Derry jazz club Bennigans celebrates its first-year anniversary on 2 November with a guest appearance by the acclaimed London jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss who will be backed by John Leighton’s organ trio, the organist joined by guitarist Hugh Buckley and drummer David Lyttle.
“The fact that we can bring in top level artists like Cleveland Watkiss to a little hothouse club on John Street says a lot about where we are at,” Leighton, who runs the weekly night, comments.
Based at the Derry pub that bears its name, Bennigans has turned up the dynamism dial on the Derry scene to the max since the weekly Sunday club night began last year the place playing host to such luminaries as Irish jazz greats Louis Stewart and local hero Gay McIntyre, US sax rising star Meilana Gillard, and the MOBO-nominated Jason Rebello as well as, crucially, encouraging brand new still unknown talent.
The cosy Cityside spot was also the place to be in terms of sheer atmosphere as well as choice bookings at this year’s city of Derry jazz and big band festival. Tickets are £10.
Cleveland Watkiss, top. Photo: Cat Munro. Bennigans, above. Photo: Stephen Graham
- Category: News
- Published: Tue 21st Oct 2014 10:41:04
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 18:01:19
Jøkleba Outland ECM ***1/2
Most tortuous acronym in a while, not that the band is new. The work of the long-running but very cult trio of Jø (Per Jørgensen) kle (Audun Kleive) ba (Jon Balke, piano), an electro-acoustic and free improv-friendly liquidy assemblage of occasionally unidentifiable but complementary textures. Trumpeter Per Jørgensen’s highly creative blend, sometimes feeding in his use of intermingled vocalisations, kalimba and flute sounds, fuse with the electronics-flavoured piano and drums of his trio partners in a long-running joint endeavour that has harvested four albums over a long period together: On and On (1991) self-titled Jøkleba (1993), Jokleba! Live! (1995), a long silence then broken in 2011 with the release of double album Jøkleba/Nu Jøk (Universal).
Outland appears on 27 October, the trio then surfacing at Scene Norway + in Bristol for a rare date next month. Jøkleba, an eco-friendly group, are eschewing plane travel to tour this autumn by train instead and while electricity (ideally renewably wind-powered presumably) itself powers the trio there is something ancient and blatantly pre-industrial about the sound, as if electronics have been reinvented by some pagan and mysterious life force.
A studio album recorded in Norway in May this year the sound is basically free improv with an impulse-driven character to it something stark and primeval (on ‘Brighton’ the abstract heavily modified vocal line almost animal-like) and mostly short pieces some with hints of literary titles (eg ‘Bell Jar’ [Sylvia Plath], ‘One Flew Over’ [Ken Kesey]) reliant on the ESP-like rapport between the three, Balke and Jørgensen excelling in the more musically intimate moments for much of its development. The drone-like tech-y backdrop to a piece such as ‘Blind Owl’ providing a tundra of the imagination.
An abiding characteristic of this group is the scaling up in what amounts to an orchestral vision riding into view from the seemingly skeletal materials and atmospheres, twisted sonic trajectories (the Norwegian word ‘Vridd’ used on three fragmentary pieces) pushing the concept of variations to the max or even ripping the notion up. The trumpet/keyboards dialogue on ‘The Nightwood’ reminded me in its opening part at least of Tomasz Stańko’s under-appreciated collaboration with Janusz Skowron on his 1997 album Tales for a Girl, 12 and Jørgensen has that Stańko-like sense of abstract destiny in his sound in his approach on ‘Horla’. Challenging and rewarding music. SG
Jon Balke, above left, Per Jørgensen, and Audun Kleive. Photo: FutureBuilt / jokleba.no
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Sat 18th Oct 2014 10:46:49
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 18:00:41
Ran Blake Cocktails at Dusk: a Noir Tribute to Chris Connor Impulse! ****
Following on from the 1000 yen reissues of Connor’s A Portrait of Chris and Witchcraft welcome reminders both of a sometimes forgotten voice comes this extensive and knowing tribute by cult pianist, the famed New England Conservatory educator Ran Blake. Produced by Jean-Philippe Allard, the album, spookily, even includes several samples of Chris Connor practically dream-walking, for instance, on the Rodgers and Hart song ‘Why Can’t I’ a song she recorded in 1956 which appeared on He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not here segueing into Blake’s beautiful piano solo. Recorded in Brussels in July 2012 Cocktails opens with ‘Ten Cents a Dance,’ and then one of Connor’s best known numbers, Joe Green’s ‘All About Ronnie.’ Mostly solo piano there are also Blake duets here with singer Laïka Fatien on ‘Ronnie’, ‘Where Are You’, and extraordinarily sombre and very still on the Peter Udell/Tommy Goodman song ‘Driftwood’ near the end, one of the best things here Blake desolate in his accompaniment. Tenorist Ricky Ford is also heard on the record and his contributions include a tone-sleazy role on the Margo Guryan song ‘Moon Ride,’ his saxophone summoning an atmosphere that might as well be beamed direct from the pages of a Damon Runyon novel with Connor fading into view from beyond the grave via the time machine to 1958 and the music from an ultra-rare Atlantic single’s B side.
