Chris Williams

Open less than six months on Railton Road in Herne Hill, south London, on the site of Jazz on the Hill, is Victor Greetham’s Agile Rabbit, a sister restaurant to the Brixton Village birthplace of the pizzeria, the joint’s logo inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat, the trilby-wearing Victor explains to marlbank, as bassist composer Liran Donin and alto saxophonist Chris Williams who make up two-fifths of the 2009 Mercury-nominated Led Bib join forces with the Zara McFarlane drummer Sam Jones and reach full flow.  

Agile Rabbit

Donin, who this year picked up acclaim for 8 Songs (Cavalo Records) John Fordham writing in The Guardian describing the folk/experimental jazz breakthrough as “an exceptional album” — has a mobile highly elastic style that in this context summons a Charlie Haden-like looseness and sense of adventure that matches Williams’ modern version of the musical innovations of Ornette Coleman to harness the ache of the blues and the scalding ferocity of avant bop. 

Victor GreethamNewcomer Sam Jones completing the trio is also to be heard at the hip Prince of Wales late-night Thursday sessions in Brixton, and here with his impressive affinity for a free-improv situation leans towards a John Stevens-type role involving that brittle touch and open ended sense of time and razor-sharp response associated with other British improvisers that followed in Stevens’ wake.

It is not often possible to experience free-jazz/improv in a congenial neighbourhood restaurant when the music on offer otherwise is often so dispiritingly bland. The word clearly is rapidly getting out about the quality of the scene and it was good to see Jazzwise editor Mike Flynn in the house digging the vibe. SG 

More Rabbit than Sainsbury’s: Liran Donin top left and Chris Williams at the Agile Rabbit. Inset: Agile Rabbit owner Victor Greetham who is stimulating a jazz scene in Herne Hill by opening up the space. The Rabbit session is on Wednesdays. Info.

 Kerstan Mackness and Rob Turner

Kerstan Mackness, GoGo Penguin manager above left, with Rob Turner, the Mancunian trio’s drummer, pictured outside the Royal Albert Hall taken post-soundcheck shortly before the jazz-electronica band’s biggest UK gig. 

RAH

The gig turned out to be a spectacular affair. Spot lights strafed the stage as a brutal bar of horizontal glare acted as a frame behind the band. Set standouts included the pensive ‘Prayer’, rippling patterns of ‘Bardo’ during which Turner’s frantic drum ’n’ bass-like scampering reached a frenzy of engagement, the rustling atavism of ‘A Hundred Moons’, and ravey Davey ‘Reactor’ from current Blue Note album A Humdrum Star and ‘Ocean in a Drop’ from the Live at Abbey Road EP. Double bassist Nick Blacka’s matador-like machismo thrived on a compelling Miroslav Vitouš-recalling command of the instrument stripped back to an essence, Blacka opening his account at the beginning of the evening with a tender arco ostinato that seared into the arteries of the vast hall. As for Chris Illingworth on piano always an introvert, a sense of hush he swaps for the detailed sweep of release and a dream of musical escape that eclipses even what his heroes e.s.t achieved given the heights the band have now conquered in such a vast UK concert hall space that he vividly explores.

GoGo Penguin

First support was provided by the head bobbing duo Sunda Arc (aka the keyboard/electronics of Nick Smart and soprano sax/bass clarinet/electronics of Jordan Smart from Mammal Hands). Their 12” vinyl release Flicker will be issued by Gondwana in December. In main support in a second slot was assured soul singer Andreya Triana wearing a bright pink trench coat, jumpsuit and statement necklace whose set included current single ‘Woman’ and a switch on her final number to strap on a bass guitar. Story/photos top two, Stephen Graham. Photo from the soundcheck above featuring GoGo Penguin. l-r Rob Turner, Nick Blacka, and Chris Illingworth: band Facebook page.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR HEAVEN AND EARTH

