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. 

Stephen Graham

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)


Kai Hoffman
Do It While You Can
Broad Reach Records ***1/2
Seize the day is the motto of the Kai Hoffman quartet’s first album Do It While You Can and not one but three versions of the smiling face of this livewire jump jive enthusiast extraordinaire and exponent of all things vintage on the cover is a sure indication of the singer’s preferred upbeat and positive approach. With arrangements by Twentysomething-period Jamie Cullum bassist Geoff Gascoyne, and plenty of zip provided along the way by his old Cullum rhythm section partner Seb de Krom on drums, as well as pianist Gunther Kurmayr in finger-snapping tow, Do it While You Can is a collection of predominantly feelgood swing-based songs.



The familiar ones: ‘Pure Imagination’, ‘Make Someone Happy’, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ (maybe done too much these days), ‘People Will Say We’re In Love’, ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’, and ‘The Masquerade Is Over’, jostle with the less familiar ones: Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace’s wryly in-the-know ‘Some Boys’, which promisingly opens the album, and ‘History Repeating’ by Alex Gifford of 1990s big beat outfit Propellerheads complete with what sounds like a take on the opening riff of Mingus’ ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’. Hoffman has written the title track with Simon Whiteside, and there’s a fun Dave Frishberg song, ‘Long Daddy Green’, plus another Whiteside number ‘I’ve Never Met a Guy Who’s Perfect’ (think a variant on Edwyn Collins’ ‘A Girl Like You’), and a very hip choice in Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’ from the singer/songwriter’s 1972 album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim issued posthumously as a single after Croce’s death in a plane crash the following year. There are plenty of double meanings, quite a few nudges and winks along the way from the Keely Smith and Peggy Lee-influenced Hoffman, and an insatiable joie de vivre rare in these cynical times. It’s an effective approach overall although not everything quite comes off (‘Moonlight’ drags a bit, but that’s but a small blemish). Precious time may be slipping away, but this album deserves to be heard for more than a day. Stephen Graham

Retro resurgence: Kai Hoffman top.  Released in March


She’s been on the cover of both Downbeat and Jazz Times, and with the release of her latest album Claroscuro as recently as the autumn, the multi-award winning clarinet, bass clarinet and saxophone player Anat Cohen, with a finely honed individualism in her extraordinarily burnished playing, here achieves maximum impact with her down home version of Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘The Wedding’. That version alone along with her reputation Stateside should whet the appetites of UK jazz fans sufficiently to draw the serious jazz heads down to the Soho basement club she’s to play when the Israeli-born musician debuts in the UK for a first appearance in London next month as part of a brief European tour. With a band on the album that includes the hip Jason Lindner on piano, skilled bassist Joe Martin, and drummer Daniel Freedman, all of whom are making the trip, there’s much to savour from the deep traditions of jazz clarinet onwards towards the modern global sound on an album that playfully uses the Spanish spelling of the Italian word ‘chiaroscuro’ in its title. Don’t forget to catch Cohen’s wonderful take on Artie Shaw’s ‘Nightmare’, with Paquito d’Rivera guesting, if you pick up Claroscuro. Stephen Graham  
Anat Cohen above plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 20 March with her quartet.


There’s a jam session explosion at the moment with recently launched sessions at Charlie Wright’s, run by the Jazz Warriors, Hannes Riepler downstairs at the Vortex, and the continuing vibrant scene both upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s and downstairs there with the laidback Late Late Show programming. Across Soho at Pizza Express Jazz Club the Whirlwind Sessions is the latest to add to the London scene’s resurgent fecundity, and Friday 8 March from 11.30pm-3am sees the first of the Michael Janisch-helmed label sessions. It’s free to get in, and double bassist Janisch, with saxophonist Zhenya Strigalev, who used to host nights and jam at Charlie Wright’s, in association with Maggie Black Productions, have set up the jam session with a Whirlwind artist leading each running, choosing the format, either quartet or quintet, and then opening the bandstand up for invited guests later. The 8 March jam has Janisch and Strigalev, plus Partisans guitarist Phil Robson (just in action this past weekend with the Hans Koller Ensemble), and Robson’s Partisans bandmate Gene Calderazzo on drums. SG  

The wind’s whipping up: Michael Janisch top 


EXCLUSIVE Although details are still to be further fleshed out and officially announced, this summer will see a major new festival series of concerts involving a number of symphony orchestras across Europe performing the music of the late great Esbjörn Svensson, the charismatic and influential pianist and composer who tragically died on 14 June 2008 aged just 44 as a result of a scuba diving accident in his native Sweden. Svensson changed the face of European jazz, and has influenced countless numbers of bands around the world including Trichotomy, GoGo Penguin, Tingvall Trio, Neil Cowley Trio, and not forgetting Brad Mehldau, to name just five, and who gained the appreciation and respect of jazz giant Pat Metheny who performed memorably with EST at the Jazz Baltica festival. Svensson was the most significant figure in Swedish jazz since Jan Johansson in the 1960s the revered figure best known for his classic album Jazz på svenska (‘Jazz in Swedish’), which used European folk music as an ingredient for jazz improvisation, one of the first to do so. The Västeras-born Svensson unlike Johansson harnessed the power of rock, free jazz, and electronics allying them to his own virtuoso grasp of the music of the masters of jazz piano including chiefly Thelonious Monk in the early stages of his career and Svensson’s compositional strength rooted within the co-operative spirit of the trio as the band shared writing duties and credits. Following study at the University of Stockholm Svensson founded EST in 1993 with his childhood friend drummer Magnus Öström and bassist Dan Berglund. They together went on to become global jazz stars, releasing 11 albums during Esbjörn’s lifetime with another, Leucocyte, appearing shortly after Svensson’s death, and four years later the extraordinary 301 released in March last year. Further details are to be confirmed by the band’s management but work is understood to be well advanced on symphonic arrangements of Svensson’s music with partner symphony orchestras lined up across Europe for performances in the summer with a possible UK orchestra involved for concerts in the autumn. 
The orchestral arrangements are by Uppsala-born conductor and arranger Hans Ek, known for his work as music director of the Polar Music Prize ceremony, where he has arranged and performed with the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra music by Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Björk, and Paul Simon among the winners of the prestigious prize, as well as orchestrating for theatre and film including Dogme director Thomas Vinterberg’s 2007 film A Man Comes HomeEST manager Burkhard Hopper says the festival details will be announced in April, and they will include some major European festivals this summer. “We will work with local pianists who have shown through their recordings/music/playing that they carry the torch of Esbjörn forward. There are no plans for an album yet.” 

Stephen Graham

EST above

Jazz would never be the same again


Jazz guitar legend Martin Taylor is to pair up with the Chet Atkins-influenced fingerstyle guitar star Tommy Emmanuel for new album The Colonel and the Governor and the duo embark on a big UK and Irish tour during the month of release. Taylor who has jazz chops to burn can play most things and the album beginning with ‘I Won’t Last A Day Without You’ for the first few dozen bars could be in any style. Slowly but surely the jazz connotation comes through on the upbeat partially countrified song, but there are uncategorisable moments throughout the album and little blissful pleasures you wouldn’t want to hazard a guess at, such as the lovely ballad ‘Heat Wave’ redolent of an exile’s reverie. ‘Jersey Bounce’ could easily sit on one of those Woody Allen films long ago when an outside, slightly ambivalent, walking scene maybe involving Woody trying to avoid some girl friend or other would require a wry theme with a little pitch bending from Emanuel doing the trick and the trademark Taylor motion.

