, such is his tone-bending skill, while his tenor tone, once perhaps a little too strongly in thrall to Jan Garbarek, is now unmistakably his and his alone.

This album keeps on giving. I felt I had had my money’s worth even before I had reached the sublime stateliness of Sorrow March – and that’s just track six of 11. In a list of 2018’s most beautiful new music, Helsinki Songs must surely rank very highly indeed.


CD REVIEW: Gabrielle Ducomble – Across the Bridge

Gabrielle Ducomble – Across the Bridge
(MGP CD020. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Blessed with a light, accurate, affectless voice rather in the mode of Stacey Kent, Belgian-born Gabrielle Ducomble has done very well professionally since nearly winning the French version of Pop Idol in 2003. Her musical métier is a mixture of chansons and tangos, her style sophisticated and nostalgic. Backed by a formidable band, her live appearances are justifiably popular.

But despite all the Parisian-style gaiety, is everything sweetness and light? Let us not forget that Belgium also gave birth to angst-tortured Jacques Brel, for whom life often seemed a grim struggle. In more recent years it has seen the emergence of the formidable Mélanie De Biasio, the queen of bleak urban soundscapes. And despite her sunny persona, you get the feeling that Gabrielle Ducomble would have been happier in the sunlit world of the 1960s, as the lyrics of this self-penned album suggest: “Ma vie semble bien vide, dans mon grand monde sans couleurs / La distance est ma douleur…” (Les Terrasses de Riz de Jatiluwih) and “I long to find somewhere to hide / In stone or glass, forget about the past” (Where is Home). For me, it’s this underlying sadness that gives the music a certain edge, where it might otherwise be a little bland.

Ducomble has been astute in her choice of musicians, including the awesomely talented Nicolas Meier on guitar. Here he is somewhat under-used, most of the solos going to violinist Richard Jones, who imbues everything he plays with fire and energy and great depth of feeling. Like a Bridge Across Your Heart gives his dramatic flair full reign.

The album also features Nick Kaçal on bass and Saleem Raman on drums, with guest appearances from Fausto Beccalossi (accordion) and Bill Mudge (keys).

With perhaps a couple of exceptions (Tell Me Today, Is This It?) the quality of the songwriting is impressive. Ducomble’s compositions are reminiscent of the '70s folk-rock groups Renaissance and Fairport Convention. I suspect they will sound more gutsy live than they do on record. We may judge for ourselves as Ducomble continues her lengthy UK tour, the next leg of which begins at the Watermill, Dorking (16 October) and ends at The Stables, Milton Keynes (18 November).

LINKS: Full Tour Details on Gabrielle Ducomble's website
Interview with Gabrielle Ducomble
Review of album launch


INTERVIEW: Cellist Shirley Smart (new album Long Story Short, launch party at Vortex, 24 Oct)

Shirley Smart
Photo credit: Monika S. Jakubowska

Last time we published an interview with SHIRLEY SMART (link below), comments came in, praising her as "erudite and sparkling", "a genuine one-off, both personally and musically..." and as a "wonderfully talented and eclectic musician." The cellist is about to release the first album in her own name on Paul Jolly's 33extreme label. Interview by Sebastian:

LondonJazz News: Why have you called this album Long Story Short?

Shirley Smart: Ha! Good question. I suppose because this album does draw on and brings together a lot of things that it is quite a long story to explain – both in terms of having lived in the Middle East for a decade or so, largely by accident, and also being in jazz as a cellist, which has its own stories behind it, and an awful lot of things that might be interesting to someone, but not necessary to know to enjoy the music.

LJN: Is this your first album in your own name or as leader?

SS: It is my first in my own name, yes. It's not my first as a band-leader – I released an album with my band Melange in 2016, although that project was more centred around traditional repertoire, whereas this one has more originals and a different balance of interests, I think.

LJN: Is there a structure running through it?

SS: Yes, I hope so... although it does draw together quite a few different strands of influence and styles, I have tried to construct the album in a way that coheres, as well as highlights those differences. So I have generally arranged it in mini-sets of two or three tunes that share similar lines of influence. I also tried to take into account spacing the tracks with the different guests on, so that sonically, in terms of the variety of instruments it is balanced as well. I hope it worked!

LJN: Do you see the jazz and the middle eastern influences as separate or as things you want to combine?

