Playing in the foyer must be one of the hardest things an artist has to do.
Just looking around before Emilia Mårtensson and Barry Green took to the Box Office stage in the foyer of Kings Place at the annual Kings Place festival it’s as if there’s a riot in leisure going on. At the back there’s the candy store; over near some of the quietest escalators in London the regular café; and dotted about are simply dozens and dozens of people sitting, chatting, waiting to be entertained for free. Little kids before the duo came on were dancing to the re-imagined Brahms of a clarinet ‘taverna’ quintet, someone was grappling with a skateboard, don’t ask, and a steward was loading a bicycle into a lift.
But for Swedish singer Mårtensson and London pianist Green playing songs from their excellent Babel album And So It Goes they could have been in a library. Nothing would have fazed this pair. There was nothing subliminal in the opening song, Jacques Brel’s ‘If You Go Away’, or was there?
The audience to their credit began to listen after a while, and the din of excited and muffled chat, tinkling cups, and tumbling tots died down to at best a dull roar. Mårtensson tall, with long fair tresses and an imposing physique has a surprisingly quiet voice with plenty of light and shade to it not at all sung full gale at you, and the outcome was mellow but not in a Heart Radio sense. Green is an ideal accompanist who has a sensitivity to the gestures and cadences of singers as different as say show singer Claudia Morris as he is to the more left-field Mårtensson. In a purely instrumental setting, for instance with bop legend Charles McPherson, he can come over all Kenny Drew-like, remember that great master? But here he took a little run here and there although he didn’t really have to: it was enough to enjoy the voicings and resolutions.The foyer, no matter how plush, and Kings Place’s is exceedingly plush and beautiful, is a place no one wants to play, but everyone wants to congregate in. Mårtensson and Green gave it a great go, but please Mr Promoter put them on a stage that better suits their talents next time.
The pair, pictured above, play another foyer, at the Southbank Centre on the 28th; and the opening night of the London Jazz Festival on 9 November, at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho
Heart of the Matter
His fourth album as a leader for ACT, Haffner is an award-winning first call jazz drummer in Germany, and has played with a host of leading artists including Pat Metheny, Chaka Khan, Nils Landgren and Lars Danielsson. It’s a classy album for sure with a slick electric band that includes Sting guitarist Dominic Miller. Mostly Haffner tunes, Heart of the Matter is a little in the Pat Metheny Group vein at times, and manages to be highly polished without becoming too cloying. Not sure about the decision to include a cover of Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’ although it’s pleasant enough. I think the Haffner tunes stand up well enough to make the case for an all-originals album next time.
Released in late-October/early November
Chaos Collective ****
Much talked about on the London jazz underground grapevine for the past year or so trumpeter Jurd (above) was only 21 when she recorded this album in May, and it’s astonishingly cohesive and rewarding. All the music is her own arranged for a quartet plus the strings of the formidably plangent Ligeti Quartet, which features Basquiat cellist Ben Davis and fine violinist Mandhira de Saram, who with the Mount Molehill Strings plays on the Neil Cowley Trio record The Face of Mount Molehill. At times Jurd’s sound possibly recalls long-ago Kenny Wheeler themes and maybe as the album progresses Dave Douglas, but sometimes there’s no clear reference point at all, usually a good sign. It’s very much a confident, engaging and stimulating approach characterised by a Nordic feel along the way. An excellent debut.
Released on 5 November
Cinéma El Mundo
World Village ****
Oh this is just great, and not just because Robert Wyatt crops up along the way. Lo’Jo, from Angers, have been round the block a bit with many albums under their belt already and so you’re in safe hands here. Funky, a mix of sounds, with a bit of chanson and dub Denis Péan’s voice is endearing as are the backing vocals of Nadia Nid El Mourid and Yamina Nid El Mourid. Open ended, socially conscious, and unpretentious, it’s no wonder they’re festival favourites in world-music land, and very jazz-friendly as well. ‘Tout est Fragile’ is the pick of the tunes but there are lots of good ones to dip into.
Released on 24 September
My History of Jazz
Fascinatingly personal, Finnish pianist Rantala says “my entire history in music can be heard on this album", beginning with his encountering the music of Bach at just six, hence the presence of five improvisations on the Goldberg Variations at the core of this often sprightly mainstream album. Recorded in April, June and as recently as July in Sweden, Berlin and Montreux respectively, Rantala’s ‘journey’ via Bach takes in Kurt Weill, Monk, Gershwin, Juan Tizol, and Lars Gullin plus his own tunes. There is plenty of spirit, and good interplay with the band of Danish drummer Morten Lund, the supremely melodic Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson, and Polish violinist Adam Baldych. Rantala’s indomitable zest for a good improvisational break always stands out.
Released in late-October/early-November
Penguin Cafe ***
A piano/dulcitone/Rhodes/harmonium-violin duo no less with Arthur Jeffes of Penguin Café Orchestra renown and violinist Oli Langford providing a cornucopia of minimalist delights and little moments scattered about that imprint themselves in your head gently and quite beautifully at times. I liked ‘Both Hands in Pockets’ best, which extraordinarily, according to Jeffes’ notes, “uses a rock which we found can be made to sing." Worth seeking out; clearly every dog (and the odd boulder) has its day.
It’s got a rhythm about it, soft little syllables that trip off the tongue, and that part of the name that makes you think instinctively, if a bit waywardly, of hippies. Yes, it’s the Tampere Jazz Happening, and its programme for this year has just been announced. And this year the festival has been chosen as festival of the year by the Finland Festivals organisation who promote festivals all over this fascinating jazz-mad country. The happening is based in just two venues, in the Finnish industrial city north-west of Helsinki, a less rainy, more snowy version of Manchester.
