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Kendrick Scott (fourth left) and Oracle show their sheer class on Conviction

Now confirmed for a Monday 20 May CD release date in the UK Conviction opens with the prayer of St Francis as spoken word, Kendrick Scott and Oracle’s Conviction (Concord records) then make a second very unusual choice: a cover of Broadcast’s ‘Pendulum’ (from their Haha Sound album put out a decade ago). Guitarist Mike Moreno is Lionel 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 Terence Blanchard man, who appeared with Kurt Elling recently in a long residency at Ronnie Scott’s, 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 waves at the end and the mood is set. 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 so much 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 whose debut for Blue Note has been delayed has produced Conviction and the album is accessible but very much a jazz head’s album as well.

There are some great drums and keyboards processing on ‘Too Much’, and I loved the scrappy industrial edge, and there’s a guitar break to die for. 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. Kendrick’s solo at the beginning of ‘Cycling Through Reality’ might bring a few smiles from Jack DeJohnette, 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’; 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. Conviction just leaps out of the speakers. MB

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... Guy Barker was named jazz musician of the year at last night’s Parliamentary jazz awards and Saltash Bells by John Surman voted album of the year. The Impossible Gentlemen picked up the ensemble of the year award, and the Vortex won in the live jazz category. In the jazz journalist of the year category The Herald’s Rob Adams won; while Jazz FM’s Mike Chadwick was named jazz broadcaster of the year. A book was the winner in the publication of the year category, Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, by Catherine Tackley; and the Royal Academy of Music’s Nick Smart won the jazz education award. Pianist and composer Stan Tracey won for services to jazz; and a special award was made to singer Elaine Delmar. MB

Lord Colwyn (above left) and Michael Connarty MP, of the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group; with special award winner Elaine Delmar, and presenter Moira Stuart.
Photo: Jazz Services

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Laszlo Gardony
Clarity
Sunnyside ***
When Tommy Smith was starting out, and a student at Berklee in Boston, the young saxophonist was part of a band called Forward Motion. The pianist in the band, Laszlo Gardony, a Hungarian-American has made many records since but retains the link to Smith’s alma mater, as since the 1980s the professor has taught at Berklee. Clarity is an unusual, and quite brave, album. He says in the notes: “I was at my Berklee studio all by myself. I felt a burst of inspiration so I set up some mics, turned on a recorder and started playing. I kept playing for 49 minutes.” Each short piece, he explains, took on from the previous one but he put the recording away; and not until a few months later would he listen to what he had performed last year. The resulting album, so much for months spent in the studio and an eternity in post-production, is probably best compared with earlier solo piano album Changing Standards (1990), the originals here the yin to the yang of the evergreen tunes back then. Despite the passage of time and difference in method the two compare very well: Gardony’s approach is muscular but quite passionate, and it’s from the fourth track, ‘Working Through (Clarity)’, that the music really begins to speak. It’s a kind of Gnostic meditation in the manner of Keith Jarrett (and track six, ‘Better Place’, is very Jarrettian) but with a few bravura twists, quite a lot of folk music, even gospel, but oddly very little bebop. Occasionally this very spontaneous set sags, but not for long, and is as honest an album as you’ll come across. That transparency is its strength and appeal, as well as a natural improviser’s flair at play. MB
Just released.
The cover of Clarity, above

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So will it be Christine Tobin’s year at the Parliamentary Jazz Awards, which are held tonight in the Terrace Pavilion of the House of Commons?

The singer has been nominated in two categories of the 2013 Parliamentary Jazz Awards but faces strong competition in the jazz musician of the year category as trumpeter Guy Barker, a newly announced associate composer of the BBC Concert Orchestra, and Soft Machine Legacy guitarist John Etheridge have also been nominated this year at the most prestigious awards in the UK jazz calendar.

Sponsored by royalties body PPL, and support organisation Jazz Services, in the album of the year category Tobin also received a nomination for her acclaimed album Sailing to Byzantium; while Jazz FM Awards album of the year winner Saltash Bells by John Surman and Walking Dark by Phronesis are also nominated.

The jazz ensemble of the year nominations are Beats & Pieces Big Band from Manchester; Anglo-American supergroup The Impossible Gentlemen, soon to release their second album; and completing the nominees, prog jazz guitar-organ-drums pacesetters Troyka who were nominated in the UK jazz artist of the year section of the Jazz FM awards in January but lost out to the Neil Cowley trio.

The live jazz award of the year nominations are Café Oto, who also missed out on a Jazz FM award when Ronnie Scott’s triumphed; Herts Jazz; Manchester Jazz Festival; and the Vortex, which inexplicably has never won a Parliamentary jazz award to date. Maybe it will be the Dalston club’s year.

Jazz journalist of the year nominees are: John Fordham of The Guardian a previous two-time winner; the Financial Times reviewer Mike Hobart; and Glasgow paper The Herald’s Rob Adams, who was also nominated last year.

Jazz broadcaster of the year nominees are 6Music’s Gilles Peterson; previous winner Jazz FM Dinner Jazz presenter Helen Mayhew; and Mike Chadwick, also of Jazz FM, who has often been nominated at the awards now in their ninth running but who has never won. Jazz publication of the year nominations go to Catherine Tackley for her book Benny Goodman’s Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert; the magazine Jazzwise, a previous two-time winner; and website London Jazz News. The jazz education nominees are: Brian Moore, Jonathan Eno, Nick Smart, and Tommy Smith; while Services to Jazz nominees are free improv saxophone hero Evan Parker; outgoing BBC Jazz Line-Up producer Keith Loxam; singer Norma Winstone; and “the godfather of British jazz" himself, pianist Stan Tracey.

