More Arriving is far more populist, and less ascetic, than when Sarathy Korwar first emerged. First time I saw him was when he was an at that time unknown guest with Binker and Moses back in 2016. A fine tabla player, Zakir Hussain he told me chatting briefly in the dressing room during the interval at a theatre show in Victoria, was an influence on him, the record though puts tabla in the background more as the MCs and vocalists sprinkled liberally throughout take over. The lyrics on the album often interpolate buzzy phrases that you might hear on any British street and there is a joyous, dancey hubbub about the whole thing and the writing is good. Out on Leaf ****. Dates coming up include Moth Club, LONDON E9 on 25 September.
This is pretty classy imaginative big band playing, compositions by reedist/arranger Christina Fuchs, appearing on the Big Band Records label. If you are into Maria Schneider then you will land happily enough here. By the way you may like to know that two of the WDR Big Band stalwarts, superb bassist John Goldsby and equally talented trombonist Shannon Barnett, appear at the Sligo Jazz Project in Ireland next week, playing during a busy week for instance in the perfect intimate surroundings of classic pub Hargadons on 25 July. Details.
Melt Yourself Down newly signed to Decca have just shared punky new single ‘Boot and Spleen’ and are playing The Lexington in London tonight.
The label glosses the single as “Inspired by the dark history of British colonialism in India, it asks the question: “What is it to be British? What's that identity now, in 2019? What sort of behaviours are allowed towards minorities, or from minorities towards the majority?”
The London 6-piece was set up by former Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear saxophonist, the James Chance and the Contortions-loving Pete Wareham, and is fronted by lead singer Kush Gaya.
Things change. Since the last time I looked around which was a while back now many labels have become either dormant or fairly inactive.
One thing is for sure, however, is that online tactics are more important than ever. Offline is nowhere, just like print magazines are now overshadowed by their online counterparts.
If a label does not put up a promo track and just lists tracks then it will not get written about as much as those albums which are listenable, at least in part. We like to try before we buy now more than ever and the technology enables this better than ever.
Some labels put the whole album up for a short time beforehand for a limited period and I can see the merit of this particularly if the release is avant garde and hard to sell. After all tracks can be made unavailable again when sales kick in.
A few thoughts: Babel: very quiet at the moment. The new Emilia Mårtensson record coming up should re-ignite interest in the label. Basho: not much output now, just a few records per year. The latest Trish Clowes album was excellent. However, the label could do with a better online presence, maybe using YouTube and Bandcamp more. Blue Note: most of the interest this year has been on the heritage of the label. The signing of Joel Ross however has picked up a lot of attention. Don Was and co also love their veterans at the label and I would love it if they could bring back Herbie Hancock and release his next album, especially as he turns 80 next year. Universal have the big bucks to do this. Brownswood: at the heart of all the hype about UK jazz dominated by Gilles Peterson’s DJ-centric beats laden taste. Cleanfeed: could do with more public-facing promo tracks. Otherwise a reliable avant garde label. Concord: far more active recently on the jazz side and excellent at getting the word out. Can be too stodgily mainstream at times however. New albums coming up by Hiromi and Jazzmeia Horn. Criss Cross Jazz: pretty invisible online in terms of buzz. Not always that interesting a label because it tends to stick to the same sort of thing all the time but Noah Preminger’s After Life was a revelation recently. ECM: Not a great year so far although the Touchstones reissues have delighted fans of the label. Many releases however fall into a nebulous folk or chamber no man’s land and this has been more to the fore in recent batches. However, on safer ground albums by Giovanni Guidi and Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan were superb. The label has also become far better at using YouTube to its advantage. Edition: lots of new signings including a foray into US jazz this year with albums by Chris Potter, Jeff Ballard, Dave Holland and Zakir Hussain etc. Also interesting to note that the label is reissuing Julian Argüelles’ superb album Home Truths, originally out on Babel, soon. Gearbox: It gets better all the time. Albums by Dwight Trible, Theon Cross and Abdullah Ibrahim have all succeeded. The label probably has the best sound of any UK indie, has a firm graphic identity and is web savvy. Gondwana: Quiet at the moment. Could do with some new signings. However, I really enjoyed their release by the unknown Hania Rani this year. Impulse! Well, this is as much part of internal big record label branding (as part of Universal) and how they deal with the classic past as anything. However, bringing some of the various groups of Shabaka