Theon Cross

LOOK OUT FOR THIS IN FEBRUARY The buzz began before the holidays, ‘Panda Village’ popping up and standing out on a number of high profile playlists, and while Fyah is not available until 15 February marlbank readers you lucky things are the first to know more first.

Theon Cross you will recall from Sons of Kemet (he took over from the original tuba player Oren Marshall) and is well known on the London scene. Cross flickered first on marlbank’s radar on Tom Challenger’s raucous Brass Mask Live that came out two years ago and was an out-there gospelly New Orleans confection.

This is very different. Tuba it is easy to forget is extremely unusual in contemporary jazz because, of course, the bass we nearly always hear is provided by a double bass or bass guitar.

Recorded at the Soup studio in London what we have here is a trio on six of the tracks (Cross with saxist Nubya Garcia and drummer Moses Boyd) expanded to a different quintet on the remaining two (Cross with his brother trombonist Nathaniel Cross, Tim Doyle on percussion, Artie Zaitz on electric guitar and Wayne Francis on tenor sax).  


The first thing that you notice on opener ‘Activate’ is the thunderously captured tuba sound. Gearbox are very good at getting a full sound and given that this will be issued on vinyl (I am listening on a digital copy) the sound will be even more riotously immediate.

‘Activate’ has a simplicity to it and becomes a conversation between tuba and sax that certainly summons up the atmosphere of a Sons of Kemet record. Cross takes a solo after the initial duelling which is OK but the initial fireworks stole the show. His strength throughout Fyah no fears is in rock solid beat in group-play not necessarily soloing which is actually very limited in terms of his role. The tuba is not cut out for that really.

Offerings’ has street noise in the background before the riff takes over and echoey sax from Garcia gives this track more of an African sensation and also gives you an idea of some fine production ideas in the sound engineering department. Again the tune is built on tiny building blocks, a little three-note motif, but it is not quite so compelling as the opener.

‘Radiation’ has a great groove going on, swung beats from Boyd that lay up and woozy polyphonic effects smear saxophone in to the middle of the sound. ‘Letting Go’ makes use of a delay as an underlay, the undertones emanating from Cross’s tuba beautifully caught, like the throb of the exhaust pipe on an old classic car. ‘Candace of Meroe’ has more of an African vibe and a lot more motion which Artie Zaitz feeds in to. His contribution on the few tracks he is on is massive.

On Panda Village’ Boyd opens using his sticks like a poker as the accent is established, Cross’s tunes are great at getting their point across and in the course of any given one the listener enters into a sort of hypnotic state brought on by the repetition, sheer size of the sound and ritual of it. ‘CIYA’ again with the larger group has much more of a modern jazz (NB in its 1960s sense) to it and there is a lovely mellow trombone sound beautifully arranged that moves this to a higher level and is certainly the marlbank pick of the album. 

‘LDN’s Burning’ at the end juggles rhythms in a maelstrom of frantic activity and the mix seems crowded and adds to the excitement and makes the group seem even larger than it is. I think a lot of people will love this record, we certainly do down here marlbank way. A more highly accessible and energy-laden start to 2019 when it is released next month you could hardly wish for or hope to locate. SG

Branford Marsalis album

You saw the cover and read it here first. Titled The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul which was recorded over the course of three days in the Alexander Theatre at Monash University in Australia last year it features the Branford Marsalis Quartet “in the usual line up on all tracks, no guests this time,” says OKeh label chief Wulf Muller.

So that’s sax icon Branford Marsalis also the producer, with pianist Joey Calderazzo, double bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner.

Tracks are: 1 Dance of the Evil Toys by Eric Revis; 2 Conversation Among the Ruins by Joey Calderazzo; 3 Snake Hip Waltz by Andrew Hill; 4 Cianna by Joey Calderazzo; 5 Nilaste by Eric Revis; 6 Life Filtering From The Water Flowers by Branford Marsalis; and 7 The Windup by Keith Jarrett.

Branford Marsalis says: “Some musicians may need to work in different projects to create the illusion of sounding different by changing the context, whereas we are confident that we can adjust our group sound so we don’t have to change the context. What always appealed to me were the great bands, not just the great players who could start and stop at the same time. Staying together allows us to play adventurous, sophisticated music and sound good. Lack of familiarity leads to defensive playing, playing not to make a mistake. I like playing sophisticated music, and I couldn’t create this music with people I don’t know.” To be released through Sony on 1 March.

Heard on the new Theon Cross album Fyah to be released shortly, Nubya Garcia has a lot of touring ahead of her over the next few months looking at her date sheet. A Belfast audience gets to hear the saxophonist on 8 May at the Hill Street venue, Black Box.

Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake, a former winner of the Monk saxophone competition, and a well travelled recording artist since, returns with a studio album to be released on the Whirlwind label recorded in Paris called Guardians of the Heart Machine. Blake appears fittingly enough with a French band (Tony Tixier, piano, Florent Nisse, double bass, and Gautier Garrigue, drums) and tracks include ‘Wandering Aengus’ inspired by the great Irish national poet WB Yeats. To be issued on vinyl and digital on 15 March.

