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Cécile McLorin Salvant’s album WomanChild leads the way

So with a little more than 20 weeks of the year and hundreds of new releases behind us to look back on, has the vocals trend from last year continued unabated? Or is the present state of instrumental music simply in as much thrall to the past as it has ever been? Listening to these excellent new records in the top 10 below will quickly allow you to make up your own mind and go some way to provide the answers to both these questions. Like a living language that borrows from everything, everywhere in real time and cannot be properly written down, the very flexibility and creativity of jazz is both its strength and a passage towards future innovation 

 

10 Rudresh Mahanthappa (7 January)
Gamak

ACT

Susanne Abbuehl (8 May)
The Gift
ECM

Sam Crowe Group (29 April)
Towards the Centre of Everything
Whirlwind

7 Soweto Kinch (12 January)
The Legend of Mike Smith
Soweto Kinch Productions

Bobby McFerrin (4 June)
Spirityouall
Sony Masterworks

5 Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project (27 January)
Mirrors
Edition

Marc Cary (22 May)
For the Love of Abbey
Motéma

3 Kendrick Scott (28 March)
Conviction
Concord

2 Chris Potter
The Sirens (15 January)

ECM

1 Cécile McLorin Salvant (26 April)
WomanChild
Mack Avenue

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There aren’t many jazz operas around and it’s three years since Julian Joseph and Mike Phillips’ Shadowball premièred at the Mermaid theatre in Blackfriars following on from their collaboration together on Bridgetower in 2007. The latest jazz opera, this time the work of trumpeter/composer Terence Blanchard written with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Michael Cristofer, Champion, is premièred in St Louis later this month and shares sport as a theme. The opera is inspired by the true story of Virgin islands immigrant prize fighter Emile Griffith who became world welterweight champion in a 1962 fight that saw Griffith emerge the victor but as a result of which his opponent Benny ‘The Kid’ Paret died. The drama develops with the passage of time and revolves around Emilie meeting his opponent’s son 40 years on.

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Jim Blomfield trio
Wave Forms and Sea Changes
Pig ***1/2
Bristol scene luminary Blomfield shifts his attention from writing for quartet and septet to a trio on an album of his own compositions here, the titles of which span notions of trance, zen, a Bristol street name thrown in for good measure, a peerless pun or two, the sea and nautical pursuits. Relative newcomers, bassist Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge and drummer Mark Whitlam, joining Blomfield (best known for his work with Andy Hague and Kevin Figes) fill out the trio imaginatively, and collectively theirs is a fresh approach untouched by prevailing trio fashions. That said Blomfield acknowledges his having been influenced by Brad Mehldau and McCoy Tyner among others. It is definitely the dazzling spiritual breadth of Tyner’s approach that is closest to Blomfield’s personal style on a track such as ‘ N Trance’. Blomfield has the knack of finding his own path in the maze-like expanse of the trio’s sound. Pick of the tracks? The wistful ‘Now and Zen’ with its clever but non-intrusive harmonic direction allied with a fast unfolding improvisational sense. The head nodding ‘Pier Pressure’ is also a must. Worth seeking out.
Released on 1 July
Roshan ‘Tosh’ Wijetunge (above, left), Jim Blomfield and Mark Whitlam  

Tour dates to follow the early autumn release of the Impossible Gentlemen’s second album Internationally Recognised Aliens have been announced by their label Basho. The October run begins in Dorking at Watermill Jazz on 10 October and continues with further appearances at The Flavel, Dartmouth (11 October); Turner Sims, Southampton (12 October); RNCM, Manchester (15 October); The Spin, Oxford (17 October); Zefferelli’s, Ambleside  (18 October); Seven Arts, Leeds (19 October); The Arena, Wolverhampton (20 October); Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street, London (21-24 October); and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Cardiff (26 October).
Gwilym Simcock above left and Mike Walker, Adam Nussbaum and Internationally Recognised Aliens producer Steve Rodby

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Jazzpospolita above survey the scene
Prog-jazz is a warm wind blowing across the rooftops of the fast mutating new jazz scene at the moment, and coming hard on the heels of this month’s Match&Fuse festival in Oslo to be headlined by Jaga Jazzist and featuring the scene’s trailblazers WSP whose milestone “Kershaw" album Fire in A Petshop is reviewed here www.marlbank.net/reviews/583-pet-sounds the M&F caravan returns to home ground in east London following the inaugural festival last year for a mini-fest in late-July. Led Bib who headlined the first running, Troyka, the Laura Jurd Quartet, Kairos 4tet, Chris Sharkey, Italian progsters Ay!, Norwegians Mopti, and Polish “statists” Jazzpospolita are all in the starting line-up of the two-dayer to be held on 25 and 26 July with more names to be added. Gigs are at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green, and the Vortex in Dalston. Tickets via www.matchandfuse.co.uk

