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Composer Adrian Johnston’s music for the Louis Lester Band, the fictional 1930s black British jazz band whose story is told in upcoming drama series Dancing on the Edge, has now been confirmed for release. The BBC2 drama written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff features original music by Johnston, a long time musical associate of Poliakoff’s. For this new collaboration they are in unchartered jazz, and, specifically Ellingtonian, territory. The soundtrack leads off with the ‘hit’ song for the band, ‘Dancing on the Moon’, followed by catchy ‘Dead of Night Express’, ‘Downtown Uptempo’ and ‘Lovelorn Blues’, while Duke’s ‘jungle’ period is conjured in ‘Dowager’s Delight’ written as the theme for Lady Cremone, played by the great screen actress Jacqueline Bisset making a rare appearance in a British television drama. There’s jaunty piano, and superb trumpet from jazzmen Jay Phelps and Chris Storr on this tune, representing a transitional phase in the plot of the mystery, one of the standouts, along with the medium-slow ‘Big Ben Blues’, and ‘Lead Me On’.  

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The vocalists who join the Louis Lester band, with the hero of the piece pianist/bandleader Lester, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (pictured on the CD cover), making its unprecedented way in the high society circles of the day, are Jessie played by Angel Coulby, and Carla (Wunmi Mosaku), with Jessie recalling the style of Ellington singer Ivie Anderson vocally, and Carla a little bit more like Adelaide Hall. The digital edition has extra tracks including the gospel version of ‘Lead Me On.’ 

Stephen Graham

The Louis Lester band’s singers, Carla (Wunmi Mosaku, top, on the left), and Jessie (Angel Coulby). Above right the CD cover of the original soundtrack of Dancing on the Edge performed by the Louis Lester Band. The soundtrack is released by Decca on 28 January. The first episode of Dancing on the Edge is now scheduled for Monday 4 February, beginning at 9pm. Read the February issue of Jazzwise for insights from the director

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Tenor-of-our-times Chris Potter on his ECM debut as leader has come up with something very special indeed, make no mistake, on The Sirens (*****). Released in just under a fortnight, on 28 January, the album has a Homeric conceit, like streets in close proximity can be named after peaks in the same mountain range,  so the tracks on this record have titles to match the legendary tale. You’re also by association supposed to say it is epic! Or heroic! In terms of technique it’s not just that Potter handles the saxophone like a rancher is able to tame the wildest horse; he can also charm, coax and caress.

It’s all about expression on The Sirens, and like a theatre play that suddenly makes you feel frightened, or anxious to know how the drama is resolved, whether it’s going to be happy, sad, or even tragic, the narrative of each tune manages this as well. The serious yet unpretentious tunes he’s written resemble the way Potter stands on stage in a club before he plays, looking ahead, presenting himself, at ease with what they call the fourth wall, although as improvisation gains traction he’s oblivious to it. Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland is at the kit and it’s a maelstrom of ideas he brings to the session, the way say Nasheet Waits can burn on a Jason Moran record, with Harland’s own customised input.

There is a tenderness at play that Potter is expert at, maybe the best interpreter of a ballad since, in a different idiom, Stan Getz. Larry Grenadier on bass sounds different here than the way he plays with Brad Mehldau, he’s actually sounding more like he does with Fly. As for brilliant pianist Craig Taborn, well he’s less abstract than he usually is say on a song like ‘Kalypso’ and he rows in to meet Potter somewhere close to a Monk sound after his solo here. The other pianist, David Virelles, is on hand with the role of adding prepared piano sounds, celeste and harmonium, so that’s a twist in the arranging and it gives the album a distinctiveness without being gimmicky. The title track, opening with Potter on bass clarinet, and the very moody and sensual seascape-like accompaniment then opens out to transport us the listeners into the middle of a dream. When was the last time a song did that? Chicago-born Potter, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on New Year’s Day, has been playing beautifully of late and in the Unity Band last year with Pat Metheny showed just one more aspect of what he can do. There’s something magical in the water with this release, an element as mysterious, dangerous, and vital as the best music.