On ‘Bernie’s Tune’ (made famous by Gerry Mulligan in the 1950s) the musicians clearly let loose from the start with get-stuck-in laughs and a dash of gypsy jazz. Taylor whose Spirit of Django band brought gypsy jazz to a wide audience in the 1990s is in his element here, and for Emmanuel it’s to the manner born. Other tunes are ‘A Smooth One’, ‘True’, ‘Heat Wave’ referred to earlier, ‘One Day’, George Shearing’s ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ with a sort of double staircase scale-melting introduction as the guitarists ascend and descend to meet on the shared landing of the melody, ‘The Nearness of You’, ‘Down at Cocomos’, a favourite of Taylor’s with the lilting Caribbean melody a live mainstay for the leading UK jazz guitarist in recent years, ‘The Fair Haired Child’, ‘Secret Love’, a solo for Emmanuel, ‘Wonderful Baby’, and Billy Taylor’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ finishing things off. Taylor and Emmanuel have known each other and played together since the 1990s. The tour begins in Belfast on 2 March at the Ulster Hall, continuing at the University Concert Hall, Limerick (3 March); Opera House, Cork (4 March, album release date); Helix Theatre, Dublin (5 March); Anvil, Basingstoke (6 March); Waterside Theatre, Aylesbury (7 March); Sage, Gateshead (8 March); Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (9 March); Robin 2, Wolverhampton (10 March); Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple (12 March); Corn Exchange, Exeter (13 March); Colston Hall, Bristol (14 March); Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London (16 March); Leas Cliffe Hall, Folkestone (17 March); Hawth, Crawley (18 March); Corn Exchange, Ipswich (20 March); Winding Wheel, Chesterfield (21 March); Victoria Theatre, Halifax (22 March); Coronation Hall, Ulverston (24 March); Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (26 March); and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh (28 March). SG

Tommy Emmanuel above left and Martin Taylor. Photo: Allen Clarke 


Is there such a thing as a spoof piano trio? Well I guess there is but in irony-loving jazz circles [em], even in Dalston, would not qualify. The only thing ‘pretend’ about the trio on this showing was the German jazz piano trio’s fluently elegant take on Komeda’s music for Roman Polanski’s 1967 knockabout curiosity The Fearless Vampire Killers, the first song of the second set. What would bat connoisseur Professor Abronsius, in the film played by the great Beckettian actor Jack MacGowran, have made of it? Who knows, but aficionados of these small nocturnal mammals have a thing or two in common with jazz fans, 50 or so of whom were gathered last night (thankfully the right way up) in the Vortex for the return to the club of pianist Michael Wollny, bassist Eva Kruse, and drummer Eric Schaefer. Opening with two numbers from their 2006 album II, Schaefer’s ‘So Will Die Sonn’ Nun Untergehen’ and ‘Phelgma Phighter’, the band soon hit their stride with the long haired youthful-looking Wollny fleet of foot and luxuriously supple in his darting runs, while Kruse, who is expecting a baby, was smilingly attentive and supremely intuitive in her confidently startling harmonic counterblasts. ‘Dario’ from last year’s superb Wasted & Wanted, with Schaefer picking up a melodica at the beginning of the number, altered the focus of the set as it gained content and depth and Schaefer’s little touches on bells and scuffling industrial sounds as well as his ability to rock out added much to the beautiful, often sensuous, voicings that Wollny habitually creates. Their remarkable version of Schubert’s ‘Ihr Bild’ was even better than on the excellent album version. Wollny mused at the end that Kraftwerk were in town at Tate Modern before [em] launched into their intuitively recomposed version of ‘Das Modell’. A world away from the ritual of electronic music, [em] are streets ahead of anyone’s idea of a jazz trio and have just got to be heard. Stephen Graham


There’s a kind of perceived wisdom out there that bands that play together stay together. So instead of their members picking up gigs wherever they can, they only play in one formation and you don’t see them anywhere else until they break up. It’s a hard thing to do, and only a tiny number of bands manage it, EST, the chief example for many years.

Yet other bands and their individual members thrive on separate lives from time to time and Phronesis is one of them. The trio even operated as the band of Nordic sax ace Marius Neset when he was starting to make a name for himself in the UK.


Phronesis pianist Ivo Neame, who’s playing at the Vortex tomorrow with his celebrated octet, has created some space away from the band, and Phronesis founder Jasper Høiby crops up regularly with other leading bands.


Phronesis are touring in the UK in April previewing new material for their next album with a big gig at the QEH in London on 5 April as well as a date in Suffolk a couple of days earlier and then a trip to the north east for the Gateshead Jazz Festival.


For the London date the band is joined by singer Olivia Chaney, multi-instrumentalist Dave Maric, and vibist Jim Hart of Cloudmakers Trio. Phronesis are expected in the studio later in the year. Stephen Graham

Ivo Neame (top), Jasper Høiby (middle), and Anton Eger above

Last week on Marlbank I wrote about Simon Spillett’s new album Square One and commented: “Spillett is a self confessed purist and recently this comment was attributed to him: ‘Jazz will only survive if people are exposed to the music in its purest form.’ Disputing that this thinking isn’t particularly helpful, “as it requires someone to step forward and presumably spell out what jazz purism is”, I went on to question the need for jazz in its purest form and suggested its historic hybrid nature, and broad international and stylistic appeal, mitigated against such an attitude that Spillett maintained. I also said: “You can draw a line back via pianist John Critchinson here to Ronnie Scott’s regular band, which Critch for many years was a member of, and long before that back to the Scott and Tubby Hayes co-led Jazz Couriers," and that Spillett’s quartet kept “the Hayes spirit well and truly alive" before going on to praise the “high standard" and “enjoyable nature" of the playing with its “unfettered drive from Clark Tracey who sounds as if he’s in his element.” There was a little speculation in the article, which you can read in full here, that Square One will stir debate and sure enough it has, with Simon Spillett himself getting in touch with his reaction. “I deliberately avoided any heavy Tubby Hayes connections on this album and yet what does the first reviewer pick up on? The point is, I don’t want to have to keep defending my right to play in a style that isn’t up at ‘da cutting edge, man’. I don’t really care what the critics think of my ‘approach’ as long as I’m playing as well as I can. I’m not consciously thinking of turning back the clock, restoring old values or of looking like I’m standing by Barnes bridge in 1962. You don’t have the luxury of that when you’re trying to make a living!” SG


There’s art in entertainment, and entertainment in art: a truism often trotted out. But is there entertainment in artwork or artwork as entertainment? Mostly Other People Do The Killing’s Slippery Rock! (Hot Cup ****) says yes there is to the latter, and the band’s latest CD comes laden with a riot in garish graphics on the cover and inside, so if that’s your idea of entertainment then this is the album for you. Don the sunglasses before picking the album up, though. If you prefer your entertainment wrapped up in art then this album, the quartet’s fifth, is also for you. So far their output has left me a bit unmoved because despite the trappings it didn’t seem that adventurous even if the playing was always really full-on. For a while it also seemed to me that the band was all about Jon Irabagon’s saxophone pyrotechnics, which of course it’s not. Bassist Moppa Elliott writes the tunes on Slippery Rock but he’s pretty anonymous as the free jazz- and improv-friendly band, powered by the Seb Rochford-like agile drumming of Kevin Shea, plays as a band not as a wonky IKEA flatpack where everything is put together solo by solo and then falls apart creakingly after standing up for all of two fairly unconvincing seconds.


Their song titles are fun, and Pennsylvania certainly has a bunch of irony-loving jazz ambassadors waiting for that call (and the state governor Tom Corbett could do worse than invite the band along next time he’s throwing a soirée although they could be washing their hair that night). The heirs apparent to John Lurie’s Lounge Lizards? A bit, with a strong resemblance to Led Bib as well. Peter Evans is a major voice on trumpet throughout making the band direction veer off on its own itinerary, though. Working together with the very listenable Irabagon on the episodic improv-laden sections on the ninth of the nine tunes, ‘Is Granny Spry?’, he shows his musical ideas are as box-fresh, and at least as sharp, as Leonardo Featherweight’s “lyrical” sleevenotes.
Stephen Graham
Mostly Other People Do The Killing, above. Slippery Rock! is out now


The full Cheltenham Jazz Festival line-up for 2013 has just been announced, and it’s good to see Madeleine Peyroux back to the scene of earlier triumphs at the festival, although that was back in the Everyman theatre era of the festival. Now of course the festival is centred on the Montpellier area with a bespoke main arena and big top as core venues. Booking Laura Mvula (above) is a good idea as the gospel and soul-infused new star-in-the-making ought to attract a non-jazz audience who’ve seen her on TV, and yet whose sensibility is directly in keeping with the high artistic qualities of the festival, and the key spirit of jazz.

