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

EST top
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.



Mario Biondi
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
Mack Avenue

Being Human


4 Erin Boheme
What a Life
Heads Up

George Shearing
At Home
Jazz Knight

6 Robert Hurst
Bob: a Palindrome

Bebob Records

7 Dave Douglas
Time Travel
Green Leaf Music

8 Barry Altschul
The 3dom Factor

9 Patricia Barber

10 Quest
Circular Dreaming




Trish Clowes

At the city of Derry jazz and big band festival in a year that the city marks its UK city of culture status with many special festivals and events, the jazz festival in May will host a radio broadcast to be recorded by BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line-Up show presented by pianist Julian Joseph, with a concert to take place at the Tower Hotel in Derry on Monday 6 May. Artists to take part in the broadcast are to include BBC New Generation artist saxophonist Trish Clowes who last year released And In The Night-Time She Is There, with a Derry-bound band featuring Troyka guitarist Chris Montague, bassist Calum Gourlay, drummer James Maddren, and The Impossible Gentlemen’s Gwilym Simcock on piano.


Three albums in the can for Gwilym Simcock

Welsh-born Simcock, 32, has been busy finishing the last studio work on the latest Impossible Gentlemen album set for release later this year. “Very exciting few days,” he says on Facebook, mentioning he’s also been preparing a new orchestral CD featuring the City of London Sinfonia and Martin France of Spin Marvel. Simcock has just returned from the Bavarian artist retreat of Schloss Elmau where his previous album Good Days At Schloss Elmau for Siggi Loch’s ACT label garnered the pianist a Mercury nomination in 2011. This time he was there for a duo recording with bassist Yuri Goloubev. Gwilym Simcock pictured




Blanchard: no borders just horizons

When Terence Blanchard appeared at Ronnie Scott’s during the London Jazz Festival he let drop in his bandstand chat that his band would be entering the studio imminently. And that Friday night on Frith Street the quintet played for the early house Brice Winston’sTime To Spare’ a sprawling multi-section epic that sure enough is included on new album Magnetic.

Now confirmed for a May release by Blue Note in the States (no UK date yet) the album has ten songs with Tuczon road warrior Winston joining the great jazz composer and trumpeter, as well as pianist Fabian Almazan, new bassist Joshua Crumbly, and drummer Kendrick Scott whose own album, the happening Oracle session Conviction, has just been released by Concord. Magnetic has the Second Great Miles Quintet bassist Ron Carter as a guest plus Ravi Coltrane, who’s also signed to Blue Note, and Blanchard’s old friend guitarist Lionel Loueke who used to be in the Quintet and whose lovely ballad ‘Benny’s Tune’ named for Lionel’s former wife is still in the band book. Tunes are ‘Magnetic’, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’,‘Don’t Run’, ‘Pet Step Sitter’s Theme Song’, ‘Hallucinations’, ‘No Borders Just Horizons’, ‘Comet’, ‘Central Focus’, ‘Another Step’, and that tune previously mentioned, ‘Time To Spare’ as closer. Blanchard is also to premiere Champion, an opera in jazz at a theatre in St Louis, more of which later in Marlbank.

Terence Blanchard above



The New York Quartet to play the Barbican on 15 May

They’re into their second night at Birdland in New York tonight and now the Barbican in London has confirmed the UK debut of the Tomasz Stańko New York Quartet. To appear in a double bill with the Jazz FM-winning John Surman  who appeared with Stańko as far back as late-1990s album From The Green Hill the concert will mark a new phase for Stańko in terms of his UK and broader European public. Stańko’s  latest album, a double set called Wisława, is the first with an American band and the first double album of his career, also the first to be recorded in America. At 70 Stańko still connects with jazz at a deep level, almost on a level of suffering but also in the joy of his influences and the empathy of a great artist. Living in New York for large stretches of the year he is now able for the first extended period of his long career to commune with the history of the music there, but also the way it lives in city streets, the galleries, studios, and in the life of the musicians he plays with, and who he writes for. His New York quartet begins and ends with the abstractions of Generation X-er Gerald Cleaver who on Wisława plays brushes a great deal, every soft stroke like a footfall; and it’s Thomas Morgan in the slipstream to heighten the effect of this presence while David Virelles almost in an absurdist tradition waits to swoop because that’s his task, arpeggiating and making every chord inflection count. Wisława is mostly modal and the songs are sad but life affirming: think the best arthouse film you know and the music from Wisława would work beyond context.

