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The stellar Miles Smiles band appearing at Ronnie Scott’s this week for two nights will now feature original Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon in place of Omar Hakim, previously announced. 

The band’s appearance marks the return of Wallace Roney to Frith Street, the trumpeter above who famously was mentored and performed extensively with Miles Davis late in the great East St Louis man’s career. Miles Smiles now a quartet is completed by organist Joey DeFrancesco (Live Around the World), and ex-Herbie man Ralphe Armstrong on bass. The band’s core material is based around the Second Great Quintet album Miles Smiles released in 1967.

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Already this year fans of Wayne Shorter who wrote several tunes on the album have warmed to his new take on ‘Orbits’, the lead-off track Wayne wrote for Miles Smiles, and which appears on the brand new Wayne Shorter Quartet album Without a Net that signalled a significant return for the saxophonist to Blue Note records, brought back to the fold by Don Was. Mouzon goes way back with Wayne, and besides appearing on Weather Report released in 1971 is also on Wayne’s record that year, Odyssey of Iska.

Miles Smiles originally recorded at the 30th Street Studio in New York city and produced by Teo Macero, besides ‘Orbits’ features ‘Circle’, plus Wayne’s most famous piece ‘Footprints’, and on side two of the original vinyl: ‘Dolores’, Eddie Harris’ ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, and Jimmy Heath’s ‘Gingerbread Boy’. MB
Friday and Saturday www.ronniescotts.co.uk

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Adam Waldmann of Kairos 4tet

Jazz Day is tomorrow, an international celebration of jazz around the globe organised by UNESCO. If you’re going to be out and about then here are some events to catch the music live. MOBO-winning Kairos 4tet whose latest album Everything We Hold is released in June are appearing at the Emmanuel URC church in Cambridge (8pm) www.cambridgejazz.org; and kicking off at the same time in Glasgow at the Old Fruitmarket tabla master Trilok Gurtu is in trio with fine Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and hypnotic Cuban pianist Omar Sosa (www.glasgowconcerthalls.com).

In Wales saxophonist Alan Barnes plays with BBQ at the Royal British Legion in Wrexham at 8.30; while clarinettist Ken Peplowski is on stage at the same time in the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London (www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk). Also in the capital there’s an Ode to the Human Spirit concert (great title) with Marc Cary, Liane Carroll and many more fine musicians south of the river in Brixton (www.sgi-uk.org).

If you’re online tomorrow evening then don’t forget the international jazz day global concert at 7pm UK time by visiting http://live.jazzday.com

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The Bib get on the case for their tenth anniversary

One of the highlights of last summer’s Match & Fuse festival in London was the appearance of Led Bib, that’s the out-there free jazz band that initially shot to prominence in London led by American drummer Mark Holub (above, second left) who’s now based in Vienna.

At the festival, which combined club sets and an outdoors stage in Dalston’s Gillett Square centred around the Vortex, before Holub took to the kit to unleash slabs of new material to a standing-room-only club, as I reported for downbeat.com, speaking in his dressing room Holub said the freer end of the scene was tough out there. “Support is dying and opportunities are drying up,” he explained. But undaunted and with the place packed out, Led Bib’s set laid waste to any pervasive doom and gloom with the sprawling, anthemic swell and two-alto-sax attack of Chris Williams and Pete Grogan, whose energising, jabbing lines were contoured by Liran Donin’s painstaking bass guitar.  

Next year Led Bib are 10 years ago and they’re still way ahead of the game as that appearance clearly showed.

It’s remarkable that such an edgy band was ever nominated for the Mercury as the really edgy jazz produced in these shores generally doesn’t get a look in, and in 2009 their debut for Cuneiform Sensible Shoes got in there and helped open doors for the band. But it’s never easy and after the “token” jazz appearance excitement melted away and the media circus moved on it’s been very much business as usual despite the boost.

As Match & Fuse showed Led Bib are really where it’s still at in terms of the post-Ornette sound, and at Meltdown three years earlier when the great man himself curated the prestigious festival they appeared in one of the best free-jazz shows I’ve ever seen from a Generation X or Y band anywhere albeit in the hostile environment of the Clore Ballroom on the Southbank, a venue with all the acoustic charm of a leaky gymnasium.

Led Bib in their Kickstarter fundraising drive plan to do things properly with the money by releasing a new album plus limited edition live vinyl. You have until 25 May to help the band achieve their target and it’s definitely worth your while, with special goodies available for those who contribute.