The winners are chosen by peers and MPs who are members of the All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group. James Pearson and the Ronnie Scott’s All Stars will perform at the awards this evening, making a return appearance. MB
Christine Tobin, above



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Gregory Porter who guested with Van Morrison on ‘Tupelo Honey’ last night on the closing night of this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival is to feature on tenor saxophone great David Murray’s new Infinity Quartet album Be My Monster Love, an album that also sees the saxophonist joined by ‘I Try’ R&B sensation Macy Gray on the title track. To be released in the UK on 17 June by Harlem-based Motéma Be My Monster Love features the Murray Infinity quartet of cult pianist Marc Cary, bassist Jaribu Shahid and the Bandwagon’s drummer Nasheet Waits, with Gregory Porter, this year’s artist in residence in Cheltenham, singing Abiodun Oyewole’s lyrics to ‘About the Children’. Look out for a review in marlbank soon.
David Murray above

 

 

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Metamorphic
Coalescence
F-IRE ***
Unique probably in the long and chequered annals of popular music and jazz in featuring a song based on a dream about becoming a puma Coalescence in no way amounts to a ‘dreamy’ soundscape. Instead it’s the polar opposite, an intense and at times quite dark world, the vision of Leeds pianist Laura Cole whose squalling six-piece Metamorphic are identified in one main aspect by the vocals of Kerry Andrew and in another by the alto saxophone of Led Bib’s Chris Williams. A step up from debut album The Rock Between released in 2011, most of the dystopian tunes are Cole’s but the leader has also included an arrangement of Kenny Wheeler’s ‘Gentle Piece’ (from Music for Large and Small Ensembles), fused Ornette’s ‘Lonely Woman’ and Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ into a brand new piece, and arranged Radiohead’s ‘Reckoner’ from their album In Rainbows, which is the best thing here. The Latinate ‘Light Up Yourself’ is untypical of the album as a whole but may actually show the breadth of this adventurously inclined band in the best light. SG
Released on 17 June
Metamorphic above

Releasing their debut album My Guess this week Thought-Fox are not a band built on a big blustery wave of noise, but one that favours asides and confidences, syllabic invention, and daring intervallic leaps, with a control at low volumes that can translate to a bigger effect. They’re that bit different. Simon Roth on drums sculpts an alternative direction with a growing sense of unforced momentum as the album develops, and by ‘Worm of Thought’ (inspired by The Waste Land) when the album gains a free improv impetus, both he and the voice of Lauren Kinsella (the main distinguishing feature of the band), have clearly found common ground, a sort of “peace of mind” as the lyric to the title track later has it as the singer’s ambition increases and the direction of the music becomes less mannered. ‘Malin’s Chai’, the best melody by far and most involved band interplay, ‘Celia’, and title track ‘My Guess’ then build on the promise shown first in ‘Worm of Thought’. It’s a tantalising prospect all in all. Catch the band at the Vortex in London on Wednesday. MB
Tickets www.vortexjazz.co.uk

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Joshua Redman
Walking Shadows
Nonesuch ***1/2
The first big talking point on Walking Shadows is the fact that Brad Mehldau has produced it and plays Boswell to Redman’s Dr Johnson, manicuring every nuance and little touch in this diary of strings-laden discovery. Brad puts his stamp on the record by suggesting ensemble arrangements and pointing Joshua in the direction of Lennon and McCartney. ‘Let it Be’ is as quietly moving as ‘Tears in Heaven’ on Wish, with Mehldau perfect and Redman so very cool on what could have been a cheesefest. This new record is a slightly snoozy but very upmarket ballads (and Bach) affair, and even with the newer material to bear in mind Redman shows his jazz pedigree best by a very nuanced take on a classic ballad in ‘Lush Life’, a memorable interpretation. It’s not angsty or a memorial but just languorous and that’s Redman’s style. He’s like a good friend having a heart-to-heart throwing in a few jokes to lighten the mood over a few beers. The band is a mix of Brad’s with the ever reliable bassist Larry Grenadier and Brad joined by the distinguished Wayne Shorter Quartet drummer Brian Blade, while both Joshua and Brad provide arrangements as does Patrick Zimmerli whose music Mehldau toured in the UK earlier this year. I think Redman’s James Farm in 2011 was a more adventurous record (and fans took its quality for granted), but Redman has been less daring with these ballads and not just because they’re ballads. But that said it’s a likeable record that has a mellow mood all of its own and at its best is like a conversation you don’t want to end. MB
Walking Shadows is released tomorrow.
Joshua Redman, above

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Lucian Ban/Mat Maneri
Transylvanian Concert
ECM ****

This unusual piano-viola duo album recorded in Romania by a pairing also known as Deco Heart channels serialism, an abstract often achingly-plangent wash of bittersweet registers, and naturally conceived improvisations. Ban, who moved to the US from his homeland of Romania in the late-1990s a decade after the country’s hated dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena were shot dead by firing squad, got to hear his future playing partner at the Vanguard in New York when Maneri was performing there with the late Paul Motian. Ban and Maneri started to work together for the pianist’s Enesco project, issued in octet form on a Sunnyside album called Enesco Re-Imagined. But for this album they travelled to Targu Mures in Transylvania for the pianist’s first outing, a live affair, although it sounds more like a studio album despite the discerning applause. There’s an aching sadness on a tune such as Maneri’s ‘Retina’ with Maneri outgrowing his instrument on his own tune, and indeed both players follow an organic compositional, often orchestrated approach by extension. It’s the nature of the big sky songs on this fine album. Ban has a pointillist barrelhouse touch when he frees himself up on ‘Not That Kind of Blues’ and you instinctively believe in his solos. Most of the tunes are the pianist’s own with the traditional ‘Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen’ and some hymns at the end the additional well integrated elements.There’s a coming together of many influences on this album, a synthesis if you like of Schoenberg, advanced contemporary classical music, much Ellington and Gershwin-derived jazz, and the hinterland of Ban’s belovèd Enesco. But the improvisational spirit, beginning at the crossroads of the free jazz revolution and Nicolas Slonimsky’s theoretical influence on John Coltrane by the early-1960s, is at the album’s core. MB

