Tomorrow sees the opening of new exhibition ECM — A Cultural Archaeology, with the first public view on Friday, running until 10 February at the Haus der Kunst museum in the record label’s home city of Munich. ECM (the letters standing for Edition of Contemporary Music) was founded in 1969 by classical bassist Manfred Eicher pictured above left seated and is now the pre-eminent jazz independent record label in Europe, if not the world, with a strong classical side launched as the New Series in 1984 as well. Its roster of artists over the years is astonishing, with Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek pillars of the label, and many new signings releasing records regularly. Curated by Okwui Enwezor and Markus Müller, the exhibition the organisers say “presents visual, archival, and recorded material, bringing together a range of formats, such as sound, music, photography, film, and edition work."
Installations and works by contemporary artists whose inspiration parallels that of the label’s is also featured, along with concerts by label artists. An exhibition catalogue will be published later this month.
How was the London Jazz Festival for you?
There could be a hundred or a thousand answers to this question.
Ten days of gigs, with innumerable permutations in gig going, pre-concert talk to-ing, and post-gig foyer fro-ing, as well as films, afternoon shows, late night jamming in the clubs and concert halls of the capital, saturated London with jazz dominating in central London especially with additional pockets of heightened activity in the suburbs.
Yes, there were lots this year, none bigger than Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock, but there were also a great many unknown or little known European names, and many young and established bands from the UK scene taking part, some for the first time.
While some venues from last year did not take part, Boisdale Canary Wharf the most high profile of these, others took their place, but the festival hubs in terms of concert hall activity are clearly at the South Bank Centre and the Barbican. The clubs saw a huge amount of high quality activity, but it was Ronnie Scott’s, the Vortex, and the Pizza Express Jazz Club that were upper-most on many people’s wish lists.
I attended about half a dozen events this year, and I’m sure many people attended many more concerts, or even considerably fewer. It struck me that there is a big difference in feel between the ticketed big concert hall events and freestage activity. Audiences in both the Festival Hall and the Barbican were generally quite subdued and polite whereas in the foyers for freestage and Clore Ballroom gigs the atmosphere was more casual, more sociable, and it felt as if large numbers were sampling new acts that they would be unlikely to attend in such large numbers on a whim parting with hard cash. Hopefully, a percentage of these audiences will return for ticketed concerts in the future if the new bands they saw gain a following. With a band such as Finnish hopefuls Oddarrang, for instance, that could well happen given the response they received on the SouthBank.
How the BBC and Radio 3 will be involved next year for the festival’s 21st running remains to be seen as the “in association” sponsorship the festival has enjoyed comes to an end. But one would presume that the corporation will broadcast heavily at the festival whether it is a headline sponsor or not. With radio coverage and web reviews via blogs and social media and to a much lesser extent print media the festival made its presence felt, but given the epic size of the event this was still paltry compared to say the acres of media attention London Fashion Week, the Proms, and the London Film Festival receives.
It may be a controversial thing to say that the festival is now too big to make sensible choices, and it’s just another aspect of the plentiful array of entertainment in London. If gig-goers start to clamour for an intimate festival of some kind as an alternative then the chances are the festival has bulked up that bit too much. If they don’t then big is, for London jazz fans, most certainly beautiful.
View from the foyer above at the London Jazz Festival in the Barbican last week
2012 has seen an upsurge in the activity and ambition of UK indie jazz labels, even in tough times for CD sales. Here are some brief case studies of labels making a difference, beginning with some of the newer ones
Whirlwind Recordings Set up in the early part of last year with the release of Purpose Built by UK-based American bassist Michael Janisch, Whirlwind aims, it says, to “present the artists’ unadulterated artistic vision while exceeding industry standards in audio fidelity, graphic design, and promotional consideration." Releases have included The Immeasurable Code by Phil Robson, Smiling Organizm by Zhenya Strigalev, and Cohesion by Partikel.
Naim Jazz Just three years old the Salisbury-based imprint (previously the Naim Label) has had a good year with best selling well-received releases by the Neil Cowley Trio in The Face of Mount Molehill and Get The Blessing who launched OCDC, and both bands have also toured in the United States. The label says it is “dedicated to everything from smooth jazz right up to avant-garde", and presents its artists like an indie rock label might.
Edition Records Established in 2008 by pianist Dave Stapleton and photographer Tim Dickeson, Edition in a short space of time has been widely recognised both for its look and artistic taste. With the success of Phronesis the label had its first hit band on its hands, and successes have included the Ivo Neame Octet’s groundbreaking Yatra, and Marius Neset’s Golden Xplosion.
Basho Records Ahead of the release in 2013 of the sophomore Impossible Gentlemen release for Basho produced by Steve Rodby, this north London label, run by Christine Allen and Max Steuer since 2004, came of age when the Kit Downes Trio was nominated for a Mercury award, and the label has also been strongly associated with the early career of star pianist Gwilym Simcock. The label recently released the latest album of James Allsopp’s hugely promising band Golden Age of Steam.
Babel label A pillar of the UK jazz label community, and possibly the best known of them all, Babel was founded in the mid-1990s by former economist Oliver Weindling in London. With an unsurpassable passion for the music and a desire to develop both esoteric and the more accessible forms of jazz and improv Babel has seen critical success with Billy Jenkins, Polar Bear, Portico Quartet, Christine Tobin and trioVD. With increasing levels of output new bands Dice Factory and Indigo Kid coming on tap the creative spirit of the UK scene in the best traditions of the label.