Stephen Graham

Chris Potter top

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Early next month leading improv percussionist Mark Sanders, and the Steve Tromans Trio, led by pianist Tromans with bassist Chris Mapp and drummer Miles Levin, are to travel to the US as part of an exchange between the cities of Birmingham and Chicago. It’s an initiative of Town Hall and Symphony Hall’s Jazzlines programme, in collaboration with Umbrella Music Chicago. The Birmingham musicians will spend a week in Chicago performing and rehearsing with locally-based musicians in a city renowned for innovation in improv. They will be playing gigs at the Hideout in a double bill, with the Tromans trio joined by an avatar of Chicago improv, reedsman Ken Vandermark, plus Mark Sanders and Jason Adasiewicz in duo on Wednesday 6 February. All four Birmingham musicians then hook up to perform with Dave Rempis, James Falzone and Josh Berman in small and large groupings at The Elastic Arts Center the following day, which leads to two days in rehearsal of a new Steve Tromans octet commission involving all the players. The piece will then be performed at the Hungry Brain on Sunday 10 February. SG
Mark Sanders above

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Lineage made their London debut in Hideaway at the weekend. Only their second gig ever, the Streatham club had a busy Saturday night feel, as sleet fell softly outside.

With a front line of trumpeter Byron Wallen, and saxophonist Tony Kofi concentrating on alto saxophone and soprano sax, with a rhythm section of fine Mulgrew Miller-influenced pianist Trevor Watkis, bassist Larry Bartley, fresh from a date with Skydive at the 606 on Wednesday, and UK-based American drummer Rod Youngs, like Bartley and Kofi, a member of the great Abdullah Ibrahim’s band Ekaya.

The Collins Dictionary defines the word ‘Lineage’ as meaning in one primary sense “direct descent from an ancestor, especially a line of descendants from one ancestor”, and both as a diaspora band united in shared musical and cultural approaches, and as stylistic descendants of some of the giants of jazz from the hard bop years and their modern day counterparts, the band succeeds on both fronts as it does on its own terms as top class players. It’s also a meeting of old musical friends, as for instance Kofi and Wallen go way back to the heyday of 1990s hard bop band Nu Troop, and you can tell when two instrumentalists have a close understanding as they know each other’s moves and can read each other’s direction beyond the letter of the closely arranged often intricate material as here. Kofi said he couldn’t think of anyone better to play the trumpet part on his ballad ‘A Song For Papa Jack’, which appeared on Kofi’s acclaimed 2006 album Future Passed, the song dedicated to Tony’s father who died 15 years ago, and Wallen played it beautifully.

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Talking to the audience later in the set Wallen made the astute comment: “Music is about relationships”. And that’s something audiences and musicians neglect to remember sometimes, but this band doesn’t in the broader sense even for one moment. Bookended by Woody Shaw tunes, opening with ‘Sweet Love of Mine’ and culminating at the end of the first set in Shaw’s classic mover, ‘Moontrane’ (Byron explained the title by saying amusingly: “Woody Shaw had a dream of Coltrane riding a bicycle on the moon”). Other set highlights were Tony Williams’ ‘Citadel’, heard on the much missed drummer’s 1980s Blue Note quintet album Civilization, here featuring Trevor Watkis on fine form as he was throughout, especially later on his own tune ‘With Substance’, which featured Larry Bartley and the deep throb of his bass was captured accurately by the club sound system, while Youngs’ cymbals were crisp and clear in the body of the big room. This band just has to be heard.
Stephen Graham