SS: I think this is something that is possibly quite personal to me, as my journey into jazz was via various projects that involved Middle Eastern music as well, even though a lot of the musicians were also very fine jazz players. I got involved with both whilst living in Jerusalem, which has a very small but also very fertile and intensive music scene with a lot of really excellent musicians – the bassist Omer Avital was in one of the main bands I played with there, and also pianist Omri Mor, who played for a long time in Avishai Cohen's trio. Obviously jazz and traditional Middle Eastern music are two very different traditions with wildly different historical trajectories, but at the same time, jazz particularly has always been a genre of music with various tributaries, so it is unsurprising to me that musicians with Middle Eastern backgrounds start exploring links and using that as a ground for creative development, as for example, both Omer Avital and Avishai Cohen have done, as well as people like Omer Klein, Ibrahim Maalouf, and, closer to home, musicians like Yazz Ahmed also. I certainly find them inseparable as the way I came into both fields was a very intertwined experience, and I cannot really change or undo that, so although I have spent quite a lot of time disentangling that, I find the interplay a very natural one for me.

LJN: Are these originals or tunes from other places? If so, where?

SS: Most of the tunes on this album are originals, by me. There are a couple of traditional tunes - one Macedonian one which I think you ask about further below, and one Algerian tune called Ticaraca Tchoub – the title of which no-one seems to understand or to have a clue as to its meaning (even the Algerian guys I learned it off!) But it's a fun tune, and I thought it fit well in the set, so in it went! There's also one tune by Anouar Brahem, who is one of my favourite musicians – a beautiful tune called Halfouine, which I have played in many guises for a long time. Orphy Robinson added some beautiful effects on vibraphone in the version. My tunes are a mixture of influences from swing, be-bop, jazz musette – the first tune was influenced by both Bireli Lagrene and Richard Galliano, both of whom I admire greatly and love their music, Arabic and North African. Some are more straight ahead, Mobius Blues for example is a fairly straightforward swing tune, and Tetouan is I think a bit of a mixture of Algerian chaabi and a jazz waltz. Then there is also a slow tango tune and a 3/4 samba influenced tune.

SAMPLE TRACK: Waltz for an Amethyst

LJN: You have a Macedonian tune what is the background to it?

SS: Aha! This tune is a longstanding mystery to m. It is basically a very simple 7/8 folk tune, which happened to be on the radio when I was in a car on the way to a gig in Haifa with an oud-playing friend of mine from Jerusalem. It was going round and round, but they never said what it was (or if they did, we were talking about something else and didn't hear it – probably more likely!). Anyway, by the time we got to the gig, we had kind of picked it up, so we played it on that gig and then every Thursday night in the residency we had in this restaurant in East Jerusalem, so we got to know it pretty well. I kept playing it when I moved back to the UK, because I like it, and it's now gone through so many versions, that I probably should release an album made up of just that tune! People often come up to me after gigs, and offer suggestions as to its title and provenance, and also quite a few have sent me links, but it's never quite the same, so I would love to know what it actually is. (Although this would ruin a really good gig story...)

LJN: Who else is on the album – is there a core band ?

SS: Yes, there is a core trio of myself, John Crawford on piano and Demi Garcia Sabat on drums/percussion. John has Spanish roots, and also a great interest and love of world music, so it's been great to play with him on this and he's also a great friend of Demi, whom I have played with now for several years, so it worked very naturally. A few tunes also suggested some other sounds – on Halfouine, for example I really loved the idea of the vibraphone on that tune, and then of course, as soon as you open that door a million possibilities throw themselves up, so we did end up with a few very special guests as well.

LJN: Demi Garcia Sabat is an unfamiliar name - tell us more about him musically - and he has another life too?

SS: Demi is unfamiliar? That's so wrong! He is an amazing drummer and percussionist – and really a unique player because he has roots in flamenco and North African rhythms as well, so like me, the fusion of jazz and world music is very natural and inseparable for him. He is Catalan by birth and grew up playing flamenco (and also being a fire-eater, apparently – although he doesn't as yet do that on gigs...) He's been on the scene for quite a while – he plays also in Nicolas Meier's trio and with Alec Dankworth's Spanish Accents and Chris Garrick's Budapest Cafe Orchestra. He is also from a family of pastry chefs and has been known to turn up to morning rehearsals with freshly made croissants that he made during the night. He is a thoroughly marvellous character and I totally recommend anyone who has a chance to get to a gig he is on to go and see him in action. (You may also become the first person to see his glasses actually fall off his nose during a cajon solo – every time, they get right down to the end, but somehow they defy gravity and stay on his nose. I have no idea how!)

