It’s the biggest ever London Jazz Festival this year, very possibly the biggest the country has ever seen, held at dozens of venues across the capital. Tonight the full printed programme is released at a reception in Kings Cross and as well as new stars in the making this year as ever, there is also a great range of European acts, a vibrant club programme, and the biggest names in international jazz including Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Esperanza Spalding, John McLaughlin, and Jan Garbarek at venues all over London including the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Kings Place, Ronnie Scott’s, the Vortex, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Hideaway, the Forge, Arts Depot, and St James’ Piccadilly. If you’re thinking of making the most of the festival across the capital here are some highlights in store to whet your appetite, but do check out the full programme and the festival’s website as there is a huge amount of jazz taking place for 2012 across the 10 days not to mention many talks and family-friendly events as well.
Friday 9 November
New star Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet, Queen Elizabeth Hall
The new Europe Amira and Bojan Z, Artsdepot
Club gig Emilia Mårtensson and pianist Barry Green, Pizza Express Jazz Club
Pick of the day Robert Glasper Experiment and Phantom Limb,
Royal Festival Hall
New star Femi Temowo and Elisa Caleb, The Forge
The new Europe Oddarrang, South Bank Centre
Club gig Makoto Meets Lakatos, Pizza Express Jazz Club
Pick of the day Matthew Shipp Trio, Vortex
New star Beats & Pieces + Ensemble Denada, Purcell Room
The new Europe Black Motor + Rakka+ Kuara+Anna-Mari Kaharan Orkesteri, Barbican freestage
Club gig Randolph Matthews, The Forge
Pick of the day John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension, Barbican
New star Josh Arcoleo, the Forge
The new Europe Michael Wollny + Iiro Rantala With Adam Baldych, St James’ Piccadilly
Club gig Ravi Coltrane, Ronnie Scott’s
Pick of the day Herbie Hancock, Royal Festival Hall
New star Shabaka Hutchings and the BBC Concert Orchestra, Queen Elizabeth Hall
The new Europe Carminho, Purcell Room
Club gig Kit Downes Quintet and Barbacana, Vortex
Pick of the day Jan Garbarek group with Trilok Gurtu, Royal Festival Hall
New star Emma Smith, St James’ Piccadilly
The new Europe DPZ Quintet, Barbican freestage
Club gig Tammy Weis, The Pheasantry
Pick of the day Brad Mehldau Trio, Barbican
New star Trish Clowes, St James’ Piccadilly
The new Europe Nicholas Simion Group, Rich Mix
Club gig Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ronnie Scott’s
Pick of the day Esperanza Spalding, Royal Festival Hall
New star Sid Peacock Surge, Barbican freestage
The new Europe Open Souls + Circle Of Sound, Purcell Room
Club gig Lonnie Liston Smith, Hideaway
Pick of the day Sonny Rollins, Barbican
New star Tommy Evans Orchestra, Barbican freestage
The new Europe Leszek Mozdzer + Radio.String.Quartet.Vienna, St James’ Piccadilly
Club gig Charles McPherson, Pizza Express Jazz Club
Pick of the day Chick Corea (right) / Christian McBride / Brian Blade, Barbican
New star Stuart McCallum, the Forge
The new Europe Supersilent feat John Paul Jones, Village Underground
Club gig Liane Carroll, Hideaway
Pick of the day David Murray Big Band and Macy Gray, Barbican
Herbie Hancock top appearing on Monday 12 November at the Royal Festival Hall as part of this year’s London Jazz Festival held in association with BBC Radio 3
She’s a one off. She’s celebrating 50 years in the music business as a performer and she’s back. But you’ll have to wait to 1 October for Thankful N’ Thoughtful by the great Detroit singer Bettye LaVette, She’s also written an autobiography with David Ritz, the writer who has produced such compelling if controversially raw books on Marvin Gaye and Jimmy Scott.
Like Scott, Bettye LaVette has had more than her fair share of ups and downs over the years and was a star and then wasn’t, then kind of became one again for a variety of reasons which the book goes into gripping detail about. I didn’t care much for her last album Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook which for me laboured the point a bit, but the new record is different.