What would Webern’s music sound like if he were a jazz musician living in New York City today?" It’s a question alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher poses in regards to the questing spirit behind The Anton Webern Project a new album featuring adaptations of the music of 12-tone composer Anton Webern performed by O’Gallagher’s seven-piece band. The saxophonist, who hails from California and is best known in the UK for his work with Hans Koller and Jeff Williams, first heard Webern’s music when he studied at Berklee college of music in Boston in the late-1980s. “His music seemed other worldly and shrouded in a mysterious process that no explanation by the teacher could unravel. This seed, planted early on in my musical development, grew into a love and fascination for twentieth century classical music,” O’Gallagher says in the notes that accompany The Anton Webern Project to be released on Whirlwind records in mid-June. “Each of the eight Webern pieces I selected to arrange for this recording,” he adds, “spoke to my imagination as having an unusual kinship and translatable essence to modern jazz and this ensemble in particular.” O’Gallagher is joined by vibraphone player Matt Moran, guitarist Pete McCann, Hammond organist Russ Lossing, double bassist Johannes Weidenmuller, drummer Tyshawn Sorey and singer Margret Grebowicz on the album.
John O’Gallagher above

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The Limavady Jazz and Blues Festival begins tomorrow, the 17th running of the annual gathering, which continues until Sunday in the county Londonderry town. The line-up this year includes the great modern mainstream jazz guitarist Louis Stewart, the soulful Mark Black and the Hard Road band, recently on fine form at this year’s city of Derry jazz and big band festival, an appearance by local favourites the Limavady Big Band, with the John Trotter trio, Alan Niblock Trio, and the Grainne Duffy band also scheduled to perform. More at www.limavadyjazzandblues.com
Louis Stewart, above

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David Murray Infinity Quartet
Be My Monster Love

Motéma **** RECOMMENDED
Murray is joined on the title track by croaky voiced R&B sensation Macy Gray, “catwoman” to the “wolfman” she addresses in a fun-filled tale of “monster love”. It’s a tune that has also inspired the short story ‘A Dangerous Kind of Love’, by crime novelist Robert Wilson and is included in the place of sleeve notes. Another singer with a big part to play here is Gregory Porter on three songs. Be My Monster Love, Murray’s first quartet album in six years, featuring cult pianist Marc Cary who’s just recently released a superb tribute to Abbey Lincoln for Motéma [reviewed www.marlbank.net/reviews/653-shared-experience], bassist Jaribu Shahid and the Bandwagon’s drummer Nasheet Waits. Murray, a maverick figure blessed with being able to produce one of the most definitive tenor saxophone sounds on the planet, has a Gonsalves-like style on a song like ‘Stressology’. Yet the innovations of the New Thing and beyond are always a factor added to the strong Ellingtonian dimension deep within Murray’s music. The opening love song to Murray’s wife Valérie is just lovely, and romance is clearly one of the important factors at the album’s core. Later the funky and gospellised ‘Army of the Faithful (Joyful Noise)’ with Gregory Porter stretching out against soulful organ sets up Murray to blow his heart out before the old school sophistication of ‘Sorrow Song’ takes the record into a new fulfilling direction. Murray brings an old friend cornetist Bobby Bradford out to join him on ‘The Graduate’ for some effective testifying but ‘Hope is a Thing with Feathers’ a Murray/Ishmael Reed song about immigration and freedom, with Gregory Porter at his best is the ultimate standout of a very fine socially conscious, involved and appealing album. It’s Murray’s best in many a year. SG
Released on Monday 17 June
 

 

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Jazz writer Alyn Shipton has written the first official biography of Harry Nilsson, which is due to be published in the UK in August. Titled Nilsson: The Life of a Singer-Songwriter the singer’s estate granted the Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy McHugh biographer access to private files and Nilsson’s own unfinished autobiography among other papers. Shipton in the book, published by Oxford University Press, traces Nilsson’s life from his Brooklyn childhood to his Los Angeles adolescence and charts his later rise to fame. The book’s publication coincides with the release of a huge 17-CD box set: Nilsson The RCA Albums Collection.

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Steve Lindeman with BYU Synthesis
The Day After Yesterday
Jazz Hang ***

US big bands sound very different to European ones. I’m not quite sure why this is and the more informal they are all the better. Steve Lindeman, who was taught at Indiana university by the great educator David Baker, is a professor of music theory at Brigham Young University in Utah and knows a thing or two about informality. His album here features the award-winning BYU Synthesis student band with 10 pieces written by Lindeman mainly while he was a member of the BMI jazz composers workshop directed by the Village Vanguard Orchestra’s composer in residence Jim McNeely. There is a great deal of fulfilling material on The Day After Yesterday performed in winningly understated fashion including the lively ‘Meet Me When The Stars Come Out’, ‘Verloren’ with its cha-cha and mambo flavours, and the Paradise Lost-inspired ‘With Wandering Steps’. Kelly Eisenhour’s summery vocal feature and dubbed background harmonies on the slowly unfolding ‘Llévame ya al Mundo de las Maravillas (‘Take Me to Wonderland Right Away’) is a highlight of a very promising album by a composer whose star deserves to rise sooner rather than later.

