CD REVIEW: Matthew Read Trio - Anecdotes Vol. II


Matthew Read Trio - Anecdotes Vol. II
(BOD: 002. CD review by Nick Davies)

Mathew Read’s music has been described as a multitude of styles: jazz, folk, country, hip hop, dance, European and ‘American Church music'. It’s difficult at times to appreciate how a musician could take all these styles and produce a great sounding album. A listener might expect confusion or a mixture of melodies but, in Mathew’s case, this is not an issue. The end product is a record of contrasting rhythms that takes you on a journey into the musical mind of Read and the result is sublime.

Anecdotes Vol. II follows on from the trio’s debut release – Read’s response when asked about the record: “I decided to write music for the trio that told stories. I felt early on that this band was one that would respond well to slightly more left-field forms of inspiration than other bands.” Read’s music has been coined as the harmonious collaboration possible only by a Kendrick Lamar and Kurt Rosenwinkel collaboration.

This album sees Read reunited with Benedict Wood on guitar and Arthur Newell on drums. Each member of the band contributes by the playing rather than the writing. This is evident on track two: Many Roads Travelled. Woods' guitar leads with Read’s bass, creating an entwining crescendo. This is then followed by a drum solo from Newell driving the beat even faster. Delivery is unusual but no less enjoyable.

Looking for an easy listen? Then I would suggest that this album is not for you. The music is complex and delivers Read’s ideas in an unfamiliar way. Most of the tracks start slow before picking up tempo. They are full of influences so, at one point, you are hearing jazz, then country, then folk; not easy on the ears but your reviewer is convinced that Read intended it to be that way… for the music connoisseur.

Case in point: track five, When She Leaves. Starting at a slow pace with the beat of Read’s bass, followed by the other instruments and maintaining that slow pace, it is the bass that dominates throughout this song. When the listener is expecting it to burst into life, it doesn’t. Instead, the track continues to mooch along, showcasing the superb, seamless interaction between all three musicians. They all have an understanding of Read’s ideas and deliver it in the way he would expect it to be heard. Music like this is rarely produced and, despite (or thanks to) its intensity, it is most enjoyable.

Overall, a really good album that pushes the boundaries. The sound is fresh and, amazingly, incorporates several ideas and genres into each of the 11 tracks. It is one of those records that takes a while to get used to but, when you do, the musical journey soon becomes a memorable one. The standard of music excellence suggests that Mathew Read will be snapped up by a discerning label in the near future. His musical genius is most deserving of that accolade.

LINK: Matthew Read interview

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REVIEW: Joanna Wallfisch – The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle at The Space, Surgeon’s Hall (Edinburgh Fringe)

Joanna Wallfisch at Big Sur in 2016
Publicity picture

Joanna Wallfisch – The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle
(The Space, Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh. Festival Fringe. Review by Mark McKergow)

Joanna Wallfisch brings her beautiful voice and multi-instrumental talents to the Edinburgh fringe with her performance about cycling over a thousand miles along the west coast of America. The result is an intense, focused and reflective collection of songs, images and evocation of moments in time.

Wallfisch’s latest album Blood and Bone was also on the theme of journeying, but this show features new material alongside the jaunty song Road Trip. Using a collection of portable instruments and a looping pedal, she quickly and skilfully builds backgrounds and textures which support the songs and also provide intermission sounds. The opening When We Travel sets the scene perfectly – Wallfisch’s journeys are always mental as well as literal and she succeeds in drawing us in to her endeavour to travel from Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles on her bicycle not simply to arrive but rather to travel hopefully.

Joanna Wallfisch has an outstandingly beautiful voice – pure of tone and lithe of spirit. Her songs build from patterns, often using ukulele and voice as a starting point, ebbing and flowing like the Pacific tides. Her imagery is enchanting – whales and dolphins on the coast, a moustachioed man and his son at a campsite, a lifeguard in a truck with some unusual cargo… each of these leads to a song, with some unexpected accompaniments on stage from melodica, a toy piano, whistling, and a really juicy kazoo solo on Rex The Travelling Dog.

As the 50-minute show comes towards a close with the haunting Final Flight, we all arrive together at… well, not the end. You’ll have to go see it to find out. Joanna Wallfisch’s show is a reflective, haunting and sustained performance, a very personal take on the outdoors which brings an unexpectedly quirky part of California to the Edinburgh Fringe.

The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle is at The Space, Surgeon’s Hall at 12.05pm until 18 August 2018, and again at The Space Triplex at 8.35pm from 20-15 August 2018. 

LINKS: The Great Song Cycle Song Cycle at the Edinburgh Fringe website (BOOKINGS)
Review of Joanna Wallfisch’s Blood And Bone CD 
Review of Joanna Wallfisch at Sofar Sounds
Interview from 2016 after the 1147-mile bike ride

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CD REVIEW: Mike Gibbs Band featuring John Scofield – Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991


Mike Gibbs Band featuring John Scofield – Symphony Hall, Birmingham 1991
(Dusk Fire DUSKCD116. CD review by Peter Bacon)

Listening to this double disc of a complete concert in what was at the time the newly-built showpiece Midlands concert hall, it’s easy to succumb to rose-tinted nostalgia.

Back in ’91 the Contemporary Music Network – remember them? – was still a thing. A thing supported by the Arts Council, no less. And thanks to the CMN, a 12-piece band which included Kenny Wheeler, Steve Swallow, John Taylor, Julian Argüelles, Bill Stewart, Tony Coe and more, could get a 12-date UK tour. And it could be led by Mike Gibbs with John Scofield as the featured soloist.

Seems like another world, eh? Well, outside of London it does. But, it really happened, and here is the proof.

The tunes come from Gibbs and Scofield, more from the latter, but one Gibbs composition was new on the night: Blueprint, written for Berklee, the alma mater of both trombonist/arranger/composer and guitarist/composer, but getting its first outing in Birmingham, England.

The excitement level on the night must have been high because, nearly 27 years later, it fairly crackles from the speakers. Scofield was riding high on the success of his Blue Note quartet albums – the first two pieces, here in Gibbs arrangements, were from his Meant To Be album released earlier in 1991. The guitarist is given (overly?) generous solo room throughout the programme and is on blistering form, ever inventive, uniformly absolutely committed.

But, if Sco’ dominates, he’s not the only reason to check out this release. The other main attractions include: the solos of pianist John Taylor, always pushing that envelope, always intriguing the ears, often amazing them too; the driving groove and support of electric bassist Steve Swallow, offering so much harmonic richness and lyrical counter melody in addition to that faultless time; the swagger of tenor saxophonist Tony Coe, especially in dialogue with Scofield on Gibbs’ Roses Are Red; and the soaring squeeze and release in the sublime solos of Kenny Wheeler – the trumpeter/flugelhorn player really is on spectacular form here.

And then, of course, there is the composing and arranging of Mike Gibbs. His wide experience of writing for film brings wide-screen scope to this music, heard to most dramatic effect, possibly, on Scofield’s Science And Religion, but seemingly effortlessly melding jazz sophistication with rock fusion power all through the evening. Gibbs is also part of the ‘bone section along with Chris Pyne and Dave Stewart. The gruff low brass and bass riffing behind the guitar solo on Gill B643, then expanding to take in the trumpets and French horns, is just one of my favourite moments, and a touch that is just so-Mike Gibbs.

There have been other memorable jazz gigs in the grand surroundings of Symphony Hall – Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, DeJohnette, Branford Marsalis all come to mind – but, the Maria Schneider Orchestra aside, they are all a long time back. Will we ever see such times again, the nostalgic muses.

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TRIBUTES to Ken Pickering (1952-2018), Co-Founder and Director of the Vancouver Jazz Festival

Ken Pickering
Photo from @coastaljazz


The TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival @coastaljazz put out this sad message on Saturday 11 August on its Twitter account:

"Today is the worst, saddest day. After a short battle with cancer, founding artistic director @ken_pickering passed away peacefully early this AM. We will miss him terribly."

