Kurt Elling

1619 Broadway – The Brill Building Project

Concord ****

An album about songs and the craft of songwriters centred around the famed building in Midtown Manhattan where for some 40 years some of the most universally loved songs in American popular music were created. Elling begins with ‘On Broadway’ and his typically knowing way with both the lyrics of a song and his rapport with the band mean it feels as if he’s making you ‘unhear’ these very familiar songs. Initial listens suggest Bacharach/David’s ’ A House is Not A Home’ and Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ are the go-to tracks but Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ will intrigue Zappa fans as well.

Released on 25 September. Kurt Elling, with Sheila Jordan, plays the London Jazz Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 14 November

The Bad Plus

Made Possible

Concord **** SEASON HIGHLIGHT

With this release you get the feeling that The Bad Plus have come up with something radically different. It’s almost as if they have begun all over again, with synthesizers and electronic drums added to the acoustic trio setting. The album comprises a bunch of original, frequently gripping, tunes, and a take on the late Paul Motian’s ‘Victoria’. Pianist Ethan Iverson says that Made Possible “is the sound of getting together in your garage and all committing, no matter what, seeing what you can make up today.” This frequently engrossing album indicates such an approach has more than paid off.

Released on 25 September in the States, and on 22 October internationally. The Bad Plus play Ronnie Scott’s in London on 23 and 24 October.

The Bad Plus photo by Cameron Wittig

Philip Dizack

End of an Era

Truth Revolution ***

Very promising, with a high-register sense of abandon and plenty of guts, trumpeter Philip Dizack is still a new name on a crowded US scene. Slightly reminiscent of Christian Scott (circa the album Anthem) it’s been seven years since the Milwaukee player’s debut, Beyond a Dream. With tracks featuring two separate bands, one with Linda Oh, the bassist most likely to storm through from the underground jazz scene in America, Blue Note artist pianist Aaron Parks and Herbie Hancock drummer Kendrick Scott, and strings even, it’s an ambitious project that came to fruition with the help of some Kickstarter fundraising. If Coldplay ever become remotely hip it will be thanks to the likes of Dizack for covering songs of theirs such as the heart-on-sleeve ‘What If’, the fifth track here.

Stephen Graham

Released on 2 October in the US

Next month at Ronnie Scott’s there’s a fascinating two-night Late Late Show presentation in prospect that aims to summon up the spirit of The Establishment, the legendary Greek Street club founded by Peter Cook that gave birth to the 1960s satire boom.

Actor Keith Allen is to MC the shows, which begin just a half an hour shy of midnight on 19 and 20 September.

The Establishment was a revelation in 1961, and as the Ronnie’s website relates, the club featured uncensored stand-up comedy giving “a platform to radical, political, and anarchic performers (everyone from Lenny Bruce to Barry Humphries)."

Dudley Moore used to play jazz at the Establishment and his role for these evenings now falls to Ronnie’s musical director James Pearson who will play Moore rarities. New comedy, cabaret, burlesque and musical talent as yet to be confirmed are also to play an intrinsic part of the presentation, and Private Eye writer Victor Lewis-Smith is to provide a Pathé News style round-up of the week’s news to begin each evening.

Stephen Graham

For more go to www.ronniescotts.co.uk


John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension

Now Here This

Abstract Logix ****

This is a deceptive release. Listen to the first tracks ‘Trancefusion’ and ‘Riff Raff’ and you’d swear the record was a generic jazz-rock fusion album with Ranjit Barot adopting the Billy Cobham role, and McLaughlin not sounding like himself at all. But everything changes from ‘Echoes From Then’ on, as Etienne M’Bappé steers the band on a loping, boogie-ing tilt, and Gary Husband moving into more open improvising territory. M’bappé produces a lovely figure at the beginning of ‘Wonderfall’ and so, lo and behold, the album suddenly becomes much more tender and approachable. ‘Not Here Not There’ is where McLaughlin really opens up in terms of expression rather than firepower, utterly remarkable at 70 or any age.  

Released on 15 October

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

St Peter & 57th St

Rounder ***

Marking 50 years of a trad jazz institution recorded at Carnegie Hall in January St Peter & 57th St is a starry gathering with Allen Toussaint, Steve Earle (a big highlight on ‘Taint Nobody’s Business’) and remarkably Merrill Garbus of the toggle-case loving Tuneyards. Check your deeply ingrained ideas about trad at the door or you’ll miss out on a few gems here.

Released on 24 September

The Cloudmakers Trio with Ralph Alessi

Live at the Pizza Express

Whirlwind ****

Recorded in 2010 this classy release, with great artwork and live sound faithfully captured by the Pizza Express’ sound engineer Luc Saint-Martin complementing the quality of the musicianship at play, the Cloudmakers allow once more a good hard look at Jim Hart’s outstanding vibes playing. The existential, at times admittedly overly-serious, sound of trumpeter Ralph Alessi is the main thing you’ll hear upfront on many of the tracks, but there is a complex set of rhythms at play from the trio that demands more detailed listening, as anyone who has heard bassist Michael Janisch play in whatever context over the past five years will testify to. Outhouse’s Dave Smith is typically capable, and this release will also do much to raise the profile of Whirlwind not just for the undoubted taste it brings to its output, but also the label’s improving presentation, something that many indie jazz labels don’t think hard enough about. 