ACT, Germany Standouts this year from Emile Parisien and Janne Mark. Blue Note, USA Standouts included a Wayne Shorter magnum opus and new direction for Kandace Springs. ECM, Germany The year belonged to Jakob Bro. Edition, England A pretty solid year all in all. Tim Garland for me had his best release and showed once again what a world class player he is. Big signings lined up for 2019 include some Pottering about and the art of the Ballard coming on tap. Gearbox, England One of the UK’s very best jazz top tier indie labels. An unheard Mønk live recording raised Darrel Sheinman’s output to new heights while the label continues to tap the cusp of the new scene via Binker and Moses and Sarathy Korwar. Plans for 2018 include an exciting signing plucked from the lively sarf London scene. Impulse, USA/France An unheard Coltrane album, huge for the label, a gift to the world no less. Sons of Kemet were also tops on a label that Universal have brought back. The corporate grip on their branding is unfortunate however and so historic imprints mean less than they should although Blue Note suffers least in this regard. Pi, USA A great Steve Coleman live at the Vanguard album a big highlight. Pi we think are the best avant label in the world currently. Whirlwind, England Another solid year. Julian Siegel scored mightily with Vista which is in the marlbank albums of the year. Young Turks, England Heaven and Earth by Kamasi Washington did not disappoint. In fact it is the best album that we have heard all year by a mile. 

Some labels have fallen off the marlbank radar entirely because they have become inactive or their roster has taken a dive. Major labels are once again mostly not where the action is taking place regardless of when they do make a splash which they continue to do from time to time often via the sheer strength of their distribution and marketing expertise. Sony label OKeh really dipped in quantity and activity this year, however. Nonesuch relied as they have done for years on the jazz front on a few big artists only in Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman. They desperately need a new Pat Metheny album or better still show a bigger commitment to jazz if they really care enough.  Biophilia were consistently excellent. Of the many avant highly variable labels Cleanfeed was OK but patchy and they have had better years in the recent past. Dare2, legendary bassist Dave Holland's label, had a very good year shaped around Uncharted Territories which is after the Kamasi the album that marlbank enjoyed most this year. 

Spartacus in Scotland hardly registered on our listening at all, snoozy times there for a change, while in the land of Brum Stoney Lane impressed with their Sara Colman release most and in What We’re Made Of achieved the best UK and Ireland vocal jazz album of the year as rated by marlbank. Quite a coup and out of the blue. Manchester’s Gondwana kept the spiritual flame burning but often what they are putting out is predictable. An away day or two at the ashram may be needed. Brownswood seemed more brand conscious than ever and relied on a lot of hype, sadly. Jellymould had a disappointing year as did Babel and while Lyte had an interesting Jean Toussaint release they certainly need new names on their roster as do their English counterpart Jellymould. As for Christine Allen’s label Basho the big question is will The Impossible Gentlemen record again? If so a new phase for the groundbreaking label might begin but the prospects are not at all clear. Ubuntu did very well to release the best Martin Speake album ever. RareNoise kept the faith with World Service Project on the prog-jazz front but overall get a little bit too carried away. Dublin label Teddy D did well in profile terms especially built around festival touring with their acclaimed Making Other Arrangements. Camjazz left it late with their terrific Antonio Sánchez album out this week, again one of the marlbank picks of 2018.

The good news finally is that labels are emerging all the time and artists can be more DIY than ever via Bandcamp. However an important caveat: demos largely made for gig getting purposes only but issued as pukka releases certainly are not the Second Coming. To pretend otherwise is risible.    

 

Dean Street Pizza‘Double Bill’, a two-key reharmonisation of ‘Blue and Green’ opened for the first of this two-house Friday night appearance. One of the first things that the Gonz did when he got on to the stage was sip on a glass of red wine: the next more significant thing a tune later, Jobim’s ‘Wave’ as it happened, was to roll up his sleeves. 

Pianist Bruce Barth came into his own in his later solo spot in the segue from Monk’s ‘Light Blue’ into Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Daydream’. The Pizza roused to a rollicking account of John Coltrane’s ‘Moment’s Notice’, and then the ultimate ballad ‘Body and Soul’, the Gonz, hair slicked back, boyish smiles lighting up the place as the set went on, not one to stand on ceremony even quipping as he introduced the encore “Someone I know calls it ‘Buddy and Sol’. I’ll refer to that someone by his initials — ‘Adam Nussbaum'!”