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Gregory Porter (clockwise from above left),
Courtney Pine, and Portico Quartet
appearing at Love Supreme

The jazz festival scene globally is vast with huge seasonal variations and a large and often highly distinctive array of artistic programming on offer. As the peak summer season begins in earnest in the UK and Ireland there’s plenty on offer with some new festivals, particularly the outdoor Love Supreme festival in Sussex, entering the fray; while long established local events continue to come up with surprises. Here’s a selection

Margate jazz festival 21-23 June
Just announced it’s the eighth running of the Kentish seaside town’s summer main jazz event. Monica Vasconcelos, Carol Grimes, Dunajska Kapelye, and Ray Gelato are all appearing this year. Full details at http://margatejazzfestival.wix.com/jazz

Glasgow jazz festival 26-30 June
Burt Bacharach, the Stan Tracey quartet joined by Bobby Wellins, Chris Dave and the Drumhedz, the Kevin Brady trio featuring Bill Carrothers, the touring Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco, and gospel veterans Blind Boys of Alabama are all included in the Glasgow line-up this year. www.jazzfest.co.uk

Love Supreme, 5-7 July
New outdoor festival in Sussex with Bryan Ferry, Chic, Gregory Porter, Michael Kiwanuka, Jools Holland, Courtney Pine, Robert Glasper, Neil Cowley Trio and Portico Quartet
http://www.lovesupremefestival.com

Swanage jazz festival 12-14 July
Dorset bound are Kit Downes Quintet, Jean Toussaint, Gilad Atzmon, and Karen Street at this long established jazz gathering.
http://www.swanagejazz.org

Sligo jazz festival 16-21 July www.sligojazz.ie 
See Focus below

Marlborough jazz festival 19-21 July Zoe Rahman, Becki Biggins, Laurie Holloway, Georgie Fame, Darius Brubeck, and Clare Teal with the BBC Radio Leeds big band all appear this year in the historic Wiltshire market town. Full line-up at www.marlboroughjazz.com

Edinburgh jazz and blues festival 19-28 July Jools Holland, Tia Fuller, Mud Morganfield, Champian Fulton, Hidden Orchestra, and more at Scotland’s biggest jazz gathering. www.edinburghjazzfestival.com

Manchester jazz festival 26 July-3 August http://www.manchesterjazz.com
More at http://www.marlbank.net/post/50176341579/pharoah-sanders-gogo-penguin-and-dice-factory-for

Brecon jazz festival 9-11 August
Mr Acker Bilk, Courtney Pine, Gilad Atzmon, Roller Trio, and John Surman are all on their way to the Powys market town for the biggest jazz gathering in Wales.
http://breconjazz.com

Lancaster jazz festival 15-22 September Programme to be announced in July.
http://www.lancasterjazz.com

Herts jazz festival 20-22 September
Welwyn Garden City calling for
Stan Tracey octet, Tony Kofi, Georgie Fame, the Jason Yarde/Andrew McCormack Duo, Django Bates Beloved Trio, Kenny Wheeler Quintet, Iain Ballamy, and Don Weller.

http://www.hertsjazzfestival.co.uk

Scarborough jazz festival 27-29 September
Kicking the sands from their shoes in Yorkshire are Courtney Pine, Kyle Eastwood, Ian Shaw, and Beats & Pieces big band this year.
http://jazz.scarboroughspa.co.uk

FESTIVAL IN FOCUS

Sligo jazz festival, July

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Victor Wooten appearing in Sligo

Sligo, in the west of Ireland, well known for its love of traditional Irish music, and in recent years a burgeoning reputation as a jazz place thanks to local jazz education initiative the Sligo Jazz Project, hosts the Sligo jazz festival from 16-21 July. This year’s line-up features the Mike Stern/Victor Wooten band with multi-Grammy award winning bass guitarist Victor Wooten of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones renown teaming up with We Want Miles-period ex-Miles jazz-rock force-of-nature guitarist Mike Stern in their co-led quartet completed by saxophonist Bob Franceschini and drummer Derico Watson. A big feature of the Sligo programme this year is the pairing of the Janek Gwizdala Trio, with fusion hotshot Gwizdala joined by guitarist Mike Nielsen and Human drummer Steve Davis, in a double bill with exciting new Celtic-alt.rock fusion trio The Olllam, featuring the great Belfast uilleann piper John McSherry (Lúnasa), the Detroit-born guitarist/keyboardist/piper Tyler Duncan, and drummer Michael Shimmin. Also for Sligo: pianist Kenny Werner with his trio; and an appearance by the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra plus guests Ian Shaw, Marshall Gilkes, and Jean Toussaint. www.sligojazz.ie

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Three Fall
Realize!
ACT ***
Widely travelled German reeds/trombone/drums trio Three Fall return with their second album following on from their Red Hot Chili Peppers-themed outing On a Walkabout. This new album, recorded as recently as late-February, features a combination of their own tunes and rock and pop numbers including songs by Rage Against the Machine, Coldplay and Nirvana. Saxophonist Lutz Streun injects a great deal of energy into the band sound and in his interplay with trombonist Til Schneider and drummer Sebastian Winne there’s an obvious rapport. So it’s easy to imagine these three in party mode with their lively funk and chunky riffs livening up the place. But the album could do with a bit more light and shade that covering Coldplay, however imaginatively, is never really going to achieve. 
Released on 1 July

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Torsten Goods
Love Comes To Town
ACT ***
Very much at the mainstream soul and pop end of the Munich label’s output Love Comes To Town (the title derived from a U2 song) follows earlier releases Irish Heart and 1980 by the German/Irish singer-guitarist and it’s pretty glossy undemanding stuff with a soulful flavour. Goods has penned the band arrangements along with pianist and keyboardist Jan Miserre, and together they’ve also written a bunch of decent enough songs although it’s the covers that stand out more, a jukebox selection of songs ranging from Adele to Willie Nelson and even Richard Marx (yes, it’s 1980s loved up smash ‘Right Here Waiting’ that’s made the cut). Guest vocals are provided by ACT regulars Ida Sand and Viktoria Tolstoy.
Torsten Goods above (photo: Till Brönner). Released in late-June

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Gary Peacock above left with Marilyn Crispell

Distinguished bassist Gary Peacock, heard just recently on Somewhere the Keith Jarrett standards trio’s first album in a decade, is also to appear on new duets album Azure with avant garde pianist Marilyn Crispell. The pair were colleagues in Crispell’s trio with the late Paul Motian recording Nothing Ever Was, Anyway in the late-1990s and Amaryllis a dozen years ago for ECM who are also to release Azure. Tracks include Peacock’s ‘Lullaby’, Crispell’s ‘Goodbye’, ‘Patterns’ and ‘The Lea’. Recorded in upstate New York where Crispell has lived for more than 30 years, and not far from Peacock’s home, Azure is released on 17 June.

