Alex Wilson Records ***1/2
A prisoner to his big technique and eclecticism at times, the trio format suits Wilson well although the sequencing here doesn’t do him any favours. Big, booming number ‘Kalisz’ named for Paweł Brodowski’s piano festival in Poland is an early peak (it might have been better at the end) but ‘Remercier les travailleurs’ with its Malian lilt is less overly energetic and all the better for it, allowing bassist Davide Mantovani more scope. It’s great to hear drummer Frank Tontoh in a trio setting on an album again, although you can often hear him in clubs such as Hideaway regularly. Recorded live in London and at the Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry, as well as in studios in the capital, the danzón take on ‘Solar’ is a clever departure, and listen hard and you’ll find plenty to enjoy. Not sure about some of the tinkling applause at the beginning of some of the tracks as it makes everything resemble a vicar’s tea party. That’s not much of a drawback on an otherwise effortless sounding release by a pianist clearly hitting his stride.
Released on 15 April
Alive in the Singing Air
Turtle Ridge Records ***
Their first full album together, sisters Rachel and Sara Caswell (Rachel’s the pure-voiced singer, and Sara the intuitive violinist), are joined by a piano trio led by the great Fred Hersch, and that’s the chief interest on this album. But there’s another connection as ‘Song of Life’ and the standout track ‘A Wish’ (introduced beautifully by Hersch) have words by Norma Winstone and music by Hersch. The very influential educator David Baker taught both sisters, and I’m sure he will find a lot to savour on this highly accomplished album. Chamber jazz, but that bit different.
Released on 5 March in the US
Be Not So Long To Speak
Minsi Ridge Records ***
The title is a bit clunky, almost a half sentence invented by a bot, but this solo piano album recorded in New York in 2011 with a fairly anonymous wiggy head of hair covering the monochrome cover deserves your attention. It may be overly serious at times and a bit full-on but ‘Late November’ joins the dots more with heavy holds and dark momentum. But listen to Hoagy Carmichael’s ‘Stardust’ tucked in at the end before Avey’s own tunes and you’ll get what he’s doing that bit more. Having to acclimatise to this very different sound via a familiar tune makes this slightly odd album by an original thinker that bit easier to grasp.
The Ian Carey Quintet + 1
Roads and Codes
Kabocha Records ***
Heavily influenced by Dave Douglas but with a slightly airier sound, trumpeter Carey did the whole of this album in a day with his band in a San Francisco studio, and it benefits from the real time method at work. More people across the Atlantic are remarking on just how much Kenny Wheeler has influenced them and are playing his tunes and Carey’s the latest. Carey’s own tune ‘Wheels’ here is another tribute, a hipster waltz, that works on more than a name-checking level. Carey, who’s on flugel as well as trumpet, might not have the bite of a player like Tom Arthurs on the instrument but he has a lost-in-the-mirror haze to his style that is really appealing. Inspired by Jim Jarmusch, and Charles Ives as well as Wheeler, there’s nothing stuck in the mud about this young player and his band. SG
The Alex Wilson Trio top
There’s no more erudite a jazz writer and critic than Brian Morton, in his use of language as a treasure chest, rather than a toolbox, his pen a much needed scalpel for criticism to root out the malign or facilitate the benign, his ear attuned to the kind of phrase you just wished you yourself could have come up with. He also, with the late Richard Cook in the Penguin Guide to Jazz, picked up on new music and then called the shots: like an expert in the paddock looking at how a young colt is shaping up or as an observer stating something obvious yet that no-one has hitherto chosen to express. Brian used to speak of “lost leaders", he probably still does; and would cite a range of greats who qualified: Krzysztof Komeda; Jan Johansson; and Eric Dolphy among them.