The venues are just across the square from one another, a stone’s throw from the city’s train station. One of these is pretty small, a little restaurant with a hothouse atmosphere, not surprising perhaps as there is a sauna elsewhere in the building. But, as it’s Finland, that’s maybe not that unusual. The other is a medium sized concert hall with a club space attached. Tampere has a reputation for being “cutting edge", but that’s slightly deceptive as its remit is very wide within creative music, and it’s not a small area of whatever that trickily serrated genre actually is. The Happening is just a great festival over a weekend that usually includes a local holiday, and if you want to escape the UK in early-November you’ll have a whale of a time. Acts this year include just one UK representative, the go-ahead prog-y firestarters WorldService Project, who presented a great festival called Match & Fuse in London earlier in the year, and will be be touring in the UK soon with the highly promising Norwegian outfit, Pixel.
The Tampere line-up for 2012 has a mix of the best new local and international names and some big stars. As well as WorldService Project, there’s Actuum, who made a big impression at the 12 Points festival in Portugal earlier this year, Big Blue, Gerry Hemingway Quintet, Vijay Iyer Trio, Ibrahim Maalouf, Jorma Tapio and Kaski, Slo Motive, Black Motor and Mikko Innanen, Boban and Marko Markovic Orchestra and DJ Borzin, Schneeweiss und Rosenrot, Hasse Poulsen’s Progressive Patriots, Sha’s Feckel, Adam Rudolph’s Moving Pictures Octet, The Jazz Passengers Reunited, Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, Mopo, Rakka, Fredator, Ebo Taylor and The Afrobeat Academy plus DJ Bilongo, Han Bennink and Aki Takase, Mark Solborg Trio featuring Herb Robertson, Lotte Anker and Mikko Innanen, John Scofield Trio featuring Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart, and finally Adam Rudolph & Go: Organic Orchestra. (SG)
The Tampere Jazz Happening runs from 1-4 November. http://www.tamperemusicfestivals.fi/jazz/en/
WorldService Project pictured (photo: Philip Ower)
It’s always an event and a sense of occasion when Courtney Pine releases an album. And House of Legends, the saxophonist’s latest, is no different.
There is a chameleon-like trajectory to Pine’s career with huge stylistic shifts in recent years but the new album to be released on Destin-e World Records on 15 October is a return to the Caribbean, although very different to earlier albums such as the reggae-based Closer To Home.
In this the 50th year since Jamaica gained independence from Britain Pine intends this album to be a pan-Caribbean exploration, and playing soprano saxophone rather than bass clarinet on recent albums he tackles merengue, ska, mento and calypso on House of Legends with a different band as well. For instance, in comes French Martinique pianist Mario Canonge, in also comes Ghanaian bassist Miles Danso, Jazz Jamaica drummer Rod Youngs, and stalwart guitarist Cameron Pierre is back in the fold once more. Look out for Jamaican legend Rico, flautist Michael Bammi Rose and trumpeter Eddie Tan Tan Thornton guesting, and many more great players on the record including pianist Mervyn Africa, steel pan player Annise Hadeed, guitarists Lucky Ranku and Dominic Grant, trombonist Trevor Edwards, trumpeter Mark Crown, flugel player Claude Deppa, Robert Fordjour on the unusual cajon-like dube invented by footballer Dion Dublin, and a string quartet.
The first track, ‘The Tale of Stephen Lawrence’, is Courtney’s conscious meditation on the racist murder of the London teenager Stephen Lawrence in the 1990s. I well remember at the open air Jazz on a Summer’s Day festival in Alexandra Palace in 1993 not long after Lawrence was killed Courtney speaking out about the murder from the stage. He was one of the first artists to do so.
Later tracks move to the music and culture of the Caribbean, first to Jamaica on ‘Kingstonian Swing’, then on ‘Liamuiga (Cook Up)’ to Saint Kitts and Nevis and the world of the Carib Indians. Courtney organised a competition with the help of a local radio DJ in St Kitts and Nevis to rename this track and this is what local person Wallis Wilin came up with.
‘House of Hutch’, the fourth track is about Grenada singer pianist Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, not the better known Jiver Hutchinson, but the man who became a popular entertainer and moved in high society during the war, and who sang a bit like Ivor Novello. ‘Ca C’est Bon Ca’ is the Dominican part of the album, a lovely romantic dance tune in a style the French call “zouk love", which Courtney dedicates to his wife.
Notting Hill carnival founder Claudia Jones is celebrated on the sixth track, bearing her name, and ‘Song of The Maroons’ takes on a further historic Caribbean dimension with its referencing of Cimarron runaway slaves, while companion piece ‘Samuel Sharpe’ is about a slave who became a preacher later to organise the Christmas Rebellion in 1831 in Jamaica. Courtney also on the album explores the oral tradition of passing on acquired knowledge on ‘From the Father to the Son’ and says in the notes: “As a jazz musician I have been fortunate to have shared moments with many great teachers. I could not do what I am doing without their guidance." The final official track is ‘Ma-Di-Ba’ dedicated to Nelson Mandela, and the bonus track is the infectious choro ‘Tico Tico’ written by Zequinha de Abreu, which is a superb way to end this fine record, the only non-original, with all the other tunes written by Courtney Pine. The album is dedicated to Harry Beckett and Andy Hamilton MBE. Courtney launches the record at Islington Assembly Halls in London on 19 October with his band. It promises to be quite a night.
Courtney Pine pictured top