Barth plus the evening’s bassist Mark Hodgson and drummer Stephen Keogh who have been touring extensively with Bergonzi accompany bebop legend Charles McPherson on Sunday at Ronnie Scott’s. It is quite a team. However, Bergonzi owned the house on this occasion and I guess added another storey to the heights later in the evening. One to be engraved on my memory of great nights in this marvellous Soho basement, and the bar is set very high, pretty much immediately. SG 

 Orphy Robinson 

Astral Weeks was released 50 years ago. One of the most eye catching aspects of this year’s London Jazz Festival is a concert that captures that feeling, that spirit, that emotion. Vibes great Orphy Robinson has masterminded the concert and explains how Astral Weeks moves him still all these years on

“I first started to put together the musicians and vocalists to work on Astral Weeks last year for a concert in the centre of London. I had been speaking with a friend Colm Carty for a couple of years about the album, but it wasn’t until the night of the Bobby Hutcherson songbook tribute concert at the Church of Sound that I finally decided that I would take some time out and really get into the whole album. I previously knew individual songs like ‘Sweet Thing’, ‘Cyprus Avenue’, and ‘Astral Weeks’, so I needed to really focus and think about what I could bring to an interpretation of the album. Originally it was for a one-off concert but the response from the audience, the members of the ensemble and the critics made it obvious that this was worth looking for other opportunities to play the album live from beginning to end. 
   “Joe Cang was recommended to me by Tony Rémy once I had explained what I was hoping to do. Joe has been an absolute diamond with his professionalism and great voice. Sahra Gure is a new voice on the scene and has brought some beautiful energy with her. Someone to definitely watch out for in the coming years. I was fascinated by what Zara McFarlane could bring to the ensemble and she hasn’t disappointed, it’s been a perfect fit. She brings a kind of blues sensibility added to her obvious Jazz credentials. Sarah Jane Morris got in touch when it was first announced that I would be performing the album. Astral Weeks turned out to be one of her all-time favourite albums, so it’s been wonderful to have her alongside us and finally to share a stage with such an amazing talent and presence.
   “Warren Smith Jr was obviously an eye catcher for me as being a percussionist it’s one of the first things I listen out for on recordings. However, seeing the name Connie Kay intrigued me more as he was from the MJQ and his background has a touch of the Caribbean like my own. The legendary Richard Davis the bassist on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch added to a very unique group of musicians that helped to create a strong sound world that still brings people to the album 50 years later. Our ensemble of players is very strong with Mo Nazam, Rowland Sutherland, Dudley Philips, Kate Shortt. We usually have John Etheridge in with us as well but he’s on tour at the same time with the Soft Machine Legacy and so Tony Rémy has kindly stepped in to take his place.  
   “The hardest part of the whole project was waiting for the audience reaction to the title track ‘Astral Weeks’ on the first concert. It was an overwhelming thumbs up and a great review that made me breathe a lot easier. I have also had members of Van’s touring band being very positive to extracts of music online form the shows and radio interviews. 
   “We play the whole album from start to finish with a different vocalist featured on different songs. There will also be some other Van music to bring to the mix as well.” 

Orphy Robinson presents Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks – the 50th Anniversary Concert featuring Zara McFarlane and Sarah Jane Morris is on at the Queen Elizabeth Hall during the EFG London Jazz Festival: https://efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk/events/orphy-robinsons-astral-weeks 
 

Supporting Macy “I Try” Gray at Ronnie Scott’s familiarise yourself if you have not already with the “future jazz soul” of Braxton Cook and his latest album just released called No Doubt.

Hailing from Maryland it is a year since Somewhere in Between when the former Julliard student and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah sideman first surfaced under his own steam. Back in 2014 marlbank first caught the alto saxophonist whose tart, communicative sound lands somewhere near to that of Kenny Garrett’s live in Sligo with Christian Scott in a band that featured the flautist/vocalist star Elena Pinderhughes who was new to the Scott set-up at the time. Cook has also worked with Butcher Brown the funk and jazz-rooted band signed to London vinyl label Gearbox. 

Mayank Patel
Mayank Patel of the Hampstead Jazz Club.

Neighbourhood jazz clubs are the beating heart of the London jazz scene day in day out. Jazz thrives on places and people and that is why they are so important, a natural environment when players can relax, develop their craft and collaborate. The newest addition to the north London scene is the highly atmospheric Hampstead Jazz Club. Founder of the club, which is located in the basement of the Duke of Hamilton pub on New End, a short walk from the Hampstead tube station or a swift bus ride from Golders Green, 28 Church Row restaurant and Lateralize record label owner Mayank Patel showed marbank around earlier. Lateralize have just released Live in London by singer Judi Jackson.

Hampstead Jazz Club
The exterior of the Hampstead Jazz Club.

Tiny, with a cellar-like classic Parisian feel, a state of the art Autograph supplied audio rig, the same supplier who kit out the Pizza Express Jazz Club, house baby grand piano, Gretsch drum kit and a low ceiling this moves jazz club intimacy to a new level. Mayank tells me there is room for around 50 people and as he strikes a note on the piano you realise how personal the sound is. Pianist Jamie Safir is musical director of the club and the club has a roster of musicians who include the Copasetics’ Alex Webb.