Hutchings on board (Sons of Kemet, The Comet is Coming) was a masterstroke. Contrast that with how Verve is still not branded correctly to align with its heritage. Jazz Re-freshed: Fashionable UK label which has made giant strides this year. Loves EPs. Jellymould Jazz: gone dormant this year, which is a pity. Lyte: inactive mainly this year. Mack Avenue: Could do with better online promo, I do forget about this leading US label a little too often. Good to see Herlin Riley on the label recently. Motéma: Hasn’t been the same since Gregory Porter left! However, Melissa Aldana has done the label proud this year. OKeh: what’s happened there, then? Sony seem to have lost interest. Sunnyside: could do with some videos [even audio tracks put on YouTube at a basic level] to promote their output. I did enjoy their Lucian Ban record earlier in the year. Ubuntu: Signing loads of new artists, taste chops seem to be improving, and their strike rate is getting better. Very good at promo via social media and online but could make better use of Bandcamp. Whirlwind: lots of activity. One of the best at promoting their wares via news items on their website. I am surprised how few labels do just that. However, their output is quite variable in terms of quality at the moment with the exception of the recent Partisans album Nit de Nit, which was a blast. Stephen Graham
Near you? Well if you can make it along Harriet Tubman promise an access all areas listen.
Completely not absolute beginners guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer JT Lewis have been together as a band some 20 years and know where they want to be more than most and maybe they have just achieved what they have been searching for all along on The Terror End of Beauty which was released last year.
The absorbing track above according to the label “refers to The Negro Motorist’s Green Book, which informed black auto travellers of locations that would and would not be accepting of their presence.” A version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ also on the album has never seemed so relevant as right now as the trio decode its inner workings and strip off all the cosy layers the mindless branch of Marley music tourism cloaked usually inappropriately as advertising has coated it with over the decades.
Eagle Vision will be releasing the much praised Sophie Huber-directed Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes on DVD, Blu-ray and digitally on 6 September, Universal have announced. Blue Note celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2019.
opinion: jazz today is still a journey to the urge within. make that trip of discovery
Jazz is more niche than ever and this is despite a whole lot of headlines about a sort of mini-boom on the UK scene. We have been there before with these blips. Most recently in 2003 during the brief “Parky Jazz era” when Jamie Cullum sold a million records with Twentysomething and that feat has not been repeated since by a UK jazz artist; and more relevantly in 1986 when Courtney Pine entered the Top 40 pop charts and black Britons made their jazz experience count like at no time since Joe Harriott developed his free-form ideas largely underknown in the 1960s. Pine, given that he is still an active presence and an “elder statesman” of all of 55 paved the way and the new south London and Birmingham generation of groundbreaking jazz musicians owe him a great deal as they do his Harrow neighbours and his former bass player Gary Crosby of the youth jazz development agency Tomorrow’s Warriors who have encouraged current stars such as Binker Golding and Shabaka Hutchings.
Why the upsurge in interest?
This time around the interest is different even if the idea of a boom is old. Here we go again. Marlbank pins it partly to the success of UK exports rather than suddenly the UK public waking up to what we have here and suddenly flocking to venues and buying loads of records. Quite the contrary: buying physical records has become a thing of the past. Scarily fuddy duddy when streaming is believing. However there is nothing wrong with physical formats! CDs are now approaching the acme of cool. They never ever were.
Bands such as Sons of Kemet and GoGo Penguin are making waves in the States and it is not unusual for more still relatively new artists like Yazz Ahmed for instance to appear in clubs and festivals in Europe something that has only spottily happened before over recent years.
You may say that the burst of excitement this year is because of the seeds sown in recent years for instance by the likes of the Made in the UK strand at the Rochester Jazz Festival in New York state, at WinterJazz in the Big Apple, or by improved promotion at trade fairs such as Jazz Ahead in Bremen. That is only part of the explanation. Other big developments have shown what an appetite there is out there when it is catered for in festivals such as Love Supreme, often dubbed the Glastonbury of jazz: and for good reason. One good thing about streaming services is that there is a democracy more than ever before in terms of access to all kinds of music. The Internet is a far better way of distributing music direct to your ears than even the best record shop in the world ever was. That may be an inconvenient truth to some.