Billed as the first jazz conference in Ireland and to be held over three days the Dublin conference at the newly named Technological University Dublin marks the centenary of the first documented jazz performance anywhere in the 32 counties. Keynote speakers are Krin Gabbard whose books include Better Git It in Your Soul: An Interpretive Biography of Charles Mingus; and Gabriel Solis author of Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall

Organiser Dr Damian Evans explains more in this Q&A: 

How did you come up with the idea and why?
When I finished my PhD, I wanted to stay in contact with the European jazz studies research community and in particular bring some more awareness in Ireland to the fascinating research being conducted in Europe and globally. The timing seemed perfect with the 100th anniversary of jazz performance in Ireland. The conference was a way of bringing some of those scholars to Ireland, to try to develop and foster an Irish jazz studies community and at the same time add to my own list of experiences. I was one of the founders of the Galway Jazz Festival so organising large events wasn’t entirely outside of my skill set.

How do you think jazz has developed in Ireland in the last decade?
Tough question. I think there are fewer performance opportunities for most musicians. It’s become more of a band scene rather than individual musicians. The younger scene has developed, as it usually does, and as could be expected, their influences are wide and varied. I haven’t gotten out to nearly as many gigs as I would have liked to have in the last four years or so, but there are a lot of good musicians, though it’s as difficult as ever to turn into a career.  

Why the focus on Documenting and what do you mean by that? Could you give some examples?
Anytime we talk about a representation of jazz that isn’t live performance, we are talking about documenting jazz. Liner notes, posters, internet images, blog posts, newspaper archives, recordings, movies, the list goes on. Often when we are talking about jazz, it is these things we are talking about. The process of documentation is a process of mediation, in which meaning is created and embedded. It shapes how we understand the music, and ultimately what the music becomes. 

Who will be speaking and what will they be speaking about?
There will be 25 3-speaker panels so approximately 75 speakers. There is an extensive range of topics, that can be found on the draft programme on the website. From historical analysis to critical analysis to lecture recitals, from pre-jazz to the present. From Japan to Ireland to America and everywhere in-between. 
The conference website can be accessed here 


EXCLUSIVE Elegant avant interplay here on the almost hymnal meditation ‘Non Plus Ultra’ taken from the upcoming limited edition vinyl (also digital) album Ex Nihilo (like the title all the tracks are in Latin) from saxophonist Binker Golding and pianist Elliot Galvin. Engrossing intertwining improvisation with Golding landing ever more in the Evan Parker domain the album featuring tracks recorded at the Vortex is released by the London indie label Byrd Out who are promoting the Walthamstow Jazz Festival which takes place next month during which Golding and Galvin can be heard.



“Hobgood is continually pulling rabbits out of hats, getting me to re-think and re-feel songs I’ve heard thousands of times, shining a light on hidden structure and interplays I had never noticed before,” according to Dr Daniel J. Levitin who wrote the million selling This is Your Brain on Music.

The latest “rabbits” on pianist composer Laurence Hobgood’s upcoming jazz trio + strings album Tesseterra, more than four years in the making according to issuing label Ubuntu, include ‘Wichita Lineman’, ‘Blackbird’, and  ‘We Shall Overcome’ among the instantly familiar repertoire he tackles.

The recording features pianist composer Hobgood famed for his work with Kurt Elling and Charlie Haden alongside bassist Matthew Clohesy and drummer Jared Schonig + the ETHEL string quartet.

In an video issued to promote the project Hobgood says the process involved: “Writing for jazz trio and string quartet where we take songs that everybody knows, iconic songs and rework them in thoroughly fleshed out and imaginative ways that are intended to delight and suspend time if possible.” Release date, no exact date has been specified yet, is February/March.

Hearing Gemstones (released by the Listen Foundation, “Fundacja Słuchaj”, in Polish) the other day for the first time I was convinced that I had heard it before. It seems so familiar. Like a pair of old shoes, a favourite coat, somehow all freshened up after a trip to the cobbler’s to get a new heel or to the dry cleaners to get rid of the remnants of last night’s grits and gravy it feels just right. Trumpeter Verneri Pohjola is a fine player and knows how to deliver utilising an open, no safety net, rambling, bluesy free-jazz (ie Stańko or Wadada Leo Smith resembling) sometimes brutal and ferocious style.

Caught in the heat of expression the sympathetic and highly driven bass part (the work of Maciej Garbowski, who reminds me of a John Edwards approach) and Andrew Cyrille-like drum input (by Krzysztof Gradziuk) goad him on. Without piano there is a freedom.

Each of the five tracks is named after a gemstone and all were freely improvised recorded live in the Polish city of Katowice. This has instant classic written all over it. Want some spirit, some sheer balls? Look no further. Tell your mates. A perfect act for a club like the Vortex.

Melancholy Blues

Another very auspicious anniversary. 2019 is one of those years. 60 years since Ronnie Scott’s opened, 50 since ECM was founded.

Albert Ammons and Meade “Lux” Lewis 80 years ago were booked into a studio by Alfred Lion for his new at that time unnamed label Blue Note on 6 January 1939 at the radio station WMGM in New York. Lewis four years earlier had been found by producer John Hammond working at a car wash and soon placed Lewis and his earlier song Honky Tonk Train Blues’ at the heart of a craze for boogie-woogie.

Lion provided whiskey and tunes included ‘Boogie Woogie Stomp’ and Ammons and Lewis played 19 takes in all.

In March Blue Note 1 came out featuring two of those takes: Lewis playing ‘Melancholy Blues’ and ‘Solitude’. Blue Note 2 issued at the same time had Ammons playing ‘Boogie Woogie Stomp’ and ‘Boogie Woogie Blues’. Only 25 of each 10-inch disc were made and they were sold by mail order.