F-ire Label The acclaimed Roller trio has spearheaded the F-ire Collective release roster this year. http://www.f-ire.com/label
Trio Drummer Clark Tracey’s label http://www.triorecords.co.uk
Emanem improv legend founded in 1974 http://www.emanemdisc.com/emanem.html
Leaf Leeds label whose artists include Polar Bear http://www.theleaflabel.com/en/index.php
Splashpoint Ian Shaw released his Fran Landesman album on this Sussex label in August http://www.splashpointmusic.com
Jellymould Huddersfield indie home to Hannes Riepler and the Magic Hat Ensemble. http://www.jellymouldjazz.net
Efpi Manchester pace-setting label with Beats and Pieces on its books. http://efpirecords.com
Phronesis pictured above
If industry pundits are right ― http://www.musicweek.com/news/read/radio-1-music-boss-guitar-music-is-coming-back/052585 ― and guitar music is to return centrestage in indiedom, thinking beyond, jazz guitar may follow suit.
The signs are there, but how will it build?
It could go retro in the hands of someone like Hannes Riepler who draws in a crowd of young players to his Tuesday Charlie Wright’s jams in Shoreditch. Or more contemporary, stimulated by a charismatic player such as Dan Messore who has started a series of Sunday gigs at the Vortex and whose band Indigo Kid joins the dots between the Iain Ballamy school of improvisers and new players such as BBC New Generation artist saxophonist Trish Clowes.
More likely, though, given the big interest in bands such as Supersilent who have been touring with John Paul Jones and play tonight at London venue the Village Underground, is the electronica side to guitar music.
There’s no finer an exemplar of this strand than Eivind Aarset whose new album Dream Logic has just been released by ECM. It’s a duo record featuring the 51-year-old guitarist with sampler Jan Bang, whose festival Punkt this year saw live performance by ambient pioneer Brian Eno.
The world where guitar synths and keyboards combine is the battleground of innovation, and other bands such as Eyes of a Blue Dog with trumpeter Rory Simmons switching to guitar and live sampling by drummer Terje Evensen coalescing with vocals to chart new territory and add to the interplay.
For nearly a decade and a half since Electronique Noire and with the Sonic Codex Orchestra Aarset has continued his pioneering work that makes each of his albums seem like a statement and stand out from the crowd.
‘The most significant jazz album to come out of Norway since Khmer’
Glacially slow and lingering Dream Logic’s 11 tracks are mostly the work of Bang and Aarset although producer Erik Honoré who recorded and mixed much of the album is co-credited on ‘Surrender’, and ‘The Beauty of Decay’.
With Aarset think the late Pete Cosey, think music from south east Asia, delivered at times by a Boss digital delay pedal, and you’re half way there with Aarset who in his youth was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and Terje Rypdal. That trinity is interesting but a Venn diagram of all three does allow for the starting point that for those interested in finding Rypdal via Aarset, like say Finnish band Oddarrang, there is huge transformation possible in the air.
If jazz guitar does move centrestage it will be different with input from electronica. Retro currents can drive change, ironically, and if you’re heard the until 2012 unreleased archive album Echoes of Indiana Avenue by Wes Montgomery you’ll understand what I mean, but it’s the new generation that given the possibilities technology allows has the potential to revolutionise the music to reflect the present.
It’s the journey towards a sound in jazz no one has ever heard. Aarset is, it’s clear, an innovator of some clout, as Dream Logic his finest work to date clearly indicates. The most significant jazz album to come out of Norway since Khmer in the late-1990s.
Eivind Aarset above. Photo: ECM
If only the walls could talk: Terence Blanchard was reflecting on the many nights he has played Ronnie Scott’s over the years. Introduced to the stage minutes before by club managing director Simon Cooke who wished he could have booked him for more nights adding as a cool by-the-way on the biggest night of the metropolitan jazz year: “A girl at the bar told me to say ‘it’s the first night of the London Jazz Festival’."
Blanchard was in good spirits after the first night of this short stint the previous evening and this single set was ahead of a live radio air shot later on in the evening for the BBC. In his most telling comment to the audience Terence would say that in jazz: “The tradition is to break tradition", something the set would go some way to illuminate.
Kicking off with a two-prong attack in classic Messengers tradition alongside Tuczon tenorist and fellow road warrior Brice Winston the band shot into Eddie Cleanhead Vinson’s ‘Four’ with some fleetness of foot, Cuban pianist Fabian Almazan quickly in the zone. Blanchard’s old boss Art Blakey, would you guess have appreciated Kendrick Scott at the kit although he might have had a thing or two to say! Young Julliard student Joshua, “Smiler", Blanchard has dubbed him, Crumbly, is a worthy successor to Ben Williams now sky diving admirably with the Unity Band. The walking blues towards the end, trumpet against bass, had the bounce and wit of Jimmy Blanton.
Quick and agile at the kit H-Town man Kendrick Scott has taste to burn. On Twitter before the gig he said he was “stoked" for action and so it proved. Displaying great mallet touch as the set developed, and he found the sweet part of the cymbal time and again. Blanchard standing back from the action sometimes impassive at the back of the stand coming forward to pick up shakers later for extra percussion and to throw in some finger snaps upped the ante in some style but it was balladry rather than high octane blasting a feature here. He had a Friday feeling as he cracked jokes after the second number, introducing the band and talking a bit of politics but not much he promised although not forgetting to mention that he turned down an invitation to the Bush White House, to applause.
Blanchard is a tender player and one of the finest jazz composers alive, but here was generous with his bandstand and Winston’s tune the band is to record called ‘Time To Spare’ has a sinewy charm, while former band guitarist Lionel Loueke’s ‘Benny’s Tune’ at the end was a joy as ever.