The Hideaway audience top relaxes before Lineage above make their London debut

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Soweto Kinch
The Legend of Mike Smith
Soweto Kinch Productions **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT RECOMMENDED
When Conversations with the Unseen came out in 2003, everyone on the British jazz scene just had to stand back and take note. After all a young player, a complete unknown then, had somehow come up with something that immediately ranked him as a significant player who in time I suppose will be thought of as one of the greatest alto saxophone players this country has ever produced. And his skills were picked up internationally as well, with Kinch collecting international plaudits at the Montreux Jazz Festival winning a hotly contested saxophone award, while going on to develop his dual saxophone/rapping concept to move him into a new space, in the process gaining the high profile backing of Wynton Marsalis. Contrast Kinch’s musical journey with another Wynton protégé of the time, the blisteringly impressive Italian Francesco Cafiso, a more conventional if equally celebrated saxophonist, who has taken a different more orthodox path. When Kinch won the Peter Whittingham award back in the UK he used the money to fund the much sought-after single ‘Jazz Planet’, a catchy rap about an imagined topsy turvy world where jazz is the commercial music, and rock is the art music that no one really listens to. It’s amusing but makes its point felt. Kinch was underlining his ability as a lyrics man and a freestyler, at concerts often asking audience members to lob words (often very difficult rarely heard fiendishly polysyllabic ones) to build an impromptu rap.

Concept album A Life In The Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block, his Birmingham album, was not so much of a success despite some good ideas, and was a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts, but changing label and settling down into a better groove as his artistic direction changed The New Emancipation released in 2010 saw Kinch assert himself fully again and was met with positive reviews.

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The Legend of Mike Smith is once more a concept release, this time a double album built around the idea of the seven deadly sins with many short tracks spread over the two CDs, lots of humour, and role playing featuring characters that include Soweto speaking as his inner voice, his brother Toyin Omari-Kinch as album hero Smith, and skits plus full blown instrumental burn outs. Mike Smith is a hopeful MC looking for a deal but he has everyman qualities and faces everyman temptations, trials and tribulations.

The core band is Kinch with Karl Rasheed-Abel on bass and Graham Godfrey drums with Kinch inviting in many guests to either speak, act, sing, or play. Tessa Walker is perfect as the blasé record company A&R Kate Advo for instance and the best musical cameos include one from Jay Phelps on the ballad ‘Vacuum’ set against an elegiac piano line from Julian Joseph, with Kinch playing a kind of tough guy romantic on alto sax. Kinch also plays quite a bit of tenor sax on the album, an instrument he’s less associated with. Cleveland Watkiss appears on ‘Avaritia’, with its baroque liturgical undertow, in one sense a scaldingly anti-capitalist protest song critical of the excesses of a violent society obsessed obscenely with profit. It’s also a post English-riots London fable, the city as Mammon, but also the place where as urban people we live, an engine of greed. That song leads on to the Sons of Kemet-influenced ‘Slam’ with Shabaka Hutchings duelling against Soweto as the two master reedsmen go head to head. It’s wonderful stuff the pair riffing against neat harmonies with Godrey coming into his own hard at the kit. There’s lots more on this superb double album, funny little songs such as the fast food restaurant parody ‘Gula’ and its companion ‘Escape the Vomatorium’ and a certain historic time shuffling stepping back centuries before The Pharcyde via beats, baroque classical music programming, and a Milton-esque narrative sense. And what’s that rattling Mr Benn-type marimba-sounding moment on ‘Gula’, old TV music, lost in the ‘vomatorium’, possibly, as well? Finally, listen out for Eska Mtungwazi on the well crafted song-of-the-spurned, ‘Better off Alone’, on the second disc. There’s no getting away from it: The Legend of Mike Smith is a triumph.
Stephen Graham

Released on 18 February. Soweto Kinch and friends top, with the cover of The Legend… above