Cocktail hour must be an interesting experience chez Blake the closest to the tinkling style the hour usually summons – and not very at that as Blake is never sentimental on this album – is a panoramic take on Cole Porter’s ‘I Get a Kick Out of You’. How, to put it, Cocktails at Dusk is enjoyably gloomy, the pianism a world you need to immerse yourself in and give in to, entertained by tough love cadences and stark runs that are heavy on atmosphere however skeletally in execution they are constructed, the timing immaculate. Lose yourself in thought. Stephen Graham
Released on 3 November
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Sun 19th Oct 2014 13:14:44
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 18:00:28
Simon Purcell Red Circle Whirlwind Recordings ****
Beautifully gathered, Julian Siegel and Chris Batchelor’s tenor saxophone and trumpet in the opening noir-ish exchanges set the atmosphere pianist Simon Purcell prodding the band along after the bass and drum-led start Gene Calderazzo’s quick-witted percussive wit jockeying ‘Spirit Level’ along. This album should have come out in June, not sure why it has been delayed, but it’s certainly worth the wait, one of the most accomplished homegrown acoustic jazz releases of the year so far. The head of jazz at Trinity-Laban’s first album for Whirlwind, the best UK indie jazz label for a while now in terms of the quantity and quality of its output, there’s something timeless about the appeal here in much the way that you can listen to an old Wayne Shorter record and it still seems modern and relevant, the collected wisdom of a lost time where the music sums up the pensive mood but celebrates the musical abandon so persuasively. On this studio recording Printmakers bassist Steve Watts has a difficult job containing the wildnesses Purcell’s writing allows for and manages to steer the direction of the music sensitively particularly on a tune such as ‘Minos’ not exactly restraining the horns but going with their flow and the restlessness of the rhythm section. Liane Carroll guests on the sumptuous bonus track ‘Ithaca’ a quality Winstone-esque original of Purcell’s, adding to the other compositions of his on the record, this single non-instrumental featuring lyrics by the singer. It’s a song you’d imagine we’ll be hearing a lot of in the future such is its sheer magnetism.
Red Circle is released on 10 November
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Wed 8th Oct 2014 10:20:23
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 17:52:11
Maybe it’s an extra bit of edginess to season All Is Well (Laborie Jazz ***) that Lisa Simone’s latest album could do with.
Not that it needs much. Performing with a small band – guitarist Hervé Samb, bassist Reggie Washington, and drummer Sonny Troupé on this studio album recorded in France – Nina Simone’s daughter, a former Broadway musical theatre performer, isn’t averse at delivering a little homily to begin the album before entering a prayerful space powerfully enough on her own song ‘Finally Free,’ which she has also written lyrics to. Hers is a technically strong voice, with plenty of power to it, and Simone can sell a song like the best musical theatre performers. However, the approach is a step away from one or two key elements of jazz singing in terms of light and shade not that that I’m sure matters to most listeners yet it’s worth pointing out especially when the material becomes a little poppier, for instance on the title track ‘All is Well’, that her appeal is not necessarily just suited to such a specialist audience as a jazz one.
Guitarist Samb sets up a careful introduction to the revealingly autobiographical ‘Child in Me,’ a song about Lisa’s relationship as a child with her mother and her sadness when Nina would leave for her work and activism. Samb contributes the music to ‘Revolution’ the next song, Simone handling the spoken word element of it well and then adding huge power. Her lilting cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ didn’t do much for me, the album only entering deeper waters on the absorbing song ‘The Hardest Part,’ probably the most jazz-friendly part of the album up to that point. Her mother’s ‘Ain’t Got No I Got Life’, which appeared on 1968’s Nuff Said, is carefully delivered, and the version of Chris Rodriguez’s ‘Take it to The Father’ has a lot of spirit to it. Samb’s ‘Lullaby’ is pretty, and a well-judged version of ‘Autumn Leaves’ wraps up the album strongly, the words sung both in English and French. SG
Simone launches All is Well, which has just been released, in the UK at London venue Kings Place at a concert on 8 December. ‘Revolution’, the fifth track from the album, is above
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Mon 20th Oct 2014 17:00:14
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 17:49:09
Making his London debut at BluesFest is Nigel Mooney who appeared earlier this autumn at the Limerick Jazz Festival with his septet.
In his blues incarnation in the 1980s with his Gripewater Blues Band Mooney honed a sound he had built from his interest in the blues dating back to his schooldays and early listening to Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Peter Green, and BB King. Years later with the band that listening would be closer to the source still opening for BB when the blues great’s relentless touring reached Dublin. Now in his early-fifties, Mooney is 51, not 49 as stated on Wikipedia, with the Gripewater band in his early twenties it was “playing all those Willie Dixon numbers and then discovering the jazz stuff, searching for a new style,” he says. That new style would come tumbling down, first via Jimmy Smith’s organ and George Benson’s guitar. Mooney would also be listening to some Charlie Parker, some John Coltrane, and some Ahmad Jamal along the way.
