There’s minimalism and there’s minimalism. Cast a glance in the direction of the blotchy almost opaque seascape of the artwork to Iva Bittová above, an album incidentally succinct enough to be self titled. The composition titles complete the effect: there’s just one word ‘Fragments’, and then a dozen roman numerals tacked on although they’re not so much variations as chapters in a continuing and engrossing tale. The Czech vocalist and violinist isn’t a minimalist in the Terry Riley sense at all but hovers at the pared-down end of improv with occasional bird-like forays and the incantatory power of a prophetess at other times. Surprisingly tuneful at times, although mysteriously so the approach is defiantly unorthodox and more structured than it seems at first. The best clues you might have thought beforehand would be to look in the songs with lyrics provided by Gertrude Stein and Chris Cutler, There’s even an additional ‘fragment’ of composer Joaquin Rodrigo in here as well. But the words are as elemental and inscrutable as the seascape on the cover. Bittová manages to sound as if she’s from a desperately remote place, the instrument of a song emerging from the earth itself, yet the improvisations are never alienating. These ‘fragments’ would have been inconsequential in a lesser artist’s hands, but with Bittová enlarge before your very eyes. It’s a quality that makes this album, where less is more is paramount, so appealing.
Symphony of the senses
Stockholm is to host the world première of EST Symphony. Tickets for the concert went on sale at the weekend in Stockholm for the concert to be held at the city’s Konserthuset on 12 June. An announcement about further concert dates in July will be made later, EST management confirms.
Distinguished Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala, formerly of the hit Finnish band Trio Töykeät, whose latest solo album My History of Jazz was released in the autumn is to perform with EST’s Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Ek, with acclaimed Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick (Skala, The Door), Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder, and pedal steel guitarist Johan Lindström (from Berglund’s band Tonbruket) joining.
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Esbjörn Svensson, the charismatic and influential pianist and composer tragically died on 14 June 2008 aged just 44 as a result of a scuba diving accident in his native Sweden. In his short career he changed the face of European jazz taking it global, and has influenced a countless number of bands around the world since including Trichotomy, GoGo Penguin, Tingvall Trio, Neil Cowley Trio, and Brad Mehldau, to name just five. Svensson gained the appreciation and respect of jazz giant Pat Metheny who performed with EST at the Jazz Baltica festival in Germany and songs performed at JazzBaltica, arranged by Svensson for chamber orchestra, form the basis of the symphony with totally new arrangements for symphony by Hans Ek. Material is thought to include the beautiful ‘Serenade for the Renegade’ from the 2002-released album Strange Place for Snow; ‘Definition of a Dog’ (from Gagarin’s Point of View, a version of which also later appeared on the epic Live in Hamburg); ‘When God Created the Coffee Break’ (again from Strange Place for Snow); and ‘Pavane’ (featured on Good Morning Susie Soho).
At JazzBaltica Pat Metheny joined EST and the chamber orchestra to play ‘Behind the Yashmak’, and that concert at the core of EST Symphonic also featured ‘Believe, Beleft, Below’, and ‘Dodge the Dodo’.
Ek, born in Uppsala is best 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.
Esbjörn Svensson became the most significant figure in Swedish jazz since Jan Johansson in the 1960s far surpassing Johansson’s reach despite the huge success of Johansson’s 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. Västeras-born, Svensson harnessed the power of rock, free jazz, and electronics for the first time 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. Svensson’s compositional strength was firmly rooted within the co-operative spirit of the trio as the band shared writing duties and credits and thought as one. 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. EST Symphony is a brand new day. Stephen Graham
Venue link: http://bit.ly/YVNPRL
Jamming at the new jazz club in Dubai
Pizza Express has opened a new jazz club called Jazz@PizzaExpress in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers residential district, local reports suggest. Next to the Mövenpick Hotel in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers district, there are no details of the club’s programme so far, but Time Out Dubai claims that: “In Dubai managers say they hope to replicate the London venue’s success by showcasing local talent." The picture above was run on the Undefined Declarations blog. Read more about the launch there: http://undefineddeclarations.wordpress.com/tag/jazzpizzaexpress
Photo: Undefined Declarations
Manchester commission for 2013: ‘The Felonious Monks’
The Manchester jazz festival traditionally leaves it late to declare its programme but one thing the festival was early in declaring again this year was the latest MJF Originals commission. That’s the leading north west of England summertime jazz festival’s pioneering scheme to unlock new creative talent and pinpoint new jazz. The 2013 commission, is unusual, titled ‘The Felonious Monks’, and it’s a collaboration between Mike Hall and Deborah Rogers in an ensemble work that meshes early renaissance music and contemporary jazz, with modern and replica 16th century instruments. Tonsured bebop, no less. Crumhorns (no me, neither, except you blow it), shawms, cornamuses, cornets, sackbuts, lute, gemshorns and recorders are part of the instrumentational palette. Hall is a saxophonist, a former member of NYJO, and is a member of Echoes of Ellington; while Deborah Rogers has been closely associated with early music group Kincorth Waits and leads No Strings Attached and big band In The Pink. This year’s Manchester Jazz Festival begins on 26 July.
Sony Music Italy ***1/2
This is quite a production, with a big brassy opening, lush strings, and Biondi’s deep very soulful voice. It’s very superior crooning in a soul-jazz situation with great diction and control and the voice speaks to you. Sun may well flatter to distract though as there are so many famous guests on the album, with the Incognito band in tow, quite a few songs by Bluey, and guests including Chaka Khan on Boz Scaggs’ ‘Lowdown’, Al Jarreau, and Leon Ware. The big songs with guests for me are ‘Never Stop’ featuring Omar in duo with Biondi, the higher voice contrasting with Biondi’s grizzly tones; and ‘Light to the World’ with Al Jarreau joining to duet, a still sadness in Jarreau’s voice although it’s an upbeat song. Tracks without famous people that impressed me include Biondi’s excellent vocal on ‘Come to Me’, with cadences oddly familiar (like Bacharach/David’s ‘Magic Moments’ in the bit here where the lyric goes the joy comes after). And the multi-tracked vocals on ‘What Have You Done To Me’, Bluey’s song co-written with Biondi and one Davide Florio, soar. Downsides? The Barry White moments which pop up along the way like a vocal alter ego Biondi releases some times can be a bit cheesy and intrude, but the Italian could teach some of the wannabe jazz crooners a thing or two. He’s a class act. Stephen Graham
Mario Biondi above plays the Albert Hall with Incognito on 10 May. Sun is released on 13 May
Top ten rated albums in March on Marlbank
1 & ALBUM OF THE MONTH Kendrick Scott and Oracle
2 Aaron Diehl
The Bespoke Man’s Narrative
4 Erin Boheme
What a Life
6 Robert Hurst
Bob: a Palindrome
7 Dave Douglas
Green Leaf Music
8 Barry Altschul
The 3dom Factor
9 Patricia Barber