 

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Bobby McFerrin
Spirityouall
Sony Masterworks ****
Honouring Bobby McFerrin’s father the baritone Robert McFerrin Sr, the first African-American to sing a title role at the Met as well as a noted interpreter of spirituals, Spirityouall’s 13 freedom songs cover a lot of territory, and see the singer joined by a fine cast of players including bassist Larry Grenadier, drummer Ali Jackson and singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding, with arrangements written by keyboardist Gil Goldstein. McFerrin’s intricate layering and overdubbed vocals harness gospel, jazz and pop styles seamlessly sweeping away each genre’s limitations with consummate ease. The spirituals have an everyman quality, and as ever with McFerrin exude an insatiable joie de vivre but also overtly give expression to his strong Christian faith, the first of his albums to draw on his faith in such a way.

There’s plenty of jazz feeling and protest especially on the standout ‘Woe’, a McFerrin original drawn from the book of Isaiah and also on Spirityouall as well as paying homage to his father’s musical heritage McFerrin draws on the spirit of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bob Dylan (a superb take on ‘I Shall Be Released’), framing the songs within American roots music and also providing within its remit a paean to womanhood. Spalding and McFerrin are just perfect together duetting on ‘Whole World’, while on ‘25:15’, Larry Campbell’s hypnotic resonator guitar and the achingly slow twin drum kits conjure an ancient Delta quality that is quite remarkable. An album that defies expectations, provides a 21st century reading of the spirituals that sets a new benchmark, and pays suitable tribute to McFerrin’s father in some style. SG

  

George Benson
Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole
Concord ***1/2
A seventieth birthday album by a bona fide jazz great paying tribute to an icon of the music, history both in the personal and musical sense are centre stage on Inspiration with lush strings provided by a 42-piece orchestra and guests from Broadway and the TV talent show pop firmament plus Wynton Marsalis superb on a swinging ‘Unforgettable’, Inspiration finds itself in a mainstream showbiz environment leveraged with a swinging jazz feel throughout. It’s an album you would have thought could not have been made any more. Benson’s career moved to a new high profile level when the guitarist became known, like the still much missed Nat Cole before him switched from being known as a pianist, primarily as a singer; but as a guitarist Benson has a genius sound, like a natural extension of Freddie Green, and the glimpses along the way here are of “stop the traffic dead in its tracks" quality as ever. Those octave runs and that doubling joyful scat vocal along for the ride in Benson’s inimitable fashion never pall. Inspiration make no mistake, though, is a glossy affair, and the Disney veneer can obscure what’s going on musically at times (the duet with Judith Hill on ‘Too Young’ for instance), but not often. Highlights? Benson’s romantic duet with Idina Menzel on ‘When I Fall in Love’ is just lovely; and ‘Walkin’ My Baby’ has an impossibly relaxed Sunday afternoon feel to it. The flute part at the beginning of ‘Nature Boy’ sets up Benson’s best vocal of the album, as poised as a wanna-be singer could only dream of; and the album contains some very fine arrangements with a Nelson Riddle-like treatment of ‘Just One of Those Things’ one example of the general approach and where the arrangements have been pitched. The lyric in ‘Ballerina’ with its advice to the dancer performing to a thousand people who’ve come to see the show to "just ignore the chair that’s empty in the second row," and "dance on and on and on" is advice Benson himself has taken to heart since he captured the wider music public’s imagination in the Breezin’ era. His appeal spans the generations from the tail end of the Golden Age through the soul-jazz and smooth jazz years to today. You can imagine Inspiration as the soundtrack to a family gathering or celebration and on that level it works perfectly in a special birthday year for GB bookended by ‘Mona Lisa’ that stands for then and above all, now. SG
Released on 10 June  