Other impressions: Marius Neset at the Parabola will be keenly followed. The Norwegian saxophonist’s new album Birds is astonishingly accomplished and shows artistic progression since Golden Xplosion which you would have thought would itself have been hard to beat. Georgie Fame at the Friday Night is Music Night Radio 2 broadcast show is a great nostalgic touch and builds on the reminder Georgie gave us last year of just how significant an artist he still is with his latest album Lost in a Lover’s Dream.

The Dave Douglas Quintet should be another strong draw for hardcore Cheltenham attendees, and it’s also a unique festival chance this year to catch Alex Wilson’s Mali trio and also find out what all the fuss about GoGo Penguin is if you haven’t heard them. If you have, you’ll probably still want to catch the north west band’s EST-derived sound at first hand.


The Ravi Coltrane Quintet includes in its number pianist of the moment David Virelles (above), the Brooklyn-based Cuban who’s on Tomasz Stańko’s exquisite new Wisława double album and Chris Potter’s The Sirens. Rumour has it Virelles has inked a solo deal with ECM’s Manfred Eicher as well for his own record.

Gregory Porter is back for 2013, which is good news and he’s artist-in-residence this year, an inspired choice, and it’s to the festival’s credit that Cheltenham has booked Sons of Kemet, arguably the best new underground band on the London scene last year, and they’re still to issue their debut album although it was recorded in February.

The Reuben James Trio is, if you’re seeking brand new talent, well worth your time, James of course a young protégé of the late Abram Wilson. The pianist was on fine form in January at the 606 sitting in with Theo Jackson who’s also appearing at the fest in his case in duo with Nathaniel Facey.

Troyk-estra pick up where they left off at last year’s Jazzwise to the Power of 15 festival at Ronnie Scott’s, playing the Parabola, and one of the biggest events this year is sure to be an appearance by the classy Mike Gibbs Ensemble.

Gary Burton is always a popular visitor to the UK scene, and his presence in the grand old Gloucestershire spa town should augment the programme in the eyes of his many fans in the UK. Mike Stern and Bill Evans by complete contrast should blow away a few cobwebs with their gutsy jazz-rock come May.


Claire Martin also brings her classic jazz vocal approach to the festival, and look out for Anglo-French collaboration Barbacana featuring Kit Downes and they also have an intriguingly abstract new album out this year. Cheltenham is experienced at bringing hip fairly unknown US players to the festival, and this year is no exception with the appearance scheduled of vibes player Jason Adasiewicz’s Sun Rooms. And as with the Laura Mvula booking it’s fitting that Lianne La Havas is on the bill, another one for the Jools Holland Later following. The double bill of Polar Bear (above) and Roller trio is a good idea joining the dots between old-young Britjazz and new-young Britjazz. And finally Van Morrison on the Monday, given that Born to Sing: No Plan B was a hit with the critics and top 10 success last year, is a fine way to bring the festival to a close. The Big Top should suit him to a T.

Stephen Graham
The Cheltenham Jazz Festival runs from 1-6 May. Tickets on sale from Monday 4 March.  The full line-up is at


The jazz vocals scene has changed immeasurably since 2003, the big year that Jamie Cullum broke through with the million selling Twentysomething inspiring a tsunami of interest in the niche, and seeing singers such as Clare Teal, who actually ‘discovered’ Cullum in the first place, sign to a major label. A decade on Cullum, about to release his latest album in May, is still apparently tapping the scene for the Great American Songbook on Cole Porter’s ‘Love For Sale’ rumoured to be on the new album. But Cullum has moved on himself, and who would have thought a decade ago that he would have been covering Rihanna and The White Stripes? Answer no one. Purists would have been incredulous or would have intoned darkly “told you so”. Clare Teal on the other hand moved away from jazz quite a bit into the showbiz mainstream for a while as she switched labels, moving from one major to another, and developing her broadcasting career, but certainly on a recent hearing has moved back to her initial Ella Fitzgerald-influenced starting point. Working with the likes of talented retro-radical Jay Phelps has certainly paid dividends or maybe reminded her that jazz is her real strength and on her day no one has a finer classic female jazz singer’s voice rooted in swing in the UK than Teal. In terms of male crooning the scene has changed, and while no one could claim that Jamie Cullum sounds like Harry Connick any more (that’s how he started out) there are others who do. Anthony Strong, say, is beginning to make a name for himself in France and Germany, and interesting Mancunian Alexander Stewart has managed to inject his own personality, love of The Smiths, and more besides, into his idea of crooning.

Another singer who we’ll be hearing more about in the spring is Theo Jackson. The newly London-based singer has a distinctive style and unlike orthodox crooners is very hard to place. He’s not of the Rat Pack, and he’s not a Bublé-ite, which Stewart to a certain extent is, but places himself more inside the band not just because he plays the piano but inserts his vocals in settings that relate to the saxophone lines of Nathaniel Facey, the Empirical co-founder who recently won instrumentalist of the year at the Jazz FM awards. Jackson writes his own songs, and last year released a promising debut album called Jericho that nonetheless failed to achieve a huge impact. Now with imaginative management, above all talent, and a determination to break through Jackson is embarking on his first big tour. The 27-year-old Durham university music graduate is hardly wet behind the ears, and his tall confident demeanour makes the right statement in a jazz club. He’s not toe-curlingly schmaltzy, like some wannabe jazz singers tend to be, and you feel that he doesn’t take himself too seriously even if that’s the way he prefers his music. Live it all starts on 5 May at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival as a duo with Nathaniel Facey playing original tunes and Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy material, and continues usually as a vocals-piano trio with Jackson joined by bassist Shane Allessio and drummer Jason Reeve. Dates are 606, London (8 May); Soundcellar, Poole (9 May); Stables, Wavendon (14 May); Chapel Arts, Bath (18 May); Pizza Express, Maidstone (24 May); Jam Factory, Oxford (26 May); Dean Clough, Halifax (30 May); Matt and Phred’s, Manchester (31 May); and Tom Thumb Theatre, Margate (6, 8 June). SG

Too cool just to croon: Theo Jackson, above

Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran
Hagar’s Song
ECM ****
Sometimes with instrumental jazz it’s like non-fiction: the facts, the history, the issues all there contained in the music in the notes on the page. The vocals variety can be the fiction, the metaphors, the fantasies, the reimaginings. The characters portrayed. Only rarely, and usually it’s only in the work of a truly great instrumentalist, the kind who can move you, make you even not think about music but of life itself, that can produce in their art a synthesis of the two so that as tactile notes with their musicological resources it exists, but equally beyond there is a life force that summons some sort of imagined life, a world away from reality.

Well, Charles Lloyd is one of those artists, he combines in his non-fictive way as an instrumentalist the fictive properties inherent in Ellingtonia (Strayhorn’s ‘Pretty Girl’ and Duke’s ‘Mood Indigo’), with the narrative shockingly real family history in the five-part ‘Hagar Suite’ about Lloyd’s great-great-grandmother taken from her parents at just 10 and sold to a slaveowner who made her pregnant when she was only 14.

Lloyd, a deeply serious spiritual artist with a great communicator’s ability, is able to paint pictures like few others in jazz. Via flute on ‘Journey Up River’, the first part of the ‘Hagar Suite’, he provides with pianist Moran’s tumbling accompaniment (and later tambourine) an episodic element not often found in his general approach, a feature throughout the suite that provides a distinctive thread to this album.

Turning 75 this year it’s interesting that Lloyd has chosen with this new studio album, recorded last April, to reduce his quartet to a duo, its simplicity via the time machine of piano styles that Moran provides, in the fictive sense invoking a line in jazz piano almost taking the listener, say on Moran’s introduction to ‘Mood Indigo’, to Harlem in the 1930s. Lloyd is very bluesy on some tracks, but he’s capable of altering the mood throughout and the blues become a miniature requiem on one notable standout ‘I Shall Be Released’, a tribute to Levon Helm of The Band.