Since then there have been tributes from far and wide, testifying to the high regard in which Ken was held.

Darcy James Argue described him as "a passionate, knowledgable, and tireless advocate for creative music, and one of the kindest, most generous, most genuine individuals I have ever encountered." Philippe Ochem, director of Jazzdor in Strasbourg wrote in praise of "my dear colleague and friend". Pianist Alexander Hawkins wrote: "...not sure what to add, except that I’m sure all of us fortunate enough to have a gig this evening will be playing for you."

 A broader selection of these tributes has been collected by Peter Hum in a piece for the Ottawa Citizen.

 At LJN we will remember him as someone who was a pleasure to meet, supportive of what we do and an avid reader of our newsletter, often thanking us for bringing things to his attention.

Two friends from the Canadian scene, pianist/composer Marianne Trudel and Heidi Fleming of Fam Group remember him in tributes. First, Marianne Trudel writes (*):

Ken Pickering

Kindness personified

A genuine love of music as the theme that ran through everything he did

A sincere and lasting commitment to those who make it

A dynamo, a beacon, a pillar, a point of reference:

For both the Canadian and the international music scenes

A smile, a sparkle, someone always reliable and always delightful.

Ken Pickering: an example of human nature at its best.

His irreplaceable contribution has been precious and unique:

For musicians, for the public, and for music.

For the survival, for the life of the Music he loved so much.

Thank you so much

We will miss you

Immensely.

Ken was one of the first Canadian broadcasters who gave me the chance to present my music outside Quebec,

A man whose craftsmanship has shaped the whole scene, and whose passion, integrity and commitment were immediately palpable,

A man who recognized and encouraged my work as a pianist and composer for over ten years,

He played an important role in my development.

I'll be forever grateful.

Goodbye Ken.

For the love of music, then, now and forever...

Marianne Trudel

(*) Marianne Trudel's tribute was originally written in French:

Ken Pickering 

La bonté sur 2 pattes

Un réel amour de la musique comme leitmotiv

Un engagement sincère et durable envers ses artisans

Un moteur, un phare, un pilier, une référence:

tant pour la scène musicale canadienne qu’internationale

Un sourire, une étincelle, une présence fiable et agréable

Ken Pickering: un exemple de la nature humaine à son meilleur



Son apport incontournable est précieux, unique:

tant pour les musiciens, le public, et la Musique

Pour la survie et la vie de cette Musique qu’il aimait tant.

Merci milles fois

Tu nous manqueras

Énormément.


Ken est un des premiers diffuseurs canadiens à m’avoir donné la chance de présenter ma musique hors Québec,

un artisan important de la scène dont j’ai immédiatement senti la passion, l’intégrité, l’engagement,

un homme qui a reconnu et encouragé mon travail comme pianiste et compositrice pendant plus de 10 ans,

Il a joué un rôle important dans mon essor.

Je lui en serai reconnaissante à jamais.

Au revoir Ken.

Pour l’amour de la musique, toujours et encore…

Marianne Trudel



A remembrance, by Heidi Fleming:

As I scroll though the various social media posts about Ken I realize (no surprise there) that he was as loved in the jazz and improvised/creative music world all over – especially in Europe – as in Canada. He had many friends, both artists and colleagues, in Holland, Norway, Germany, the UK, France and Sweden, as well as across North America and even beyond.

Ken was always the first one you wanted to convince when you wanted to bring an artist on tour here: if he was in, that would often lead the way for his colleagues to buy in as well, thankfully. Ken was the conscience, in a way, of the group. One could accept a decision made by Ken, as it was understood to have been made in all honesty and with the music ultimately in mind. Over the years I was lucky that several bands I proposed were indeed chosen and thus were able to establish footholds or even become celebrated in North America.

Ken loved not only music and musicians, but he loved a good prank, had a wicked sense of humour, and was just a great down-to-earth guy. Ken, you are gone too soon and you will be missed tremendously: you were the glue that held us together! I am just sad that we won't be following your exploits anymore... reading your informative and informed yet anything-but-dry posts and seeing your smile.

Rest well, you have left us in good hands. Your work here is done.

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NEWS: Andrew Robb wins First Prize in the jazz bass competition at BASS2018 LUCCA


Congratulations to Andrew Robb, originally from Edinburgh, who has just won first prize in the jazz bass competition at BASS2018 LUCCA, the sixth European Bass Congress. All the events of this year's congress took place within the medieval walls "Le Mura" of the city of Lucca.

Andrew Robb had previously come second in the 2016 competition in Prague, at which the winner was another Brit, Freddy Jensen. The full results of the 2018 competition were as follows

1st Prize: Andrew Robb, United Kingdom
2nd Prize: Grzegorz Wlodarczyk, Poland
3rd Prize: Dario Piccioni, Italy
Award - Remarkable Originality: Pau Lligadas, Spain

The jury comprised of Adam Booker, (USA) Wayne Darling (USA/Austria) and Furio Di Castri (Italy).

Andrew Robb was born and grew up in Edinburgh, where he attended George Heriot’s School and St Mary’s Music School. He led the double bass section of the (classical) National Youth Orchestra of Scotland. He did a Bmus in Jazz at The Guildhall School. He won the BBC Radio Scotland Young Jazz Musician of the Year in 2009. He is a member of (fellow St Mary's former pupil) Alan Benzie’s piano Trio - (their CD Little Mysteries won album of the year at the Scottish Jazz Awards this year), of Henry Spencer’s Juncture, and Renato D’Aiello’s Quartet. He also has a short tour of Scotland coming up next month with Norwegian guitarist Bjørn Solli.

LINKS: Full results of all three competitions at BassEurope 2018 in Lucca
BassEurope 2018 website
Background to the European bass congresses

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NEWS: Third Drayton Court Jazz Festival Programme Announced (17-19 August. London W13, free admission)

The Drayton Court Festival ad Dusk
Photo credit: John Ross Photography

Dick Esmond, who for many years ran the Ealing Jazz Festival, and Andrew Butcher have announced the programme for the third Drayton Court Jazz Festival, which this year runs for three days from Friday 17 August until Sunday 19 August 2018. Admission to all events is free. The organizers describe it as "more than a Jazz Festival: an outdoor party with a wide range of ales, hog roast etc."

Their release states:

"Following on from the success of last year’s Jazz Festival at the Drayton Court in Ealing, the line-up for this year’s extended three-day event features many of the UK’s best jazz musicians.

The Drayton Court Festival is a now hugely anticipated jazz event for West London: accessible and popular jazz from well-known bands with local connections, and FREE admission.

Dick Esmond who was the co-founder and artistic director of the Ealing Jazz Festival for 30 years says “the line-up for this third year is as strong as ever, bringing locally led bands to a key local event without parallel in the borough”.

The Festival was established in response to overwhelming demand from local fans and musicians following widely expressed disappointment at the removal in 2016 of popular local musicians from the council-run Ealing Jazz Festival. Now, in the attractive setting of the pub’s spacious garden, the unique community spirit has been restored. In addition to the main stage bands that run through each day, there are performances between sets by a series of jazz duos in the bar area, making for a music filled vibrant weekend of Ealing Jazz at its festive best.”