Coming well ahead of a Jazz Cafe date in London on 11 December as part of a European tour to support the release Thankful was produced by Craig Street, the producer who turned Cassandra Wilson’s career right round in the 1990s when he worked with the Mississipian on the superb Blue Light Til Dawn on which Wilson moved beyond her comfort zone for the first time.
LaVette because of the nature of the kind of R&B she thrives on (roughly Tina Turner land) maybe didn’t have to make such a leap with Street, and as she dips in and out of different styles gives each of them her own emotively compelling life force. The tracks are a mix bag of tunes and on early listens I have been hitting replay on Dylan’s ‘Everything is Broken’ and the left field folk singer Patty Griffin’s song ‘Time Will Do The Talking’ which is just stunning. But there are plenty of other goodies including material by the Black Keys, Tom Waits and Neil Young, and LaVette manages even to breathe new life into Gnarls Barkley’s done-to-death ‘Crazy’, in itself a neat trick. LaVette’s band on the record is Chris Bruce, guitar; Jonathan Wilson guitar, banjo; Glenn Patscha, piano, keys; Jennifer Condos, bass; JJ Johnson, drums, percussion; Steven Bernstein of Sex Mob on ‘Yesterday Is Here’; and Douglas Wieselman, reeds on the same track.
Just ahead of the album release LaVette’s autobiography, A Woman Like Me is published on 27 September.
Bettye LaVette pictured top. Photo: Marina Chavez
There’s been a recent debate on a few websites spurred on in part by Ethan Iverson’s comments on the value or otherwise of high profile contests and prizes with comments flying across the Internet for and against. I suppose the same will happen here in the UK once this year’s MOBO and Mercury award nominations are announced over the next few weeks. In some ways it’s more about the nominations, and the furore, if there is any, dies down when the winners are announced.
This year the Mercury announcement has been delayed partly because of the Olympics taking over, so nominations which are usually held in July are happening this month instead, with the winner announced in November.
Last year one of the bands that was hotly tipped to be Mercury annointed, the very fine Kairos 4tet, got nada but actually went on to win the MOBO for best jazz act, while the Mercury nom itself went to Gwilym Simcock for his airy but formidable Schloss Elmau solo piano album recorded, as you do, at a spa retreat in Bavaria.
Simcock this year has been touring with Anglo-American band The Impossible Gentlemen out of contention and with Lighthouse, definitely in with a chance, and if Lighthouse have been entered they’ll surely take up some of the judges’ chin scratching time as their own album (it’s Simcock with saxophonist Tim Garland and Asaf Sirkis) was one of the standout releases of the year for many. Portico Quartet, who were nominated for an earlier album changed tack this year to release a more electronica-oriented album, so don’t rule them out for the Mercury in this new guise, surely a prime candidate for a band that has changed dramatically from its jazz roots. Another outfit, which features former Jade Fox scenester David Okumu and Polar Bear’s Tom Herbert, The Invisible, has also moved well away from early influences and may get nominated but not in the “token jazz” spot, as they inhabit a trusted patch of indie-land.
While 2012 has seen few obvious jazz acts build such a consensus around them to make their appeal so blindingly obvious they’ll just stroll up for a Mercury or MOBO, other bands surely in consideration must be Roller Trio (if they’ve been entered like all of these mentioned I hasten to caution), Phronesis, if the rules allow them entry, Troyka, trioVD, Neil Cowley Trio for The Face of Mount Molehill, Get The Blessing for OCDC, Django Bates, Zara McFarlane, Josh Arcoleo, Partikel, World Service Project, Arun Ghosh, Beats and Pieces, a rare big band possible, Alexander Hawkins, Julian Joseph, Stuart McCallum, John Surman for Saltash Bells, and Trio Libero, if the rules allow the band on the tip sheet. Black Top (Pat Thomas, Steve Williamson and Orphy Robinson) have still to record so maybe they’re one to watch for next year as are Sons of Kemet. Dice Factory have made their presence felt with their self titled debut but that’s a late entrant, and Courtney Pine’s House of Legends while not released yet may have been entered if it met the Mercury and MOBO deadlines. Ivo Neame’s Yatra might be too late as well but if not it’s in with a shout. Both Ian Shaw and Claire Martin have released strong vocal records and Matthew Bourne’s Montauk Variations would be a great left field choice, and at its polar opposite young crooner Alexander Stewart made a good showing with his take on the Smiths on his debut album.