A great deal of the strengths on Hagar’s Song reside in the force of sheer feeling involved that act as much as a warning from the past as a hymn to the dead. Just as ‘I Shall Be Released’ is about protest it’s also about friendship. So all in all a very personal, wonderful sounding album, full of lovely moments, an oasis of contemplation in a world full of tumult, and every bit as good as the marvellous Mirror.
Stephen Graham
Released on 18 February. Side by side: Charles Lloyd top and with Jason Moran above


Saturday nights for jazz at Kings Place are quite subdued usually, and last night’s small but appreciative audience for the Hans Koller Ensemble was no exception, although the concertgoers showed their enthusiasm in a typically polite way. Hall two, or “The Base” as it’s known, I suppose to sound a bit more down-with-da-kids although looking around it was probably a case of down-with-da-grandkids, has great sightlines and a certain unclaustrophobic intimacy. But the somewhat mature audience certainly had the wisdom to turn up to hear the highly rated Hans Koller Ensemble, which a wider audience will catch when it’s broadcast on Radio 3’s Monday night show Jazz on 3 later this month. British-based German born composer, arranger, valve trombonist and pianist Koller, only in his forties, so a relative babe-in-arms compared to his great hero Mike Gibbs who he’s been working with recently in the studio, was best I thought in the first half as the Gil Evans cool school material suited the band better than the more tricksy vocal settings of poetry in German by Friedrich Hölderlin in the second. Singer Christine Tobin did her best but the overly intricate arrangements were a barrier to spontaneity and the band looked as if they were facing an uphill task. The sound mix also was a bit lopsided in the hall and did the vocals no favours but on radio it will come off differently. Koller spoke too much to the audience (he himself sensed this as he smilingly, but a bit geekily, nattered away to the audience), but of the soloists US alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher was expressive and interesting to listen to with hints of Lee Konitz here and there in his sound and his own conversational tone. Phil Robson’s sure footed harmonic grasp was always important, and it was the first opportunity to hear him in tandem with erstwhile Tomasz Stańko guitarist Jako Bro, from Denmark, whose contribution took a while to come but whose janglingly abstract style meshed well with Robson. Best moment of the evening? Definitely the band’s reading of ‘Temporarily’ an extra track that appeared on the reissue of the Jimmy Giuffre 3 Verve album Thesis, renamed 1961 when ECM reissued it. Percy Pursglove had some excellent flugelhorn runs in the second half, and gave firm direction to count in the other reeds and horns when tricky unisons where needed in the later part of the concert. Jeff Williams showed discretion and taste on drums throughout, very reminiscent of the late Paul Motian’s approach, and Koller made subtle use of Jim Rattigan on French horn in the ensemble passages, with his velvety tone peeking out in just the right spots. It might well be a case of back to the drawing board for the Hölderlin material, though: a tweak here and there might make it less doleful and heighten that latent quality with suitable contrasts.

Stephen Graham

Hans Koller, above

25/05/18 last updated


It’s a bit of a mug’s game predicting who’s going to win music industry awards, but the same could be said about not predicting who’s going to win in the Grammys tomorrow. You mean you just don’t care? OK, understood.

Last time I tried this exercise was before the Jazz FM awards and this is how I did BEFORE and AFTER Excluding the already known winners out of the “should go to" or “should surely go to" stabs I got five out of ten. Not too bad. After all as Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow had it: "It is wrong to blame anyone for failing to forecast accurately in an unpredictable world." But he also added: “Claims for correct intuitions in an unpredictable situation are self-delusional at best, sometimes worse."

Moving swiftly on…  let’s see if my Grammy predictions posted on Marlbank when the nominations were announced are nearer the mark. You can check on Monday when we all wake up to the results.

So, one more time, who should win and who will win in an oddly Herbie Hancock-less year.

Nominated for best Improvised jazz solo ‘Cross Roads’ Ravi Coltrane. Track from: Spirit Fiction Blue Note ‘Hot House’ Gary Burton & Chick Corea. Track from: Hot House Concord Jazz ‘Alice In Wonderland’ Chick Corea. Track from: Further Explorations (Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian) Concord Jazz ‘J. Mac’ Kenny Garrett. Track from: Seeds From The Underground Mack Avenue Records ‘Ode’ Brad Mehldau. Track from: Ode (Brad Mehldau Trio) Nonesuch
Pretty good choices. A return to form for Garrett for sure. This category is probably the most subjective of the jazz ones, and it’s interesting that all the artists play in the post-bop domain and with the exception of Garrett record for major labels. The Grammys are in many ways all about the big labels.

Will win: Chick Corea. Should win: Kenny Garrett

Nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album
Soul Shadows Denise Donatelli Savant Records 1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project Kurt Elling Concord Jazz Live Al Jarreau (And The Metropole Orkest) Concord The Book Of Chet Luciana Souza Sunnyside Records Radio Music Society Esperanza Spalding Heads Up International
Donatelli is a surprise inclusion, unknown outside America, and it’s good to see Souza long on many people’s radar getting recognition.

Will win: Esperanza Spalding. Should win: Esperanza Spalding

Nominated for Best Jazz Instrumental Album
Further Explorations Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez & Paul Motian Concord Jazz Hot House Chick Corea & Gary Burton Concord Jazz Seeds From The Underground Kenny Garrett Mack Avenue Records Blue Moon Ahmad Jamal Jazz Village Unity Band Pat Metheny Unity Band Nonesuch
A strong list. Chick is a Grammy darling and you can’t rule him out here especially as his reimagining of Bill Evans on Further Explorations was such an imaginative exercise, and a poignant reminder of the much missed Motian. But, the big but, with Pat Metheny also in the running (the most beGrammied jazz musician ever) and more importantly the sheer vitality of his “with sax” Unity Band quartet he’s nominated for this time the Academy might just be swayed once again in his favour. It should be Ahmad Jamal’s year, but let’s not hold our breath even though the album is a credit to the great Pittsburgian and a wake-up call to pianists half or even a quarter of his age.

Will win: Unity Band. Should win: Blue Moon

Nominated for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album Centennial: Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans Gil Evans Project ArtistShare For The Moment Bob Mintzer Big Band MCG Jazz Dear Diz (Every Day I Think Of You) Arturo Sandoval Concord Jazz
Bit of a ho hum selection (and only three names), although they’re all class acts. The Evans album was also up for a Jazz FM award in January.

Will win: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans.Should win: Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans

Nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album
Flamenco Sketches Chano Domínguez Blue Note ¡Ritmo! The Clare Fischer Latin Jazz Big Band Clare Fischer Productions/Clavo Records Multiverse Bobby Sanabria Big Band Jazzheads Duos III Luciana Souza Sunnyside Records New Cuban Express Manuel Valera New Cuban Express Mavo Records
Hard to predict this one but Domínguez is the coming man with the imprimatur of no less a figure than Wynton Marsalis in his back catalogue, although Sanabria could get the nod.

Will win: Flamenco Sketches Should win: Flamenco Sketches

In other major categories Gregory Porter is surely a shoo-in for ‘Real Good Hands’ in the best traditional R&B performance category (why’s he not in jazz vocals?), and Hugh Masekela is up for a world music nod (again, categories, categories). Robert Glasper again is not in a jazz category but is up for best R&B album for Black Radio and best R&B performance for the Ledisi track ‘Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B)’, a sign the way his career is perceived to be going, while Dr John is nominated for the very fine Locked Down in the blues category. Finally, the category no one wants to be in, apart from obviously the nominees, the pop instrumental album nominees with Gerald Albright & Norman Brown, Chris Botti, Larry Carlton, Arun Shenoy, and of course Dave Koz, all vying for the accolade no-one surely can deep down want.
Stephen Graham

