It’s one of the questions of our age. No, not how do we stop global warming or tackle world poverty, but does the venerable ECM label have a sense of humour? Even a tiny bit. Well you may contend that an inanimate object is unlikely ever to have a sense of anything, but as we’re all guilty of conferring human qualities on our most cherished pets then why not ponder on whether the label that brought us such pieces of art as Afric Pepperbird, The Köln Concert, Officium and Khmer has a funny bone, or not, as the case may be.
Mostly ECM as everyone knows is about the deadly serious making of music, although there is brooding and there is downright blatant moodiness and there’s many an ECM album that could do with a little bit of lightening up. Someone close to producer and label founder Manfred Eicher, even the great man himself, must have thought we have to loosen up. So step forward the perfect man for the job: Enrico Rava. That may explain the unlikeliest ECM album ever with the silver haired lion of Italian jazz, an icon of the 1970s European avant garde with a wonderful fractured trumpet style, recording Rava On the Dance Floor with the Parco della Musica Jazz Lab live in the Eternal City last year. Then again it may not, as Rava explains that after Michael Jackson’s death he bought all Jacko’s CDs and DVDs and really got into him: “I felt the need to delve more deeply into Michael’s world."
And so for whatever reason Rava On the Dance Floor was born, nine tracks with nearly all the music Jackson’s, plus one of the singer’s favourite songs Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’ and Rod Temperton’s ‘Thriller’ thrown in, of course. Well you’ve got to laugh, it’s the wackiest thing Rava’s ever done and while not as risible as say a jazzed up collection of ABBA songs it’s pretty lightweight stuff which feels like dad dancing with the lights on at a disco in Romford, or should that be Rimini, on a Tuesday night. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, within reason.
The band give it a shot and there’s plenty of beef from the trumpets neighing and carrying on in ‘Thriller’ and sentimental tenderness on ‘Smile’, a tune that’s impossible to dislike.
It’s not as if the album is an attempt either to reimagine Michael Jackson, surely Miles Davis did that better than anyone when he did ‘Human Nature’, or invest the music with such import as if every note was like a massive statement. That would have been fatal and actually you come away from this thinking, that Enrico Rava, bit of a groover. You can’t help but throw your head back and laugh at the opening to ‘Privacy’ say. So there we have it, the Italians make Manfred and the rest of us smile. Who would ever have thought it, no not even Manfred.
Fred Hersch Trio
Alive at the Vanguard
The first striking aspect of this 2-CD set recorded during a five-night run at the famed New York club in February is the superb sound engineering of the album. So take a bow Tyler McDiarmid and Geoffrey Countryman. But good sound is only the icing on the cake of any album truth be told, and the trio of the 56-year-old Hersch, who has battled the effects of HIV for many years and has even survived a two-month coma, is on superlative form, along with bassist John Hébert and drummer Eric McPherson who both played in Andrew Hill’s last band, on this album of seven new Hersch tunes, four from the Great American Songbook’s panoply of treasure, and seven jazz standards, the latter including ‘Softly as in a Morning Sunrise’ which John Coltrane recorded in the Vanguard in 1961. So no pressure!
Towards the end of the first CD on the penultimate track Hersch’s playful version rewards its inclusion and is a clear highlight overall, although the sandwiching of Russ Freeman’s ‘The Wind’ into Alec Wilder’s ‘Moon and Sand’, with its softly lapping ebb and flow on the second disc, which also has another clever segueing of ‘The Song Is You’ and Monk’s ‘Played Twice’ at the end, comes movingly close.
Wonderfully woody bass, drums you’d swear you can hear the skin’s very wrinkles of, and deep expressive improvising drawing out the fertile ideas in Hersch’s head, make this a must for fans and more than worth the purchase price for Hersch newcomers alike. It’s a piano trio that has no fussy gimmicks, no pop or rock sensibility at all, but is never pretentious in a cod chamber goulash. A wonderful album, that works because it has a cleverly assembled narrative arc disc-by-disc (the second is less intense but possibly more organic than the first) capturing a master pianist at the top of his game presented by the admirable Palmetto, a record label that values taste and presentation over the fast food approach of certain very famous jazz megacorporations. No one ever named a ballad ‘The Takeover’, did they?
Released on 11 September in the US
Fred Hersch plays solo at the Purcell Room in London on 2 October; The Apex, Bury St Edmunds (3 Oct); St George’s, Bristol (4 Oct); Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton (5 Oct); The Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock (7 Oct); The Venue, Leeds College of Music, Leeds (9 Oct); Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (10 Oct); The Church of St John the Evangelist, Oxford (11 Oct, note new venue); and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh (12 Oct).