LJN: And there are guests?

SS: Yes! Orphy Robinson plays vibraphone on a couple of tunes – Halfouine and one other one, Nikki Iles plays accordion on two tracks, and Nicolas Meier plays guitar on a few tracks. I think this gives the album a nice variety of sounds across the whole – and I was really happy and grateful to these fabulous and lovely musicians for coming and giving their talents as well.

LJN: Is it a studio album or more 'as live'?

SS: I suppose it's as live as you can get while being in a studio. We recorded it at Session Corner, at the Hat Factory in Luton, which is a studio I really like. I recommend the engineer there, Nick Pugh, extremely highly. I recorded an EP there a few years ago with Sawa, another project I am involved in, and I really liked both the piano and the live room, and I remember thinking when we were there " when I do my own album, I want to do it here".

LJN: When is released and how will people get hold of it?

SS: It is being released on 33 Jazz Records, on their 33xtreme label.

The release date is yet to be fixed, but I imagine it will be around November/early December.

We are having an album launch party at the Vortex on 24 October – so it will be for sale at that gig, which will feature the trio and Nicolas Meier on guitar. And probably some biscuits from Demi.

LINKS: Bookings for Vortex 24 October 
Interview for IWD 2018


CD REVIEW: Flying Machines – New Life

Flying Machines – New Life

(Ubuntu Music UBU0017. CD review by Adrian Pallant)

Flying Machines’ maiden voyage – their eponymous debut release of 2016 – announced the soaring, anthemic drive and cirrostratus serenity of guitarist Alex Munk’s jazz-rock originals. Now, joined by regular crew mates Matt Robinson (piano, synths, Fender Rhodes), Conor Chaplin (electric bass) and Dave Hamblett (drums), the band bursts through the ozone with second album New Life, their higher aspirations reflected in cover-art astrophotography of the Veil Nebula supernova.

The galaxies they inhabit are a melange of indie/prog rock, composed/improvised jazz and ambient aura as Munk leads the way with distinctive electric guitar textures and precise melodic tones. Yet it’s the overarching rhythmic and episodic intuition of the quartet which elevates the majority of these ten tracks above the realm of subconscious soundtrack, filling the air with gritty hard-hewn fret action or contrasting time-warped atmospherics.

Title track New Life’s overdriven metal-rock phrases against syncopated blows announce the band’s powerful intent, whilst Moondust offers a pop-friendly promenade of piano-embellished guitar purity. Elation’s new-age acoustic feel (with quiet chant) preludes its piano/synth ostinati, introducing welcome jazz improv from Robinson and Munk, all buoyed by Chaplin’s bubbling electric bass; and folksong-like Kilter can almost be imagined as a lyrical tale.

Lush smooth-jazz Rhodes clusters/solos are just one element of Fall In’s breezy momentum, with Munk’s perky electric attack and rhythmic resonator-guitar chordal style adding much to its shining diversity. And weightless, echoic Take Time features intricate, featherweight percussion from Dave Hamblett, strikingly different to his solid presence throughout the album’s heavier riffage.

Occasionally there’s a sense that a blistering tenor sax or left-field vocal solo could push Flying Machines’ quartet sound into an adjacent universe; and the inclusion of three particularly appealing, freely-improvised vignettes may provide a window on broader, future explorations in that direction. But for intelligently crafted rock-outs and jazz-grounded improv, New Life fizzes with light, energy and ambition.

New Life is released on 19 October on Ubuntu Music, with the album launch at Pizza Express, Dean Street, on 22 October. Flying Machines are also appearing at the EFG London Jazz Festival on 25 November.


REVIEW: Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell at Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham

Matt Mitchell and Tim Berne in action at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo: © John Watson/

Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell
(Eastside Jazz Club, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 11 October. Review and photos by John Watson)

“I’ve been working with Matt Mitchell for 10 years now,” saxophonist Tim Berne told his audience at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Eastside Jazz Club. “And he’s saved my ass! He keeps me on my toes, ankles, knees...”

Berne’s association with Mitchell has indeed proved fruitful, their best known collaboration being the pianist’s role in Tim’s group Snakeoil, whose recordings for the ECM label have won widespread acclaim. Now the altoist and the pianist have recorded a CD of duets, Angel Dusk, for Berne’s own label Screwgun Records.