PROGRAMME DETAILS

FRIDAY 17

6.00pm Ken McCarthy Duo
7.15pm Chris Hodgkins Quintet
8.15pm Ken McCarthy Duo
9.00pm Matt Wates Sextet

SATURDAY 18

1.00pm Alan Berry Duo 2.00pm Pete Cook Quintet
3.00pm Alan Berry Duo
3.45pm Frank Griffith Quintet
4.45pm Max Brittain & John Coverdale
5.30pm Nick Mills` Blue Note Project
6.30pm Max Brittain & John Coverdale
7.15pm Gill Cook Quintet
8.15pm Max Brittain & John Coverdale
9.00pm Jack Honeyborne & Company

SUNDAY 19

12.00pm Jon Taylor`s JT4tet 1.00pm Jack Honeyborne Duo
2.00pm Ken McCarthy Quintet
3.00pm Jack Honeyborne Duo
3.45pm Winston Morson`s Off The Cuff
4.45pm Nigel Fox Duo
5.30pm Andrew Butcher & Butcher`s Brew
6.30pm Nigel Fox Duo
7.30pm Dick Esmond`s Sound of 17 Big Band

The festival is at Drayton Court Hotel, The Avenue, West Ealing, London, W13 8PH

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CD REVIEW: New York All-Stars (featuring Eric Alexander and Harold Mabern) – Burnin’ In London


New York All-Stars (featuring Eric Alexander and Harold Mabern) – Burnin’ In London
(Ubuntu UBU0012. CD review by Mark McKergow)

This hard-hitting quartet led by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander and piano master Harold Mabern produce a full-throttle set of virtuosic mainstream jazz recorded live at London’s Pizza Express club in November 2017.

Eric Alexander is a frequent visitor to these shores from America, sometimes in tandem with British musicians such as Dave O’Higgins. A prolific recording artist, he has worked for many years with pianist Harold Mabern, a genuine legend in his own right (anyone referenced alongside Duke Ellington and Jay McShann in Ben Sidran’s superb tribute song Piano Players must be worth a listen!). Lately they have teamed up with French-domiciled American bassist Darryl Hall and Austrian drummer Bernd Reiter as the New York All-Stars. This CD emerged from a conversation while the band were playing a short residency in London – a chat one night became a recording the next!

As we might expect, this is very much a live performance from a ring-ready band whose chops are clearly well-exercised and who have found a groove together. Alexander leads into the opening Almost Like Being In Love at tremendous pace, with Mabern providing a full backing style with a fair amount of sustain pedal evident. I Could Have Danced All Night is tackled at an even faster tempo,  with interestingly ambiguous rhythmic shifts which have the listener reaching for support and Alexander’s tenor sax gaining fluency and clarity though the performance.

Mabern leads into his own Nightlife In Tokyo with a nice piano introduction before the straight-eights tune and bass ostinato arrives. Hall and Reiter provide solid backing here as elsewhere, and Mabern takes the chance to introduce an extended quote from Steely Dan’s Do It Again using his ten-fingered full-on style. With six tracks of around 10 minutes apiece, there is space to stretch out and Hall gets a nicely-judged solo here. It’s Magic provides a welcome breather as the band moves into ballad territory with Mabern again quoting liberally from a range of sources including a classically-rooted coda with Alexander.

This is a lively collection of witty and high octane jazz recorded live by practitioners at the top of their craft.

You can hear them for yourself on their forthcoming European tour including September dates at Manchester’s Band On The Wall and the Guildhall School, and three nights' return to the Pizza Express in Soho (17-19 September 2018) as well as shows in Italy, Germany, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and France.  

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CD REVIEW: Nat Steele – Portrait Of The Modern Jazz Quartet


Nat Steele – Portrait Of The Modern Jazz Quartet
(Trio Records TR598. CD review by Simon Scott)

The sleeve note for this album advises that the musicians recorded most of the tracks in one day, after a Late Late Show gig at Ronnie Scott’s. Without that information, the listener would have no clue to the circumstances that were involved in putting together this hugely enjoyable collection. There is not a hint of tiredness or apathy from the first note to the last. The sprightly bop rhythms are convincingly underpinned by Steve Brown’s unobtrusive but utterly sublime drumming. Mingled in with the equally vital but understated double bass playing from Dario Di Lecce, the two provide a musical bed for Nat Steele’s vibraphone and Gabriel Latchin’s piano to lie on and luxuriate in comfort.

By the time the band hit the La Ronde Suite, it sounds as though everyone is firing on all six, possibly seven or eight cylinders, judging by the awesome dexterity demonstrated by each musician as they weave in and out of the melodies.

There are two ways to listen to this album. The first is simply to enjoy the wonderfully melodic joyfulness which the band bring to their selections. It is an uplifting sound, each track underlining the pleasure of the last, and then building more pleasure as the record unfolds. The second way to enjoy it is to play it again and concentrate on each individual musician’s contribution – the interaction that sounds so effortless and simple but, as experienced jazz fans will know, indicates that it is actually anything but. Each player gets to step out from the ensemble format and showcase his own unique abilities, but it is never done with any sense of ego or grandstanding; these musicians are far too aware of their individual and collective abilities to need to play in a way that ever approaches showing off. They play with ease, verve, and skill, but they constantly serve the melody and sharp bop timing that runs through this album like gold thread through a colourful tapestry.

The vibes-playing on the deliciously swinging Django provides a sense of musical mischief that the maestro would have appreciated, and the following Bags Groove, Milt Jackson’s classic, once again showcases the way the players interact as though by instinct, which it probably is, and by experience and pleasure of playing, which it certainly is.

If this album sends new converts out to explore the MJQ’s catalogue, and brings new fans to this wonderful combination of joy and skill, then it will have done its job. If it stands alone as a classy piece of ensemble playing on its own merits, then that’s just fine too.

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REVIEW: Prom 35: New York: Sound of a City

Nitty Scott
Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

BBC Proms 35: New York: Sound of a City
(Royal Albert Hall, 8 August 2018. Late night Prom. Review by Dan Bergsagel)

It was clearly an intriguing premise: a full orchestra accompanying hip hop, dance and singer-songwriters. At 21h00 around the Royal Albert Hall the traditional suited elderly Prom cohort morph into a more eclectic younger group to see what the Heritage Orchestra has been cooking up. It's an excitingly unusual range of experiences for the audience, and it's also clearly a very different experience for the performers themselves.

serpentwithfeet
Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

serpentwithfeet (Josiah Wise) walks on stage with conductor Jules Buckley, and after a brief confusion over who stands where, is brought in by conductor and then let loose to sing, with musings on names and an engaging bless ur heart. Alone upfront looking around the cavernous space imploringly for a connection, Wise comes across as a story-teller who might thrive off more casual and intimate scenarios than the formality of the RAH.

He is one of a pair for the opening brace of songs, alternating between two tender and earnest singers. Sharon Van Etten swaps in with tinges of melancholy with a clean Americana vibe on Skeeter Davis's The End of The World, and occasional angst on Memorial Day. Accompanied by restrained arrangements with regulation string sweeps and held horns, her songs were pinned on the drumbeat and small traditional format rhythm section, with Van Etten herself looking a little lost without a guitar to clutch centre stage.

Sharon van Etten with Jules Buckley and the Heritage Otchestra
Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

The Heritage Orchestra are meticulous and accomplished, but the pared back songwriting lent itself to pared back arrangements. It was only when Nitty Scott arrived that the tone of the orchestration changed.

Joyous and natural, Scott is seemingly comfortable on any stage, and the percussion and arrangement that accompanied her on Flower Child gave a hip hop kick to the atmosphere. She addressed the crowd with defiant honest messages on Still I Rise, and called for participation on La Diaspora. With these songs there was real meat for Buckley to arrange – whether the first violin playing the opening lick loop, the muted trumpet high lines, or carefully layered percussion.

Andy Butler instead opted to blend into the orchestra and hide at his keys, but from comparative anonymity he contributed a genre-crossing Hercules & Love Affair mini dance set of his own with Krystle Warren, Van Etten or the three backing singers taking on vocal duties. Referencing Prince, Madonna and shoegaze, in this format they delivered the richest moment of the evening with Hercules Theme, a romping '70s dance funk theme to make Quincy Jones and Isaac Hayes proud.

It takes a bold enterprise to claim to be able to distill the sound of such a melting pot of a world city. And while the diverse genres and featured collaborators could claim to represent much of New York, the Heritage Orchestra probably cannot claim to represent a diverse London.

Singers Vula Malinga, Brendan Reilly, Sam White
Photo credit: BBC/ Chris Christodoulou

But the Heritage Orchestra aren't masquerading as such. Indeed they're not masquerading as anything except a contemporary experimentation outfit with talent and depth in numbers, and an aim to bring different music together. It is partly up to the audience to decide how to react.

