The Legend of Mike Smith
Soweto Kinch Productions **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT RECOMMENDED
When Conversations with the Unseen came out in 2003, everyone on the British jazz scene just had to stand back and take note. After all a young player, a complete unknown then, had somehow come up with something that immediately ranked him as a significant player who in time I suppose will be thought of as one of the greatest alto saxophone players this country has ever produced. And his skills were picked up internationally as well, with Kinch collecting international plaudits at the Montreux Jazz Festival winning a hotly contested saxophone award, while going on to develop his dual saxophone/rapping concept to move him into a new space, in the process gaining the high profile backing of Wynton Marsalis. Contrast Kinch’s musical journey with another Wynton protégé of the time, the blisteringly impressive Italian Francesco Cafiso, a more conventional if equally celebrated saxophonist, who has taken a different more orthodox path. When Kinch won the Peter Whittingham award back in the UK he used the money to fund the much sought-after single ‘Jazz Planet’, a catchy rap about an imagined topsy turvy world where jazz is the commercial music, and rock is the art music that no one really listens to. It’s amusing but makes its point felt. Kinch was underlining his ability as a lyrics man and a freestyler, at concerts often asking audience members to lob words (often very difficult rarely heard fiendishly polysyllabic ones) to build an impromptu rap.
Concept album A Life In The Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block, his Birmingham album, was not so much of a success despite some good ideas, and was a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts, but changing label and settling down into a better groove as his artistic direction changed The New Emancipation released in 2010 saw Kinch assert himself fully again and was met with positive reviews.
The Legend of Mike Smith is once more a concept release, this time a double album built around the idea of the seven deadly sins with many short tracks spread over the two CDs, lots of humour, and role playing featuring characters that include Soweto speaking as his inner voice, his brother Toyin Omari-Kinch as album hero Smith, and skits plus full blown instrumental burn outs. Mike Smith is a hopeful MC looking for a deal but he has everyman qualities and faces everyman temptations, trials and tribulations.
The core band is Kinch with Karl Rasheed-Abel on bass and Graham Godfrey drums with Kinch inviting in many guests to either speak, act, sing, or play. Tessa Walker is perfect as the blasé record company A&R Kate Advo for instance and the best musical cameos include one from Jay Phelps on the ballad ‘Vacuum’ set against an elegiac piano line from Julian Joseph, with Kinch playing a kind of tough guy romantic on alto sax. Kinch also plays quite a bit of tenor sax on the album, an instrument he’s less associated with. Cleveland Watkiss appears on ‘Avaritia’, with its baroque liturgical undertow, in one sense a scaldingly anti-capitalist protest song critical of the excesses of a violent society obsessed obscenely with profit. It’s also a post English-riots London fable, the city as Mammon, but also the place where as urban people we live, an engine of greed. That song leads on to the Sons of Kemet-influenced ‘Slam’ with Shabaka Hutchings duelling against Soweto as the two master reedsmen go head to head. It’s wonderful stuff the pair riffing against neat harmonies with Godrey coming into his own hard at the kit. There’s lots more on this superb double album, funny little songs such as the fast food restaurant parody ‘Gula’ and its companion ‘Escape the Vomatorium’ and a certain historic time shuffling stepping back centuries before The Pharcyde via beats, baroque classical music programming, and a Milton-esque narrative sense. And what’s that rattling Mr Benn-type marimba-sounding moment on ‘Gula’, old TV music, lost in the ‘vomatorium’, possibly, as well? Finally, listen out for Eska Mtungwazi on the well crafted song-of-the-spurned, ‘Better off Alone’, on the second disc. There’s no getting away from it: The Legend of Mike Smith is a triumph.