An accountant by training who used to manage the Jazz Cafe and The Forum for promoter Mean Fiddler, has opened a new jazz venue in London’s Herne Hill. Tony Dyett opened Jazz on the Hill, a smart street front cafe bar with good sight lines on Railton Road very close to Herne Hill station in late-June, and it all got underway in some style with a range of high profile jazz acts.
With bookings now under the personal remit of Dyett the cafe has an eclectic Caribbean-style menu and presents jazz on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays with open mic nights on Sundays and weekly blues nights on Tuesdays. Dyett says the Herne Hill area is in need of a jazz club and already locals are looking to the club as a regular haunt.
It’s on the site of a former night club and the Poet’s Bar but Dyett and his team have made a series of much needed alterations, including moving the bar further to the right, removing stud walls and relocating the kitchen. Jazz on the Hill is working with local visual artists mounting exhibition space at the front of the club and at the rear for regular art exhibitions, and a relationship has also been established with the local Sunday farmers market with jazz becoming a soundtrack to activities on the street as shoppers sample the local traders’ wares.
There’s no house drum kit just yet, and the piano is a modest upright but with good sound, attractive decor and an easily accessible location, Jazz on the Hill adds considerably to the profile of jazz in south London with Hideaway in Streatham not far away, already a major draw.
Upcoming bookings for the venue include Anton Browne Trio (9 August), The Esther Bennett Trio (10 August), Alan Barnes Quartet (11 August) and the Brandon Allen Trio (16 August) - Stephen Graham
The exterior of Jazz on the Hill (pictured, top), and Anton Browne appearing on Thursday 9 August above
The Matriarch and the Wrong Kind of Flowers
Rune Grammofon ****
Westerhus is the Nordic jazz cognoscenti’s guitarist of choice, and this album more than explains why. Just guitars and voice the ex-Fraud and recent Nils Petter Molvaer sideman pulls off a formidable coup with this tantalisingly anti-chillout excursion. The Terje Rypdal of his generation it’s clear, Westerhus slowly unfolds slabs of sonic sophistication in a masterfully unhurried style.
Released on 17 August
Django Bates Belovèd
Lost Marble ****
Three years on from their first album, and still keeping Charlie Parker as honorary inspiration, Django Bates, Petter Eldh and Peter Bruun, joined by Ashley Slater on Bacharach/David’s ‘A House is Not A Home’, are on dazzling form with an album that’s sure to delight longstanding Django fans. It’s complex for sure, relevant to the bop tradition just like the first album, but with a warmth and curiosity that has a life force all of its own. Head straight for the hucklebuck meditation, ‘Now’s The Time’, but Slater’s lounge-sleazy vocal is also a big plus.
Released on 17 September
With pianist Yaron Herman in trio mode I have often felt he’s a musician in search of a band. Expanding to a quintet here he’s finally found a better expression for his huge talent. Go down to the beautifully revealing ‘Mechanical Brothers’ for a great piano-led beat cooked up along with bassist Stéphane Kerecki, leading into suitably dank and drizzling saxophone from highly promising Kansas City altoist Logan Richardson and Herman’s long time playing colleague Emile Parisien.
Released on 28 September
I was pretty unimpressed by the self-consciousness of Pédron’s earlier album Cheerleaders, but the alto saxophonist has turned things around dramatically here with this fine Monk-themed trio album he has also co-arranged. Featuring much talked about Blue Note trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire on three tracks, you’ve just got to hear Ambrose burn the house down on ‘Ugly Beauty.’
Released on 28 September
Next year Brad Mehldau will be touring with former Avishai Cohen drummer Mark Guiliana but before that and following quickly on from Ode, a companion album, Where Do You Start, taking its name from the Johnny Mandel, Marilyn Bergman and Alan Bergman song, is to be released on 17 September, the pianist’s label Nonesuch has confirmed. Barbra Streisand covered the song to great effect on her Columbia album Love Is The Answer three years ago.
Performing with his familiar trio of Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on Where Do You Start, Mehldau, who is due to play the London Jazz Festival in November with the trio, has included his celebrated and so far unreleased take on Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Holland’ on this album, which Mehldau fans will know nearly always steals the show when he performs it live, often as an encore.
But the album actually opens with ‘Got Me Wrong’ by Jerry Cantrell of the grunge band Alice in Chains, a song that appeared on the soundtrack of Kevin Smith’s film Clerks and was released as a single in the wake of the film’s runaway success in 1994.