So it will be interesting to see who gets the nod. It could even be none of the above. In recent years it’s been pianists all the way with Simcock and Kit Downes while the MOBOs have moved away from the crossover smooth jazz of Yolanda Brown to post-bop last year. I’d like to see either Neil Cowley Trio, Get the Blessing, Matthew Bourne, or Troyka bask in the Mercury glow this year, they’d all be fine ambassadors for the music, and Zara McFarlane, Jazz Jamaica or Black Top pick up the MOBO, as the best jazz act category does not necessarily need a brand new album to guarantee inclusion.
Whoever gets it I hope they capture the wider media’s imagination so that the word can get out about the UK scene that bit more. Otherwise we’ll have to wait until the next set of awards to try to up the scene’s profile and they’re in January when Jazz FM launch their inaugural gongs.
In the running
Simcock, Garland, Sirkis Lighthouse ACT
Roller Trio Roller Trio F-IRE
Partikel Cohesion Whirlwind
Portico Quartet Portico Quartet Real World
The Invisible Rispah Ninja Tune
Get The Blessing OCDC Naim
Django Bates Confirmation Lost Marble
World Service Project Relentless Brooke
Arun Ghosh Primal Odyssey Camoci
Beats and Pieces Big Ideas Efpi
Alexander Hawkins Ensemble All There, Ever Out Babel
Julian Joseph Live at the Vortex in London ASC
Troyka Moxxy Edition
Claire Martin Too Much In Love To Care Linn
Ian Shaw A Ghost In Every Bar Splashpoint
Zara McFarlane Until Tomorrow Brownswood
Sheppard, Benita, Rochford Trio Libero ECM
Stuart McCallum Distilled Naim
Dice Factory Dice Factory Babel
Ivo Neame Yatra Edition
Matthew Bourne Montauk Variations Leaf
Alexander Stewart All Or Nothing At All Alexander Stewart Music
Neil Cowley Trio The Face of Mount Molehill Naim
Get the Blessing: will they bag an award? Pictured top, and Zara McFarlane, above
This time last year The Face of Mount Molehill was just a twinkle in the eye, in that vacuum between advance copy and release and no one really apart from the band and their nearest and dearest had actually heard the record.
Molehill, released at the start of 2012 in that funny old world when the London Olympics hadn’t actually taken place and the capital was even then still reeling from the previous summer’s riots, has since gone on to become the biggest selling new UK jazz release of the year so far with more than 8,000 copies sold and climbing. That’s pretty unlikely to be beaten by any other jazz release, even though it’s still only September.
But before the end of the year wheels around once more the trio is rehearsing ahead of an autumn tour in the States, and then back in Blighty with the Goldsmiths (Big) Strings on 17 November plays an unsual London Jazz Festival afternoon show at the Barbican, a “never-been-done-before project", says the venue, which involves the trio along with Molehill violinist/arranger Julian Ferraretto challenging a hand picked 30-piece ‘big strings’ orchestra to play by ear instead of from notation music from The Face of Mount Molehill plus new tunes specially written.
Last year at the London Jazz Festival, the complete programme of which for this year is announced next week but which features already such flagged-up luminaries as Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau and Kurt Elling in the festival’s biggest ever incarnation fittingly in its 20th anniversary year, the Neil Cowley Trio played a midnight gig at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, the album’s producer Dom Monks (who engineered on Coldplay’s Viva La Vida) even manning the sound desk.