Their rapport in their Birmingham performance was indeed extraordinary, with the altoist’s long, swirling and absorbingly complex lines complemented by Mitchell’s intense splashes of vibrant, rippling arpeggios exploring the whole keyboard, at times matching the saxophonist phrase by phrase, and in other places creating dark background tonal colours.

Matt Mitchell at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo: © John Watson/
Berne’s mastery as an expert creator of harmonically dense compositions, spinning seamlessly into furiously passionate free improvisations, is well established. Mitchell has matured into an immensely gifted improviser, leading his own trio with bassist Chris Tordini and drummer Dan Weiss, as well as collaborating with artists including trumpeter Dave Douglas, altoist Rudresh Mahanthappa and Darcy James Argue’s adventurous big band Secret Society.

The Birmingham performance included some of Mitchell’s own compositions, among them the curious-titled Tooth Helmet and Pouting Grimace. Berne’s own strong compositions included Traction, and several pieces yet to be titled.

Another untitled piece, by the late saxophonist Julius Hemphill of World Saxophone Quartet fame, was a remarkable highlight, and it was intriguing, though impossible, to try to catch the moment when the written piece ended and Berne’s improvising began.

Tim Berne at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo: © John Watson/
The duet performance followed three days of workshops by Berne and Mitchell at the conservatoire, in a collaboration between its jazz course and Tony Dudley Evans of TDE Promotions. The evening’s performance had begun with a work specially written by Berne for the jazz course students, and it was frustrating that a late-running train caused me to miss it. However, I spoke to some of those lucky enough to squeeze into the packed club on time, and the verdict was “marvellous”. Berne himself said the students had been “amazing”.

The next collaboration between TDE Promotions and the conservatoire will feature legendary American drummer Hamid Drake, with saxophonist Paul Dunmall’s Quintet on 9 November. 


NEWS: Full Programme for fourth Cambridge International Jazz Festival announced (13-27 Nov)

Madeleine Peyroux
Publicity Photo
Sebastian writes:

Festival Director Ros Russell's introduction to this fourth Cambridge International Jazz Festival sets the tone of a festival which she and the team around her have brought from a new upstart in 2015 to a regular feature of the calendar:

“Every year we celebrate Jazz and this year we go further to celebrate women in Jazz, global connections in Jazz and tributes to the masters of Jazz. With this being our fourth Cambridge International Jazz Festival. It also continues our developing mission to advocate and celebrate talent and excellence in Jazz. Whether it’s established masters, or rising talent or the London Jazz scene, there is a place for everyone in this year’s programme. 

Within a fortnight in mid-November Cambridge will host over 60 events, with 72 artists, 428 musicians and thousands of audience members. 

One of the key themes that we have been developing over the past few years is both the contribution and leadership of Women in Jazz. From headliners to debutants, concerts to workshops this year’s programme is a proud celebration of the creativity that female artists have given to Jazz.” 

Kit Downes and Tom Challenger
Photo credit: Alex Bonney 


Madeleine Peyroux - Corn Exchange, 27 Nov
Liane Carroll & Ian Shaw (+ London Gay Big Band) - Junction 2, 13 Nov
Phronesis, Mumford Theatre at Anglia Ruskin, 24 Nov
Tim Kliphuis Trio plus Tara Minton - Storey Field Centre, 24 Nov
Myles Sanko + Snowboy - Junction, 22 Nov
Alec Dankworth ’Spanish Accents’ - Stapleford Granary, 16 Nov
Claire Martin & The Dave Newton Trio - Stapleford Granary 17 November
Orphy Robinson presents Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks - Saffron Hall 16 Nov
Tony Kofi & The Organisation - Hidden Rooms, 15 Nov
Robert Spaven Trio - La Raza, 15 Nov
Kit Downes ‘Obsidian’ ft Tom Challenger - Gonville and Caius , 23 Nov, 6pm start
Issie Barratt’s Interchange (ft Zoe Rahman and Laura Jurd) Emanuel United Reformed Church, 20 Nov
Yazz Ahmed with Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra - Wes Road Concert Hall, 18 Nov
Josephine Davies ’Satori’ - Hidden Rooms, 22 Nov
Dinosaur and Big Bad wolf - Zooology Museum, 21 Nov, 6 30 start
Jasper Høiby ‘Planet B’ - Gonville and Caius College, 19 Nov