Lucian Ban above left and Mat Maneri. Photo: Claire Stefani/ECM

Transylvanian Concert is released on 13 May. Hear the Ban/Maneri duo at the Vortex, London on 21 May; Voice Box, Derby the next day; and Newcastle university on 23 May

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Antony Gormley’s bronze outside the Millennium Forum

Where better to hear ‘Danny Boy’ than in Derry one hundred years old this year, played in the right spirit by local alto saxophone and clarinet legend Gay McIntyre, who has just celebrated his 80th birthday. Performing an afternoon set on the second day of this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival McIntyre was in duo with guitarist Joe Quigley in the Rocking Chair on Waterloo Street. McIntyre performed several times during this year’s festival, and was joined by his son Paul and fellow Irish jazz legend Louis Stewart for a headline show at the Playhouse on the penultimate day.

On Saturday evening David Lyttle, the Irish drummer known to wider audiences for his band featuring Soweto Kinch and his championing of teenage guitar sensation Andreas Varady, performed in trio mode at the Playhouse theatre on Artillery Street with Dublin-based Australian double bassist Damian Evans and former Sting keyboardist Jason Rebello here on piano. Their set included music from Lyttle’s Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe-inspired work ‘Dark Tales’, music the 28-year-old Waringstown musician and composer has performed during a Pizza Express Jazz Club residency in London with his band at the time featuring pianist Robert Mitchell. Also included in this accomplished set were the multi-layered composition ‘Childhood’, and Rebello’s knottily appealing tune ‘As the Dust Settles’. Lyttle’s style recalls Brian Blade’s a touch, with the same open, loose feel and a driving post-straightahead way about him. Rebello responded well, and in passages took me back to his halcyon Make It Real days in the 1990s.

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The line-up in Derry this year also included crossover headliners Puppini Sisters and Pink Martini as well as an extensive Guinness Trail, a very inclusive concept featuring mostly free-entry gigs with events taking place all over the city and not just inside. In Guildhall Square there was a stage and a market and in City of Culture year the festival, now in its twelfth running, had an extra spring in its step. Caolán McLaughlin, one of the participants in the second day Neil Cowley masterclass at Henderson’s showroom, was on stage in the square with a covers band at Saturday lunchtime and bumping into this fine player later he mentioned an early evening set at the Bentley wine bar.  Making my way over there at the Bentley Mark Black and the Trips really kicked in hard, with Letterkenny man Black’s style recalling the Stax sound of blues great Albert King at times allied with an expert swung groove from the drummer, and McLaughlin on keys adding authentic textures as the band slowed for effect.

Another of Cowley’s masterclass participants who goes by the moniker Grim (real name: Laurence McDaid) a tall, confident multi-instrumentalist, electronicist and singer who sang Leadbelly’s  ‘Sylvie’ (‘Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie)’ a cappella quite fearlessly to begin with and who played bass guitar later was the support act at the Nerve Centre. His own dark and catchy song ‘Little Fizz’ was the highlight of the set for me.  

Cowley’s set after a long unexplained delay was one of the best, and the most intuitive in terms of improvisational firepower I’ve seen the band perform to date. The audience responded well, and bassist Rex Horan played his socks off, with Evan Jenkins’ coiled aggression at the kit, and Cowley getting into the zone particularly on ‘The Face of Mount Molehill’, the title track of the band’s last studio album. The audience rose to their feet immediately at the end of the set and encore piece ‘She Eats Flies’ contained a superb bass solo from Horan as the band settled into a further improvisation-heavy groove that underlined the band’s sheer class. Stephen Graham

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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

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The stellar Miles Smiles band appearing at Ronnie Scott’s this week for two nights will now feature original Weather Report drummer Alphonse Mouzon in place of Omar Hakim, previously announced. 

The band’s appearance marks the return of Wallace Roney to Frith Street, the trumpeter above who famously was mentored and performed extensively with Miles Davis late in the great East St Louis man’s career. Miles Smiles now a quartet is completed by organist Joey DeFrancesco (Live Around the World), and ex-Herbie man Ralphe Armstrong on bass. The band’s core material is based around the Second Great Quintet album Miles Smiles released in 1967.

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Already this year fans of Wayne Shorter who wrote several tunes on the album have warmed to his new take on ‘Orbits’, the lead-off track Wayne wrote for Miles Smiles, and which appears on the brand new Wayne Shorter Quartet album Without a Net that signalled a significant return for the saxophonist to Blue Note records, brought back to the fold by Don Was. Mouzon goes way back with Wayne, and besides appearing on Weather Report released in 1971 is also on Wayne’s record that year, Odyssey of Iska.