Spilling out on to the street, and taking some 20 minutes or more to even ascend the stairs and get through the doors, the audience who filled the Vortex to capacity last night were there for Lionel Loueke, one of the biggest draws in jazz today from the new generation in a rare small club setting in the UK. Loueke began his three-week European tour, the first of two nights, the second tonight, at the Dalston club with his new trio.
There was a big turn-out of fellow musicians in the audience including such luminaries as 2012 MOBO-nominated guitarist Femi Temowo, Phil Robson of Partisans and The Immeasurable Code, and Indigo Kid’s Dan Messore. Downstairs in the bar, there was a circus-like atmosphere with violin enfant terrible Dylan Bates and friends including the extraordinarily bewiggged ‘Miss Roberts’ of Rude Mechanicals performing to the diners and drinkers. The place was heaving with, again, many musicians in the audience downstairs, including Dylan’s brother Django Bates, relaxing after a busy and highly successful year.
Lionel Loueke was playing with his new trio of the now New York-based but former UK jazz scene Nigerian bass guitarist Michael Olatuja, as steady as a rock on the fast mutating and ridiculously long metrical lines that flew effortlessly from Loueke’s guitar.
The third member of the band needs no introduction to fans of Phronesis as he appeared on the Camden Town-recorded live album Alive helping Jasper Høiby’s band scoop Jazzwise album of the year just two years ago. Mark Guiliana is about to tour with the marvelously monikered and exciting band Mehliana with (geddit?) the Bradster himself (Mr Mehldau in London on Wednesday) playing keyboards in duo along with a cupboard-full of electronics for good measure. Guiliana brings the excitement of a rhythm machine made flesh to the band, with great technical skill, metrical precision and abandon, and Loueke just lifted off. The new album Heritage not on sale on the night because of problems to do with shipping following super storm Sandy in New York, provided some choice cuts including ‘Ife’ (‘Love’), sung in Yoruba, and ‘Ouidah’ with its meditation on the slave trade a feature of the album, although the beginning of the set was dogged by some small sound problems. They didn’t last long and Loueke was just limbering up for some serious improvising, interesting pedal effects, and the style of a player whose presence has enhanced the bands of Terence Blanchard, at Ronnie Scott’s tonight incidentally, and the great Herbie Hancock due to play solo next week, in no small measure.
At the beginning of the second set ‘Tribal Dance’ written by the album’s producer Robert Glasper who wrote the memorably lilting melody while he was still a high school student, was a perfect start and the concert just built and built. Loueke has switched to steel strings rather than the nylon he used on earlier albums for this new phase of his career on Blue Note records, but his sound remains as unique as ever irrespective of the textural and technical changes. It has a humanity, warmth, jazz complexity, and above all spirit that you’ve got to hear. When his vocals and guitar combine there’s also a special dimension reminiscent of something Loueke’s great hero George Benson achieved in following his solo lines with his voice every step of the way. Maybe they’ll have to take the tables out if even more people come down tonight, as Loueke joked. A great gig: the band’s on fire.
Lionel Loueke trio last night, above. Photo: Will Harris
The London Jazz Festival, which at last begins on Friday after one of the biggest and longest trails in its 20-year history, is not so much a snapshot of jazz in the capital, more a lingeringly long wide shot of the music. Think the famous Art Kane photograph A Great Day in Harlem magnify it from its brownstone building setting in New York, populate the shot with hundreds more musicians, and let the photographer go click on the widest pavement in London, with the widest lens imaginable, and you’ll not even get close to what’s about to take place.
Under the radar and away from the big names this year who include Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins, Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, the Brad Mehldau Trio, Jan Garbarek, Jack DeJohnette, and so many more, there are dozens of musicians, some appearing for the first time at the festival, who have significant profile in the UK or the countries they are based. You might have to put on your hiking gear and consult the fine print of the festival programme to track them down, but there’s considerable kudos in just doing that, particularly if your friends are sticking to the tried and tested and you just want to broaden your horizons that bit more.
One of the artists who falls firmly in the worth taking the trouble category is French trumpeter and flugelhorn player Stéphane Belmondo who earlier this year, just properly available here now, released his latest typically accomplished disarmingly refreshing album The Same as it Never Was Before, a neat absurdity on the title as playfully cynical as the understated but steely playing on the album. Belmondo is playing on the Barbican free stage, a platform where during the build up to a range of evening concerts you’ll discover some similar artists either too little known in this country yet to mount concerts in bigger spaces, or being promoted as the Finns are doing, to swell interest in national scenes only concerted showcase promotion can achieve. Belmondo was an important element on Jacky Terrasson’s vibrant Gouache released earlier in the autumn and in France he has a significant following. He’s with Kirk Lightsey, Sylvain Romano and the great Billy Hart on the album with all but Hart making the trip for the LJF. Billing is relative after all, but for such a distinguished name from the French scene to appear unheralded indicates the strength in depth at the festival this year. Bojan Z at Artsdepot is another top drawer act coming in among many. This year may just be the discovery show writ large.
Stéphane Belmondo above
Playing the Forge in Camden for the first time Christine Tobin chose the occasion yesterday to perform songs from her new 2012 album Sailing to Byzantium, matching the album selections with songs by Leonard Cohen, Brooklyn poet Eva Salzman, and at the end Carole King.