They’ve never put out vinyl before and having roadtested the material think that recording in a specially equipped studio that allows them to dispense with headphones will produce optimum results. Here’s more on the project http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/432642331/led-bib-new-studio-album-and-live-vinyl-release

Stephen Graham

Led Bib above

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Sam Crowe Group
Towards the Centre of Everything
Whirlwind ****
NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
The best Whirlwind release so far? Well that depends on your criteria, but for me this is, based on the life in the performance and the quality of the compositions and improvising group interplay. While the pianist composer’s Synaesthesia three years ago showed a lot of promise it wasn’t an album that stayed with me for long but this new one, though, shaped by the twin pillars of on different tracks saxophonists Adam Waldmann and Will Vinson with new bassist Alan Hampton (who appears in singer/songwriter guise on the Kendrick Scott album Conviction), and new drummer Mark Guiliana recently in the UK with Brad Mehldau as half of Mehliana, is different. Will Davies, a long time Crowe associate is retained, and Kairos 4tet singer Emilia Mårtensson crops up on the fourth track ‘Back into the Earth’. Recorded in Brooklyn last year by famed engineer Mike Marciano this is a step up in terms of ambition all round for Crowe. But put all the ‘facts’ aside and what is there?

Well, the title track with Vinson taking the melody on is a kind of anthem that has a certain gravitational pull to it, and you’d guess that physics plays a part in ideas behind the album. Some of the other titles have that sort of direction (‘Gaia’, ‘The Arrow of Time’ or the EST-like intro to ‘Bad Science’), but the album sounds very untechnical as there is plenty of humanity and spontaneity to it, and while the recording does not feature Jasper Høiby who appeared on Synaesthesia there is a sense of a Phronesis influence here and there. Maybe that comes from Guiliana who of course was on Alive.

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Crowe’s first truly ‘naked’ solo happens on the ballad ‘Gaia’ and it’s skilfully weighted, while Hampton on woody upright bass keeps the pace down as Crowe gains momentum. Davies adds some great touches to warm the ensemble sound on ‘64 Interlude’, while the tasteful Waldmann’s saxophone contribution has a saltiness that then lends itself to lead on to Davies’ Lionel Loueke-like solo. The much vaunted English sense of melancholia (whatever that is exactly) you can guess is here a bit in Crowe’s writing although Towards the Centre of Everything is more urban than a pastoral album, and on a track such as ‘Back into the Earth’ takes on a New Age-y sophisticated jazz-rock dimension, a tune that Chick Corea would perhaps be pleased to have written. Crowe in the solo after Mårtensson’s Flora-like vocal shows he can develop an idea in the course of a real-time solo, and that’s what Towards the Centre of Everything is all about: a sense of ideas at work and an improvising sophistication that gives it staying power. Mehliana fans might want to start with the drum ’n’ bass-driven ‘The Global Brain’ where Crowe also shows what he can do on Rhodes, and clearly it’s not all about Brad any more, is it, when players like Crowe appear on a quality album such as this?

Crowe says a little grandly but unapologetically in the notes that “Music for me has always been a gateway to the infinite”, and there is a sense of scale on Towards the Centre of Everything, in the miasmic conjuring of ‘The Arrow of Time’ and yet there’s a contrasting intimacy on the ballads, particularly ‘Lydia’. At the end reprising ‘64’ Hampton’s bass leads off the tune rather than the piano earlier, and it’s an interesting contrast that works to draw attention to one of the best songs on a robustly creative album.

Released today. Sam Crowe top and the album cover above. Review originally published on 7 April 2013 

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Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck
The White House Sessions Live 1962
RPM/Columbia/Legacy ****
It was a fairly humdrum Tuesday in Camelot that August day, less than three months before the Cuban missile crisis. Not that there wasn’t a tricky decision or two to make, as one of the nine justices of the Supreme Court had resigned and President John F. Kennedy needed to move to replace him. But entertainment was never far away in the Kennedy White House, and on that late-summer’s day in 1962 two American jazz legends, Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett, came together to perform at a concert thrown by the President for college students working as interns for the administration.

Recorded in the Sylvan Theater in the grounds of the White House the Teo Macero-produced master tapes lay peacefully in the Sony vaults until December last year, not long after Brubeck’s death. None of this music is known at all to the CD-buying public or digital generation, apart from ‘That Old Black Magic’ issued in isolation as long ago as the 1970s.

