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WorldService Project
Fire in a Pet Shop
Megasound **** ALBUM OF THE WEEK

The early life of WorldService Project, invariably known as WSP, in terms of recording was unusual as the band issued fiddly EPs and developed a live following “match & fusing” with similarly minded below-the-radar often bizarrely accomplished prog-jazz outfits from across Europe. This all culminated in a two-day festival last year in Dalston, and its successor is on the horizon this year having relocated, as you do, to Oslo. As an album band Fire in a Pet Shop is probably the first real test of the band’s mettle. The title track may be dimly familiar to more hardcore fans as it appeared on a by-now collectable EP called Live From London. While ‘De-Frienders’, is a reference to people online who dispense with the boring, botherers, dotty, and frankly deranged who increasingly populate social networking sites, and who also feature in “the thanks”, which bizarrely ranges from London’s most Ryanair-like council, Barnet; to the Portuguese language. This tune was an obvious highlight of last year’s Match & Fuse festival performance by the band.

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WSP is a powerful quintet: It doesn’t do skronk (ie it’s not a free improv-into-metal “punk jazz” band), and while there isn’t an official cloak of secrecy the band of Tim Ower on saxophones, apparently “meowing” as well, trombone player Raphael Clarkson, bassist Conor Chaplin, and drummer Neil Blandford are very much the secret behind keyboardist/svengali Dave Morecroft’s rise to World stardom. Surely he is the owner of a cape.

But what do they play? Well, if you draw a line in the sand back to Soft Machine (the birth of prog jazz via the Canterbury scene) and take it forward in time to Delightful Precipice then downsize it, chop off a bit of the arch chat, instal a no-vocals policy in these teeteringly tripledip times, and there you have it. WSP are part of that glorious continuum. It’s quite loud and it is very messy with Morecroft’s factory-setting keyboards somehow sounding like he could be Django Bates but can’t really be bothered, at least yet. All eight tunes of his are on message and it’s beyond-the-barline funky with a feeling of abandon. The boffin-like preternaturally-quiet keyboards passages folded in resemble a scientist at work on some mad scheme in a garden shed absent mindedly applying jump leads to an unsuspecting squirrel while listening to Keith Emerson. Clarkson also gets out of control from time to time very much like his motoring journalist namesake. But thankfully, in this phase of the band’s colourful history to date, with quite a few more social skills. MB

No animals were hurt in the making of this album: WorldService Project top and above 

Released officially on 24 June

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Bill Frisell
Big Sur
OKeh **** RECOMMENDED

Think Big Sur and in the 1990s that meant in terms of jazz only one name: Charles Lloyd. Bill Frisell’s latest, more than 20 years on from the hippie jazz legend’s Notes From Big Sur, has its roots in a Monterey Jazz Festival commission, and was written while the influential guitarist was based on the sprawling Glen Deven Ranch in California west of the Ventana Wilderness in northern Big Sur. Frisell and Lloyd were of course not the first musicians or writers to find inspiration in Big Sur. Jack Kerouac made his way there, as famously did gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson as well as a host of New Age mystics and artists of every persuasion since the 1960s. For Frisell the solitude and scenery of his surroundings dug deep, but there is a warmth and feeling of community here, not a sense of isolation, on these 19 fairly short compositions. Beyond Americana, joining Frisell are long term violinist Jenny Scheinman, viola player Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts, and drummer Rudy Royston, and highlights of a highly endearing but thought-provoking album include the hippie, hippie shake hoedown of ‘The Big One’; the lovely strings setting on ‘Gather Good Things Part 1 and 2’; a certain indefinable rural charm on ‘Cry Alone’; and ‘We All Love Neil Young’ because of its naivety and humanity, and also just for the title. Frisell’s beautifully shaped guitar lines in the early part of ‘Far Away’ are also a small reminder of exactly why he’s a guitar great. MB  

Released on 3 June. Bill Frisell and the Big Sur band top. Photo: Monica Frisell

Updated: 27 June 2013 Personnel now correct. Apologies.

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Human’s Steve Davis and sound artist Paul Stapleton next week direct a band that might well have been beamed down from Saturn, appearing as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast. The QUBe Myth-Science Space Arkestra perform the music of Sun Ra following hard on the heels of Ra-influenced Alexander Hawkins and his organ trio Decoy’s appearance at the Brilliant Corners festival in March. Davis, also a member of improv trailblazers Bourne/Davis/Kane who were announced last week as artists for the 2014 New Music Biennial, debuted with his own band Human on Being Human earlier this year to acclaim, a band and record that also includes Alexander Hawkins.  

Paul Stapleton from Southern California, now based in Belfast, designs and performs with a variety of modular metallic sound sculptures, custom made electronics, found objects and guitars, and has been lecturing at the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University where he teaches and supervises postgraduate research in performance technologies, interaction design and site-specific art.

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QUBe, which riffs on the university’s name, is a 16-piece band of improvisers and experimental musicians, who take the Afro-futuristic sound of Sun Ra as their cue. Born Herman Blount in 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama, known as Sonny in his early career Graham Lock in The Wire has written: “Certainly the name Sun Ra derives from Ra, sun god of ancient Egypt, one of the poles of the Ra cosmology.” But after the keyboardist, pianist, bandleader and composer left the planet in 1993, headed presumably for Saturn, a new generation of heavily influenced improvisers refer to him these days invariably as Ra, and play his music to ever bigger audiences with deep affection.