With the Margate-based singer’s band of pianist Liam Noble, her accompanist on Carole King songbook album Tapestry Unravelled, bassist Dave Whitford, cellist Kate Shortt, and guitarist Phil Robson, Tobin, whose latest album sets music to the poetry of WB Yeats with spoken word contributions by the great actor Gabriel Byrne (his recorded voice an evocative early presence here on ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’), was able to channel deep to the heart of the matter in her intelligent treatment of the peerless poetry of Ireland’s national poet. ‘The Second Coming’, Tobin describing it as ‘apocalypic’, was the most dramatic interpretation of the two-set concert, although one of Tobin’s great many strengths is that she relies on close study of her texts in terms of enunciation and above all timing performing the songs with a vocal range that makes use of a great deal of flexibility in terms of tone, and understated but hugely effective communicative quality. It could be said that having heard Tobin’s vocal versions of choice poems from the Yeatsian canon returning to the source has added meaning, added light and texture such is the finely judged sensitivity Tobin brought to the project. ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’ was quite superb, and ‘Long-Legged Fly’ with lovely little syncopated touches from Shortt a strong feature of the programme dotted with delights. Tobin is also a remarkable interpreter of the songs of Leonard Cohen, and the inclusion of a few of his songs was a strong match, and I particularly enjoyed her rendition of ‘Everybody Knows’ that drew out the humour and seriousness of the lyric. Sailing to Byzantium is a quite extraordinary album, Tobin peerless and unassailable here, Yeats clearly her métier, in Cohen’s line ‘a shining artifact of the past.’ Stephen Graham
Sailing to Byzantium is on Trail Belle records
Historic jazz label Okeh is to be revived by Sony Classical, although the first new signings are still to be announced. The US label founded by Otto K. E. Heinemann, began operations in 1918 and was later owned by Columbia. Mamie Smith produced the label’s first big hit, ‘Crazy Blues’, and Okeh recording from a studio base in Chicago later in the 1920s became synonymous with what’s now regarded as classic jazz, particularly with artists such as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Duke Ellington.
The label also was heavily known for its blues releases, but its name disappeared from view periodically over the years to be revived at different times, under Epic, for instance in the 1960s, recording Little Richard under the marque. More recently Sony retooled it in the 1990s as a blues label although the new initiative has jazz at its heart.
The label’s new Madrid-based A&R (artists and repertoire) executive Wulf Müller is no stranger to the UK jazz scene, and was based in London at Universal for many years. The executive, who is 57, grew up in Berlin and later studied politics and journalism at Vienna University.
At the beginning of the 1980s he became co-manager of a jazz club in Austria called Miles Smiles, a club that opened with Bill Frisell in duo with the great German bassist Eberhard Weber (known for such groundbreaking work as The Colours of Chloe and later as a member of the great Jan Garbarek Quartet).
Müller was also involved in starting a magazine called JazzLive, before going on to work as product manager for PolyGram Austria’s Import Music Service division. Later he started the Amadeo label with local Austrian jazz musicians, including releases by Karheinz Miklin, guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, and executive-produced artists such as alto sax star Wolfgang Puschnig, known for his work with Carla Bley, and the now sadly defunct but very influential Vienna Art Orchestra.
In 1992 Müller moved to London as international marketing director for Jazz at PolyGram International, and began the Verve Nights at a range of European summer jazz festivals including the Montreux Jazz Festival and North Sea in the Hague where it was based at that time, and he worked with leading jazz artists Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Abbey Lincoln and the great singer Betty Carter.
Later as vice president of International Marketing Classics & Jazz for Universal he was responsible for international marketing for classics and jazz priorities worldwide, and signed local artists to Emarcy who he also did A&R for. Müller signed Madeleine Peyroux, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Michael Brecker to the label, along with many other leading artists.
The label Jazzland, which he developed with Norwegian keyboards polymath Bugge Wesseltoft, is one of the labels divested by Universal under the terms of their recent takeover of EMI. Müller left Universal before the takeover and with his wife Yolanda Chalmeta founded consultancy company All-In-Music Service, and relocated to Madrid, where their company has been active working with artists such as Sergio Mendes, producing Chinese star Karen Mok with a studio session back in London, and acting as a European tour co-ordinator for Branford Marsalis, Jane Monheit, and other artists.
Sony Classical in a statement jointly issued in Berlin and New York last month announced his appointment as an exclusive jazz A&R consultant stating that Müller will be working with Sony Classical teams in both cities bringing “new and established artists to the company, overseeing product development and supporting the international marketing of the releases.”
The president of Sony Classical is quoted as saying: “Wulf is one of the most experienced and respected executives in the jazz world and I have wanted to bring him to Sony for a long time, and for his part Müller said he is “honoured and excited to be asked to start jazz activities within Sony Classical and look forward to working with the Sony teams on some of the greatest artists in today’s music world”.
On his blog Müller expands: “It will all be jazz as usual, but this time on the OKeh label, founded in 1918 and home to many jazz greats at the time – Louis Armstrong among them.
A new chapter begins for major label jazz in a fast changing jazz record industry dominated by the coming together of Universal and EMI, the custodians of Verve and Blue Note, and the ongoing migration to digital formats and the brave new world of streaming. How the other major, Warners, will respond in terms of ramping up their jazz activity in terms of new signings remains to be seen.
Stacey Kent performed new song ‘The Changing Lights’, first debuted in Liverpool earlier in her latest UK tour, written for her by distinguished novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and her husband saxophonist Jim Tomlinson last night at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, during the singer’s latest residency at the Soho institution, which celebrated its 53rd anniversary earlier in the week.
Informing the attentive audience that she is shortly to enter the studio for her latest album to be completed some time in the spring, as this tour for her latest album Dreamer In Concert reaches its conclusion shortly, she was coming full circle in her return to Frith Street. Because last year at Ronnie Scott’s, also at Halloween time, the singer started the ball rolling by launching the album in the UK, the follow-up to her mainly French language album Raconte Moi.
Last night the stand out song from earlier album Breakfast On The Morning Tram, ‘The Ice Hotel’, another Ishiguro/Tomlinson collaboration, was a firm highlight of the first set, but ‘The Changing Lights’, is, if anything, an even stronger, more intimate number, with a certain loneliness and big city melancholia implicit in its atmosphere and lyrics.