Ben Robson
Duke of Hamilton landlord Ben Robson, upstairs above the club.
The club will host a freshly conceived songwriter crème de la crème-themed evening presented by singer Jo Harrop and pianist/arranger Alex Webb. Expect songs by the greats whose songs continue to shape our lives drawn from the work of Newley and Bricusse, Lionel Bart, Lennon & McCartney and Elvis Costello. Joining Alex and Jo will be the tenor saxophonist Denys Baptiste who won a Parliamentary Jazz Award recently for The Late Coltrane plus up-and-coming bassist J “This City” Darwish and drummer Pete Hill. story/pics: marlbank
The gig is on Friday 30 November. Tickets & info 

 

All the Ps. Oh. Add perfection if you like. DePending on where you are coming from.

On New Jawn, “jawn” is Philly slang apparently for a “Person, Place or thing”. More Ps. And another one, Peace, McBride is at peace. Of course he comes from Philadelphia, they owe him the keys of the city for this and more, and this latest album of his in an outrageously successful career that makes him I'd say a rival for Dave Holland as best jazz double bassist on the planet, is partly a home-town homage but more so a masterclass in a driving straightahead acoustic jazz vehicle which was style synonymous with Wynton Marsalis in the 1980 and 90s and took on a life of its own to build a highway across the desert of popular music for generations of jazzers since to travel on without the baggage the 80s guys were deemed to have picked up

His quartet here is very straightahead, nothing to do with funk much on this occasion although McBride can be funky when he ain’t being funky if you know what I mean, and at heart just as significantly a swim around the Oscar Pettiford tradition which means that McBride knows how to curl a swinging sound around firm melodies and most importantly to shape his wondrous tonally magnificent sound inside a band of hard blowing players to be the heart of the matter. These here are trumpeter Josh Evans, Marcus Strickland on tenor sax/bass clarinet (who has a new record out on Blue Note), and one of the world's great jazz drummers Nasheet Waits best known for his work with Jason Moran.

There is no scaffolding harmonically because there is no pianist so McBride has to fill in for all that somehow and he does, the bass in a way shadow boxing by leaning into the clashes and chimes of sax and trumpet more than usual but above all listening to the melody of the drums that only a bassist can hear and above all feel.

This is jazz with a beginning, middle and end. Avant it is not. Oh and boring or conservative it is not either. (Terms like avant really are fundamentally about structure + tonal, metrical, and timbral language anyway. We are not talking philosophy or clothes or politics just for a minute which can distract or make you think x or y is avant when really they are not at all.)

McBride always adds an extra shot to the sound whether on his own tunes or those of his band members. I didn't know Waits wrote much but a tune of his called ‘Kush’ here is worth a few listens. As for non-band material the inclusion of Wayne Shorter’s ‘Sightseeing’ a lesser known inclusion from the master, which appeared on the whopping 4-CD live set, The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978–1981 is a talking point. It is highly instructive just how idiomatic a shift such material is in the hands of a composer bandleader master like McBride becomes another world, another place and yet a shared experience melting memories dismantling barriers, inviting anyone in. SG. On Mack Avenue. ****

Various Artists Yoga Jazz Playlist

The Yoga Jazz Playlist was released by the makers of Jogging Jazz Selection amid a certain amount of confusion in some quarters just this week. 


Mainstream heaven yes, for a soundtrack to yoga, lawks!  

The good news is that while your inner peace may be in a temporary state of disarray, solace is possible but perhaps not in the choices the “hopeful” compilers have hazarded upon. Simply construct a sentence out of all the song titles. The correct sequence is vital! Scroll down for the full effect. 


Joe Venuti who introduced us to Moonglow back in the 1930s... little did he realise! 

“You rascal you, my man’s gone now, Dizzy’s blues, my groove, your move, moonglow, ready get set jump, ornithology, soon, the lady is a tramp — don’t squawk.” A snip at £4.79!

PyjaenPyjaen

 

Hard blowing Brecker-esque tenor, Byron Wallen-like trumpet, wiry guitar, rapport, flow, ladlings of Afrobeat, an energetic pulsing undertow to boot ...these guys are not afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves... we may more seriously become deeply dippy about this London five piece formed via friendship and study at the Trinity Laban conservatoire in Greenwich. 
Check the demo, top, and hear them on tour.