The Jazz Café in Camden Town may have just been sold by its owner HMV along with nearby venue Barfly, a big Manchester venue the Ritz, and the east London Groove Armada-associated festival Lovebox in a £7.3m deal to a soul-less private equity firm.
But that won’t make any difference to the soulful legend set to appear at the venue next week. It may even spur her on. Because in a swan song, maybe, for a club that has become a fun plaything for corporate financiers in recent weeks, it’s the great soul and R&B singer from Detroit, Bettye LaVette coming in to play a rare date.
She’s celebrating 50 years in the music business as a performer, released a pulsatingly different new album Thankful N’ Thoughtful, and she’s written a gripping autobiography A Woman Like Me, with David Ritz.
A librarian she is not. Like Jimmy Scott, who Ritz has also written about, Bettye LaVette has had more than her fair share of ups and downs over the years and was a star and then wasn’t, then kind of became one again for a variety of reasons which the book goes into readable detail about.
On Thankful the Detroiter teams with Craig Street, the producer who turned Cassandra Wilson’s career right around in the 1990s when he worked with the Mississipian on the superb Blue Light Til Dawn in the 1990s on which Wilson moved beyond her comfort zone for the first time to absolutely devastating effect. His touch, and that voice, makes LaVette’s latest ready-made for jazz fans to dip their toes in soulsville once more.
LaVette because of the nature of the kind of soul and R&B she thrives on (roughly Tina Turner land) maybe didn’t have to make such a leap with Street, and as she dips in and out of different styles gives each of them her own emotively compelling life force.
The tracks are an astute mix of genre-denying tunes, and I have been hitting replay on Bob Dylan’s ‘Everything is Broken’ and the leftfield folk singer Patty Griffin’s song ‘Time Will Do The Talking’, which is just remarkable. Who would have thought such alchemy could have been achieved? It’s the measure of LaVette as an artist that this has occurred at all.
There are plenty of other goodies rattling around on the album including material by the Black Keys, Tom Waits and Neil Young, and LaVette manages even to breathe new life into Gnarls Barkley’s done-to-death ‘Crazy’, in itself a neat trick.
LaVette’s band on the record is Chris Bruce, guitar; Jonathan Wilson guitar, banjo; Glenn Patscha, piano, keys; Jennifer Condos, bass; JJ Johnson, drums, percussion; Steven Bernstein of Sex Mob on ‘Yesterday Is Here’; and Douglas Wieselman, reeds on the same track.
I’m not sure who her band in Camden will be on the night just yet. Doesn’t really matter to an extent. But do yourself a favour: and get down to Parkway before the equity fund people ruin the place for good. With the festive season and January gloom around the corner, and before changes kick in at the venue, it might just be the last time.
Bettye LaVette pictured top. Photo: Marina Chavez
World Without Form
Sound, Soul and Spirit ***
Nat Birchall has got to be the generation X and northern English version of Alan Skidmore. You can’t just say that about anyone, not when sincere and detailed study and contemplation of John Coltrane is at issue. Anyone who tries half- heartedly to make the scene, unlike Skid or Nat, just won’t cut it. World Without Form never says it’s a Coltrane tribute, as Alan Skidmore records sometimes do, but it’s pretty clear throughout these seven tracks. There are twists and additional elements though, and in a nutshell these are involved with the contribution of pianist Adam Fairhall who can blow up all Matthew Shipp-like at times, something very different to McCoy Tyner’s work with Coltrane; and then there’s the vibes, bells and shakers of Corey Mwamba, adding a piquancy and altered view into the majesty of the Coltrane sound. World Without Form follows last year’s Sacred Dimension. Like Guiding Spirit and the earlier Akhenaten it came out in the same stylistic vein (with added Pharoah-isms sometimes) and was released on Matthew Halsall’s Gondwana Records, a label that has a north-west England base and revivalist DJ instincts. Halsall has been quoted as saying that Birchall’s music is “spiritual, soulful and honest”, which is a perfect way of putting it. This new release on a new imprint of Birchall’s own has more emotion than Sacred Dimension, and with the different arrangements an openness and power that after a while allow you to move on from thinking just about Coltrane. I still think Birchall has not travelled far beyond his comfort zone and that there are great things still to come from him in the future. Yet, as with Skidmore, he is doing everyone a favour with this crucially important jazz, bringing the music to a new younger audience. As a conduit to the spirit of Coltrane Birchall can do no wrong.
The Nat Birchall Quintet play Matt And Phred’s in Manchester on 4 January. Birchall pictured above
A CV to match few others in contemporary jazz, a giant of the music, and of the bass, Weber is a remarkable man, someone I had the privilege to interview in the mid-1990s, and whose name I first saw before I had even heard any of his music at least consciously.
It was there vibrant and striking a few years earlier on a slightly torn poster on the staircase wall of a jazz club called Akwarium in the Polish capital, Warsaw.
Yet thinking about it outside jazz, even though little did I know, I had of course heard him on the radio, through his extensive work with Kate Bush, on albums such as Hounds of Love, released in 1985.
Now 72, besides his work with Jan Garbarek that began in 1982, which Résumé concentrates on beginning in 1990, Weber, who was born in the southern German city of Stuttgart also worked extensively in the early part of his career with fellow Stuttgarter, pianist Wolfgang Dauner. Later in the United Jazz + Rock Ensemble, Weber would join Dauner to play for a time as well.
Just two years ago ECM began to present the Weber story to a new generation and of course his loyal public from the early days by releasing a three-CD Old & Masters Edition box that concentrated on Weber’s band Colours (which teamed Weber in its personnel with his later Garbarek band colleague Rainer Brüninghaus).
This band lasted for six years from 1975 and produced the beautiful Yellow Fields, as well as Silent Feet and Little Movements, complementary to his earlier masterwork The Colours of Chloё that initially made Weber’s name in 1974.
The new album draws on live recordings made between 1990 and 2007, solo spots at Garbarek concerts, edited for taste and sequencing and some fresh Garbarek input.
Weber uses ‘a reverb unit’, an echo delay, to accompany himself on his customised five-string electric double bass (and keyboards) for most of this exquisitely powerful album, Garbarek cropping up on three tracks, with drummer/percussionist Michael DiPasqua on two others.
The track titles have a simplicity and grandeur to them, performed in famous old European places mainly, giving each a location as title: hence ‘Grenoble’; ‘Amsterdam’; ‘Lazise’; and closer to home, with Garbarek adding selje flute, ‘Bath’.
Weber retired from the Garbarek quartet through ill health five years ago following a stroke, and the passing of time is also marked by some lovely liner note paintings by Weber’s wife Maja whose work adorns the covers of Weber classics down the years notably The Colours of Chloë and Yellow Fields.
It’s an immersive experience listening to Résumé. The bass is an orchestra in Weber’s magical hands.
Résumé is out now