‘Dreamer’ worked well once again surpassed by the lovely feel of ‘Quiet Nights’, while Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s ‘The Trolley Song’ from Meet Me In Saint Louis she does so well and has recorded in the past was accomplished, even if ‘Waters of March’ was a bit more laboured than her rendition at the club last year.
Kent was joined by Graham Harvey on piano and Rhodes and bassist Jeremy Brown, regular playing partners both, but Stephen Keogh on drums was less familiar, although the experienced Charles McPherson and Tina May sideman read his part very well and gave the drum line a certain straightahead gravitas the material needs especially as the piano was meekly miked and contemplatively performed, contributing to the nocturne-like atmosphere of both sets. Tomlinson played beautifully on tenor sax (it was almost as if we were back in 1964, the year Getz/Gilberto came out) and he also switched to guitar late in the second set, an instrument Stacey had picked up to comp softly on earlier. There was a bit of exuberance at the bar later as a fan expressed his vocal enthusiasm (satisfied minutes later by ‘Hushabye Mountain’) and besides the airing of the new song the highlight, and maybe it will make the album was ‘This Happy Madness’ (‘Estrada Branca’ the title in Portuguese as Kent explained), a Jobim song again with English lyrics by the late Gene Lees, who also wrote English lyrics to ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Quiet Nights’. Jobim recorded the song with Frank Sinatra, on the Sinatra-Jobim Sessions, and this without a shadow of a doubt stole the show only just surpassing the remarkable new song.
Stacey Kent continues at Ronnie Scott’s tonight and completes her residency tomorrow
Pictured top Stacey Kent, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jim Tomlinson
Indio De Apartamento
Naïve Records **** RECOMMENDED
Released next week hip New York-based Brazilian guitarist and singer (here also playing drums, keyboards and percussion) Cantuária emerges ever more prominently into the mainstream consciousness helped here by the presence of Norah Jones on Cantuária’s song ‘Quem Sou Eu’, the sixth song of 10 here, along with songwriter Jesse Harris whose song ‘Don’t Know Why’ made Jones famous in the first place. Harris appears with a vocal on his co-penned song in duo with the Brazilian, ‘This Time’, singing in English that provides some pointers to the A&R positioning of this album. That’s all very well, but thankfully Cantuária is not a mainstream bland artist and this is a quite beautiful record no matter who it’s aimed at. Bill Frisell, whose album with Cantuária Lágrimas Mexicanas was a strong seller in 2011, is on three tracks towards the end of the album and for jazz fans it’s Cantuária’s work with the likes of the great guitarist and a repertory cast over the years of maverick eclectic musical geniuses including Marc Ribot and Arto Lindsay that register most, and his appearance with Frisell in this country at Ronnie Scott’s fittingly garnered rare five star reviews in the broadsheet press.
Continuing to record with the commercially inclined French label Naïve Indio De Apartamento (‘Indian in the Apartment’), it’s the record company that has just signed Britjazz crooner Anthony Strong incidentally, the new release follows Cymbals, recorded with Brad Mehldau soon to return to these shores, alto sax man Dave Binney, and other leading lights of the eclectic non-genre jazzed diaspora.
Indio De Apartamento is not a massively long album as it’s song based in the short-form old school radioplay sense. Samba carioca (eg NYC samba) in nature first track ‘Humanos’ has a guitar-and-strings arrangement that recall (don’t run screaming) production on a massively successful Sting period in the 1990s and a song such as ‘Shape of My Heart’ while this brief atypical diversion gives way to gorgeous bossa nova on the second track. It’s soft, sensuous and the tempo on it is as good as anything I’ve heard since oh, Rosa Passos’ lovely 2004 album Amorosa. Cantuária adds many electronic textures to his music and the intro to ‘Purus’ allows a glimpse into his way of working, a gradual build that has a strong pulse and a kind of ‘wind of change’ momentum from the percussion that is very unusual. It’s a romantic album, full of sublime musicianship, soft textures that instantly compel further attention and the guests don’t distract although their input is not the strongest element of this fine album, as Cantuária is demonstrably The Man.
Pictured top: Vinicius Cantuária
The phenomenon of “your next box set”, an evening in with a DVD set of typically some quintessentially Scandinavian crime epic noir for company, a luxuriant soaking in uninterrupted subtitled emblazoned grisly goings-on in chilly climes, and fodder for the next vaguely passable social gathering is now well established in media land. To wit: the very words “your next” assuming it’s a regular pastime akin to gardening, happily flagged up in a regular spot in The Guardian. So clearly, instead of spending an evening down the pub, ruminating about the next must-attend piece of performance art, shopping for trainers, or dressing up for Halloween, it’s the thing to do. And why not while you’re at it, unless you actually prefer to go to a real-life cinema, that is, or opt for being really old fashioned and actually watch TV episode-by-episode when they’re actually on. Somehow, though, even if it is appealing with a bit of forward planning, the “all you can eat” all-of-the-time aspect of the box set-as-evening-entertainment is a little too good to be true, and it strikes me as though you need to be a bit of a glutton for punishment to really get it, chaining yourself to the TV no less, in the hope that the plot gets somewhere by the end although you’re bracing yourself just on the off chance that there’s some ending worth waiting for and not the kind, beloved of the arthouse, when the action grinds to a halt or, the big come on, stops… as if mid-sentence making sure a new series isn’t out of the question.
