Jazz blog: notes, tips, recommendations
Finnish record label Tum has just released Ancestors by Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo, their first recording together, and for anyone who caught Wadada’s recent Cafe Oto shows a further appetising glimpse of an artist who is clearly in the middle of a fertile period artistically here in intimate duo with Moholo-Moholo, one of the abiding heroes of the 1970s-era UK and London improvisers who were inspired by the South African Blue Notes during the anti-apartheid era. Wadada Leo Smith has worked in duo with many drummers, most notably Ed Blackwell and Jack DeJohnette, while Moholo-Moholo’s playing partners over the years in this format have included Cecil Taylor and Keith Tippett.
The new album, a beauty, has five tracks, two written by Smith, two by Moholo-Moholo and Smith together and one, ‘Siholaro’, by Moholo-Moholo just by himself dedicated to his late father. At just under half the album’s length title track ‘Ancestors’ is a five-part suite that stands as the most thought provoking element of a genuinely thought-provoking album one that retains the unique ability to unify uncompromising aesthetic considerations, a sense of history and cultural context, to then combine these aspects with lucid interaction and the creative impulse.
Pictured top Wadada Leo Smith and Louis Moholo-Moholo. Artwork from an acrylic reproduced in the CD booklet by Marianna Uutinen above
ReVoice, the wide ranging jazz vocals-themed festival run by singer Georgia Mancio in association with the Pizza Express Jazz Club, was well underway on Saturday night after the return on opening night of Gregory Porter. The marvellous Gregory, newly signed to Universal and a very hot property with a busy schedule as everyone wants to hear him, nonetheless keeping up his close association with the Dean Street club, arrived a little late and as the sold out evening featured two houses, the staff had to turn around the club within minutes to get everyone in and fired up again. For fans who couldn’t be there Porter is on the great David Murray’s new album due in early-2013 and Murray told me recently he very much enjoyed working with the big man, so expect some chemistry as one of the most significant tenor saxophonists since John Coltrane teams up with the jazz singer of the year.
So second night, and a very busy club, with something of a party vibe, more of which later. The format of the festival, which moves across to the larger Union Chapel in Islington later in the week for Tuck & Patti and Raul Midón, is for Mancio, intrepidly multitasking, to open each night with different playing partners. Last night she appeared in duo with vibes player Jim Hart of Cloudmakers, reassuring the cooing audience that the black rosette on her right shoulder was a “fashion statement", and that “I’m not a Tory". These things are important.
The brief set worked well. Georgia is good singing in Portuguese and interpreting Jobim, although ‘Laura’ in more prosaic English was the pick of the set for me. Hart plays vibes like they are a piano and what I mean by that is you’re not drowning in the aftertaste of the note, a problem sometimes with this most subtle but occasionally soporific of instruments.
So, on to the main act, and singer Jamie Davis who’s also on tonight. He’s best known for his work with the Basie orchestra, and grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, and without beating around the bush too much, he’s an old school deep baritone who likes to croon. People say he sounds like Joe Williams, and so I spent a bit of the afternoon earlier reacquainting myself with Williams thanks to a 1980s vinyl pressing of the old Roulette album Sing Along With Basie. OK, on Joe’s contribution to ‘Going to Chicago Blues’, maybe, that kind of song, it’s why people make the big Joe link. Whatever, it’s OK to be compared to people sometimes. Davis is definitely old school and a shock to young people not acquainted with KC-type swing, and later I thought about the first time I was in Pizza Express Jazz Club when it was a smaller place before the expansion in the 1990s. Harry Sweets Edison was on the stand and he did ‘Centrepiece’, and that theme song of his took him to the bar after the first half. It was as natural as breathing, and Davis is like that. He also says “Oh baby" a lot and was backed by the brittle but effective Leon Greening on piano, the perfect double bass accompaniment of Malcolm Creese, think Milt Hinton in his heyday, the reliable tinkling swing of Steve Brown at the kit, and highly simpático tenor sax of Alex Garnett. Davis got the crowd going on Stevie Wonder’s 1976 megahit ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’, was knowledgeable on ‘How High The Moon’, and extraordinarily found time to leave the band to its own devices to play a little fast-flowing feature called ‘Limehouse Blues’ (Limehouse as in the Tunnel), as he grabbed a beer from the bar, signed fans’ autographs, had his picture taken with a couple of young women, and returned to the stage, to much excitement. At the end you somewhat reluctantly went home. A swinging time was had by all.