In the RAH, cowed by the environment, it started as a respectful hush with an occasional well behaved heckle/declaration of love. With the arrival or return of each performer, there was nearly as much polite clapping as for your improvisation-heavy jazz quintet. But by the end of the set musical barriers were broken, and the crossover between a classical orchestral format and any contemporary popular music available to hand had won over a crowd. It's exciting variety-show stuff – and I hope continues to be a Sound of the Future.

Prom 35 is available for 28 days on BBC iPlayer

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CD REVIEW: Mimika Orchestra – Divinities Of The Earth And The Waters


Mimika Orchestra Divinities of the Earth and the Waters
(PDV029. CD Review by Peter Jones)

Think of them as the Art Ensemble of Zagreb. Mimika are far more than a conventional big band; the territory they inhabit is closer to Sun Ra’s Arkestra, with a large and constantly shifting membership, a devotion to science fiction, fantasy and folklore, strange theatrical make-up and costumes. Often sounding more like jazz-inflected 20th century ‘classical’ than pure jazz (previous reviewers have mentioned Stravinsky and Bartok), the tracks mostly clock in at over ten minutes, each developing into mysterious mini-epics.

Mimika is a vehicle for the fertile imagination and music of the prolific composer and saxophonist Mak Murtic. Since its foundation in London eight years ago, the Anglo-Croatian outfit have received plenty of attention, winning Jazz FM’s Discovery competition and appearing at the Love Supreme festival, which is where I first saw them, and was blown away by the excitement and power of their live show.

The music of this new album, their fourth, was premiered in London in 2016, and the recording features no fewer than 30 musicians. So original is their sound that one struggles to describe it: in fact, no words come close to encompassing the sheer scale of Murtic’s musical ambition. Mimika’s rhythms and musical scales are rarely straightforward, from a Western European perspective: this is the sound of the Balkans, after all, as on the whirling folk-dance sections of Song of Sorrow.

The instrumentation varies – tuba, sousaphone, guitar and electronics augment the usual big band line-up, as well as the Cretan lyra (a three-stringed violin-like instrument) and Croatian tamburitza (a long-necked lute). Mimika is fronted by singer Maja Rivic, alongside one or more others (I seem to recall there were at least four at Love Supreme). At times the voices come to the fore, as on Pantheon, although God alone knows what they’re singing or chanting about. On this track, the impression is of someone having an extraordinarily vivid dream, shading into nightmare by the end. According to the sleeve, the album as a whole is a psychedelic funeral ceremony dedicated to former band member Oberon King, who died in 2015.

Avant-garde and strident though it often sounds, Divinities of the Earth and the Waters is often highly melodic too, particularly Colonnade Beneath the World. As with most large ensembles, the strangeness of Mimika is best experienced live. In the meantime, this album paints a wonderful picture in sound.

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CD REVIEW: John Bailey – Oneiric Sounds


John Bailey - Oneiric Sounds
(Outhøuse Records Outhouse 03. CD review by Patrick Hadfield)


Oneiric Sounds is the latest record by guitarist John Bailey, comprising two suites – one featuring bassist Arild Andersen, the other saxophonist Julian Argüelles playing soprano. Interspersed between tracks of both suites is a series of four improvisations, Oneiric I - IV, featuring Bailey and Argüelles.

Bailey takes inspiration from both the natural world and artists who observe it, such as Dürer, Turner and Bruegel. Several tracks have a bucolic feel. "Oneiric" means "relating to dreams and dreaming", and Bailey explains that some of the tunes were influenced by dreams; these two strands come together in Durer's Vision, a piece that is based on Dürer's painting "Dream Vision".

This may sound cerebral, but the tunes are accessible, warm and engaging. Despite using different musicians on the two suites – notably Garry Jackson (bass) and Eryl Roberts (drums) on those tracks featuring Argüelles, and Richard Kass (drums) on those with Andersen – the record has coherence, achieved in part by Bailey's effective scoring for a small string section of violin (Simon Chalk), viola (Mark Chivers) and cello (Nick Stringfellow).

Richard Iles plays flugelhorn and Tim France tenor saxophone on many tracks, also contributing to a consistent sound as well as providing fitting solos. Andersen and Argüelles understandably make the most significant contributions. Andersen's bass brings depth and richness to the tracks on which he appears, whilst Argüelles' soprano is light and playful.

As a whole Oneiric Sounds has an open, luminous quality, perhaps fitting to a record that takes paintings and dreams as a starting point.

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

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REVIEW: Empty Room by Miriam Gould at the Cockpit Theatre

Miriam Gould as Rachel Gould
Photo credit: India Roper-Evans

Empty Room by Miriam Gould
Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, 8 August 2018, 2nd night of 3. Review by Sebastian Scotney) 

Is this a coincidence, or possibly something spookier? This week I have witnessed not just one but TWO dramatic re-enactments of the same symphony, Shostakovich’s 9th.

Monday night’s Prom with Aurora Orchestra had broadcaster Tom Service and conductor Nicholas Collon probing the work's double nature, its light-and-dark, its tragi-comedy, followed by a wonderfully energetic live performance played from memory. Gripping stuff. Tonight I went to the second of three nights at the Cockpit Theatre of Miriam Gould’s one-woman show Empty Room. It also dealt with the very same music, which the actor was seeing through the eyes of one of the three characters she plays, herself as a teenager obsessing about the Russian symphonist.

Miriam Gould is London-based, and a regular member of the Little Bulb Theatre Company. (I reviewed their Orpheus show in which she is a cast and band member.)

This show is a family memoir in which, with great candour, she explores the legacy that her parents have left her. It is a powerful exploration of how an involvement in music overshadows everything  – relationships, grief, personal identity – in the lives of a family.

Her father – whom she also portrays as a shivering, fast-talking, intense character dealing with heroin addiction, was the saxophonist Sal (Salvatore) Nistico. He was born of Italian-American extraction in Syracuse, New York State, in 1938, and died in Berne in 1991. He was a member of one of Woody Herman’s herds, and a blistering presence on tenor saxophone (try THIS !!) Her mother is the renowned singer and educator Rachel Gould, the child of two holocaust survivors, who made a classic record with Chet Baker, All Blues, and has also been a prominent educator in the Netherlands for several years. The two of them, plus the angsty teenager obsessing about Shostakovich 9 are the three characters played by Miriam Gould as she tells the story of her family. 

I had reservations before going to this show. Would an actor narrating something quite so personal come across as anything other than self-indulgent? Well, the answer is that the show can and does transcend all that. The issues which it takes on will fascinate anyone interested in the psychology of music. And Gould's acting craft, notably the deft way in which she transitions and transforms from one of her three endearing characters to another, is miraculous. And she also sings and plays the violin – very well.

There is one more night. This is a jazz show in a space that through the involvement of NYJO and Jez Nelson's Jazz in the Round has its own jazz identity, and is familiar to London's jazz fans. For whom there can surely be only one option, and one night left: note the early start time, 7pm, and GO SEE!

Miriam Gould as herself


Cockpit Theatre Bookings

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NEWS: Applications now open from bands for "Made in the UK" 2019

Gwyneth Herbert with Ned Cartwright at one of their four shows
in Rochester in 2018. Sam Burgess is off-camera.
Photo courtesy of CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival 

The 'Made in the UK' concert series at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival(*) has been running since 2008, and provides a springboard for bands to get bookings at the major Canadian festivals (eg Montreal and Ottawa, which happen at around the same time). It has just been announced that applications are now open for 2019. We reproduce the statement from Made in the UK, which is run by Sue Edwards, in full:

MADE IN THE UK 2019

Musicians/bands who would like to be considered for the 2019 ‘Made in the UK’ concert series at the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival should read the information below.

ABOUT

‘Made in the UK’ is an annual showcase of British jazz at Rochester International Jazz Festival (RIJF), which takes place in late June each year. The series was founded by John Ellson (ESIP) & John Nugent (RIJF) in 2008.