Miles Smiles originally recorded at the 30th Street Studio in New York city and produced by Teo Macero, besides ‘Orbits’ features ‘Circle’, plus Wayne’s most famous piece ‘Footprints’, and on side two of the original vinyl: ‘Dolores’, Eddie Harris’ ‘Freedom Jazz Dance’, and Jimmy Heath’s ‘Gingerbread Boy’. MB
Friday and Saturday www.ronniescotts.co.uk

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Adam Waldmann of Kairos 4tet

Jazz Day is tomorrow, an international celebration of jazz around the globe organised by UNESCO. If you’re going to be out and about then here are some events to catch the music live. MOBO-winning Kairos 4tet whose latest album Everything We Hold is released in June are appearing at the Emmanuel URC church in Cambridge (8pm) www.cambridgejazz.org; and kicking off at the same time in Glasgow at the Old Fruitmarket tabla master Trilok Gurtu is in trio with fine Sardinian trumpeter Paolo Fresu and hypnotic Cuban pianist Omar Sosa (www.glasgowconcerthalls.com).

In Wales saxophonist Alan Barnes plays with BBQ at the Royal British Legion in Wrexham at 8.30; while clarinettist Ken Peplowski is on stage at the same time in the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London (www.pizzaexpresslive.co.uk). Also in the capital there’s an Ode to the Human Spirit concert (great title) with Marc Cary, Liane Carroll and many more fine musicians south of the river in Brixton (www.sgi-uk.org).

If you’re online tomorrow evening then don’t forget the international jazz day global concert at 7pm UK time by visiting http://live.jazzday.com

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The Bib get on the case for their tenth anniversary

One of the highlights of last summer’s Match & Fuse festival in London was the appearance of Led Bib, that’s the out-there free jazz band that initially shot to prominence in London led by American drummer Mark Holub (above, second left) who’s now based in Vienna.

At the festival, which combined club sets and an outdoors stage in Dalston’s Gillett Square centred around the Vortex, before Holub took to the kit to unleash slabs of new material to a standing-room-only club, as I reported for downbeat.com, speaking in his dressing room Holub said the freer end of the scene was tough out there. “Support is dying and opportunities are drying up,” he explained. But undaunted and with the place packed out, Led Bib’s set laid waste to any pervasive doom and gloom with the sprawling, anthemic swell and two-alto-sax attack of Chris Williams and Pete Grogan, whose energising, jabbing lines were contoured by Liran Donin’s painstaking bass guitar.  

Next year Led Bib are 10 years ago and they’re still way ahead of the game as that appearance clearly showed.

It’s remarkable that such an edgy band was ever nominated for the Mercury as the really edgy jazz produced in these shores generally doesn’t get a look in, and in 2009 their debut for Cuneiform Sensible Shoes got in there and helped open doors for the band. But it’s never easy and after the “token” jazz appearance excitement melted away and the media circus moved on it’s been very much business as usual despite the boost.

As Match & Fuse showed Led Bib are really where it’s still at in terms of the post-Ornette sound, and at Meltdown three years earlier when the great man himself curated the prestigious festival they appeared in one of the best free-jazz shows I’ve ever seen from a Generation X or Y band anywhere albeit in the hostile environment of the Clore Ballroom on the Southbank, a venue with all the acoustic charm of a leaky gymnasium.

Led Bib in their Kickstarter fundraising drive plan to do things properly with the money by releasing a new album plus limited edition live vinyl. You have until 25 May to help the band achieve their target and it’s definitely worth your while, with special goodies available for those who contribute.

They’ve never put out vinyl before and having roadtested the material think that recording in a specially equipped studio that allows them to dispense with headphones will produce optimum results. Here’s more on the project http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/432642331/led-bib-new-studio-album-and-live-vinyl-release

Stephen Graham

Led Bib above

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Sam Crowe Group
Towards the Centre of Everything
Whirlwind ****
NEW SEASON HIGHLIGHT
The best Whirlwind release so far? Well that depends on your criteria, but for me this is, based on the life in the performance and the quality of the compositions and improvising group interplay. While the pianist composer’s Synaesthesia three years ago showed a lot of promise it wasn’t an album that stayed with me for long but this new one, though, shaped by the twin pillars of on different tracks saxophonists Adam Waldmann and Will Vinson with new bassist Alan Hampton (who appears in singer/songwriter guise on the Kendrick Scott album Conviction), and new drummer Mark Guiliana recently in the UK with Brad Mehldau as half of Mehliana, is different. Will Davies, a long time Crowe associate is retained, and Kairos 4tet singer Emilia Mårtensson crops up on the fourth track ‘Back into the Earth’. Recorded in Brooklyn last year by famed engineer Mike Marciano this is a step up in terms of ambition all round for Crowe. But put all the ‘facts’ aside and what is there?

Well, the title track with Vinson taking the melody on is a kind of anthem that has a certain gravitational pull to it, and you’d guess that physics plays a part in ideas behind the album. Some of the other titles have that sort of direction (‘Gaia’, ‘The Arrow of Time’ or the EST-like intro to ‘Bad Science’), but the album sounds very untechnical as there is plenty of humanity and spontaneity to it, and while the recording does not feature Jasper Høiby who appeared on Synaesthesia there is a sense of a Phronesis influence here and there. Maybe that comes from Guiliana who of course was on Alive.

