Van Morrison

It is easy to forget given the understandable hoopla surrounding the 50th anniversary of Astral Weeks that fell recently that Van Morrison keeps on putting out new records. 

Of the two 2018 albums the better of the pair was certainly the much less, scratch that, not at all, patchy You’re Driving Me Crazy, which made it into the list of marlbank albums of the year. 

This new one released today and which shares much of the same formula as its predecessor has its gently swinging blues and jazz soaked moments. It somehow feels a lot tamer however even with gutsy blues input including a cover of a John Lee Hooker song, ‘Dimples’, turning a twirling boogie of a thing that Van has been playing for years and years into a gauzy canter.

To be fair we do not turn to a Van Morrison album for a riot of rattle and hum, that was never the point as long ago as the yearningly poetic Astral Weeks although before that Them gave it the welly.

But you do get a proletariat earthiness still in the shout and wail of that astonishing voice and it is still present and correct and derives from the urban blues usually flashed up by searing harmonica or the precision groove of the formidable Joey DeFrancesco band.

The originals always along with that voice the best thing about any Van Morrison album have not pulled me in so far apart from the spiky title track which nonetheless instantly grabbed me.

Their charms may well grow on me — they usually do because this whole style Van has long championed is not fast food music by a long chalk. Return to its brother release for the best choice of main course to keep the hunger pangs away until the next one comes along. SG 
Photo of Van Morrison: Richard Wade.

Peter Boizot

Few British entrepreneurs have invested as much hard cash as well as genuine love in and for jazz and employed so many jazz musicians over many decades as Peter Boizot, who has died aged 89. He founded the Pizza Express restaurant chain in 1965 and made jazz the soundtrack of his restaurants. He opened the first of his many restaurants in Wardour Street in Soho not far from the illustrious jazz club which still is at the heart of UK jazz on Dean Street. He also later published a jazz magazine Jazz Express and presented the Soho Jazz Festival for many years. Tributes are pouring in. Pizza Express managing director Zoe Bowley told the Daily Mail: “In his 89 years, this remarkable entrepreneur achieved an astonishing amount, not just within the dining industry, but across music, sport, and charity as well.”

Basho Records’ Dan Paton has commented after marlbank got in touch to ask if The Impossible Gentlemen will record again for the label: “Not sure,” he says, “I can confirm anything either way about the Impossible Gentlemen for the long term, but I can definitely say there’s nothing planned for 2019.”

The band’s drummer Adam Nussbaum who himself will be touring with Mark Egan (the bass guitarist on the original 1978 Pat Metheny Group album) and Linley Hamilton in Ireland in May had earlier this year told this blog when asked about the Gents’ future plans: “I hope we play again.”
Gwilym Simcock, top left, Steve Rodby, Adam Nussbaum, and Mike Walker. photo:

Cassie Kinoshi

Saxophonist composer Cassie Kinoshi above was a winner in the jazz composition for large ensemble category at the British Composer Awards announced last night at a ceremony held in the British Museum winning for ‘Afronaut’ scored for two trumpets, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, trombone, tuba, guitar, piano/Rhodes, upright bass, and drums. Pianist Simon Lasky won for ‘Close to Ecstasy’ written for piano, harmonica, acoustic & electric guitar, fretless bass, kit, and percussion.

Terence Blanchard

It has been quite a year for the New Orleanian trumpeter bandleader Terence Blanchard  whose score for Black KkKlansman this year was one of his best. His band album release Live (Featuring The E-Collective) also found inclusion in our albums of the year. 

The number of jazz musicians with a broad impact on modern pop culture is dwindling. One helping to keep it alive is Terence Blanchard. Born in 1962, Blanchard was ideally positioned to take the music of his own era and its recent past and bring it forward into the new millennium. He started back in 1980 with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra before joining Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Later, as a composer he has written over 40 scores and performed on still more.  His time touring with bands laid the groundwork for his success as a composer, and in a 2013 interview which appeared around the time of Blanchard’s Blue Note Records release Magnetic the artist discussed his time with Blakey, citing Blakey that “to find your identity musically, you have to compose. Clearly, Blanchard took this particular piece of advice to heart, and it was advice that ultimately had an incredible impact on him.

While Blanchard has for many years continued to lead his own bands his greatest successes have come in the film industry. These represent some of his best.

Malcolm X Blanchard is perhaps best known for having composed the music for many of director Spike Lee’s famous films. The composer has said that he drew upon a fear he felt hearing clips of Malcolm X talking about revolution to compose the trumpet-heavy, mournful yet almost war-like theme for the film.

Summer of Sam Another Spike Lee film, inherently haunting in that it deals with the 1970s New York serial killer dubbed “Son of Sam” it was certainly difficult content to score. Yet Blanchard maximised his own talent and experience to capture a theme that worked. The main score for the film feels simultaneously grand and emotional, encapsulating both the enormity of the events and the sensitivity of the subject matter.

Miracle At St. Anna The main theme relies on piano and results in a tip-toeing melody almost antithetical to the war-related scenes. It’s hard to think of a war film with such a delicate main theme.

BlacKkKlansman is his most recent and among Blanchard’s best work expected to be in the running for best original score at the Oscars.

Terence Blanchard’s impact on jazz may prove to go far beyond any one score, touring band, or Grammy award. Music that might be considered old-school or vintage among younger audiences has only so many avenues of reaching new ears.

Some classic and metal rock groups have turned to the unlikely avenue of casino games to lend their sound to slot reels. These game sites have their ways of exciting players new and old, but engaging themes for games are even better than promotions and bonuses, which means there’s been an audience for things like Megadeth and Guns N’ Roses slots. Who knows? Jazz may even be next. 

Michael Horner

There is a certain iron discipline needed in playing piano in a cocktail bar I could not help thinking when I was picking out, or trying to given the convivial din, the tinkling cascades of bebop and strands of old songs hidden in the busy thunder of a talkative early evening Archduke crowd.

Pre-Christmas a stone’s throw from the Thames and the Festival Hall the Archduke in Waterloo, central London, has been putting on jazz for years. Until tonight I had never darkened its doors oddly enough although I had often walked past and it always looks inviting.

On this occasion I was tempted in by the mooted appearance of Barry Green, the pianist best known for his work with Ian Shaw and Emilia Mårtensson.  As it turned out Barry was not to be seen, actually I did not mind because it did not matter as this was a chance to discover a player unfamiliar to me who certainly was worth listening to.

The barman could only identify the diminutive pianist as “Michael” and peering through the decorative ironwork from my perch it turned out to be Michael Horner, above. Who is he you might well ask? Well Horner studied at Guildhall, one of the London scene’s main jazz college incubators. Who does he remind me of? Well not easy to make it out given the din in the restaurant and the briefness of my visit allied with the fact that there was no amplification at all to make things even harder. But John Turville springs to mind, perhaps a little, certainly the way he can do locked hands Shearing style but certainly without straining to make too many inexact matches he has a quick wit and plenty of fluency drawing on classic bebop and Cool school material. A name to watch certainly. Above all a sound to remember. Seek him out. SG