Bill Evans was hardly a lost leader but his bassist Scott LaFaro, who died aged 25 in a car crash, most definitely was in the Morton sense. Although no one can really be sure how his career in music would have unfolded, if following a remarkable series of concerts at the Village Vanguard in New York in 1961 he hadn’t died at such a young age. A new novel by Welsh writer Owen Martell takes up the facts and adds the fiction interpreting how LaFaro’s life affected Bill Evans and his family. Intermission takes its title from the crisis in Evans’ life as he was gripped by the trauma of the loss of LaFaro. Boyd Tonkin writing in The Independent says: “Like Evans’ own music, Intermission might prove simply too rarefied and intangible for some tastes; too disdainful of the sweet chords and easy resolutions of major-key story-telling.” He does compare the book favourably to Michael Ondaatje’s novel Coming through Slaughter about fabled trumpeter Buddy Bolden, another “lost leader”, whose memory has become putty in the hands of myth makers notably Wynton Marsalis.
Half-Blood Blues author Esi Edugyan reviewing Intermission in The Guardian today says more directly that Martell’s book is “an introspective, original novel”, and that it concerns family grief as much as it does the idolising of a musician. She also says: “At its best, this novel stands as a well-written lament… an apt tribute to a music so full of life that even a pause, a silence, can go down howling.”
Morton in the seclusion of bucolic windswept Argyll these days would add some prescient comments of his own on a book about loss and its overthrow of leadership: buffeting jazz in 1961 and an ocean of music since.
Best rated albums on Marlbank since the beginning of the year
10 Joe Lovano UsFive (date of review 21 February 2013)
Blue Note ****
9 Jah Wobble/Bill Sharpe (17 February 2013)
Kingdom of Fitzrovia
8 Terri Lyne Carrington (6 January)
Money Jungle: Provocative in Blue
Concord **** equivalent
7 Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran (10 February)
6 Liane Carroll
Quiet Money Recordings **** RECOMMENDED (7 February)
5 Rudresh Mahanthappa (7 January)
ACT **** RECOMMENDED
4 Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet (30 January)
ECM **** RECOMMENDED
3 Soweto Kinch (12 January)
The Legend of Mike Smith
Soweto Kinch Productions **** NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT RECOMMENDED
2 Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project (27 January)
Edition **** RECOMMENDED NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
1 Chris Potter
The Sirens (15 January)
Chris Potter top, Terri Lyne Carrington middle, and the cover of Wisława above
There’s a growing collegiate atmosphere in UK jazz. That sounds odd, as ‘collegiate’ is a term you don’t hear as much here as in US academic circles. It’s unheard of at jazz gigs. Why I say that is the use of the word “fellows” and “fellowships”, in the wake of the announcement last night of the recipients of the first Jazzlines Fellowships in Birmingham. It’s a trend that’s been around for a while and musical instrument company Yamaha got there a while back with their jazz “scholars” scheme. One of the new fellows Lluis Mather was a scholar himself three years ago. The image of musicians, possibly monks, toiling over illuminated manuscripts springs absurdly to mind. There’s even a pun there somewhere.
The Birmingham fellowships offer mentoring, advice and masterclasses, a bit like Take Five that the promoter Serious runs and has extended to a wider European roll-out. But the Birmingham scheme is different, angled at the creation of new work and then the touring of it directly, with no residential element as far as I can make out involved, unlike Take Five’s annual sojourns in Kent. The Jerwood Charitable Foundation’s involvement means the scheme connects with the foundation’s work in other sectors of the arts.
The three musicians selected are part of the Birmingham and increasingly national scene having graduated from the Conservatoire jazz course, and in trumpeter Percy Pursglove’s case have had an active involvement in running the Harmonic festival, one of the most imaginative new festivals to begin in recent years. Dan Nicholls reminds me in his setting up of magazine Green Chimneys and gigging with his band Strobes of the enterprise demonstrated by someone like World Service Project’s Dave Morecroft, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he isn’t on the talent-spotting Whittingham prize radar already for later in the year as WSP were.
Maybe the Jazzlines fellows will also be in the vanguard of the new jazz in the future. Tony Dudley-Evans of Jazzlines has a good track record working with Jerwood in the past at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, and if the new music produced is of the calibre achieved in a festival commission such as the one that resulted in the formation of the band Food then it will prove to be of wider European let alone national significance. So collegiality might be as jazz a word in 2013 as ‘Congeniality’ even if the mortar boards might have to be ditched.
Dan Nicholls (above left), Lluis Mather, and Percy Pursglove.
