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In the National Theatre foyer earlier, and returning later this afternoon for a further 90-minute set, singer Aimua Eghobamien’s Indigo Sessions took the chill off a wintry day on the Southbank with a fine mix of songs subtly delivered. Featuring two double bassists Jerome Davies and Oli Hayhurst joining Eghobamien and The Face of Mount Molehill violinist Julian Ferraretto the set opened with a poised, downtempo reading of the 1920s Irving Berlin standard ‘Blue Skies’ , but the highlight was perhaps Randy Newman’s ‘Same Girl’ from the singer/songwriter’s Trouble in Paradise album released 30 years ago this month, with a lyric close enough to indigo just like the opening Berlin song, the ‘Same Girl’ lyric effortlessly captured by Eghobamien’s bass baritone: ‘With the same sweet smile that you always had/And the same blue eyes like the sun’, performed with a suitably languid jazz connotation. SG
Indigo Sessions above continue at 5.45 

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Dieter Ilg
Parsifal
ACT ***

Eric Schaefer
Who Is Afraid of Richard W.?
ACT ***
With a Wagner connection, both albums, despite one playfully equipped with a question mark, find solutions to a problem that doesn’t really exist. If anyone wants to cover classical material even by a hideously divisive figure such as Wagner, then there really isn’t anything new or necessarily interesting in this. After all since Jacques Loussier’s interpreting of Bach, or classical composers from Milhaud on incorporating jazz into their compositional approach, it’s not a live issue. Bassist Ilg, who knows his Verdi as well as his Wagner, performs his Parsifal with the trio of pianist Rainer Böhm and drummer Patrice Héral with respect and gentleness, and it corresponds to the orthodox modern jazz piano style that’s not dissimilar to the tasteful approach of the Benedikt Jahnel Trio indicated on Equilibrium, although there is some fulfilling Ilg Trio improvising on tracks such as ‘Ich bin ein reiner Tor’, as any “fool” might discover. There’s some familiar Beethoven tucked in as well at the end.

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Ilg offers variations on Wagner in essence but [em] drummer Schaefer’s album is “revisiting”, and despite the loaded terminology has more impact, flavoured by the superb pristine trumpet and flugel tone and interpretative subtlety of Tom Arthurs who you’ll also hear on the upcoming Julia Hülsmann quartet album. It’s not as conventional as Ilg’s, with bits of reggae on his own tune ‘Nietzsche in Disguise’ for instance, and Volker Meitz’s steamy organ intro to ‘Lohengrin’ is an inventive touch that does work especially when Arthurs builds a solo from its marshy base. Bassist John Eckhardt is also clearly a name to watch. If you liked Schaefer’s groove on ‘Das Modell’ on Wasted and Wanted you’ll want to hear what he does on this album from a drumming point of view, but the overall concept of both albums is more of a burden than a plus.

Stephen Graham 

Both albums are released on 11 February. Dieter Ilg, top, and the cover of Who Is Afraid of Richard W.?

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Francesc Marco (on accordion) and Fred Thomas set up as bassist Jiri Slavik looks on at the soundcheck before last night’s Fly Agaric gig at the Vortex in Dalston. Joined by fourth member, reedsman Zac Gvi, later to complete their set-up the F-IRE Collective band went on to perform selections from their new album for the label, In Search of Soma. Opening with ‘Closely Observed Trains’, which takes its name from an influential 1966 Czech film, three of the band curiously donned bright red “mushroom hats”, a link to the fungus-loving outfit’s name. Later tunes included a trenchant juxtaposition of a discredited speech of Nicolas Sarkozy’s with a puckishly Mingusian groove on ‘Travailler plus pour gagner plus’; a brand new song translated as ‘Wicked’ in English, charismatic frontman Gvi explained with a laugh; and the pleasantly tricksy ‘It takes one two, no’, surely a soundcheck special at least in spirit. Marco on piano added some great stride touches towards the end while Gvi channelled his inner Prez. SG