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In the studio with Empirical at the moment, bassist Tom Farmer can be heard on the talented guitarist Ant Law’s upcoming new album, Entanglement (***1/2), to be released on 33 records next month coinciding with a substantial tour. The former Edinburgh university and Berklee student, turned session player, makes his debut as leader at last with this album. With Farmer and Law, Kit Downes Quintet drummer James Maddren hitches up too and interestingly-vinegary former Round Trip saxophonist Michael Chillingworth plus pianist John Turville make up the complete band. Law equates improvising in the album title with quantum entanglement, when particles interact, apparently, but don’t let that put you off, as the improvising here is anything but coldly quantifiable. Law is deeply interested in the concept of a perfect fourths tuning system (tuning the low string to Eb allowing constant intervals between the strings) and is a published author on the subject, but combines the rigour of his academic thinking with instinctive playing of a high order here. His tunes have a holistic feel as the Binney-like Chillingworth runs take hold of the music in breakaway sections displaying well developed improvisational teeth. Not sure about some of the song titles (the otherwise engrossing ‘Entanglement 1 – Janus and Epimetheus’ is a bit of a tongue twister), but the playing is impressive throughout, and Maddren sounds as if he’s enjoying himself, as does the always switched-on Farmer. All the compositions are Law’s except for Trane’s ‘Satellite’, the sixth of the nine tracks. Hear Law’s band touring as a quartet on tour next month at Milestones, Hotel Hatfield, Lowestoft (3 February); Jazz Nursery, London SE1 (7 Feb); Jazz at St John’s, St John’s college, Cambridge (15 Feb); the Cellar, Southampton (18 Feb); Dempsey’s Cardiff (19 Feb); Spotted Dog, Digbeth, Birmingham (26 Feb); Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (27 Feb); and Art Club, Glasgow (28), with more dates in March and April. SG

Ant Law above

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Empirical are to enter the recording studio on Friday for the first session of a recording stint that will see the award winning post-hardbop band laying down tracks for their latest album for the Naim label joined by a string section. Empirical late last year performed brand new material with the Benyounes Quartet at the London Jazz Festival, some of which is destined for the album, and they join them in the London studio for the session. Benyounes are an ensemble formed six years ago at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and find themselves with a key Brit-jazz band that made a huge impact when it appeared fully formed out of nowhere, as it seemed at the time, for a multi award-winning self titled debut album produced by Courtney Pine for his label Destin-e back in 2007. The band won both Jazzwise and Mojo album of the year, and has since gone on to build on its reputation recording for the Naim label.

The band’s alto saxophonist and co-founder, Nathaniel Facey, was in action last night playing quite superbly with new vocal star in the making singer-pianist Theo Jackson at the 606 club in Chelsea. Facey has been nominated in the UK instrumentalist of the year category of the inaugural Jazz FM Awards that take place at the end of January. The set’s standout was easily ‘A Bitter End For A Tender Giant’ with Facey in duo with Jackson. Facey also showed great poise and finely honed interpretative ability on Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Afro Blue’ near the beginning. ‘A Bitter End…’ composed by the saxophonist first appeared on Empirical’s acclaimed 2009 album Out ’n’ In, Facey’s evocative and unsentimental tribute to Eric Dolphy, who died young after his diabetes condition was left untreated at a Berlin hospital in 1964 on the erroneous assumption by doctors that Dolphy was a drug addict.

The duo setting was complemented by band performances featuring the Oxford-based singer joined by the Ahmad Jamal-influenced rising star, the 19-year-old Reuben James, who took to the piano stool for a bunch of numbers when Jackson sang, joining Facey, Jackson band bassist Shane Alessio and drummer Jason Reeve. Reuben James has been touring as a member of Jay Phelps’ quartet recently, the trumpeter who played so memorably on Empirical’s debut album, and who will shortly be seen playing the part of a fictional 1930s trumpeter in Stephen Poliakoff’s television drama Dancing on the Edge as a member of the Louis Lester Band. Empirical are touring following the recording sessions and should be on firing form. Catch them at the Terry O’Toole Theatre, Lincoln on 24 January; Hidden Rooms Cambridge 25 Jan; Pizza Express Jazz Club, London on 4 February; Seven Arts, Leeds, 7 February; and Millennium Hall, Sheffield, on 8 February. Naim say they’re aiming for an August album release.