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Crowe’s first truly ‘naked’ solo happens on the ballad ‘Gaia’ and it’s skilfully weighted, while Hampton on woody upright bass keeps the pace down as Crowe gains momentum. Davies adds some great touches to warm the ensemble sound on ‘64 Interlude’, while the tasteful Waldmann’s saxophone contribution has a saltiness that then lends itself to lead on to Davies’ Lionel Loueke-like solo. The much vaunted English sense of melancholia (whatever that is exactly) you can guess is here a bit in Crowe’s writing although Towards the Centre of Everything is more urban than a pastoral album, and on a track such as ‘Back into the Earth’ takes on a New Age-y sophisticated jazz-rock dimension, a tune that Chick Corea would perhaps be pleased to have written. Crowe in the solo after Mårtensson’s Flora-like vocal shows he can develop an idea in the course of a real-time solo, and that’s what Towards the Centre of Everything is all about: a sense of ideas at work and an improvising sophistication that gives it staying power. Mehliana fans might want to start with the drum ’n’ bass-driven ‘The Global Brain’ where Crowe also shows what he can do on Rhodes, and clearly it’s not all about Brad any more, is it, when players like Crowe appear on a quality album such as this?

Crowe says a little grandly but unapologetically in the notes that “Music for me has always been a gateway to the infinite”, and there is a sense of scale on Towards the Centre of Everything, in the miasmic conjuring of ‘The Arrow of Time’ and yet there’s a contrasting intimacy on the ballads, particularly ‘Lydia’. At the end reprising ‘64’ Hampton’s bass leads off the tune rather than the piano earlier, and it’s an interesting contrast that works to draw attention to one of the best songs on a robustly creative album.

Released today. Sam Crowe top and the album cover above. Review originally published on 7 April 2013 

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Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck
The White House Sessions Live 1962
RPM/Columbia/Legacy ****
It was a fairly humdrum Tuesday in Camelot that August day, less than three months before the Cuban missile crisis. Not that there wasn’t a tricky decision or two to make, as one of the nine justices of the Supreme Court had resigned and President John F. Kennedy needed to move to replace him. But entertainment was never far away in the Kennedy White House, and on that late-summer’s day in 1962 two American jazz legends, Dave Brubeck and Tony Bennett, came together to perform at a concert thrown by the President for college students working as interns for the administration.

Recorded in the Sylvan Theater in the grounds of the White House the Teo Macero-produced master tapes lay peacefully in the Sony vaults until December last year, not long after Brubeck’s death. None of this music is known at all to the CD-buying public or digital generation, apart from ‘That Old Black Magic’ issued in isolation as long ago as the 1970s.

The thumping, almost metallic nature of the sound recording, takes a minute or two to get used to; but when the ear adjusts (there is definite tantalising period appeal), and after the ubiquitous ‘Take Five’, the best bits in the first half are the Chopin-esque ‘Thank You, Dziekuje’ and the 5/4 ‘Castilian Blues’, performed by the classic Brubeck quartet, the pianist plus Paul Desmond, alto sax; Eugene Wright, bass; and Joe Morello, drums.

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Joe Morello above left, Eugene Wright, Tony Bennett, and Dave Brubeck

But The White House Sessions Live 1962 is very possibly more for Tony Bennett fans, and the five tracks with the Ralph Sharon Trio in particular. Bennett and the trio really swing, and there’s both poignancy contained in these tracks on a song such as ‘Make Someone Happy’ and soppy exuberance in ‘(I Left My Heart In) San Francisco’.

‘Small World’ is the pick of the whole album, with Sharon’s accompaniment eclipsing Brubeck’s later on, although that’s not surprising given the two men’s long standing rapport stretching back to the 1950s. This kind of music is all about rapport, like all the best jazz. Bennett really sells these songs, and these performances stand up more than well with his best jazz-flavoured work: in my mind that’s the singer’s 1975 studio collaboration with Bill Evans.

Bennett joins the Brubeck Trio towards the end of this album and there are some good moments here, maybe not quite as magic-laden as the earlier portion of the concert provided by Bennett and Sharon’s trio but very impressive nonetheless particularly on ‘Lullaby of Broadway’. Bennett’s ad lib announcement after hearing a siren: "I’d know that was Eliot Ness," a joking reference to the Prohibition era enforcer, is still one more fascinating aspect of the album.  A significant reissue then, and a fine excuse to reassess Tony Bennett’s jazz work again, as well as remember once more the Dave Brubeck quartet.

Released on Monday 27 May

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A series of albums such as Jazz for Babies doesn’t come along every day. You might ponder that there are more than a few babies out there, and not just tiny people, but this bunch of five albums, the brainchild of bassist Michael Janisch, is aimed at educating your tiny tots. “Calm and soothing lullabies” as they’re explained in the album’s strapline, the CDs are divided into instrument settings so there’s The Piano Album, The Saxophone Album, The Vibraphone Album, The Guitar Album, and The Trumpet Album. Aimed at the purchasing power of loving parents who know the core values of music and jazz for an age group starting “in utero to 3 years-plus.”

Part of Janisch’s point is that the music presented is not the product of synthesisers, and there are some great musicians here playing ever so gently. Joining the bassist on the Piano Album for instance is pianist Steve Hamilton, with this duo supplemented on the Saxophone Album by Steve Winwood sideman Paul Booth. The Vibraphone Album reverts to trio, Hamilton again and Janisch, but with Cloudmakers vibes man Jim Hart joining (perfect on ‘Emily’); and on the lovely Guitar Album’s lullabies the core duo is joined by Partisans guitarist Phil Robson (excelling throughout) and then Louis Lester Band trumpeter Jay Phelps is the guest on the Trumpet Album (listen especially to a fine version of ‘It Never Entered My Mind’).

When Janisch and his wife Sarah were expecting their first child, daughter Eliza, they set about introducing her to what they saw “as the right kind of music at the earliest age.” And this is the fundamental inspiration for the albums, an educational impulse. The UK-based Wisconsin-born jazz musician who runs Whirlwind Recordings and is a professor of jazz bass at the Royal Academy of Music wanted the music to be “calm, quiet and lullaby-like” and certainly that’s what’s here. Even the edgy ‘River Man’ on the Vibes Album is rendered coo-able.

