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.
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.
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
When Carmen Lundy returned to the capital and Ronnie Scott’s with her trio launching brand new album Changes few people took note.
It’s the lot of many a jazz singer these days, even one as creative as Lundy (even Betty Carter suffered in her day).
Announcing the names of her trio like a boxing announcer might introduce the main event – so it was “Anthony Wonsey from Chicago, Illinois”, as a taster, Lundy was on suitably athletic form in the company of star pianist Wonsey (Roy Hargrove, Nnenna Freelon) who also switched to keyboards; Philly bassist Darryl Hall on both acoustic bass and later electric; and introducing young Floridian Jamison Ross on drums, a real find with a big recessed beat that made me think of Terreon “Tank” Gulley.
Appearing from behind the dressing room door to the left of the stage, Lundy with her bare shoulders draped in a fur with her fingers and arms covered by long crimson gloves, the singer soon controlled the stage with a dizzying array of gestures, gesticulations and knowing looks.
Half Betty Carter, half Grace Jones as she shoulder danced along to the trio, opening with her simmering Maya Angelou referencing ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’ frequently grimacing as she scanned the decent sized Monday first set crowd, picking out the middle distance with her extended right hand. With her cropped hair, youthfully slim appearance, and riotous sense of abandon, she showed both her power and ideas on mostly original material new and longstanding.
Launching Changes, her twelfth album ahead of its US launch in February, Lundy was also content to reprise earlier material including the tour de force ‘You’re Not In Love’ which allowed her to reach out to long time fans and reminisce about Hoxton’s Bass Clef the club former Lennie Tristano bassist Peter Ind used to run. There were a few scenesters from that time in the audience as someone in the audience chatted back to Lundy as she recalled the jazz club scene of the time, and even Gilles Peterson could be seen emerging from backstage.
Best in the first set was the political ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ from the new album, a civil rights anthem all the more fitting as it was delivered on the evening of the Martin Luther King federal holiday in the States. Hall immediately drew you in on electric bass with a groove straight out of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Bottle’ period, a sound that makes you shut up and wait for the message of social toleration and respect in the lyrics.
By complete contrast and resuming the London theme ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ was sweetly delivered later, and remarkably for a singer who can sing down to her baritone depths her variety is such that the different registers introduce a different characterful persona each time, again reminiscent of the much missed Carter.
Changing costume for her second set appearance during the break, gone were the fur and the gloves, instead Lundy had donned a black dress with a white formal cut away jacket and a stiff collar. There was a bit too much schmaltz towards the end, and the well worn ‘New Year’ song I could take or leave, but the more sensual second set songs added yet another dimension to this strong showing with ‘(I Dream) In Living Colour’ another highlight.
– Stephen Graham
Bob Belden has just played his first gig in London since 1980 last night performing a special surround sound set before following up this return to the capital with a club date at the Vortex tomorrow night.
The flautist/saxophonist and record producer last appeared here with Woody Herman, just two years after Belden graduated from the University of North Texas.
In recent years Belden has been a hugely significant Miles Davis reissue producer, and his own records as a leader have pushed forward a consolidated reading of jazz noir, particularly his 2001 album Black Dahlia.
With Animation made up of Belden, opening up on flute before switching to saxophone later, along with the blindingly propulsive electric bassist Jacob Smith; winningly brittle trumpeter Peter Clagett; Nord keyboardist Roberto Verastegui channelling the Bitches Brew era; and the Zach Danziger-like drumming of Matt Young, he performed a special set in Ambisonic surround sound with live video projections at the Tabernacle in west London.
The project is a collaboration with sound architect Serafino Di Rosario who was also on stage last night crouched behind a MacBook.
Di Rosario explained in a short talk to the audience how the technology is like the grandson of Dolby 5.1, and demonstrated echo delays and volume flexibility with sounds unexpectedly “living” in the room in a more organic way, a sense of being there.
With the audience sitting in the centre surrounded by speakers the band played a wide range of Belden material, and also debuted songs from new album Transparent Heart for RareNoise.
The standout new song of the evening was ‘Occupy’, Belden’s tribute to the protest movement that sprang up in New York’s Zuccotti Park last September and fanned out all around the world.
With projected images that showed solarised marching bands and almost robotic city figures ‘fried’ in the psychedelic graphic effects, as well as Antony Gormley-like lonely figures on high rise buildings, the performance was also in a way a homage and wake-up call to Manhattan, “an island off the coast of America”, as Belden told the audience.
Earlier in his dressing room Belden spoke of his admiration for Blue Note producers such as Duke Pearson, and explained how Michael Cuscuna got him involved in working on detailed reissue projects in the first place.