Stephen Graham

Nathaniel Facey, pictured with Shane Alessio, at the 606, London, above

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The line-up for next month’s 12 Points festival in Dublin has been announced. The bands, with related links are: OKO from Ireland http://breakingtunes.com/oko ; Sarah Buechi’s THALi from Switzerland http://www.sarahbuechi.com/pages/projects.html ; the Enrico Zanisi Trio from Italy http://www.enricozanisi.com ; Nikolas Anadolis from Greece http://nikolasjazz.com ; Cactus Truck from the Netherlands http://cactustruck.com ; Hanna Paulsberg Concept from Norway https://soundcloud.com/hannapaulsberg ; Mopo from Finland https://soundcloud.com/mopomopo ; Soil Collectors from Sweden https://soundcloud.com/soilcollectors ; Koenig Leopold from Austria http://www.koenigleopold.at/main.html ; Ozma from France http://ozma.free.fr ; Manchester’s Beats & Pieces Big Band from the UK http://beatsnpieces.net ; and the Olivia Trummer Trio from Germany http://www.oliviatrummer.de

Irish band OKO are on home territory this year after the festival’s trip to Portugal last year. This fairly new four-piece avant-folktronica band is on the radar of Matt Jacobsen’s Diatribe label, with a debut expected soon.

Swiss artist, singer Sarah Buechi’s quintet THALi, by contrast draws in world music flavours and particularly south Indian sounds to their jazz mantle inspired partly by Buechi’s studies in Bangalore.

The Italian band coming to 12 Points is a romantic piano trio, led by the multi-award winning pianist Enrico Zanisi, whose album Quasi Troppo Serio (‘Almost Too Serious’) has been issued to no small acclaim by leading Italian jazz indie label Egea.

Greek pianist Nikolas Anadolis, from the beautiful northern city of Thessaloniki, is another keyboards high flier, a player who won the Martial Solal piano competition in Paris two years ago, while Amsterdam sax/guitar/drums trio Cactus Truck, not long back from a tour of the States, should shake things up with their rumbustious free jazz and noisenik flavours.

The sax-led Norwegian band Hanna Paulsberg Concept only came together in 2010 but picked up a major accolade the following year by winning the Young Nordic Jazz Comets in Stockholm, the contest kudos always a strong indicator of a band on the rise. Their dreamy debut is called Waltz for Lilli.

Finns Mopo are another trio, this time with a quirky baritone saxophone attack and requisite free thinking attitude. Only around since 2009 they have a distinctive approach that could well make them ones to watch closely this year.

Another big hope is Swedish alternative impro-rock band Soil Collectors who have already toured widely, combining as they do in somewhat mysterious fashion, voice, electronica, and percussion to captivating effect, their signature sound infused with a Nordic sense of noir and littered with found sounds, one that is both vogueish, and also winningly atmospheric.

Austrian jokers-in-the-pack Koenig Leopold (taking their names from the surname of the band’s Lukas König, and part of bandmate Leo Riegler’s first name), summons dada, Zappa, and Monty Python with spectacular results served up over some characteristically reheated energy-laden beats.

French four piece prog jazz outfit Ozma are also strongly fancied for the festival, with guitarist Adrien Dennefeld already known on the London scene for his work joining forces with Kit Downes in the “shuttle" band Barbacana and his quintet. In Ozma Dennefeld is with saxophonist David Florsche, electric bassist Edouard Séro-Guillaume and drummer Stéphane Scharlé, and Ozma released their album Peacemaker just last year.

The UK’s Beats & Pieces need little introduction to close followers of all things jazz over the last two years. Simply Ben Cottrell’s Mancunians have become the Loose Tubes of the current scene, so their appearance following the success of World Service Project last year will be keenly gauged at 12 Points in 2013.

And finally Stuttgart pianist and vocalist Olivia Trummer comes to Dublin with her trio, a chance for the Irish audience to sample this seasoned classically-influenced musician who already has a strong collection of work as a recording artist.

Taking place at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar from 13-16 February the festival has built a hard won reputation as the key early adopter’s new band showcase of choice, with a broad range of the best progressive jazz talent from across the continent. This year’s crop of bands promises to build further on past accomplishments. SG

Soil Collectors top
www.12points.ie