The Thump festival had plenty of star power over the weekend, and none greater than bass don Richard Bona who appeared at the club over two nights. Although billed to appear with the great Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba who had cancelled for unannounced reasons, Bona has sufficient personality to carry the gig all by himself although he was joined by hard swinging post-bop drummer Ernesto Simpson, best known in the UK for his work with guitarist Phil Robson, plus Simpson’s fellow Cuban the New York-based pianist Osmany Paredes, who at times sounded uncannily like Chucho Valdés. Bona is a terrific showman, and has a winning way with the audience but isn’t above messing about and musing a tad mystifyingly about how he would talk to aliens should he meet them! He cut into the riff from the Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ a couple of times just for fun and joshed with members of the audience and bantered with the band particularly after a couple of people noisily left to catch a train towards the end of the late set. Best bits were the rearranged or ‘deranged’ (as Bona called it) take on ‘All Blues’ and the epic ‘Destiny’ although switching for a slower number sung in Portuguese didn’t come off so well. Bona has a lovely soft singing voice and his skill at low volume and the melodiousness of his sound was enough to quieten even a very full jazz club on a warm Soho night. A lot of musicians were in the audience to hear Bona, including Monty Alexander drummer Obed Calvaire who had been on stage earlier with the great Jamaican pianist a few streets away at Ronnie Scott’s. MOBO-nominated guitarist Femi Temowo and pianist Andrew McCormack were also among those dropping by to hear Bona perform. Simpson was a suitable foil to the bassist and very au fait with his every move, and while the pianist was relatively restrained his montuno breakouts showed his consummate skill. Simpson excelled on some cowbell-flavoured descarga sections when the trio began to really move and when Bona lifted the tempo. The Cameroonian, who first came to international prominence with the Zawinul Syndicate, has extraordinary ingenuity and creative ideas on the bass guitar with so many original touches and daring breakaway figures too many to mention. It was a pity we couldn’t witness his interplay with the absent Rubalcaba but the upside to his no-show was that Bona’s role was enhanced and could be appreciated all the more intimately. An Afro-Cuban flavoured evening that had much to recommend it all in all. SG

   

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Neil Cowley Trio
Live at Montreux 2012
Eagle Records ****
A live album is a rite of passage for any band. For the Neil Cowley trio making this their first, the location made the whole process even more significant. The band rolls with the sheer sense of occasion here, an element that should never be discounted when live performance is at issue. “With the legion of legendary talent that has graced the lakeside concert halls of Montreux, any band would mark it down as a watershed moment in their career," Cowley says in the notes. Yet a live album has to work as an album first and foremost no matter the buzz of the occasion. It can’t just come across as a document of a concert. The sound, mixed by Dom Monks, who produced the trio’s bestselling album The Face of Mount Molehill, helps this aspect along, and the way say the initial impact of ‘Rooster Was a Witness’ is captured after the reflective ‘Lament’ at the beginning allows the sonic environment a presence and character that few live albums can hope to match. There is a warmth and a different kind of musical presence as well that comes from bassist Rex Horan with some lovely reverb and the fireside glow of the strings on ‘Slims’ just one small instance of the production side of the process. The trio plus the strings of Julian Ferraretto, Miles Brett, Alex Eichenberger and Helen Sanders-Hewett exude spirit and vitality and make a significant contribution on ‘The Face of Mount Molehill’, the title track of the last studio album released some months before this Montreux set in the Miles Davis Hall. Horan has become the NCT’s Dan Berglund, if you like, a useful comparison because Cowley was inspired by EST early in his own band’s lifetime. Check Horan’s awesome solo on the improv-driven ‘She Eats Flies’, and throughout the outgoing Australian has a clear rapport with New Zealander Evan Jenkins that is absolutely convincing. Highlights? Too many to list, but the poignant ‘Box Lily’ has a power I’ve never witnessed before, and ‘Hope Machine’ is slicker than the studio version. Cowley excitedly calling the tunes is something you won’t hear at a concert unless you are perched up close by the pianist’s right elbow. The audience’s growing appreciation of the set also adds the extra vicarious dimension only live albums can provide.
On release, and also available on DVD

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Another sad passing with the news that Mulgrew Miller has died following a stroke. A major influence on a generation of jazz musicians, including Julian Joseph and Trevor Watkis in the UK, Miller’s appeal was that he managed to reach the heart of the modern mainstream jazz tradition, a natural successor in a way to Oscar Peterson who was a big influence on the pianist. A former Jazz Messenger and Betty Carter sideman who kept in touch with the Noughties generation by recording with the likes of Robert Glasper sideman, the bassist and producer Derrick Hodge, with whom Miller recorded several albums in a trio format. As an educator he was a director of jazz studies at William Paterson University in New Jersey, and during his career recorded for a variety of labels including Landmark, Novus and Maxjazz. It’s perhaps his Novus period in the early and mid-1990s, which produced Hand in Hand, With Our Own Eyes, and Getting to Know You, that fans and admirers most recall with affection and a degree of wonderment at Miller’s natural often thrilling technique, hugely imaginative voicings and improvisational flair. His sideman work was equally significant whether with Tony Williams on the great drummer’s final album, or with Ron Carter’s Golden Striker trio. There’s a full obituary in The New York Times. The link is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/30/arts/music/mulgrew-miller-jazz-pianist-dies-at-57.html?_r=0

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The New York Times has reported the death at the age of 94 on Monday of Jean Bach whose 1994 film A Great Day in Harlem, based on an Art Kane photograph of jazz musicians taken in 1958, is one of the most beloved jazz films of recent years. The full obituary is here http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/29/movies/jean-bach-jazz-documentarian-and-fan-dies-at-94.html

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George Montague has won the new Decca records-backed Cheltenham Jazz Festival unsigned talent contest. The singer/songwriter from the Cotswolds, described by the BBC’s Stephen Morris as “Ben Folds-meets-Mika-meets-Jamie Cullum”, performed a short free stage set at the festival earlier this month with his Notsobigband as part of the process after he came to the attention of a panel of industry figures. Montague has already released a debut album Have You Met George and for a complete unknown has achieved the feat of clocking up millions of YouTube hits. Cheltenham Jazz Festival director Ian George commented: “In the first year of the talent search competition we are delighted that George, a local talent, was chosen from some stiff competition."
George Montague above