The Sun Ra Arkestra under former Ra associate Marshall Allen continue to carry the flame playing concerts around the world, and with Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra also keeping Ra’s cosmic sounds alive over the last seven years, QUBe follow in their footsteps. For this concert they have reimagined material such as ‘Space is the Place’ (title track of the eponymous 1973 album), ‘Enlightenment’ (from 1959 album Jazz in Silhouette), as well as the devastating call and response of ‘Nuclear War’ from the 1980s album of the same name. Drawing on hip hop, New Orleans brass, lower east side experimentalism, electronica and noise, also expect unusual stage clothes and instruments, and maybe a little dancing thrown in for good measure. MB
Sun Ra top and Steve Davis above
Thursday 9 May, www.themaclive.com

Michel Camilo
What’s Up?
OKeh ****
It’s a decade since Live at the Blue Note the superlative trio album Michel Camilo recorded at the New York club, and where the pianist returns to perform for three nights from Thursday. That release justly went on to win a Grammy for best latin jazz album, but since then even though he’s released a number of albums Camilo, from the Dominican Republic who’s made a highly successful career in the United States since first moving to New York to study in the late-1970s, has dipped from view. That is until now. Returning to Sony but his first for their recently revived OKeh label, solo piano album What’s Up? is pretty special. By the time I got to the beautifully yearning ‘Sandra’s Serenade’ via the New Orleans flavours of the title track, the Jarrett-esque ‘A Place in Time’, and an unstuffy take on the overly familiar ‘Take Five’, I was well and truly hooked. I hear quite a lot of Oscar Peterson in the back story of Camilo’s sound early on here but really these are echoes to muse on, nothing more. Camilo has a lovely bespoke touch and a top-class technique that compares to Monty Alexander’s but it’s more rhapsodic in essence.

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When the son flavours really open up on ‘Island Beat’, even though the tune is crying out for congas, Camilo’s left hand compensates completely. It’s not really about volume but register, and the personality he brings to the song sections make them become like characters in a novel and together people What’s Up? It’s pretty joyous at times with rococo flourishes here and there but isn’t at all wearing. Camilo’s approach on ‘Alone Together’, the 1930s Arthur Schwartz / Howard Dietz standard, is a harmonic whodunit, elliptically modern by the end with voicings that would do Jason Moran proud. ‘Paprika’ is really powerful at the beginning of the tune and you can imagine this with a strong drummer really moving the trio along after the opening theme. Other tracks are an understated take on Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’; a banging, wonderfully-timed version of the late Compay Segundo’s classic ‘Chan Chan’, one for the Buena Vista Social Club generation definitely; and two more Camilo originals: ‘On Fire’ a contrafact of Cole Parker’s ‘Too Darn Hot’; and the airy ‘At Dawn’. So, all in all a very welcome return to form by a piano master. Stephen Graham

Michel Camilo top and the album cover above

Released on 13 May. Michel Camilo appears with his trio at Ronnie Scott’s in London prior to release on 10-11 May  www.ronniescotts.co.uk

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Jazz composers and performers Anthony Braxton, Billy Childs, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Myra Melford, and William Parker have been selected by the Doris Duke charitable foundation in the States among a selection of 20 artists drawn from contemporary dance, jazz and theatre as the foundation’s 2013 recipients of largesse. Designed “to empower, invest in and celebrate artists by offering flexible, multi-year funding in response to financial and funding challenges that are both unique to the performing arts and to each artist”, each recipient receives approximately £145,000, plus up to £16,000 for audience development and up to £16,000 towards their future retirement fund.
Anthony Braxton above

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The stellar Miles Smiles band appearing at Ronnie Scott’s this week for two nights will now feature original Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon in place of Omar Hakim, previously announced. 

The band’s appearance marks the return of Wallace Roney to Frith Street, the trumpeter above who famously was mentored and performed extensively with Miles Davis late in the great East St Louis man’s career. Miles Smiles now a quartet is completed by organist Joey DeFrancesco (Live Around the World), and ex-Herbie man Ralphe Armstrong on bass. The band’s core material is based around the Second Great Quintet album Miles Smiles released in 1967.

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Already this year fans of Wayne Shorter who wrote several tunes on the album have warmed to his new take on ‘Orbits’, the lead-off track Wayne wrote for Miles Smiles, and which appears on the brand new Wayne Shorter Quartet album Without a Net that signalled a significant return for the saxophonist to Blue Note records, brought back to the fold by Don Was. Mouzon goes way back with Wayne, and besides appearing on Weather Report released in 1971 is also on Wayne’s record that year, Odyssey of Iska.

Miles Smiles originally recorded at the 30th Street Studio in New York city and produced by Teo Macero, besides ‘Orbits’ features ‘Circle’, plus Wayne’s most famous piece ‘Footprints’, and on side two of the original vinyl: ‘Dolores’, Eddie Harris’ ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, and Jimmy Heath’s ‘Gingerbread Boy’. MB
Friday and Saturday www.ronniescotts.co.uk