The series aims to:

- Present a varied nine-night programme representing the highest quality jazz (& related genres) from the UK as part of one of the largest jazz festivals in the USA

- Provide a high profile platform in North America for UK bands who are export-ready to begin or further their career in North America.. Bands chosen to perform at RIJF will also all be proposed to the programmers of the Canadian Summer jazz festival circuit for possible inclusion in their 2019 programmes. Although there is no guarantee that groups will be offered dates in Canada, over the past 10 years many Made in the UK groups have succeeded in putting together tours in Canada around their RIJF performances. In the 2017 series, six of the nine bands completed an additional 22 performance dates between them and in 2018, five of the bands performed an additional 10 dates between them on the Canadian festival circuit.

CRITERIA

Visas

All bands will require a valid USA 'P' or 'O' category performance visa in order to take part in the festival.

USCIS operate strict guidelines as to who is eligible for these visas. If you do not already have a valid USA ‘P’ or ‘0’ category performance visa you will need to be able to provide the following (amongst other information) to RIJF by November 2018 in order for the festival to apply for a visa on your behalf.

The USCIS (Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) requires the following:

1. Proof of a sustained career: If you’re an ensemble, we need some DATED documentation that is more than 12 months old, which shows that the group (with exactly the same line-up) has existed for more than a year. This can be CD releases/press reviews (from established sources) naming all band members.

2. Press: Press from the UK and from abroad. The USCIS ask for proof that you are an “internationally recognised artist/group,” so we also need press that is not from your home country. It need not be in English, but if it is not, we may need you to secure official translations of some or all of your press. We need old and new press as we have to prove that the artist/group has sustained international success. To do this we need a mixture of press from throughout your career - ideally six good reviews, features, or interviews from the UK, and five pieces from other countries (ideally five different countries).

3. Awards and Prizes: Any documentation you can give us that shows that you have won significant awards or prizes.

For further information see https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/p-1b-member-internationally-recognized-entertainment-group

Passports

Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond the completion of your proposed trip to the USA. If your passport expires sooner than that, you must renew your passport before RIJF can apply for a visa on your behalf.

FUNDING

Currently this project is not publicly funded, but groups who fulfil the PRS Foundation's International Showcase Fund criteria will be eligible to apply for funding support:

“PRS Foundation’s International Showcase Fund offers vital support for music creators based in England, Scotland and Wales who have been invited to play an international showcasing festival or conference. If you are invited to play at the Made in the UK showcase in North America, you can apply for support of up to £5,000 as a contribution towards travel, accommodation, visa and per diem costs. We grant up to 75% of your trips budget. The remaining 25% should be covered by the artist, label, manager, publisher, etc.”

http://www.prsformusicfoundation.com/funding/international-showcase-fund/

WHAT RIJF PROVIDE

RIJF will provide accommodation in Rochester for up to two nights (for members of the band only), local ground transport (from and to ROC airport & between hotel and venue), backline (subject to festival approval - substitutions may be required), festival catering on concert evenings & a contribution towards expenses (please note: RIJF do NOT cover flight expenses).

RIJF will apply and pay for US work visas for the chosen bands (value $1,500 -$2,000 each) if required. These visas are generally for up to one week’s duration and are only valid for your performance at RIJF. If your group intends to perform elsewhere in the USA in addition to Rochester, you will need to apply for your own visa through a US Petitioner such as http://www.tamizdat.org (affiliated with Covey Law) and RIJF will provide a pro-rata financial contribution towards the cost of this (up to a maximum of $750). Please see visa information above to check that you are able to fulfil the visa petition criteria.

PLEASE NOTE:

Groups must be prepared to fund their own international flights, US visa embassy costs in the UK (approx. £130 per musician) and any additional expenses themselves, or by applying for funding from the PRSF or other sources.

TO BE CONSIDERED

Please ensure that you understand the visa and funding information outlined above and are available from 21-29 June 2019.

Send an email to madeintheukjazz@gmail.com expressing your interest in being part of the 2019 series. Please include links to website, biography and recent & past press, plus links to videos & streaming of the exact project/line-up you are proposing by Thursday September 6th 2018.

The final Made in the UK 2019 programme will be chosen by the CGI Rochester International Jazz Festival Artistic Director and selected bands will be notified by November 2018.

The programme will be announced in March 2019 at the RIJF press conference.

(*) The Festival recently announced a new title sponsor 

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NEWS: Large UK presence in Leipzig (Leipziger Jazztage 11-20 October)

Matthew Herbert's Brexit Big Band
Publicity picture

The Anglo-Saxons will be heading for Saxony in the Autumn. Peter Bacon reports on a German jazz festival honouring British jazz:

Leipziger Jazztage presents its 42nd “edition” from 11 to 20 October this year, and an awareness both of the media noise surrounding the new British jazz thing, as well as the impending sad farewells as the Brexit tug drags SS UK away from the Euro-quay for destinations unknown, have led to two interesting themes running through the festival.

First up is Fish And Chips – a set of performances by British bands and musicians. The first fish supper is served up by Empirical on the opening day of the festival, 11 October, and is followed by Kit Downes playing church organ on Saturday 13, Matthew Herbert’s Brexit Big Band in a double bill with Yazz Ahmed on Wednesday 17, and the Elliot Galvin Trio on Friday 19. Other British-led bands include Dave Holland’s Aziza and the Norma Winstone Trio, both on Saturday 20 October. Soweto Kinch is on Friday 12.

Then there is the innovative Across The English Channel strand which features UK-European collaborations. So, German pianist Michael Wollny is joining forces with UK electronics manipulator Leafcutter John on Saturday 13 for some further variations on Bach’s Goldbergs, guitarist Helmut Joe Sachse and vocalist Maggie Nicols team up on Thursday 18 as do saxophonist Anna-Lena Schnabel and pianist Florian Weber with bassist James Banner and drummer James Maddren. Swiss, Berlin-based singer Lucia Cadotsch teams up with UK’s Tricko (Lucy Railton, cellist, and Kit Downes on Hammond) on Sunday 14, and Max Andrzejewski’s Hütte and guests play the music of Robert Wyatt on Friday 19.

Leipziger Jazztage’s big names from further afield include Joshua Redman with James Farm, and the quartet of trumpeter Avishai Cohen.

LINK: Leipziger Jazztage website

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CD REVIEW: Kris Davis & Craig Taborn - Octopus



Kris Davis & Craig Taborn - Octopus
(Pyroplastic Records. CD Review by Alison Bentley)


Kris Davis and Craig Taborn on this new album of piano duets sound as if they’re playing with at least eight arms and probably a few legs too, such is the virtuosity and intensity of their playing. The six tracks on this intriguing CD are drawn from three live gigs, melding free jazz, blues and modern classical music. They build on their contribution to Davis’ 2016 album of duos (Duopoly) where her duet with Taborn seemed special. Davis: “From the moment we started playing I felt instantly transported and free within the music, and had the sense we could go anywhere.”

Americn Taborn has contributed three Interruptions, “small composed pieces… to redirect or recondition the musical environment.” Interruptions One sounds almost mimetic: notes like water drops coalesce, or drop a fraction of a second apart like echoes, as the atmospheric pressure builds with huge abstract chords. A heavy storm bursts and subsides with tiny drops and circling atonal riffs. There’s constant movement, and what Taborn in one interview calls “multiple motion.” Cecil Taylor has been a big influence, and there’s something of his angular freedom here.

Canadian-born Davis’ Ossining (a village in the Hudson Valley) is about missing her family’s house move while on the Octopus tour. The cross rhythms of her prepared piano have a kind of emotive urgency that locks into grooves reminiscent of Steve Reich’s Octet, but more playful. (Davis studied West African music with drummer Abraham Adzenyah.) High percussive kalimba-like sounds run over Taborn’s deep repeated phrases; then a gorgeous meditative section resolves the tension. Her Chatterbox evokes an aviary of dissonant sounds and rhythms. It’s an impassioned conversation with many emphatic phases, full of incredibly agile speeding notes, strutting crashes and glissandi.