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Jeff Williams’ The Listener released next week doesn’t shout from the rooftops: it doesn’t have to. But, in case you were wondering, it’s not whispery-soft either and might make you a convert to ‘human scale’ recordings. An American in London Williams can sound like the late Paul Motian at times but really it’s not an issue hunting down the stylistic lineage. The Listener knows where it lives in terms of style, which is always an advantage as there’s no self-consciousness; and the composing is excellent the musicians working piece by piece to build the record into something special. Recorded a year ago at the Vortex  it’s fitting that Williams is launching the album there this time in the company of Finn Peters (known for his album Su-Ling), Josh Arcoleo (ex-Pee Wee Ellis), Kit Downes (http://bit.ly/18pzqGo) and Sam Lasserson recently in action at the club with Ethan Iverson. On the record, going by the applause, the club audience really got the treatment of the Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn standard ‘Dedicated to You’. Maybe they will next Tuesday as well if it makes the set-list. Tickets www.vortexjazz.co.uk
Jeff Williams above  

Saxophonist John Harle who recently won an Ivor Novello Award for the soundtrack to Lucian Freud: Painted Life is to release Art Music in the autumn, it’s been confirmed. The album to be released by Sospiro Records, also home to Steve Lodder and Rob Buckland, features ‘Tainted Love’ singer Marc Almond on ‘The Arrival of Spring’ with lyrics based on a poem by William Blake. Harle, best known for his soundtrack to TV drama Silent Witness and as a founder member of the Michael Nyman Band, who has just released a charity EP ‘Round Midnight’ in tribute to the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, was inspired for Art Music by the paintings of Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, John Craxton and John O Connor. Classical soprano Sarah Leonard, Czech violinist Pavel Šporcl and the Doric Sting Quartet are also to feature on the album to be released in late-September.
John Harle above

 

 

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Craig Taborn Trio
Chants
ECM ****
There’s a rapport easy to ascertain on Chants but it is elusive in its individuality, as Taborn, recently heard making an important contribution on the Chris Potter album The Sirens, hides the harmonic direction of his improvisation in a virtuosic sleight of hand. The hypnotic repetition, a lot easier to detect in some electronic music it eerily resembles, part of the collective improvisational cues he equips bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver with. But it’s on the slower numbers, for instance the brooding ‘In Chant’, where Taborn and Morgan summon a kind of hidden-in-the-undergrowth atmosphere that provides a very different approach. Cleaver is very attuned to Taborn’s lead, but it’s the drummer’s offbeats and points of entry that really set him apart sometimes leading into brilliantly swinging passages. Taborn’s atonal sense is very strong as is his tenderness and controlled calm on the long ‘All True Night / Future Perfect’ the centrepiece of a very fine and rewarding album.
Stephen Graham  

Craig Taborn, above
Photo John Rogers / ECM

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Jamie Cullum
Momentum
Island ***
Last summer Jamie Cullum trialled new material some of which has now ended up on Momentum at a party Pizza Express threw in its Dean Street jazz club in July. Cullum sat at the Steinway as if it were his second home, which it kind of is as he had fronted the pizza chain’s Big Audition talent search the year before. Some of the singers present that night harmonised along to the ‘singalong’ that’s now on Momentum ‘When I Get Famous’ but it was ‘Save Your Soul’ that hit the mark. Momentum isn’t a jazz album at all, although that’s not the sole criterion the album should be appreciated on, a deliberate repositioning away from the genre first signposted well before Cullum’s move to Island news of which landed before Christmas. Momentum though is better than its predecessor The Pursuit from 2009, but not nearly as powerful as the underrated Chasing Tales four years earlier, or indeed his best album the remarkable Twentysomething. The endearing calling card that was Pointless Nostalgic back in the singer/pianist’s salad days even outshines Momentum for reasons nothing to do with production values and Cullum’s hugely developed artistry since, but just because it had an optimism, guts and distinctiveness that Momentum, post-fame, lacks. There are a few good tunes but ‘Pure Imagination’ and ‘Love for $ale’ aren’t really going to work as lollipops for jazz listeners even if they aren’t intended as such because the production and pop stylings create a different more anodyne atmosphere entirely. It’s an album more suitable for Maroon 5 fans and the vast middle ground who probably will be either blown away by this new collection of songs or at least put Cullum firmly on their radar. ‘Save Your Soul’ sounds as good as it did that night in Soho and of course Cullum could make another jazz album if he wanted to and may do even in the future. But this is a fairly safe release that moves the singer much further into the entertainment mainstream where his star power really counts.
Stephen Graham

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Ketil Bjørnstad
La notte
ECM ***
Since La Notte’s release at the end of April the London Jazz Festival organisers have announced details of the inclusion of Norwegian composer and pianist Bjørnstad’s very different Edvard Munch project at this year’s running of the festival. By contrast, and choosing film as a subject and Antonioni’s 1961 drama La Notte a direct inspiration with a cover image from the film making overt the link, this live sextet album recorded in Norway just under three years ago, is less introverted than Bjørnstad’s sublime trio album Remembrance. Bjørnstad has commented interestingly on this new homage: “As long as visual art creates music in our minds, and music creates pictures and visual expressions with the same intensity, the two are deeply and profoundly interdependent”. Whether the appreciator’s distance from the object of admiration with all the filtering and distance of years that process involves will actually allow such provision is ultimately completely subjective. But La notte is accessible, with pretty themes and is quite poignant at times, yet can be a little overly sentimental. Both saxophonist Andy Sheppard and cellist Anja Lechner bring great personality to the bittersweet themes and Bjørnstad’s pianistic asides are interesting, for instance on ‘V’, the tracks following a pattern of 1-8 in roman numerals, but not always that gripping. Eivind Aarset and Arild Andersen play a more invisible role while Marilyn Mazur’s exuberance is contained until the more jam-inclined seventh track. Stephen Graham
Ketil Bjørnstad above
Photo Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen / ECM    