Released on 10 September

Stephen Graham

Here’s a book, Soul Unsung: Reflections on the Band in Black Popular Music, crying out to be written. And who better to write it than Kevin Le Gendre. It’s the award winning music writer’s first book, although his essays have appeared between hard covers before, for instance in the anthology Ic3: The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain edited by Courttia Newland and Kadija Sesay, published a dozen or so years ago.

Soul Unsung, to be issued with a slightly different title in the States, was published in the UK on 1 August by the Sheffield-based Equinox, who have already published important jazz-related books on Lee Morgan and Ian Carr to name but two. I, for one, am looking forward immensely to reading Kevin’s book, as the Tottenham-based writer has that rare ability to make you think that bit harder, and feel that bit more deeply about jazz, and its position within the bigger socio-economic and cultural orbit. 

The book “celebrates the contribution of players of instruments to soul", and “offers insights into the state of contemporary soul and its relationship with jazz, rock and hip-hop," according to the blurb you’ll find on Amazon. The great jazz writer Ashley Kahn says this of the book: "Le Gendre does a yeoman’s job — with the creative approach of a songwriter and the uplifting spirit of a Sunday preacher — at unveiling the long-hidden history of the legendary instrumentalists of the Golden Era of Soul. A must-read for any student of culture." Praise indeed. 

Stephen Graham

Kevin Le Gendre, pictured

Brian Eno (above) is to remix live at September’s Punkt festival in the southern Norwegian city of Kristiansand.

Eno, the festival’s artistic director for 2012, doesn’t often appear on stage these days, and will take to the Alfa Room, the live remix room at the heart of the festival renowned for the immediate remixing of live sets by a variety of complementary artists.

Alfa is like a stage and studio hybrid, an extension of festival curators Jan Bang and Erik Honoré’s concept in integrating live sampling and live electronics, with remixing at its core.

Other artists set to appear are: Cyclobe, Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown’s electronic project founded in 1999 playing only their third concert; Malian guitarist/n’goni player Guimba Kouyaté; singer/composer Ebe Oke, who Eno has collaborated with in recent years; Iceland-based Australian electronicist Ben Frost; Canadian violinist Owen Pallett; live ambient remixers Marconi Union; Icelanders glitch electronica outfit Múm; and noisniks Three Trapped Tigers.

Stephen Graham

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Ian Shaw

A Ghost in Every Bar: The Lyrics of Fran Landesman

Splashpoint ****

When Fran Landesman died last year there was a real outpouring of not just understandable sorrow at the loss of an influential writer and convivial human being, but also an instant recognition of the artistry and huge effect her meaningful, slightly cynical, but very real, songs had on people. Above all the reaction was a reflection of what the songs meant to singers on the jazz scene and London’s closely converging literary circles, particularly among the beat writers and their modern day counterparts.

While ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ and ‘Ballad of the Sad Young Men’, written with Tommy Wolf, are her widely acknowledged major achievements, proof should it be needed that there was so much more beyond these non pareils is provided by this exemplary album. Landesman liked Ian Shaw’s version of ‘Spring’: “Who’s playing my song?" Shaw recalls her saying, as she discovered him sight reading from sheet music he had found in her house in Islington where he had been rehearsing with her son Miles.

So Shaw is clearly the right person to bring something to the fireside, and perform the songs both Fran wrote with Wolf in the 1950s, and much more recently with Simon Wallace, who fittingly plays piano on all the tracks apart from the three Shaw accompanies himself on. I’m quite partial to hearing Shaw accompanying himself, something I only properly realised when Shaw played a duo gig with Gwyneth Herbert at the Pizza Express Jazz Club earlier this year. But Wallace is ideal throughout. 

A Ghost in Every Bar, what an evocative title for the album, features some Landesman/Wallace songs previously unheard comprising the bittersweet but lonesome ‘Stranger’ ("waiting for a meeting with that special person"), ‘Noir’, and the witty ‘Killing Time’, OK not the most instantly memorable of songs, but this album is clearly destined for a long term relationship, one I know I’ll be picking off the shelf and listening to time and again with great pleasure. Why so? It’s both the quality of the lyrics and the performance, Shaw never oversells the songs but draws out their nuances so you feel there is a roomful of interior and exterior conversations at play. ‘Small Day Tomorrow’, which Landesman wrote with Bob Dorough, and ‘Spring’ are the tracks I have gravitated towards most so far, but this may well change with repeated plays.

It’s lazy journalism to say that this is such-and-such’s best album with a broad stroke of the pen and and no further justification. But for me it is Shaw’s greatest achievement, and I’ll explain it by saying that it’s more so than even his best work A World Still Turning recorded in New York, and the Joni Mitchell songbook Drawn To All Things. It’s so good because Ian creates more of a personal dream world of the imagination here than either of these considerable highlights quite achieve. It’s a process of transforming the simple notes or words lifted from the pulpiest of pages into something that makes you experience the moment you’re hearing it, with that much more significance. There’s no pretending on this most poetic of albums, and an uncanny empathy that’s quite remarkable. 