Mooney grew up on Dublin’s south side, in Rathfarnham, and moved out to Wicklow, but now lives in the north of County Wexford. The blues scene in those distant days in Ireland included such totemic figures as Belfast scenester Jim Daly who Mooney first met in the unusual circumstances of JFK airport in New York. It was “an infamous situation,” Mooney explains. “A big company had gone bust and we were stranded with no return flight waiting for two days in the airport. I got talking to this guy, who was telling me about playing in Chicago with Sunnyland Slim, and I was amazed. I said to him: did he know Jim Daly? ‘I am Jim Daly’!” a story that amuses Mooney’s friend and fellow guitarist Ronnie Greer who used to play with the keyboardist’s blues band and who even addresses Mooney as I Am Jim Daly.
The Gripewater, with a core quartet line-up, filled a gap on the Dublin music scene of the time more attuned to heavy rock, and would play at Tommy Dunne’s tavern in Dublin, a place that used to be the Parliament Inn near the Capel St Bridge, and which is now a bar/restaurant called the Turk’s Head. There were three floors of bars, and gradually the better the band were the higher up in the building they would play. “It was a very old building but old and dilapidated as well, a good place to play,” Nigel recalls. “The top floor was dangerous and a fire hazard but when we got grooving on a Chicago blues if you went down below the top floor, as I would do for something, if a saxophonist was playing, you might get some plaster on your head as the band grooved and the crowd danced upstairs.”
That scene ended with no notification abruptly in late-1985, early-1986, when Mooney arrived one Saturday night ready to play, quite a large number of punters standing around outside, and the venue’s shutters were still down. The gig was finished. After that the transition began towards jazz and Mooney started to play at JJ Smyths on a Friday at that time not putting on any jazz, and in late 1986 and the early part of 87 saxophonist Richie Buckley started coming in and playing with Mooney and his bluesmen on a regular basis. Nigel says: “The band started introducing Charlie Parker tunes and it was a gradual graduation. I was still too lazy to learn all the key changes. But we brought in a drummer who swung a bit more.” When the Gripewater stopped Mooney began to play with band leader Earl Gill’s seven piece at the Shelbourne Hotel, and also with jazz pianist Tony Drennan in the 1990s, and they would play all sorts at hotel gigs and at weddings and functions. Mooney’s ear was changing.
Playing BluesFest, the headliners of which this year include Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, and Gregory Porter, Mooney is leading his band of Johnny Taylor on piano, Dan Bodwell on bass, and Dominic Mullan, drums, his main quartet, the guitarist-singer says, of the last few years.
As for records The Bohemian Mooney issued by Lyte Records last year Mooney says was a stop-gap and came some 10 years after All My Love’s In Vain. He says he had put writing for the band on the “long finger” and with a few changes in personnel in his band from the In Vain days he says hadn’t been “writing diligently” and instead “cobbled together” the album, initially an idea and concept for the septet. On it Georgie Fame also pops up on a Freddie Green song, the great Mose Allison-influenced singer/organist and 1960s pop star who Mooney has known since the late-1980s when Georgie was playing with Van Morrison. Van, with Richie Buckley, would come down to Nigel’s gigs, and Nigel would go to Van’s. An enduring friendship with Georgie was developing.
In terms of the vocals side of his performances Mooney says as a listener he likes Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra and Joe Williams as well as Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan. He’s not a devotee of Ray Charles he says but ‘Ain’t That Love’ on the album even so shows a deep understanding and flair for the High Priest of Soul’s approach. The real tour de force of the album perhaps is ‘Bohemian Moondance’ where Van classic ‘Moondance’ metamorphoses effortlessly into ‘Milestones’ by Miles Davis, a natural fit in Mooney’s hands. The bandleader says he used to play ‘Moondance’ at gigs which he mentions tactfully was requested “too many times”. So after a while he decided to rewrite the bridge, change the tempo, and play it “a bit different and hoped nobody would notice!” Ah well, that cat’s well and truly out of the bag. You’d also imagine Mooney at BluesFest won’t go unnoticed either by blues and jazz fans making the scene. Stephen Graham
- Category: Interviews and features
- Published: Tue 14th Oct 2014 15:19:09
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 17:41:16
The line-up of London’s BluesFest at the Albert Hall on 26-31 October once again includes Van Morrison and Gregory Porter, with Elvis Costello and Sheryl Crow two more big draws this year. Yet the presence of these luminaries could be said to only scratch the surface of a very extensive programme with family-friendly daytime events complementing the evening programming. BluesFest director Leo Green says he is expecting some 30,000 festival-goers at this year’s running.
Level 42, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, Beth Hart, the Robert Cray band, Curtis Stigers, Mud Morganfield, Nigel Mooney playing the festival for the first time, Nina Ferro, Andy Fairweather Low, Jo Harman, Marcus Bonfanti, Dr Feelgood, Paddy Milner, and Mike Sanchez also play.
On his way to South Kensington... Gregory Porter, above
- Category: News
- Published: Fri 19th Sep 2014 08:12:26
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 17:35:28
Richard Galliano Sentimentale Resonance Records ***
Not a quick fix of a record Sentimentale is one to take your time over. Beginning with Chick Corea’s ‘Armando’s Rumba’ the great French accordionist layers emotion on top of emotion on ‘Canto Invierno’ the next track, one of the big tunes, on an album recorded in April 2013 that never overstays its welcome.
