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I’m grateful to jazz writer Selwyn Harris, the compiler and producer of acclaimed box sets Film Noir and Beat, Square and Cool  for news of a special screening tomorrow afternoon of Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (‘Lift to the Scaffold’) at the Institut Français’ Ciné Lumière in London. The 88 minute-long black and white film in French with English subtitles dates back to 1958, and was directed by Louis Malle at the beginning of his career. The film starred Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet, and featured an atmospheric soundtrack composed and performed on by Miles Davis. The story revolves around Florence Carala and her lover Julien’s conspiracy to murder Florence’s husband by faking a suicide, but a forgotten-about rope and a malfunctioning lift complicate the pair’s murderous intent. Lift to the Scaffold was a first feature for the influential director who would later become known to a new generation in America with the effectively elegiac Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, and his late masterpiece Au Revoir les Enfants. For more details and ticket information go to www.institut-francais.org.uk

Jeanne Moreau as Florence Carala above in a still from Ascenseur pour l’échafaud. Watch a scene from the film with music by Miles Davis here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OKQdp6iGUk

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Before Duck Baker’s gig last night a fan who had travelled across London to Dalston from Croydon was recalling the first time he had heard the player, as he remembered in an obscure part of Hampshire. “Hope he plays ‘Zebra Blues’." Baker, an American avant gardist known for his work with Eugene Chadbourne and John Zorn, didn’t get round to ‘Zebra Blues’ at least in the first set but began instead with ‘Friday’ firmly in Jimmy Giuffre-land with a lively Alex Ward on clarinet. Decoy’s John Edwards was on bass with his bandmate Steve Noble either joining the trio on drums or sitting out as the quartet became a trio before our very eyes.

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Duck Baker above left before the gig and top  

“The balance all right out there?” asked Baker near the beginning. “You can hear the trumpet?” This bit of banter was typical of the guitarist’s agreeably droll humour and luckily there were plenty of people in the club to hear it and this fine performance, and more came in as the set progressed to fill the place, and the musicians responded to the congenial atmosphere. The quirkiness of ‘The Odd Fellows’ March’ which was where Noble took the loping gait of the tune under his wing coaxing the band along like Han Bennink might the ICP. ‘There’s No Time Like The Past’ was where the band hit their stride and their humour collided perfectly with Baker’s on ‘Ode to Joe’, a rewriting of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ leaving out “mostly every seven notes”, Baker said, the 63-year-old Washington DC-born musician a little amused. His own ballad ‘Always’ near the end showed great control at low volume and Baker’s grasp of bebop harmonies to render them not too twangy on the nylon strings and his dextrous navigational sense at the frets was always sure-fingered. Sometimes his sound resembled the approach of Jim Hall, but with more of an avant edge. ‘The Legend of the Legend of Bebop’ at the end (a play on words and reference to Ornette’s tune from The Art of The Improvisers) was a case of keeping the very best to last, its sinuous labyrinthine swing a good way to go to the break. Wonder if they played ‘Zebra Blues’ in the second half? That would have sent the Baker fan from earlier back to Croydon a happy man. Stephen Graham

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Iiro Rantala/Michael Wollny/Leszek Możdżer
Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
Interesting for a number of reasons chief among them the fact that the concert was able to take place at the home of the Berlin Philharmonic, in the Kammermusiksaal, the chamber music room, at all. Also of topical interest is the presence of Iiro Rantala, now confirmed as the pianist at the first EST Symphonic concert to take place in Stockholm in June. In a double piano setting with [em]’s Michael Wollny the pair fittingly perform the Finn’s composition ‘Tears for Esbjörn’, the lovely melody of which curiously recalls Phil Collins’ ‘Another Day in Paradise’ in the harmonic setting of the opening notes of the main theme. The sound of this album is as you’d expect given the acoustics of the room, pianos utilised and the quality of ACT album sound, very fine with the audience applause superbly captured, a sure indication as well of the album’s live feel. These three pianists comprise a troika of ACT’s stellar front line main piano jazz talent (the others including Vijay Iyer, Gwilym Simcock, and the veteran Joachim Kühn) an aggregation few labels are able to match globally. Rantala, Wollny and Możdżer come together to play Chick Corea’s ‘Armando’s Rumba’ at the end in a dazzling piano and Rhodes display but highlights for me were Rantala’s measured Jarrett-esque arrangement of ‘Aria and Goldberg Variation’ (which turns into ‘All the Things You Are’ by the end), and Możdżer’s modulating pointilist tour de force ‘No Message’ half way through.

A dazzling December night at the  Berlin Phil: the cover of Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic I, above

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

In the White House of President John F Kennedy two jazz legends came together for a concert that has never before been issued in full. It was a special time and a place in American history, but the long wait for the recordings in full to see the light of day for the first time is almost over.  RPM/Columbia/Legacy recordings are recalling this brief glimpse of the Camelot years with the release of the meeting of Tony Bennett and the late Dave Brubeck in what’s being dubbed “the White House sessions" and officially Bennett & Brubeck: Live at the Washington Monument.

It was 28 August 1962, but the record company only dusted down the Teo Macero produced master tapes in the Sony vaults just in December not long after Brubeck’s death at the age of 91 to ready the process it takes for a release. Next month the recordings are released in their entirety for the first time. The show, a party thrown by President Kennedy for college students working as interns for the administration, was recorded in the Sylvan Theater in the grounds of the White House with the Washington Monument in the near distance. The plan had been to stage the concert in the Rose Garden, but there were too many people to accommodate so the venue switch was made. Bennett was on an early career high in 1962 having released what became the song most identified with the singer, ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’. But he and Brubeck didn’t work together again until four years ago at the Newport jazz festival which adds further to the interest in this 1962 collaboration.

The recordings begin with an introduction by New York radio DJ William B Williams, then Paul Desmond’s ‘Take Five’, a band introduction, ‘Nomad’, ‘Thank you Dziekuje’ [that’s Polish for “thank you"], and ‘Castilian Blues’, performed by the classic Brubeck quartet (the pianist plus Paul Desmond, alto sax; Eugene Wright, bass; and Joe Morello, drums). Then after another introduction from Williams, Bennett, joined by longstanding pianist and musical director Ralph Sharon on piano, Hal Gaylor on bass, and Billy Exiner, drums, perform ‘Just in Time’, ‘Small World, ‘Make Someone Happy’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)’ and ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ . The final tracks feature the key collaboration: with Bennett joining Brubeck, Wright and Morello on ‘Lullaby Of Broadway’, ‘Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)’, ‘That Old Black Magic’ [which has previously appeared on record], and ‘There Will Never Be Another You’. The album will be released on Monday 27 May in the UK.

Stephen Graham

Photo: Columbia/RPM/Legacy