Fresh from his “sit down" comedy shows in Edinburgh Ian Shaw was on familiar ground at a venue he loves, the Vortex, and where he is constantly asked back and plays several times a year, even appearing there on New Year’s Eve. At the end of his gig last night he was comfortable enough to be found behind the bar talking in relaxed form to old friends and newcomers alike who had filed in to fill up the Gillett Square club earlier.

The concert was, I don’t want to use the expression but here goes anyway, a game of two halves, with the first a run of songs from Ian’s fine new Fran Landesman album A Ghost in Every Bar released on Sussex indie jazz label Splashpoint. Accompanying himself on the piano mostly he was joined towards the end of the first half only vacating the stool for pianist Simon Wallace who co-wrote many of the songs by the great Landesman featured on the album.

Best known of course for standards ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ and ‘Ballad of the Sad Young Men’, Landesman songs have a depth and a bittersweet realness few lyricists achieve, and Ian who has a strong affinity with her songs developed over many years was then joined on ‘Ballad’ by Sue Richardson on flugelhorn, to add that extra touch of piquancy. 

After the break, Ian turned to his Edinburgh show A Bit of a Mouthful, named he said mischievously for the jaw-breaking Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, as he’s from Wales. Frequently hilarious the show charts topics featuring tall tales of love and sex from Shaw’s point of view of, as he puts it, “a practising homosexual." Some are deliciously rude (the tale of the hapless Gareth, for instance), and a beautifully conceived list song featuring lots of Internet acronyms. Best of all was his James Taylor pastiche which was very, very funny, even managing a good old swipe at James Blunt which was well aimed. At the end Shaw topped it off expertly by seguing beautifully into Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again Naturally’, which was wonderfully done. A hugely enjoyable night all in all.

Stephen Graham

Ian Shaw pictured above

Pedro Segundo on the drums, with Chris Crenshaw, trombone, and Marcus Printup, trumpet, at the Late Late Show in Ronnie Scott’s
Photo: Benjamin Amure

Updated with new pictures

The Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s, the jam session that draws in some of the cream of the capital’s jazz talent for informal performances after the main draw of the evening has finished, dedicated the Wednesday evening session to Abram Wilson whose death from colon cancer at just 38 on 9 June was such a cruel blow. With members of the widely admired and respected trumpeter, composer, and bandleader’s family in the club following a New Orleans-type procession from the South Bank Centre to a memorial service in Waterloo earlier in the day when musicians taking part included Wynton Marsalis, pianist James Pearson leading the jamming told the audience that Abram had been due to return to the club in a few weeks if death hadn’t taken him away.

In just 10 years living in the UK the Arkansas-born trumpeter made a big and lasting impact on the national scene, and with Tim Thornton, bass, and Pedro Segundo on drums, Pearson, the club’s artistic director and leader of the Ronnie’s All-Stars, called on Andy Davies who runs the popular upstairs hard bop jam on Wednesdays to play a few songs in tribute. Welshman Davies, with his love of Kenny Dorham and Chet Baker, a communicative ability on the trumpet and the expressive tone of a musician who knows what he wants to say and does so with aplomb, was able to squeeze out every little nuance in a lovely sparkling rendition of ‘The Nearness of You’ in particular as well as opener ‘If I Were A Bell’. Singer Emma Smith, newly blond, also joined, running through ‘Skylark’ and scatting with some ease before guests from the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, trombonist Chris Crenshaw tall and lean and playing fine and mellow with ridiculous skill, and trumpeter Marcus Printup in immaculately subtle form at low volume came down to Ronnie’s to jam fresh from performing with JALCO and The London Symphony Orchestra as they premiered Wynton’s Swing Symphony at the Barbican under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.

Above: Marcus Printup of JALCO at the Late Late Show
Photo: Benjamin Amure

As young up-and-coming players lined up to jam including a name to watch in the smartly tailored pianist Reuben James who Abram had himself mentored, a new generation of National Youth Jazz Orchestra players and Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni circulated in the club into the wee small hours to play their socks off. It was a night that you’d guess Abram would have enjoyed. His spirit lives on for sure at the heart of it all, on Frith Street. Stephen Graham

The Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s, the jam session that draws in some of the cream of the capital’s jazz talent for informal performances after the main draw of the evening has finished, last night dedicated the evening to Abram Wilson whose death from colon cancer at just 38 on 9 June was such a cruel blow. With members of the widely admired and respected trumpeter, composer, and bandleader’s family in the club following a New Orleans-type procession from the South Bank Centre to a memorial service in Waterloo earlier in the day when musicians taking part included Wynton Marsalis, pianist James Pearson leading the jamming told the audience that Abram was due to return to the club in a few weeks if death hadn’t taken him away.