Jamie Davis, top, and Georgia Mancio
During the closing weekend of the London Jazz Festival last year, the most avant garde in nature of the LJF in recent years the final Saturday programme provided a unique snapshot of how substantial and wide ranging the avant garde is stylistically within the music across the decades. For instance, on just one day there was Henry Threadgill and his band Zooid covering the A-Z of the Chicago and New York jazz avant garde supported by US-based Doncaster area pianist John Escreet, while earlier Gannets featuring moonlighting Guillemot Fyfe Dangerfield, not singing but playing piano and synths, delved deep into improv rather than strictly free jazz along with drummer Steve Noble, bass clarinet virtuoso Chris Cundy, clarinettist Alex Ward and double bassist Dominic Lash. By contrast and it was still very much avant garde but this time from the new generation of French improvisers over at the Vortex in Dalston the Coax Collectif triple bill had Pipeline, Irène and Metalophone on stage.
Two nights ago Irène returned to the club in a double bill, this time with English electronicists Ma who opened proceedings. Irène has been billed as the French version of Polar Bear and I can see why people have written this down although it’s a bit of a back-of-a tatty-envelope description, tempting though it is. The band is (and I still haven’t found out who the titular ‘Irène’ is, although it’s safe to say she wasn’t on stage) Yoann Durant and Clement Edouard on saxophones and electronics, plus the interesting sounding bluesy texturalist Julien Desprez on guitar and Sebastien Brun at the drums. Coax is a bit like the Loop collective in practice and artistic impulse, and it’s fair to say they’re where it’s at in terms of the new young French scene. They aren’t that known yet beyond la belle France and the Vortex show was alas sparsely attended, although word had seeped out among musicians and the likes of José James’ drum hotshot Richard Spaven came in for a listen, and the band complemented Ma nicely. In Ma’s mature set Tom Challenger played beautifully at the helm of a three-piece that deserves to be better known although his other band Dice Factory may well get talked up a bit more but they’re both inspiring.
Irène have released a four-track EP (pictured) and plan to release an album this year co-operating with the British Babel label for added exposure. The band has won awards at the prestigious La Défense Jazz Festival in France but like many young bands in France and in the UK it’s hard to make the next step forward even with kudos such as this. There is definitely an audience out there. The music is not massively difficult. It can be loud, it has some spiky touches and it’s abstract harmonically for sure but it is different, and pointless comparisons would not be helpful. Perhaps some of the material needs tightening, and I’m not sure about playing a soprano saxophone upside down, but hey vive la différence and go hear them if you get a chance.
Pictured top, Irène
Gareth Lockrane’s Grooveyard
Full marks for the album title, a neat turn of phrase, and praise too for the illustrations by one Bill Bragg with lively design from Matt Willey contributing to a strong look featuring cat-like freaky creatures in overcoats carrying musical instruments against a great dollop of red, the figures zigzagging from as far as the eye can see to up close at the front, matched with a litter of well chosen fonts. Highly rated flautist Lockrane (above, pic by Tom Cawley) has written all but one of the tunes that very often rely on the Lonnie Smith-like organ of Ross Stanley. Vocals later by Nia Lynn retain the outlook of a band that won’t be hurried, and it’s a set for connoisseurs of the soul-jazz sound from the 1960s played by some of the busiest straightahead players around. Old school for sure, The Strut is a highly likeable release that values musicianship and strong tunes played with a respect and the right attitude adhering to the best traditions of jazz from the Golden Age.
Grooveyard play the Forge in Camden, London NW1 on 9 November, and The Strut is released on 12 November
Fletcher Moss Park
Prolific and increasingly confident in his writing trumpeter Halsall has by now more than managed to carve out a space for himself alongside his main influences whether they are the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane or rooted in the club-scene he’s part of as a DJ and producer. Pianist Adam Fairhill delivers the necessary stillness throughout that Halsall seems to be after, and Rachael Gladwin’s harp playing is an important constituent sound in the Halsall approach and has been for a while. The album is named after a Manchester park that Halsall likes to write in and gain inspiration from, and he clearly has come up with something special here, although you need to be patient with the unfolding spectacle. Fletcher Moss Park is an album that takes its time, and it’s one that spreads itself luxuriously but doesn’t overstay its welcome too much although the seven tracks each act like an extended mood piece at lingeringly slow and medium tempos mostly. The opener ‘Cherry Blossom’ immediately demands some proper attention and the title track may well be Halsall performing at the top of his game. An album that should delight his growing army of admirers and may even blow newcomers away.