That night it was a chance to hear the album in a relaxed setting as the NCT kicked right in after soundchecking in front of an audience made up of Facebook friends, musicians and gig-goers who had made their way over from other London Jazz Festival venues that night. They began with ‘Rooster Was A Witness’ and the hum of feedback still ringing in their ears, pianist Cowley also doubling on Nord keyboards; new recruit Aussie indie rocker Rex Horan (Mama’s Gun) on double bass; the trio’s long standing and original drummer Evan Jenkins; and the Mount Molehill Strings squeezed decorously in the rear of the compact bandstand of the Dean Street basement club demonstrating a certain amount of ingenuity in running through the material with Cowley in the tiny breaks between songs bantering with the audience, the desk, and the band. The band settled on the highly effective ‘Skies Are Rare’ and by ‘Fable’ started to rock. Cowley got into the zone headbanging away on the Steinway, with minimalist lines, fast breakout improvising and resolved melodic flourishes, while on the title track of the album the strings came into their own.
The classical players who will come head to head with the Neil Cowley Trio at the Barbican at this year’s London Jazz Festival may not know quite what’s hit them. One thing’s for sure with this trio, as the record has also shown and as the public continues to snap it up, jazz has never quite sounded the same before.
Neil Cowley Trio top and the cover of The Face of Mount Molehill. US dates are: Iridium, New York (11 October); Wexner Center, Columbus, Ohio (13 Oct); Franklin Theatre, Nashville (14 Oct); Yoshi’s, Oakland, California (15 Oct); and The Mint, Los Angeles (16 Oct).
Musicweek.com reports today of a new Jazz FM awards to be launched on the last day of January next year by digital radio station Jazz FM, sponsored by US audio firm Klipsch. According to the story: “The annual accolades will recognise and commend those who have made exceptional contributions to the jazz industry during the preceding twelve months," and both the new generation and jazz legends will be recognised. Jazz FM has worked with Klipsch already and the firm founded in Arkansas in the 1940s has already sponsored the station’s retro jazz dance Peppermint Candy show.
The awards will complement the existing Parliamentary Jazz Awards, the only significant UK jazz awards at the moment, held each year in May, but will be seen as a broader media event with some similarities to the BBC Jazz Awards that the corporation ran successfully for a number of years in the noughties until funding cuts ushered in their demise along with the sister world music awards event.
2013 will also see Jazz FM mount the Love Supreme outdoor jazz festival near Brighton to add to its burgeoning live sector that this year has seen the station extend its Funky Sensation club night from its Ronnie Scott’s base, and promote major concert hall gigs by such stars as Marcus Miller and Dionne Warwick.
Pictured above: New Bluetooth On-Ear headphones awards sponsor Klipsch launches this month; and the Jazz FM logo.
Fresh from his “sit down" comedy shows in Edinburgh Ian Shaw was on familiar ground at a venue he loves, the Vortex, and where he is constantly asked back and plays several times a year, even appearing there on New Year’s Eve. At the end of his gig last night he was comfortable enough to be found behind the bar talking in relaxed form to old friends and newcomers alike who had filed in to fill up the Gillett Square club earlier.
The concert was, I don’t want to use the expression but here goes anyway, a game of two halves, with the first a run of songs from Ian’s fine new Fran Landesman album A Ghost in Every Bar released on Sussex indie jazz label Splashpoint. Accompanying himself on the piano mostly he was joined towards the end of the first half only vacating the stool for pianist Simon Wallace who co-wrote many of the songs by the great Landesman featured on the album.
Best known of course for standards ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ and ‘Ballad of the Sad Young Men’, Landesman songs have a depth and a bittersweet realness few lyricists achieve, and Ian who has a strong affinity with her songs developed over many years was then joined on ‘Ballad’ by Sue Richardson on flugelhorn, to add that extra touch of piquancy.