One of the album’s covers is Carla Bley’s 60s Monkish tune Sing Me Softly of the Blues, suggested by Davis. This version opens with a drawling bluesiness, trills and blue notes tripping over each other. The melody fragments into crazy phrasing and impossible disharmony, then returns, spikily melodic. Davis spent a lot of time transcribing Keith Jarrett: “It felt like his solos were one long melody,” she told one interviewer. “That was always a big influence for me, even if it veered off into other things.” There’s a jump cut into Taborn’s Interruptions Two, with emphatic rock-edged chords and delicately clinking high notes. Interruptions Three almost seems to be falling down Ligeti’s Devil’s Staircase, with jazz chords like double-speed Ravel on a loop. Defiant flourishes, rumbling bass doodlings and crashing chords seem to react instinctively to jumpy phrases. Taborn chose Sun Ra’s '60s Love in Outer Space and plays an exquisite intro, like Messaien through a jazz lens. His ostinato bass lines almost recall Abdullah Ibrahim’s African Piano, as Davis brings in the Romantic theme and develops the dreamy mood.

It doesn’t seem to matter what’s composed and what’s improvised, and as Taborn says elsewhere, “With improvisation you are composing at the same time as you're performing.” It’s as if they’ve absorbed an unimaginable amount of jazz, classical and improvised music, and use their formidable technique to play with a childlike spirit of inventiveness and playfulness.

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INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Sara Dowling (new album Two Sides Of Sara released 10 August)

Sara Dowling
Photo: © Steven Tagg Randall
Vocalist Sara Dowling is about to release her second album, Two Sides Of Sara. She spoke to Sebastian about the complexities of heritage, the power of two, the enduring beauty of the American Songbook and finding stories in their dramatic verses.

London Jazz News: Please clear up one thing....are you SAH-ra or SAY-ra?

Sara Dowling: It’s pronounced Saaaaaaa ra. Ha ha ha! Not Sarah.

LJN: You sing “I’m from Missouri too” in You came a Long Way from St. Louis. I was convinced – but where are you actually from?

SD: That’s a very good question! Audience members often ask me, “Where are you from?”  My response is always, “Ummm, are you asking which part of London I live or where I grew up or where I was born or what is my heritage?”  This response is usually met with, “Jeepers, OK, I’m going to guess alright, you’re Italian aren’t you? Spanish? Iranian?” And the list goes on, which makes this question all too entertaining for me at gigs and usually gives me a chance to have a good old natter with these crazy jazz lovers.

I am half-Palestinian half-Irish. I was born in Muscat (Capital of Oman). I moved to the UK when I was seven, and lived in Land's End, Cornwall. Then, I moved to Manchester to go to a music school from age 12 and stayed there until I moved to London at 30 and have been here ever since. Voila!

LJN: And for a time you were a professional cellist?

SD: Yes, the cello was my ticket to Manchester where I attended Chetham's School of Music from age 12-18 and subsequently continued my studies at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM).

LJN: And this is your second album... how is this one different from the first?

SD: Well, firstly, this album is a duo album. Tracks 1-7 are (Vocal and Piano) and tracks 8-14 are (Vocal and Hammond Organ), whereas my first album is with a rhythm section. Therefore, this album is very exposing and a true picture of where my voice was at then. Lord knows, I think my voice has changed since March and June 2017, which was when I recorded the two sessions. In my heart, I felt before recording another big quartet album like my first, I’d like to make a statement. If listeners who buy this album truly love it, then they genuinely like my voice. There are no original compositions, just standards that immediately expose the voice’s ability... and ability to portray sincere emotion with just a piano or an organ to hide behind. As a duo record there is so much room for me to use a great dynamic range and colour… and I like that!

LJN: You know a lot of standards – what led to this selection?

SD: Well, the standards chosen with organ were songs in my mind that I felt I could either give a bluesy delivery or songs that would allow me to sustain the melody and build to a point that I was able to show the biggest outpour of emotion possible. The organ can facilitate that kind of delivery. It is a mammoth instrument with a wide sound palette; it pushes the voice to a place with no borders.



The standards chosen with the piano were songs that I imagined Ella Fitzgerald and Ellis Larkins would have chosen. Songs that sit on a tempo that allows the pianist to play at a slow lilting stride. That style of playing leaves me teary. I also chose songs that Gabriel (Latchin) and I were often playing at the time and seemed to really suit us.

Of course it is important to feel an affiliation with the lyrics but I also need to have as deep connection with melody and harmony as I do with lyrics. I’m not a vocalist that learns songs that just suit who I am. That’s why I’ll sing "I’m from Missouri too” like I mean it.

On a tangent here: I like to learn huge lists of songs that belong to one composer in order to get the feel of the composer and his style. You can find beauty in all songs if they are written by one of the greats. That’s the beauty of the American Songbook.

LJN: The verses of these songs… you seem to always find treasures in the words. You must enjoy telling stories…

SD: I love delivering lines in the way an actress would. The verses of standards are the moment for a vocalist to shine in terms of their ability to sing and act/deliver.

LJN: Two Sides... why that title?

SD: I am a pretty unpredictable person (I’m nervously laughing by the way) so I have many sides to my character, ask mama. However, two sides of Sara are showing the beauty of piano and organ. How the instrumentation alone can bring out a different side of my voice.

LJN: What led you to want to record with Gabriel Latchin?

SD: I’ve been working with Gabriel since May 2015. I adore his playing and I think he’s an exceptional musician who is making great movements in his own right. He seems to know how to cope with me.

LJN: And (organist) Bill Mudge?

SD: Well Bill Mudge is very special. He is an extraordinarily sensitive and thoughtful musician. When you get someone like that playing the organ it’s very special, especially in terms of his ability to accompany too. He has great time. To be honest there was only one person for me that could have done a duo album and that was Bill.

LJN: And how and where were the sessions?

SD: The first session: 8 March 2017, Talbort Studios Bermondsey – Recorded by an amazing organist called Steve Pringle. You will hear how well he recorded the organ. He knew exactly what he was doing. It was recorded to tape too. Steve had to take his shirt off in the control room where the tape machine was placed. It reached 27 degrees Celsius in March! We finished recording at 2am-ish finishing with When It’s sleepy Time Down South. Steve Pringle being a musician is the only kind of person that would agree to be in the recording studio at 2am, but it was special recording at that time of night. There were tears of joy, emotion and fatigue from Bill and I, and memories I’ll cherish always.

The Second session:  30 June 2017, Fish Factory in Willesdon – Fish Factory is an incredible space, with high ceilings and lots of wood. I love the old desk there but most of all I love the piano. Many people want that modern pristine sound from the piano but I preferred the Fish Factory’s lovely old Steinway. It’s sound is dark and heavy. That sound for me is reminiscent of all these old jazz records. That’s the piano sound I want to hear when I sing. I made sure to get Gabriel the biggest sandwich possible. He has a fear of being hungry. Go figure!

LJN: Song choices… How rare to hear Irving Berlin’s After You Get What You Want – er, don’t you  have to be Marilyn Monroe to do that one?

SD: Well, I’m impressed... you know your broadway Mr Scotney! Well I’m NO Marilyn, I’m more of a ‘Monica from Friends’ but I do LOVE that song. There’s something about it. Innocent, childlike and sad… “After you get what you want you don’t want it / If I gave you the moon, you’d grow tired of it soon.”

LJN: Do you have a residency anywhere? Where’s the most likely place people will hear you?

SD: The only regular thing I have going is a monthly appearance with Gabriel at the Wellesley Hotel in Hyde Park on a Friday. My gig calendar is pretty varied and I do a lot of clubs out of town like Susan May’s Clubs. When, I’m in town I mostly sing at the 606 – about three to four times a year, I do the odd warm-up set at Ronnie Scott's and a few times a month I sing at the NED.