Here with pianist Tamir Hendelman who has arranged most of the 12 selections, Anthony Wilson the guitarist (known for his work with Diana Krall) who swings Francis Lai's ‘Plus Fort Que Nous’, the theme from Claude Lelouch’s 1966 film A Man and a Woman, very effectively, plus the bassist Carlitos Del Puerto and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli, Galliano manages to provide fresh insights impossible though that might seem on such familiar material as ‘In a Sentimental Mood’, ‘Naima’, and the like, his ingenious rhythmic liberty-taking with ‘The Jody Grind’ indicating just one of the ways he finds to never be accused of going through the motions. But pack your bags for a trip down memory lane. You might need a few tissues for this weepy. SG
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Tue 21st Oct 2014 09:10:42
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 17:26:18
The release of Quercus last year was quite a moment.
Completely unexpected not since Lammas has jazz and folk combined so effectively, and the ECM album caused ripples across Europe.
This autumn the trio return to Ireland to appear at the Cork Jazz Festival. Straddling folk and jazz, Quercus, as the trio of folk singer June Tabor, saxophonist Iain Ballamy, and pianist Huw Warren has become known after the album, the 11 songs took some time to be released, seven years on from having been recorded in Basingstoke on a certain fabled piano in the town’s Anvil venue. It’s partly Warren’s interplay with the full expressive sound of Tabor’s voice that counts. But Iain Ballamy here and in Food has been on the form of his life in the past few years, and his solo for instance on ‘Near But Far Away’ distils a life time’s work on ballads. At the end ‘All I Ask of You’ is a reminder of the moving version of the song on Balloon Man Ballamy’s first big breakthrough in the late-1980s. Texts of the songs draw on disparate sources including Robert Burns, A. E. Housman, and Shakespeare, and highlights include the lovely ‘Who Wants the Evening Rose’ where the honesty of Tabor’s voice, momentarily recalling the late Kirsty MacColl, is truest. A must-hear. The Cork jazz festival gig is at Triskel Christchurch, on 25 October.
Iain Ballamy, above left, June Tabor, and Huw Warren
- Category: Previews
- Published: Sat 27th Sep 2014 09:06:25
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 16:27:15
Appearing at the Cork Jazz Festival in Triskel Christchurch as part of a double bill, also featuring the Estonian Sounds of the Nordic Islands duo, Ensemble Ériu, co-led by bassist Neil O’Loghlen and concertina player Jack Talty, with clarinettist Matthew Berrill, marimba player Maeve O’Hara, fiddler Jeremy Spenser, guitarist Paddy Groenland, and drummer Matthew Jacobson of prog-jazz band ReDiviDer, the ensemble are a new generation improvising band whose musical approach is rooted in the Irish traditional music of west and north County Clare. O’Loghlen has a strong jazz pedigree as well as a deep interest in traditional Irish music, performing with the David Lyttle 3 at the recent Further into Jazz gig at Jazzeys in Enniskillen as well as appearing with Louis Stewart at the Galway Jazz Festival. Talty is a member of the Clare Memory Orchestra, and is researching and teaching at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance based at the university of Limerick.
The Ensemble Ériu’s self-titled debut album was released last year on the Raelach Records label, and features a larger personnel playing mainly traditional pieces that were recorded in two studios in County Clare and which build from the engine room of chamber music and structured experimentation around the shell of strong motifs or phrases. The Ensemble utilise traditional Irish metrical forms that operate episodically sometimes in orthodox ways but also move some distance from pure forms via unusual instrumentation, with marimba and trombone voicings, for instance, adding to the instrumental palette.
Introducing new notes and tones to the idiom is only one part of the Ensemble’s approach, and the authentic very lateral improvisational feel and jam-like collective development is a big factor. Allied with modern almost Rune Grammofon-like production minimalist ambient stylings on a number such as the album’s ‘Seachrán,’ with its incantatory drone and the elfin vocal of Connemara sean nós singer Saileog Ni Cheannabháin added, the Ensemble are helping redefine what it means to play traditional music in the 21st century: with one ear to new music and one to traditional forms. The concert is on 24 October. SG
Above: ‘April’s Fool’, a live version of the second track from the Ensemble Ériu album performed live in Sligo at this year's Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann
- Category: Previews
- Published: Sun 12th Oct 2014 16:52:04
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 16:26:56
One of the biggest surprises of the year, easily one of the best jazz records of 2014 to date, has been a certain quartet record made at Real World in February rushed out in May.
The work of Ginger Baker and his band the Jazz Confusion who appear at the Cork Jazz Festival the Cream legend on the puckishly titled Why? was joined by JBs great, tenor saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, who Sligo Jazz Festival-goers were lucky to catch jamming under the spell of Knocknarea back in the summer, and by Generation Band bassist Alec Dankworth tremendous here, completing the band the percussionist Abass Dodoo yin to Baker’s yang.
The record picked up the baton passed on from Baker’s lesser-known jazz past as ‘Ginger Spice’ was written by trumpeter Ron Miles who Baker worked so well with on Atlantic record Coward of the County at the end of the 1990s; but also the long gone proto-rock past, a paean to Baker's Graham Bond Organisation days.