By the yardstick of the box set evening a four-hour opera is for softies although the path to the fridge is that bit more direct from the comfort of your sofa. But what about the “CD box set” night in? An outlandish concept you might say. Who in their right mind would listen to hours and hours of music, it’s fair to speculate, with only a few pictures of the artwork for visual stimulus, and nothing to stare at but the wall, should arty pics of image-conscious bands scowling begin to suddenly pall?
Well, shockingly, an evening in with a box set could work OK with the help of a roaring fire very possibly, a friendly hound by the hearth, hearty fare, suitable beverages, and a goodly mix of female company, with the hi-fi tinkling at just the right volume in the background.
And for the first running of this newly invented concept evening? Step forward Beat, Square & Cool, the second box set from boutique reissue label Moochin’ About. Last year the label put out the critically acclaimed Jazz on Film… Film Noir box set, and label founders record distribution sales executive Jason Lee Lazell and jazz writer Selwyn Harris have followed suit with a batch of films that retains the general concept, recognising the need for good mastering, a rarity in the world of public domain reissues where releases are often copied from less than pristine sources, the provision of detailed notes, again as rare as hen’s teeth, and plenty of pictures including original poster artwork reproduced along with the five CDs, each disc covering extracts from sometimes two films. So there’s The Wild One from 1953 and Crime in the Streets from three years later on CD1; I Want to Live! from 1958 given a whole disc; Marcel Carné’s Les Tricheurs from the same year bunking up with Paris Blues from three years later on CD3; while the fourth CD has The Subterraneans from 1960, with music by André Previn; and finally Shadows from 1959, and The Connection, from two years later, are on the last CD.
A foreword from Jazzwise editor Jon Newey sets the scene: “Out of the twilight murk of post-war film noir emerged a new strand of shadowy cinematic concepts,” and then Selwyn Harris, who writes the regular Jazz on Film column in Jazzwise, in his introduction charts how the films in question emerged from those shadows, firstly marking the teenage revolution in the making via films such as The Wild One while jazz was similarly in flux with cinema trying to encapsulate both the bohemianism of the jazz community’s take on the world they find themselves unwillingly part of, and the transformation of attitudes to music and society in The Subterraneans, as well as in Paris Blues, with music by Duke Ellington, and French film Les Tricheurs.
Harris finds the society of the day’s racial taboos are shied away from in some of these films, particularly Paris Blues and The Subterraneans but points to the growing confidence of independent film making in the United States with figures such as director John Cassavetes who in Shadows with wonderful music by Charles Mingus and an semi-improvised ethos in the film making process Harris contends allowed for greater complexity and representation of issues that few before Cassavetes would have been capable of tackling with the same degree of commitment.
While the music for The Connection is better known, the inclusion of Shadows plugs a gap in many people’s record collections, and the notes about this important though cultish film are good on details about the Mingus octet and the story of how the film came to be made.
It’s not surprising to discover where Harris’ heart lies in the selections here (with the clue in the booklet cover image bled on to the back of Cassavetes’ hands in the air, with Shafi Hadi emerging on the far left on the back cover recording the score for the film). And it’s the later noticeably more modern material that the main interest in this superlative box set lies. These Moochin’ About releases take on the marker for film and jazz set down by the quality of numerous Proper Box series, although the design is that much more appealing and the notes so much more readable and interesting.
As full migration to digital threatens to mothball CDs at some point in the near future, detailed readable information and properly presented audio that is worth its place on your shelf for frequent reference particularly in the realms of reissues is so very valuable as it won’t be around for ever in current formats and who knows what online solutions will be found as the buccaneering spirit of digital format-finding gathers pace in the years to come. It’s extraordinary and short sighted, though, that record labels concentrate on putting out poor quality digital music as downloads (not even reissuing so much on CD these days especially if it’s owned by the majors).
So the age of “your next box set” may yet take on a different dimension. Breathe life into an old format by taking it home for an evening in and not a Wallander in sight. The 300 minutes of music on this set would make a very full and entertaining evening no matter how beat, square or cool you happen to be.
When an artist has a signature sound, and David Sanborn, whose two-CD anthology Then Again is released today, clearly has, then a few things happen. First and foremost a lot of people copy it or modify it, and this is clearly the case with Sanborn whose sound has spawned a great many imitators on this side of the Atlantic as well as in the US.
Sanborn can also be seen as a player whose work is adjacent to smooth jazz, even though he has retained his credibility although empirically his style is not too different to generic smooth jazz as we now understand it, as this compilation covering Warner albums starting in 1975, and continuing until 1996, easily shows.
The compilation features the work of a variety of leading producers, and people who hate commercial jazz should sit down and listen to this set to either banish their prejudices or confirm them. Highlights for me are ‘Lisa’ and ‘Hideaway’ from the first CD, and the Don Grolnick arrangement of ‘Lotus Blossom’ on the second. Never underestimate Sanborn, it’s wise to say; and this well put together 2-CD set provides plenty of reasons for such caution.