Let us not get carried away. Newspaper coverage this year has been poorer than ever and is getting worse. However, on a more positive side new podcasts have come along to bolster what radio has to offer. And yet there is so much more that can be done.
Jazz on TV is invisible. Only when a big star visiting on tour like Gregory Porter comes along does it merit a slot on a big talk show or there is some sort of gimmicky showbiz angle. TV does not broadcast live jazz concerts at all in the UK. Think about that one. To TV folk to do so would be ratings suicide so it ain’t going to happen any time soon lest we become too hopeful. Online the new media specialist coverage delivering to and by the usual suspects is busier than ever. However, it is more a patchwork for fans who know where to look rather than the big splash that “old” media like TV can achieve.
Marlbank believes that we need more people who have never been to a jazz concert before becoming fans: People who never buy a jazz record suddenly get the habit and stick around. It is a mistake to see a general upsurge in generational terms setting up ageist media channels to cater for such uninspired and divisive thinking. Van Morrison for instance who is in his seventies topped the US jazz charts last year. People under 30 can get into his music if they want. By the same token folk in their seventies and eighties can enjoy brand new bands they never heard of. Van does not fit any marketing or jazz model. By contrast GoGo Penguin again who are not typical got a big turn out last year in the Albert Hall, a place few homegrown jazz acts can dream of headlining. In terms of another inconvenient truth: How come too that some of the biggest headlines last year were generated by two albums that were recorded in 1963, one by John Coltrane, the other by Thelonious Monk — and for good reason? More female stars are coming through which is hugely welcome. Again more can be done but long gone are the days when assumptions were made that female jazz musicians were either singers or pianists. Efforts to gender equalise in terms of numbers appearing in headline slots are to be applauded as a positive effort to show more balance.
Year-round regular activity needs more support at a local level: promotion again, however, needs developing and a complete overhaul. Outside the big cities there are few clubs or even weekly nights. Many struggle. The festival model is not the complete answer to this famine. After all a festival only takes place once a year. What happens during the rest of the year? Outreach and one-off concerts are not enough. Marlbank advocates for increased seed support for local hotel and publican entrepreneurs to put on jazz rather than let them do what they usually do which is lazily book cover bands, daddio DJs or put on a singer-songwriter to warble backed by some heated up beats wi-fied up from the net.
Arts funding bodies and big name hospitality brands when they are thinking of investment or sponsorship we think could partner with local non-partisan promoters more than they are at the moment and rather than aim to put on jazz to the usual suspects in arts centres actually go to the heart of the matter by supporting regular restaurant, bar and hotel venues month-in month-out to make jazz more of a routine.
National arts council backed tours when bands often play to a few hundred people if they are lucky during small windows of time do not really achieve that much beyond the short burst of profile they may drum up and yet use up all the available precious budget, a lot of it soaked up in PR, admin, agent fees, and marketing. A whole strand of middle managers, often not so much altruistic supporters and advocates as career professionals on the first rung of their own career ladders in the arts, needs chopping out of the equation where possible if they do not deliver positive outcomes and decent fees (to match their own packages at the very least) for artists. In the big cities the restaurant trade is down, places are going bust in bigger numbers, and we are lucky that jazz supporting chain Pizza Express (the only big chain to support jazz) is weathering the storm so far. Certainly the chain has invested in live music more by fitting out a fine new venue in its Holborn branch to build on the flagship Soho club. Neighbourhood clubs are blossoming. Last year marlbank visited two new scenes, one in north London at the Hampstead jazz club, one in south London at the Agile Rabbit, which are brand new, and dotted around our biggest cities these sometimes unknown spheres of activity are very important. The places, usually restaurants or bars are putting on jazz for their local communities. How revolutionary is that? We do not need to be as media obsessed as we used to be as a community but we do need people to go out and hear jazz and for the media to enter and be part of that community rather than parachuting in once in a while often when their usual cycle dips. One antidote to the insidious effects that tech has inflicted on the livelihood of musicians in terms of giving quality art away for nothing is to unplug your device and go to gigs as much as possible week in week out. Buy the music you want when you are there too. Your being there matters and joins the dots like never before.