Pee Wee Ellis’ ‘Twelve and More Blues’ allows Baker to eventually seem like he could even be the musical granddad of Seb Rochford. The loping delicious sound of ‘Cyril Davis’ (again a link to Coward of the County) Baker’s tune next, a nod to 1960s harmonica ace Cyril Davies who Baker used to play with in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated brings out a lot of soul from Pee Wee here exhibiting some of his strongest playing in years, Dankworth coming alive.
The spirit of the revolutionary jazz and blues of the 1960s rarely equalled in jazz history has never left Baker. It’s fitting that one of the great ballad anthems of that decade is included, with a spirited take on Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’ from 1966, Baker sensibly taking the tempo up a notch as Pee Wee delves deep into the nuts and bolts of the tune.
Baker’s ‘Ain Temouchant’ sees Ellis come over like Sonny Rollins and it’s a handsome sound full of character. Newk’s ‘St Thomas’ is the next track appropriately enough, though it’s the least effective treatment here, more a jog along than anything else. The Nigerian traditional piece arranged by Baker, ‘Aiko Biaye’, is a good reminder that Baker and Fela Kuti had an understanding and Why? can easily be said to be an AfroJazz album.
The title track at the end has a humongous groove beginning briefly like the beat behind ‘Coming Home Baby’ before a spell of offbeat hi-hat clashing, Dankworth coming back to reprise that ‘Coming Home’ thumping momentum and a melody that has a ‘Wade in the Water’ spiritual feel to it, Baker scrapping away with a little vocal response from Kudzai and Lisa Baker. Ginger Baker, above.
In Cork the Jazz Confusion play as part of a double bill with the great jazz singer Carmen Lundy
- Category: Previews
- Published: Mon 22nd Sep 2014 10:32:19
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 16:26:37
Sun trio In the Dreamworld CamJazz ***
Last heard from, Olavi Luohivuori was appearing with prog-jazzers Oddarrang. Now here with his brother, trumpeter Jorma Kalevi Luohivouri, who opens on ‘Waves’ in the style of Nils Petter Molvær altering dramatically to a more mainstream style on ‘Dark Forest’, and with bassist Antti Lötjonen, the drummer is playing to a different beat and adopting a different, less prominent role.
Nearly all the tunes on this studio album, where lovingly harvested electronics mingle with acoustic sounds that were all recorded in February seven years on from the first of the trio’s albums for Camjazz, are the trumpet-playing Luohivuori’s. And while not exactly gripping it’s all perfectly listenable to, the freebop stop/start oddity ‘Old Devil’s Boogie’ maybe the pick. However, the trio have their work cut out to match Oddarrang’s ideas and sheer imagination. SG
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Tue 21st Oct 2014 15:36:26
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 15:36:26
Craig Brann Mark My Words SteepleChase **
Deftly syncopated ‘Hindsight,’ one of nine tunes guitarist Craig Brann has had a hand in here the title track – based on ‘If I Should Lose You’ Neil Tesser points out in the notes – kept to last on a sextet album whose personnel includes name players tenorists Mark Turner and Gregory Tardy, and Bill Frisell drummer Rudy Royston. Altoist Nicholas Kozak, who has co-written ‘What, Though’ with Brann, and bassist Nick Morrison, both new names to me, complete the line-up. It’s a very New Cool School album, partly influenced by the style of Lennie Tristano, recorded in February this year. A little too dull in too many places and even if the playing is technically accomplished, which it is, the tunes fail to catch fire. SG
UK/Ireland release: 27 October
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Tue 21st Oct 2014 13:31:57
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 13:50:17
The Cellar and Point Ambit Cuneiform Records ***
Opening with a prog fantasia ‘0852’ this Tortoise-meets-Kronos Quartet new music-orientated exploration of drummer Joseph Branciforte and guitarist Christopher Botta’s open-plan band The Cellar and Point possesses a big screen vision that slides an improvising ethic gently (‘Ruminant’) or not so gently (‘White Cylinder’) into liquid soundscapes in a overdub-friendly septet setting that involves Joe Bergen’s vibes, strings courtesy of Jack Quartet violinist/violist Christopher Otto and cellist Kevin McFarland, guitarist Terence McManus and bass guitarist Rufus Philpot. Mostly written and arranged by Branciforte and Botta, and largely recorded in New York, New Jersey, and LA studios in 2011 and 2012, Ambit, which never fails to stimulate but is a little too scattergun in its reach, also includes a take on Ligeti’s ‘Étude XV’, and Webern’s ‘Fünf Canons 1, op 16,’ the title track incorporating “additional reverberation” recorded in a Bronx community college’s library. SG
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Tue 21st Oct 2014 12:05:09
- Last Updated: Tue 21st Oct 2014 12:14:29
If you’re in Germany this autumn, value jazz photography, and have plenty of quality time at your disposal to best appreciate the work on display, then 40 Years of Jazz People, an exhibition of the work of distinguished US photographer Patrick Hinely, whose work has graced the artwork of many ECM, Enja and Watt albums over the years, and which has also appeared in such leading specialist music publications as DownBeat, Jazz Forum, and Swing Journal, is a must.
Hinely’s first European show since 1992, the exhibition opens at the Jazz Institute on 24 October and runs until 11 January. Most of the work presented, as described by the Institute’s website, is, somehow reassuringly, the product of Hinely’s “decades-long love affair with black and white film and Leica rangefinder cameras.”