Released on 18 February. Soweto Kinch and friends top, with the cover of The Legend… above
In the studio with Empirical at the moment, bassist Tom Farmer can be heard on the talented guitarist Ant Law’s upcoming new album, Entanglement (***1/2), to be released on 33 records next month coinciding with a substantial tour. The former Edinburgh university and Berklee student, turned session player, makes his debut as leader at last with this album. With Farmer and Law, Kit Downes Quintet drummer James Maddren hitches up too and interestingly-vinegary former Round Trip saxophonist Michael Chillingworth plus pianist John Turville make up the complete band. Law equates improvising in the album title with quantum entanglement, when particles interact, apparently, but don’t let that put you off, as the improvising here is anything but coldly quantifiable. Law is deeply interested in the concept of a perfect fourths tuning system (tuning the low string to Eb allowing constant intervals between the strings) and is a published author on the subject, but combines the rigour of his academic thinking with instinctive playing of a high order here. His tunes have a holistic feel as the Binney-like Chillingworth runs take hold of the music in breakaway sections displaying well developed improvisational teeth. Not sure about some of the song titles (the otherwise engrossing ‘Entanglement 1 – Janus and Epimetheus’ is a bit of a tongue twister), but the playing is impressive throughout, and Maddren sounds as if he’s enjoying himself, as does the always switched-on Farmer. All the compositions are Law’s except for Trane’s ‘Satellite’, the sixth of the nine tracks. Hear Law’s band touring as a quartet on tour next month at Milestones, Hotel Hatfield, Lowestoft (3 February); Jazz Nursery, London SE1 (7 Feb); Jazz at St John’s, St John’s college, Cambridge (15 Feb); the Cellar, Southampton (18 Feb); Dempsey’s Cardiff (19 Feb); Spotted Dog, Digbeth, Birmingham (26 Feb); Jazz Bar, Edinburgh (27 Feb); and Art Club, Glasgow (28), with more dates in March and April. SG
Ant Law above
Empirical are to enter the recording studio on Friday for the first session of a recording stint that will see the award winning post-hardbop band laying down tracks for their latest album for the Naim label joined by a string section. Empirical late last year performed brand new material with the Benyounes Quartet at the London Jazz Festival, some of which is destined for the album, and they join them in the London studio for the session. Benyounes are an ensemble formed six years ago at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and find themselves with a key Brit-jazz band that made a huge impact when it appeared fully formed out of nowhere, as it seemed at the time, for a multi award-winning self titled debut album produced by Courtney Pine for his label Destin-e back in 2007. The band won both Jazzwise and Mojo album of the year, and has since gone on to build on its reputation recording for the Naim label.
The band’s alto saxophonist and co-founder, Nathaniel Facey, was in action last night playing quite superbly with new vocal star in the making singer-pianist Theo Jackson at the 606 club in Chelsea. Facey has been nominated in the UK instrumentalist of the year category of the inaugural Jazz FM Awards that take place at the end of January. The set’s standout was easily ‘A Bitter End For A Tender Giant’ with Facey in duo with Jackson. Facey also showed great poise and finely honed interpretative ability on Mongo Santamaria’s ‘Afro Blue’ near the beginning. ‘A Bitter End…’ composed by the saxophonist first appeared on Empirical’s acclaimed 2009 album Out ’n’ In, Facey’s evocative and unsentimental tribute to Eric Dolphy, who died young after his diabetes condition was left untreated at a Berlin hospital in 1964 on the erroneous assumption by doctors that Dolphy was a drug addict.
The duo setting was complemented by band performances featuring the Oxford-based singer joined by the Ahmad Jamal-influenced rising star, the 19-year-old Reuben James, who took to the piano stool for a bunch of numbers when Jackson sang, joining Facey, Jackson band bassist Shane Alessio and drummer Jason Reeve. Reuben James has been touring as a member of Jay Phelps’ quartet recently, the trumpeter who played so memorably on Empirical’s debut album, and who will shortly be seen playing the part of a fictional 1930s trumpeter in Stephen Poliakoff’s television drama Dancing on the Edge as a member of the Louis Lester Band. Empirical are touring following the recording sessions and should be on firing form. Catch them at the Terry O’Toole Theatre, Lincoln on 24 January; Hidden Rooms Cambridge 25 Jan; Pizza Express Jazz Club, London on 4 February; Seven Arts, Leeds, 7 February; and Millennium Hall, Sheffield, on 8 February. Naim say they’re aiming for an August album release.
Nathaniel Facey, pictured with Shane Alessio, at the 606, London, above
The line-up for next month’s 12 Points festival in Dublin has been announced. The bands, with related links are: OKO from Ireland http://breakingtunes.com/oko ; Sarah Buechi’s THALi from Switzerland http://www.sarahbuechi.com/pages/projects.html ; the Enrico Zanisi Trio from Italy http://www.enricozanisi.com ; Nikolas Anadolis from Greece http://nikolasjazz.com ; Cactus Truck from the Netherlands http://cactustruck.com ; Hanna Paulsberg Concept from Norway https://soundcloud.com/hannapaulsberg ; Mopo from Finland https://soundcloud.com/mopomopo ; Soil Collectors from Sweden https://soundcloud.com/soilcollectors ; Koenig Leopold from Austria http://www.koenigleopold.at/main.html ; Ozma from France http://ozma.free.fr ; Manchester’s Beats & Pieces Big Band from the UK http://beatsnpieces.net ; and the Olivia Trummer Trio from Germany http://www.oliviatrummer.de
Irish band OKO are on home territory this year after the festival’s trip to Portugal last year. This fairly new four-piece avant-folktronica band is on the radar of Matt Jacobsen’s Diatribe label, with a debut expected soon.
Swiss artist, singer Sarah Buechi’s quintet THALi, by contrast draws in world music flavours and particularly south Indian sounds to their jazz mantle inspired partly by Buechi’s studies in Bangalore.