Vanessa Haynes Celebrates Aretha Franklin, World Service Project, Elliot Galvin Trio, The Ridout Family (Alexandra Ridout + Tom Ridout), Elina Duni & Rob Luft, Yazmin Lacey, Resolution 88, Hitchcock/Law/Casimr/Michel, Skeltr, Run Logan Run, Yazmin Lacey, Lydian Collective, Fini Bearman’s This Is Not America, Blues & Roots Ensemble - Music of Charles Mingus, Lorraine Baker‘s Eden, Nick Wells’ Below the Baseline, Reem Kelani, Bahla, Daphna Sadeh, The Black Mamba, Fofoulah, Big Bad Wolf, Zenel, The Brass Funkeys, Harry Green Trio ft Ashton Jones, Harp Bazaar, Robin Phillips Sings & Plays Chet Baker + Film: Born To Be Blue, Josh Kemp Trio, Chanan Hanspal Trio, Phil Stevenson Trio, Q3, Sam Miles & Vij Prakash Quintet.

Yazz Ahmed, Helena Kay and Tori Freestone of Interchange
Photo at Cheltenham Jazz Festival © John Watson/


Improvisation Masterclass with Phronesis
Music By Women with Issie Barratt & Laura Jurd
Django Workshop with Tim Kliphuis

Women in Jazz and Making Changes – Issie Barratt
Nathan Holder: Wish I didn’t Quit Music (pp)


The  Cambridge Jazz Festival is supported by the Arts Council England, Brewin Dolphin, Cambridge BID, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridgeshire Music and the University of Cambridge. Media partners include BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Cambridge Independent and Cambridge 105.


REVIEW: Georgia Mancio's 2018 Hang opening night at Pizza Express

L-R Nikki Iles, Georgia Mancio, Tom Cawley and Alina Bzhezhinska
Phone photo by Sebastian Scotney

Georgia Mancio's 2018 Hang Series Opening Night with Nikki Iles, Alina Bzhezinska and Tom Cawley
(Pizza Express Jazz Club. 10 October 2018. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

The last words of the last song which Georgia Mancio sang last night bear repeating: “The spirit of the music sets me free.” They are from Sheila Jordan’s song The Crossing and they seemed to sum up the spirit of the occasion, an evening presenting three different duos and focusing on the work of female lyricists and composers.

The words stick in the mind because that is exactly where all of the work, the devising, the planning, the marketing, the artist booking... that Georgia Mancio does in advance of these shows eventually has to lead. Her particular combination of entrepreneurial and creative flair are second to none. There is no one who works harder or does these things better. But in the end there is also her delicate artistry, the simple (or rather, definitely not so simple) act of conveying and bringing emotion to words and notes. And as the evening went on, one could feel the audience becoming increasingly wrapped up in the power of the words, the stories, the emotion.

The first set was a duo with Nikki Iles. There was a piano solo in between the verses of Blossom Dearie’s Inside a Silent Tear which was a reminder of how complete Nikki Iles is as an accompanist for singers. There is a whole art of taking the solo in the middle of a song that keeps the shape of the song, that doesn’t overpower with either volume or virtuosity, that nevertheless finds unexpected corners and colours in the harmonies, and prepares to hand the melodic line back to the singer like a wrapped present. It comes from instinct and experience. And, like Bill Evans or Tommy Flanagan, Nikki Iles is extraordinarily good at it.

Every word of Pick Yourself Up was crystal clear. And the final song, Tideway, written by Nikki Iles and Norma Winstone, explored some of the deeper timbres in Mancio’s voice. The song also required an imitation of a sea breeze and the sound of a seagull. It ended a beautifully paced and shaped set of infinite delicacy from both musicians.
Georgia Mancio and Alina Bzhezhinska
Phone photo by Sebastian Scotney

The second set presented a first-time collaboration between Mancio and harpist Alina Bzhezhinska. It focused on the songs of Abbey Lincoln, with an unforgettable Throw It Away, and even with a passing nod to Thelonious Monk’s 101st Birthday with Abbey Lincoln’s lyrics to Blue Monk. And how does jazz voice and harp work? That's a dumb question. This duo left no doubt that it can and it does.

For the final set, Mancio was in a third duo with Tom Cawley, presenting songs they had co-written four years ago. And that brought another side of Georgia Mancio to the fore – these real and imagined stories of ordinary people with fascinating tales to tell were a reminder of how observant, how selfless, how inspired she is. Each of these song-tales kept the audience enthralled.

The four participants came onstage together for the final number, with Tom Cawley on melodica. A heart-warming gig which bodes well for the rest of the ‘Hang’. 


