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Next month sees the return to the UK after her ReVoice debut in the autumn of singer Becca Stevens and her band. Known for her work with jazz luminaries who include Eric Harland and Brad Mehldau, the latter who happens to be in Birmingham tonight playing at Town Hall, Stevens, as well as singing in an improvising inclined Björk tribute band, is as attuned to Irish traditional folk music as she is to the latest improvising styles and progressive approaches. But inspirations as unexpected as Paula Abdul jostle in her list of influences as much as Joni Mitchell or even Michael Jackson. Brought up in North Carolina, where she began singing in a band called the Tune Mammals with her mum and dad, Stevens appeared last on these shores in Soho with her band featuring the accordion and keyboards of Liam Robinson; double bass and vocals of Chris Tordini who she knows from New School days; and the drums of Jordan Perlson, while Stevens herself plays guitar and ukulele in addition to singing. Her record Weightless came out in 2011 to favourable notices. Dates are Pizza Express Jazz Club, London (4 March); and Band on the Wall, Manchester (5 March). SG
The Becca Stevens band above

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Joe Lovano UsFive
Cross Culture
Blue Note **** 

It’s a coincidence that Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Star Crossed Lovers’, the fifth track of Joe Lovano’s latest by his two-drummer band UsFive, appears around the same time as Charles Lloyd/Jason Moran’s Hagar’s Song on which Lloyd interprets the song that famously featured on Ellington’s Shakespeare-themed 1957 album Such Sweet Thunder. The Memphis man, though, opts for the alternative title the tune is known for, ‘Pretty Girl’. The two versions are strikingly different: Lloyd’s the spaces between the notes, and the poetry of the song; Lovano’s the lovingly rendered ur-text of the melody there for the ear to tune into, and as natural as the rain in the evocative flow of his improvising. As writer Willard Jenkins in the liner note puts it: “There’s a very humane quality to his saxophonic pronouncements.” And it’s that sense Jenkins alerts us to that is at the heart of another fine Lovano album, his 23rd for the label, a staggering record of achievement over many years.
Stephen Graham

Out now
The cover of Cross Culture, above

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The University of Southampton music department has confirmed the conferring of a Turner Sims professorship on pianist and composer Dave Stapleton. The Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama piano graduate and co-founder of the jazz independent record label Edition last year released his eighth album to date, Flight, featuring his jazz quartet plus the Brodowski string quartet. In his new position Stapleton will mentor and lecture university music students. In the spring he appears with the Edition quartet at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival as part of Connexions with a concert at the Parabola on 4 May. SG

Dave Stapleton pictured

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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

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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.
Tickets: www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk