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
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.
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
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.
Mark Murphy, top
More on Gearbox http://marlbank.tumblr.com/post/37899157492/2678
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
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
Lineage made their London debut in Hideaway at the weekend. Only their second gig ever, the Streatham club had a busy Saturday night feel, as sleet fell softly outside.
With a front line of trumpeter Byron Wallen, and saxophonist Tony Kofi concentrating on alto saxophone and soprano sax, with a rhythm section of fine Mulgrew Miller-influenced pianist Trevor Watkis, bassist Larry Bartley, fresh from a date with Skydive at the 606 on Wednesday, and UK-based American drummer Rod Youngs, like Bartley and Kofi, a member of the great Abdullah Ibrahim’s band Ekaya.
The Collins Dictionary defines the word ‘Lineage’ as meaning in one primary sense “direct descent from an ancestor, especially a line of descendants from one ancestor”, and both as a diaspora band united in shared musical and cultural approaches, and as stylistic descendants of some of the giants of jazz from the hard bop years and their modern day counterparts, the band succeeds on both fronts as it does on its own terms as top class players. It’s also a meeting of old musical friends, as for instance Kofi and Wallen go way back to the heyday of 1990s hard bop band Nu Troop, and you can tell when two instrumentalists have a close understanding as they know each other’s moves and can read each other’s direction beyond the letter of the closely arranged often intricate material as here. Kofi said he couldn’t think of anyone better to play the trumpet part on his ballad ‘A Song For Papa Jack’, which appeared on Kofi’s acclaimed 2006 album Future Passed, the song dedicated to Tony’s father who died 15 years ago, and Wallen played it beautifully.
Talking to the audience later in the set Wallen made the astute comment: “Music is about relationships”. And that’s something audiences and musicians neglect to remember sometimes, but this band doesn’t in the broader sense even for one moment. Bookended by Woody Shaw tunes, opening with ‘Sweet Love of Mine’ and culminating at the end of the first set in Shaw’s classic mover, ‘Moontrane’ (Byron explained the title by saying amusingly: “Woody Shaw had a dream of Coltrane riding a bicycle on the moon”). Other set highlights were Tony Williams’ ‘Citadel’, heard on the much missed drummer’s 1980s Blue Note quintet album Civilization, here featuring Trevor Watkis on fine form as he was throughout, especially later on his own tune ‘With Substance’, which featured Larry Bartley and the deep throb of his bass was captured accurately by the club sound system, while Youngs’ cymbals were crisp and clear in the body of the big room. This band just has to be heard.
The Hideaway audience top relaxes before Lineage above make their London debut