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Ian Shaw

A Ghost in Every Bar: The Lyrics of Fran Landesman

Splashpoint ****

When Fran Landesman died last year there was a real outpouring of not just understandable sorrow at the loss of an influential writer and convivial human being, but also an instant recognition of the artistry and huge effect her meaningful, slightly cynical, but very real, songs had on people. Above all the reaction was a reflection of what the songs meant to singers on the jazz scene and London’s closely converging literary circles, particularly among the beat writers and their modern day counterparts.

While ‘Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most’ and ‘Ballad of the Sad Young Men’, written with Tommy Wolf, are her widely acknowledged major achievements, proof should it be needed that there was so much more beyond these non pareils is provided by this exemplary album. Landesman liked Ian Shaw’s version of ‘Spring’: “Who’s playing my song?" Shaw recalls her saying, as she discovered him sight reading from sheet music he had found in her house in Islington where he had been rehearsing with her son Miles.

So Shaw is clearly the right person to bring something to the fireside, and perform the songs both Fran wrote with Wolf in the 1950s, and much more recently with Simon Wallace, who fittingly plays piano on all the tracks apart from the three Shaw accompanies himself on. I’m quite partial to hearing Shaw accompanying himself, something I only properly realised when Shaw played a duo gig with Gwyneth Herbert at the Pizza Express Jazz Club earlier this year. But Wallace is ideal throughout. 

A Ghost in Every Bar, what an evocative title for the album, features some Landesman/Wallace songs previously unheard comprising the bittersweet but lonesome ‘Stranger’ ("waiting for a meeting with that special person"), ‘Noir’, and the witty ‘Killing Time’, OK not the most instantly memorable of songs, but this album is clearly destined for a long term relationship, one I know I’ll be picking off the shelf and listening to time and again with great pleasure. Why so? It’s both the quality of the lyrics and the performance, Shaw never oversells the songs but draws out their nuances so you feel there is a roomful of interior and exterior conversations at play. ‘Small Day Tomorrow’, which Landesman wrote with Bob Dorough, and ‘Spring’ are the tracks I have gravitated towards most so far, but this may well change with repeated plays.

It’s lazy journalism to say that this is such-and-such’s best album with a broad stroke of the pen and and no further justification. But for me it is Shaw’s greatest achievement, and I’ll explain it by saying that it’s more so than even his best work A World Still Turning recorded in New York, and the Joni Mitchell songbook Drawn To All Things. It’s so good because Ian creates more of a personal dream world of the imagination here than either of these considerable highlights quite achieve. It’s a process of transforming the simple notes or words lifted from the pulpiest of pages into something that makes you experience the moment you’re hearing it, with that much more significance. There’s no pretending on this most poetic of albums, and an uncanny empathy that’s quite remarkable. 

Stephen Graham

A Ghost in Every Bar: The Lyrics of Fran Landesman is available now

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It’s always sad when someone whose music you admire and who you’ve even met a few times passes away. Even more so when it’s someone with such a freewheeling spirit as Tomasz Szukalski, the saxophonist, who has died in a Piaseczno hospital in Poland. He was not very old, just 64, and even though he wasn’t that well known outside his native land he was very well known indeed inside Poland, liked, admired and revered inside the country often winning polls as the leading jazz saxophonist. His playing on Stanko’s album Balladyna alone is a great legacy and testimony to his endeavours.

A true bohemian who embraced the jazz lifestyle and had an infectious smile and big personality, Szukalski, known as the Jackal, was the sort of person jazz needs. Not boring and with a willingness to reach out to any audience who cares to pitch up, listeners always got something out of his playing even if he wasn’t by any chalk an innovator nor would he have wanted to have been. He had too much modesty.

But he did make you think and he had a fine strong sound, Slavic, for sure, and with the blues at its heart as well. He was best known for his work with Stanko, and with alto hero Zbigniew Namysłowski. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease in recent years.

From Warsaw Szukalski was born on 8 January 1948. He studied clarinet at the Academy of Music and first made his mark nationally at the Jazz on the Oder festival in 1970 when he won a prize for his playing, ushering him in to play with the Polish Radio Jazz Studio Orchestra. He’s to be found on Namysłowski’s great album Winobranie, and the classic Kujaviak Goes Funky. But with Stanko in 1975 he left his most indelible mark on Balladyna in a band that also featured the wondrous bass playing of Dave Holland and Stanko’s great soul mate Edward Vesala on drums. In the 1980s Szukalski made a great splash with the band Time Killers in the company of keyboards hero Wojciech Karolak, and the diminutive Czeslaw Bartkowski on drums, and the album received suitable acclaim in the Polish music press notably in Jazz Forum magazine, the country’s leading authority on jazz. Stephen Graham

John Turville Trio

Conception

F-IRE Records ***

A surprise Parliamentary Jazz Award winner for best album last year when Turville’s debut Midas garnered enough votes to win, the 33-year-old Walthamstow scene pianist/composer has earned more than his share of plaudits in his short career to date although he is still fairly unknown to the wider public.

Here with Jamie Cullum bassist Chris Hill and drummer Ben Reynolds joined by cellist Eduardo Vassallo on some tracks, Turville comes across in the manner of Gwilym Simcock at first. It’s highly proficient, of course, but somehow fails to engage on the opener ‘Pharaoh Ant’, while his arrangement of Radiohead’s ‘Scatterbrain’, which draws out Turville’s more rhapsodic side is also a bit on the undercooked side. Then again until Blues Vignette many people recognised Simcock’s talent but failed to connect emotionally with him until he managed to unlearn a certain amount of musical baggage from his hothoused youth.

Turville certainly shows his learning, and has been compared by some critics to John Taylor, in itself quite a compliment, but fairly meaningless especially here. Maybe it’s an allusion to a specific style of chamber jazz Turville is pursuing, it’s hard to say, which prompts the linking of the two.

Conception, taking its name from the George Shearing bop original arranged sympathetically by Turville, is the final track here and worth the wait. But don’t forget Hill who plays a big role in the band sound overall, and he also writes one of the more expressive tunes in ‘Old Park Avenue’, with Reynolds more functional but pretty handy throughout, and in what makes all the difference the tango-like input of Vassallo who enters the fray with ‘Barrio Once’ and sticks around on ‘Elegia’ when the album only really starts to get going.

It’s a hard album to like but easy enough to admire particularly as structurally it’s strong with clear notions of episodic form and a sense of the wider world especially when Vassallo is involved. However, there are many fine piano trios around and it’s not clear given the presence of cello if Turville actually wishes to lead a piano trio or a flexible ensemble instead, his writing hints at the latter.

The album was recorded at the famed Artesuono studio in Italy, and mention ought to be made of engineer Stefano Amerio who has a reputation in Italy akin to Jan Erik Kongshaug’s in Norway for world class sound. He’s been working with the hit Hamburg trio Tingvall to telling effect as well as with Trio Libero, Craig Taborn, Anouar Brahem, Marcin Wasilewski, and a host of others. Conception has some handsome sonic clarity; if only the songs were that bit more memorable, but Turville has time on his side.

Stephen Graham

John Turville plays the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London on 27 September. Conception is released on 1 October and further live dates are: Jazz at the Fleece, Stoke By Nayland Hotel, Suffolk (5 October); Dempsey’s Cardiff (9 Oct); The Castle, Wellingborough (11 Oct); Hidden Rooms, Cambridge (14 Oct); Symphony Hall foyer Birmingham (19 Oct); St Ives Jazz Club, Cornwall (23 Oct); Performance Centre, Falmouth (24 Oct); 606, London (6 November); and The Cellar, Southampton (12 November)