Hal Russell's NRG Ensemble, above, Franz club, Berlin, November 1991. Photo: Patrick Hinely
- Category: News
- Published: Mon 20th Oct 2014 15:05:24
- Last Updated: Mon 20th Oct 2014 19:00:53
Tony Allen Film of Life Jazz Village ***
Afrobeat has long since become a massive musical lingua franca, a language that sits adjacent to and sometimes even within the family of jazz styles, the drummer above all who has made it such a force to be reckoned with as part of the drummer’s lexicon – that infectious double bass-drum hit, the hi-hat gymnastics, and that wildness that connects with the blaze of horns and riot of bass – is Tony Allen.
The ex-Fela Kuti veteran Lagosian grew up listening to Art Blakey and Max Roach and played highlife with Fela before fusing Yoruba musical traditions and funk, remodelling it to become the style we recognise today as Afrobeat.
A long time darling of rock stars, most importantly associated with the post-Gorillaz career of Damon Albarn – Albarn is here on an album that’s more of a pop album at heart than a jazz one but with lots of mutually compatible elements – produced by some French players who go under the moniker the Jazz Bastards. Albarn has co-written material with Allen including album stand-out ‘Go Back.’
Film of Life (the words of the album title are included as part of the lyric of ‘Tony Wood’ featuring Kuku at the end) isn’t quite as good an album as 2009’s Secret Agent but it’s one full of what might as well be called breakbeats particularly at the beginning of many of the tracks that would fill a very lively dancefloor for long stretches by their sheer energy. Allen is on congas on a couple of track and sings lead on ‘Moving On’ and ‘Boat Journey’ while Albarn is on a couple of tracks playing melodica on ‘Tiger’s Skip’ and singing the lead on ‘Go Back’. There’s a killer bass line from Cesar Anot at the beginning of ‘Koko Dance’, another standout track, and the vocal-driven ‘Ire Omo’ simply crackles with a life force all of its own. SG
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Mon 20th Oct 2014 08:06:12
- Last Updated: Mon 20th Oct 2014 17:55:23
Blessed with a great sense of humour and warm personality that always seems to radiate through in his music no matter how intense his explorations are Stefano Bollani’s latest album, Joy in Spite of Everything, was released back in the summer.
That sense of humour goes into overdrive on a project that couldn’t be more different or undertaken with more serious intent on an even newer adventure, as the pianist tackles jazz that isn’t so much dead as Frank Vincent Zappa memorably put it but one that only smells funny on Sheik Yer Zappa, a Decca album of Bollani’s to be released on 27 October.
Joined by vibist Jason Adasiewicz, trombonist Josh Roseman, bassist Larry Grenadier, and drummer Jim Black, the Milan-born Bollani opens proceedings with a solo statement before the band comes in on his own tune ‘A Cosmik Intro.’
Recorded live the album includes Bollani originals and one co-penned with vibist Adasiewicz, plus Zappa tunes ‘Bobby Brown Goes Down’ (from 1979 album Sheik Yerbouti), ‘Blessed Relief’ and ‘Eat That Question’ (from 1972’s The Grand Wazoo), ‘Peaches en Regalia’ (from 1969’s Hot Rats) and the title track of ‘Uncle Meat,’ again released in 1969.
Much more interesting than the straighter Zappa tribute The Brass From Utopia released earlier this year it’s another side to Bollani’s artistry glimpsed through Zappa’s outrageous imagination emphasising the jazz side of Zappa’s vision and delivered in the right spirit.
Stefano Bollani carefully nestling a toy duck top (photo: Universal), and above playing ‘Peaches en Regalia’
- Category: News
- Published: Sun 19th Oct 2014 14:33:40
- Last Updated: Sun 19th Oct 2014 15:57:15
Peter Zak The Disciple SteepleChase ***1/2
Unfamiliar to me I'm ashamed to say even though it’s LA-born New York-based pianist Zak’s tenth CD in a decade, here with two players who are familiar thankfully so I’m not writing out of complete ignorance, Hargrove drummer Willie Jones III and revered ex-Bu bassist (also LA-born) Peter Washington who appeared with Zak on his albums The Eternal Triangle, Nordic Noon, and Down East on a reserved set that just gets better and better as it goes along.
Zak, who is also on the faculty of the New School, doesn’t have heavy hands but he knows, a rare skill, how to locate the lost, in-between harmonic subtleties and spaces, and on certain tunes most notably here Elmo Hope’s shimmering ‘Barfly’ the trio skate along together majestically. The Disciple is worth buying just for Hope alone, so to speak, always an in-demand quality for a variety of reasons. But also here to effect is the joyous Silver-ine ‘Nutville’, and there’s also a bit of Scriabin, most modernists’ favourite Russian, besides Stravinsky.
Monk’s ‘Criss Cross’, Chick’s ‘The Loop,’ and the Herbster’s ‘Requiem’ strong choices all feature too, the title track, one of three Zak highly listenable-to originals the pianist glosses in the notes as a Db major waltz (as you do) the main theme hinting obliquely at the melody of ‘Good Morning Heartache.’ Quietly, quietly is Zak’s method maybe but his approach speaks volumes. You’ll be craning for the best bits here.