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There are lots of very familiar tunes, for instance ‘Moon River’ and ‘Body and Soul’ on the Piano Album; and ‘My Funny Valentine and ‘Unforgettable’ on the Trumpet one. Anyone familiar with The Real Book will be completely up-to-speed with the material throughout all five albums although there are a few concessions to recent popular music here and there and inevitably Adele’s song ‘Someone Like You’ is included. The albums look good with matching squiggly-bright graphics, colours, and snazzy fonts and musically, compared to the highly bland non-jazz product that is available with cheesy tunes and cutesy sentimental tinkling based around nursery rhymes, the performances are of a very high quality. OK, the dynamics have been dampened down and the chords are resolutely major rather than minor but that doesn’t really matter: no one’s expecting harmolodics! Strident young maths jazzers and punk jazzers, whether they have babies or not, might hate the whole notion of lullabies (tough love, I suppose), so maybe this series is not for them. But for everyone else it’s a world away from muzak and processed sounds and is the gentlest, and most non-patronising, way possible for a tiny tot to enter the land of nod.
Stephen Graham  

Released on 10 June

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Nils Landgren Funk Unit
Teamwork
ACT **
An institution in Sweden since the 1990s and best selling in Germany but still failing to catch on properly in the UK the Funk Unit is an acquired taste. The charismatic trombonist and singer Landgren digs deep and gives it his all but somehow the results are pretty wearing although the band has come on immeasurably since their pretty awful Abba concept album. With Magnum Coltrane Price, Jonas Wall, Magnus Lindgren, Andy Pfeiler, Sebastian Studnitzky and Robert Ikiz plus guests who include Joe Sample, on ‘Green Beans’, and Wilton Felder from the Crusaders plus glamour trumpeter Till Brönner popping up, it’s highly glossy coffee table funk that somehow misses the point that the music needs to be a bit rougher around the edges, and not as highly finessed as Teamwork.
Released on 3 June

 

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The Ropesh
The Ropesh
Neuklang ***
They’ve only been going a couple of years but The Ropesh whose members came together after playing around in Frankfurt and Mannheim already sound like accomplished veterans. The album the cover of which sports a painting with a big splodge of red and what appears bizarrely to look like a smiling kangaroo in shadow begins with some scrapey improv before giving way to a woozy solo by trombone player Marcus Franzke. Basically a post-modern mainstream record with a grab bag of influences from Bob Brookmeyer through James Newton to drum ’n’ bass and beyond all the tunes are the flute player Lorenzo Colocci’s (presumably also responsible for the bizarre title ‘My Flute Is Longer Than Yours’). There are also some tasteful guest vocals from youth orchestra Bujazzo’s Miriam Ast on ‘NeuB’. Points of comparison? Well, the band sounds a bit like Steve Rubie’s band Skydive although lots of other styles are bolted on, and there are distinguishing factors such as the unusual “softly”-spoken word on ‘Amico Disagio’. Pianist Rainer Böhm, who has recorded with John Patitucci and Marcus Gilmore, guests impressively on a couple of spots and the tunes are well conceived and executed with fine developmental sections and the feeling that each member of the band is really listening and responsive. The Ableton-like electronics add to the improvising more in the manner of an extra instrument than a gimmicky add-on, and the recording sound is excellent. Worth seeking out. Released in June
The Ropesh, above

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Shingai Shoniwa above. Photo: Emile Holba

The chosen composers for the first New Music Biennial, to begin in January next year, have been unveiled. The PRS for Music-backed initiative will see new music performed at weekend showcases to be held at the Southbank Centre in London, and the UNESCO city of music in Glasgow next July and August, and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and available as downloads. Covering contemporary classical, folk, jazz, world music, urban and electronic music of the jazz composers involved Gwilym Simcock commissioned by City of London Sinfonia will combine with clarinettist Michael Collins in a work for clarinet, strings, jazz trio and speaker. Glyndebourne young composer in residence Luke Styles commissioned by Juice Vocal Ensemble will feature experimental vocal trio Juice and BBC New Generation artist Trish Clowes’ jazz/classical ensemble Tangent, performing alongside three dancers retelling a Native Canadian folk tale. Avant-garde composer Piers Hellawell will create a new work involving improvising trio Bourne Davis Kane, which has been commissioned by Belfast promoter Moving On Music; and The Noisettes’ Shingai Shoniwa and The Invisible’s David Okumu, commissioned by London promoter Serious, are to create a new vocal work inspired by the values of the 2014 Commonwealth Games to involve community choirs.

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The New Gary Burton Quartet
Guided Tour
Mack Avenue ***
Turning 70 earlier this year and showing no signs of slowing down, Gary Burton’s latest quartet album Guided Tour nonetheless does take a while to get going, and the first four tracks are as you’d expect tasteful, but not particularly gripping. But on the sumptuous version of Johnny Mercer and Michel Legrand’s ‘Once Upon A Summertime’ everything comes together, and from this point on vibes great Burton, with guitarist Julian Lage, bassist Scott Colley and Pat Metheny drummer Antonio Sanchez who return from 2011’s Common Ground and who all contribute songs, move to a new level. The album then acquires an energy it hitherto had lacked in the earlier tracks. Burton has deliberately written in a Bill Evans idiom on the waltz ‘Jane Fonda Called Again’ and, on another of his tunes, ‘Remembering Tano’, pays homage to Astor Piazzolla. It’s clearly the better of the tunes in terms of an internal song narrative matched to improvisational direction. A highly accomplished album as you’d expect but one that takes patience for all its pleasures to unfold.
Gary Burton above left, Julian Lage, Antonio Sanchez and Scott Colley. Released on Monday. The quartet play Ronnie Scott’s on 13-14 May www.ronniescotts.co.uk

