“Dunoon Jazz Festival returns. Must be 20 years (or more) since the last one. It was always good fun,” Herald Scotland’s Rob Adams says.

Appearing in the line-up just announced is pianist Alan Benzie, first winner of the BBC Scottish Young Jazz Musician competition back in 2007, subsequently a Berklee College of Music student and recipient of a Billboard award.

The pianist’s album titles on Traveller’s Tales are mostly naturalistic: full of dawns, mists and shores matched by the gentle painterly wash of the sky and the sea in the cover art.

Benzie’s imagistic style recalls John Taylor’s a little, perhaps Bobo Stenson or in certain parts inescapably, Bill Evans, and there’s a romantic tug to the best part of his melodies and a drama too as the solo unwinds say on ‘From A to B’. The bass and drums keep a discreet presence initially although bassist Robb takes up more of the initiative on the dynamic ‘Frog Town on the Hill’ a dialogue between bass and piano injecting extra energy to the politely respectful atmosphere that marks the early part of the album and where the trio show just what they can do.

Benzie’s rhapsodic side is given space at the beginning of ‘Old Haunts’ Juhasz moving into a Paul Motian-like space Bill Evans trio fans will recognise and by the climax of the piece there is so much personality peeking through. 

Appearing in Dunoon on 17 August with singer Luca Manning. Full festival details.
Updated, corrected, 13.06pm.

Then...

...and now

More at bobjames.com.

I really liked getting acquainted with the music of folk band The Breath back in 2016 circa Carry Your Kin.

Quick reminder, the voice of Ríoghnach Connolly is at the heart of the sound of The Breath in which she appears with jazztronica guitarist Stuart McCallum, pianist John Ellis, and Manc jazz and beyond session scene drum supremo Luke Flowers.

Ríoghnach also let the music do the talking on Matt Owens’ The Aviators’ Ball with her spine-tingling version of the Appalachian folk song ‘Black is the Colour (of My True Love’s Hair)’ covered famously by Nina Simone and Joan Baez in the 1960s, Cara Dillon and Christy Moore more recently. 

Still on the Real World label you can get an inkling of what is new ahead of September’s Let the Cards Fall – you will, believe me, want to hear more. SG 

Combo 66

SEPTEMBER / TASTER 
What we know so far.
 The new John Scofield band is called Combo 66 and is a quartet – Sco with pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Vicente Archer (recall Archer from the Robert Glasper In My Element trio), and Sco long term close musical colleague drummer Bill Stewart.

One of the greatest guitarists in jazz, surely an indisputable might-as-well-be fact, touring at the moment with supergroup Hudson, the Combo 66 band – the number refers factually to Sco’s age – gigged in New York city back in April for club dates.

As for the album it will be appearing in September and on the Impulse label – “the house that Trane built” – in Ashley Kahn's memorable phrase, and which continues in its recent years revival. 

Tracks are believed, subject to confirmation, to be Can’t Dance, Combo Theme, Icons at The Fair, Willa Jean, Uncle Southern, Dang Swing, New Walzo, I’m Sleeping In, King of Belgium, and bonus track for Japan, Ringing Out. Sco tours it from October and the band will return in 2019 according to booking agent Saudades because of “amazing demand.”
Combo 66 above left to right Gerald Clayton, Bill Stewart, John Scofield, and Vicente Archer. Photo: Nicholas Suttle

I was reading a bunch of stuff, mostly jazz journalism (and a bit of James Joyce hence the quote above from the “Proteus” episode of Ulysses), trying to find something with a bit of insight to learn from in a snapshot of the sheer width of reactions to music, and came up with a few takeaways.