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Lunchtime today sees the beginning of a major solo piano tour by Robert Mitchell, during which his latest album The Glimpse will be released. A solo feature for left hand only its dozen tracks contain some of the most unusual piano music you’ll hear this year. In the notes to the Whirlwind Records release Mitchell talks of the challenge of undertaking the project in the first place. “I don’t believe,” he says, “there has been anywhere near enough recording to address what I think is a strongly valid form of piano music – that made by the left hand alone. And the insisting that improvisation play a part, also takes this to a rare, but intensely interesting place for me.” Initially drawn to the idea by writing for a classical piano event, the title track Mitchell says integrates the “different pathways and possibilities” that the task could take him to. The pianist, who received acclaim for his earlier less unconventional piano solo album Equinox released in 2007 cites classical piano history specifically Zichy, Wittgenstein and Godowsky in terms of left hand-only playing, with jazz connections encompassing the music of Phineas Newborn Jr and Kenny Drew among others. On The Glimpse recorded at the Capstone Theatre in Liverpool last summer Mitchell has composed all the music except for classical composer Frederico Mompou’s ‘Prelude No 6’, which trumpeter Byron Wallen had alerted Mitchell to, and ‘Nocturne for the Left hand Alone’ by American pianist Fred Hersch, a “modern classic”, Mitchell says of it. This new album certainly makes me for one think of solo piano a little differently, as it’s like looking at a familiar building from a different angle and in so doing finding detail hitherto neglected or taken for granted. It’s about an altered reality for sure. Track six ‘The Sage’ in only five minutes and nineteen seconds the composition has a cinematic reach within this small time that is very remarkable. Rhapsodic, the restriction imposed by playing left hand only is not a barrier in the least, although as elsewhere on the album sometimes there is a feeling that it’s a bass player’s record! An innovative album then, don’t assume a thing.
Stephen Graham

The tour begins with a Royal Festival Hall foyer concert at 1pm
See www.robertmitchellmusic.com for further tour dates. 
The Glimpse is released on 18 February. Robert Mitchell, above

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Vinyl specialist label Gearbox is to release a new Mark Murphy record, a vinyl EP tribute to Shirley Horn recorded in the US as recently as November. Songs include a fine version of ‘But Beautiful’, although full track listings are still to be confirmed. As previously indicated, the label is also partnering with Cardiff indie Edition to bring out Mirrors on heavy vinyl with an imminent release date. This is the new Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone and London Vocal Project album, and also working with Edition Gearbox will issue the flute-flavoured marvel, as early listens more than suggest, of Birds by young Norwegian heavyweight saxophonist Marius Neset of Golden Xplosion renown. Gearbox is also issuing a new vinyl LP by esteemed Tubbyologist, tenor saxophonist Simon Spillett and his quartet of double bassist Alec Dankworth, pianist John Critchinson and drummer Clark Tracey. The label is also putting out a vinyl EP by young singer/songwriter Sasha Siem. Gearbox will also release a limited edition Pete Brown and Michael Horovitz jazz poetry vinyl box set to be ready for 20 April, UK Record Store Day, and the label is also planning to embark on the release of a series of previously unreleased live recordings from Ronnie Scott’s in the 1960s, featuring, among others, Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard.

Stephen Graham

Mark Murphy, top

More on Gearbox http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/37899157492/2678

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The Mingus Big Band’s Lauren Sevian, Jazz Jamaica All Stars’ Teresina Morra, and Céline Bonacina are just three of a new wave of young female baritone saxophone players to make an impression on the overwhelmingly male-dominated jazz band reed section scene in recent years. Now Bonacina, who in 2011 was part of the first wave of mentoring programme Take Five Europe, the Serious-backed initiative that spread out from a British base, returns with her latest album Open Heart. Bonacina began in Paris big bands during the late-1990s, and later made the unusual move to Réunion before returning to France to release her debut, Vue d’en haut. Released on 11 February, Open Heart sees ACT records keeping faith after the fine baritone stylist who plays in a Harry Carney-meets-John Surman way, won plaudits for her initial album for the label Way of Life and a nomination for a Victoire du Jazz award. On the new album it’s her playing that does the talking as the lively burbling momentum and spirit at work throughout goes some way to underline. With a trio featuring electric bassist Kevin Reveyrand and drummer Hary Ratsimbazafy, guests include former Miles Davis percussionist Mino Cinelu on a dozen-track set that also folds in a bonus live track featuring Michael Wollny, all more than going to show the bari player’s considerable mettle. SG

Céline Bonacina, top

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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’.  

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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.’ 

Stephen Graham

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

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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.

Stephen Graham

Chris Potter top