Other projects have seen Belden make a video documentary more recently with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. With the Herbster Belden also arranged songs on Hancock’s innovative 1990s album A New Standard, an album way ahead of its time.
Belden’s new album was recorded in Bill Laswell’s studio in New Jersey. Plans are afoot to bring the Animation surround sound show back to London in the autumn as well as stage it in New York. Stephen Graham
Above: Mr B
For tickets to the Vortex show tomorrow, go to www.vortexjazz.co.uk
Arriving earlier in the day by plane from Hamburg, where they have been recently working on the soundtrack of a television drama, Tingvall Trio made their UK debut last night at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho.
Tingvall trio, that’s Swedish pianist Martin Tingvall based like Cuban bassist Omar Rodriguez Calvo and German drummer Jürgen Spiegel in Hamburg, are a big deal in Germany winning ensemble of the year at the Echo awards and charting at number one in the German jazz charts. Their previous albums Vattensaga (2009), Norr (2008), and Skagerrak (2006) have each sold around 15,000 copies, and their latest album Vägen (‘The Road’) has just been released in the UK by their long time label Skip, like the band based in Hamburg.
Martin Tingvall, 37, was born in the southern Swedish province of Skåne and studied jazz piano and composition at the Malmö Academy of Music moving to Hamburg in 1999 and founding the trio four years later. Tingvall writes the songs, which have an anthemic nuanced feel, and the band is frequently compared to EST, whose last ever UK club appearance was coincidentally in Pizza Express Jazz Club during a lunchtime industry event held by Jazzwise celebrating its tenth anniversary. Spiegel, the oldest of the group at 40 has a background in rock and African music, while Calvo two years younger has a wonderful ringing tone in the tradition of the late great Orlando ‘Cachaíto’ López tempered with the European sound of say Palle Danielsson. The trio has a contrapuntal style that draws out prettily punctuated themes, but retains a sense of drama despite the accessibility, and features some real improvising, with an obvious unforced band empathy throughout.
Opening with ‘Sevilla’ from Vägen and bookending the first set with the album’s hooky title track, Tingvall’s first inspiration was McCoy Tyner but he has a style that does not betray this first love. With an impressive lightly worn technique Tingvall’s naturalistic style encourages an emotional kinetic connection with the audience, and, looking around, people responded with smiles of recognition, and warm applause that got progressively greater as the evening went along. Most of Tingvall’s songs have Swedish titles, and the band also played ‘Trolldans’ from earlier album Norr, and the devastating ‘Movie’ from Skagerrak as well as material from Vattensaga (‘Water stories’).
It’s taken years for the band to play in this country; let’s hope it will be only a short time before they return, so many more audiences can experience their intuitive musicianship and refreshing intelligent approach to the jazz trio.
Three as one: Martin Tingvall (above, left), Omar Rodriguez Calvo, and Jürgen Spiegel at Pizza Express Jazz Club last night. Photo: Roger Thomas
It was a rare sighting of the Danilo Pérez trio at Ronnie Scott’s last night, a whistle stop appearance ahead of a gig in Paris at the Duc des Lombards club tonight. These days it’s easy to think of the US-based Panamanian in terms of the Wayne Shorter Quartet primarily and that’s not surprising as the quartet has had such an impact on jazz over the last 10 years. Pérez’s trio has a very different approach but like Shorter it’s a showcase for the imagination of a composer at work. Bassist Ben Street (“the Godfather,” as Pérez jokingly dubbed him in the second set) has a Scott LaFaro scrabbling way about him and bunches his fingers almost like a contortionist across the bass producing some exquisite chordal ideas, sounding at times loosely coiled to give the ex-Paul Motian sideman even more syncopating fire power. Drummer Adam Cruz, looking a little like a younger Barack Obama, could turn up the power but was able to anticipate and develop soloing lines when Pérez wanted to stretch out. Performing some new music, dedicated to his daughter, the set highlight was easily Stevie Wonder’s ‘Overjoyed’ from the 1985 In Square Circle album, although Pérez did a fun mischievous unfolding version of ‘Besame Mucho’ late on which drew smiles. Pérez is a natural educator and as artistic director of the Berklee Global Institute in Boston has been bringing on top new talent from around the world. His communication in music outside the halls of academe was easily demonstrated as he got the audience to sing a note, harmonise, adapt, and then with the trio improvise on the chords created, plucking music from the air. Overall an evening heavy on ballad-type songs, it perhaps needed a bit more momentum at times, but the delights more than compensated. Pérez said a few times he’d like to take the audience with him on the train to Paris: “Nine o’clock at the station!”
– Stephen Graham