Gregory Porter, beyond category, above


Ballads (Quiet Money Recordings **** RECOMMENDED) is the Liane Carroll album we’ve all been waiting for, and surpasses her greatest and considerable achievements to date, such as her quietly moving 2003 album, Billy No Mates, or the way, live, she sings ‘You Don’t Know Me’ with that despairing rebuke in her voice. We’ll have to wait a bit longer until April for the release of the 11 songs of Ballads, such sad lingering ones, with their demon eyes blazing furiously, or simply gazing slackly as the song demands, the mood set in terms of interpretation by the resigned quietly dark despair in the ambivalent ‘Here’s to Life’, as good in its different way as the superlative version of the song on Barbra Streisand’s Love is the Answer. Another early album peak of Ballads is the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy van Heusen song Sinatra made his own, ‘Only the Lonely’, set for big band by a 21st century Nelson Riddle, Chris Walden, its opening lyric: ‘Each place I go/only the lonely go’, could even be the maxim for an album that as a journey to intimacy thrives on isolation as in the stark Gwilym Simcock piano accompaniment to ‘Mad About the Boy’, or returning to the theme explicitly on ‘The Two Lonely People’, Carroll’s expression by times hotly emotional or icily cold depending on the mood she’s conveying. Be warned though, it’s not a depressing album in any way, as her version of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?’ more than affirms. Yet it’s definitely music for the night, of the night and about the night, and the emotions expressed at that time of the day when few are around to hear them. In a sense it’s a confessional album gathering together many classic complementary songs cleverly collected and interpreted that espouse loneliness, loss, but above all a longing for love. Carroll is at her most heartfelt and life-affirming on Todd Rundgren’s ‘Pretending to Care’ from 1985’s A Cappella with a remarkable, pingingly-pure, top note at a crucial arc of the song. The wait for Ballads has to be worth it. Stephen Graham
Released on 15 April.

Liane Carroll
above headlines the new Brilliant Corners festival in Belfast on 23 March


Last year, before Accelerando was released, I wrote in Jazzwise that “the Vijay Iyer Trio has the potential to alter the scope, ambition and language of jazz piano forever.” And after seeing the trio once again last night, the first time since their two-night stay at the Vortex last May, I’ll stick by that. That easily ascertained potential has been brewing a long time (since Panoptic Modes) and has probably by now reached a tipping point, as the trio is already influencing new bands such as the highly promising Dice Factory as well as a generation of music students. Iyer presumably is being taught in the more progressively minded conservatoires already, and he had the published sheet music of the tunes with him, he told the audience last night (“just three copies”). He’s also teaching go-ahead workshops himself when not on the road and today he’s doing one in Rotterdam as the tour moves to the continent, and Iyer has already taken the reins at the advanced Banff Centre jazz and creative workshop in Canada succeeding Dave Douglas there.

The much talked about phrase “maths jazz” or “math jazz” if you’re American is relevant with Iyer, although there’s clearly no algorithm at work, thankfully. It may be a hindrance more than a help but terminology is lacking with this remarkable pianist/composer so far, and it’s needed for descriptive purposes, as the music is still so new-sounding, and also so expansive. Even though essentially it’s a straightforward piano trio (and there are so many of these) and Iyer’s use of droney tambura-like electronics is fairly limited (on ‘Accelerando’ here) the trio covers vast swathes of territory musically. Often the three (Iyer with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore) improvise in different time signatures and operate on pulses as much as rhythms, with the tunes throwing up different possibilities. Sometimes there’s a hint of reggae, other times it’s Herbie Nichols-flavoured bebop. I was a little disappointed by the interpretation of ‘Human Nature’ which only got going after a while, Vijay seemed a bit stiff, helped along though by eager audience noises, and Iyer is possibly not at his best covering relatively straightforward songs. His solo piano recorded version of the Michael Jackson-associated song I think is his best interpretation of it rather than the arrangement for trio. Also, if you compare the way the trio interprets MIA’s ‘Galang’ (not played here) it’s much more immersive and the more sophisticated the song is the better for Iyer, hence the very effective treatment of Rod Temperton’s ‘The Star of a Story’.

Iyer used heavy volume increasingly for more visceral effects as the set unfolded, so while the early medley that featured ‘Bode’ had a more improv-inclined sensibility, with Crump to the fore, later the set could have become a more rock-inclined jam with all the extra volume and Iyer’s big chords drawing increased excitement. Crump was very much on form and the excellent sound in the Purcell Room captured his vibrato and bowed effects admirably, while Gilmore is so expert at anticipating the direction of the music and adding his own ideas: he’s constantly there with a rhythm that’s more like an astringent melody unto itself. When he plays softly too, it’s a rhapsody on the drums. Somehow I think the trio’s music will be modified and possibly simplified as the years go by as it is so far ahead of what anyone can reasonably take in at one hearing no matter how many times you have heard the trio play. Scope, ambition, language: it’s all there with the Vijay Iyer trio, as this powerful unit goes from strength to strength, with Tirtha tune ‘Abundance’ the pick of the set.

Stephen Graham

The Vijay Iyer trio top. Photo taken at the German ECHO awards (Monique Wuestenhagen/ACT)


Look at the cover of Simon Spillett’s Square One and within the ‘N’ of the ‘One’, behind saxophonist Simon Spillett is a bridge, Barnes railway bridge no less, not far from Spillett’s spiritual home in terms of London jazz clubs, the venerable mainstream redoubt the Bull’s Head. It’s the most doctrinaire of jazz clubs to its detractors; the most ‘proper’, or, ‘purist’, to its supporters, as the pub jazz club is a popular spot for mainly mainstream, straightahead and 1950s hard bop in terms of most of the bands it puts on. Spillett is a self confessed purist and recently this comment was attributed to him: “Jazz will only survive if people are exposed to the music in its purest form.” This actually isn’t particularly helpful as it requires someone to step forward and presumably spell out what jazz purism is. Of course, Spillett is the one to fill that gap, and lets the music do the talking on this question, remarkable for someone who seems much older than his years (he was born after all only in 1974). Why do we need jazz in its purest form, anyway? Surely its hybrid nature from the very start, and broad appeal across continents and stylistic boundaries, makes such an attitude almost impossible to substantiate leaving the very notion just a pliable mantra that means one thing to one person, and a completely different thing to another.  

When you hear Square One, instinctively, you can see why the art director of this Gearbox vinyl release, and presumably Spillett himself signing it off, would make this link (the image also appears on Spillett’s website). You can draw a line back via pianist John Critchinson here to Ronnie Scott’s regular band, which Critch for many years was a member of, and long before that back to the Scott and Tubby Hayes co-led Jazz Couriers. Spillett is an expert on Tubby Hayes and here with Spillett’s quartet are drummer Clark Tracey and bassist Alec Dankworth joining Critchinson, all four of them keeping the Hayes spirit well and truly alive. Gearbox makes great play of its all-analogue ethos, and at a time when vinyl is selling more than it has done in years there’s clearly an appetite out there, refreshing in a big way, as we have all become so inured to the terrible audio quality of MP3s. How could we satisfy ourselves that listening to the audio equivalent of a photocopy is good enough for regular use? It’s a mystery that the upsurge in vinyl partly solves: as if enough is enough!

Like the label Spillett is keen to stress the purist approach he takes, and this is bound to raise  a few hackles. There is a certain deliberately retro sense of déjà vu on the run-of-the-mill, though spirited, version of ‘A Night in Tunisia’, the stock in the pot. The other choices are better with Jimmy Deuchar’s ‘Bass House’, and Dizzy Reece’s ‘Shepherd’s Serenade’ the main meat, sure to appeal to fans of 1950s and 1960s bop. (‘Serenade’ appeared on the Tony Hall-produced Blues in Trinity, with Hayes taking a wondrous solo on the original 1958 session.) The other tracks, ‘Square One’, Spillett’s own; Mexican songwriter Armando Manzanero’s ‘Yesterday I Heard The Rain’, taken at a formidable clip; and Cole Porter’s ‘In The Still of the Night’ all slip down nicely, and you’d swear if you closed your eyes you were sat at Ronnie Scott’s about half- past-nine in the days before the set times were moved to an earlier point in the evening, listening to the house band, who would often or not have sounded just like this. Critchinson himself (Spillett wasn’t on the scene then) might have been playing the old club piano. I’m not though totally convinced by Spillett’s approach, afraid in a way that the purism is a barrier to more eclectic tastes, but the playing is of a very high standard and it is enjoyable, with great unfettered drive from Clark Tracey who sounds as if he’s in his element. I’ve only heard a digital version of the album so far but I’m sure on vinyl it’s even better, and the track I heard in the Gearbox mastering studio on the in-house deck towards the end of last year certainly had presence. And that’s the whole point: it’s additive free, non glossy, hoary hard bop that values core qualities. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this even if somehow you feel it’s that ultimate romantic gesture, an obsession by Spillett to capture a moment and sound in time and stick to it regardless.