  1. in the rush to judgement a lot of writers rely on their own train tracks, their tastes. They cannot as they see it derail because they think to follow that metaphor (understandably) that there will be a calamity. However, neither will they detrain, no calamity involved at all there – just a getting off, a getting on, a change of direction, a challenge to their own listening if they dare.
  2. everything is subjective. Opinions however can be persuasive and change us. Musicians are right not to take critics seriously. However, they cannot judge themselves properly because they cannot see themselves as they are. The critics and journalists are observers and that is more important than ever now given how much self publicity is generated by new and social media in an echo chamber.
  3. i do not think that there is so much of an emphasis any more on the brand new as the acme of cool although when that brand new thing multiplies into a trend then common sense goes out the window. Usually however the interest lasts the cycle of a record release, these days not that long, max. two years if the artist properly tours in lots of countries and the same promo gets repeated. Minimum, more like the norm, a bit more, six weeks (ie record comes out, gets a few reviews, band plays half a dozen dates, then everything returns to normal and hopefully the record will sell a bit here and there quietly ticking away). Suddenly the hype heralds delusion: the reinvention of the wheel has happened! We need to face facts: because and this takes humility we are still learning from the advances of past masters and may well be for some considerable time. That work is still ongoing whether through a trad, mainstream or avant garde lens. Don’t believe me, listen to Globe Unity, above. Register that what you might choose to listen to dates back to 1967. And that it is impossible to replicate. Fifty years on, eg a celebratory release here, and the orchestra, personnel changes notwithstanding, remain secular preachers in the wilderness that people pretend is advanced civilisation but which is in retreat. Their originality is still sinking in and destroys any notion of 2018 is where it is at and the past is dust certainly in terms of the avant garde and truly progressively inclined jazz. But the past is gone and we all know that. Some tomorrows need to dawn again in our minds if you catch my drift. Call it the need for tabula rasa thinking.
  4. most critics forget that jazz musicians often can play many styles. They often choose to stick with one or two which then become their headline style for convenience.
  5. the idea lastly of a rush to understand instead of judgement I much prefer and that is not easy at all but needs to happen. The best word, most truthful in the critical vocabulary should be in this pursuit the power of “perhaps”. If that word was used a little more in the reaction to music we might actually take all these crowds of words published helpfully day in day out more seriously and dig deeper in our listening and challenge ourselves to a greater state of empathy.

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Go to a jazz festival these days and the chance, daddio, is so-called “swinging jazz” is largely absent.

Yes, some swinging combos are dead boring and a switch off to anyone under or even over the age of 25 for sure.

Here's the but. Some are not. And hang on just how did they do that?

Don't believe me? Well, check your assumptions at the door.

New York Stories is a blast and seems to have swallowed the right pills. Mainstreamers will adore it I guess from what I've heard so far.

Judy Niemack who was a welcome faculty member at the Sligo Jazz Project not too many moons ago is a fine singer and really on form (Claire Martin fans I think will probably enjoy this record). 

As for the Danish Radio Big Band... well what they are doing is as natural as breathing.

I remember one time downstairs in the early 1990s at Ronnie Scott's, Ronnie was still around, and you as a punter could sit down in the tombs of the club in what actually was the artists bar where the TV was blazing and you could chat quietly to guys in the band who were waiting for their breaks to end and who were bored by the darts or snooker or whatever the TV was tuned to back then and could have a small beverage or two if desired.

I had heard the Danes play with Van Morrison not that long before at the Barbican (actually the video above was done on that night by a wannabe Scorsese in the audience) and that was why I wanted to hear them on their own during their residency and late spots at Scott’s, everything was very late starting in those days, main bands usually going on at around 10.45pm which remains the best time of the day or night for a number of things that include hearing live music in a great room. That is a story for another day. Yes we talked about reeds: it was that kind of forgettable conversation. The guys later on the stand were as keen as mustard even as the club emptied as it always did way after midnight and played a blinder. 

Anyway the horns here on this new record to be released in the dog days of summer are very unreconstructed, the McNeely arrangements unfussy and lively and all play their socks off. You can taste the sound. Judy does a little bit of beat spoken word too which is a rare pleasure to catch a bit of and so unmannered too. Move or be moved, the monologue has it and that’s not even corny but right.

Image result for sfumato spotify wynton

Five reasons why: The band’s the thing; Michel Portal’s exquisite contribution; guest Wynton Marsalis in a context where you often do not find him (rarely with an accordionist in the group sound for instance); the reliable definition throughout of the sound on CD and equally the no messing around camerawork and lack of annoying stunt editing, on the DVD; and for me the best exposure yet of Émile Parisien, the most exciting European saxophonist that I have come across since Jan Garbarek and who clearly has the potential to become an icon of 21st century jazz the world over. Recorded in August this is a live album made in France from a Marciac appearance, where Skain joined the band as did the French bass clarinet legend film composer Michel “The Return of Martin Guerre” Portal in front of an estimated 5,000 audience. On ACT.

Bugge Wesseltoft is a unique 1990s figure who keeps going forward in the same way as Joe Zawinul embraced change and artistic growth. Last time I sat down and listened to anything by the Norwegian was the stimulating globalist project OK World recorded mainly in South Africa and Mozambique.

This new duo Smalltown Supersound project out soon scales up to sound like an orchestra given the skill of the compositional structure involved in matching Bugge with “space disco” pal DJ Prins Thomas but is more frustrating.

The sound draws you in and holds you. Certainly, it is much more escapist than Bugge Wesseltoft’s much more interesting collaboration with Henrik Schwarz and Dan Berglund on Trialogue. And while there is a lot of subtlety to Bugge Wesseltoft & Prins Thomas and some gorgeous moments to be savoured in the layering of synths and spread of percussion that against the odds comes across as organic, the beat is actually stubbornly normalised and shrinks back. Worse there is no real edge to the collaboration – it is more an advanced commodity awaiting a canny remix.