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Abdullah Ibrahim
Fats Duke & The Monk
Sackville ***1/2

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Abdullah Ibrahim
Ancient Africa
Sackville ****
Significant 1973 Toronto solo piano sessions reissued under the auspices of Delmark, available again
Listening to Abdullah Ibrahim is an immersive experience. Few artists can draw together the aspirations of different peoples from around the world in a shared musical language. Few can so eloquently protest, provide a cultural imperative, a link to and redefinition of Duke Ellington’s music, conjure the ancient music of Africa, and provide an advanced post-colonialist agenda via the keys of a piano. Ibrahim dreamt of the birth of the Rainbow Nation, and the medleys conjured on these albums 20 years before the post-apartheid years weave the icons of jazz history into an African tapestry via his compositional imagination. ‘Salaam’ for instance connects a range of pieces and influences in a highly syncretic approach including his own ‘Blues for a Hip King’, while the title track takes a more straightforward route, an unsentimental reading of ‘Single Petal Of A Rose’ at its heart with an inflection that serves as a personal signature of the pianist’s. These albums back in circulation and reissued under the auspices of Delmark bear witness to a cultural response to oppression and a reaction grounded in humanity and are part Ibrahim’s spiritual awakening having taken a pilgrimage to Mecca not long before these recordings, as John Norris mentions in the sleeve notes. Recorded in 1973 in Toronto on the same day, a decade after Ibrahim (formerly Dollar Brand) left South Africa for Zurich and later New York these Thunder Sound sessions are two sides of the same coin with Fats Duke & The Monk the pick only in terms of sheer immediacy and orthodoxy while Ancient Africa channel more complex and deeper waters that take significantly longer to navigate but are even more rewarding given patience and probe the outer reaches of free form improvising against a thunderously sustaining backdrop. Listen to Ancient Africa and you can locate some of the method of the sadly missed piano disciple Bheki Mseleku. Neither albums here are about the uplifting emotional anthems Ibrahim is more widely known for but ‘Cherry/Bra Joe From Kilimanjaro’ comes close as the great pianist reaches places few can even dream of locating in terms of improvisational imagination and an embedded spirituality. Immersion in Ibrahim’s world is a necessity for any listener and both albums make demands on both an emotional and intellectual level that is intensely rewarding. SG

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Keith Jarrett / Gary Peacock / Jack DeJohnette
Somewhere

ECM **** RECOMMENDED
The acoustics of the beautiful Jean Nouvel-designed Lucerne concert hall and the quality of Martin Pearson’s sound engineering mean you can hear simply everything and you’ll wish to forget nothing on Somewhere, the Standards trio’s twentieth album together, and the first since the live album Up For It was released a decade ago. The presence of two songs from West Side Story is one significant thread, title track ‘Somewhere’ leading to Jarrett’s rococo response‘Everywhere’, as well as ‘Tonight’. Fittingly there’s also a Miles Davis connection, the trio’s guardian angel, in ‘Solar’ the standard seamlessly added to Jarrett’s intense ‘Deep Space’. While Jarrett’s wild and exotic vocal grunts are as elaborate and at times painful sounding as they have ever been down the years, his touch is as immaculate as ever as he pores over long fiendishly involved and tender explorations that unite him with Peacock and DeJohnette in unbelievable empathy. By the end of ‘I Thought About You’ and this extraordinary album made by the shores of the silvery waters of Lake Lucerne amid an expanse of light, in that most Jarrett-like way the melody at night melts away. As do the years. Stephen Graham
Released on Monday
  

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Donald Brown

Born to be Blue
Space Time ***1/2
Part of a remarkable list of pianists from Memphis to make their mark on jazz including Phineas Newborn Jr, James Williams, Mulgrew Miller, Harold Mabern and not forgetting Booker T. Jones, Donald Brown reunites with former 1980s-era Jazz Messengers colleagues Kenny Garrett and Wallace Roney on Born to be Blue for this swinging set signposted immaculately by bassist Bob Hurst throughout. With Ravi Coltrane on four tracks, and Marcus Gilmore sharing drum duties with Brown’s eldest son Kenneth among the instrumentalists Born to be Blue is Brown’s latest in a long line of albums since the 1990s for the French label. While it’s a studio album the set has a live feel and that miraculously percussive and ‘heavy’ bluesy Memphis piano style is easy to detect. Highlights? A great feeling of abandon getting to the heart of the melody on McCoy Tyner’s ‘Fly with the Wind’; and Wallace Roney is a strong presence with his quietly moving solo on ‘You Must Believe in Spring’ among other spots. Brown is a powerful pianist with great ideas within the tradition and there’s a lot of spirit and many rewarding moments here.
Released on 3 June

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Little jazz at the Bath music festival this year and none at the once proud Pavilion above 