This record will stir debate for sure in terms of “progress” in jazz, to do with repertory, and old styles, although they’re still a musical lingua franca, and above all, 1950s jazz nostalgia. Beyond that and on its own terms the music is beautifully played, with a speed and energy just right for what it intends, and an undimmed passion for a music that now seems so much more of a historical style than most. Playing hard bop so close to some of the first British-based interpreters of the style, as captured on Square One, makes that resemblance all the more striking. Stephen Graham

Released on 25 February. Simon Spillett, top and the cover of Square One, above



Critically acclaimed singer Brigitte Beraha, best known for her work with the band Babelfish, and Parliamentary Jazz Award-winning pianist John Turville, after touring his trio album Conception in the autumn, are to release a new duo album called Red Skies this month. Recorded in Italy at Udine’s ArteSuono studio, their standards-dominated album, which features veteran saxophonist Bobby Wellins on bookending tracks, numbers a dozen tracks opening with ‘Dindi’ then ‘My One and Only Love’ ‘Les feuilles mortes’, Chico Buarque’s ‘Beatriz’ sung in Portuguese, ‘This Heart of Mine’, sole Beraha original ‘Elephant on Wheels’, ‘Desafinado’, ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’, ‘Night Game’, ‘Moon and Sand’, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’, and ‘A Time For Love’. They play Pizza Express Jazz Club on 17 February, the eve of the album’s release, that’s the Soho club where Turville recently peformed to launch the Shearing Hour in January. Released on CD by the new E17 Jazz Records (E17 a reference to the London postcode for Walthamstow where Turville and Italian-born Beraha are part of a burgeoning local jazz scene), and for download by Sussex-based Splashpoint, the pair will be joined at the Pizza Express by special guest Scottish saxophone legend Bobby Wellins, famed for his work alongside Stan Tracey on 1960s classic Under Milk Wood. SG

Brigitte Beraha above can also be heard on the recently released Hullabaloo by Dave Manington’s Riff Raff:


It’s risky, surely, although hardly an outlandish move, starting a modern mainstream-styled jazz record with ‘[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction’? The Rolling Stones classic is taken at quite a lick on the Paolo Fresu Devil Quartet’s new album Desertico (*** Bonsaï Music/Tŭk Music), and by the time it gets towards the big finish guitarist Bebo Ferra has run through the changes to quote from A Love Supreme along the way before handing over for the band to return to the main theme. Sardinian Fresu, one of Italy’s best known jazz musicians, has immaculate technique as a trumpeter and flugel player, and an easy improvisational flair. He’s a compelling perfomer who compares to Guy Barker or Roy Hargrove stylistically and like both Barker and Hargrove has a fine track record as both a bandleader and recording artist. This album feels like a departure with subtle multi-tracked horns and effects, although it does not rock the boat stylistically. I’m not sure if the band lives up to its ‘devilish’ moniker although you’ll exude some sympathy for the little horned one on the album set piece, bassist Paolino Dalla Porta’s ambivalently guitar-driven ‘Suite for Devil’, the seventh track. There are pretty tunes aplenty, some written by Fresu (the ‘Medley’ a clear winner) and a standard routinely delivered in ‘Blame it on my Youth’. The band is responsive, the lovely production a little too glossy perhaps, but the album powered empathetically by drummer Stefano Bagnoli ultimately provides plenty of satisfaction to be going on with. SG

Desertico is out now.  Paolo Fresu above is touring with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra this month performing a Miles Davis-related programme with concerts at Caird Hall, Dundee on 21 February; Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 22 Feb; Royal Conservatoire, Glasgow, 23 Feb; and Macrobert, Stirling, 24 Feb


Continuous Beat by the Rez Abbasi Trio is a breath of fresh air but may take some people by surprise. You can’t really call it jazz-rock (fusion, even) although the sound of the trio led by 47-year-old guitarist Abbasi, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Los Angeles, with double bassist John Hébert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, comes close to the general soundscape. The amplification on Abbasi’s guitar is a clue (it’s not as loud as a lot of fusion records, and there’s solo acoustic guitar at the end), and the drums aren’t as frenetic. Recorded last May in Brooklyn most of the songs are Abbasi’s, but Jarrett fans (you may dear reader even be one) will head to the trio’s version of ‘The Cure’ where the opening does sound like Indo-fusion (and Tirtha’s Prasanna even slightly) and there’s some great build from Hébert decanting the melody at just the right point. The Gary Peacock tune ‘Major Major’ is tackled differently: opening with drums, it feels very loose and that’s a word I’d use admiringly of this trio. Unlike the strictures of the prevailing maths jazz trend Continuous Beat (Enja, ***1/2) is always hurdling barlines and time signatures or hinting at their imminent dismantling. Continuous Beat is worth seeking out, and while Abbasi deserves to be better known, albums such as this add to the process and positive word-of-mouth he’s picked up in recent years.
Stephen Graham

The Rez Abbasi Trio above. Available in the UK as an import


There can’t be that many record labels originally hailing from Huddersfield in west Yorkshire, and certainly not many as quietly inventive as Jellymould. The tiny indie, founded just seven years ago by Dominic Sales and Phil Gregory and home to fine Austrian guitarist Hannes Riepler who’s now hosting the new Sunday night jam at the Vortex, is next month preparing to release the second album by the band Aquarium. Places, now set for an 11 March release, is a quartet led by pianist Sam Leak above who has also written all the music on the album. It follows on from a 2011 self-titled debut that impressed Jazz FM’s Helen Mayhew who commented at the time: “Sam Leak is one of the brightest young stars in the jazz piano galaxy.” Going on to organise jam sessions at under-the-radar Greenwich jazz spot Oliver’s, Leak on Places is joined on most of the nine tracks by the band of reeds player James Allsopp, best known for his work in his band Golden Age of Steam and before that Fraud; Calum Gourlay (member of Kit Downes’ trio); and Troyka drummer Joshua Blackmore, the prog jazz outfit that features Downes on organ and was nominated for a Jazz FM award recently. The spiritual ‘Marrakech’ is one of the highlights of the album, with Allsopp reaching a Charles Lloyd-like level of intensity in the arc of his improvisation, while Leak has a quietly captivating essentially modally-based playing style throughout the album. Aquarium are touring soon and on the eve of the album launch play Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 10 March, followed by dates including Seven Arts, Leeds (7 April); Spotted Dog, Birmingham (9 April); Dempsey’s, Cardiff (10 April); The Geldart, Cambridge (24 April); Lescar Hotel, Sheffield (1 May); and Vortex, London (30 May). SG


Piano great Ahmad Jamal brought the inaugural Jazz FM Awards to an exultant close last night at the grade one listed former church One Marylebone in central London with a brief set featuring ‘Blue Moon’, on which he was joined by singer Jamie Cullum who added his distinctive vocals to the standard. Jamal had been presented with a lifetime achievement award at the awards and performed with his band of Reginald Veal on bass, Herlin Riley, drums, and Manolo Badrena, percussion. The intention of the Jazz FM Awards, sponsored by US audio firm Klipsch, the organisers said ahead of the event, was to “recognise and commend those who have made exceptional contributions to the jazz industry during the preceding twelve months.” The chief executive of Jazz FM Richard Wheatly spoke at the beginning of the event, held in front of an invited dining audience seated at large round tables. Hosted wittily by singer Ian Shaw, a house trio with pianist Ross Stanley, bassist Mick Hutton and drummer Chris Higginbottom, performed in the early part of the evening.