Stephen Graham

A Ghost in Every Bar: The Lyrics of Fran Landesman is available now

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It’s always sad when someone whose music you admire and who you’ve even met a few times passes away. Even more so when it’s someone with such a freewheeling spirit as Tomasz Szukalski, the saxophonist, who has died in a Piaseczno hospital in Poland. He was not very old, just 64, and even though he wasn’t that well known outside his native land he was very well known indeed inside Poland, liked, admired and revered inside the country often winning polls as the leading jazz saxophonist. His playing on Stanko’s album Balladyna alone is a great legacy and testimony to his endeavours.

A true bohemian who embraced the jazz lifestyle and had an infectious smile and big personality, Szukalski, known as the Jackal, was the sort of person jazz needs. Not boring and with a willingness to reach out to any audience who cares to pitch up, listeners always got something out of his playing even if he wasn’t by any chalk an innovator nor would he have wanted to have been. He had too much modesty.

But he did make you think and he had a fine strong sound, Slavic, for sure, and with the blues at its heart as well. He was best known for his work with Stanko, and with alto hero Zbigniew Namysłowski. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease in recent years.

From Warsaw Szukalski was born on 8 January 1948. He studied clarinet at the Academy of Music and first made his mark nationally at the Jazz on the Oder festival in 1970 when he won a prize for his playing, ushering him in to play with the Polish Radio Jazz Studio Orchestra. He’s to be found on Namysłowski’s great album Winobranie, and the classic Kujaviak Goes Funky. But with Stanko in 1975 he left his most indelible mark on Balladyna in a band that also featured the wondrous bass playing of Dave Holland and Stanko’s great soul mate Edward Vesala on drums. In the 1980s Szukalski made a great splash with the band Time Killers in the company of keyboards hero Wojciech Karolak, and the diminutive Czeslaw Bartkowski on drums, and the album received suitable acclaim in the Polish music press notably in Jazz Forum magazine, the country’s leading authority on jazz. Stephen Graham

John Turville Trio

Conception

F-IRE Records ***

A surprise Parliamentary Jazz Award winner for best album last year when Turville’s debut Midas garnered enough votes to win, the 33-year-old Walthamstow scene pianist/composer has earned more than his share of plaudits in his short career to date although he is still fairly unknown to the wider public.

Here with Jamie Cullum bassist Chris Hill and drummer Ben Reynolds joined by cellist Eduardo Vassallo on some tracks, Turville comes across in the manner of Gwilym Simcock at first. It’s highly proficient, of course, but somehow fails to engage on the opener ‘Pharaoh Ant’, while his arrangement of Radiohead’s ‘Scatterbrain’, which draws out Turville’s more rhapsodic side is also a bit on the undercooked side. Then again until Blues Vignette many people recognised Simcock’s talent but failed to connect emotionally with him until he managed to unlearn a certain amount of musical baggage from his hothoused youth.

Turville certainly shows his learning, and has been compared by some critics to John Taylor, in itself quite a compliment, but fairly meaningless especially here. Maybe it’s an allusion to a specific style of chamber jazz Turville is pursuing, it’s hard to say, which prompts the linking of the two.

Conception, taking its name from the George Shearing bop original arranged sympathetically by Turville, is the final track here and worth the wait. But don’t forget Hill who plays a big role in the band sound overall, and he also writes one of the more expressive tunes in ‘Old Park Avenue’, with Reynolds more functional but pretty handy throughout, and in what makes all the difference the tango-like input of Vassallo who enters the fray with ‘Barrio Once’ and sticks around on ‘Elegia’ when the album only really starts to get going.

It’s a hard album to like but easy enough to admire particularly as structurally it’s strong with clear notions of episodic form and a sense of the wider world especially when Vassallo is involved. However, there are many fine piano trios around and it’s not clear given the presence of cello if Turville actually wishes to lead a piano trio or a flexible ensemble instead, his writing hints at the latter.

The album was recorded at the famed Artesuono studio in Italy, and mention ought to be made of engineer Stefano Amerio who has a reputation in Italy akin to Jan Erik Kongshaug’s in Norway for world class sound. He’s been working with the hit Hamburg trio Tingvall to telling effect as well as with Trio Libero, Craig Taborn, Anouar Brahem, Marcin Wasilewski, and a host of others. Conception has some handsome sonic clarity; if only the songs were that bit more memorable, but Turville has time on his side.

Stephen Graham

John Turville plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 27 September. Conception is released on 1 October and further live dates are: Jazz at the Fleece, Stoke By Nayland Hotel, Suffolk (5 October); Dempsey’s Cardiff (9 Oct); The Castle, Wellingborough (11 Oct); Hidden Rooms, Cambridge (14 Oct); Symphony Hall foyer Birmingham (19 Oct); St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall (23 Oct); Performance Centre, Falmouth (24 Oct); 606, London (6 November); and The Cellar, Southampton (12 November)