The Italian band coming to 12 Points is a romantic piano trio, led by the multi-award winning pianist Enrico Zanisi, whose album Quasi Troppo Serio (‘Almost Too Serious’) has been issued to no small acclaim by leading Italian jazz indie label Egea.
Greek pianist Nikolas Anadolis, from the beautiful northern city of Thessaloniki, is another keyboards high flier, a player who won the Martial Solal piano competition in Paris two years ago, while Amsterdam sax/guitar/drums trio Cactus Truck, not long back from a tour of the States, should shake things up with their rumbustious free jazz and noisenik flavours.
The sax-led Norwegian band Hanna Paulsberg Concept only came together in 2010 but picked up a major accolade the following year by winning the Young Nordic Jazz Comets in Stockholm, the contest kudos always a strong indicator of a band on the rise. Their dreamy debut is called Waltz for Lilli.
Finns Mopo are another trio, this time with a quirky baritone saxophone attack and requisite free thinking attitude. Only around since 2009 they have a distinctive approach that could well make them ones to watch closely this year.
Another big hope is Swedish alternative impro-rock band Soil Collectors who have already toured widely, combining as they do in somewhat mysterious fashion, voice, electronica, and percussion to captivating effect, their signature sound infused with a Nordic sense of noir and littered with found sounds, one that is both vogueish, and also winningly atmospheric.
Austrian jokers-in-the-pack Koenig Leopold (taking their names from the surname of the band’s Lukas König, and part of bandmate Leo Riegler’s first name), summons dada, Zappa, and Monty Python with spectacular results served up over some characteristically reheated energy-laden beats.
French four piece prog jazz outfit Ozma are also strongly fancied for the festival, with guitarist Adrien Dennefeld already known on the London scene for his work joining forces with Kit Downes in the “shuttle" band Barbacana and his quintet. In Ozma Dennefeld is with saxophonist David Florsche, electric bassist Edouard Séro-Guillaume and drummer Stéphane Scharlé, and Ozma released their album Peacemaker just last year.
The UK’s Beats & Pieces need little introduction to close followers of all things jazz over the last two years. Simply Ben Cottrell’s Mancunians have become the Loose Tubes of the current scene, so their appearance following the success of World Service Project last year will be keenly gauged at 12 Points in 2013.
And finally Stuttgart pianist and vocalist Olivia Trummer comes to Dublin with her trio, a chance for the Irish audience to sample this seasoned classically-influenced musician who already has a strong collection of work as a recording artist.
Taking place at the Project Arts Centre in Temple Bar from 13-16 February the festival has built a hard won reputation as the key early adopter’s new band showcase of choice, with a broad range of the best progressive jazz talent from across the continent. This year’s crop of bands promises to build further on past accomplishments. SG
Soil Collectors top
Unveiling his hot new band The Vigil, one of the greatest jazz musicians on the planet, pianist, keyboardist and composer Chick Corea returns to Ronnie Scott’s on 5-6 March for a tantalising two-night run.
Corea will be joined on the stage of the Frith Street jazz shrine by Tim Garland, Hadrien Feraud, Marcus Gilmore, and Charles Altura completing The Vigil. The club dates come just under a year since New Crystal Silence arranger and former Chick band member Garland joined the Return To Forever man on stage as a surprise guest at the Barbican, when Corea had earlier performed in front of a big concert hall audience that night with Gary Burton. Garland played soprano sax during the encore “jamming" on Chick’s classic composition ‘La Fiesta’ and Monk’s ‘Blue Monk’.
With some 16 Grammys to his name the band Corea brings in to Soho in this coup for the club features fusion bass guitarist Hadrien Feraud, best known perhaps for his work with John McLaughlin appearing on such albums with the master axeman as Industrial Zen and Floating Point, while drummer Marcus Gilmore is no stranger to UK audiences, both as a member of Steve Coleman’s Reflex and Vijay Iyer’s trio. Guitarist Charles Altura, though, is the least known of Chick’s band, but has his own happening band in the States, in action just last week on the West Coast featuring the hotshot Blue Note trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. There are two houses each night for Corea’s Ronnie Scott’s shows, a fascinating new venture by a musician ever reluctant to rest on his considerable laurels. SG
Chick Corea above. Check www.ronniescotts.co.uk on Friday for remaining tickets
Live dates have now firmed up for José James whose album No Beginning No End, is released in just under a fortnight on 21 January. Heavily trailed since October, the album may well see the jazz singer become much better known to wider audiences, but for now he will in all likelihood retain his jazz audience. No Beginining, No End (****) has an authentic retro jazzed-out soul sound, not Gregory Porter’s way, say, although both singers profess much love for the music of Nat King Cole yet come at the tradition from a different angle. Each has a very different voice, and James is more alert to the club scene, ‘club’ as in the old acid jazz rare groove sense, and with James it’s one ear to Bill Withers, one ear to Flying Lotus and all ears to John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, but a touch of Gil Scott-Heron for the freestylin’ generation comes in to the picture as well.