Having performed with the late Wisława Szymborska he appreciated the poet’s simplicity and he is able to channel the laments at the heart of her poetry, again a benevolent but perceptive sort of despair at discovered ignorance rather than the unmasking of ghosts or the depiction of menace at the heart of, say, Zbigniew Herbert’s very different muse, or the horror ready to damn the world in Miłosz’s. Wisława has a simplicity in its 12 tunes, and ‘Metafizyka’ is the best piece of all. But every tune have a point even a little “bosanetta” such as ‘Oni’, an inverted dance. The first bars of Wisława amount not to a symphony but a song touched with love and sadness, or the melancholy Stańko speaks of, and that humanity that Birdland audiences this weekend and the London audience in May might well discover for themselves. Stephen Graham

Metaphysical approach: Thomas Morgan, Tomasz Stańko, David Virelles and Gerald Cleaver above


Apocalyptic saxophone carries the day

Nicolas Masson/Roberto Pianca/Emanuele Maniscalco
Third Reel
ECM ***
Beginning with a little tune that recalls the melody of ‘Nature Boy’ this Swiss Italian trio though has written all the fairly short tunes themselves with single, double or band credits and the album is a curiosity. The name of the band suggests folk you might think or ‘reel’ as tape whether audio or celluloid, but by the second track it’s more a cosmic Pharoah-esque sound that sticks with a kind of an apocalyptic feel to Masson’s keening tenor saxophone lead. Recorded in Lugano the band apparently came together from the duo of Masson and guitarist Pianca and via MySpace and jamming in Geneva honed their sound. The band reminds me a little of Partikel (although it’s guitar instead of bass) but the approach is similar if a little more abstract. It’s all a slow burn requiring some patience and to be frank a little too dour at times, especially from ‘Fasten’ onwards. That said Masson has a certain personality that makes him and this promising band worth discovering.

Emanuele Maniscalco (above left), Nicolas Masson, and Roberto Pianca

Released on Monday 1 April



Tour notes: June Tabor, Iain Ballamy and Huw Warren

It’s becoming a default band name already so let’s just say Quercus, and leave it at that, are touring next month and, following a review of Quercus yesterday of June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, and Huw Warren’s deeply satisfying folk-jazz album in these virtual pages, here are details of the tour dates coming up. Alas and alack Basingstoke, where the album was so beautifully recorded, is not on the schedule on this tour at least but these are: Stables, Milton Keynes (14 April, www.stables.org); Phoenix, Exeter (23 April www.exeterphoenix.org.uk); St George’s, Bristol (25 April www.stgeorgesbristol.co.uk); Sage, Gateshead (27 April www.thesagegateshead.org); Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (29 April www.warwickartscentre.co.uk); LSO St Luke’s, London (30 April www.lso.co.uk); and the Playhouse, Salisbury as part of the Salisbury International Arts Festival (31 May www.salisburyfestival.co.uk). MB

Quercus, above


Kendrick Scott and Oracle show their class on Conviction

Opening with the prayer of St Francis as spoken word, Kendrick Scott and Oracle’s Conviction make a second unusual choice: a cover of influential Brummie outfit Broadcast’s ‘Pendulum’ (from their Haha Sound album put out a decade ago). Guitarist Mike Moreno is Loueke-like as the track builds and then saxophonist John Ellis goes into hipster overdrive, really building as Scott provides the beautiful rhythm undergrowth. The Blanchard man powers Oracle like you wouldn’t believe, different limbs playing different rhythms, the epitome of the brilliant drummer just doing what he does on strong tunes. Taylor Eigsti on Fender Rhodes responds to the lapping guitar undulations at the end and the mood is set. Not out in the UK until May the album has gone to number one in the US iTunes jazz chart just a few days after release and no wonder as word of this spread like wildfire. Alan Hampton, old Houston mate of Robert Glasper’s who performed with the keyboardist in the autumn at the Roundhouse, doesn’t really play bass any more instead he’s a decent singer/songwriter of some quality and shows what he can do by really nailing ‘Too Much’ Sufjan Stevens’ song next up on Conviction captioned as Love. Another Glasper connection and ex-Floetry sideman Derrick Hodge has produced Conviction and the album is accessible but very much a jazz head’s album as well. That’s a knack.