Released on 22 October
Original Album Series
The latest in this elegant line of reissues (there’s a Modern Jazz Quartet release coming as well incidentally), the formula is unbeatable, the presentation effortless and crisp. OK, Miles’ long Columbia tenure is incomparable, but by presenting Tutu **** Music From Siesta ***, Amandla ****, Dingo Selections From The Motion Picture Soundtrack ***, and Doo-Bop ** in a simple card box, and five facsimile albums in slim cardboard sleeves inside, the music does the talking, naysayers can as they say do the walking. Head straight for the Marcus Miller-produced Tutu and the politically conscious Amandla (Miller co-produced it with Tommy LiPuma and George Duke), clearly the pick of the bunch. Avoid Doo-Bop although it’s a curiosity worth a little more than a passing glance if you don’t know it but no great shakes mainly as Miles was not in good health at all as he reached the end of the road. Dingo is so-so although the orchestrations by Michel Legrand and the decent tunes add interest. Music From Siesta is far superior, and like the material for Dingo has actually more staying power than the films the music was written for in the first place, as both movies sank without a trace. The only small down side of this immaculate release is the lack of info beyond song titles and basic production details. A small booklet tucked inside would have helped in this regard without going the whole hog, and there is just enough room to squeeze a booklet in. But as a working tool for anyone who thinks Miles Davis from any period should be listened to by any cultured person at least once or twice every day, a reasonable point of view, the Original Album Series late period Miles presented here is a godsend. So do yourself a big favour and grab this set especially if you only have bits and pieces of Miles’ last period. It’s just common sense. Stephen Graham
Playing like EST is not a put down, it’s a compliment. Why? Well it’s not just because the Swedish band who changed the course of the piano trio are personal favourites of mine, that would be a bit crap, wouldn’t it? (Although they are, incidentally.) But it’s because they were so significant, and have inspired a host of bedroom dreamers and thinkers to found bands all over the place. So if you can play like them or rise to their level you’ve got musicianship for sure, taste as well, and good compositional horse sense into the bargain, because after EST piano jazz has never been the same. This cannot be ignored. GoGo Penguin you feel realise they have to face up to what the Swedes achieved together and like them are all about the band “as band", their individual names, pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Grant Russell, and drummer Rob Turner, are all emblazoned in a ridiculously tiny point size on the back of the CD, under the titles of their songs although these tune names are all picked out in block capitals. That says something.
Opener ‘Seven Sons of Björn’ flares up with “pop chords", a lot of fluid build, and owes everything to EST. ‘Last Words’, which follows, doesn’t, although Russell takes on Dan Berglund’s method without the extra ampage, and the tasteful use of electronics. The beginning of the title song ‘Fanfares’ again recalls the late Esbjörn Svensson, and Illingworth sounds as if he knows what he’s doing and has tackled the faintly heretical notion that there’s more to life than just music. Most good musicians know how to step back eventually because in their music they are able to draw on what life is all about, even if they don’t know all the answers. I felt this about GoGo Penguin. They don’t have an innocence in the same way that say the excellent Hamburg melodicists Tingvall trio project for instance, but Tingvall aren’t as close to EST as these Mancunian aquatically-inclined creatures seem to be. The bar with these post-EST bands is set incredibly high, and GoGo Penguin have made a good dip into challenging Nordic waters here on their debut, and the seven co-written tunes recorded in January knit well. So far, so good.
GoGo Penguin, top, and the CD sleeve above right. Fanfares is released on 5 November
The Aruán Ortiz and Michael Janisch Quintet
Banned in London
Recorded last November live at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London this quintet co-led by Cuban pianist Ortiz and UK-based American bassist Janisch and a horn section of adopted Catalan Raynald Colom on trumpet and the great MBASE altoist Greg Osby plus drummer Rudy Royston, best known for his work for JD Allen and Bill Frisell, is a hearty release, and meat and drink to lovers of 21st century bop-become-hard bop. It doesn’t sound at all like hard bop used to sound, but you can hear where this thrusting, in-your-face, kind of jazz has its roots. Imagine if Charlie Parker was 18 years old in 2012; or Clifford Brown was a 20-year-old now walking down the street and into a club, and simply blowing everyone away. Take a moment just to contemplate what their music would be like. It wouldn’t be the same of course as the music they used to play, but it wouldn’t be like this either, as these fine musicians have something to say and no one else can say it for them either in the past or the present. There are five tracks, all very long (no track is shorter than ten-and-a-half minutes) but each individually persuasive and involving. I liked Osby’s opening to ‘Jitterbug Waltz’, but the heart of the album lies on Ortiz’s tunes ‘Orbiting’ and ‘The Maestro’. Go straight there and pretend you’re in the middle of Soho as day becomes night walking down the stairs with the band right in front of you, because the club engineer Luc Saint-Martin has faithfully captured the sound in this special place so it’s easy to imagine. This record unites different generations of jazz fans who know some things never go out of fashion. In fact the concept of being ‘all the rage’ is just plain nonsense to these guys. Strictly no messing. Stephen Graham
Released on 29 October