Other tracks are ‘Brownie Speaks’ by Clifford Brown; ‘Baby Plays Around’, by Elvis Costello and his former wife Cait O’Riordan of The Pogues; ‘Airegin’ by Sonny Rollins; ‘Hey Joe’ by Californian folkster Billy Roberts made famous by Jimi Hendrix; ‘Samba E Amor’ by Rio legend Chico Buarque; ‘Jam’ by Mehldau, his only self-penned song on the album; ‘Time Has Told Me’ by Nick Drake, whose songs Mehldau interprets so intuitively; ‘Aquelas Coisas Todas’ by Clube da Esquina guitarist Toninho Horta; and the tearjerking ‘Where Do You Start.’
Brad Mehldau, pictured top
Talking to Eric Revis three years ago after his performance with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel on an outdoor stage overlooking the Grand Harbour of Valletta the Branford Marsalis Quartet bassist shrugged as he was asked how the band’s new recruit Justin Faulkner, still a teenager at the time, was settling in. Revis looked at me hard and said simply, as if it was the most blindingly obvious thing in the world: “He’s doing fine.”
At the time I was surprised there wasn’t more reaction to the departure of Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, who had been with Branford for such a long time and whose place at the forefront of jazz drumming globally was pretty much unassailable for someone of his vintage. Tain was up there, and had been for some time, as Generation X’s version of Elvin Jones, or Tony Williams. There was nobody quite like him in post-bop circles and his own albums for Columbia particularly Citizen Tain and Bar Talk even raised him to the level of a Jack DeJohnette, a drummer who could not just play at a superlative level but one who could write interestingly into the bargain. Tain has been busy on a myriad of projects since, although it is true for the time being he is less high profile than he was, although granted Branford isn’t quite centre stage in the way he used to be.
The quartet without Tain but with Faulkner has recorded for the first time on the rebelliously titled Four MFs Playin’ Tunes just released on Branford’s own Marsalis Music label. It follows on from the slightly disappointing duo album Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, which Marsalis cut with the quartet’s pianist Joey Calderazzo and released just last year. Four MFs is a much more vital record, displaying a sinuous sense of abandon as the watchword from the off on opener ‘The Mighty Sword.’ Faulkner is athletic for certain, but I’m not sure it necessarily “marks an exciting new era”, as Branford’s website puts it. Faulkner isn’t that different, and to claim that his appearance on the scene equates with Miles’ hiring of the then 17-year-old Tony Williams, is to heap too many expectations on Faulkner’s still young shoulders. In many ways although this is to Faulkner’s credit he sounds like a much much older player, one with a sensible head on him and the maturity of an elder. But sheer maturity does not necessarily mean a major new voice has arrived and this record is about the band. By the third track ‘Maestra’ Faulkner shows he has the seriousness both Marsalis and Calderazzo demand, and the way the drummer moulds himself around Calderazzo’s yearning solo and Revis’ insistent pedal point shows he knows how to listen and assert himself while still working with the pianist as an accompanist essentially.
On ‘Teo’ it’s almost as if Marsalis is back to his Trio Jeepy days, I mean because of the jaunty irreverent opening theme, and it’s good to hear he’s got his sense of humour back as it seemed to have deserted him entirely on Songs of Mirth and Melancholy, which was more about melancholy… and still more dolefulness, even on the lighter bits. There’s an endearingly scampering quality to ‘Whiplash’, and that jam session sense of adventure it’s hard to fake, but which comes instinctively to both Marsalis and Calderazzo. ‘As Summer Into Autumn Slips’ makes me think of Branford’s wonderful album Requiem and I wonder what Branford thinks of Sleeper, the long-in-hibernation Keith Jarrett Belonging Band’s just released album given that on Requiem Marsalis paid tribute to Jarrett on the track ‘Lykief’. ‘My Ideal’ definitely is in the lineage of Jarrett’s quartet work from the 1970s, particularly the European quartet. Four MFs is a great return to form by Marsalis, his best album since Braggtown, although it does lack the fire power with Tain on A Love Supreme Live. It’s also worth mentioning the bookending of the album with nods to the atmosphere of New Orleans on ‘The Mighty Sword’ with its sweltering sense of momentum and then the bonus track at the end, ‘Treat It Gentle’, drawing Sidney Bechet firmly to mind. Stephen Graham
The Branford Marsalis Quartet pictured above
September’s Kings Place Festival is an epic three-day chance to cram in as much or as little cultural nourishment as required after a sports-heavy summer.