The Bath Music Festival, which began yesterday and continues until 2 June, used to be a significant force in promoting jazz in the south-west of England. But not any more, as this year’s programme under a new director more than underlines. Norma Winstone at the Guildhall and Belgian ensemble Flat Earth Society at Komedia are the only artists booked from the genre at a festival that used to hold major double and triple bills at the Pavilion and concerts at the Guildhall and other venues over the late May bank holiday weekend as its main jazz focus. The festival’s artistic focus in the past also did much to stimulate much needed interest in the wider European scene when few festivals of its kind in England outside London presented jazz from the continent, particularly from France and Italy. A new artistic director has substantially changed the policy at the festival this year and locals aren’t happy. An open letter to the chief executive of Bath Festivals by local resident Tony Pugh published in the Bath Chronicle in April for instance made this point: “The festival website claims that ‘our festivals champion diversity’ but I would suggest that this year’s programme is at odds with this. It has a distinct lack of musical diversity as jazz, world music and rock hardly get a look in.” The change in policy lies squarely in the hands of the new artistic director Alasdair Nicolson, previously of the St Magnus International Festival in the Orkney Islands, who has downgraded jazz at the festival. Unless Nicolson has a change of heart jazz at the Bath festival will go down the plughole while he’s in charge. Stephen Graham

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Brinsley Forde above centre with (l-r) Jazz Jamaica’s Rod Youngs, Robin Banerjee, Pete Eckford and Denys Baptiste, plus the Voicelab choir behind
In one of their most significant concerts to date Jazz Jamaica are confirmed to play the Royal Festival Hall in London with their Catch a Fire show in the summer. The July concert follows the big band’s October show at the QEH in the South Bank Centre last year. Catch a Fire is a themed concert based on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1973 classic album Catch a Fire and features the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, strings section the Urban Soul Orchestra and the Voicelab choir with special guest Brinsley Forde of the reggae band ASWAD. ‘Concrete Jungle’, ‘Slave Driver’, ‘400 Years’, ‘Stop That Train’, ‘Baby We’ve Got a Date’, and ‘Stir It up’, ‘Kinky Reggae’, and ‘No More Trouble’ from Catch a Fire form the main plank of the concert with other Marley classics featured including ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘One Love’ from Exodus. The 13 July concert will see Jazz Jamaica joined by a 200-strong Voicelab choir. Tickets www.southbankcentre.co.uk

 

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Marc Cary
For the Love of Abbey
Motéma **** RECOMMENDED ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Abbey Lincoln who died in the summer of 2010 was at the forefront of the 1960s African-American civil rights struggle to achieve equality in the eyes of the law in the US, and a singer whose work with Max Roach (We Insist: Freedom Now Suite) and her own records including Abbey is Blue in the 1950s and much more recently Wholly Earth in the late-1990s more than stand the test of time. New York-born DC-raised pianist Marc Cary from 1994-2006 accompanied Ms Lincoln and has carefully chosen this tribute to the singer on his first solo piano recording. For the Love of Abbey reminds a distracted world of Ms Lincoln’s artistry as a composer and cultural figure and underlines what the cognoscenti have long realised that Cary is a pianist of real quality and distinction. There’s a swirling certainty to the album, a sweep of imagery, and a sense of piano history at play, not surprising as Cary followed Mal Waldron, Hank Jones, Wynton Kelly and Kenny Barron among the singer’s accompanists. Cary
has recorded a few of the songs included here before, both Lincoln’s own, and Ellington’s ‘Melancholia’, a favourite of Lincoln’s. But ‘Should’ve Been’ (“It’s the sound of sorry/ Lookin’ yonder with regret” as the second verse has it), which appeared along with another great highlight here, the stabbingly effective ‘Throw It Away’ on 1994 album A Turtle’s Dream, has not to my knowledge been recorded by Cary before. For the Love of Abbey has a tenderness and power and is both a significant rekindling and reminder of the spirit of Abbey Lincoln performed by a pianist at the peak of his powers. Solo piano albums thrive on intimacy, and Cary uses this aspect of the musical situation he finds himself in to his advantage but knows, like Lincoln herself did, how to make a sense of the private moment transform itself into a shared experience.
For the Love of Abbey is released on Monday
Marc Cary above

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Nikolaj Hess
Trio
Gateway **** RECOMMENDED
Bill Frisell and Sex Mob alumni bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen have joined forces here with the Danish pianist Nikolaj Hess to release a distinctly Bob Dylan-flavoured “new melodic” album. Recorded last year in Brooklyn it opens bravely, and quite brilliantly as it turns out, with a ballad, the Dylan song ‘Make You Feel My Love’ Adele has made familiar in recent years. A later take on Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’, originally released 50 years ago on The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan (‘I just want you to know/I can see through your masks’), shows the trio’s teeth, its effortlessly intuitive layering the improvisational motion at work. The trio operate like an undercurrent in a fast flowing stream with Hess, a little Jef Neve-like at times, providing a disturbance of ideas that stimulate the trio and alter its course. Apart from the Dylan tunes and Ellington’s ‘Cotton Tail’ the rest of the compositions are the Dane’s own, yet the 10 tunes have a seamless flow and knit together as a collection. Scherr’s buzzy bass, brooding and typically exploratory, emerges time and again as the probing piano makes unhurried progress towards a sense of resolution the edgy drums often provide. It’s an enthralling listen, one that should greatly enhance Hess’ international reputation, but also show Scherr and Wollesen in a strong new light. 
Nikolaj Hess, above