CD REVIEW: Yellowjackets – Raising Our Voice

Yellowjackets – Raising Our Voice
(Mack Avenue MAC1137. CD Review by Peter Bacon)

It’s clear from the first minute or so of the opening track, Man Facing North, that featured vocalist Luciana Souza fits into the music of the four-man Yellowjackets a treat and that her Brazilian heritage expands the 'jackets’ already broad genre coverage in the most natural way. Her wordless vocals track bassist Dane Alderson’s line as the band sets out its stall. Later she will do the same in harmony alongside Bob Mintzer’s tenor saxophone. Both pairings remind us, too, what graceful "vocal" qualities both Alderson and Mintzer have in the way they phrase: it's always about the melody.

Dan Oullette quotes in his liner note Mintzer’s observation that “The band keeps moving forward” and it is that shark-like sense of momentum that has helped the Yellowjackets to do so much more than just survive 37 years and nearly 30 albums. Souza brings a lightness of touch which is also energising to their sound, in much the same way as she did with her featured track on Vince Mendoza’s 2011 album, Nights On Earth: she can take a lyric or she can be an added “horn” and slide in amongst the instruments.

The Yellowjackets started out as a jazz-fusion band and they still have that core, mainly through Russell Ferrante’s keyboards, but the drumming of William Kennedy and (in between Kennedy’s two tenures in the drum chair) Marcus Baylor gave them a funk-tinged underpinning, and Mintzer’s jazzier writing together with the soul-jazz bass of Jimmy Haslip and now Alderson, expanded their stylistic range sill further. The Brazilian touches on this album (and not just on the tracks featuring Souza) add yet further sauce to the stew.

And that is before we have got to the Bach fugue-like touches of Mutuality (which Ferrante apparently based on a Martin Luther King Jr speech and which goes through every key both major and minor in its harmony) or the hard swing of Swing With It.

For classic 'jackets sound and excitement Ecuador ticks all the boxes for me, and it’s a renewed pleasure to be reacquainted with Timeline (from the 2011 album of the same name) which Souza decorates beautifully here, again tracking Mintzer on the melody and then adding an exquisite scat solo which called to mind Flora Purim with Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. The track builds to a marvellous climax.

The stand-out Souza track is Quiet, which she wrote with Ferrante. It already sounds like a Brazilian/American standard. Mintzer's solo is a muscular yet tender wonder.

Even by the Yellowjackets’ high standards, Raise Our Voice is an exceptional beauty. Play it loud; play it often.


CD REVIEW: Cuong Vu 4tet Change In The Air

Cuong Vu 4tet Change In The Air
(RareNoiseRecords RNR091. CD Review by Jon Turney)

Here’s intriguing small group jazz worthy of a starry ensemble. The same foursome – Cuong Vu on trumpet, regular partners Ted Poor on drums and Luke Bergman on bass, and more occasional collaborator Bill Frisell on guitar – released a much-lauded session last year devoted to reimagining compositions by Mike Gibbs. For this second outing they worked with originals, some from each player.

The results are uniformly excellent. Their compositional styles yield an appealing variety. Poor has a good stab at the “standards you never heard yet” feel, notably on the Ellingtonian opener All That’s Left of Me is You, titled for an unwritten lyric. Frisell’s pieces are studies in delicacy and depth. Vu leans more to abstraction. His playful Round and Round, reminiscent of Paul Motian’s simple-yet-insidious tunes, is played twice, bracketing the frenetic March of the Owl and the Bat. The latter benefits from some howling fuzz guitar – as on some previous meetings Vu stimulates more of Frisell’s more extrovert, effects-laden playing than you tend to get on his own recordings these days. Conversely, the guitarist can draw out Vu’s lyrical side, often with a slightly burred edge to the trumpet tone, like a catch in the throat, that is unfailingly affecting. But Frisell also matches him when he turns up the wick and emphasises his electric-era Miles sound (both sides of Vu’s playing here also calling to mind Frisell’s earlier trumpet foil, Ron Miles).

Poor provides brilliant commentary on drums, with Motian-like brushwork on some tracks, leaning more toward Joey Baron’s snap on others, and Bergman is solid in support. It’s an egalitarian, interactive quartet. But the deep sympathy between Vu and Frisell, in splendid unison or improvising freely together, is what binds these disparate materials together.

It sounds like a collaboration that was waiting to happen. If you haven’t heard the Mike Gibbs set on the same label, I would still recommend checking it out first – it has a little more staying power. If you have, you’ll need little persuading to try this new offering.

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