Photo: John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Ornette Coleman’s ‘Congeniality’ from The Shape of Jazz to Come: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNOzv2KuAAo
The Manchester scene is a pretty loose term. Take Adam Fairhall who is very much part of it even if he lives 40 miles from the city: he even hails from much further afield, Cornwall. Jazz is not defined by location any longer as Stuart Nicholson first pointed out in his influential book Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved To A New Address?) and dawned on everyone else despite protests from those with strong home town allegiances. Fairhall could have been part of the Leeds scene as he studied there but Leeds in jazz is different (it’s more punk jazz, no wave, and death-metal referencing) and I’m not making a glib comparison I hope. Leeds spawned Matthew Bourne, trioVD, Roller Trio, and now the intriguing Shatner’s Bassoon. Manchester has Stuart McCallum, Beats & Pieces at the cutting edge 12 Points new band Euro jazz fest in Dublin last week… and Adam Fairhall. Somehow he doesn’t fit in, composers of his distinctiveness and ideas rarely do. Think Django Bates: he’s not part of any place scene is he? Although you can note a geographical location for shorthand he’s usually referred to in terms of Loose Tubes or “his generation", but when you hear Django’s music influencing Norwegian musicians (as on Marius Neset’s new record Birds) or in Brooklyn feeding into Tim Berne’s ideas, you’ll realise that if people could live on the moon they’d probably play Earthling music and so calling it “Moon music” would be a bit ridiculous.
Fairhall plays a range of styles and he can do stride, say, or the rarely heard ragtime styles, but he’s attuned to mavericks in terms of piano, the uncategorisable talents of someone like the much missed Don Pullen. Still in his mid-thirties, a music boffin and academic who has a Phd (not that a doctorate cuts any swath at all on the bandstand), he plays his own music although he crops up as a sideman, and you might come across Fairhall in a Manchester scene place such as Band on the Wall. His records include Imaginary Delta, actually recorded at the Swan Street club, stemming from an original commission by the Manchester Jazz Festival. It’s a suite “celebrating American vernacular forms, early jazz, blues, rags and stomps, featuring unusual instruments”. A high powered gigging septet time travels back and forth with Fairhall, he’s written the music for players such as Golden Age of Steam’s reeds titan James Allsopp, and improv kingpin Paul Rogers who are in the band with him. The Manchester Evening News has written of Fairhall: “There is no jazz code he hasn’t deciphered and mastered.” Do a Bletchley, and hear him in Camden tonight playing music from The Imaginary Delta. SG
Adam Fairhall above
Watch an interview with Fairhall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk5JsS35-PY
Next month sees the return to the UK after her ReVoice debut in the autumn of singer Becca Stevens and her band. Known for her work with jazz luminaries who include Eric Harland and Brad Mehldau, the latter who happens to be in Birmingham tonight playing at Town Hall, Stevens, as well as singing in an improvising inclined Björk tribute band, is as attuned to Irish traditional folk music as she is to the latest improvising styles and progressive approaches. But inspirations as unexpected as Paula Abdul jostle in her list of influences as much as Joni Mitchell or even Michael Jackson. Brought up in North Carolina, where she began singing in a band called the Tune Mammals with her mum and dad, Stevens appeared last on these shores in Soho with her band featuring the accordion and keyboards of Liam Robinson; double bass and vocals of Chris Tordini who she knows from New School days; and the drums of Jordan Perlson, while Stevens herself plays guitar and ukulele in addition to singing. Her record Weightless came out in 2011 to favourable notices. Dates are Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (4 March); and Band on the Wall, Manchester (5 March). SG
The Becca Stevens band above
Joe Lovano UsFive
Blue Note ****
It’s a coincidence that Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Star Crossed Lovers’, the fifth track of Joe Lovano’s latest by his two-drummer band UsFive, appears around the same time as Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran’s Hagar’s Song on which Lloyd interprets the song that famously featured on Ellington’s Shakespeare-themed 1957 album Such Sweet Thunder. The Memphis man, though, opts for the alternative title the tune is known for, ‘Pretty Girl’. The two versions are strikingly different: Lloyd’s the spaces between the notes, and the poetry of the song; Lovano’s the lovingly rendered ur-text of the melody there for the ear to tune into, and as natural as the rain in the evocative flow of his improvising. As writer Willard Jenkins in the liner note puts it: “There’s a very humane quality to his saxophonic pronouncements.” And it’s that sense Jenkins alerts us to that is at the heart of another fine Lovano album, his 23rd for the label, a staggering record of achievement over many years.