The thumping, almost metallic nature of the sound recording, takes a minute or two to get used to; but when the ear adjusts (there is definite tantalising period appeal), and after the ubiquitous ‘Take Five’, the best bits in the first half are the Chopin-esque ‘Thank You, Dziekuje’ and the 5/4 ‘Castilian Blues’, performed by the classic Brubeck quartet, the pianist plus Paul Desmond, alto sax; Eugene Wright, bass; and Joe Morello, drums.

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Joe Morello above left, Eugene Wright, Tony Bennett, and Dave Brubeck

But The White House Sessions Live 1962 is very possibly more for Tony Bennett fans, and the five tracks with the Ralph Sharon Trio in particular. Bennett and the trio really swing, and there’s both poignancy contained in these tracks on a song such as ‘Make Someone Happy’ and soppy exuberance in ‘(I Left My Heart In) San Francisco’.

‘Small World’ is the pick of the whole album, with Sharon’s accompaniment eclipsing Brubeck’s later on, although that’s not surprising given the two men’s long standing rapport stretching back to the 1950s. This kind of music is all about rapport, like all the best jazz. Bennett really sells these songs, and these performances stand up more than well with his best jazz-flavoured work: in my mind that’s the singer’s 1975 studio collaboration with Bill Evans.

Bennett joins the Brubeck Trio towards the end of this album and there are some good moments here, maybe not quite as magic-laden as the earlier portion of the concert provided by Bennett and Sharon’s trio but very impressive nonetheless particularly on ‘Lullaby of Broadway’. Bennett’s ad lib announcement after hearing a siren: "I’d know that was Eliot Ness," a joking reference to the Prohibition era enforcer, is still one more fascinating aspect of the album.  A significant reissue then, and a fine excuse to reassess Tony Bennett’s jazz work again, as well as remember once more the Dave Brubeck quartet.

Released on Monday 27 May

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A series of albums such as Jazz for Babies doesn’t come along every day. You might ponder that there are more than a few babies out there, and not just tiny people, but this bunch of five albums, the brainchild of bassist Michael Janisch, is aimed at educating your tiny tots. “Calm and soothing lullabies” as they’re explained in the album’s strapline, the CDs are divided into instrument settings so there’s The Piano Album, The Saxophone Album, The Vibraphone Album, The Guitar Album, and The Trumpet Album. Aimed at the purchasing power of loving parents who know the core values of music and jazz for an age group starting “in utero to 3 years-plus.”

Part of Janisch’s point is that the music presented is not the product of synthesisers, and there are some great musicians here playing ever so gently. Joining the bassist on the Piano Album for instance is pianist Steve Hamilton, with this duo supplemented on the Saxophone Album by Steve Winwood sideman Paul Booth. The Vibraphone Album reverts to trio, Hamilton again and Janisch, but with Cloudmakers vibes man Jim Hart joining (perfect on ‘Emily’); and on the lovely Guitar Album’s lullabies the core duo is joined by Partisans guitarist Phil Robson (excelling throughout) and then Louis Lester Band trumpeter Jay Phelps is the guest on the Trumpet Album (listen especially to a fine version of ‘It Never Entered My Mind’).

When Janisch and his wife Sarah were expecting their first child, daughter Eliza, they set about introducing her to what they saw “as the right kind of music at the earliest age.” And this is the fundamental inspiration for the albums, an educational impulse. The UK-based Wisconsin-born jazz musician who runs Whirlwind Recordings and is a professor of jazz bass at the Royal Academy of Music wanted the music to be “calm, quiet and lullaby-like” and certainly that’s what’s here. Even the edgy ‘River Man’ on the Vibes Album is rendered coo-able.

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There are lots of very familiar tunes, for instance ‘Moon River’ and ‘Body and Soul’ on the Piano Album; and ‘My Funny Valentine and ‘Unforgettable’ on the Trumpet one. Anyone familiar with The Real Book will be completely up-to-speed with the material throughout all five albums although there are a few concessions to recent popular music here and there and inevitably Adele’s song ‘Someone Like You’ is included. The albums look good with matching squiggly-bright graphics, colours, and snazzy fonts and musically, compared to the highly bland non-jazz product that is available with cheesy tunes and cutesy sentimental tinkling based around nursery rhymes, the performances are of a very high quality. OK, the dynamics have been dampened down and the chords are resolutely major rather than minor but that doesn’t really matter: no one’s expecting harmolodics! Strident young maths jazzers and punk jazzers, whether they have babies or not, might hate the whole notion of lullabies (tough love, I suppose), so maybe this series is not for them. But for everyone else it’s a world away from muzak and processed sounds and is the gentlest, and most non-patronising, way possible for a tiny tot to enter the land of nod.
Stephen Graham  

Released on 10 June