And the winners were: UK Jazz artist of the year (public vote) Neil Cowley Trio; Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution to Jazz Ramsey Lewis; International Jazz Artist of the Year Kurt Elling; UK Instrumentalist of the Year Nathaniel Facey; UK Live Shows of the Year Gregory Porter; UK Vocalist of the Year Carleen Anderson; Cutting Edge Award for Jazz Innovation Robert Glasper; Best Jazz Media Jazzwise; Best UK Jazz Venue Ronnie Scott’s; Best UK Newcomer Beats & Pieces Big Band; Album of the Year Saltash Bells by John Surman; and Lifetime Achievement Award Ahmad Jamal. Performers on the night included the London Youth Gospel Choir during the reception, Cerys Matthews, Ramsey Lewis, Carleen Anderson singing her trademark gospel tinged version of ‘Don’t Look Back in anger’, Ian Shaw, Nathaniel Facey, and of course, Ahmad Jamal. Presenters of the awards included Jazz FM’s Helen Mayhew and David Freeman, Courtney Pine CBE, Jamie Cullum, and Suggs.
Stephen Graham




One Saturday night, in what could have been described but wasn’t quite, as the Indian summer of 2010, there wasn’t much of a Waterloo sunset to gaze on. But that night Jay Phelps, who on Monday night you’ll see on television in Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing on the Edge as a member of the fictional Louis Lester band, was playing, as himself, a routinely relaxed but accomplished gig at the plush Waterloo Brasserie near the Old Vic. He was about to bring out his debut album Jay Walkin’ back then and in his band as “people so busy”, to echo The Kinks song, could be seen through the windows of the brasserie walking up to the Old Vic’s foyer for the evening performance of Noel Coward’s Design For Living, Phelps had Empirical’s Shaney Forbes on drums, and rising star Tim Thornton on double bass, plus the fine under-the-radar Pat Martino-influenced Kevin Glasgow here on guitar. Thornton often plays, just as Jay does, at Ronnie Scott’s regularly and last year quietly brought out a new album called New Kid which deserved more show at the time, for sure, featuring as it did some sophisticated playing and a fine cast of soulful, mainstream, and bop-into-hard bop players including Dave O’Higgins, Grant Windsor, and Dave Hamblett. The time for Thornton and New Kid has come, though, as next month Thornton is appearing with his fine quartet on a Jazz Services backed 14-date national tour beginning at Dempsey’s in Cardiff on 12 February, and concluding on 26 April at Marigolds Jazz Club in Harlow. With a sound that recalls the succulent tone of Paul Chambers, and the more recent work of bass behemoth Christian McBride, and as an alert accompanist with a listenable way about him, Thornton is the real thing. Catch up with him wherever you are. Stephen Graham

Full tour details are at


I’ve loved Tomasz Stańko’s music since the first time I heard him play, back in the early-1990s. And for once it was hearing the music live before listening to any of the records. That dramatically changes your perception of an artist, doesn’t it? Substantially more than even seeing a video. Actually seeing a video, despite the curiosity value, is pretty worthless unless it’s a fully blown artistic interpretation of the music, and sadly that doesn’t happen very often.

You go away with so much more information by seeing someone live, how the artist moves and interacts; how they carry themselves; all the non-verbal communicative signs; the way they speak if they speak. It’s still only a small part of the live experience. Stańko has assembled a new band called the New York Quartet for his latest studio album Wisława (**** RECOMMENDED), a double album to be released by ECM on Monday.

There are no UK dates for him so far, but he and the quartet, a band as skilled and intuitive as Stańko’s quartet with the Marcin Wasilewski trio, are appearing at the significant ECM cultural archaeology exhibition next month in Munich, and he will play Warsaw soon again before touring in Poland in May. Stańko’s band is Reflex pianist David Virelles, also playing prepared piano and celeste on Chris Potter’s new album The Sirens; Californian bassist Thomas Morgan now living in Harlem; and the drummer the avant garde cognoscenti adore, the Brooklyn-based drummer Gerald Cleaver who played a great set at the Vortex just last year with Lotte Anker and Craig Taborn.

Recorded in June not long after a brief tour in Europe the theme of the album ties in with the poetry of the great Wisława Szymborska, hence its title: Wisława. Stańko performed with the Nobel laureate late in her life, and a number of the album’s compositions are inspired directly by her work. And they are sublime, particularly the title track ballad and ‘Mikrokosmos’. Stańko can stop you dead in your tracks with the honesty and emotion of his playing, the blues connotation, and the sheer abstraction of it all. Wisława is this and much more, his best album since Leosia and a potent reminder of the artistry of the man. SG



With the recent London A Cappella Festival curated by the Swingle Singers featuring acts from around the world including The Magnets, Rajaton, and The King’s Singers, and the enduring appeal of TV series Glee, a cappella has never been more popular in the mainstream. Although the appeal of unaccompanied close harmony singing is pan-genre, with pop and rock, the light classics or even contemporary classical music equally important in terms of repertoire as well as carefully introduced original material, one of the festival’s newer acts this year was six-part a cappella group Vive who are more deeply rooted in jazz than most, and make a point of it, seeing themselves as “re-imagining the close-harmony jazz/spiritual/a cappella sound.”

Vive’s singers include Emily Dankworth, the daughter of leading jazz bassist Alec Dankworth, and was founded by James Rose a year ago. They’re joined by Sam Robson, Ben Cox, Martynas Vilpisauskas and Lewis Daniel. Vive Album released earlier this month was funded via crowdsourced backing on Kickstarter, with money going towards a mixing desk and microphones. The album’s six tracks include an expert take on Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Somewhere’, while a version of Lighthouse Family’s ‘High’ has a suitably vivacious feel. Vive has an overriding jazz pop sensibility strongly hinted at in the original arrangements here, and new material that James Rose and Sam Robson have written. SG 


The great saxophonist Charles Lloyd turns 75 on 15 March, and to mark this significant day his label ECM is releasing a new duo album called Hagar’s Song on 18 February, with Lloyd joined by pianist Jason Moran, the award winning pianist who is also a member of the acclaimed Charles Lloyd Quartet.

Hagar’s Song features favourites of Lloyd’s, with Billy Strayhorn tune ‘Pretty Girl’ (also known as ‘Star-Crossed Lovers’), ‘Mood Indigo’, and Gershwin’s ‘Bess You Is My Woman Now’ among the material included for the duo treatment.


Lloyd in the 1970s worked extensively with the Beach Boys, and Brian Wilson’s classic, ‘God Only Knows’, is also featured on Hagar’s Song as is a title suite dedicated to Lloyd’s great-great-grandmother who was sold to a Tennessee slave owner when she was just 10 years old, and whose story has greatly affected Lloyd so inspiring the suite. Well before Charles Lloyd returns to the London stage for a Barbican concert with his quartet (joined by guest singer Maria Farantouri) on 28 April, and just three days after his 75th, ECM is also to release a major boxed set of Lloyd’s first five albums for the label: Fish Out of Water, Notes From Big Sur, The Call, All My Relations, and Canto recorded between 1989 and the end of 1996 at the Rainbow studio in Oslo.

Stephen Graham


Stefano Battaglia Trio
ECM ****
Still one of the least known ECM pianists although that began to change with The River of Anyder, Milan-born Battaglia is joined here once again by Sassari-born double bassist Salvatore Maiore, and drummer Roberto Dani, the youngest member of the trio who has performed with Norma Winstone among others. Battaglia on this his fifth album as a leader for the label manages to merge a deep contemplative playing style with a sparkling joyous side to his playing, say on a track such as ‘Babel Hymn’ where to place Battaglia it’s like the coming together of Keith Jarrett and Danilo Pérez’s combined playing styles. Recorded last April it’s an album of songs, chants, and dances with Battaglia attempting to bridge what he calls “archaic modal pre-tonal chant and dances, pure tonal songs and hymns and abstract texture.” I’m not quite sure hearing this album where these technical distinctions lie as it’s a record that does not hesitate to exhibit an emotional response throughout, again like Jarrett particularly on the more chant-like tunes. The most significant of his compositions (and this is a significant album, more profound than its predecessor) is the long ‘Euphonia Elegy’ full of big dramatic statements that do not seem at all overblown. With references in song titles to Homer, Jonathan Swift, Italo Calvino (the title track), Charles Fourier, Adalbert Stifter, Edgar Allan Poe, the surrealism of Renée Daumal, and Alfred Kubin, not forgetting the bible, that’s quite an extensive reading list to be going on with as inspirations of a suitably engrossing record. The trio has reached a tipping point in terms of group empathy, and on a more experimental track such as the opening of ‘Perla’ both Maiore and Dani show uncanny poise. SG
Just released