Saturday lunchtime is an unusual and quite brave time for an album launch that didn’t nonetheless affect Cloudmakers Trio too much despite the modest turn-out at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London yesterday. Kicking off with ‘Snaggletooth’ “dedicated to the noble art of British dentistry", quipped vibes player Jim Hart above, the band were performing material from new album Live at the Pizza recorded on the very spot here with Ivo Neame octet drummer Dave Hamblett deputising for Cloudmakers sticksman Dave Smith who is touring South America with Robert Plant, Hart patiently informed the audience, the latter mainly quietly intent on munching pizza in the darkness of the Dean Street basement reserving their applause for later. Fresh over on the train from Paris in the morning the trio were joined by alto saxophonist Antonin Tri Hoang (it’s trumpeter Ralph Alessi on the album) whose tone and general style at times resembled the approach of a master like Lee Konitz, and who excelled particularly on Monk’s ‘Bye Ya’ in the first set, and in the second on the bebop pioneer’s ‘Epistrophy’ with Hart explaining that everyone on stage were keen appreciators of Monk. The original material complemented the original inclinations of bebop to some extent with a vertical harmonic orientation that revelled in keenly carved out structure and strong momentum, the confidently insistent bass lines of Janisch and idiomatic drumming from Hamblett maintaining sustained interest, despite this being Hamblett’s first live performance of the material. Must have been a bit of a roast! You may have heard both Hart and Hamblett on Ivo Neame’s superlative octet release Yatra recently. ‘Social Assassin’, dedicated to Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David, was an exuberant way to open the second set, and later ‘Passwords’, from the album, was the pick of the original material, a very fine composition for a variety of reasons, particularly the shape of the piece and the fact that the band produced some spontaneous polyrhythmic lift-off, in other words, whether it was the intention or not the tune swung. I also liked the avant garde ‘Post Stone’, named after a night at John Zorn’s New York downtown venue The Stone. Maybe Saturday afternoon gigs need to catch on a bit more to gain the extra bums on seats, but Cloudmakers are worth catching live on any day of the week even in the afternoon.
A film and its soundtrack, they go together; or do they? It’s not always obvious and I’m talking about the continuity dialogue-and-music version, not the music-only separately issued one. It’s all about context, stating the obvious, choice; and above all the interpretative ability of the composer and the allied decisions to use song-based or instrumental material that already exists that can amplify the story. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master the director is reunited with film composer Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, following their previous work together on There Will Be Blood.
The music that Greenwood didn’t compose reflects the film’s period setting to an extent, and it has a jazz-tinged and popular music quality to it, relating to the 1940s following victory in Japan, the beginning of a new era as traumatised navy veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes part of The Cause, the cultish Scientology-like group led by charismatic Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman, above). Greenwood’s music harnesses electronic textures via acoustic means and dense harmonic strings-laden clusters that particularly in the second half of the film, past the one-hour mark, uses clarinet a great deal. Some of the instrumentalists on the score, released by Nonesuch records on 5 November, are jazz people including former Humphrey Lyttelton sideman the veteran mainstream musician Jimmy Hastings, and a voice of the new generation, Sons of Kemet clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings, along with Zed-U bandmates Neil Charles and Tom Skinner.
The key non-Greenwood music comes in three main varieties each with particular justifications in terms of plot and context.
The first is the inclusion of the Ella Fitzgerald version of the Irving Berlin song ‘Get Thee Behind Me Satan’, chosen I suppose for its playful hint of menace and played against a show of photographs.
The second is ‘No Other Love’ (the spooky song that owes much to Chopin’s ‘Tristesse’) sung by Jo Stafford, which belongs to the Arizona section of the film where the Master finds himself, in Phoenix, addressing the first congress of The Cause. While impactful it retains a non-literal ambivalence in terms of narrative.
And finally the third song is Helen Forrest’s version of ‘Changing Partners’ in waltz time accompanied by the Sy Oliver orchestra (think the feel of ‘Tennessee Waltz’ a tune that Sonny Rollins interpreted in its definitive jazz treatment). This last song charts the ultimate choice of Freddie after his final dealing with Dodd in his mansion in England where the action moves to after some wanderings in America and quite some time after the seafaring episodes in the early part of the film.
The Greenwood soundtrack itself in the context of the film, leaving aside the songs referred to, and they are important, has a great deal of depth and an abstract logic to it unlike much modern cinema composition that relies on mood-setting minimalism as a jumping off point, or anthemic electronica even no matter the period. Texturally Greenwood’s approach adds gravitas and provides parallel, although properly allusive, commentary on the drama. It also never distracts and integrates itself organically. The Master is absorbing, stimulating, a quite brilliant piece of film-making and thought-provoking storytelling, beautifully acted and shot. It’s a film that people will, hazarding a wild guess, be talking about for a long time to come. Stephen Graham
In cinemas from Friday
With over 110 people on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last night the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, Urban Soul Orchestra and Voicelab with special guest Brinsley Forde celebrated 50 years of Jamaican independence in some style with a themed concert based on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1973 classic album Catch a Fire.
Forde, pictured above right, who with ASWAD had significant chart success with songs such as ‘Don’t Turn Around’ going to number one in the charts in 1988, and ‘Shine’, was the front man of the evening standing wearing a leather jacket and sporting a baseball cap with a guitar loosely slung over his shoulder.
Behind him to his right were the Urban Soul Orchestra an eight piece strings section led by violinist Stephen Hussey, while immediately behind Forde at the back of the stage Jazz Jamaica’s bandleader Gary Crosby OBE was beefing up his double bass reggae style to suit the occasion. The bass lines were extra fat, extra juicy, the reggae beat of guitarist Robin Banerjee and propulsive drums of Rod Youngs lovingly honed, and percussionist Pete Eckford was clearly raring to go from the start, fine and choppy on congas.
Not all the songs performed were from Catch a Fire but they formed the main strand of the musical programme, including album opener ‘Concrete Jungle’, ‘Slave Driver’, ‘400 Years’, ‘Stop That Train’, ‘Baby We’ve Got a Date’, and ‘Stir It up’, the latter opening the second set with a great string arrangement involving the fiddling duo of violinist Miles Brett and Stephen Hussey. ‘Kinky Reggae’, and the formidable ‘No More Trouble’ were also performed from Catch a Fire (only ‘Midnight Ravers’ was absent), and other Marley classics featured included ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘One Love’ from Exodus for good measure.
