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Neil Cowley piano masterclass at the city of Derry jazz and big band festival

Musician in residence at the UK City of Culture this year Neil Cowley was nearing the end of a day of masterclasses in a piano showroom in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Derry during the second day of this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival in Northern Ireland, which continues today and comes to a conclusion at the end of a busy run of gigs on bank holiday Monday. 

With him were three young musicians one of whom was the talented multi-instrumentalist and singer Grim (above, left) who has just released a single ‘Little Fizz’, and who was Cowley’s support act last night at the Nerve Centre venue on Magazine Street for one of the festival’s key concerts. Singer-pianist Caolán McLaughlin (above, right) who also attended would also perform next day outdoors at Guildhall Square, and later at the Bentley wine bar as a member of Mark Black and the Trips. 

The Nerve Centre’s Martin McGill, who organised the workshops, speaking surrounded by organs upstairs inside the Henderson showroom on Northland Road as the masterclass continued below said: “Sixty musicians from across all genres had applied to be musician in residence, and Neil most impressed the City of Culture’s director with his idea for the ‘eighth gate’.”

The new piece, creating an additional metaphorical gate to add to the city’s collection dating back to the seventeenth century siege, will be performed at the defining point of the residency in Ebrington at the massive Venue performance space which hosted the emotive Sons and Daughters concert broadcast by the BBC at the beginning of City of Culture year. “Neil had a strong sense of the piece involving people on the ground and local musicians,” says McGill, and since Cowley’s appointment at the end of last year, the jazz pianist has been working with local school children and musicians towards the autumn performance which will involve choirs, a range of instrumentalists, and a multi-media dimension.

As the workshop reached a conclusion, and Cowley managed to grab a sandwich, in between bites offering suggestions to the class such as: “With tenths wherever you go it sounds richer”, as well as demonstrating from some of his work including ‘Lament’, the haunting atmospheric opening track on The Face of Mount Molehill, the musicians looked on before they each performed.

The Cowley trio return to Derry in June for Music City, an all-day feast of music in the cit,y performing with a choir in a new arrangement of music from Molehill, Cowley’s bestselling album from last year, for a performance at St Augustine’s church. Stephen Graham

 

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Grammy nominated singer prepares for release of The Changing Lights and major tour in the autumn

Singer Stacey Kent is to be presented with a gold disc for her 2003 Candid album The Boy Next Door, reflecting sales of 100,000 units at the concert, in London’s Cadogan Hall on 14 June. It’s an album that goes to the heart of the Great American Songbook featuring a selection of Kent’s signature interpretations, notably ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ and ‘The Trolley Song’.

The New Jersey-born singer, who first came to prominence from within the London jazz scene at the peak of the jazz vocals boom in the early-noughties, will reprise songs from The Boy Next Door as well as other more recent material.

This concert at the central London venue located near Sloane Square comes just a few months ahead of the release of Kent’s latest album The Changing Lights, the title track of which the singer first debuted in Liverpool and London during the final round of concerts touring Dreamer In Concert, her latest album. The song, written for her by the longstanding songwriting partnership of The Remains of The Day novelist Kazuo Ishiguro and the singer’s husband saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, Kent performed to a receptive Ronnie Scott’s jazz club audience during the singer’s most recent residency at the Soho institution. 

‘The Changing Lights’, is, if anything, an even stronger, more intimate number than ‘The Ice Hotel’, Ishiguro and Tomlinson’s most well known number, which appeared on the Grammy nominated Blue Note album Breakfast on the Morning Tram, embued as it is with a certain loneliness and big city melancholia implicit in its atmosphere and lyrics.

At this stage there are no details at all about the new album the first by Stacey Kent for Blue Note since Universal acquired the label as part of its take-over of EMI last year. But it’s possible ‘This Happy Madness’ (‘Estrada Branca’), a Jobim song with English lyrics written by the late Gene Lees the former Downbeat editor a writer Stacey warmed to as she has also interpreted Lees’ take on both ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Quiet Nights’, might well be included. Jobim recorded the song with Frank Sinatra, on the fabled Sinatra-Jobim Sessions, and this stole the show at Ronnie’s as reported at the time in these pages. MB
www.cadoganhall.com

 

 

 

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Patty Griffin
American Kid
New West records ****
Any jazz singer worth their salt could cover just about any track on American Kid, Patty Griffin’s latest. Why? Well, with the exception of ‘Go Wherever You Wanna Go’ they all have that indefinable thing that connects no matter the musical genre. Come to think of it listen to the beginning of ‘Wild Old Dog’ and listen to the beginning of ‘Cyprus Avenue’, on Astral Weeks, and draw your own conclusions. Genres melt. Last year Bettye LaVette, who can cover Van Morrison songs better than most, did everyone a favour by doing a Detroit soul version of Griffin’s ‘Time Will Do the Talking’ from Living with Ghosts, Griffin’s 1996 debut. Recorded in Memphis with North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson and drummer Cody Dickinson, every song has its merits and quite a few (‘Ohio’, ‘Wild Old Dog’ and ‘Not a Bad Man’ primarily) have “instant classic" written all over them. ‘Irish Boy’ has a very pretty melody and is quite sad as is the more mannered ‘Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone’; while ‘Get Ready Marie’ is a bar-room belter of some quality. Robert Plant Band of Joy fans see Griffin as family, and his appearance on three songs with his partner, only intensifies that process. The sheer quality of this album will only further increase their affection for Griffin.
Released on 13 May.

Patty Griffin tours in July. Dates are Sage, Gateshead, 19 July; Concert Hall, Perth (21 July), Stables, Milton Keynes (23 July); Glee Club, Birmingham (24 July); Union Chapel, London (25 July); and Cambridge Folk Festival, Cambridge (26 July).

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

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

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

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

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

Released officially on 24 June

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Bill Frisell
Big Sur
OKeh **** RECOMMENDED

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

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

Updated: 27 June 2013 Personnel now correct. Apologies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michel Camilo top and the album cover above

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

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