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The Jazz Warriors have announced more details of regular Sunday gigs at Hoxton jazz club Charlie Wright’s. Following the first gigs in January the first Sunday of the month dubbed Draw2Tunes sees leading musicians such as Julian Joseph, Byron Wallen, Django Bates, and Christine Tobin DJ-ing while second Sundays in the series will introduce a Voice First Instrument vocal workshop, gig and club afternoon-into-evening session with Cleveland Watkiss and Chantelle Nandi Masuku joined by guest vocalists. The third Sunday of the month at Charlie’s (above) on Pitfield Street is the Duke Joint DJ night with Cleveland Watkiss and Orphy Robinson spinning some tunes, while the fourth Sunday has vibes star Orphy back plus trumpeter Claude Deppa for a live free jazz improv session plus DJ Paul Bradshaw at the decks. SG

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So who will be the toast of the first ever Jazz FM awards on Thursday? Well, of course it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts, or at least that’s what the lucky losers might well say. Beyond the results it’s a much needed opportunity to boost the profile of the vibrant UK jazz scene with a major awards, the first new initiative of a high impact nature such as this since the BBC Jazz Awards were cancelled.

We do know already that Ramsey Lewis will be presented with a gold award for outstanding contribution to jazz, while Ahmad Jamal will pick up the lifetime achievement award before bringing the evening to a close with a special performance in central London venue One Marylebone, where the awards are taking place. There’s a public vote (now closed) for UK jazz artist of the year, so presumably this will go to the artist who can draw on the biggest fan base, particularly the online massive, and with various fan sites and a big radio audience, I would guess Jamie Cullum should pick up the public seal of appreciation with some ease. International jazz artist is a trickier call, but a very popular and appropriate winner would be Sonny Rollins whose appearance at the London Jazz Festival in recent years has underlined the stature of a saxophonist who for many has always been primus inter pares.

Cutting Edge is also tough to predict, and Django Bates would be a popular choice as too would Robert Glasper, while Troyka, who have spearheaded the nascent prog jazz movement since the band’s inception, would be a major boost. With the resurgence in jazz vocals and the sheer joy he’s brought to the UK jazz scene in recent years I really hope Gregory Porter wins in the best album category for Be Good, and it would be fitting if Jazzwise, who have been behind the singer from the start, wins in the jazz media category.

Best UK Newcomer should go to everyone’s favourite Mancunian big band Beats & Pieces, although Roller Trio fresh from an award winning 2012 are also in with a strong shout. Will host for the evening Ian Shaw scoop vocalist of the year? Well, he’s got an excellent chance especially since 2012 saw the release of one of his finest albums in an often distinguished career, the Fran Landesman tribute album A Ghost In Every Bar. Instrumentalist of the year is almost impossible to call and all three nominees, Nathaniel Facey, Ivo Neame, and Phil Robson, are in with a decent chance. I’d like the constantly inventive Nathaniel Facey to win it although I was deeply impressed by Neame’s octet album Yatra last year as well, and Phil Robson is a guitarist, composer and bandleader of some clout.

Live shows of the year? Well it could be Gregory Porter triumphing again for his much talked about club shows at Pizza Express Jazz Club, but surprise nominee PB Underground with their high octane Tower of Power-like energy might be a surprise winner, while no one is going to rule out the consistently excellent Phronesis. Jazz venue of the year is a hard call. It’s a pity that the Vortex wasn’t among the nominations, especially with lively outdoor events adding to the mix at the Dalston club this year. But for sheer high profile class this accolade must surely go to Ronnie Scott’s. Don’t rule out the north’s premier jazz club Band on the Wall though.
Stephen Graham

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Saxophonist, clarinettist, and composer Gilad Atzmon collects controversy effortlessly, yet Songs of the Metropolis (World Village) recorded at the end of September and beginning of October last year is not controversial in the slightest, with a theme based around the “sound of the city”, with tracks named after places: Paris, the opener, say. Or Tel Aviv, Buenos Aires, and so on, with one odd exception: the seaside town of Scarborough, “as opposed to London” as Atzmon’s gloss in the notes has it. With text translated into French as well, as World Village is a French label, Atzmon says: “Now our planet weeps. Beauty is perhaps the last true form of spiritual resistance. The song is there to counter detachment and alienation.” Later in the album booklet there’s a quotation from the David Garrioch 2003 book Sounds of the City that contrasts how the sounds in a city were heard in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to the way they are heard today. “The evolution of this information system reflects changes in social and political organization and in attitudes towards time and urban space,” Garrioch writes. An “auditory community” is how he also terms it. Atzmon’s ballads-driven album does tap into a line of jazz ballad-making that goes way back to at least Sidney Bechet in terms of the saxophone. The quartet, Atzmon with pianist Frank Harrison, bassist Yaron Stavi, and drummer Eddie Hick, meld well to the expressive Atzmon playing style, which for me works best in his take on the traditional ‘Scarborough Fair’ melody (‘Scarborough’), and on the lovely ‘Vienna’. This album is a different view of the city, as urban soundscapes are usually thrusting affairs, radically different in flavour, and a lot grittier and volatile as Atzmon himself usually is. One of Atzmon’s best, alongside Exile and his work with Robert Wyatt, particularly For The Ghosts Within. SG


Stephan Micus
ECM ***1/2
With settings of Byzantine Greek prayers Stephan Micus returns for his twentieth album for ECM with Panagia, an astonishing tally for the Mallorca-based German composer who defies categorisation. Only rarely on a concert stage in the UK, though returning for a concert in April at Kings Place in London, Micus, who turned 60 earlier this month, sings and performs on an array of instruments on this his latest album released last week, including Bavarian zither, dilruba, chitrali sitar, and his own customised 14-string guitar. On Panagia, the Virgin Mary, Micus meditates via a concept of female energy inherent in the symbolism. New Agey, contemplative, and thought provoking, the album comes into its own on the third track ‘I Praise You Lady of Passion’, but it’s an hour of music with its alternating sung poems and instrumentals you need to experience as a single entity, preferably in one hearing. A music based on a sense of wonder and mysticism. SG 
Stephan Micus above


Kenny Wheeler, Norma Winstone, London Vocal Project
With all music by Kenny Wheeler, London Vocal Project director Pete Churchill in the album notes explains that Mirrors was a commission for five solo voices in the first place, and with Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler, they duly performed it at the 1998 Berlin Jazz Festival. After performing the material with various college choirs and then, with the London Vocal Project five years ago, Churchill realised he “knew Mirrors had finally found a home.” The poetry of Stevie Smith (1902-1971) lies at its heart, and Kenny Wheeler’s music has meshed with it perfectly. But it’s not just Smith whose work forms the text for the vocals element, here interpreted by the LVP whose members number 25 split into sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with Wheeler joining on flugelhorn, Winstone the featured solo singer, pianist Nikki Iles, Polar Bear’s Mark Lockheart on saxophones, bassist Steve Watts, and drummer James Maddren. Besides settings of Smith’s work, the highlight of which for me is the delightful ‘Black March’ (‘I have a friend/At the end/Of the world’), there are settings of Lewis Carroll, and briefly WB Yeats (Winstone excelling on ‘The Lover Mourns’). Delight is a word that constantly springs to mind, an echo of ‘I sing this song for your delight’ on ‘Humpty Dumpty’ at the beginning. The singing is lovely throughout, ethereal, and endowed with a life force all of its own. Somehow everything manages to remain understated yet has impact, the unique charm of the album. Mirrors is still a further example, after The Long Waiting, of the extraordinary late-period flowering of Kenny Wheeler’s artistry once again. There’s a section on ‘Through the Looking Glass’ when Wheeler, Lockheart and Winstone interact spontaneously to tremendous effect, but it’s just one instance of the spirit on display on this remarkable album.
Stephen Graham


Released on 25 February