LJN: Would you do this programme live too?

SD: Not sure yet.

LJN: You’ve got a live George Shearing programme – and a Jerome Kern set too. What’s the story there?

SD: Well I adore George Shearing mostly because my father listened to him a lot and I’ve enjoyed taking his quintet arrangements of song with vibes and mould them round a vocal.

As for the Kern show, well I have several different shows: Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George/Ira Gershwin, Judy Garland. This is my crusade to maintain the beauty of the American Songbook and not allow that incredible collection of songs to be lost. I love composing and I wrote two originals on my first album, but right now, where I’m standing I think a jazz singer should have a healthy repertoire. It’s part of the job description and part of being a jazz musician. Call me a traditionalist!

LJN: How/where do people get hold of the album?

SD: Well my website (see LINK below) is the best place to go at the moment. ITunes and Amazon will be the next part of this journey. You can buy physical copies from my site or download the digital version from 10 August 2018.

LINK: Sara Dowling's website

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REVIEW: Kamasi Washington at Serpentine Gallery

Kamasi Washington and Ryan Porter
Serpentine Galleries Park Nights
Photo credit: Lewis Ronald

Kamasi Washington
(Serpentine Gallery, 3 August 2018. Review, photo, drawing by Geoff Winston)

There are special gigs and there are really special gigs. Kamasi Washington's concert in Frida Escobedo’s Serpentine Pavilion was extra special.

The setting was unique – the indoors-outdoors space of Escobedo's intriguing, ethereal temporary structure beside the Serpentine Gallery. Fabricated with a lattice of cement roof tiles referencing the architect's Mexican heritage and, in its floor plan, the Greenwich Prime Meridian Line, it has an internal canopy clad with mirrored panels to expand the internal courtyard space, reflecting both its visitors and the play of the heavens.

Kamasi Washington and The Next Step at the Serpentine Pavilion
Photo by Geoff Winston © 2018. All rights reserved
Ahead of the concert, early arrivers were greeted by the strains of Washington's band, The Next Step, going through their paces for their sound check. The perfect warm-up and introduction to the Pavilion's monumental, yet generously conceived, sculptural presence.

Washington was elated to be playing such an intimate space – so intimate, he said, that he felt that he knew everyone in the room by their first name. He asked everybody to raise their hands and shout out their names, and responded, saying that there were a lot of Brians! This was a one-off: "…playing inside a piece of art… let's see what kind of magic happens."

Washington, a musician and composer with jazz at the core, thinks in multi-media terms, and created an installation, Harmony of Difference, at New York's 2017 Whitney Biennial, combining his music with film and paintings, so the invitation from the Serpentine Gallery to participate in their experimental Park Nights platform was a natural step, perhaps given extra traction by his signing to the British label, Young Turks. He also played at the Proms in 2016, featuring his milestone project, The Epic (LINK).

From a musical family, the young Washington's first jazz concert was seeing Pharaoh Sanders at a neighbourhood club in his hometown, an experience imprinted on his musical direction which gains full expression in his collaborative ventures, many with musicians who have been playing together since their high school days in Los Angeles. They read each other perfectly, having put in the time and energy to let the complex rhythms and interactions flow with seeming ease.

Putting down the marker with a sonic sax and trombone blast, the band's two-pronged drum attack kicked in, Tony Austin behind a perspex drum screen to the left and Ronald Bruner Jr to the right. Already warmed-up, they flowed into the cosmic soul-jazz groove, with a serious helping of hard-line funk, as though they'd already been playing for an hour. Explains why they chose to have James Brown playing as the audience entered the Pavilion! And the sound quality in the Pavilion was right on the button.

Kamasi Washington at the Serpentine Pavilion
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2018. All rights reserved
Washington's early solo had a soft edge to it with a brief sampled overlay, and later in the evening his debts to Coltrane shone through in measured, paced phrasing, erupting into passionate, explosive expression. He challenged the audience to work out the difficult time signatures in trombonist Ryan Porter's The Sound, where Porter added a punchy solo ahead of bassist, Miles Mosley, whose intricately wrought, light touch took a left-field turn in to a grittily distorted, Hendrixian zone.

Patrice Quinn came to the fore in The Rhythm Changes, from The Epic, with dulcet, soulful vocals, growing in stature to unnervingly give the sense of a full choir from but a single voice. Her graceful, balletic gestures added a further dimension.

Washington's father, Rickey Washington – "Pops!", as he introduced him – joined the band, to contribute lyrical soprano sax and flute flourishes to the dynamic momentum. With both wearing striped dashikis, his delicate features and close cropped hair made a touching complement to his son's powerful stage presence.

Washington makes a stand for musical sophistication. In conversation with the Serpentine's Artistic Director, Hans Ulrich Obrist (LINK) he has said: "One of the major struggles within music is the idea that in order to be accessible they have to be very simple. I've always disagreed… I feel like most of the greatest and most popular records are pretty complicated. The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, James Brown; they all made very complicated music."

From Harmony of Difference, Truth was described by Washington as one of five overlapping melodies in the broader context of his project embracing and celebrating diversity in the current climate of uncertainty. Mosely explored harmonics and electronic crunches before the band set down a cracking pace with Washington galloping into the fast lane to hang on to a single note which he pushed to the limit.

The band's irrepressible, ultra-funk backbone was further buttressed by the virtuosic fluidity of Ruslan Sirota on keyboards, mixing the spirits of blues, jazz and soul with a sense of pure joy. A recent recruit to the band's roster, his invention and adaptability was something of a revelation!

The first of two from the recent Heaven and Earth set, Space Travellers Lullaby, "for the dreamers and space cadets", had the soloing Porter bathed in perspiration before all dropped back to a perfectly synchronised wash to foreground Washington's intense interplay with the percussionists. Fists of Fury opened with a spell of retro wah wah, moving on to tight-as-toast section work with jagged, chunky keyboard chords tossed in to the mix and Quinn singing out the set with passionate commitment after a round of glorious solos.

It had been a most precious evening with the musicians giving their all. To witness this at close quarters in such a special setting was a rare privilege. A jewel of a gig.

Kamasi Washington and The Next Step

Kamasi Washington - tenor sax
Ryan Porter - trombone
Miles Mosley - bass
Rickey Washington - soprano sax and flute
Ruslan Sirota - keyboards
Patrice Quinn - vocals
Tony Austin - drums
Ronald Bruner Jr - drums

Park Nights supported by COS 
Serpentine Architecture Programme 2018 supported by Goldman Sachs 
Serpentine Galleries supported by Arts Council England

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FEATURE: The Classical Duke Ellington: Pete Long and Echoes of Ellington (Cadogan Hall Saturday 8 September)

Pete Long (clarinet):
Neptune, the mystic
Photo credit: Philip Nash
Duke Ellington's elegant and witty reworkings of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and Grieg's Peer Gynt suites are featured along with an Ellingtonian Jazz Planets - a new version of Gustav Holst's Planets Suite in its centenary year. Each of the ten movements of Jazz Planets features a soloist from the Echoes of Ellington Orchestra. Feature by Peter Vacher.

Back in the day, "raggin’ or jazzin’ the classics" was all the rage. It was the American bandleader John Kirby who really put the idea on the map when his tightly organised sextet recorded swinging versions of Schubert’s Serenade and Dvorak’s Humoresque in the 1930s. Later on, they added Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt and the intriguingly titled Bounce Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, thus anticipating Duke Ellington’s more comprehensive examination of these time-honoured classics. On a somewhat larger scale, the blind British pianist Alec Templeton created Bach Goes To Town for Benny Goodman’s orchestra in 1938. Sub-titled Prelude And Fugue In Swing it was featured at the band’s Second Carnegie Hall Concert the following year. Speaking of Templeton’s composition, Goodman said it was “as if Bach were writing for a swing band.”
Joe Pettitt (double bass) Saturn, the bringer of old age
Photo Credit: Philip Nash
More recently, Wilbur De Paris’ Rampart Street Paraders speeded through Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor, a piece which it turns out had been recast by Ellington years earlier when his Orchestra was resident at New York’s Cotton Club. Consider, too, the French pianist Jacques Loussier, classically trained and hugely accomplished, who made his fortune with his Play Bach trio, touring world-wide as he set his performances of Bach’s many composition against a jazz backdrop.