All the arrangements were by alto saxophonist Jason Yarde who was part of a strong sax section that included newcomer baritone saxophonist Teresina Morra, whose solo early on acted as a marker for an exciting new name of note to watch out for. Harry Brown in the trombone section was as listenable as ever, and notable trumpet solos were taken by Yazz Ahmed and James McKay.
Forde was uniformly excellent, with great stage presence and a mellifluously persuasive voice, particularly on ‘Stop That Train’, ‘400 Years’ and ‘Redemption Song’, and the South Bank Centre choir Voice Lab directed by Mark De-Lisser went down a storm in the second set with their spirited sense of involvement. The audience got on to their feet and it all felt so natural. Earlier the vocal torch was carried under their own pared down auspices by the All Stars’ backing singers who Crosby dubbed “them three”, Jazz Jamaica’s own I-Threes: MOBO-nominated Zara McFarlane, Valerie Etienne and Rasiyah Jubari, whose harmonies and occasional ensemble-stealing moments were just great. Musical director and conductor Kevin Robinson’s trumpet solo at the end was also a classy touch. Hear this very fine presentation if you can before the tour ends next week, and you’ll lively up yourself for sure. Stephen Graham
Photos: Roger Thomas
The Lively Up festival tour continues on Friday night at Leeds Town Hall, followed by De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on 31 October, and reaches the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 2 November
Konrad Wiszniewski and Euan Stevenson
Better known for his tenure in Brass Jaw, Scottish saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski (above) and pianist Euan Stevenson (below) are here not appearing as a duo as a casual glance at the billing might first suggest, but as part of a quartet (Whirlwind label boss Michael Janisch on double bass and Scottish National Jazz Orchestra rhythm maker par excellence Alyn Cosker completing the core band on drums). And there’s also the Glasgow String Quartet and a harpist attached, a major element of New Focus. The album has its genesis in an Edinburgh Jazz Festival Stan Getz Focus-themed concert for which Wiszniewski and Stevenson wrote new material and performed, recording this album in the studio as a result last summer to reflect their own compositional direction with each contributing pieces included on the album. New Focus is very accessible and melodic, and the tunes are so much stronger than you’ll hear around. It is dreamier than Getz’s master work, and is romantic in the style of a player such as say the late Tomasz Szukalski or Janusz Muniak (in terms of Wiszniewski’s playing that has classic Polish jazz roots), although Bobby Wellins’ singular style circa Under Milk Wood rings a bell as well in terms of placing Wiszniewski’s highly proficient and characterful style if you are unfamiliar with his work so far. With Stevenson pinpointing influences is not so easy although he has been compared a little loosely to Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner and on this album does not embrace needless grandstanding, a big plus, as he is a nuanced performer.
There are 10 tracks and Wiszniewski is the clear instrumental voice to cling on to, or at least his role is more obvious. The softly unfolding ‘El Paraiso’ with some quizzical saxophone and dynamic pizzicato from the strings commands close attention as the album progresses, and I very much liked Stevenson’s introduction to the following track, ‘For Ray’. Brass Jaw fans will be fascinated to hear Wiszniewski in another musical situation while Stevenson’s star will undoubtedly rise both for his writing here (for instance ‘Music for a Northern Mining Town’), and the tastefulness of his overriding approach.
Released on 5 November. The album launch takes place at the London Jazz Festival on 13 November with a concert at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, W1
Bobo Stenson Trio
ECM 279 4575 **** RECOMMENDED
Young musicians relate to the past in different ways. Some adhere to it closely, some refuse to at all, consciously, at least. In jazz the past is always present, just walk into any record shop or trawl online, the new artists’ music is displayed side by side with that of the masters; at concerts they pay tribute to the greats while at the same time implicitly or explicitly make as if to say: "this is me now; that is them, then." Take the remarkable young Hamburg-based Swedish pianist Martin Tingvall who in the summer during some press interviews was talking about how much he revered the music of his countryman Bobo Stenson, the longstanding ECM artist whose new album Indicum was released just yesterday. It comes after quite a gap of four years since his last trio outing in the company of fellow Swedes bassist Anders Jormin (Stenson and Jormin’s playing relationship encompassing long spells with Charles Lloyd and Tomasz Stanko) and drummer Jon Fält.
Recorded towards the end of last year in southern Switzerland, Indicum, for me Stenson’s most inspiring work since War Orphans recorded in 1997, possibly even surpassing that considerable achievement in terms of sheer rhapsodic expression, begins with a Bill Evans tune, ‘Your Story’, which itself appeared on a live album Letter to Evan recorded at Ronnie Scott’s in 1980, a record that incidentally had to wait some 14 years for release. The Stenson trio album continues with a pair of tracks credited to the trio including the title track. Then there’s a Wolf Biermann protest song called ‘Ermutigung’ (meaning ‘Encouragement’), trio-penned ‘Indigo’, a Jormin composition, folk song by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez, George Russell’s ‘Event V1’, a Norwegian traditional rendition of ‘Ave Maria’, and the final three tracks, respectively, by composer Carl Nielson, Jormin once more, and a contemporary composition by the Norwegian Ola Gjello.
At 68 Stenson is well into his prime, and this is a beautiful and at times quite moving record, thoughtful in the best possible sense encompassing special musical insight, with considerable improvising candour and a rugged determination, but one that also indicates the vision of an improviser at the top of his game who has searched within himself at least that’s how it seems to appear given the nocturnal atmospheres evoked. Stenson is also to be heard on the recently reissued and frequently revelatory 1970s Dansere period recordings with Jan Garbarek so his present and past collide at least in terms of audio documentation. Stenson relates to what has gone before by concerning himself with the present on this new record, the here and now. Those who quite sensibly follow in his footsteps know that his past could very well be their present. Stephen Graham
Bobo Stenson pictured above