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This afternoon at a reception in Bremen, Amsterdam club Bimhuis will be presented with the Europe Jazz Network Award For Adventurous Programming at European jazz expo Jazzahead! The EJN is an 87 organisation-strong association of producers, presenters and supporting bodies who specialise in creative music, contemporary jazz and improvised music in place to support the “identity and diversity of jazz in Europe and broaden awareness of this vital area of music as a cultural and educational force." This year at Jazzahead! an icon of jazz and improv in the Netherlands, drummer Han Bennink, received the expo’s chief accolade, the €15,000 Skoda award.
Bimhuis above

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Cécile McLorin Salvant
WomanChild
Mack Avenue ***** ALBUM OF THE WEEK

Opening in a traditional fashion with Bessie Smith song ‘St Louis Gal’ Miami-born McLorin Salvant is simply accompanied by the guitar of James Chirillo. But WomanChild makes a swift gear shift soon after with the modern mainstream accompaniment of pianist Aaron Diehl, the 2010 Thelonious Monk competition-winning singer’s labelmate, on the Rodgers and Hart song ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’. Diehl’s first solo opens up the shutters of the album before McLorin Salvant’s sighing return. Her tone is a thing of beauty and the delivery so very unhurried. The singer, with Haitian and French roots, spoke French as a child and even moved to France as a teenager where her jazz journey began, as Ted Gioia in the notes explains. That heritage is also developed on the album.

Womanchild is an instant classic, a real tonic, by a classic jazz singer of real quality. “She has poise, elegance, soul, humour, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace,” Wynton Marsalis has said and it’s easy to agree on the evidence here. It’s worth pointing out her style is very rare now especially among young singers, maybe only China Moses compares in this regard among the new generation of younger female singers however rooted in jazz they are. There’s a sense of the vaudeville era on ‘Nobody’ a real old time number with plunking bass from Rodney Whitaker and Diehl playing like a Harlem piano professor. McLorin Salvant can “talk” the song as well. Despite the worry in the lyrics McLorin Salvant “walks in stride” on her own song, the title track ‘WomanChild’; she sings in French on another of her songs ‘Le Front Caché Sur Tes Genoux’ and Diehl and the great drummer Herlin Riley make a strong rhythmic impression on Diehl’s ‘Prelude’ leading into the standard ‘Lull in My Life’, which has an elegance all of its own. Riley is brilliant at the beginning of the corny number ‘You Bring Out the Savage in Me’, and McLorin Salvant has fun with this via Betty Carter-like vocal acrobatics (also Carter-esque on ‘What A Little Moonlight Can Do’), a chance for her to experiment with daring intervals and grandstanding effects.

Other highlights include the sheer exuberance and pure vocal sound on ‘John Henry’ when the band builds up some whip-fast motion, Diehl’s prepared piano rolling back the years; and then there’s the sheer sensuality of ‘Jitterbug Waltz’. A wonderful album by a singer we’re going to be hearing a great deal more about in the years to come.

Cécile McLorin Salvant above
Photo: John Abbott

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A guitarist’s guitarist Bob Brozman has died at the age of 59 the Santa Cruz Sentinel has reported indicating that he was found dead at home on Tuesday. Brozman was a very eclectic guitarist and genres were no barrier to his approach, as happy in jazz, the blues and world music styles. Best known as a slide guitarist he used a National resonator instrument and hollow neck acoustic steel guitars and played often in Britain and Ireland, recording in recent years Six Days In Down in the north of Ireland with traditional Irish musician uilleann piper John McSherry and fiddler Dónal O’Connor, joined by singer Stephanie Makem. Brozman travelled the globe and collaborated as he put it in the notes to the album after a lifetime “collaborating with musicians from tropical islands, I thought a cold-climate island project would be interesting and challenging.”  The music on this album is in some ways a snapshot of his overall approach making the connection here between disparate musics, in this case Irish folk music, Malian sounds and Arabic modes, with Brozman playing a tricone guitar, and Hawaiian guitar, just some of the instruments he liked to use. Jazz guitarist Martin Taylor, among a host of musicians and fans marking the passing of Brozman on social networking sites commented: “Very sad to hear the news about Bob Brozman. We worked together many times in the US and Europe.”
Bob Brozman above pictured in 2010
photo: Moving on Music

World music magazine Songlines has just announced its annual Music Awards voted by Songlines readers and the general public. Best artist is Angélique Kidjo for Spirit Rising;  best group Lo’Jo for the album Cinéma el Mundo on World Village; the cross-cultural collaboration awards goes to Dub Colossus for their album Dub Me Tender Vol 1+2; and newcomer is Mokoomba for Rising Tide.

Lo’Jo’s Cinéma El Mundo issued by World Village in the autumn hits the spot for jazz fans as well and not just because Robert Wyatt crops up along the way. Lo’Jo, from Angers, have been round the block a bit with many albums under their belt already and so you’re in safe hands here. Funky, a mix of sounds, with a bit of chanson and dub Denis Péan’s voice is endearing as are the backing vocals of Nadia Nid El Mourid and Yamina Nid El Mourid. Open ended, socially conscious, and unpretentious, it’s no wonder they’re festival favourites in world-music land, and very jazz-friendly as well. ‘Tout est Fragile’ is the pick of the tunes but there are lots of good ones to dip into.