After the break, Ian turned to his Edinburgh show A Bit of a Mouthful, named he said mischievously for the jaw-breaking Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, as he’s from Wales. Frequently hilarious the show charts topics featuring tall tales of love and sex from Shaw’s point of view of, as he puts it, “a practising homosexual." Some are deliciously rude (the tale of the hapless Gareth, for instance), and a beautifully conceived list song featuring lots of Internet acronyms. Best of all was his James Taylor pastiche which was very, very funny, even managing a good old swipe at James Blunt which was well aimed. At the end Shaw topped it off expertly by seguing beautifully into Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again Naturally’, which was wonderfully done. A hugely enjoyable night all in all.
Ian Shaw pictured above
Universal France **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
A welcome return from pianist Terrasson whose profile has dipped lately but who is newly signed to a major label after a spell in the past with Blue Note. Terrasson follows the Yaron Herman path a little by choosing unusual pop songs to cover (Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ the equivalent of Herman doing Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ a while back), but there’s nothing gimmicky in the slightest about Gouache, which also features a fun version of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’, some Satie, original music of Terrasson’s, and listen out for the delicate and affecting voice of rising star Cécile McLorin Salvant on John Lennon’s ‘Oh My Love’. The latter provides some spine tingling moments on what is overall a fine jazz pop-inclined album full of delights that draw you back in time through jazz history, a nod to James P Johnson here, a Herbie-ism there, but all these styles are stood back from, absorbed, and given a nowadays personality. Terrasson also plays Rhodes on some tracks, and he shows considerable depth throughout both as a soloist (on the Chopin-esque ‘Happiness’) and an accompanist, particularly set against the trumpet of Stéphane Belmondo on some tracks.
Released on Monday
Glad Rag Doll
A very different Diana Krall at work on this T Bone Burnett-produced album, with a rootsy Americana flavour, recorded on an old nineteenth century piano, that unmistakable voice and lots of guitar. There’s very little jazz, possibly even none, but instead mature interpretations of songs ranging from the 1920s and 30s to the 50s. Glad Rag Doll, which takes its name from the Ager/Dougherty/Yellen song, the fifth track, has people like Marc Ribot cropping up to considerable effect, and it’s a bit of a reality check when you hear him in this context as other projects of his have included the wildly different Spirits Rejoice Albert Ayler project with Henry Grimes that played in London last year. The Krall band besides Ribot and producer Burnett on guitar by contrast has ukulele player Howard Coward, drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Dennis Crouch, guitarists Bryan Sutton and Colin Linden, plus keyboardist Keefus Green. Krall, it’s easy to forget, began as a pianist and mentored by the late great Ray Brown developed her vocals side, becoming a very high class and much celebrated jazz singer who then switched to co-write her own songs on The Girl in The Other Room, away from her earlier interests in say the music of Nat King Cole. I think this album will appeal to Bill Frisell or Bob Dylan fans a bit, maybe Charlie Haden devotees even, at the country end of his work, will take to it as well. Highlights here are Doc Pomus’ ‘Lonely Avenue’, which is an interesting contrast to say the way Van Morrison interprets the song, and a deeply satisfying rendition of the Millers’ ‘Wide River To Cross’. A sophisticated album, with unexpected pleasures including the tempo and feel of ‘When The Curtain Comes Down’ and one that shows considerable artistic growth despite the tacky artwork. Clearly Krall won’t be pigeonholed, although of course that is not an ultimate end in itself and not the point of the album at all. What though is harder to ascertain is whether it is just a bunch of songs or not.
Released on Monday 15 October
Mick Coady’s Synergy
Nine Tales of the Pendulum
Jelly Mould ***
‘Naturally Liberating Molecules’ might be the most science-laden song title I have come across in a while (ask Irish bassist Coady after the gig what the song title means if you catch him and his band on tour this autumn). More familiar although that bit more metaphysical is Ivo Neame’s ‘Unseen Coracle’, which also features on the pianist’s octet album Yatra released soon. Featuring the cerebral circuitously engaging US alto sax player David Binney and with Irish jazz scene faces drummer Sean Carpio and saxophonist Michael Buckley joining Coady and Neame, Nine Tales is intelligent music making, with an engaging abstract accent that fans of Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman will relate to. Released in October
Equilateral Records ***
While a little over produced but with a pleasantly pan-global feel to it UK-based Italian bassist Davide Mantovani is well known for his work as a sideman with a range of leading jazz artists including Zoe Rahman, who appears here on a number of tracks. At times the album transports you to Africa via the kora of Madou Sidiki Diabate (on ‘Choice is Yours’), but also skips back in time to the baroque for a brief foray into the world of Bach. But Choices also recalls the Pat Metheny Group at times, the approach of Antonio Forcione as well occasionally, and features tunes mainly by Mantovani that will delight this well liked and tasteful player’s fans and maybe newcomers as well.
