Taking its theme from the 500th anniversary of the first publication in Latin of Thomas More’s Utopia, nowhere becomes somewhere, anywhere, in Birmingham this weekend for the fourth Rhythm Changes conference.

At the opening reception alto saxophonist/MC Soweto Kinch found his own version of utopia in a ‘Jazz Planet,’ a reworking in rap after a sax intro based on his 2004-released 12” single of the same name for the Dune label. 

The audience, who included Dave Brubeck’s son pianist Darius Brubeck, Harvard professor Ingrid Monson, Birmingham jazz composer Hans Koller and just-registered conference attendees, joined in by instantly getting on the two and four and chorusing “jazz planet” on cue from Kinch. They then listened to the young Jazzlines trio performing in the Parkside atrium at Birmingham City University’s new Eastside campus on standards such as ‘On Green Dolphin Street.’

Today’s events included a keynote by Ingrid Monson and breakout sessions that cover such topics as “jazz, apartheid and secular paradise,” “jazz aesthetics” and “jazz and its popular others”. The conference continues until Sunday afternoon. Look out for session presentations by John Gennari, Susanne Abbuehl and Sean Foran especially.

Earlier yesterday the Jazz Promotion Network held its first annual general meeting and a new board was elected who are: John Blandford (Cambridge Modern Jazz); Tony Dudley Evans (Jazzlines); Emily Jones (Cheltenham Jazz Festival); Nod Knowles (Bath); Steve Mead (Manchester Jazz Festival); Dave Morecroft (Match & Fuse); Amy Pearce (Serious/EFG London Jazz Festival); Amy Sibley-Allen (Kings Place); and Barney Stevenson (Marsden Jazz Festival).

Stephen Graham

Birmingham skyline, top, and Soweto Kinch performing the Utopia version of Jazz Planet at the Jazz Utopia conference

First time I heard Jon Regen was when he was playing piano with Jimmy Scott the first time Scott ever played Ronnie’s. That was a marvellous evening and Regen a simpático accompanist, his jazz chops reminding me at the time of Joey Calderazzo: he was that good.

Time has moved on. Sadly Little Jimmy is no longer with us. And as for Regen his career has twisted and turned bravely but no less remarkably as a reinvented singer/songwriter-pianist with a singing style landing unselfconsciously somewhere between Randy Newman and Billy Joel the first song here ‘I Will Wait’ signposts Newman although Regen doesn’t really do social critique more situational musing about life’s little disappointments and heartaches.

Mainly recorded in a Santa Monica studio during September last year produced by Mitchell Froom, well known for his work in the 1980s and early-90s with Crowded House who slips in a little additional keyboards and programming, this is largely a stripped down trio record Regen’s fine pianistic touch enhanced by bassist Davey Faragher and drummer Pete Thomas from the Elvis Costello band with a little extra guitar and backing vocals from Val McCallum on a few tracks and congas from Don Heffington towards the end on ‘Chapter Two’ the most optimistic song of the whole affair.

All the songs are Regen’s and vocals dominate. There is a certain intimacy in the way the album unfolds itself and a slight poignancy about some of the songs say on ‘Run to Me’ (‘When there’s nothing left to say/And you can’t fake it anyway/You can run to me’) almost an antidote to disappointment and world weariness.

Regen doesn’t do cynicism but informed realism and that’s his strength, his croaky voice not falling into a designer vocals hole although the songs are very grown-up and highly supper-club friendly but without the fakeness. It’s more nuanced than 2011’s Revolution I think, more reflective, and all the better for it and a sharp turn away from his big selling Change Your Mind instrumental diversion in 2013. The big song, Sherlock no kidding, is the Radio 2 friendly New Orleans-flavoured title track time machine song of middle age (‘When I was a boy I had it all too good/No one ever said it would turn to soot’), listen above, where Regen punches out the chorus with a real passion and you’re carried along. SG

Hear Regen at the Pizza Express Jazz Club this weekend where he’s playing on Saturday and Sunday evening

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