Released on 21 October. Available as an import via Amazon
- Category: Reviews
- Published: Fri 17th Oct 2014 09:35:48
- Last Updated: Fri 17th Oct 2014 17:42:16
Dana Masters returns to Derry next month with her Masters of Jazz band featuring trumpeter Linley Hamilton, pianist Johnny Taylor, bassist Damian Evans, and drummer Steve Davis.
Playing the Playhouse once again, where the Northern Ireland-based US singer performed during this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival, Masters recently took part in a much-watched televised performance accompanied by the Ulster Orchestra as part of the last night of the Proms broadcasts, and in the late-summer backed Van Morrison at his acclaimed Orangefield school shows in Belfast. The gig is on 29 November, and tickets are available via the Playhouse theatre’s website and box office.
Dana Masters, above
- Category: News
- Published: Fri 10th Oct 2014 11:24:45
- Last Updated: Fri 17th Oct 2014 15:15:42
Next month sees the debut as a leader on ECM of Cuban pianist David Virelles, known for his appearances with Steve Coleman’s Reflex, and with Ravi Coltrane and Tomasz Stańko, as well as having appeared on Chris Potter’s highly acclaimed album The Sirens, and for his own band Continuum.
This first album of Virelles’ since having been signed to the label, Mbókò is released on 13 October. At the weekend the 30-year-old was performing at the Very Very Threadgill festival in Harlem, and all this week appears in Ravi Coltrane’s band at the Village Vanguard also in New York. In November he joins bassist Thomas Morgan, drummer Gerald Cleaver, and Stańko in the trumpeter’s New York Quartet for a London Jazz Festival appearance at the Barbican.
On Mbókò Virelles is joined by two bassists, fellow Stańko New York Quartet member bassist Morgan and ex-Branford Marsalis bassist Bob Hurst whose quintet Virelles also plays in; as well as Vijay Iyer drummer Marcus Gilmore (who played with Virelles in Reflex); and long-time Virelles colleague, the pianist’s fellow Cuban, percussionist/vocalist Román Díaz.
In one sense a deep folkloric concept, with the drum as a titanic presence and symbol at its heart, the pianist writes for Díaz within the architecture of the Abakuá tradition, a tradition that stretches far back to Africa and the Cross River region of Nigeria. Biankoméko drums are to the fore in the instrumentation, a set of four drums: one tall, three smaller, used in the centuries-old secret society ritual that involves the biankoméko accompanying Abakuá notables emerging from secret conclave to take part in extensive ceremonial.
The title of Virelles’ album Mbókò, glossed with a tripartite list of connotations: ‘fundament’; ‘sugar cane’; and ‘the Voice’, which all sees the album keep close to Abakuá culture the album’s subtitle further describing what we’re to hear as sacred music for piano, two basses, drum set and biankoméko Abakuá.
It’s a highly abstract original sound also attuned to avant garde immersive post-Coltrane traditions as well as Cuban music, and is very much a state-of the art approach from a compositional point of view, where folkloric traditions and broader improvised music come together in fresh ways.
Virelles, born in Santiago de Cuba in November 1983, is the son of a singer-songwriter father and symphony orchestra flautist mother. He became interested in jazz as a teenager and was later mentored by Canadian flautist Jane Bunnett. Virelles moved to study at the University of Toronto and Humber College and quickly emerged, becoming a winner of the first Oscar Peterson Prize, in more recent years moving to New York where he has studied composition with Henry Threadgill.
Speaking yesterday on the phone from his Brooklyn home talk begins about Threadgill very much at the forefront of Virelles’ mind. “I performed last night at a two-day festival they were doing in honour of Henry Threadgill and am getting ready to start a residency at the Village Vanguard with Ravi Coltrane. Henry is one of my favourite musicians of all time, and being able to learn and watch closely and be on terms as far as what he’s doing musically being there to gain insight as far as what he’s doing has had a huge impact on what I’m doing now. I first met Henry when I first got to New York. The original reason I moved to New York was to study with him. I received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts in Canada where I lived for about eight years.”
Virelles describes how before moving to New York he played in saxophonist Jane Bunnett’s band. “She facilitated me going to Canada because I had met her in Cuba years before I came to Canada. She asked me to participate in one of her recording sessions she did down there in my home town when we first met and we stayed in touch. She had some projects in mind and different things she was working on, and she was very gracious and she invited me to Canada. When I was there I was taking private lessons with different people and studying, doing different things, playing gigs with her, and I decided to stay in Canada to pursue my career in music. I guess my introduction to the professional international music world was through Jane, so I’m also very grateful for that. She was open to all kinds of music from Cuba. She kind of had a background in experimental improvisation, and she had done recordings with Dewey Redman, Don Pullen, Jeanne Lee, and Billy Hart, that was her background. She developed an interest in Cuban music in general. We did a lot of different kinds of music, ranging from strict Cuban music recordings to ones with string quartet where I wrote a couple of arrangements. I have fond memories of that time and it was very crucial in my development as a musician.”