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A white light moment led journalist Rob Adams to not just write about Venezuelan jazz musician Leo Blanco but inspired him to put together a major tour by the pianist and even dream up the name of Blanco’s latest album

The Bank of Scotland Herald Angels awards ceremony isn’t a gig as such. Presented every Saturday morning during Edinburgh’s month-long festival season in August, these awards reward outstanding performances and contributions in music, theatre, visual art, literature and indeed right across the arts spectrum as judged by the reviewing team of Scotland’s leading quality daily newspaper, The Herald. It’s become the norm for one of the musical recipients to “do a number” as a gesture of thanks and to entertain the assembled artists and their representatives.

So it was that, on the final Angels Saturday in 2006, Leo Blanco sat down to play a piano that, shall we say, wouldn’t have been the best instrument that he’d ever encountered. The sound he created nevertheless caused jaws to drop and people to ask who this master musician was, where he had come from and why he wasn’t a major star. And this wasn’t an easily impressed audience: Leo’s fellow Angel winners that day were almost all drawn from the Edinburgh International Festival’s world class programme.

I’ve wondered about Leo’s lack of major star status many times myself since then. Like many musicians, he could have done with having just a little of Jaco Pastorius’s infamous “I’m the best and I ain’t braggin’” self-promotion chutzpah in his make-up, although he’s not exactly shy. There’s also the fact that as a professor of piano at Berklee School of Music, Leo spends more time sending budding musicians on their way in their careers than he devotes to his own at times.

Speak to some of those who have benefited from his guidance – the inaugural Young Scottish Jazz Musician of the Year, pianist Alan Benzie, is one – and they’ll tell you that Leo’s a monster musician and hugely inspirational. The children in Caracas whom Leo has taught through the El Sistema music education regime would no doubt agree about his inspirational qualities and the classical musicians who have taken the improvisation module that he devised for El Sistema and that has now been taken up across the US will add to the psalms of praise. As will the players who have brought his compositions off the page, including the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, who commissioned Leo’s End of Amazonia, and horn quartet Brass Jaw.

The piece Leo played that morning of the Angels presentation, ‘El Negro y el Blanco’, was a fantasia based on ‘El Negro Jose’, a popular composition by Leo’s fellow Venezuelan, Aldemaro Romero, that appeared on Leo’s first album, Roots & Effect. It contained a lot of the characteristics you’ll hear when Leo undertakes his first extensive UK tour this summer in a series of solo concerts: brilliant imagination, gorgeous melodic touches and mighty bass-end grooves. Its performance that day could even be said to have triggered the tour.

Leo and I had been introduced a week or two previously, just before a Chick Corea concert at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, by the Scottish saxophonist Laura Macdonald, a friend of Leo’s from her time at Berklee. “You’ve got to come and hear him – he’s playing some gigs with me on the Fringe,” Laura told me. I complied and within about 5 minutes of their first number on their opening night, I was texting the arts editor of The Herald, advising him to get himself down to the Lot, a compact venue in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket that’s no longer with us. I may not have said “get yourself down here” exactly in that text message but that was the gist of it.

The result was the aforementioned Angel award and a cyberspace friendship between Leo and me that would, the following spring, lead to him producing one of these evenings where everyone’s pinching themselves to make sure they’re not dreaming as the sound of world class music making from an ad hoc quartet filled the Blue Lamp, a natural jazz club masquerading as a city centre pub, during Aberdeen Jazz Festival 2007. The Lampie, as it’s affectionately known, wasn’t just jumpin’, as in full of people, it was dancing.

Several attempts to recreate that night in Scotland and in other parts of Europe have been made but, alas, never come to fruition. Cut to February of this year, however, when a chance remark I made to Jill Rodger of Glasgow Jazz Festival led to another of flurry of emails between Leo and me. Would Leo fancy playing a solo piano concert in Glasgow? Some combination of solo piano and various collaborations had come up in our cyberspace exchanges previously and while I had every confidence in Leo putting a solo programme together, I had no idea that he’d already recorded a solo piano concert and was planning to release it on CD.

The upshot is that I’ve become a booking agent for Leo in between writing assignments for my day job as a journalist. Four Scottish dates were added to the Glasgow Jazz Festival concert and then we advanced on England – with more friendly intentions, promise, than the Scots of Braveheart and Bruce. One of the English dates, in the Quantocks, even sold out old three months in advance and we’re now looking at BBC Radio broadcasts and the UK release of Leo’s live solo piano CD, Pianoforte, to coincide with the tour.

The name “Pianoforte" was my suggestion: it’s simple and it describes the dynamic range of Leo’s music – very quiet to very strong – as well as being the name of the instrument he plays. If you think “Pianoforte"s a bit prosaic, even sober, ask Leo when he plays in the UK what the idea for the title was that he had to be dissuaded from using. (It was sort of in Latin and was briefly topical around the time of the new Pope’s election.) I’m not sure, though, that he’ll be brave enough to tell you.

Leo Blanco plays the Forge, London on 24 June; Recital Room, City Halls, Glasgow as part of the Glasgow Jazz Festival, 26 June; Blue Lamp, Aberdeen, 27 June; Queen’s Hall Edinburgh, 28 June; Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, 29 June; Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline, 30 June; Dean Clough, Halifax, 4 July; Sage, Gateshead, 5 July; Broomfield Village Hall, Broomfield, Somerset, 6 July; and the Apex, Bury St Edmunds, 10 July