In just 10 years living in the UK the Arkansas-born trumpeter made a big and lasting impact on the national scene, and with Tim Thornton, bass, and Pedro Segundo on drums, Pearson, the club’s artistic director and leader of the Ronnie’s All-Stars, called on Andy Davies who runs the popular upstairs hard bop jam on Wednesdays to play a few songs in tribute. Welshman Davies, with his love of Kenny Dorham and Chet Baker, a communicative ability on the trumpet and the expressive tone of a musician who knows what he wants to say and does so with aplomb, was able to squeeze out every little nuance in a lovely sparkling rendition of ‘The Nearness of You’ in particular as well as opener ‘If I Were A Bell’. Singer Emma Smith, newly blond, also joined, running through ‘Skylark’ and scatting with some ease before guests from the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, trombonist Chris Crenshaw tall and lean and playing fine and mellow with ridiculous skill, and trumpeter Marcus Printup in immaculately subtle form at low volume came down to Ronnie’s to jam fresh from performing with JALCO and The London Symphony Orchestra as they premiered Wynton’s Swing Symphony at the Barbican under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.

As young up-and-coming players lined up to jam including a name to watch in the smartly tailored pianist Reuben James who Abram had himself mentored, a new generation of NYJO players and Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni circulated in the club into the wee small hours to play their socks off. It was a night that you’d guess Abram would have enjoyed. His spirit lives on for sure at the heart of it all, on Frith Street. Stephen Graham

Abram Wilson (pictured, top) Photo: Benjamin Amure

It was the first Soho Session at Pizza Express Jazz Club last night, a special invitation-only affair when the club went to some pains to put on a fine array of talent. Music manager Ross Dines hovered by the stage while over at the sound desk “voice of the club" sound engineer Luc Saint-Martin was happily twiddling the knobs of a specially installed state-of-the-art audio system set up for the night. The club has been toying with upgrading the sound in the basement space for some time and this was a key opportunity to put the kit through its paces although it all goes back in the box today.

Beat boxer extraordinaire Shlomo opened proceedings with his uncanny technique and the capability, with the help of a Loop Station and bags of natural talent, to resemble a complete band not just a guy standing there making odd noises into a pair of microphones. I liked his Public Enemy-type rush at the beginning and he accurately built up some Michael Jackson-type routines later. But the novelty faded after a while, although it was big fun. Happily the crystal-clear sound system definitely captured every hi-hat lick, the pop of a Shlomo snare and more in amazing clarity.

Next up was singer/songwriter Mara Carlyle who was accompanied by Nick Ramm on piano. Drenched with what sounded like reverb or some textural wash her voice has nonetheless a delicate freshness about it and she performed an engaged set accompanying herself on ukulele and adding a remarkable turn on musical saw later. Frail and delicate her stage persona may well be but she has a strong folky voice, like a female Jeff Buckley, with lots of interesting contrasts (her take on Schumann ‘I Blame You Not’ [‘Ich Grolle Nicht’] came off best) although some of the stage patter was a bit on the twee side.

Jamie Cullum was the surprise guest making a return to the club after his Big Audition concert last year. Trialling new material, he’s preparing his latest album, “if you talk to my manager", he joked to fans earlier, “he’ll tell you it’s coming out next week!" Cullum sat at the Steinway as if it were his second home, and got the audience on side and some of the singers present harmonising along to the mambo-hinting opening song ‘When I Get Famous’, about a schoolboy’s unrequited love for a girl and the feelings he has about her rejecting him.

The lovely ballad-like second song, ‘Save Your Soul’, hit the mark almost in the vein of his still unreleased ‘Rayleigh Road’, and he finished it off by romping home with ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ on a day that Mara Carlyle had noted giggling was “the hottest day of the year". You’re always on a hiding to nothing with a weather song, but Cullum is comfortable on classic songbook material like this so everyone’s luck was in.

Gregory Porter then charmed the audience and I really envy people present who had not heard the Brooklyn-based Californian before. A great sensory overload even if you’ve heard him umpteen times. Here, he was on his way "through" Harlem he twinkled changing the preposition from ‘to’ in his evocative homage to Langston Hughes and Marvin Gaye and the unrecognisable face of an America and a New York only a thoughtfully wistful song and great singer such as Porter can adequately convey. With José James’ drummer-of-choice Richard Spaven, gutsy tenor sax from Ben Castle and soulful Grant Windsor on piano plus lively bass from Chris Hill, this was a party performance fun but serious, of the moment yet of the past. Such a great talent and a joy to listen to on any occasion. I could listen to ‘Be Good’ all day long. Mr Bojangles himself would be proud.