Virelles talks interestingly about notions of the avant garde. “I don’t really think of music in terms of avant garde or labels period. I think that some labels are designed to define things so they can be easily explained and better digested by people. But for example I think that Charlie Parker is an avant garde musician or someone like Art Tatum would be an avant garde musician in my standards because those musicians were avant garde in that sense of the word. They were innovators, they were the cutting edge of the time. Monk to me was an avant garde musician even though today he would be considered as a mainstream musician. Those people in their time were making music that was pretty much cutting edge. I am a student of folklore in different kinds of traditions, not only the Cuban tradition. I am a student of that and also what has happened here in the United States in improvised music. I am open to all kinds of music and I also study classical music, a little bit of Brazilian music, different things that have interested me at different points. For me the process and the craft of putting sound together, organising sound, that’s what interests me, and of course there are different approaches around the world. I’m interested in finding out what it is that makes people organise sound in a certain way. I’m pretty much open to anything, I like different kinds of music if I find it interesting for any reason. If I like it, that’s enough for me, I don’t think in terms of labels.”
Virelles chooses to use two bass players on Mbókò, and he has specific reasons for doing so. “I don’t really think of the bass as an extension of my left hand. I tend to think of the bass when it relates to function as a rhythmic pulse that adds a certain kind of dynamic where rhythm is concerned. In the case of this particular record I was interested in working with these two bassists, players I love and have played with, Robert Hurst and Thomas Morgan. I wanted to have them both in the project so the idea originally came from the desire to play with them and then I tried to figure out a way to integrate that kind of sound. That equated with what I’m trying to do and a couple of references from the past, one of them being John Coltrane’s recording Olé where he used two basses, and also a record from Andrew Hill where he used two basses [Blue Note album Smokestack, the two bassists being Richard Davis and Eddie Khan]. That wasn’t really my model even though those models were there of course, that Andrew record with two bassists, and Coltrane’s record and a couple of other examples from throughout history. But for me it was more about trying to get to a specific kind of texture and with two bassists I was going with a certain kind of sound like in Africa and in the Caribbean that give a sound of rhythmic propulsion. So I was trying to go after that. Bass is not there for the fine pitch kind of application. They’re not there for pitch definition as far as this project goes. The pieces on the record all come out of the piano, they’re piano pieces extended by these other instruments and how they behave and how they interact and of course a lot of rhythm language come from a specific rhythmic language that you find in Cuba folkloric tradition.”
Virelles is in considerable demand with other leading jazz musicians as a sideman and as well as playing in Ravi Coltrane’s band Tomasz Stánko sought Virelles out to join his band and the Cuban appears on the highly poetic double album Wisława. How this came about Virelles describes: “I was playing a week at the Village Vanguard with Chris Potter and Tomasz was working on a new record plotting what he was trying to do and putting a new band together, looking for new people to work with. He came to the Village Vanguard and he liked my playing and he asked me to join his band. I have to say that prior to meeting Tomasz I wasn’t completely familiar with his music, but I was happy that that connection happened. I believe that Tomasz found out about me from Manfred Eicher. I think Manfred mentioned my name to Tomasz and Tomasz tried to link up with me, and that’s how he came to be at the Vanguard.”
Virelles also played on Chris Potter’s brilliant record The Sirens in a very different role in tandem with fellow pianist Craig Taborn. “I was of course very honoured and surprised to hear from Chris. He basically wanted a specific kind of role from the two pianos. He wanted Craig to be the main pianist playing just piano and he wanted textural function from me using prepared piano and celeste. I got together with him and worked on different ways in which we could prepare the piano that would work with the music he wrote for the session so yeah that happened as a result of what he wanted. He asked me specifically for those kind of sounds to play celeste and harmonium and I tried to get my head around the concept and I tried to study and get ready for the session with what I thought I could bring to the mix. But that was conceptually Chris’ idea and it was me finding a way into the whole project. It was a pure joy to be able to participate and be part of that session, very nice.”
Mbókò was recorded at New York studio Avatar with Manfred Eicher producing and James Farber engineering. “Manfred has a very, very personal approach to producing and he was very respectful and careful with what we were trying to do. Let’s see how I can describe the process: once he was familiar with the sound he made suggestions from his point of view and all those years and experience and expertise to shape the session in a certain way and he let us just play the music as we had intended it and he shaped it in the direction that he envisioned for his label.”
Virelles had worked with engineer James Farber before on The Sirens and on Wisława and also a recording session with Danish guitarist Jakob Bro. The recording experience seemed to have been very natural. “It was very comfortable: they [Eicher and Farber] have been working together for years, so it was just a matter of going into the studio and laying down the music.”
On the pianist’s last recording with Continuum, and with long time collaborator Díaz Virelles explored notions of “the voice” side of Díaz’s musicianship but on Mbóko a different angle was favoured, he says. “On this recording I wanted to explore drums. In Afro-Cuban, African and Caribbean culture, in Haiti, and also in Brazil, the African traditions are still alive and the drums have a very important role, a specific role. Pretty much the guiding light for the record and what made me write those kind of compositions showcase that conversation and that communication through the drums.” It’s a conversation worth listening to closely – the work of a new master.
David Virelles, top, and centre in the group picture above alongside Bob Hurst far left, Thomas Morgan, Marcus Gilmore, and Román Díaz. Photos: John Rogers/ECM
- Category: Interviews and features
- Published: Tue 30th Sep 2014 10:46:40
- Last Updated: Fri 17th Oct 2014 15:10:48