Jazz is one of the pillars of the programming at Kings Place, in central London near St Pancras station, all the year round, particularly the Saturday night strand in Hall 2, and while at times the atmosphere there despite the beautiful surroundings and quality of the bookings can be a little lacking in excitement, the festival judging by previous years does ramp up the buzz factor a considerable notch. This year overall there are some 100 performances taking place across the arts, including classical music, comedy, and spoken word.
The jazz programming is extensive and includes cellist Matthew Barley and Friends (that’s the shakuhachi of Adrian Freedman and the piano of Julian Joseph), the sax/piano duo of Jason Yarde and Andrew McCormack, and Yarde’s Trio WAH! Also on are the vibes/piano duo of Jim Hart and Barry Green; Alexander Hawkins; Tomorrow’s Warriors performing The Queen’s Suite by Duke Ellington; and saxophonist Denys Baptiste’s new trio Triumvirate featuring up-and-coming drummer Moses Boyd along with bassist Larry Bartley.
(Denys Baptiste, pictured, top)
The festival also hosts the Edition Festival, showcasing artists from the roster of the leading Cardiff-based indie jazz label. The Ivo Neame Ensemble, Troyka, the sax/tuba duo of Marius Neset and Daniel Herskedal, and tenorist Josh Arcoleo are among those taking part.
(Ivo Neame, pictured above)
Trumpeter and composer Jay Phelps (above), who features on the soundtrack and plays the role of a member of the Louis Lester band in Stephen Poliakoff’s upcoming television drama Dancing on the Edge, also appears at Kings Place in two line-ups. One of these features the talented Canadian’s quartet joined by the Koco Quartet led by violinist Miles Brett, who like Jay also acts and plays in the Poliakoff serial, which is set in the London of the 1930s and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jacqueline Bisset and John Goodman.
Free foyer events include octets and dectets by the National Youth Jazz Collective, the duo of bassist Ben Hazleton and singer Julia Biel, the duo of Emilia Martensson and Barry Green, plus singer Randolph Matthews with saxophonist Rob Hughes. The festival runs from 14-16 September.
More at www.kingsplace.co.uk/festival
Pedro Segundo on the drums, with Chris Crenshaw, trombone, and Marcus Printup, trumpet, at the Late Late Show in Ronnie Scott’s
Photo: Benjamin Amure
Updated with new pictures
The Late Late Show at Ronnie Scott’s, the jam session that draws in some of the cream of the capital’s jazz talent for informal performances after the main draw of the evening has finished, dedicated the Wednesday evening session to Abram Wilson whose death from colon cancer at just 38 on 9 June was such a cruel blow. With members of the widely admired and respected trumpeter, composer, and bandleader’s family in the club following a New Orleans-type procession from the South Bank Centre to a memorial service in Waterloo earlier in the day when musicians taking part included Wynton Marsalis, pianist James Pearson leading the jamming told the audience that Abram had been due to return to the club in a few weeks if death hadn’t taken him away.
In just 10 years living in the UK the Arkansas-born trumpeter made a big and lasting impact on the national scene, and with Tim Thornton, bass, and Pedro Segundo on drums, Pearson, the club’s artistic director and leader of the Ronnie’s All-Stars, called on Andy Davies who runs the popular upstairs hard bop jam on Wednesdays to play a few songs in tribute. Welshman Davies, with his love of Kenny Dorham and Chet Baker, a communicative ability on the trumpet and the expressive tone of a musician who knows what he wants to say and does so with aplomb, was able to squeeze out every little nuance in a lovely sparkling rendition of ‘The Nearness of You’ in particular as well as opener ‘If I Were A Bell’. Singer Emma Smith, newly blond, also joined, running through ‘Skylark’ and scatting with some ease before guests from the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra, trombonist Chris Crenshaw tall and lean and playing fine and mellow with ridiculous skill, and trumpeter Marcus Printup in immaculately subtle form at low volume came down to Ronnie’s to jam fresh from performing with JALCO and The London Symphony Orchestra as they premiered Wynton’s Swing Symphony at the Barbican under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle.
Above: Marcus Printup of JALCO at the Late Late Show
Photo: Benjamin Amure
As young up-and-coming players lined up to jam including a name to watch in the smartly tailored pianist Reuben James who Abram had himself mentored, a new generation of National Youth Jazz Orchestra players and Tomorrow’s Warriors alumni circulated in the club into the wee small hours to play their socks off. It was a night that you’d guess Abram would have enjoyed. His spirit lives on for sure at the heart of it all, on Frith Street. Stephen Graham