The new album of originals opens in bedroom fashion with JJ’s lyrics on ‘It’s All Over Your Body’ with a band featuring famed ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’ bassist Pino Palladino, some retro horns, Robert Glasper and Chris Daddy Dave. World-jazz singer Hindi Zahra guests memorably on the next track ‘Sword and Gun’, yet it’s ‘Trouble’ blessed with a monster groove that really impresses. The Van Morrison band’s Alistair White on trombone makes his presence felt on this JJ-penned song, written with Scott Jacoby, and ‘Vanguard’ following is also excellent, Glasper helming it on Rhodes with Daddy Dave and Pino Palladino, the latter who played very well live with Glasper at the Roundhouse in October and is an album co-producer. Emily King adds lovely subtle touches on the seductive ‘Come to my Door’, the fifth track, and she’s even better on the second of her two album tracks ‘Heaven on the Ground’, which is track six. ‘Do You Feel’ and ‘Make it Right’ passed me by a bit, but ‘Bird of Space’ didn’t, it’s a stayer, while final tracks ‘No Beginning No End’ and ‘Tomorrow’, the latter with Monk prizewinning pianist Kris Bowers an appealing harmonic presence. A record this good hardly ever comes along. It’s for jazz and the wider world. SG
Live dates are: XOYO, London (9 April); Sugar Club, Dublin (12 April); and Band on the Wall Manchester (13 April). The cover of No Beginning, No End, above
Extra dates (15/03 update): Wednesday 10 April, Wardrobe, Leeds; and 14 April at Hare & Hounds, Birmingham
Kairos 4tet enter the studio next month to record their first album since signing to Naim, the label that already has hit bands the Neil Cowley Trio and Get the Blessing on its books. Saxophonist Adam Waldmann, above right, dropped the news to his fans in a new year newsletter that the band would be holing up at Real World studios early next month. That’s the Wiltshire recording facility where the Neil Cowley Trio recorded their debut Displaced. While Kairos had a fairly quiet 2012, partly through an injury sustained by Waldmann that kept the band off the road, the quartet with Waldmann joined by Phronesis’ Jasper Høiby and Ivo Neame, plus Dice Factory’s Jon Scott, won the MOBO for best jazz act the previous year following the release of their acclaimed album Statement of Intent, did appear to play a high profile London Jazz Festival gig in Kings Place where they showcased their single ‘Song for the Open Road’ featuring soul legend Omar who joined the band onstage as part of the Jazz in the New Europe strand. Kairos first emerged in 2010 with their debut album Kairos Moment, although Neame did not come on board until Statement of Intent replacing Rob Barron. Emilia Mårtensson’s vocals added a certain something on the last record as well as on the band’s debut, and Kairos manage the difficult feat of combining a vocal presence with a post-jazz feel, allowing jagged frequently metrically advanced solo lines to mesh intuitively with the often languorous delivery of the UK-based Swedish singer yet retaining an improvising credibility at its core.
Wednesday 9 January update: Naim Jazz label boss Simon Drake says: “Adam and I have wanted to work together for a long time, and I am delighted that everything is falling into place for Naim Jazz Records to release Kairos 4tet’s third album. Kairos are a supremely talented group, who inhabit their own space at the forefront of new British jazz. They work extremely hard and I hope we can help them build on their audience in the UK and beyond. They certainly deserve it!" SG
Kairos 4tet top. Photo: Paul Medley
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Fast and quick thinking with an energy that propels his music beyond the typical bebop threshold into another sphere entirely, a micro world of possibilities and rarely heard sounds merging with the more familiar, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa is on exquisite form here. With the microtonally inclined David Fiuczynski a clever foil, chunky no-nonsense bass from François Moutin and thundering attack from drummer Dan Weiss, Gamak is full-on with the ornamentation of south Indian music a titular factor, but also a reinvented bebop spirit, hints at the delta blues and heavy rock. The clever bit is the microtonal or south Indian-sounding harmony Fiuczynski does much to provide, sometimes Fuze can be like the late Pete Cosey, at other times he’s just bluesy or wigs out detuned like a mutant tincan, so this is never going to be a trip to the bebop museum interesting though that may well be on a quiet afternoon. Yet the core of the Mahanthappa band style, particularly its roots in Charlie Parker’s music, are there like invisible ink. ‘Waiting is Forbidden’ is first and best for me, but every track has its merits, with the circling-in on ‘Ballad for Troubled Times’ a great build to a sad song that has the ache and forboding of a certain ugly sense of unease, while ‘The Majesty of the Blues’ rocks out. The album is also beautifully recorded by Mike Marciano. Stephen Graham
Released on 14 January
Rudresh Mahanthappa above