Stephen Graham

 

Gregory Porter on the microphone and Jamie Cullum pictured above last night at the Soho Session, with Chris Hill on double bass at the rear of the stage and Ben Castle standing with his tenor saxophone

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Flying into Genoa airport on a humid July day the first thing that hit home is how close the tarmac of the runway is to the lapping waves of the sea. The modest heat of an overcast morning was nonetheless a welcome blast of goodness after the dreary English summer so far and matched the warmth of the prevailing reddish hue of many buildings along the way as the speedy cab driver drove like a bat out of hell from the airport to the hotel ahead of the gig in the evening.

Genoa has Italy’s largest port and there on the horizon as we sped along it was a cinch to spot slumbering tankers and ferry boats alike, just little dots in the distance. I was over in the Ligurian city to review a double bill of two bands, Planet Microjam from the United States and Interstatic from Norway who were to appear at the city’s Gezmataz Jazz Festival in the evening mounted by their London-based label RareNoise records on an open air stage at Porto Antico, the ancient port, now pedestrianised and revamped following a major overhaul in the 1990s. Trendy restaurants, little boutiques and tempting cafes were all scattered about the streets close to the venue, with old cotton warehouses, like old warehouses everywhere these days, used for everything except their original purpose. The seemingly ubiquitous architect Renzo Piano – he of the Shard and the ongoing reconstruction of Valletta’s historic city gate – has also been busy at work in Genoa creating the Bigo, a big quasi sculptural statement in the harbour resembling out size cranes or monstrous daddy long legs as part of a big development.

Before the gig at the Arena del Mare I joined members of Planet Microjam and Interstatic and personnel from RareNoise for dinner at a long table set out in front of the Rossopomodoro ‘Red Tomato’ restaurant (house speciality: Neapolitan pizza), and the pizza seemed to go down a treat washed down with a little vino. RareNoise is a London-based label, less than four years old run by the winningly enthusiastic Giacomo Bruzzo, who just recently brought the great Bob Belden to London for some rare dates. The label prides itself on promoting experimental non categorisable artists of note and both the bands to play later in the evening fit this aspiration completely. Giacomo introduced the musicians to the small but appreciate audience with first up a rare sighting of expat English organist Roy Powell, now living in Norway, whose band Interstatic chimes completely with the current wave of young prog jazz bands like Troyka and WorldService Project making an impact on the scene back in England.

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Opening proceedings Powell on Hammond organ was joined by Tord Gustavsen Trio drummer Jarle Vespestad in unlikely jazz-rock mode along with tasteful guitarist Jacob Young playing in a bluesier style than you’d expect from his work for ECM. Powell channelled Keith Emerson and even the late Jon Lord into his lively style but explained to the audience that Interstatic play like Tony Williams’ Lifetime, most evident on their tune ‘The Elverum Incident’, but with a few modern twists. Yet the band took leave of this inspiration many times during a set only slightly hampered by a pedal of Young’s guitar needing to be replaced. Playing material mainly from the eponymous Interstatic release Powell got well and truly stuck in like some sort of hippy organ guru griot specially attuned to the sultry Genoese night.

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Microjam were something else entirely, an experimental microtonal band led by David “Fuze” Fiuczynski who with his trademark double necked guitar specially tuned to allow for the band’s distinctive quarter tones, rocked up with the microtonal keyboards of young Turk Utar Artun to his side, although the main direction came through his duetting with English violinist Helen Sherrah-Davies. Kansas City drummer Alex Bailey, and the colourfully dressed Memphis bass guitarist Dywane ‘MonoNeon’ Thomas, who plays his bass guitar right handed but upside down, cooked up a mysterious heat around ‘Micro Emperor’, a fragment of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto.

Now heading up the Microjam Institute at Berklee in Boston Fiuczynski’s set based on music from the Planet Microjam record was a compelling snatch of a style of music you rarely get to hear, certainly not in a jazz setting. Sun Ra’s ‘Sun Song’ originally on the 1957 album Jazz By Sun Ra was for me the outstanding performance of the night, and let’s hope we hear more on this side of the Atlantic again from Helen Sherrah-Davies who like Fuze also teaches at Berklee.

Fuze is back with a great new concept to run with. It’s up to the rest of the jazz planet to catch up with this particular rare noise.

Flying out of Genoa the next day there was a chance to reflect on how all this new music will sit with listeners coming to it for the first time. The music is clearly out there but has a distinctive enough character to make it stand out from all the rehashes and reimaginings circling around the European festival scene this summer.

Fuze faces the future head on with Microjam. and Interstatic somehow have managed to breathe new life into the tired organ trio formula, no small feat for sure.

Stephen Graham

Read my review of the double bill in the September issue of Jazzwise. Gezmataz poster (pictured, top), Interstatic, and David Fiuczynski