The cover of Cross Culture, above
The University of Southampton music department has confirmed the conferring of a Turner Sims professorship on pianist and composer Dave Stapleton. The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama piano graduate and co-founder of the jazz independent record label Edition last year released his eighth album to date, Flight, featuring his jazz quartet plus the Brodowski string quartet. In his new position Stapleton will mentor and lecture university music students. In the spring he appears with the Edition quartet at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of Connexions with a concert at the Parabola on 4 May. SG
Dave Stapleton pictured
One of the most notorious and ill fated drains on the public purse in the late-1990s was the egregious waste of many millions of pounds poured into ill fated Hackney venue Ocean. Kitted out with a state-of-the-art sound system, and beautifully designed, its booking policy though was a disaster from the off, and it quickly became a beacon for Saturday night fighting and general mayhem combined with the frittering away of much new millennial period cash. But there were some notable gigs, and in those days the Arts Council of England’s Contemporary Music Network put on the best international big budget and elephant eared jazz and improv-related art-jazz national tours, and in 2001 at Ocean one of these featured an appearance by P.I.L. alumnus dub bass exponent Jah Wobble with his Solaris band that included bass genius Bill Laswell and drummer Jaki Liebezeit, a founder of the influential Cologne Krautrock band Can. The sound system at Ocean captured the filthy underground rumble of this mighty music machine thrillingly to the nth degree.
Forewarning you dear reader, to move you right up to speed with the imminent arrival of a slab of laidback audio pleasure, Kingdom of Fitzrovia (****) is on the horizon for an April release courtesy of the historic Danish jazz label Storyville not otherwise known for its commitment to post-Milesian funk. Teaming Wobble with keyboardist Bill Sharpe who was in late-disco funksters Shakatak beloved of the people who liked to ride around in Capri Ghias in the 1980s, and a band that also includes former Nu-Trooper Sean Corby here on trumpet and flugel plus Marc Layton-Bennett at the kit, house music singer PJ Higgins, and Sharpe-approved guitarist Fridrik Karlsson, the eight tunes written by Wobble and Sharpe take on the concept of the central London area of Fitzrovia as a framing device, and the album was recorded there in a Berners Street studio. Wobble mentions that Fitzrovia was where the forward thinking Chartists met in the 1830s, and during the counterculture of the 1960s was home to the psychedelic UFO club. In his notes Wobble also refers to 1982 Saul Bellow novel The Dean’s December (by way of Ian McEwan) whose character Albert Corde eats at a restaurant called the Étoile on Charlotte Street, one of the main thoroughfares of the area and now paradoxically at the heart of Adland. “Bill and I regularly dined at Étoile while recording KoF,” Wobble recalls. “During lulls in our conversation we would sense the collective spectral, bohemian spirit of the Kingdom of Fitzrovia.” What’s on the menu on this attractive album is a Milesian spirit courtesy of Corby, although the album is probably closer to Bob Belden’s approach, which is the right kind of lineage, and the rhythm section is consistently excellent. ‘Loquacious Loretta’ has a superb groove, for instance, and drummer Marc Layton-Bennett from the evidence of this track alone, won’t be under anyone’s radar for too long, while Sharpe’s album-stealing suitably laconic solo is a gem.
Released on 15 April. The album cover top. Jah Wobble above and Bill Sharpe play the Islington Assembly Hall on 26 April.
UPDATE (20/2/13): Shakatak dates coming up include Gala Theatre Durham (1 March); Hideaway, Streatham, London (9 March); Nantwich Jazz Festival, Cheshire (30 March); The Robin, Bilston (5 April); Lighthouse, Poole (6 April); and Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (13-16 June)