Released on 24 September
Anzic **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
Highly accomplished clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone player, a critics’ favourite in the States, and rightly so, Anat Cohen doesn’t take herself too seriously and there is a finely honed character in her extraordinarily burnished playing at times as well as monstrously well developed technique. Go straight to her down home version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’, which could bring her many new fans and wider audiences beyond America if news of this release spreads beyond New York and she tours. But with a band that includes the hip Jason Lindner on piano, skilled bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freeman with special guests among them Wycliffe Gordon there’s much to savour on an album that slightly perversely uses the Spanish spelling of the Italian word ‘chiaroscuro’ in its title (a mere quibble, incidentally). Don’t forget to catch Cohen’s wonderful take on Artie Shaw’s ‘Nightmare’ with Paquito d’Rivera guesting.
US release date 25 September
A few thoughts immediately spring to mind about The Master. First of all it’s a very long wait until November when the film, the latest by Paul Thomas Anderson is released. Anderson, for Magnolia and more recently There Will Be Blood, is one of the artiest of ‘commercial’ arthouse directors possessing the unique ability to combine the most arresting of visual images (think the frogs raining from the sky to the waifish wailing of Aimee Mann or the gushing of Brahms to the blackest of an oil well in spate in Blood) to music. Secondly, with a score once again on an Anderson film by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood (pictured below), there is beyond the gloriously fractured themes infused by the spirit of the Polish classical avant garde (Penderecki, who Greenwood has worked with, and maybe Lutoslawski) music which accompanies a plot that concerns itself with the story of a Naval veteran played by Joaquin Phoenix coming home from war who falls under the spell of The Cause (pick a cult, any cult) led by its maverick and slightly disturbing leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who you’ll remember was the much put upon nurse in Magnolia.
From what I’ve heard so far of the score it has a substantial, fibrous feel to it, with plenty of crunch points that effortlessly point to a sense of mystique without appearing to do so in an obvious way. The Master is debuting at The Venice Film Festival this week and undoubtedly early reviews will appear in the national press shortly.
The other aspect that occurs to me that is worth mentioning is the way the extra music in the film, whether it is ‘Get Thee Behind Me Satan’ sung by Ella Fitzgerald, or ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)’ performed by Madisen Beaty, or the spooky version of Chopin’s Tristesse ‘No Other Love’ by Jo Stafford or best of all the ambiguous ‘Changing Partners’ by Helen Forrest (pictured top) makes you revisit songs that on a reissued CD would not be so gripping all together. That’s partly the skill of the juxtaposing of this often old-sounding music with the very modern Greenwood score, so the context changes the perception. Older readers will recall Forrest who had wartime hits with the Harry James band, but on this soundtrack is accompanied by the Sy Oliver orchestra.
One final thing about the music, it features Shabaka Hutchings, Neil Charles and Tom Skinner collectively Zed-U, along with veteran Humphrey Lyttelton clarinettist Jimmy Hastings and the London Contemporary Orchestra violinist Daniel Pioro on the eighth track, which is titled ‘Able-Bodied Seamen’. A certain clarinet-led experimental modernism Greenwood explores heavily on this track and adds that bit more interest for jazz people with their involvement here. So remember, remember the fifth of November when the soundtrack is released by Nonesuch: it might even send you off to explore the vocal jazz of the 1940s with renewed interest.