Composer Adrian Johnston’s music for the Louis Lester Band, the fictional 1930s black British jazz band whose story is told in upcoming drama series Dancing on the Edge, has now been confirmed for release. The BBC2 drama written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff features original music by Johnston, a long time musical associate of Poliakoff’s. For this new collaboration they are in unchartered jazz, and, specifically Ellingtonian, territory. The soundtrack leads off with the ‘hit’ song for the band, ‘Dancing on the Moon’, followed by catchy ‘Dead of Night Express’, ‘Downtown Uptempo’ and ‘Lovelorn Blues’, while Duke’s ‘jungle’ period is conjured in ‘Dowager’s Delight’ written as the theme for Lady Cremone, played by the great screen actress Jacqueline Bisset making a rare appearance in a British television drama. There’s jaunty piano, and superb trumpet from jazzmen Jay Phelps and Chris Storr on this tune, representing a transitional phase in the plot of the mystery, one of the standouts, along with the medium-slow ‘Big Ben Blues’, and ‘Lead Me On’.
The vocalists who join the Louis Lester band, with the hero of the piece pianist/bandleader Lester, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (pictured on the CD cover), making its unprecedented way in the high society circles of the day, are Jessie played by Angel Coulby, and Carla (Wunmi Mosaku), with Jessie recalling the style of Ellington singer Ivie Anderson vocally, and Carla a little bit more like Adelaide Hall. The digital edition has extra tracks including the gospel version of ‘Lead Me On.’
The Louis Lester band’s singers, Carla (Wunmi Mosaku, top, on the left), and Jessie (Angel Coulby). Above right the CD cover of the original soundtrack of Dancing on the Edge performed by the Louis Lester Band. The soundtrack is released by Decca on 28 January. The first episode of Dancing on the Edge is now scheduled for Monday 4 February, beginning at 9pm. Read the February issue of Jazzwise for insights from the director
Tenor-of-our-times Chris Potter on his ECM debut as leader has come up with something very special indeed, make no mistake, on The Sirens (*****). Released in just under a fortnight, on 28 January, the album has a Homeric conceit, like streets in close proximity can be named after peaks in the same mountain range, so the tracks on this record have titles to match the legendary tale. You’re also by association supposed to say it is epic! Or heroic! In terms of technique it’s not just that Potter handles the saxophone like a rancher is able to tame the wildest horse; he can also charm, coax and caress.
It’s all about expression on The Sirens, and like a theatre play that suddenly makes you feel frightened, or anxious to know how the drama is resolved, whether it’s going to be happy, sad, or even tragic, the narrative of each tune manages this as well. The serious yet unpretentious tunes he’s written resemble the way Potter stands on stage in a club before he plays, looking ahead, presenting himself, at ease with what they call the fourth wall, although as improvisation gains traction he’s oblivious to it. Charles Lloyd drummer Eric Harland is at the kit and it’s a maelstrom of ideas he brings to the session, the way say Nasheet Waits can burn on a Jason Moran record, with Harland’s own customised input.
There is a tenderness at play that Potter is expert at, maybe the best interpreter of a ballad since, in a different idiom, Stan Getz. Larry Grenadier on bass sounds different here than the way he plays with Brad Mehldau, he’s actually sounding more like he does with Fly. As for brilliant pianist Craig Taborn, well he’s less abstract than he usually is say on a song like ‘Kalypso’ and he rows in to meet Potter somewhere close to a Monk sound after his solo here. The other pianist, David Virelles, is on hand with the role of adding prepared piano sounds, celeste and harmonium, so that’s a twist in the arranging and it gives the album a distinctiveness without being gimmicky. The title track, opening with Potter on bass clarinet, and the very moody and sensual seascape-like accompaniment then opens out to transport us the listeners into the middle of a dream. When was the last time a song did that? Chicago-born Potter, who celebrated his 42nd birthday on New Year’s Day, has been playing beautifully of late and in the Unity Band last year with Pat Metheny showed just one more aspect of what he can do. There’s something magical in the water with this release, an element as mysterious, dangerous, and vital as the best music.
Chris Potter top
Early next month leading improv percussionist Mark Sanders, and the Steve Tromans Trio, led by pianist Tromans with bassist Chris Mapp and drummer Miles Levin, are to travel to the US as part of an exchange between the cities of Birmingham and Chicago. It’s an initiative of Town Hall and Symphony Hall’s Jazzlines programme, in collaboration with Umbrella Music Chicago. The Birmingham musicians will spend a week in Chicago performing and rehearsing with locally-based musicians in a city renowned for innovation in improv. They will be playing gigs at the Hideout in a double bill, with the Tromans trio joined by an avatar of Chicago improv, reedsman Ken Vandermark, plus Mark Sanders and Jason Adasiewicz in duo on Wednesday 6 February. All four Birmingham musicians then hook up to perform with Dave Rempis, James Falzone and Josh Berman in small and large groupings at The Elastic Arts Center the following day, which leads to two days in rehearsal of a new Steve Tromans octet commission involving all the players. The piece will then be performed at the Hungry Brain on Sunday 10 February. SG
Mark Sanders above