That said, for jazz people, it really took the imprimatur of the mighty Duke Ellington himself to give this short-lived fashion the ultimate badge of approval. When he and his amanuensis Billy Strayhorn conceived the idea of applying the Ellingtonian lexicon to their paraphrase of Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Nutcracker Suite there was surprise, naturally, but ultimately, approval. The authoritative Gramophone Magazine’s reviewer described Ellington’s re-workings as "a wonderfully affectionate and superbly stimulating reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s suite" while other critics revelled in the roles fulfilled by the band’s greatest soloists in each of Duke’s separate arrangements. Much the same was said of his equally distinctive look at the Peer Gynt Suites Nos 1 and 2 by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg even if the Royal Swedish Academy of Music spoke sniffily of Ellington’s apparent heresy as "offending to Nordic music culture". No matter, for the music was superb as can be judged when patiently transcribed extracts from both the Ellington Nutcracker and Peer Gynt suites are performed by Pete Long’s splendid Echoes of Ellington Orchestra at the upcoming Cadogan Hall concert on 8 September.
Callum Au (trombone) and Mike Hall (tenor sax)
The Asteroids, the dancers
Photo Credit: Philip Nash

While Ellington’s precise motivation for embarking on these re-creations remains obscure, that for Ellington enthusiast Long’s entirely fresh but still essentially Ellingtonian examination of Gustav Holst’s The Planets Suite is crystal clear. “While driving, Venus from The Planets Suite came on the radio,” he recalled. “It suddenly struck me how Ellingtonian the curves of the melody were. By the time I’d reached my destination, the broad idea of restructuring the whole suite for an Ellington-style orchestra had coalesced.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Only then could the herculean task of re-orchestrating the many planetary parts commence. After all, Holst’s suite had been written for a large orchestra so eight months of heady work ensued, key melodies were extracted and a signature character assigned to each of Holst’s movements. Ideas were tested and expanded, and individual soloists highlighted as they might have been had Ellington himself been in charge. That done, all that remained was for The Planets Suite by Holst but re-arranged by Pete Long for big band to be recorded. Which it has been.
Colin Good (piano)
Uranus: the magician
Photo Credit: Philip Nash
The African-American commentator Stanley Crouch was once moved to describe Ellington’s original Nutcracker and Peer Gynt recordings as "making it obvious that one of the greatest ensembles in all of Western history is at work". Having heard Long’s re-scored Planetary music already, I fully expect Crouch‘s verdict to be replicated by those who witness Pete Long and the Echoes of Ellington performing The Classical Duke Ellington at Cadogan Hall in what will be a triple celebration. Not only does 2018 mark the centenary of the premiere performance of Holst’s The Planets Suite but it is also a quarter of a century since Long formed the Echoes Orchestra and ten years since the Jazz Repertory Company’s rich array of concerts at Cadogan Hall first began. (pp)

LINK: The Classical Duke Ellington at Cadogan Hall

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REVIEW: Roberto Fonseca Trio plus Enemy at the 2018 Ronnie Scott's International Piano Trio Festival

Roberto Fonseca
Publicity picture from robertofonseca.com

Roberto Fonseca Trio plus Enemy
(Ronnie Scott's International Piano Trio Festival, 4 August 2018, First House. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Roberto Fonseca’s recent work has been on an ambitious scale. The 2017 album Abuc, so warmly reviewed by John L Walters has endless variety with an impressive array of production values. And the live show derived from it was very much at home in front of a vast crowd in a large space – for example like the Roman amphitheatre in Vienne in 2017 (video link below).

So, I was wondering: how would Fonseca function in the more intimate setting of a club and with just a bassist (Yandy Martínez) and a drummer (Ruly Herrera) for company. Might one miss the punchy interjections of a top-flight horn section? How would he fare without all the rollicking paraphernalia of latin percussion? Maybe some of the buoyancy and kick would be lost?

Not in the slightest. As Fonseca himself has said in an interview, "I think that you can also create a harmonious atmosphere and find a very active and responsive audience in small venues." And that is precisely what he did.

He may have started the set by letting bass and drums establish a groove over which he could solo freely, but it was not long before the the essence of what he is about emerged: Fonseca is such a complete and versatile musician, such a good and thoughtful set-planner, such a source of energy and vitality, this trio experience turned out to be self-contained, thought-through. It was, and he is, the whole package. With variety, shape and and an abundant sense of purpose, the trio kept interest alive throughout its set. Fonseca was presenting what he described as “all new music” for the trio; if there is an album in the pipeline, then please will someone point me to where the end of that pipeline is.

The sense that Fonseca is at home and completely at home in a broad variety of idioms was predominant. When asked recently to name his musical heroes, the first he mentioned was Herbie Hancock, and he and his bandmates can settle into a four-bar fusion groove and keep cycling it for as short or as long a time as they feel like it.

Fonseca first came to wide attention through his involvement in Buena Vista Social Club, and there was a brief and perfectly-formed nostalgia moment when the three settled comfortably into the smiling groove of Quizás, quizás, quizás. But just as interesting as the tune itself was how they got there, how they built up to it. It was preceded with a section of what I can only call anti-groove, as all three in lockstep delved into an unsettled, angular and a-rhythmic language – from which the gentleness of Osvaldo Farrés' 1947 song would come as a blessed relief.

And then there are Fonseca's classical chops. He has a left hand which can be as emphatic as Baremboim's, and there was one daemonic Lisztian section where I wondered if Fonseca had ever come under the influence of that master of clarity Jorge Bolet.

And more variety still: the agility and velocity of Fonseca's right hand are forces to be reckoned with (he has also declared Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum as among his heroes). His variety of touch is beguiling, and he has the perseverance to hold on to an idee fixe motif and re-iterate it and keep it going without limit, say as the fundament for a bass or drum solo.

And then there is the sheer range of effects he can dig out of a Nord keyboard, either as an unadorned Rhodes sound, or the synthesizer and an extra keyboard There was also a lot of variety from introducing recorded sounds of speech (eg Winston Churchill's 1941 Masters of Our Fate speech) and song. Before the final number Mambo para la niña he repeated almost forlornly that "normally people dance," but he adapted and achieved a call-and-response with the Ronnie's audience which was as impressive as they come.


Enemy (L-R: Kit Downes, Petter Eldh, James Maddren)
Photo courtesy of Edition Records

This was the fifth Ronnie Scott’s piano trio festival, and its underlying principle, to show the range of different dimensions that are currently available, was provided by the support act. Enemy is the trio of Kit Downes, Petter Eldh and James Maddren. They were playing material from the album Enemy recorded in late 2016 and issued in May of this year.

Enemy has its declared purpose as (“we want this music to be fierce, vital and to have and give energy – and to do so whilst never sacrificing its intricacy and its integrity.”). The tunes are not simple, and yet they drew the audience in – as often happens at Ronnie’s – by taking the volume down, making the textures sparse, particularly in a tune like Fogo, with its oft-repeated catchy melodic hook.

All three musicians play in several other contexts all over Europe, but this is a trio which has found its own balance, its ways of providing a context for sophisticated interaction. If they choose to set up a flexible tempo, they will always move together as one. Bassist Eldh has his way of throwing out challenges with his strong sound and emphatic way of playing, particularly on a tune like Brandy. And with James Maddren one has the sense that he doesn't just hear everything, he makes sure that he has exactly the right response ready. He also proved to be a genial MC, doing all the announcements.

The opening set was not the context for fireworks or shock tactics; Enemy judged the mood well, to the extent that quite a few on-the-spot Enemy converts were to be seen about the club clutching their newly-bought CD or vinyl.

LINK: Roberto Fonseca at Vienne in 2017

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