Released by Concord in May in the UK

Great drums and keyboards processing on ‘Too Much’, love the scrappy industrial edge, and a guitar break to die for, and Scott opens up the time signature, a little like the way he does with Blanchard playing behind Brice Winston. Herbie’s ‘I Have a Dream’ is next with swinging bass from Joe Sanders and really classy modern jazz guitar from Moreno; the important equality track written by Scott ‘We Shall By Any Means’ with Sanders at his best on unaccompanied bass beautifully captured leading into a bass clarinet ostinato of some tenderness by Ellis. Then it’s ‘Liberty or Death’ (representing freedom), turning the volume up after a couple of minutes and a rhythm section figure you’ve got to hear with Moreno spiderwebbing up to the top of the band sound and then a multi-tracked vocal swell reminiscent of the much missed Mark Ledford.

‘Be water my friend, empty your mind’ Bruce Lee

Kendrick’s solo at the beginning of ‘Cycling Through Reality’ might bring a few smiles from Jack DeJohnette (that’s in a good way although he might joke about which Special Edition album of his he’s been listening to!), and then it’s chords all the way from Moreno and a Blanchard-esque horn entry as this expansive tune develops. It’s possibly the most technical on the album but one that is very accessible as well so it’s not just for the jazz heads. Ellis loves getting in Chris Potter-land as well when the tune passes the three-minute mark and Moreno hits the sweet spot when he joins. Derrick Hodge’s title track ‘Conviction’ (love the bass riff and tone row harmony snatches from guitar and keys); then Walter Smith III’s ballad ‘Apollo’ with Eigsti showing what he can do on bravura piano, the crackling ‘Serenity’ with Hampton’s winning vocals against bass clarinet representing Faith; Scott’s ‘Be Water’ with some spoken word from martial arts guru Bruce Lee, the album’s bizarre Eric Cantona moment, and Michiel (not as stated) Borstlap’s ‘Memory of Enchantment’, a lucid piano solo, completes this superlative album. Best thing I’ve heard this year standing tall alongside The Sirens. Conviction (*****) just leaps out of the speakers.
Stephen Graham

Oracle pictured with Derrick Hodge right


Giovanni Guidi
City of Broken Dreams

ECM ***
There’s no sense of place other than in the title track of City of Broken Dreams and its bookending variant. And philosophically the ‘city’ like the dreams themselves does not exist. “Enrico Rava’s pianist” Guidi, with Stańko New York Quartet bassist Thomas Morgan and Portuguese drummer João Lobo dwell at least in the titles on a range of situations: determined (‘No Other Possibility’), contemplative (‘Ocean View’), fearful (‘The Forbidden Zone’) or predicated on vital relationships (‘The Impossible Divorce’, ‘The Way Some People Live’). There’s a mysterious ‘Leonie’ who is given an exquisite weightless melody that lifts the album via Morgan’s traction and Guidi’s harmonic touch to the heights as well. Guidi is a child of the 1980s, little known until now beyond his connection to Rava, but this Bley-esque debut as a leader for ECM is really very different to what you’ll hear on a Rava record. Lovely music throughout from a highly promising new leader, and it’s beautifully played and cultured although lacking a certain bite at times even if Morgan manages to add a master improviser’s edge. All the compositions are Guidi’s and to pinpoint another ‘The Forbidden Zone’ exhibits the trio’s ability to conjure highly contrasting noir that depict the ruins of emotion rather than metropolitan rubble. Stephen Graham

Giovanni Guidi above photo Paolo Soriani / ECM